Off the Ball: Emmanuel Petit - not your average footballer
Published 23/03/2016 | 02:30
I have an Arsenal-supporting younger brother who picked 'Vieira' as his Confirmation name. On the day of his Confirmation, he told the confused local priest that St Vieira was a much-loved missionary who had done untold good work across Western Africa. The non-football-loving priest nodded in approval and wished Kevin Patrick Vieira Molloy well on his way.
Emmanuel Petit, our studio guest for an interview last night, thoroughly enjoyed the warped reach of his sport when I mentioned the story to him. Petit also revealed himself to be something of a philosopher. So often, and quite understandably, millionaire footballers don't have much to say or don't want to say it. Petit was a brilliant exception and the interview is well worth a download.
On Arsene Wenger, he revealed some sage advice from his manager after his stunning Monaco debut. The day after, Wenger pulled aside the teenage Petit at training and said, "If you want to become a better footballer, you need to learn how to discover yourself."
Wenger encouraged Petit to go to nightclubs and socialise and do stupid things, all within the framework of professionalism. It was, as Petit recalled, a wonderful feeling to be valued as a human first, and footballer second. He said he could never play for a manager who didn't have that perspective.
Petit talked about keeping a diary as part of this discovery, which also helped him cope with the sudden death of his brother on a football pitch. He remembers the news coming through; he was at the Monaco academy, he watched his father banging his head against a wall.
Several years later the family were at the Stade de France to watch Petit score the third goal of the World Cup final. 'Can you imagine?' he said, 'for my parents!' You might have noticed Petit picked up a tuft of grass before every game. It was a tribute to his brother. And that fantastic image of him on his knees in 1998 now takes on an extra resonance.