Even 24 hours on Yakou Méïté is struggling to comprehend the events of Sunday afternoon. “I was happy because we had won but personally I was a bit upset after missing the penalty,” the Reading striker says of his side’s 3-0 win over Cardiff.
“To see that message when I checked my phone afterwards made me very sad – it’s the first time I’ve ever experienced anything like that. To be honest for the first 30 minutes I think I was in a little bit of shock but then I realised it’s not everyone who is like this. Unfortunately there are some bad people who like sending messages like that but it’s important not to let it affect you.”
Minutes after his spot-kick had been saved during injury time of the Championship match three direct messages from an account named “saw_pyay_htoo” registered in Singapore were sent to the Ivory Coast forward: “mother fucker”; “can’t score penalty”; “fucking monkey”.
It was the latest incident of racist abuse to have blighted the start of the football season, with Chelsea’s Tammy Abraham and Paul Pogba of Manchester United also subjected to online discrimination over the past week having missed a penalty. Méïté decided to take things into his own hands by publishing the messages to his 35,000 followers on Instagram with the reply: “I don’t think I need to speak.”
“I was very angry so I decided to share it so people could see what kind of stuff we players have to put up with sometimes,” he says. “People think they can say whatever they want, even if it’s racist. But of course they would never say that to my face. They hide behind Instagram or Facebook and that’s why I posted it.”
After the Abraham incident in the Super Cup in Istanbul last week the anti-racism organisation Kick it Out issued a “call to action” to social media companies to clamp down on online abuse. Even after the offending account was swiftly deleted Méïté agrees.
“Everyone should be together to try to do something about this because it is unacceptable,” he says. “We are all the same and we are playing to make people happy and to see this kind of message is not good for the sport. I want to say thank you to everyone who has sent me messages because I have received a lot of love – even from supporters of other Championship clubs. They make me feel I am not alone and these kind of messages are not only hurting me but everyone.”
Now settled in Berkshire after signing from Paris Saint-Germain in 2016, Méïté enjoyed his best campaign as he scored 12 league goals despite Reading finishing 20th in the Championship last season. A hamstring injury that forced him out of the last few matches also ended up costing him a place in Ivory Coast’s squad for the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt, where Ibrahim Kamara’s side were beaten on penalties in the quarter-final by the eventual champions, Algeria.
“It was difficult but I think the coach decided I wasn’t 100%,” he says. “I accept that because when you go to a tournament like that you need to be at your best. It was a disappointing tournament because with the quality we had in the team we should have done better.”
That was underlined when Arsenal paid a club-record £72m to sign the forward Nicolas Pépé from Lille last month. Méïté has offered his services to the player he has known since the age of 12 when they and Tottenham’s Georges-Kévin Nkoudou were teammates at FC Solitaire in the 19th arrondissement of Paris.
“He was a goalkeeper at this time so I used to practise trying to score against him. Life is weird!” he says, laughing. “Sometimes he would get bored and come out to play on the wing. He was very good.
“We used to live near each other and also went to the same school so we are good friends. I’ve already tried to help him a bit. I said to him I am not far from London, so let me know.
“He is very happy to be at Arsenal and is very excited for the season. I’m sure he is going to do well because he has a lot of quality.”
As for Reading, the victory over Cardiff has eased some of the pressure on the Portuguese manager José Manuel Gomes after two defeats. Reading started the summer under a “soft” transfer embargo having breached the Football League’s financial fair play rules but the purchase of the forwards Lucas João and George Puscas, a Romania Under-21 international who scored twice on Sunday, for a combined £13m has raised expectations at a club last relegated from the Premier League in 2013.
“I don’t know where we are going to end up,” says Méïté. “Every team is capable of surprising you.”
But having swapped the gilded surroundings of PSG for the rough and tumble of Championship he has no regrets.
“I’ve been here for three years and feel half-English now,” says Méïté. “The fans have always been so good to me and they have made me feel welcome. Last season was great for me but now I have to prove myself again.”
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