11 July 2008: Arsenal fans voted Pirès as the club’s sixth greatest player of all time.
I voted for him, because for me, he was the keyholder in the team. He could choose his moment and unlock the gate which allowed Henry to do everything he did. Time and again I watched Henry wander out to the left wing position with the ball and two or even three defenders around him. Often as a result Robert was left on his own. Somehow with his magic Henry got the ball to Robert and that was that.
Robert Pirès is the one Arsenal player I have a picture of in my house on the wall. It is a blown up copy of the front cover of the programme against Middlesbrough. A while before I had told my pal Roger that Pirès was becoming increasingly imperial in his play. Then the programme of 20 December 2002 showed him, having just scored, standing like and Emperor, one finger raised.
He is also one of only two people of whose books I have signed copies. Roger got it for me, having queued up for hours, even though he was very ill at the time.
Fast forward 1 March 2013. Robert Pires appeared first in Indonesia and then in China as an Arsenal ambassador. Yes he is still involved with the club.
As Arsenal.com put it, “Robert made an appearance on a national TV breakfast entertainment show with more than three million viewers, then met with the Sports Minister to promote our game in Jakarta and present him with a signed shirt. Following this, he met with the Mayor of Jakarta, had a Q&A session with the Indonesian Supporters’ Club and held a coaching session with a soccer school in the National Stadium.”
Robert won three FA Cups and two Premier League titles including of the course unbeaten 2003/4. He gained 79 caps for France, including winning the World Cup and the Euros.
Robert Pirès started with Metz and played 162 times for them, before going to Marseille for two years. Having fallen out with Marseille he was signed by Arsenal for £6m in 2000. Now I know that there has been huge inflation in transfer fees, but even so, £6m. To put it in context Wiltord was purchased a little later in the summer break and cost £13m. At the same time Overmars went to Barca for £25m.
The first season was not great but all was forgiven for scoring the winner against Tottenham H. in the Cup semi-final.
But when he appeared at the start of next season he was utterly different. He changed his style, often taking the ball along the half way line, waiting for Henry to be free. Along, back, he would wait and wait, and then deliver. Other times he did lobs, scored, looked up, smiled, just stood there, he could do anything, and he was player of the year even though he didn’t play the last two months because of injury.
And here is a memory – he still hobbled onto the pitch after the last game celebrating winning the league, got his medal as the last in the line, and looked around to find the whole Arsenal team on its knees bowing down to him. It was an amazing site, an amazing memory.
The end of the next season saw us throw away the possibility of winning the league being beaten by Leeds. The final game became meaningless, except that we were playing against Southampton who we were due to meet in the Cup Final. Robert scored a stunning hat trick including the most amazing lob for the last. Meaningless, except that it was the first of the 49 unbeaten. And then he scored again in the Cup Final too.
In the next season Robert Pirès and Thierry Henry were unstoppable scoring 57 goals between them including a staggering goal by Robert at Anfield. I was watching it in a pub, the only Arsenal fan there. And despite the danger of so doing I still remember leaping up and screaming, the beer going all over the place, and I didn’t care because that goal became a memory for all time.
More? Well with Robert Pirès there is always more. The goal in the game that won the league at White Hart Lane for the second time will do for me… if it weren’t for the Champs League quarter final against Juve for whom Vieira was then playing. Robert tackled Patrick (you’ll remember if you saw it) and got the ball which led to the Fàbregas goal.
After leaving Arsenal too early (or that’s how we all saw it), Robert went to Villarreal and was injured in August after just a few games and out for seven months.
His final club was Aston Villa on a six month contract.and was released on 27 May 2011
It was desperately sad to read of Robert’s personal problems following his divorce, and a great pleasure to read that his relationship with Jessica Lemarie gave him happiness and calm. In 2012 Robert Pirès joined Grassroot Soccer, an international charity that uses football to educate, inspire, and mobilize communities to stop the spread of HIV.
Robert, I cannot possibly tell you how much pleasure, delight, happiness and joy you gave Roger and I. Along with hundreds of thousands of others I wish you the very best in the world. I can only say “Thank you”.
Chairman, AISA Arsenal History Society