The French Connection

by Gunnar Berndt

Exclusive Q&A with a Veteran of MLS and the French Ligue 1

Strykers defender Claude Bilal Dielna is easily one of the brightest stars in the MASL this season. Hailing from France, the 36-year-old enjoyed an impressive outdoor career that saw him lace up for AC Ajaccio in his native country’s topflight, England's Sheffield Wednesday, and MLS outfits New England Revolution and Portland Timbers. Dielna happily offered a glimpse into the unique path his life has taken as well as his ambitions in the indoor game. 
Question: Some might think you suddenly decided to leave France and join an MASL team in Southern California. What’s the real story? 
Dielna: I’ve been living in Miami for years and own a business there. Even before I moved from Europe, I was always going back and forth between FranceMiami, and Los Angeles. Of course, I feel close to France since I’m from there, but I love the lifestyle hereI’ve had a green card for a while and hope to have my U.S. citizenship soon. 


Question: You mentioned your business in Miami. Could you provide some insight? 
Dielna: My company serveathletes who want a certain lifestyle when they’re on the road for an away game or a vacation. We help them find everything from nice restaurantand hotels to cars and private jets. Depending on where someone is, we can even provide trainers and physical therapists. Our network covers many places in the U.S. and around the world, but of course we specialize in certain bigger cities. 


Question: How did you end up as a member of the Strykers? 


Dielna: I was about to sign with an outdoor team in Dubai, but the deal didn’t happen. After that, I didn’t think about professional soccer until (long-time Empire captain) Izzy (Sesay) and (ex-Empire forward) Franck Tayou asked me if I wanted to come play for the Strykers. I liked the challenge, so I decided to give it a try. 

Question: Having excelled in the outdoor game, what’s it like playing in the MASL?  
Dielna: Although I never pictured myself in pro indoor soccerit feels natural because growing up I often played in small-sided gamesIndoor and outdoor are very different in terms of the rules and the vision of the field, but you still have to be good with the ball and work hard. Those are things I can always provide. I’m very confidentand I’m here to win and enjoy my footballI want to be the best I can be and be a leader on the team. 
Question: What does being a leader mean to you? 
Dielna: We have very young, talented group, but the only way to really see everyone’s individual qualities is to be great together. We have very good coaches who were excellent players and who tell us this all the time. Part of why I’m here is because I have the same mindset. don’t like to talk too muchI lead by example. Hopefully, seeing that I’m disciplined and that I work hard will inspire others and make us a better team.