FIFA.com: Gael, you and Manchester City clinched the English league title right at the death. A few weeks on, what do you make of it all?
Gael Clichy: It was a lot of effort and a great season. In England, many people are saying that it was the greatest season in the history of the Premier League, with all the turnarounds and the dramatic finale. It was tough for the fans, but I think it’s the best possible way to become champions, rather than securing the title with five matches to spare.
That was precisely the case in 2004, when you won the title with Arsenal with an 11-point margin...
Yes – I think we were champions six matchdays from the end, but we had other objectives that year. We wanted to become the first champions of England to win the title without losing a single game. So we stayed focused to the very end. It was pretty crazy at the time, achieving something like that in one of the best leagues in the world. Even though I was just a small cog in the machine, I was proud and the achievement will be very difficult to repeat.
For a young Frenchman playing abroad, is it reassuring to have a manager like Arsene Wenger?
If I had a son who had the chance to turn professional at 16, I wouldn’t hesitate to send him to Arsenal to play under Wenger. For a young player, it’s the best club to develop at. Even though I left to join City, I know how much I owe to the club and the manager, and I can never thank them enough. Looking at the criticism they’ve had this season, I’m happy to see that they still managed to finish third. They deserve it, and it proves that the world of football is sometimes unfair – even for someone like Wenger, who has given so much to French and English football. But I understand how people can be demanding, because in the end we remember the teams that win titles, not those that play well. In ten years’ time we’ll remember Chelsea, who won the Champions League, but not Bayern Munich, who perhaps deserved it.
You joined up with the French squad having just won the league title. Did your legs feel lighter or heavier than normal as a result?
A bit of both. We’re all tired after what has been a long season, but for me it’s been like winning a final after extra time: as the winner you can start afresh the next day, whereas the loser’s legs feel heavy for three or four days. It’s psychological more than anything. Also, the advantage of having a squad as deep as Manchester City’s is that I’ve been able to rest a bit more this season than I could at Arsenal. This is all positive for the French national team.
How do you explain the fact that, despite their individual talents, England haven’t won an international title for such a long time?
It’s not easy to explain, but it’s further proof that having the best players in the world counts for nothing if they don’t work together. My personal view is that 10 or 15 years ago, two English players – one from [Manchester] City and the other from United – would have struggled to connect in the national team. Club loyalty is so strong over there [in England] that you couldn’t ask someone who has spent their entire career with United, like Gary Neville, and someone else who has always played for City, like Micah Richards, to get on with each other off the pitch. I’m not saying that’s the only explanation, but this club culture is, in my eyes, one of the reasons for their lack of success despite all the good players they’ve had over the years. It’s not so much the case these days. Many of them are friends, but I hope they don’t suddenly wake up this year and win the EURO, seeing as they’re in our group!
Do you any special thoughts for Eric Abidal ahead of the competition?
Even though I’m very proud of the season I’ve had, and feel that I deserve my place, I know full well that if Eric had been there, things would have been more difficult for me. As we’re also talking about a man’s health, I can tell you that I’d have preferred for him to be here and for me to be at home. I hope he’s OK, I wish him a speedy recovery and I’m sending my regards to him and his family. Over and above football there are people, and Eric is someone extraordinary. I hope we can achieve something great for him.
Finally, is it true that you were right-footed when you were younger?
Yes, it’s true! But I broke my right leg when I was little. After my injury, my dad, who was also my coach, wanted me to score in training matches using only my left foot; otherwise the goals would not count. Perhaps, even then, he wanted me to become a complete, two-footed player. These days I’m left-footed and I thank him for it, because if I wasn’t, with so much competition on the right, my career might not have been the same.