Aurélien Tchouaméni has saved the phrase “aim for the highest cloud” on his phone – a sentence he lifted from a book about the legacy of New Zealand’s All Blacks.
It serves as a reminder for Tchouaméni in his young footballing career to “get up every day and be better than yesterday.”
And as reports continue to circulate about which club he will be playing for next season, it helps the AS Monaco star to stay focused on his own development.
“I’m an ambitious person. Every time I do something … I just want to win,” Tchouaméni tells CNN Sport in an exclusive interview. “If I want to be great, I have to adapt to find some stuff that will allow me to grow as a player.”
Tchouaméni, who turned 22 at the start of this year, appears to have greatness within his reach having established himself as one of the top midfielders in European football.
A box-to-box player and a valuable asset in attack and defense, he has been integral to Monaco since joining from Bordeaux two years ago.
Tchouaméni’s performances for Monaco have seen him become one of the most sought-after players in Europe, with Real Madrid and Liverpool reportedly interested in securing his services ahead of next season.
“I like both: I can watch Spanish games and English games,” he says. “It’s different to play in Spain and it’s different to play in England, but at the end, for me, it’s just a matter of adaptation.”
During the recently completed Ligue 1 campaign, Tchouaméni’s talents were key to Monaco almost qualifying automatically for next season’s Champions League.
However, a last-minute equalizer from Lens in Monaco’s final game saw the club finish third in the league behind Marseille and fall agonizingly short, though reaching the competition via the qualifiers is still a possibility.
Monaco has gained a reputation for developing some of the best young players in European football, with the likes of Mbappé and Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva starting their careers on the French Riviera.
Before them, former France internationals David Trezeguet, Thierry Henry, and Emmanuel Petit all had stints at Monaco – players who drew Tchouaméni to the club in the first place.
“I tried to find a lot of players who came here young and then have grown, and they’d be able to play in a bigger club at the end of their journey here in Monaco,” he says.
In a bid to develop as a player and maximize his potential, Tchouaméni says he’s made a number of changes to his daily life – hiring a personal chef and physiotherapist to eat and recover better at home and speaking regularly to a mental coach to improve the psychological aspect of his game.
He’s also been leaning on the experience of teammate and fellow midfielder Cesc Fabregas, who has spent close to 20 years playing for top clubs in Europe.
“[He] is a legend of football, so when I came here, my first idea was to ask him a lot of questions – his movements, how he gives the ball,” says Tchouaméni.
“For me, it’s easy because I have one of the best midfielders in football; he helps me a lot … I have everything here to develop and grow as a player.”
Tchouaméni’s rise at Bordeaux and Monaco has also come with challenges.
In the first year of his professional career, he says he found it hard to ignore disparaging comments on social media about his performance on the pitch.
“When I was 18 and when I did a bad game, a lot of people said you’re not able to play in this league, or you don’t have the level to be good,” he says.
“And I was like: ‘OK, maybe they are wrong, or maybe not.’ It’s difficult to think about it because you are very young, but you have to deal with it.
“That’s why I work with [a sports psychologist] and he permits me to embrace expectations and know, whatever they will say, I just continue to do my thing.”
Tchouaméni, who has Cameroonian heritage but represented France throughout his youth career, made his international debut last year.
He scored his first goal for the French national team in a 2-1 victory against Ivory Coast in March, and later this year hopes to make his World Cup debut as Les Bleus defend their status as world champions in Qatar.
“You can ask everybody in our team – nobody wants to go to the World Cup to say: ‘I want to be in the quarterfinals, it’s okay, and maybe the semifinals, it’s okay,’” Tchouaméni says.
“No – everybody wants to win … it’s going to be our goal.”
If he makes it to the World Cup, his favorite adage will no doubt be running through his mind: aim for the highest cloud.