Jérémie Aliadière joined Arsenal as a 16-year-old. Leaving France and his parents, still a teenager, in the hope of forging a life in the game he loved across the channel. His career saw him become an invincible with Arsenal, suffer relegation with Gareth Southgate and return to his home nation apprehensively having left controversially from the famous Clairefontaine. In this interview, Jérémie opens up about all aspects of his career and looks ahead to an Arsenal side brimming with potential
You signed for Arsenal at 16 years-of-age, leaving your country of birth still very young. How did you cope with such a massive life decision and were there any initial impacts on your training because of it?
“I left France when I was 16 and never thought about the impact it would have on my footballing career and on my life. You leave your country, your parents and move to a place where you do not speak the language. I just thought about the fact I was going to my dream club Arsenal with Arsene Wenger and many French players.”
“My first season I couldn’t be with the senior team because I was not a professional. There was nobody that spoke French in the academy and it impacted my life. It was very hard to settle down, I struggled a lot for the first 6 or 7 months. I was alone, missing my family and friends.”
“I came from Clairefontaine academy which was very much based on technical ability, passing, moving etc. The English game was much more physical and I couldn’t get my head around it. Coming short, spinning and moving into space because all I was doing was getting the ball to my feet. It took me a while to adapt but I was very strong-minded and all I wanted to do was adapt and get to the first team.”
You developed at Arsenal during a time of attacking wealth at the club. Thierry Henry, Sylvain Wiltord, Dennis Bergkamp, Kanu etc. How do you view that period in hindsight? Had you joined a club with an easier route to the first team, do you think your career would have been different or was the presence of these players further motivation to succeed at Arsenal?
“During that time there was such great players. At the time I would say it was tough because all I wanted to do was play first-team football. It was a bit frustrating that they’re world-class players and I couldn’t get a game. All I could do was be on the bench.”
“But now my career has finished, I’ve matured and I’m older, I just say that it was a blessing to be with them guys. I learned so much from them and I have been part of an invincible team. I look at that medal every day, I just smile because at the end of your career that is what you have. Memories.”
“At the same time if I went to a different club, maybe that means I would have had a different career. But does that mean I would have won more trophies or had a better career? I don’t know. I have no regret at all, it was just the best opportunity and the best time of my career.”
Like many young talents, the club sent you on loan to try and get further first-team football. Do you look at any of the loan moves you had and think that it didn’t have the best impact on your career progression?
“It is more the circumstances of my career that have led to me going on loan. When I joined Arsenal I signed a 7-year contract. After we won the league in 2004, during pre-season, I done my cruciate against Manchester United in the Charity Shield. So that meant my season was over, it had just started and it was over.”
“I came back just before the end, played a few games and at the end of the season, I only had 1 year left on my contract. I spoke to Arsene Wenger and he said ‘I want you to stay. But I can’t guarantee you playing-time next season because obviously you just had a season injured so I think it would be good for you to go on loan, get some game time before coming back to fight for a place in the first team.’”
“I was up for it, I was signing a new contract anyway, it was a good plan. I went to Celtic but it didn’t work out. They bought some players and I was behind them because I was just on loan. I then went to West Ham and it was similar. Bobby Zamora, Marlon Harewood and Teddy Sheringham were doing well so they didn’t really need me.”
“When I finally moved to Wolves in the Championship, that is when I really enjoyed my time. That’s when I felt this is what going on loan is all about. Playing week-in week-out. Playing under Glenn Hoddle, he was a great manager. I was there for the last four months of the season but I played some games, scored some goals and it was great for my confidence. Third time lucky.”
Eventually you left Arsenal and joined Middlesbrough. How did the move materialise?
“In 2007 I finally left Arsenal and at the time I was happy to. Not because I was leaving the club but because I was going to be given the opportunity at the highest level in the Premier League in a starting eleven. Gareth Southgate was the manager [at Middlesbrough] and he was in touch 8 months or so before the move happened. He wanted me in January. I couldn’t go then because Robin van Persie got injured and Arsene Wenger said he couldn’t let me go.”
“Now looking back it was lucky I did stay. We had a great run in the Carling Cup and got to the final against Chelsea. It was a great period.”
“But I had to go because I wanted to get first-team football and the club couldn’t guarantee me that.”
Looking back on your time at Middlesbrough, there were some tough periods, including the club’s relegation to the Championship in 2009. But do you still have fond memories of your time at Middlesbrough or do you regret leaving Arsenal for them in 2007?
“I will never say that I regret moving there because I had 3 years there and it was the club that gave the chance to play week-in week-out. So I will always be grateful for the opportunity. I met great people and a great manager in Gareth Southgate. Great players too.”
“What I regret is leaving Arsenal. It isn’t because I moved to Middlesbrough, I regret leaving because I just wish I had stayed there forever and never moved anywhere else.”
“It was a tough time when we got relegated. And was one of the toughest times in my career and we were gutted and disappointed. I wanted to pay back the club for the opportunity and the trust they had in me. I did everything I could but it was not enough. It was a great experience in the way of playing but of course, there were some tough times with injury and of course the relegation to the Championship.”
After 12 years you returned to France, how did it feel moving back and playing in the country you represented at youth level?
“It was a tough one. I had never played there very much because it had just been in an academy. The way I had been treated when I left France at 16 wasn’t good. So obviously I was very worried about coming back and to be honest I didn’t want to go back. It was during a period of my career when I was without a club because I had got injured after leaving Middlesbrough.”
“Lorient were the only club that gave me a chance to get back into professional football. It was either them or stop and retire. So I had no choice but I was very worried about how the press and the media would see me coming back. I had left when I was 16 and it made such a big noise and drama.”
“Now, knowing what was coming, it was the best I had played in my career. That is when I really expressed myself and played probably my best football. So it was tough at the time but after a few months at Lorient, which is such a family club, it was the best environment for a footballer like me to progress in.”
You have since finished your professional football career and gone into the media, including working at Arsenal again. Why did you return to England and what do you enjoy most about working in England and the media?
“My career finished without me expecting it to. After the last year at Lorient I expected to find another club, I expected my career to carry on. I was only 33/34 at the time but obviously, I wanted to carry on playing.”
“But I returned to England because my wife is English and my kids are more English than they are French. That last season in Lorient I was on my own, my family were in London and settled and I didn’t want to move them back to Lorient. It was a tough year and when that year finished, I questioned whether I should carry on in France on my own? Or should I go back and hope an English club sign me?”
“I had opportunities from very low league clubs and I wasn’t prepared to keep playing football for the sake of playing football at a very low level. So I just waited and got a call from Arsenal to come and work with the media department.”
“I thought this was a great opportunity to stay in football and get into a different part of the game and learn. But in the back of my mind, I was still hoping to get an offer from a club. I continued training, staying fit, hoping I could get another club but it never happened. The longer you don’t play at that age it becomes harder and harder to get a club.”
“So I’ve started to push for that media career. And with Arsenal, Canal+ in France and beIN SPORTS I’ve really enjoyed it.”
Getting to see Arsenal on a regular basis, what do you make of a former player, Mikel Arteta, becoming the club’s manager and what do you think of the job he has done so far?
“Working for Arsenal media I get to see what Arsenal have become since Arsene Wenger left. It was always going to be a tough time after Wenger departed. That is why Unai Emery had such a difficult task and a hard time. But seeing Arteta, the job he has done is just amazing. How he has turned the club around and got the players on board.”
“That is the toughest thing as a manager. Getting the respect of the players and to get them to believe in what you want to achieve and do. It’s remarkable that at his age, in his first managerial role, I can only see it getting better and better. The way the team plays, the way they fight for the club and Arteta is great to see.”
“What I would say is the fans need to be patient. Everything is not going to come straight away and we need to believe that the club is going in the right direction.”
Arsenal’s recent transfer window saw them spend big on Thomas Partey and Gabriel Magalhaes. What do you make of the summer business?
“In the transfer market it is always difficult because players want to play at the highest level. They want to play in the Champions League. Money comes into it too. When you see United, City and Chelsea spending so much money on massive transfer fees. Sometimes Arsenal look like they can’t compete with that kind of money.”
So looking at that, seeing the players they got in during the summer, I think it is a very good window and the club has done very good business. Only Arteta can judge what he needs in the team and what he sees in training. There has been issues with [Matteo] Guendouzi, he managed to move him out the club, [Lucas] Torreira too. And the club definitely needed that big central midfielder and they got him [Thomas Partey].”
“Getting in a central defender is key too. The position has always been a critical point of Arsenal over the last few years. So that looks like we’re looking strong there now [Gabriel Magalhaes]. And the addition of Willian who is a top, experienced player, we look a very strong team. Young players coming through, [Eddie] Nketiah for example.”
Finally, what are your expectations for the season?
“I think we have a good balance of experience and young players and Arteta seems to be managing that really well. I have big expectations and I think we can achieve the top 4 for sure. Why not more? You look at the start of the season, everyone has lost games apart from Everton. But even they will drop points, I don’t think they have the depth to stay up there in the long run.”
“I think we have got a really good chance. The start of the season is so important and the fact we have started well, the confidence will be high and we have to believe we can achieve great things this season.”
We at 101 would like to extend a big thank you to Jérémie for taking the time to speak with us about his career. We would like to wish him all the best as he forges his latest career in the media.
Jérémie Aliadière joined Arsenal as a 16-year-old. Leaving France and his parents, still a teenager, in the hope of forging a life in the game he loved across the channel. His career saw him become an invincible with Arsenal, suffer relegation with Gareth Southgate and return to his home nation apprehensively having left controversially fromFootball (soccer) greatest goals and highlights | 101 Great Goals – Feed