Tuesday 20 February 2018

Mentally weak Arsenal are missing leaders, insists Petit

Carlsberg ambassador Emmanuel Petit was in Dublin yesterday with the Euro 2016 trophy to announce Carlsberg's Probably the biggest Euro ticket giveaway in Ireland with over 1100 Ireland match tickets up for grabs (INPHO/Billy Stickland)
Carlsberg ambassador Emmanuel Petit was in Dublin yesterday with the Euro 2016 trophy to announce Carlsberg's Probably the biggest Euro ticket giveaway in Ireland with over 1100 Ireland match tickets up for grabs (INPHO/Billy Stickland)
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Running late for his scheduled interview, Emmanuel Petit hurriedly and apologetically takes his seat in front of the assembled group of press but the 47 enthralling minutes that follow are more than enough to excuse any tardiness.

As World Cup and European winners go, Petit must surely be one of the most down to earth but not all is right in the world of a man whose passion for the game burns as strong as it did when he was signed by Arsene Wenger for Monaco as an 18-year-old.

Living in central Paris today brings about uncharted fears and over the course of a wide-ranging conversation, Petit explains how his kids' school is just 300 metres away from where the Charlie Hebdo attack took place in January of last year, while he was also due to be in the Stade de France the night Paris came under siege from terrorist attacks.

"Unity together" is Petit's message for the people of his country but he is also deeply aware that life must go on.

"It's important to show to the rest of the world whatever happens that even if we are scared, even if we are crying and we are losing people, that we stand in front of the adversity," he says.

Important "I think this is probably the most important message we have to send, unity altogether. That is one thing missing with the national team, unity."

On the pitch, France have had their problems and with the Karim Benzema scandal, distractions off it are something that Petit concedes has become part of the French way.

It's what's going on at Arsenal that seemingly irks Petit more however and the passion with which he speaks about the club where he spent three seasons, during which time he won the league and cup double in 1998, evidently shows that he still cares greatly.

"I think Arsenal has been missing something for ages, it's mental," he sighs. "They've got great players and the way they used to play, for me is one of the best in Europe. But playing well on the pitch doesn't mean you're going to win the title.

"You can play badly as well but you win the game. One thing that's wrong with Arsenal is that you can see a lot of the players give up on the pitch. Mentally, I think they need to improve a lot but in terms of quality they have everything to win the title.

"I think Arsene is doing a great job in the 20 years he has been there and I respect this very highly, but when you look at the title they won, it was because they had great leaders in the team.

"They have great players but they are missing leaders and personality. If you want to win things, then you need to suffer."

Having handed Petit his first professional contract, the relationship with Wenger is understandably strong but he admits that it is time for his former boss to take on a director of football role within the club.

"Arsene and I have been friends for 25 years, he was my first manager, he brought me from Monaco academy to the first team, we won trophies, a European trophy, we did great things together with Arsenal, so I won't say that he has to leave.

"I am pretty sure he has to stay at the club but maybe it's time for him to open the door for something else as well. When I look at the former players from Arsenal, how many of them have their badges to manage a team?

"Dennis Bergkamp, Tony Adams, Patrick Vieira, many, many great players, they have their own statue in front of the stadium, I think for Arsene it's good to share the place with someone else and try to open the door to the former players."

In Petit's eyes, there isn't a quick fix at Arsenal while the same could be said for France. He insists that a dark cloud hangs over the national team since a nudge of Thierry Henry's hand on that infamous night in Paris seven years ago.

"A lot of people, especially former players, I was one of them, we were so ashamed to be qualified in that way," Petit recalls.

Shame "If we didn't have the quality to qualify, we should stay home. But the way we were qualified was a big shame for us. A lot asked FIFA for a replay, but they said 'no'. When you look at FIFA right now, we can understand why.

"When this kind of mistake happens on the pitch, we cannot talk about sport, about this is the way it is, no, this is not acceptable.

"That (€5m compensation paid by FIFA to the FAI) proved once more that FIFA doesn't want to be in a court, in justice, because they knew they would have lost the case. So the fact that the Irish federation received money, it's a good compensation but I think it was the whole country who lost in this case.

"Honestly, I wouldn't take the money. For me, what has been done is a shame for sport. The reason they receive money afterwards, it can be seen as compensation for many people, but I am not one of them."

Petit is a man of principle and despite the problems on the pitch, they pale in comparison to the challenges that the people of Paris are now faced with in their day-to-day lives.

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