How European football's 'competitiveness' took Genreau a level up

Having secured promotion to France's top tier and with the Ligue 2 title all but locked in, Denis Genreau’s rise with Toulouse FC has been nothing short of sensational. 

As Toulouse secured promotion with a 2-0 home win over mid-table Niort on Tuesday morning, Genreau added another feat to what has already been a hugely successful 12 months for the 22-year-old. 

And with only one point needed to seal the Ligue 2 title with three games remaining, it is about to get even better. 

Since making the switch to one of the biggest clubs in the second tier of French football, the former Macarthur FC and Melbourne City man has come a long way in a short period of time. 

Despite joining Toulouse directly after an A-League campaign, a Socceroos debut and an Olympics campaign with the Olyroos, Genreau was able to hit the ground running at his new club.

The versatile midfielder has played a crucial role this season by featuring in 32 of Toulouse's 35 league games, starting 19 and chipping in with one goal and three assists.

Genreau attributes his success to always being available to fight for his position and declining the offer to take a break following his efforts with the Socceroos and Olyroos in June and July last year.

“I have to be physically ready for every game,” Genreau told The Sydney Morning Herald.

“The club asked me if I wanted some time off after the Olympics and I said no, because I wanted to get straight into it.

“I knew my body needed a break but I just said I’m going for it. I need to be fit and give myself the best chance to play.

"That's the biggest thing I've learnt because if I’d been injured or taken a break during the season, I think I would have fallen behind.

“I’ve been constantly taking care of my body, getting treatment and going to bed early to do all the right things so my body was ready because there were a few times this season when I thought I felt terrible and my hamstrings were no good. 

“I was wondering if I should play or not but if I say that I’m scared I’m going to pull my hammy and choose not to play then I’ve lost my spot and to get it back is so hard.

That’s what I’ve realised. Once I’ve got my spot, I have to do everything to keep it. It doesnt matter if I feel terrible, I have to go out there and put in a good performance. That is the kind of competitiveness there is in Europe.”  

While the Paris-born starlet was able to quickly adapt to life at his new club and lock down a position in the team straight away, it was a different story in his first European adventure. 

In 2018, he traded Melbourne City for the Eredivisie, where he made 10 appearances on loan at PEC Zwolle before returning to Australia to lock down regular first team football. 

Genreau started 6 games and made 4 substitute appearances for PEC Zwolle.

Genreau admits that being able to speak French helped him quickly adapt to life at his new club this time around but he did have to prove that he was good enough after coming from a lesser-known footballing nation. 

“It helps massively to speak French to become well integrated into the team but when I first came over, the coach didn't really know what position I was,” Genreau explained. 

“He had watched a few of my games but it was more the President that signed me. He asked me what positioning I was and what the level was like in Australia.

A lot of people over here ask me what the level in Australia is like compared to Ligue 2 and maybe there is a little bit of a lack of respect but I tell them all that there is a great level in Australia with lots of great young players.

“It’s hard for them to understand that because it's so far away and with the different time zone so it is true that you are seen as that guy that is sort of different and it's a little bit harder in that sense.”

Next season, Genreau will ply his trade against the likes of Neymar, Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappé and Marco Verratti. 

He joins Maty Ryan (Real Sociedad) and Ajdin Hrustic (Eintracht Frankfurt) as the third Socceroo who is playing in one of Europe’s top five leagues but with several of his national team compatriots fighting for promotion, that number could increase. 

“It's massive because we need as many Socceroos as possible playing in Europe and in the top leagues,” Genreau said. 

To be in one of the top five leagues in Europe next season is massive and I don't think I realise yet how big it is. 

“But from the Olympic team, there are so many great young players. You’ve got Cammy Devlin and Nathaniel (Atkinson) in Scotland doing so well Connor (Metcalfe) is joining Jackson (Irvine) at St Pauli which is awesome. 

“You’ve also got Tom Glover and Marco Tilio doing well in Australia so I hope that the Olympic team can continue the path because its good for the national team and it’s good for Australian football. 

“I hope we can qualify for this World Cup coming up because there are really exciting times ahead.”