Football France has demonstrated a significant shift in the positive direction in terms of education and development of young talents over the past couple of decades. In the vast expanses of this country, the most authoritative academics are the Fernand Sastre National Technical Center, better known as Clairfontaine, and the Le Havre School. In the first, such famous characters as Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka, William Gallas, Kylian Mbappe, and Olivier Giroud took steps towards a glorious career, in the second – Paul Pogba, Riyad Marez, Dimitri Payet and Benjamin Mendy.
However, one cannot ignore another very reputable youth football school in the vastness of France — the Metz Academy. Here such stars as Sadio Mane, Kalidou Coulibaly, Emmanuel Adebayor, Miralem Pjanic and Papiss Cisse took their first steps in football. Another name on this list is Robert Pires, to recall the main milestones of whose career we are now offering.
Early years, Metz and Marseille
Robert Pires was born in Reims, where he started playing football as part of the local team of the same name. However, at the age of 18, the young talent moved to Metz, where he spent about a year in the youth team, and in September 1993, he made his debut in Ligue 1 in a duel against Marseille, and in the 80th minute, he scored his debut goal, which put an end to that game – 3:0.
In the 1994/95 season, Pires became one of the key players of the Maroon first team, which three seasons later became one of the contenders for the Ligue 1 gold, although it showed itself well during the 1995/96 campaign, finishing fourth. In 1996, in a sparring match against Mexico (2:0), Aime Jacquet allowed Pires to make his debut for the French national team. Then the mentor of the “tricolour” was building a new team, the key figure in which was the young Zinedine Zidane, and the former leaders were sent to the “dump of history” by the strong-willed decision of the mentor.
In the 1997/98 season, which preceded the final part of the World Cup in France, Metz was in the lead in Ligue 1 for a long time but lost to Lance in the 30th round at home (0:2). Even the four championship victories that followed before the finish did not allow the maroon to become champions. “Lance” took the gold for himself, who scored equally points with “Metz” but had a better difference in additional indicators.
Therefore, Pires’ only trophy as part of his native team was the 1996 French League Cup, and in the summer of 1998, Robert moved to the economically more powerful Marseille as a free agent. However, an excellent previous season with Metz allowed Pires to get into the French national team’s bid for the 1998 World Cup and even hold three matches at the triumphant for the tricolour World Cup (two at the group stage, one in the 1/8 finals against Paraguay).
In Marseille, Pires also became a key player on the move, but the Provencal failed to win the championship in the first season, losing only one point to the more successful Bordeaux at the finish. In Robert’s second season at Marseille, the team went through an incredible crisis at all. It barely kept a residence permit in the elite division, finishing in a saving 15th place only thanks to the most significant difference in goals scored and conceded, compared to the same indicator at Nancy.
Time at Arsenal and the triumph of the Invincibles
Pires immediately became a significant player at Arsenal, but in the Frenchman’s debut season, the Gunners failed to beat Manchester United in the championship race. Finally, however, the Londoners came to triumph in the 2001/02 season, when they “brought” 7 points of difference to Liverpool and immediately 10 to Manchester United.
The most successful season in the capital of Great Britain for Pires was, of course, the 2003/04 Premier League draw. The “gunners”, who were nicknamed “Invincible”, have never lost, having won 26 victories in 38 matches with 12 draws. In that championship, Thierry Henry showed himself superbly, who became the best sniper of the tournament with 30 goals scored. Still, Robert Pires, along with Dennis Bergkamp, turned out to be the best assistant of the team, having nine assists, to which he added 14 goals.
2005/06 season was Robert’s last in a red and white T‑shirt. It is noteworthy that Arsenal reached the Champions League final in the 2005/06 season, where they lost to Barcelona with a score of 1:2. But, unfortunately, that game did not go according to the script of the British from the very beginning. On the 18th minute, Gunners keeper Jens Lehmann was removed for afoul of the last hope, and Pires turned out to be the fielder Wenger preferred to sacrifice in the situation in favour of the reserve goalkeeper’s exit. Thus, the midfielder spent only crumbs of playing time in the decisive meeting, which in many ways was the reason for his decision to leave London.
Villarreal and Aston Villa
The next stop in Pires’ career was the rather ambitious, albeit not top-ranked, Spanish Villarreal. Robert wanted to move to a team where he would find the role of a key performer, and the “yellow submarine” seemed to be the right choice, but everything did not go at all as the midfielder had planned. His debut season in La Liga was marred by a cruciate knee ligament injury, which forced Pires to spend most of the season in the infirmary. On April 22, 2007, the Frenchman returned to the big game when he scored against Barcelona and brought a 2:0 victory over the Catalan Grandee.
Subsequently, Pires was an essential player for Villarreal, with whom he achieved tremendous success in the history of the club’s performances in La Liga. The Yellow submarine finished second in the 2007/08 season, putting Real Madrid ahead by 8 points, but beating Barcelona by 10. Pires spent 32 matches in the “silver” season, in which he recorded three goals scored and five assists.
The last season in Spain for Pires was the 2009/10 La Liga draw when he turned into a rotation player in his team. In the summer of 2010, Robert accepted an invitation from Aston Villa. As a result, he returned to the Premier League for another year to play under the guidance of the now-deceased Gerard Houllier. That season, the 37-year-old Pires appeared on the field only in 9 matches of the Premier League, and therefore it is not surprising that his contract was not extended in the summer, and the Frenchman received the status of a free agent.
After winning with the French national team at the 1998 World Cup, Pires faced serious competition in the national team for the right to play in his position. However, by the age of 24, Robert won it from more experienced performers (some of them left the national team), and at Euro 2000, he became one of the most important players of the “tricolour” in terms of the final result.
Pires started the tournament “on the bank”, coming out from the start only in the match of the third round of the group stage against the Netherlands (2:3). In the quarterfinals against Spain, the coaching staff led by Roger Lemerre preferred not to involve Pires. Still, in the semifinals, the midfielder was released for 33 minutes against Portugal, which was delayed in extra time. In the decisive match against Italy, Pires was again on the bench, but he acted as an assistant for David Trezeguet after extra time. The latter scored a golden goal in the 103rd minute, which brought France the title of the best team on the continent.
Soon after, Pires became a regular player in the starting line-up of the French national team, which he helped win the Confederations Cup in 2001 and 2003, becoming the best player and scorer at the first of them. After that, however, there were unpleasant pages in Pires’ international career. For example, in the final part of the 2002 World Cup, which turned out to be a failure for France, the midfielder missed due to injury. Moreover, in 2004 Robert had to end his career in the national team at 30 due to public disagreements with the “tricolour” Raymond Domenech, with whom Pires even fought. Subsequently, the midfielder admitted that his problems in his personal life caused by his divorce from his first wife Natalie, whose marriage lasted six years, led to this.
In total, Pires has 79 matches and 14 goals scored for the French national team.
End of career
After leaving Aston Villa, Robert Pires remained a free agent for a while but then signed a contract with the Indian club Manchester Howrah. However, the local Super League draw scheduled for 2012 did not occur, and the contract had to be cancelled. Two years later, in the fall of 2014, almost 41-year-old Pires still played in the Indian championship for the Goa club, which the famous Brazilian Zico led. Pires needed this experience to understand that he took everything he could and was capable of from football.
In the spring of 2015, Robert finally hung up his boots on a nail, and now he only often talks to journalists on burning topics but does not want to return to football in any active status — coach or functionary. Maybe it’s correct – Pires has already given his share of genius and talent to the development of the No. 1 game in total, and now is the time for those who still feel the strength to continue making football enjoyable. But, as they say, the show must go on.