From shoe salesman to Ligue 1 star: the extraordinary story of Florian Sotoka

No, Florian Sotoka is definitely no longer a talent. The RC Lens striker is now 31 years old. In this age, the big stars on the scene are gradually entering the house straight from their careers, at least the end of their careers is closer than the beginnings in the professional field. But this is not necessarily the case with Sotoka. Because for the striker, the third real season in the French Ligue 1 is coming to an end. For a long time before that, he had nothing to do with professional work.

On October 25, 1990, Sotoka was born in Narbonne, a town of 55,000 inhabitants in southern France, not far from the Mediterranean coast. He also got to know and love football in his hometown, but the whole thing has nothing to do with any professional ambitions. Narbonne played at most in the fourth division, and sometimes even less. As a footballer, he did not earn enough money to live.

Sotoka told the newspaper that an alternative was needed “to earn a living and not be financially dependent on my father”. Le Parisien. About his life as an ordinary employee, he said: “My uncle just opened his company. He asked me to accompany him. It lasted for a year. During the day we sold shoes to people and in the evening I was training.” Football player after work.

Florian Sotoka: ‘I had to fight my way in’

Time left a permanent mark on Sotoka. “It is not always easy to combine the two. I had to struggle through it. It was such an important step in my life that I immersed myself in working life very early on. I was able to handle the world of work. Mentally, this experience was good for me I did and stressed myself. I turned that into a strength,” he explained.

In 2013, Sotoca left his hometown of Narbonne and moved to Martigues, about 220 kilometers from his home. Local FC Martígues swung between the third and fourth divisions, but after eight goals in 22 matches, they moved to third division AS Beziers. Now that Sotoca is a professional, he has been away from playing in Ligue 1.

But that changed soon after. Because already in January 2015, HSC Montpellier became aware of Sotoca and signed him. A quantum leap for the 24-year-old, who is now able to train at the top level. However, he hardly appeared in any matches, in the 2015/16 season there was only one League Cup appearance over 90 minutes and a brief Ligue 1 appearance. This was followed by a severe setback when Sotoka moved to the fourth division of Grenoble Foot in the summer of 2016. The dream of becoming a professional on the big stage seemed to be over.

But Sotoka proved his worth and propelled his side from the fourth tier to Ligue 1 within two years. When he also scored twelve goals there, Lens scored and took over Sotoka for more than one million euros. Lens played in the second division at the time – and what could be better for an ambitious club than bringing in a player who knows the promotions? This is what happened. In the 2019/20 season, which ended prematurely due to the Corona pandemic, Sotoka contributed eight goals. Despite the end of the season, Lens earned the right to be promoted and since then Sotoka has scored regularly in the French Ligue 1.

Furian Sotoka: “I’m proud to belong to this beautiful world of amateurs”

In the late summer of his career, Sotoca was able to realize his dream of becoming a professional through detours and perseverance. But he does not grieve for the time that has passed until then, but sees the positive side of it. “I went through all the leagues, from the sixth tier to the elite,” he said. “I am proud to be from this beautiful amateur world and to represent football from below.”

His career is not very similar to most of his football career. “I have a different eye to the guys who have gone through training centers and are being prepared for the profession. I have a different approach. I know how hard it is to be at the bottom of the scale. Football is still chasing this football. The passion is the same on the field.”

He still can’t believe he got a chance to be in the same place as Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar this season. “We are a bit irrational. I became a professional at the age of 24. I never thought I would play against players like this in 2017. I welcome that as an honor. French football knows how lucky it is to have players like that,” said Sotoka, who does not He still has a chance to qualify for Europe with Lens before the final round at the weekend,” in the league. It will be the culmination of this extraordinary story.

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