Oliver Giroud, Arsenal’s strapping striker from Val d’Isère, land of the white rasta, talks here to L’Equipe Magazine in December 2012. We find out how he feels about the Arsenal fans’ song for him, how it doesn’t pay to think too long about where to sit on the French team bus and if you click on the link below the article, turns out he’s not got a bad singing voice himself either.
Are you a real Gunner now?
I became one the moment I heard the fans singing my name. It was the beginning of the season, at Anfield. At away games, it’s the true fans who’ve made the journey. There’s usually more people singing at away games than at the Emirates, actually. Can you imagine; you’re playing at Anfield and this song rises up, with your name, to to the tune of Hey Jude by The Beatles. The hair stood up on the back of my neck. It makes you want to fight for the team.
Despite the support it wasn’t until your 7th match for the club that you scored your first goal, in the League Cup against a third division side [Coventry]. Did it affect you?
It was a relief. But I really needed to score in the league to build up my confidence. The real first goal came against West Ham. And it was even more important because my brothers were in with the Arsenal fans that game. Again a goal away from home! But it’s just as incredible to score away from home, where the fans support you all the way, as it is at home in front of 60,000 people.
English football is something of a permanent culture shock is it not?
At Montpellier we never had music in the dressing rooms before the game; it was banned. I prefer the more relaxed approach here. For domestic and European cup games, we meet at the stadium. But still, Arsenal are a club very much in the French style, the arrangements are often much more strict.
When you first arrived at Arsenal, how did you experience the culture of the club?
They let you get on with it at your own pace but people keep an eye on you; to find out if you’re interested in learning more about the history, the culture of the club, or to see how you’re adapting to life in a new country. I got plenty of advice from former players, like Mikaël Silvestre and Robert Pires. They’re a real part of Arsenal’s modern history, and they told me a lot about the way the club works. I’m integrating slowly. I haven’t been to the museum yet but I’ll go soon.
Maybe you should go with Charlie George, he’s a legend here.
Just with the colours of the stadium and at the training ground, you can feel the history. There are loads of pictures of club legends on the walls here. I often stop to look at them. The photo of Pat Vieira and the manager with the Premier League trophy in 2004, in the interview room at London Colney, that really does it for me… There’s also the statute of Thierry Henry in front of the ground. And you can still sense the presence of Dennis Bergkamp, of whom I’ve always been a fan.
Have you seen the Art-Deco facade, the sole vestige of Highbury?
I see it when we go by on the bus before matches. I see the masses of people pouring out of the underground marching towards the stadium. I see people huddled together outside pubs, which is interesting. Seriously, it gets inside you; it makes you want to succeed. The fans let you know what it means to wear the shirt.
How does Arsenal differ from other English clubs?
Its Frenchy side. I’m the 23rd French player to put on an Arsenal shirt since Arsène Wenger arrived. The club has been shaped by the goals of Thierry Henry, by Pat Vieira’s 400 games, but going beyond that, the manager has brought the club into modernity. He’s built everything, or nearly everything, and created a style of play that is instantly recognisable as Arsenal’s. He’s building this group of players with a philosophy in mind, and not by buying a team wholesale, spending millions of pounds, like other clubs have. He’s shaping it. Even if it’s been seven years since the club won a trophy, it has a strong identity. The team’s lost some key players over the past two or three years but the club won’t abandon its ideals. It rebuilds, even if it’s not easy.
Does not having won a trophy for so long affect the club?
Strangely, no. People talk about it a lot more in France than over here. The English have a great strength in not ever looking back but always forward.
Do you not have the impression of having joined at the wrong time? When the team seems to have become weaker?
Yeah…(hesitates)…But at the same time there’s less pressure on me. It’s old news all this talk about Arsenal losing their players. Now it’s up to us to make people forget that, even without star names. We want to win trophies here.
Less pressure!? But you’re successor to Van Persie, Bergkamp, Henry, Wright?
I’m conscious of the pressure to get a result and to succeed, but not of the burden of the past. When you move to a big club, you’re obviously going to be replacing a big player. There’s no point losing your head over it.
With 6 assists and 7 goals already to your name, you’ve not made a bad start proving yourself.
Thierry Henry went 8 league games before scoring his first goal, and the same for Bergkamp. Things are going well for me at the moment, but things could be better for the team as a whole.
What do you mean?
We have to be effective in each dimension of our play. More realistic. And play with more variety too. The way we play relies on building from the back, and it can take a while for the ball to reach the forwards. I had to adapt to that. When you’re a striker, you look for crosses. I don’t think we’re spontaneous enough in crossing the ball, and I’m talking about it with my team-mates.
Arsenal is well know for its culture of passing, possibly a little too much in front of goal though…
Maybe that’s right… Maybe we’ll have to look at that. But listen, I’m not trying to set myself up as the manager here! Although I do have the good fortune to be at a club were we can discuss these things.
Do you think that, for Wenger, the style of play is more important than results?
I don’t know… it’s a good question. Arsène wants to win every game. Every time we go out onto the pitch he says to us, ‘Believe in your quality’, ‘Play your game’. He wants to see us dominate possession and impose our philosophy of play on the game. We don’t want our game to be dictated by the opposition; we are taught to go out and push on to victory ourselves.
Whatever the cost?
Honestly, I couldn’t say.
How do you react to the conflicts within the club, which has seen some critics attack those in charge for their lack of ambition?
I don’t pay any attention to it. I’ve heard about it. People have even been talking about a conflict between the manager and Steve Bould, but I haven’t noticed a thing. Maybe there was a conflict, but the players have never known about one. When you sell big players, it’s right that people should ask how the money will be spent, but Arsenal is a healthy club, financially well-run and if tomorrow the fair-play rules were imposed then it would be one of the few able to conform.
Manchester City spent their way to a league title..
And Montpellier beat PSG to a title without waving the cheque book about. We bought Santi Cazorla- and not for £40 Million! He’s a superb player. My own history proves that you can win titles without being a superstar. I’ve spoken to the players here about how we did it at Montpellier, without spending millions.
Those who watch you play every week say that something in your body language has changed. That you seem taller, bigger and prouder on the pitch than you have been in recent weeks. Is there an explanation?
The first thing you have to do when you arrive in the Premier League is to adapt yourself to the physicality of the game. You have to absorb it. Once you feel part of the team, an Arsenal player, that gives you confidence and your body reflects that. You want to prove yourself.
And how does that manifest itself?
I’m even more demanding of myself now. More serious, more professional, more dedicated, both in training and in matches. When I make a mistake, I tell myself, ‘You don’t get two chances in a game! You’ve got to get this now!’. The players around you are more technically skilled than those from your previous teams, so you have to be at their level. I know myself, I tend to relax into a comfort zone. People have always told me that. In coming here, I’ve eliminated the risk of that happening, because of the consistently high demands.
When you’re with the national team, how is the Oliver Giroud of Arsenal different to the Giroud of Montpellier?
I feel like I have more of a right to be there. I feel I’m able to impose a certain presence in view of what I’m achieving on the pitch, though I wouldn’t describe myself as a leader. I feel more at home now. I take up my place, and I try to prove myself.
In the bus, or at the dining table, its you who chooses where you sit now?
That’s the kind of thing, though it’s more natural than that. When you’re playing well you tend to be more at ease within the group. You feel like you own your place. I don’t doubt myself so much. It’s been a while since I’ve looked at the portraits on the wall at Clairefontaine. But I’ve still got humility. There’s been several key moments: my goal and the way I played against Germany, being selected for the Euros and scoring the equaliser against Spain…
Your reputation is growing and, with a physique like yours, you’re well placed to attract sponsors…
I don’t chase after contracts. I’m just with Puma for now. I’d be interested in signing with some reputable brands, but to do that I have to let my real personality be known, and so for now there’s just my website. Plus I do regular media work.
There is though, it has to be said, something of David Beckham about you. Good looking, well spoken, an appreciation of football, fashion -the ideal guy!… And still self-aware.
It’s a very flattering comparison! I’m working on my public image with a marketing agent. I’m lucky in as much as I’ve got my head screwed on, and I want to work with that. Without getting carried away.
You’re from a middle class background and yet you’ve gone for tattoos, which is really more of a ‘footballer’ thing to do isn’t it?
Unlike Beckham I’m not covered in them. I think I’ll stop with what I’ve done already. I wanted to get tattoos, yes because it’s fashionable, but also, more than that, to make me into the man I want to be. Apart from a tribal tattoo on my calf, everything is personal. I’m a believer, so I got a psalm from the bible done on my arm that says, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want’. The one on my other arm is Polynesian. Each one carries a significance and reminds me of my values: family, love, friendship, courage, strength, honour. I’m proud to have them.
In England there are many players with tattoos. Do you often talk about them?
I’m not convinced they know what my tattoos mean. In any case, they’re of a different style to the ones you find here. Over here people tend to have more, too. I wanted something more modest, with more space in between. My mum likes them. I’m really not your typical ‘bad boy’.
After 5 months in England, what has rubbed off on you, apart from the heading?
Tracking back defensively, putting in the effort. The English crowds are more appreciative of the game than the French. Here, they applaud a good tackle, or a decent pass. I feel good here. I love English football for its directness, its intensity, its games rammed full of scoring chances and the box-to-box. I love that this country eats, sleeps and drinks football. I’m finding my feet here. After all, they invented it.
This interview was originally published in L’Equipe Magazine in December 2012 and was conducted by Erik Bielderman.