Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

Yohann brings Gallic flair to Crusaders

Yohann Lacroix foils Lisburn Distillery
Yohann Lacroix foils Lisburn Distillery

When Sean O'Neill's shoulder crashed onto the Windsor Park turf in painful fashion back in January, no-one could have have predicted that Crusaders' saviour would be over 9,600 miles away.

French stopper Yohann Lacroix was in Singapore enjoying a spell at Tampines Rovers but he was ready to grasp a new challenge.

The mobile phone belonging to Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter became very active after that Irish Cup draw against Linfield and the horror injury that appeared to spell the end of O'Neill's season.

Baxter kept digging and he uncovered a gem in the shape of the 6ft 5in Lacroix who is now bringing a real touch of class to the Irish League.

The 28-year-old made two stunning saves in the penalty shoot-out from Lisburn Distillery duo Scott Davidson and Ryan McCann at Ballyskeagh on Tuesday night to keep the Crues on course for fourth Irish Cup final appearance in five years.

Lacroix, who began his career at Auxerre, has rubbed shoulders with players of the calibre of Eden Hazard, Yoyan Cabaye, Patrick Kluivert, Mathieu Debuchy and Bayern Munich defender Dante.

He has cherished memories from his five seasons at Lille even though he failed to make the number one jersey his own. His footballing journey also took him to Greece and the Far East where he turned out for Etoile FC in Singapore's S. League before joining Tampines Rovers.

But after swapping the stifling heat of Singapore for Belfast's freezing temperatures, he's warming to the challenge of being Crusaders' new number one hit.

"I'm really happy to be here and enjoying my time at Crusaders," said Lacroix. "I could stay here for a few years and hopefully the club wants me to.

"My contract is up at the end of May but I would like to stay on and do my best for the club. It's up the club what they want to decide but I'm happy in Northern Ireland and enjoying the lifestyle.

"The weather is not a problem for me – I'm used to cold conditions from my time in France. I was there for five years and their winters are very cold so it's as bad as here!"

Crusaders' regular number one, O'Neill, is two months ahead in his recovery from that horror injury.

The former Dungannon Swifts keeper told the Belfast Telegraph yesterday that he if he comes through another test in training this week, he could be available for selection again this month.

However, he knows he has a fight on his hands to regain the jersey from Lacroix.

"It's always great to make important saves, especially in a penalty shoot-out but it's my job to do that and I have confidence in my own ability," added the Frenchman.

"I don't get nervous because you have to perform.

"The pressure is always on the striker to score from the spot. I try to anticipate where he is going to put the ball and then it is important for me to get a good spring with my feet and hopefully a strong hand on the ball. I'm just glad we made in the end and hopefully we can win the semi-final and go all the way to the final."

Football isn't the only passion in Lacroix's life. The man from Thonon-les-Bains in south eastern France even has his sights set on a marketing role within Uefa and the Irish FA is giving him an opportunity to hone those particular skills.

"I'm doing a sports marketing course online with a French university and the IFA work is also giving me great experience," he added.

"Next year I hope to do a Masters Degree in Sports Management at the University of Ulster.

"Ultimately it would be nice to get a marketing post within Uefa because marketing and football are my two big passions. That would be an exciting opportunity.

"But football is my first love – since I started playing when I was 14-years-old."

For Yohann, his adventure in Northern Ireland is proving to be an education on and off the pitch.

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