Robert Pires on Paris pain and his Arsenal ambition

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The dreamiest man alive, Robert Pires, has reflected on some of the more difficult times of his Arsenal career – in particular that heartbreaking night in Paris when someone had to make way after Jens Lehmann’s red card, and the manager decided it had to be him.

As Wenger celebrates his 20th anniversary with a ‘love story’, the former Arsenal great – who still trains with the club to this day – spoke to L’Equipe about his time with his former boss and how, even though he says that was the worst night of his life, it barely left a scratch on their long-term relationship.

All credit for the translation to @Modulus31 – thanks.

On the night of the final

“My worst memory was 10 years ago, Champions League final. It was a nightmare. I remember it like yesterday. When Lehmann gets sent off, you know that a player has to come off, but I never thought that it’d be me, so I don’t even look at the bench.

“Then, Titi (Henry) tells me “Rob, it’s you”. I turn around and I see the number 7 on the 4th official’s screen. I think to myself ‘No way, why me?’

“I can’t go out, not like this. I walk as slowly as possible out of the pitch, I’m extremely angry at Arsène.

“When we meet, we don’t look at each other, he doesn’t want to look at me because he knows that this is really hard on me. I don’t want to look at him because I know that he has made a mistake.

“After the match, I didn’t go to see him. It was still too fresh, I didn’t sleep that night, even more so because we lost. This remains the worst moment of my career. Two days after the final, I realized that it was tough for him too.

“That day, I failed and so did he.”

The aftermath

“The day I told him I was leaving, it was painful. The next day (after the final), I took my decision to leave. Even though I know Villarreal wanted me, the final was the trigger.

“When I enter Arsène’s office, he thinks that we’re going to talk about the final, but the first thing I say is ‘I’m leaving’. He didn’t expect it. There’s a silence and then he tells me, ‘I imagined every scenario except for this one. Are you sure about it? This is your home, your club.’

“I explain that yes I am, even more so because Villarreal offered me a 2 years contract while Arsenal only offers me 1 year. Then, we start speaking about the final. We’re talking and he tells me ‘I don’t know if you’re going to be a manager one day but know that subbing you off the pitch was the worst decision I’ve ever had to take until now.’

“It did me some good talking to him, I think he felt the same way, even though he maybe felt guilty because he might have thought that, without meaning it, he made me leave.

“After we’re done talking, I thank him for these 6 years together. I get up and we shake hands. It was respectful but nothing more. When I leave Colney, it’s really tough. I don’t empty my locker, I leave everything.

“Once I’m out, I think to myself ‘That’s it, this is over, the Arsenal page is turned. And I leave this club on the worst match of my life.’

When the dust has settled (2009)

“I don’t feel angry at Arsene Wenger at all,” he said. “I want to thank him for the confidence he gave me and the titles we won. It [CL Final] is a little thing which cannot define our relationship.

“It cannot erase six years when I learned from him. I’ve put it behind me. He is a manager I will never forget.”

Meeting again at Villarreal

“What’s funny, is that in my second year at Villareal, we played Arsenal in the Champions League. We greeted each other, me and Arsène. It was intense. What’s weird, is that even though we lost (3-0), this match is my favourite memory at the Emirates.

“I’m at home but with another shirt. And the fans are all singing my name from beginning to end. I was so touched.

“Later, in 2011, when I came back to London after Aston Villa, I want to give back to Arsenal everything it gave me. I’m not rancorous! I become ambassador at the club. The next step would be to become a sporting director, that what I want and Arsène knows it.

“But what he is doing today for me, letting me train with the first team every morning, it’s unique in Europe and I’m so thankful to him for that.

“We never talked again about the 2006 final, it’s ancient history.”

On when Wenger will leave

“When he’ll win the league again. Then, I can see him say “I’m leaving”. Every start of the season, that’s his number one objective. The only time I’ve seen him truly emotional was when we were champions in 2004. When he lifted the trophy, I saw him touched.

“It’s the year we’re champions without losing a single match. I don’t know if he’ll ever say it but this is what he considers his biggest achievement.”

A nice look into how complicated the relationships between a manager and a player can be. Wenger had to make his Paris decision in seconds, and maybe in hindsight he would have made a different one, but these are the challenges a manager faces.

As for Robert Pires – Arsenal Sporting Director: can we make that happen now, please?

And to finish, as this was a bit of a painful look back, enjoy the best of a man who was just a pleasure to watch.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tyyV1HjSzgc

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52 Comments on "Robert Pires on Paris pain and his Arsenal ambition"

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Toure Motors

What an absolute unparalleled legend of a man

IamaGoober

I can only imagine how devastated he was coming off that pitch, but here’s a thought, who would you of taken off if it wasn’t Pires?

Lungelo

I remember watching this game with my mate. Our first thought was Fabrigas out. We neened experienced heads. I knew we lost the game when Pires was off. Henry also missed a lot of chances

Chuqu

I still think of that 2006 final, sometimes i feel like blaming TH14 for the chances missed but then again, he’s a legend for the chances taken over the years. We were superb that night but mother luck was against us, someday will be ours and i hope that someday will be soon because i really do want Wenger to win it with us.

ChrisGoona

When you look back at the midfield that started Pires, Gilberto, Fabregas, Hleb and Ljungberg, you can understand his frustration. He would have been asking himself, why not the 19 yr old Fabregas, or Hleb, why me? Someone had to be sacrificed. From Wenger’s point of view he may have thought that Pires offers the least energy and stamina, so playing with 10 men needed runners.

It is a shame his Arsenal career ended in such a way. Seeing him at the Legends game was magnificent. Hopefully his presence around Colney will inspire our current team to lift the CL trophy and put that night in Paris firmly behind us all!

Simon

And I’ll always wonder how many had paid a visit to Fuentes before the final.
That last 10mins killed us.

Lord Bendtner

Terrorizing defenders. Absolutely magnificent and a true gentlemen.
Hats off to you sir

Met

I really hope Pires gets to become sporting director.

Mein Bergkampf

Still baffled at how the ref didn’t let Barca walk it into the empty net, give Jens a yellow and let’s have a proper final. Arguably the two best footballing teams in the world at that time and he effectively ends the game after 18 minutes.

ChrisGoona

Stupid rules… Only now it has been fixed!

Thierry Bergkamp

To this day, I still know for sure that we would have come from behind to win that trophy.

Charmin_Tas

The ref actually said if he had thought about a sec more he would have just let the goal stand

James

Even immediately this began use as one of the best examples in refereeing of the need to delay your whistle to see if advantage develops.

The Don

We’re lucky. As fans. We’re lucky to have some stellar role models at the club we love. The kind you want to tell your kids about.

Idysurtagem

I can feel his pain through the words that he said. One of the biggest match in your career, and you can’t give it all because one of your team mate got sent off and the manager decided to sub you out. Very painful.

Jay Song

Love the man. Absolute legend. One of the big reasons why I started supporting Arsenal.

Easy as JVC

I remember when Overmars left and we brought this Robert Pires fella in from Marseille. All I could think was how are we going to replace the pace and goals of the Dutchman? Turns out Pires has quite the eye for goal, didn’t have pace to burn but with technique and vision like that we could forgive him. All the talk of Arsenes 20 years has brought back the best memories of Football in my life. I was very sad the way it ended for him at Arsenal, but I respect the way he can reflect on it and move on. Now he’s come home.

Al Gilmore

A Rolls Royce of a player. My fave piece of Arsenal merchandise is my Pires/Che Guevara style t-shirt.

A clever, insightful man bereft of that ego Titi has that I fear will be his undoing.

Oo2baGoona

Where did you get that shirt from. Sounds so cool

Giroud's Goat

Fucking love this guy, absolute Legend

Emmanuel

“…I imagined every scenario except for this one”… clearly a man that considers his thoughts before he speaks (very rare breed). Never been a fan of autobiographies but I will certainly be if Wenger ever wrote one. Each time someone shares sneak picks of their interactions with the man, it makes me feel I don’t know the man at all. When you hear pundits describe him as stubborn, obstinate etc, they simply don’t know the man.

Tim

Watching that game live, I thought it had to be Pires. Can’t remember exactly why but it seemed like the right sub at the time.

Mack

What a legend. You forget just how many spectacular goals he scored and how often he was in the right place to finish off a rebounded shot.

Simon

Should have won that final in ’06. We were the better team on paper and on the night. Just ran out of legs in the last 20m. It took me 5 years before I could watch any highlights of that game.

The bigger disappointment for me was going out the Chelsea in the quarter finals in 03/04 I believe. Absolutely scandalous that that team, at the peak of it’s powers, didn’t win it that year. It also created Jose Mourinho……double whammy.

Thierry Bergkamp

For me, that final defeat will always be the bigger disappointment than any 1/4 loss

Wenger's Silent Brother
Wenger's Silent Brother

To say we were the better team on paper totally underestimates the tactical achievement to get there. That Arsenal team was, on average, not good enough to be in the final. Only Titi, Toure and Cole were at their peak; and Cole had only played three games that season with Flamini playing left back in the Champions League.

It was a miracle we were in the final.

Holyviper

I vote Arsene Wenger to be the manager till he’s ready to go, and to be at Arsenal involved at some level till his death. Money cannot buy class. Money cannot buy loyalty. Money cannot by pedigree. We’re probably one of the last few slow-fashion clubs in the world, if you know what it means. Pause and think about the privilege it is to love a club that still uses the words ‘quality’ over ‘victory’, ‘nurture’ over ‘put together’.

bob davis

Well said!

With all the money flying around he could have easily left Arsenal for another big club and a big pay packet to go along with it, but no, he stays loyal to the Arsenal.

A true legend.

Tony g

Wow, most of those goals were outside the 18 yard box!

The Wizard of Oz(il)

That year I was in the Army (Airforce actually) doing my service as it was the law at the time in my country. I remember it like it was yesterday, sitting in a large room with about 30 guys from my unit. Just imagine, all of them are cheering for Barca, literally all of them. When all the shit happened with Lehmann and Pires was taken off I remember thinking, what the hell is Arsene doing?!? Then Campbell scored and I was jumping and screaming my ass off. Nearly got trashed by the rest of the guys, had to look over my shoulder for the rest of the game. When all the shit happened with Lehmann and Pires was taken off I remember thinking, what the hell is Arsene doing?!? Maybe if Freddie had left the field instead, we could’ve pulled this off, I don’t know… Arsene for me was a god then, now less so, but I still admire and respect all that he’s done for Arsenal.

Sorry for the perhaps, a dull story, just remembered that night, and it was not a particularly a great one though…

Arshavin's fake moustache
Arshavin's fake moustache

Master of the late-run-into-the-box-don’t-mind-if-I-do goal

mo974

Thanks blog for the video, its awesome and so many good memories. What a player, an eye for the goal and the natural ability to be on the rebound and blast it past keepers. Iwobi has the potential to emulate him among the youngsters. But he needs to work hard!

Belfast Gooner

I once met Robert Pires and had chat with him. Absolute Gentleman. It was at a French open training session in Belfast in 1999, the year before he joined Arsenal. I had gone to the session hoping to get Vieira’s signature. After the session Vieira walked straight past the fans waiting and onto the coach. As Pires didn’t play in England, not many of the fans there knew who he was.
I had seen him play a couple of times on TV and thought he was a fantastic player. I walked over to him and asked would he sign my book. He smiled and said ‘of course’. I had my picture taken with him, and we chatted about the world cup win the year before.
As he walked towards the bus, I asked him could he ever see himself playing for Arsenal as that was the club I supported. He smiled and said, he would love to!
He’s an Arsenal legend and a great guy too. Super Bobby Pires!!

No1isPerryGroves

He did like scoring against T*ttenham!

Jamie

I really hope Wenger wins the double this year! Really deserves it – I know there are unbelievably competitive teams out there, with corrupt refs favouring certain teams but by God if anyone deserves it it’s Arsene.

Gus Caesar

Behind Rocky, Sir Bob will always be my favourite player, something special about that number 7 jersey. He scored 84 goals in 189 appearances for the club – find me another wide midfielder who does that. I watched the Invincibles dvd again this week and its amazing how many goals he was involved in. Legend.

Thierry Bergkamp

I believe the stats show that Pires never lost the ball once, in his 6 years at Arsenal.

Uba Ngenegbo

A player of consummate skill and flair; the oil in our machine!

Did he ever miss a penalty or rebound in Arsenal colours?

Please keep him at the club!

Espen

The finest midfielder in Arsenal colors, for me that is.

GooneRaf

17th May 2006; Worst birthday I have ever had.

tom

I love Pires and this is a painful read.

I hadn’t really understood that that aweful/wonderful night in May had been so instrumental in his leaving.

I think I understand how he must have felt, though.

The big headline from these quotes will be “Wenger- the biggest mistake I ever made!!!!”, and no doubt the haters will make hay from it, but I wonder if I know how to read that particular line?

Was Arsene saying that subbing Pores was his worst decision as it was what cost Arsenal the game? – Pires puts it so it sounds that way, or, is it actually that he felt it was his worst decision because it was the trigger for Bobby’s departure and it caused him so much pain?

I am inclined to think it was the latter because, as somebody else mentioned, Pires was getting a bit leggy in that final season, especially in second halves and with Hleb in electric form and Cesc too critical for defense, Wenger’s choice to pull number 7 was perfectly logical.

Interpreted that way, this story seems even sadder as you realize AW suffers as deeply as Pires and when he talks of his worst decision he means his best decision to attempt to win CL was actually his worst as it cost Pires.

As I said, I’m not quite sure if I’m reading it right, either way its sad.

The video cheered me up though!

OlegYch

I think Pires meant that the decision caused much pain (since it didn’t really pay off), not that it was bad.

Andy Mack

Nice to hear an Arsenal Legend clearly dismissing the myth that AWs aim is only to get 4th place.

Kris

😅😅😅😅😅😅😅😅😆😆😆😆😆😆😆😆😆😆
Touching

SD

Ljungberg should have gone off. You would still need guile to retain the ball which Freddy wasn’t blessed with.
Bob gilberto fabregas in the middle with thierry closing them down. bob even in his last season could get goals. so i think he would have got that second ball kind of shots.

Old Father Time

ROBBIE PIRES is one of my very favourite Arsenal players …. and I go back to the windy North Bank in the late 1950s. I could only list around 9 or 10 that would compete in my affections over all that time. Why ?
– I haven’t a clue. For example, why Robbie, Frank McLintock, Wrighty, Big Tony, the Romford Pele, Rocky, Tomas Rosicky and others register with a loyal fan’s emotions more than other great players – who have either played more, scored more, won more trophies, etc – beats me.
But love them, and enjoy what they bring to our great club.

Bjf

A wonderful article Arseblog. Ready to see why you’re number one in the field

Bjf

Easy to see it should have read

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