"After 20-25 minutes I wanted to return to France"

05 October 2010

Former Arsenal star Robert Pires has spoken about his introduction to English football and claimed he was ready to quit English football without kicking a ball after watching 25 minutes of the Gunners opening game of the 2000/01 season against Sunderland from the bench.

Signed from Marseille after helping France to glory at the European Championships in the summer of 2000, Pires eventually overcame his fears of Premier League physicality to become one of the division’s most highly regarded foreign imports.

A winner of two league titles and three FA Cups and crowned the Football Writers’ Association’s Footballer of the Year in 2002 during an amazingly successful six seasons at Highbury, the former French international revealed to Arsenal TV Online that it could have been oh so different had he not overcome first day nerves.

“Let me tell you a story about my first game with Arsenal. It was away to Sunderland and Arsene Wenger said to me, ‘I’m going to put you on the bench and you’ll be able to see how they play football in England.’

“I can tell you that after 20-25 minutes I wanted to return to France because I could tell how difficult it was going to be here. That’s how it all started for me.

“It was his way of saying, ‘look if you want to succeed in English football it’s going to be very, very hard.’

“He was right, that day at Sunderland was a real shock for me the way the sides got stuck into each other, but he had confidence in me, picked me and I adapted to the style of play. There was no question that I had the best years of my career here at Arsenal.”

Pires is currently training with Arsene Wenger’s squad as he looks to retain fitness while looking for a new club. The Gallic midfield maestro left Spanish side Villarreal after four seasons at the end of last term and is thought to be eager to play two final season in the French top flight.