Exclusive interview with Liverpool loanee Billy Koumetio, who is spending a season with Austria Vienna.
When Billy Koumetio first joined Austria Vienna on loan back in June, he would have had high hopes of his first temporary switch away from Liverpool.
After all, the Austrians had asked after him 12 months earlier, only for the Reds to decide to retain his services in the Under-23s for a further season before sanctioning his loan exit. The defender jumped at the chance to broaden his horizons when the time was right, with the potential lure of Europa League football also awaiting him.
Yet, in truth, the Frenchman’s loan move hasn’t gone as he would have originally envisaged. Making 11 appearances for the Viennese club, he has started seven times across all competitions but a late substitute appearance in a 4-0 Europa Conference League loss away at Hapoel Beer Sheva on November 3 is one of just two outings, the other an OFB-Cup exit to Wiener SC, since the start of September.
In recent weeks before the World Cup break, Koumetio instead found himself representing Austria Vienna’s Young Violets side as he was repeatedly left out of Manfred Schmid’s matchday squad for Austrian Bundesliga action. As a result, reports have suggested Liverpool could look to terminate Koumetio’s loan in January.
It has been a tough learning curve for the defender, who only turned 20 last month, but it is the reality of football. Not every loan move ends with a player establishing himself as an ever-present and firm fan favorite in his new temporary surroundings.
But despite the limited starting opportunities, it would be simplistic to dismiss his loan so far as a failure. A mixture of suspensions, injuries, and a change of formation would see him first put in and then taken back out of the Austria Vienna starting XI earlier in the season, as talks with his manager revealed such decisions were nothing to do with his performances.
Ultimately domestic homegrown rules have also seemingly curtailed his progress on loan, with clubs entitled to bonus payments from the Austrian Football Association (OFB) if they don’t name more than six foreign players in their matchday squads. Opportunities have been limited further for Koumetio as a result, but whether playing for the first team or watching on from the sidelines, the Liverpool loanee has still maintained the right, positive attitude, ensuring he has spent his time in Austria hungry to improve.
“At the beginning of the season, I didn’t play also,” Koumetio admitted in an exclusive interview with the ECHO when reflecting on his loan move so far. “I had to improve and prove I was there and ready to play in any type of game. Cup games, European games, or league games. I was preparing for that.
“At the same point, we changed the formation and we played a three in defence. This was when I was able to show what I can do. Even before this, in certain games we had some injuries or a red card so I had to come on and play.
“For example, the first game was Salzburg. Our captain had to go to the hospital because his girlfriend was having a baby. The next guy came in and then he got injured and then the next guy was me.
“I had the opportunity to show what I could do. I found some consistency at the beginning in these games, but then I came off at half-time in one game. We changed formation and we’ve not played this formation again.
“The coach told me it was not about how I played but it was the formation, they wanted to change to go back to two centre-backs and not three. I respect any decision that can help the team be better.
“But for sure, every day I’ve been doing everything I can in training and have been ready for any circumstances if the coach calls upon me to play.”
He continued: “I’ve felt very good here, it’s been a few months. It’s very different to Liverpool and even England, the country. The club is different, the league is different, the language is different. Everything is different.
“Everything is new for me but I would say I am now used to moving out of my comfort zone, from where I usually live. I was in France before I moved to England, and even before I moved to Liverpool, I moved from Lyon to Orleans.
“I was there for six months so there I learned how to cope with being away from my family. Then I moved from England to Austria. It’s still a change. But it doesn’t really impact me in a bad way, otherwise I wouldn’t have made the move.”
While Koumetio has found his game-time limited with Vienna, he did at least start both of the club’s Europa League qualifiers against Fenerbahce back in August. And although the result didn’t go the Austrian outfit’s way, as they ended up competing in the Europa Conference League instead, the two-legged clash with the Turks is still a highlight of the young defender’s fledgling career to date.
“I was excited! I was excited to play in those games,” he recalled. “The stadium was full, our supporters were there. And also the Fenerbahce supporters came also. The atmosphere was phwoar, unbelievable!
“I really enjoyed it and this was a big bonus for me and for my loan. As a young player, to be able to play European football. That was a big, big game. I had the opportunity to play in both the first leg and the second leg.
“I’m glad about this and the experience I had, and what I could take from these games. I take whatever things I can take from games like this and for sure I took something from it.”
Given how long Austria Vienna had been pursuing Koumetio before signing him, it is a shame more starting opportunities had not fallen his way. After all, it was considered the ‘perfect’ move for the defender back in the summer with a clear plan in place when Liverpool were deciding his next steps.
And a conversation with Jurgen Klopp persuaded the 20-year-old that a switch to Vienna was indeed the right move to make, even if it has not quite gone to plan during the first half of the season.
“Vienna wanted me, even a year ago,” Koumetio recalled. “I also had the opportunity, and the choice, to go on loan but Liverpool and I had discussions and we found that it would be best if I had another full season in the Under-23s, played games and had consistency during the season before I could start men’s football out on loan.
“What made me convinced of this choice was the plan that they had and the plan that Liverpool had for me for this season, and the plan I had for this season and the plan my agent had for this season. Everything was in place.
“Sometimes you can have a vision but the club might have a different view or a different vision. But it was clear the way they play, obviously it’s not the same players or the same level, but the same idea of playing in the way Liverpool want me to perform for this season and come back with new abilities and confirming some abilities I had and correcting some weaknesses in my game.
“I had the same vision. The three areas were aligned so for me it was a good loan and Liverpool were convinced 100% that it would be perfect for me.
“The gaffer said to me it would be perfect and the best choice. He actually said to me he would prefer this. Obviously I had a choice but at the end of the day, Liverpool can say yes or no, but the gaffer said it would be perfect for me so I took his big, big, big opinion, his big voice and his big vision.
“I respect him 100% and said thank you very much. It was perfect for me. I was happy, it’s a long season with a lot of games.”
Klopp wasn’t the only senior Liverpool figure Koumetio spoke to before completing his loan move to Austria Vienna. He’d also speak to two soon-to-be former team-mates, though one of them inadvertently played a role in delaying the Frenchman’s own transfer.
“I spoke to Sadio Mane during the holidays. I told him I would go on loan,” the defender revealed. “He supported me, saying if I go on loan, any league that I went to, he will support me and watch the games. But I didn’t talk to him about exactly the club or league I would go to.
“I spoke to Divock Origi, who I am close to also. Just before I took the flight, I called him. He also called me before he signed his contract with AC Milan. They are very close to me and are giving me very good advice.
“Not just them, also the club and the staff. For my move, it was not difficult. My agent helped me a lot with this and Liverpool did a lot too.
“At the beginning I was wondering how it was going to be because it was my first loan and I didn’t know how it was going to be finalised but everything was great and I felt comfortable. I felt comfortable during the time of patience also.
“I was actually on holiday in France, in Paris, and that period of time was a bit intense. I was doing my preparation for this season, but I didn’t know whether I would start again in pre-season with the first team of Liverpool or if I would go straight to a new club on loan.
“I had to be prepared for any circumstances. After I signed, it was good. That day, on the signing day, it was the day when Sadio moved. It was a long day because Liverpool were busy also!
“But as a young one, you have to honour the elders. It was a good day, the discussions were good, everything was clear. It was great.”