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 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.