River Plate captain David Trezeguet certainly cuts an imposing figure, and not just because he measures in at over 6’2.
This Frenchman with Argentinian roots has also amassed a formidable medal collection during his career, notably at Italian giants Juventus and with the national side – including victory at the 1998 FIFA World Cup™ and UEFA EURO 2000.
Confident, measured and decisive in person, just as he is on the field of play, Juve’s fourth-highest goalscorer of all time told FIFA.com about his early days in French football, his time with Les Bleus and his emotional bond with La Albiceleste in this, the first of a two-part exclusive interview.
FIFA.com: David, it’s nearly a year since you joined River Plate. Are you surprised by how quickly fans of Los Millonarios have taken you to their hearts?
David Trezeguet: I’ve got a lot of affection for the people at River and I think it’s mutual. The fans quickly understood that I came here hoping to play football. The other stuff was very much secondary to me: what was said about the financial side of things, or that I was coming because I’d barely played in the United Arab Emirates. The most important thing was to have a good pre-season and, bit by bit, show what I could do. The fans appreciated that and the truth is a very strong bond emerged quickly. For me it was quite remarkable; you could say that I passed the test. The supporters appreciate both the way I play and the kind of person I am, and that’s something which means a great deal to me.
Many people won’t be aware of the sacrifices you made early in your career, so can you tell us about how you left Argentina to try your luck in the French game?
I wouldn’t class it as a sacrifice so much, because when you’re 18 you don’t think about things too much, either on a footballing or personal level. My objective was to go to France, and I didn’t think about what I had here. My folks had good jobs here, my sister was going to school, we were doing well and didn’t lack for anything. But anyway, when you’ve got enough enthusiasm and don’t overthink, things turn out well. It was a unique experience for me over there [in France]. I joined a big club like Monaco and it was extraordinary for my growth as a player. That gave me the chance to break into the national squad, win the 1998 World Cup, the EURO in 2000, and make the leap to Italian football.
Do you think you played your best football on Italian soil?
That’s where I spent the biggest chunk of my career, having been at Juventus for ten years. That was the best thing that happened to me because it was where I got to know real football, at an ambitious club with ambitious players. Having experienced that, I don’t feel out of place giving out advice or an opinion on what River could do to achieve what I did over that decade. I had the chance to play with three Ballon d’Or winners in [Zinedine] Zidane, [Fabio] Cannavaro and [Pavel] Nedved, as well as getting to know the likes of [Alessandro] Del Piero, [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic, Emerson, [Lilian] Thuram and [Patrick] Vieira. They were extraordinary players who, as well as being talented, always had a fierce desire to win titles. That level of ambition is vital if you want to achieve your goals.
France gave me so much, but I’ve always been Argentinian at heart and I’ve always been very fond of its football and national team. But, of course, when I had to take them on I’d give my all for France.
How important was Thierry Henry in the early stages of your career?
I’ve got a very strong friendship with Henry, because he helped me so much when I joined Monaco. The team was made up of players who were 28, 30 years old or above, and he was the only lad who was 19. And well, even though I didn’t yet speak the language, he’d take me out places, keep me company and he helped me find out about and learn a lot of things. I’ve got so much time for him because he’s someone who really helped me evolve, not just in footballing terms but socially and culturally too.
What was the hardest part of that adaptation process?
At the time the most difficult part of being in France was the language. I’ve always been a very open person when it comes to adapting to new things and learning the language was vital for that. I found it tough, but I got there. At the age I was then, my family had the biggest role to play: the fact that my parents and my sister were there too gave my life crucial stability.
Things have been fairly black-and-white for you at the FIFA World Cup: a winner in 1998, out in the first round in 2002 and a beaten finalist in 2006...
There were a lot of changes [in personnel] in between. After the 1998 and 2000 era when we won everything, the team underwent a generation overhaul. We lost the likes of [Laurent] Blanc, [Didier] Deschamps and [Marcel] Desailly, all of whom were very important to the side and vital members of the French set-up. Over here in South America people tend to remember Zidane more, as he was key in technical terms, but there were other players who were more important to us out on the field and were the glue that kept the side together. Blanc, who’s now the ex-national team boss, alongside Deschamps, the current coach, were the two most important parts of the backbone of our team. And, as with every national side, bringing a new generation through is a struggle.
And then what happened?
Both 2002 and 2004 were difficult periods for France. By 2006 that core of new players had begun to find their feet, but later on came a number of external issues that overshadowed the football side of things.
Your last involvement at a FIFA World Cup was a penalty in the shoot-out against Italy in the Final of Germany 2006. Was the fact you were facing Juve team-mate Gianluigi Buffon partly the reason you missed your kick?
Not at all. That’s the kind of thing the press might say, but it’s got nothing to do with it. Every penalty, however well you know someone, is a one-off duel. Clear proof of that is the fact that Buffon knew me well and even so he went the wrong way. Despite the fact we’d been playing together for nigh on six years he guessed the other side, but the ball came back off the bar. Every penalty has its own story and the fact he was a club-mate made no difference.
You know Didier Deschamps well, so how do you think he’ll do at the France helm?
I think it’s looking good, which is how I felt about Blanc when he was in charge too. They’re both good coaches who see the game the right way. Of course, you can’t know what went on inside the camp, but Blanc decided to step aside and that’s when Deschamps stepped in. I’m hoping France can qualify for the next World Cup and continue to grow from there, because they’ve got a good enough core of players to achieve big things. They’re still evolving, and that must be allowed to continue.
The supporters appreciate both the way I play and the kind of person I am, and that’s something which means a great deal to me.
Having chosen to play for France, how close a bond have you felt for the Argentinian national team over the years?
I’m fond of it. I’m certainly not disinterested. Even as an Argentinian, I’ve been very clear in my attitude towards France: I’ve always had a huge amount of respect toward a country that took me in and gave me so much. I’ve even got two French children now! France gave me so much, but I’ve always been Argentinian at heart and I’ve always been very fond of its football and national team. But, of course, when I had to take them on I’d give my all for France.
How did it feel to play against Argentina?
I played a friendly against them in 2007, which I remember Argentina winning 1-0 with a Javier Saviola goal. Even though those games are never totally ‘friendly’, the circumstances, mental preparation and objectives aren’t the same as in a World Cup. I’d have liked to play against them in a competitive game, but I didn’t get the chance.
Mauro Camoranesi, a friend of yours, told us recently that he and his Italy team-mates were relieved to be facing Germany not Argentina in the semi-finals of Germany 2006. Did you also want to avoid La Albiceleste?
Both Argentina and Brazil have earned a huge amount of respect in European footballing circles. And they both share the same goals as teams like Italy and France: to win the World Cup. Argentina have always been a fearsome side due to their characteristics and individual quality.
What are the main differences between the style of play of South American and European sides?
European teams have always shied away from South American football. They struggle to get to grips with it. The South American game is more technical and about keeping possession, while European football is more dynamic, physical and direct. When they [European teams] play sides that slow the game down it causes them problems.
Finally, David, do you worry about life after hanging up your boots?
No, it doesn’t scare me at all. I’ve seen how former team-mates have coped and spoken to them about it. There are those who’ve decided to retire while they’re still at the top, and others who’ve been forced to quit through injury. But then there are others who’ve simply woken up one day having lost their enthusiasm for training and playing. Should it come to that I’ll know it’s time to step aside, but for the moment I’m still really enjoying my job.
Join us on Tuesday 23 October for the second part of this interview.