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Robert Pires - A True English Heart

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.

 

Position: Midfielder
Nationality: French
Team: Arsenal FC, England
 
One of Arsenal's latest French recruits, Robert Pires has adjusted quickly to the English game. For a midfielder whose talent was not at all physical strength, Pires has shown commitment on the pitch. In this interview he explains why he likes playing in England so much. He underlines two major factors: the passion of the supporters and the beauty of a competition like the FA Cup. Before the final against Liverpool, he opened his heart...
 
Not strong enough. The motto was heard again and again when Robert Pires was signed by Arsenal from Olympique de Marseille last season. Six months later, the same could be said about the France midfielder, but slightly differently: Not soft enough.
 
Why has Pires changed from a skilful but elongated figure in the middle of the field to a talented but pushy player on the wing? England!
 
According to Pires, his love affair with English football does not only come from the intensity of the game itself, but also from the passion that surrounds matches, especially in the Cup, a competition he has grown to love and cherish. The level of support seems to have lifted a winger described before his arrival on English soil as softhearted.
 
One incident in the 2000/01 season epitomised his change of character: playing against Tottenham at White Hart Lane. For an ever bubbly derby, Pires came towards the stands to get a ball that had been lost in the crowd. A Tottenham supporter faked to throw the ball at him in order to intimidate him. Pires, once he had the ball in hand, did the same. He did not wince nor whinge. He was almost being provocative. "It was all part of a game," says Pires, "I would never have thrown the ball at him."
 
Of all his memories of the season though, the Arsenal number 7 would rather speak of the FA cup-tie at Carlisle United: "It was the precise moment I realised what the Cup meant to our supporters and to the English fans in general." On a freezing cold night, in the heart of winter, Arsenal were playing away against an un-fancy team, in a small stadium. Yet the support of the "Gooners patrols" was immense. "I had even more respect for the Cup then," admits Pires. Arsenal went on to jump all the remaining hurdles before the final.
 
Of the "incredible public support", of the derbies and of the Cup matches, Pires says: "The intensity of this meeting is incredible. When I played for Marseille I thought their fans were the loudest in the world, but now I know I was wrong. The Gunners win the accolade."
 
Having in mind the highly symbolic goal he inflicted on Tottenham in the semi-final at Old Trafford, what does Pires think of the reaction of the crowd when he scores? "It's an unbelievable sensation to be standing on the pitch when the whole crowd erupts." For a man who played in a European championship final, and who won the World Cup, these words must sound sweet to English ears.
 
Does Pires see such a gap between stadium atmospheres in France and in England then? "As a Frenchman, I had never experienced that kind of support. That's why I sometimes stand back and just look around me. The intensity is such that I often think the fans are about to pour unto the pitch. I'm sure that they think about it for a split-second before deciding to stay in their seats. It's incredible!" And Pires did not dare trying to describe what the atmosphere would be like at the Millennium Stadium on May 12. He knew better: the Cup fever would be at its highest.
 
Pires, the shy and thin Frenchman turned into a proud and muscly Arsenal player, would not mind scoring again in "the most wonderful club competition in the world."
 
May 2001
By Xavier RIVOIRE, UK Correspondent of the French sports daily "L'Equipe"

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