Gael Clichy chats to FIFA.com about Istanbul Basaksehir’s league title triumph
He reveals how Patrick Vieira getting physical in training inspired him
Clichy discusses Arsene Wenger, Pep Guardiola and his own coaching plans
Everyone remembers 'The Invincibles', the Arsenal team that went unbeaten throughout the entire 2003/04 Premier League. But what is not often acknowledged is the impact some of that squad's youngsters made.
At the age of 18 years and ten months, Gael Clichy, who made 12 Premier League appearances that season at left-back, filling in for the injured Ashley Cole, became the youngest player to win a Premier League medal – a record since eclipsed by Manchester City’s Phil Foden.
Historic achievements and success has followed Clichy from there. Two more Premier League trophies with Manchester City and, most recently, a first-ever Turkish Super Lig title with Istanbul Basaksehir prompted FIFA.com to catch up with him to discuss the significance of his latest title, how 'The Invincibles' influenced the rest of his career and his future plans once he decides to hang up his boots.
FIFA.com: Gael, this must be an exciting juncture in your career having won the Turkish league with Basaksehir, a truly historic moment for the club and in Turkish football history. What has it been like being an integral part of that? Gael Clichy: Obviously you can’t compare this experience with the one I had at Arsenal or with City, because the Premier League is the Premier League and regarded as one of the best leagues in the world, if not the best. However, in terms of personal achievement, it was really sweet. The club is only a few years old. Since 1959 in Turkey only five clubs managed to win the title. When we talk about clubs dominating a league, in Turkey it’s the case. For us to go all the way and win it, it’s extremely beautiful and the message is strong because the club wants to progress every year. I’ve been here three years now. The first year we finished third on goal difference, last year we almost did it but finished second, so this year the natural step was to finish first.
Can you describe the significance of breaking that cycle of the 'big three' – Galatasaray, Fenerbahce and Besiktas – to win the club’s first-ever league title? I think people weren’t aware of that achievement. Turkey is similar to England in the sense that, when you support a team you support a team all the way. Without having a massive fanbase, I think the players wanted to be here because the club were having results, but they never thought about winning the title. And all of a sudden you see players coming into the club who had played in the [UEFA] Champions League and are internationals. This was a big boost for everyone.
I came here because [Emmanuel] Adebayor was here at the time. Perhaps if he hadn't been here, I wouldn’t have made the choice I made. We won without him this season, but without him perhaps all of us wouldn’t be here today and the club wouldn’t have that success, so every single step taken by the club is important and they have to realise that because this is a great achievement. But how many times have you seen a team win the title and crumble the next season? It will be very interesting to see how the club copes with this.
Why else did you choose to join Basaksehir instead of one of the more established clubs in Turkey? I’ve won the league with Arsenal and became the youngest player to win the Premier League, and that was history. Then I went to Manchester City and won the league for the club for the first time in 44 years. So when I came here I had nothing else in my mind other than to create history with Basaksehir. I remember when I came, people were saying, ‘Why didn’t you choose Fenerbahce or Galatasary?’ Obviously winning a title with any team is great when you’re a competitor, but I knew that winning with Basaksehir would be something even bigger. I would take one title with Basaksehir rather than three with Galatasaray because it means more. It’s something greater. It will go down in history and we don’t know if it will be repeated, so that was my aim and in the end I know what I’ve done on the inside.
Can you give an example or two of some of the cultural changes you instilled in the club? The obvious one is giving everything on the pitch. I am the player I am today because of my commitment to the cause at any club I’ve played with and the hard work I put in. My first professional club was Arsenal. The players at the time were Patrick Vieira, Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, Sol Campbell – just an incredible squad. Being there at the age of 17, it was kind of like being at university with so many books to choose from. I just had to be focused to see what they were doing to learn. So in a way I’m not even surprised of who I am today because I’ve been raised and built by those guys.
At Arsenal, if we had a game on Saturday, by Monday Patrick Vieira was getting dirty on the pitch. As a young player I’m thinking, ‘Ok, put the quality aside because you’re never going to be him but in terms of commitment and work ethic, there’s no way this guy is doing this and you’re not at least matching that.' I knew by doing that I would have a good chance of staying in the industry for many years. That’s what I’ve tried to tell the guys. I’ve had so many arguments with players here. I’m not here to make friends. Obviously if I do, great, but I’m here to try to help because the president brought me to have success. You have success if everyone pushes forward and works hard.
For people who don’t know much about the Super Lig, what do you tell them? What are some unique qualities that stand out to you? I told my wife when I first came here, ‘When we go to Istanbul, we’re going to take it easy.’ Because, honestly, I thought it was going to be easy. The first month was good. You’re running on adrenaline from a new experience. But I realised after one month I wasn’t performing at all. I remember in a match at home a young player destroyed me on the right wing. I told my wife, ‘This can’t go on’. I had to call a personal fitness coach and I did extra sessions at home. I did that for the first year and slowly I started to get better and was myself again. The level here is lower than England perhaps, but there is amazing talent in Turkey. The game is open, too. You can find yourself in a five-v-three scenario as a defender. That’s why you see a lot of red and yellow cards in all of the derbies because they play how they live, which is with their hearts. That’s the beauty of Turkish football.
Is it your intention to stay with the club to see this success sustained? How are you thinking about the future? My last year with City was with Pep Guardiola and it changed the way I see football. I have the desire and the love to become a manager. I don’t know if I’m going to become a great or a bad manager, but I know it’s something I’m going to try. That’s for the next few years because I still believe I’ve got a good two or three years left in the legs to go and enjoy. I want to make the most of it.
Football is a funny game, and even more so in Turkey, so you don’t really know what can happen. I’m pretty sure the club wants me to stay, I feel good here, but I also need to consider everything that’s happening. Who’s coming and who’s leaving? From being champions this season to competing in the Champions League next year, it’s a different ball game. If you’re not ready as a club, if you don’t make the right signings to complete the team, it could be a very difficult season. I saw it with Leicester City when they won the league and the following year they played Champions League [football] but almost struggled to even stay in the Premier League.
It’s great. We have to enjoy right now to take it all in because it’s an amazing achievement. In the not-so-near future I want to say I am going to try and be a manager. I started to work with young players here since I’ve been in Basaksehir and I like that interaction with players, so I want to see football from a different angle. Being a coach or manager is totally different than being a player. I will give it a shot.
You’ve spoken about how Guardiola’s approach was “a major shock”. How was it a major shock and how did he show you a different side of the game? Everything is about details with him. Often people ask me who was the best between Wenger or Pep and that’s not really the right question. Both have been successful. Some players will like Wenger’s style and some Pep’s but what I’ve seen is that he’s ruthless. He has his own ideas and anyone who fits his idea will be good to go, but those who don’t fit the idea and his philosophies will not stay. On one hand you have a coach like Wenger, who tells you to play with your quality, your heart and to express yourself and be free. He developed players and had success. On the other hand you have a guy who is telling you exactly what to do.
In general he has a vision for each specific game and you have to fit in that vision. If you don’t, you’re not a part of his plans. It’s harsh but in a way you can’t really question what he’s doing because he’s been perhaps the most successful manager over the last six or seven years. With him, it’s like, ‘We’re going to do this and it’s going to work’. You prepare the whole week in a way to come up against the particular team you’re facing next. Everything he’s telling you during the week is going to happen. He was special and you see how much energy he puts into his speeches and sessions and he has a great team around him, because it’s not just him. Everything is just right. The way he is it makes you want to try, not to be him, but to try to be as committed as he is as a coach.