Exclusive Interview: Sylla on competing, fishing and cooking
He's no angler, but Yacouba Sylla is determined to land a regular place in the Villa line-up.
Despite spending more time on the bench than on the pitch this season, the 23-year-old French midfielder is as positive as ever that he can become an integral figure in claret and blue.
In the meantime, he is working hard at improving his game and improving his English - with the help of fishing programmes on TV!
"I watch those programmes a lot," he says.
"The sub-titles help me to learn the language. I don't go fishing but it's often the first thing I see when I switch on my television, so I just watch that."
Although he doesn't catch any fish, Sylla admits he is partial to a fillet of salmon or sea bass, which are frequently on the lunch menu at Bodymoor Heath.
And he also has quite a reputation with his team-mates - particularly Christian Benteke - for his culinary expertise.
"I enjoy cooking and I will try anything," he says.
"I've also taught Christian to cook. When I arrived here, he wasn't very good at all but he's quite good now. He sometimes invites me for a meal at his home."
Benteke also provided Sylla with a lift home from the training ground on the day we conducted this interview, and the Belgian striker had to wait patiently in the car while we chatted.
In recent times, though, Yacouba has been the one playing the waiting game.
Signed from French second division club Clermont Foot in January last year, he saw plenty of action towards the end of last season but so far this time has been restricted to half-a-dozen starts and seven substitute appearances.
Not that he has a single regret about swapping France's Ligue 2 for the Barclays Premier League.
"Signing for this club was the best moment of my career," he insists.
"I will never forget my debut at Everton, or our 2-1 win at Reading, when I was selected for the team for the first time.
"I also enjoyed playing against Chelsea and Liverpool last season - and this time I've played against both Manchester City and Manchester United. The 3-2 win against City was really special.
"It can be frustrating when you are sitting on the bench because any footballer would prefer to be playing. But it's important to maintain my concentration because when the gaffer asks me to play, I need to be ready.
"It's difficult for me because we have such quality players in my position.
"Fabian Delph is having a great season, and Ashley Westwood and Karim El Ahmadi are also very good players. Competition is essential for any team.
"I'm sad when I don't play but I'm aware that football is now a squad game rather than just a team game. Hopefully I will be more involved next season."
Sylla has also been impressed with the fervour of English supporters in general and Villa fans in particular, stressing that it's a far cry from the lethargic response players regularly encounter in his homeland.
"I love the way the fans encourage the team. At Manchester a few weeks ago, they kept on singing even though we lost, which is good for our morale.
"It's totally different in France. At a lot of grounds, supporters just go to watch the games and don't display any emotion.
"They are just spectators, and Clermont have a maximum of 5,000 so there's a big difference from stadiums like Villa Park and Old Trafford.
"And the football is very different here to what I knew in France. English football is much faster and more physical, with great technique. It's the best football in the world."
Sylla has settled in well in the West Midlands.
He is able to speak French with Benteke if the need arises, and apart from his TV tuition, his English is improving all the time with the help of Lorna McClelland, the players' welfare and liaison officer.
His response is certainly emphatic when, having been unable to find any trace of a goal throughout his senior career, I ask if he has ever scored.
"Never!" he laughs.
"Not yet, anyway. I've made a few assists, but my game is more about running a lot to help out the defence so I don't have too many opportunities.
"But if I play more frequently in the future, maybe I will be able to score a few as I progress. I want to be a winner."
Although he was born in France and played one game for the national U21 team, Sylla has Malian heritage and elected to represent the African nation at full international level, having now made four appearances for them.
"The Mali manager asked me to play in the build-up to the World Cup finals," he explains.
"I realised I had more chance of playing international football by doing that because there are so many top players in France.
"Unfortunately, we didn't qualify for Brazil but I don't regret my decision.
"Obviously it would have been good to qualify, but I'm looking forward to watching Ron Vlaar and Brad Guzan play for their countries this summer.
"It should be an excellent tournament and I will enjoy watching our players."
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