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Robert Pirès (born October 29, 1973 in Reims, France) is a French international football player, of Portuguese and Spanish descent. He currently plays for Arsenal as a midfielder. He normally plays on the left side but can play all across midfield or even as a support striker. In recent seasons, he has combined well with left-back Ashley Cole to create attacking options on the left flank for Arsenal.

Playing career

Pirès was a graduate of the FC Metz youth academy, making his senior debut in 1993, against Lyon. During his six seasons there, he scored 43 goals in 162 matches, and won the Coupe de la Ligue, prompting a £5 million move to Olympique de Marseille in 1998.

At Marseille, Pirès had a mixed two-year stay. His first season saw him missed the French league title by a point, and his second season saw him suffer a spate of on- and off-field problems, which led him to boycott the club at the season's end.

He was signed by Arsenal for £6 million in 2000, after stiff competition from Real Madrid, replacing Marc Overmars who had left for FC Barcelona. Initially, his form was indifferent, and some people criticized him after his comments saying that the English game was too violent. His bumfluff goatee beard also made him a target for derision. However, he slowly began to regain the form he had shown at Metz, scoring a superb goal against Lazio in the 2000-01 Champions League, and the equaliser against Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup semi-finals; however Arsenal went on to lose the Cup final to Liverpool 2-1.

By 2001-02, Pirès had fully got to grips with the English game and had one of his best seasons. He led the Premiership assist charts and was voted both FWA Footballer of the Year and Arsenal's player of the season, as Arsenal won the league title. This was despite not playing the last two months of the season after suffering a cruciate ligament injury in a match against Newcastle United.

After a lengthy layoff, Pirès returned, for the 2002-03 season, scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup final against Southampton. He went on to be a crucial part of Arsenal's quest for the Premiership title in the 2003-04 season, which they achieved unbeaten, the first time an English top flight club had done so in 115 years.

Pirès was part of France's 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 winning squads (Pirès laid on the pass for David Trézéguet's winning goal in the final), but had to miss the 2002 World Cup due to the injury he sustained playing for Arsenal. He also played in 1996 Olympic Games and Euro 2004. However, a dispute in late 2004 with French national coach Raymond Domenech put a halt to Pirès' international career. Despite this, he has won 52 caps for his country and scored 10 goals.

In the 2004-05 season critics said his form had been indifferent. But Pires could still point to the leading goalscorers table, where he finished the third top scorer in the Premiership with 14 goals, behind teammate Thierry Henry and Crystal Palace's Andy Johnson. He also picked up a second FA Cup winners' medal after Arsenal beat Manchester United on penalties.

At the start of the 2005-06 season, Pires had a contractual dispute with the club. He was hoping for a new two-year deal to his present contract which expires in the summer, but was only offered a 12-month extension, in keeping with the club's policy to players over 30 years old.

Pirès was later involved, in the same season, in a penalty controversy in Arsenal's 1-0 win over Manchester City. Having scored a previous penalty to give the Gunners the lead, Pirès undertook the conversion responsibility again. However, instead of shooting the ball directly at goal, Pirès attempted to roll the ball forward so that team-mate Thierry Henry could have a shot. This attempt was botched and the referee adjudged that Pirès had touched the ball twice and a free-kick was awarded to the opponents. The media was quick to pounce on this fiasco; manager Arsene Wenger was subsequently ambivalent at this attempt; Pirès and Henry laughed it off, whilst the Manchester City players felt that they were shown disrespect. Apparently, Pirès was emulating a move Johan Cruyff popularised in his playing days.

Honours

  • World Cup winner - 1998
  • European Championship winner - 2000
  • FA Cup winner (3) - 2002, 2003, 2005
  • FA Premier league winner (2) - 2001/2002, 2003/2004
  • French League 1 runner up (2) - 1997/1998, 1998/1999
  • French League Cup winner - 1995/1996
  • Football Writers' Association Player of the Year - 2001/2002

 

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