Maxime Chanot anchored the New York City FC defense for eight seasons and achieved legendary status by helping the club capture its first trophies, but his abrupt departure from New York City at the end of August 2023 caught fans of the team and the player himself by surprise.
It’s now been five months since Chanot left NYCFC for AC Ajaccio in France’s Ligue 2, but he’s already announced plans for his eventual New York City comeback.
On January 17, Chanot unveiled La Fabrique, his new New York City youth soccer academy. The academy promises to “combine the rich traditions of European soccer with the vibrant energy of New York City,” with Chanot saying he wants to help the city produce as many soccer talents as other global capitals like Paris and London. You can check out the academy’s website here and, if interested, sign up to learn more about its plans and programs.
Chanot joined Hudson River Blue on Zoom from Corsica to talk about everything involved in the launch of La Fabrique, his journey towards becoming a coach after his playing days are over, and his departure from NYCFC, among other topics.
Below is a transcript of our conversation, lightly edited and condensed.
Hudson River Blue: So it’s been five months since you announced you were going back to play in France. How has it been for you?
Maxime Chanot: It’s been a tough decision to take, going back home, it was…a difficult situation to take, but I think that’s why I needed it, in the bottom of my heart. You know how much I love New York, but having the chance to go back home and play in front of my family, I think that’s what made me make the decision to leave NYCFC.
But everything is well, I’m glad I can spend more time with my family, something I never got the chance to do since I started playing soccer. Having a chance to give another life to my kids too, that’s something, so, because I love New York, but you know, it’s a difficult city, I’m not gonna tell you.
It’s been a big change to be honest. The first few weeks it was a little bit difficult, I was a little bit homesick for New York, but day by day, everything is getting better. The football is pretty good, we’ve got sun every single day. I’m living just across from the beach, so I’m going to the beach. It’s fun, it’s a fun place to live, Corsica. Obviously I miss New York, I will be honest with you.
HRB: But you’ve got plans already launched to come back, which is what I wanted to talk to you about.
MC: Having the chance to open the academy, La Fabrique Academy, is something very important for me. I’ve been thinking about doing this for such a long time, and was a little bit blocked because of my MLS contract, you’re not supposed to do any academy when you’re under contract with MLS, but since I left the club [NYCFC] and because I’m not under contract with MLS anymore, it gives me a chance to start this project.
HRB: Why is this the right time? You were playing at a high level when you were still with NYCFC, you’re still performing for both club and country now, so what makes this the time? Do you foresee doing this simultaneously while continuing your career, next season too?
MC: So first, I became an American citizen, that’s something I want to mention. I got my American passport, so I have a proper link with this country. I love America so much, since day one, not only New York but America. Since I left, I’ve come back to New York seven or eight times. New York is my place. Yes I will keep going to play, I’m under contract for the next two years after this summer, I’m only 34 and my target is to stop playing when I will be 37 or 38.
As you probably saw last year, I still have power to keep going to play, you know, I’m not that old. So definitely I’m going to keep going and playing, but the fact that I’m traveling a lot back and forth to New York gives me the chance to be present for my academy. I’m very much looking forward to it, I’m very excited, I have already so many sign-ups, I was very surprised about this, because we released the sign-up a week ago.
This was the target since I started to be a little bit older, and since I started passing my B license, where I want to give back to the young players what I learned in my soccer career.
HRB: What’s it like to start the process of getting your licenses while you’re still playing professionally? How do you balance all that, as I’ve heard it’s a lot of work to get the coaching licenses. Did NYCFC—you thanked them when you announced that you had gotten one of your licenses—did they help you in the process, and how did that work?
MC: It was a lot of work. I had the chance to buy this license through the U.S. Soccer Federation, they gave us a chance as football players even if you’re still playing to go through this license. I was younger at this time, I was 31 when I started the process. I could tell there were some guys who were maybe thinking I was too young, maybe it’s going to take so much power, because you know training with a professional team, then also doing your classes next to it to become a coach…you can be tired, but I think I could manage both. The club helped me a lot NYCFC, I’m thinking about the coach from the reserve team Matt [Pilkington] and David Lee.
I went to the club and asked what they think about this, they were very okay with it, because I think the target for me and for them was for me to retire at NYCFC, and probably make the step to become a young team coach, you know, for the club.
Unfortunately, as you know, I left the club, but it doesn’t mean…who knows, maybe I will be back after I’m retired, you never know. So I started the process, I really liked it, and this was around the same time we became MLS Cup champions.
HRB: What makes you start with this academy as your first endeavor as a coach? Do you see yourself staying in the space of youth development and sticking with the academy setup, or is this your first experience and you want to, down the road, pursue the more senior team kind of coaching?
MC: I definitely see myself as a coach, once I’m retired. That’s something I have in the back of my head. So opening La Fabrique Academy gives me a chance to share already what I can share. I always say I’ve been lucky because I worked with so many quality coaches during my career, and I think I learned a lot from them, so now I just want to give it back.
So I don’t know what’s going to be my future, definitely I want to be a coach, I’m going to start with La Fabrique Academy, once I will be retired from professional soccer, I will be 100% fully focused on the academy, and who knows, maybe one day I will go back to NYCFC as a youth team coach. Right now, I want to be focused on the end of my football career as much and as best as I can, and then the next step would be to become, hopefully, a very successful academy in the city with La Fabrique Academy.
HRB: Why call it La Fabrique, “the fabric” in French, is there a thought process behind the name for the academy, or do you have an origin story for the name?
MC: The name means “create,” create the players, it doesn’t have a special meaning, the fact is “La Fabrique” means we’re going to create and that’s what I want, to create the next professional athlete.
HRB: How firm are the plans for the academy, in terms of, where are you guys going to host it, are you going to be based in a certain borough, how do the logistics look?
MC: We are on the final stages, the sign-up is already open, we already have the field, it’s going to be based on the Upper West Side [of Manhattan], because this is an area I believe is easier for everybody who lives in and near the city, that was the target we were looking for in an area. It’s going to be like soccer class, what I want is just to make the players better. Any players who already have a team in New York, they are welcome to come, and I’m going to help them be better. We’re going to have two sessions open every day from 3:30 to 5:30 or from 4 to 6, and we’re going to give a chance to the kids just to improve themselves, it’s going to be from Monday to Friday, we’re going to have also a session on Saturday, everybody’s welcome to come if they want to improve their game.
It’s going to start from four years old until 18 years old, even for the older ones, to be there just to apply for college, because I know how hard sometimes it is to have the scholarship, people are focused on getting a scholarship, so I will be there. My academy will be there to help them maybe to be a better player and also maybe to gain a scholarship.
I can also let them know my contacts, I’ve been playing for 20 years as a professional athlete. I want to help the young kids use my contacts to become maybe the next professional. To be in contact with general managers from MLS teams, from Europe, I will be there to try to help them to become professional, because I know it’s not easy when you don’t know anybody, in soccer sometimes you can be lost. I want to be the guy who can help the young kids in New York City, because they really deserve help.
HRB: Just to clarify the timing, so you’re launching this summer, and you’re going to do it during your offseason?
MC: It’s going to start in mid-March, that’s when our class is going to start. Then summer camp is going to start in June and I will be there every single day, because it’s going to be my offseason, so I’m going to propose a summer camp with me being a coach and being here every single day for the kids who are going to apply. It’s going to be fun for them, it’s going to be fun for me, so I’m really looking forward to that.
HRB: What’s been your impression, living in New York for as long as you did, of the academies and youth soccer setups here? Especially compared to what you were used to coming up as a kid yourself, what have you seen here in New York, and what are you trying to bring in maybe from your own experience?
MC: When I came to New York the first time in my life, it was in 2016. I was surprised because every single kid in France is playing soccer in the street, in the parks. When I showed up in 2016, I saw American kids playing baseball, basketball, but not so many kids playing soccer. When I left in 2023 I had the feeling more and more kids got to soccer, soccer got very popular. I don’t know why, if it’s because of the U.S. national team, or maybe the U.S. women’s national team, or the fact the next World Cup is going to be in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada.
I’ve seen a lot of potential in the city, and New York is even bigger than London and Paris, so why can Paris and London produce so many talents, and New York can’t do that? The fact is we don’t have enough good academies and good people who can share what they’ve learned, and this is my mission, to just give back what I learned during my time in Europe, during my time with the national team [of Luxembourg], during my time at NYCFC. I’m gonna share the knowledge I learned during my time as a soccer player who’s been successful, winning titles, winning games, and I’m gonna share my qualities with the kids.
In Europe we are very focused on becoming a professional, this is the way I was thinking when I was 12 to 14 years old, I didn’t even think about college or university, because we didn’t have this choice. In the U.S., it can be difficult because at some point you have to make a choice between trying to become a professional athlete or trying to go to college. I’m here to help to share my advice, that’s what I did when I was a player at NYCFC, I remember when every Homegrown showed up in the First Team—helping them, giving them some advice, that is definitely what I want to also do in my academy.
HRB: Who have been some of the coaches either that you played for or even competed against as a player that you now draw inspiration from?
MC: If you want me to give you one name, I will say Patrick Vieira. Patrick was one of my idols when I started playing soccer, so having the chance to be coached by him was something very special. I also had the chance to be coached, when I signed in the Premier League with Sheffield United, by Bryan Robson, who was a big legend at Manchester United. I had the chance to be coached by so many good coaches, I was thinking also of Ronny Deila, it’s been amazing, I’m pretty sure he’s going to be as successful at Club Brugge the same way he was with NYCFC or Celtic.
Even with Domenec Torrent who led us to the top of the Eastern Conference in 2019, I had the chance to be called by so many good coaches, all of them taught me different things and I’ve got a little bit of everyone. Now I want to just try to give it all back to the young kids that I will have a chance to train.
HRB: I know from even just your time at NYCFC, you have a number of former teammates who are now in professional coaching, people like Cody Mizell, who just recently became the goalkeepers coach for DC United, Frédéric Brillant was also an assistant in DC for a few years, and obviously Mehdi Ballouchy was your teammate and became a coach with NYCFC. Do you pick their brains about getting into the field?
MC: These people are an example for me, as you said of Cody Mizell, I’m very glad for him, there are plenty of guys who make a good step between retirement to becoming a coach or general manager, and obviously this is a target I want to achieve. So it’s always good to have people like that around you, they can help you, the same way I want to help the kids.
HRB: I can’t talk to you without asking about your exit from NYCFC, which was very unexpected, and it seemed like you might not have been happy about the way it all went down. Is there anything else you want to say about how your exit came about, and are you okay with everything, are things cool between you and the team?
MC: Everything is fine between me and the club. New York City Football Club gave me a chance to become who I am. They gave me so much, I tried to always give back on the pitch, and I think I did, I did my best every single day, I never cheat. The club helped me to leave, because it wasn’t expected at all.
My target was to retire at the club. Was I happy with the situation? No, I think that’s what you want to hear. Do I want to speak bad about the club? No, because I’ve got too much respect for them and I just wish the best for the club, the best for my teammates.
But yes, initially that wasn’t the plan, for me to leave, but it is what it is, when you’re a professional athlete you also have to to be mature and to understand sometimes things don’t go the way you want to, but I’ve got only respect for this club and I wish the club the best for the future because they deserve to be, for me, they have the potential to be the number one club in MLS.
I want people to remember me this way, I gave my best to this club. I always was thinking club before myself, I always put the club first, and this is my mentality. I’m always 100% real and this is also the way I play on the pitch, I gave everything every single time I stepped on the pitch.
I remember playing in 2021 with two big injuries, nobody knew that by the way, oh well…I don’t think so many players will do that, I did that because at this time, the club needed me to do this, so this is who I am and I want people to remember me this way. I just gave everything for this club and what I want to do now is to give my best to the city and to the New Yorkers, because they deserve this.