Robert Pires interview: Frenchman on Premier League and Europe

Robert Pires interview: Frenchman on Premier League and Europe

Robert Pires won the Premier League twice and was a Champions League runner-up during six successful seasons with Arsenal.

In an exclusive interview with bwin, the 45-year-old Frenchman shares his thoughts on the Gunners’ top-flight rivals as well as topics across Europe.

Former Arsenal winger Robert Pires

Premier League rivals

Chelsea

Zinedine Zidane is being linked with Chelsea. Do you think he would be a good appointment?

It’s a very strange situation with Chelsea and how they treat their managers. {Maurizio] Sarri is a very good manager and he performed very well with Napoli, but it’s hard to see him at the club next season. There appears to be a lot of player power at Chelsea that he is struggling to overcome like many have before him.

I think Zidane would be a very good appointment at Chelsea. He would demand respect from the Chelsea players and control the dressing room as a result of everything he has achieved both on the pitch as a player and on the bench as a manager. He’s a winner and a warrior. He’s had great success in the Champions League which is attractive to the Chelsea owner. It would be very good news for the Premier League if Zidane moved to England.

What did you think to the situation between Sarri and Kepa Arrizabalaga during the Carabao Cup final?

It was a very strange situation with Sarri and Kepa at Wembley. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that happen before. It was perhaps a misunderstanding, but it was very poorly handled and would have definitely been on the players’ minds when they were heading for penalties. We’ll never know how much it impacted them, but it also took attention away from a much-improved performance by Chelsea.

It’s very important to respect the manager’s decision, even if we sometimes don’t agree with it as a player. We need to show respect and support our team-mates too otherwise the dressing room can be a very difficult place.

Sarri is in a difficult situation where he needs to get positive results to save his job. He might have reacted differently and more severely if he was more comfortable in his own future at Chelsea. I expect Kepa to continue as the club’s first-choice goalkeeper and his career will carry on as though it never happened. He can consider himself lucky, but it reveals a lot about the player power in the Chelsea dressing room that he felt he could do that at Wembley. I expect Sarri to still be at the club until the end of the season and then they will decide.

N’Golo Kante has been one of the stars for France and the Premier League but finds himself in a different role for Chelsea this season. What do you think to this?

Kante is the best defensive midfielder in the world, but he is being asked to play further forward by Sarri at Chelsea this season. I think this is a very obvious mistake and when you have the best player in the world in their position, you play them in that position.

However, I’m not the manager and Sarri is determined to play Jorginho because he wants a creative foundation that Kante can’t guarantee at the base of midfield. This decision and if Sarri shows any flexibility may decide whether Chelsea finish in the top four or not.

Do you think Eden Hazard will look to leave Chelsea for Real Madrid?

I think Hazard is the best player in the Premier League and he fits the profile of what Real Madrid are looking for. I’ve seen talk about maybe [Virgil] Van Dijk winning Premier League Player of the Year, but there should only be one winner and his name is Eden Hazard. I watch Chelsea matches just because I want to watch Hazard play.

Chelsea are very lucky to have Hazard and he can do things that no other player in the world can do. You look at his penalty in the Carabao Cup and who else would even try that against Ederson in that situation? The problem is that Hazard isn’t able to win the trophies his talent deserves at Chelsea so Real Madrid are a very attractive proposition.

Manchester United

Do you think Solskjaer should get the Manchester United job permanently?

I’m very surprised how well Solskjaer has done at Manchester United. The whole club was heading downwards under [Jose] Mourinho, but he has turned it around unbelievably quickly. Solskjaer has gained the confidence of the players and has them playing very good attacking football. He is of course a big favourite with the fans too.

I think it’s probably a headache that Manchester United weren’t expecting to have. I don’t think many predicted Solskjaer would come in and have the immediate impact he has done. The club were probably looking at someone like Pochettino, but now they might be having second thoughts.

It would cost a fortune to bring in a manager from another club and who knows if they would do what Solskjaer has achieved in such a short space of time. I think they should make him permanent manager and trust him to take the club forwards.

What do you think to Paul Pogba at Manchester United?

I think Paul Pogba is the best player at Manchester United and has always had the potential to become the best midfielder in the world. Pogba has played very well and been almost unstoppable since Solskjaer arrived at the club. He has been given more freedom, he’s encouraged to take more risks without fear and is playing further up the pitch.

He’s a very good athlete and it’s not surprising to see him play like this when he is allowed to do so. It’s difficult to understand why Mourinho limited him so much when it’s clear to everyone how many attributes he has. He is an all-round midfielder who is also a leader in the dressing room.

I don’t think Manchester United fans need to worry about Paul Pogba leaving the club. I think there was a time when he was eyeing a move to Barcelona and I wouldn’t be surprised if his agent still is, but the best thing Pogba could do would be to stay at Manchester United. I think he can continue to improve so much more at a club where he has stability and can be the main man on and off the pitch.

Manchester United were comfortably beaten by PSG at Old Trafford. Do you think its game over?

PSG proved they are now finally ready to be genuine contenders for the Champions League by beating Manchester United so comfortably at Old Trafford. You can never rule out a good performance by Manchester United so I wouldn’t say it is a certainty PSG will repeat the result in Paris, but you’d have to expect them to progress now. [Thomas] Tuchel is a very good manager and he’s very clever. He will ensure there’s no complacency from the PSG players.

Memphis Depay has already come out and said he expects to leave Lyon this summer and hopes to sign for one of Europe’s biggest clubs. Do you think he is good enough?

I think Depay wants to come back to the Premier League and he feels he has unfinished business in England. He’s unhappy at Lyon and has already stated his ambitions to leave this summer for a big club in Europe.

It didn’t work out for him at Manchester United and Depay is a very proud player. He perhaps feels he wasn’t given a chance to perform and earn the right to stay longer considering he was so young and showed glimpses of undoubted potential. Depay might want to return to Manchester United or he might be motivated to prove them wrong by performing for one of their rivals in the Premier League. It will be interesting to see what happens this summer.

Paul Pogba

Liverpool

Mohamed Salah has been scoring the goals again this season. Do you think he will win the golden boot?

I think the race to the golden boot is between Salah and [Sergio] Aguero. Salah has had another great season and maybe proved a few people wrong who thought he wouldn’t be able to repeat last year’s performances. He has played a slightly different role this season where he has often been more of a striker than a winger so the pressure is on to score goals and he has delivered. I think you’d have to say that Aguero has made much more of an impact against the top-six teams, but there’s no doubt Salah is one of the best players in the Premier League.

Are Liverpool capable of winning the Premier League this year?

Liverpool is a great club and I always enjoyed playing at Anfield because the fans are so passionate. I can imagine how much it would mean to them to win the Premier League this season and it will be interesting to see if the players can handle that pressure if hope turns into disappointment or expectation depending on how Liverpool perform in the next few weeks.

I think Liverpool are more than capable of winning the Premier League this season. They have good players and a much bigger squad of quality than they’ve had in previous years. [Jurgen] Klopp is also one of the best managers in the Premier League so I think they could edge the title over Manchester City.

Manchester City

Aymeric Laporte has had a fantastic season for Manchester City but remains uncapped for France. What is happening here?

Laporte is a very good defender and has earned his new contract at Manchester City after performing so well this season. There’s no doubt in my mind that he deserves to play for the France national team, but he doesn’t make the squad and that’s hard to believe sometimes.

It is not easy for [Didier] Deschamps because France have a lot of great players and Laporte faces competition from the likes of [Raphael] Varane and [Samuel] Umtiti so it will always be difficult. I think Laporte just needs to remain positive and keep working then he will make the France national team. He can’t be ignored for much longer.

Leicester City

Youri Tielemans has made the move from Monaco to Leicester on loan. Do you think it’s a good move coming to the Premier League?

Tielemans is a good young player who had a difficult start to life at Monaco. Monaco lost a lot of players in the summer and they have paid the price for their recruitment strategy by fighting for relegation and replacing their manager twice. Tielemans was one of those players brought in to try and maintain Monaco’s level of success against the odds. It’s a very difficult situation for such a young player.

I think he made the right decision to leave Monaco and try a new experience in the Premier League with Leicester City. Hopefully he will build his confidence and continue progressing towards his potential, then we will see what happens in the summer.

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Rest of Europe

It has been five consecutive years that the winner of the Champions League have been from La Liga, whose teams have also won four of the last five Europa League finals. What do you think is behind this dominance?

There’s no question that La Liga clubs are the most dominant in Europe right now have been for quite a few years. The run of form winning the Champions League and Europa League is quite remarkable. It’s the same this season. We expect to see Barcelona and Real Madrid performing in Europe, but the best example has to be the way Atletico Madrid dismantled Juventus.

That was such a strong performance against a team that has won their domestic league for seven years in a row and now have Ronaldo in their ranks too. I can’t explain why La Liga clubs are so good in Europe beyond the obvious that they have very good technical players!

Real Madrid have been very inconsistent this year. Do you think Santiago Solari will still be manager next season?

I think Solari is doing a good job since he took over at Real Madrid and I would still consider them to be one of the favourites to win the Champions League this year. It is hard to believe how quickly things have changed at Real Madrid with both Zidane and Ronaldo leaving the club during the summer.

It has obviously impacted their league form as you’d expect after losing 50 goals a season and not replacing them. [Gareth] Bale hasn’t rose to the occasion the way they perhaps hope he would after the Champions League final. The bright spark for Real Madrid has been Vinicius Junior, who is looking unbelievably good at just 18 years old.

You briefly played under Ernesto Valverde at Villarreal. Do you see things in common with what he’s trying to achieve at Barcelona?

It’s impossible to compare the Valverde I worked with at Villarreal to the manager we’re now seeing at Barcelona. The circumstances and quality of players are just so different it would be unfair to compare to what he was hoping to achieve at Villarreal. Valverde is a good manager and Barcelona are currently top of La Liga. A good performance against Lyon in Champions League and they would probably be favourites for that competition too.

Luis Enrique has taken over the Spanish national team after a poor World Cup. How do you think he is doing?

I think Luis Enrique made a good decision taking over the Spanish national team. He’s obviously still a young manager and it’s a very different role to the day-to-day at a club, but it means he can watch a lot of games and a lot of players.

Spain have great players and they’re more than capable of going on to win a European Championships or a World Cup in the near future. There’s perhaps even more pressure on him to succeed with Spain and return the side to the glory years than there was when he was at Barcelona.

Neymar moved to PSG because he saw it as an opportunity to become his own man and win the Ballon d’Or. Do you see this happening?

I think Neymar now finds himself in an awkward position of being in Kylian Mbappe’s shadow at PSG. Neymar signed for PSG because he wanted to escape [Lionel] Messi so the limelight could be on him, but he has moved into the shadow of football’s next global star. It’s not easy for Neymar because he’s not a young man anymore and should be in his peak years, but he has still never really had all eyes on him the way he craves and feels he deserves.

Do you think Kylian Mbappe can win the Ballon d’Or?

I think Mbappe will win the Ballon d’Or, there’s no doubt about that. He is football’s next big star and could reach the same status as Ronaldo and Messi. It’s a matter of when he will win the Ballon d’Or rather than if. He is very consistent and he is never injured. Mbappe always performs whether that’s in Ligue 1, Champions League or with the France national team. He maybe just needs Ligue 1 to get more recognition so he is appreciated more and as often as his performances deserve.

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