Robert Pires has been speaking to Ouest France about what it was really like to play out in India and why the experience taught him a lot about life.
It has been almost 15 years since Robert Pires left Arsenal, signing for Villarreal in the summer of 2006 on a free transfer when he was 33.
Four years there was followed by a move to Aston Villa when he was approaching 38. After six months at Villa Park, Pires opted for a career break before signing for Manchester Howrah in India for one month before another career break.
After two-and-a-half years out of the game, Pires returned to playing, signing for FC Goa where he made eight appearances, scoring one goal, before hanging up his boots for good at the age of 41.
Although his time in India was short, it made a lasting impression on the Frenchman.
“When we talk about India, usually we talk about cricket, whose players are gods there,” Pires told Ouest France. “I did not know where I set foot in football but I learned that the Indians loved the sport and had only one desire: that we can help them to cross a course.
“I felt like I was a big star (laugh). It was a strong sensation. My Indian teammates looked at me with big eyes, like they were 10 or 12-year-olds, and asked me a lot of questions, about Arsenal, the French team. And most importantly, they wanted advice, to learn, to progress. The luck they had was that the coach was (the Brazilian) Zico. I’ll be honest, the level was average.
“I don’t regret finishing my career there because I learned a lot. The most important thing – not to complain. I would see families on the streets, [in] great misery and people never complain. It struck me. I told myself that from the moment I set foot in Europe again, I would not complain. Impossible. We don’t realise how lucky we are.
“People tell me: ‘you made a lot of money (€594,000 over the entire season, then condensed over barely two months)’. Yeah, but beyond that, I played football again. We went to Chennai and people came just for me, because they were Arsenal fans. Something crazy.
“Thanks to football, people are allowed to dream. On the day of the semi-final of the playoffs against Calcutta, you can’t even imagine how long it took to get to the locker room. There was no security. Incredible.
“It was an extraordinary journey in the human aspect.
“Then I played against Mumbai and I found in front of me Nicolas Anelka and Freddie Ljungberg. Against New Delhi, I was in front of Alessandro Del Piero. In Chennai, it was Marco Materazzi or Bernard Mendy. With Pune, it was David Trezeguet.
“I enjoyed myself. It was fantastic.”