Pires: 'Ligue 1 is getting stronger'
In an exclusive interview, former France star Robert Pires says he believes the future is bright for Ligue 1, and the one-time Marseille favourite admits that PSG deserve credit for raising the profile of the domestic game.
Now 38, Pires has not played since leaving Aston Villa last year and, while he lives in London, he keeps a close eye on Ligue 1 in his role as a pundit for French television. From his vantage point, he has been impressed with the team that Paris Saint-Germain's new management team have put together.
"Ligue 1 is getting stronger again and that’s good news for France," he told Ligue1.com. "Of course the catalyst is Paris Saint-Germain. It’s very important and I think that what the president Nasser Al-Khelaifi is doing is fantastic. It’s one thing to have money, but he’s spending it in an intelligent way. I think PSG are building a strong team in a clever, calculated way. They have top players at the back, in midfield and up front. Then you have the other French clubs who are trying to fight with them. We know it’s going to be hard because PSG have certainly the strongest squad in France now."
Marseille pressure hard to handle
The graceful Pires made his name in Ligue 1 in the 1990s with FC Metz and Olympique de Marseille before leaving for what would prove to be a glorious spell with Arsenal in 2000. His time at the Stade Vélodrome proved to be something of a rollercoaster ride, as OM made it to the UEFA Cup final in his first season on the south coast, before spending his second campaign battling to avoid relegation. He admits that the pressure of playing for OM can be difficult to handle.
"The second year at Marseille was a very tough experience. It was a very long, hard season, and we only avoided relegation on the final day," he said. "The supporters are very demanding. They don’t make life easy for you, and they tend to go from one extreme to another. When you’re top or second in the league you’re the best and you seen as a god. If you lose, it’s like you get thrown straight in to the dustbin."
French facilities 'excellent'
Despite that bittersweet experience, Pires insists that his formative years in France were vital before he went on to form part of a wonderful Arsenal team under compatriot Arsène Wenger and alongside countrymen such as Thierry Henry.
"My time in France was very important in my career," he said. "We are lucky to have excellent training facilities, and the young players are really well looked after. I was also fortunate to have benefited from the academies at (hometown team) Reims and at Metz. People showed faith in me and I was given a chance to play. I think I proved my quality. Then I went to Marseille, which was an important step for me before moving abroad."
Cabella: A future star
Among the current stars of the French game, Pires is impressed by some of the young talent on display at Montpellier, even if the champions have endured a difficult start to this season.
“I’m enjoying the performances of Rémy Cabella at Montpellier this season," said Pires. "He’s carried on from where he left off last season. I thought he was very good against Arsenal on his Champions League debut. That shows he has character and can go a long way, that he doesn’t let the pressure of big games get to him. I hope he can continue enjoying himself and gain more experience. But I think Cabella and Younès Belhanda can kick on from last season, when they helped Montpellier pip PSG for the title. Both have real quality."
So does that mean Cabella could be set to follow a similar career path to that trodden by Pires?
"I think Arsène Wenger will have noticed his performance in that Champions League game. Wenger likes small technical players like him, players like Santi Cazorla who he recently signed from Málaga. I think Wenger may have Cabella’s name in the back of his mind, and who knows, maybe he will end up at Arsenal."