Arsenal legend Robert Pires has revealed the frosty start to his career with the North London club, forced to win over doubtful fans who became disgruntled with the departure of club favourite Marc Overmars.
When Overmars left the club for Barcelona in 2000, Pires was immediately drafted in as a replacement and fortunately for the club, he turned out to be one of their best ever midfielders.
However, the effect of Overmars leaving seemed to create an awkward situation for Pires, who wasn’t immediately effective in Arsenal colours.
“What was particularly difficult for me was that everyone compared me non-stop to Overmars. Which is normal, because Marc Overmars had a great career at Arsenal, he scored lots of goals, he caught the public’s imagination,” Pires told French Football Weekly.
Initially sections of supporters at Highbury got on his back, every time he made the slightest mistake. That hostility doesn’t appear to have been because of Pires or anything about him, but because of the fact Overmars had left.
“As soon as I touched the ball – OK, I wasn’t playing well, I know that. But I felt that the fans were a bit cold towards me. And so it took me some time, they didn’t go easy on me, there was even a section of Highbury who would whistle as soon as I had the ball,” he added.
It’s not uncommon for foreign players coming into English football to struggle, especially when they are replacing a popular player at the club they’re coming to.
Contemporary football is a sport where the pressure for instant success has never been greater and sees some managers lose their jobs after a single patch of poor results. Thank God he didn’t take it to heart or the Premier League would have been deprived a very special midfielder.
So how did he turn it all around? Unsurprisingly, he cites Arsene Wenger as one of the major influences in his professional career, giving him the chance to sit back and take in the pace and power of English football.
“He came over and said “listen Robert, today you’re not starting, you’re a sub – I want you to sit and to see how it is in England”. And after 20 minutes I said to myself “what the hell am I doing here?!” It was at Sunderland! And I said to myself “ouh la la, I won’t succeed here, it’s impossible”. The physicality!” says the Frenchman.
Pires went on to have a fantastic career with the club, scoring 62 goals in 189 appearances and winning two Premier League titles, three FA Cups, two Community Shields and a Champions League runners up medal.