At 16 years of age, he turned heads at the elite Clairefontaine academy with his technical ability on the ball and his pure number 9 movement off of it. Fortunately for him, among those impressed was Arsene Wenger, the genius French football mind who was currently assembling his dream squad that would go on to become the undisputed ‘Invincibles’ of England. Wenger soon put the young Frenchman- who had trouble getting permission for this from his parents- on a plane to the UK.
What followed was a 6-year long career at Arsenal where he found Wenger to be a father figure, and earned himself a rare ‘Invincibles’ Premier League medal. Jeremie was among the Ruling Masters of England in 2002/3. As his career progressed, Jeremie saw it all. He found himself lifting trophies, as well as fall from glory; but only to get back up stronger and have the season of his life in his beloved France. From debunking transfer speculations in his prime to waiting for the phone to ring on bad days, from struggling around a star studded line up to coping with the trauma that is life after football, Jeremie Aliadiere opens up in an exceptional interview with us at Back Of The Net. Enjoy!
Backofthenet: Let’s start from the very beginning, you trained at the world-renowned INF Clairefontaine Academy, which has produced the likes of Thierry Henry, and more recently, Kylian Mbappe. How important do you think the academy turned out to be in molding you into a professional footballer? Would things have gone differently if you attended another academy?
Jeremie Aliadiere: Clairefontaine Academy was the best pre formation I could have ever had as everything was based on technical abilities. We were training every day for 2 hours which helped me so much to develop as a boy as well. I had to leave home at the age of 13 so I had to grow up very quickly.
BOTN: You have said that at the tender age of 16, after signing for Arsenal, you moved in to your own five-bedroom house in Southgate. Things were definitely looking good off the field for you. Do you think that level of independence and luxury at such a young age impacted you positively? What did you learn from those experiences?
JA: I moved from France at 16 to a country where I didn’t speak the language so my parents weren’t gonna let me go to the UK unless my grandparents moved with me. They stayed for 6 months but found it very tough and went back. After that I lived on my own. It has only impacted me in a good way I think as I had to become an adult at a very early age and quickly. Yes I have made mistakes but learned from them and moved on in my life and my career.
BOTN: During your early years at Arsenal, you had three fairly disappointing loan moves including one to Celtic under Gordon Strachan. What happened during that time and why do you believe Strachan never gave you the opportunity you needed?
JA: I wouldn’t say the Wolves move was disappointing as I played every game for 4 months for a great manager and man Glenn Hoddle. As for Celtic unfortunately Strachan had a lot of belief in me until they signed a Polish striker in middle of August (editors note: Maciej Zurawski). From then he said to me I wasn’t going to start games as I was only on loan so I didn’t see the point of staying at a club where I wasn’t going to get more playing time than i would at Arsenal. So I left before the end of the summer transfer window to West Ham.
BOTN: Only a handful of players in the world can claim the honor of being called an ‘Invincible’. You were part of the Arsenal Invincibles squad of 2003-4. How does it feel to be part of such an elite group? Do you often reminisce about the golden days?
JA: Yes I always think about it as I realize what an achievement it is. At the time I did feel quite frustrated as I wanted to play more but now that I have retired, I realize how amazing it was to be part of that squad of incredible players.
BOTN: Henry, Bergkamp, Nwankwo Kanu, Sylvain Wiltord and Francis Jeffers were already in the squad when you signed as a striker for Arsenal. Competing for the same position as these already established players, did you ever feel intimidated, or unsure about your own abilities?
JA: Yes, from the beginning I always thought it was pretty impossible for me to get ahead of those guys and I did feel intimidated and didn’t believe in my own abilities.
BOTN: In a recent interview, you called Dennis Bergkamp the ‘smartest’ player you have shared the field with. How do you think training with him changed your perspective of the game or impacted your style of play?
JA: Before joining Arsenal I was always focused on scoring goals but after watching Dennis play, I realized you could enjoy yourself by playing for the team and the other players; creating space for your teammates. He was always one step ahead of everyone else, he saw things before everyone else and was a very clever player.
BOTN: Eventually you left Arsenal and moved to Middlesbrough under Gareth Southgate. It was a turbulent time for the club who were very much in transition following some success under Steve McLaren. What do you remember about that time?
JA: I will always be grateful to Middlesbrough and Southgate as they gave me that opportunity to be part of a starting eleven in a top club in the Premier League. Yes it wasn’t easy, it wasn’t the same football I was used to but I have learned so much and the fans were amazing.
BOTN: Are you surprised to see how well Southgate is doing as England manager?
JA: i’m not surprised at all with the progress and how well Southgate has done. He was so motivated, clever and smart. I knew he was going to make it at the top.
BOTN: You experienced relegation with Middlesbrough in 2009 which resulted in Gareth Southgate getting sacked and Gordon Strachan being appointed. Given what had happened at Celtic previously in your career, what were your emotions when you learned that Strachan had got the job? Did you feel that you had to move clubs?
JA: When Strachan got the job at ‘Boro, I must say I wasn’t over the moon but thought I would wait and see how things were going to go but he was great to me. From the first day he came in, he said to me he was counting on me so I was very happy and did my best even when I had injuries.
BOTN: A return to France followed with a move to Lorient. You had some of your best seasons for Lorient, where you were a leading striker in a competitive top tier team. What do you think was the reason behind this top spell in the French league?
JA: It’s very simple. I was at the lowest of my career, after spent one year without a club and wasn’t sure I was going play football at the top level again so when Lorient call me I had nothing to lose. Gourcuff gave me back the joy of playing football. Lorient is such a family club and that was what I needed. A family club with a great coach who knows my quality and was going to give me the opportunity to enjoy playing football the way I’ve always like to play football.
BOTN: At Arsenal and at Lorient, you played under two magnificent managers in Arsene Wenger and Christian Gourcuff. Both have unique and distinctive styles. What impact did both managers have on your career? Are there specific things that they did to get the best out of you?
JA: They are both very similar in some ways and both want to play football in an attractive way. Wenger was like a dad to me as I was so young when I joined Arsenal and gave me my chance at the highest level. Gourcuff saved my career and I will always be so grateful to him and Lorient. He believed in me when nobody else did and he made me realize that you achieved great things by being disciplined and tactically organized.
BOTN: During your career, you have played for a club who have won various titles and for clubs fighting relegation. How would you assess the differences in the dressing room morale in those situations? Are players more determined to win when they are considered underdogs, or as defending champions?
JA: I think it’s much tougher to play against relegation without a doubt. You play with the clubs survival and know that you could impact on so many people lifes. When you play for the title, you go into certain games with so much confidence that you feel that you have won the game before it started.
BOTN: Your career was often troubled with injuries. How did you try to stay positive during the long, aching periods of recovery before you were allowed to play again? How important is it to have a supportive family behind you during these times?
JA: I have had many big injuries in my career but I have always thought I couldn’t give up. What else was I going to do? Football is my life; that’s all have done since I was 6 so whatever happened I was always going to carry on and fight to come back. My family has always been very supportive and behind me. You do realize when times are hard who Is there for you. Not many people are when the phone isn’t ringing but that’s life.
BOTN: During several interviews, you have opened up about life after football and all the struggles that come with it. What advice would you give to young footballers still in their prime years, such that the end to their careers is more fulfilling? Do you think enough is being done to help footballers prepare for life after retirement?
JA: I would tell them to start preparing what they would like to do after their career is over even if they have a lot of money and don’t need to work. The hardest thing is from one day to the other the change a way of life. Football is a way of life with everything that comes with it. When you lived for 25 years like that it’s very hard to change.
BOTN: Finally some fans questions if we may. What advice would you give your younger self? Would you like to have played your career in reverse and end it at Arsenal?
JA: I would tell him to believe in himself more and not to care so much about what other people think.
BOTN: You have a tattoo of the Algerian flag and could have played for them at one stage. You were also close to being called up for the French National team at Lorient. Were you reluctant to play for Algeria as you felt that the French call up might happen?
JA: I could have played for Algeria but didn’t feel I was close enough to the country for me to play for them. I do regret it now as it would have been a great experience. As for France, I was going to get called up once but was a bit injured so couldn’t go.
BOTN: How close did you come to signing for Newcastle in the 2013 January transfer window? Why did that deal fall through?
JA: I wasn’t close at all. I never spoke to Newcastle at that time. It was all press speculation.
BOTN: Finally, you have played in Qatar with Umm Salal SC. Do you think that Qatar will be able to host a successful World Cup in 2022?
JA: Yes I do believe it will be a successful World Cup. It’s a great country with amazing people. They will want impress the rest of world and they can do it so trust me they will do everything in their power to make it a very successful event.
Interview by Sairam Hussian Miran, Special correspondent for Back Of The Net. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram
Follow Jeremie on Instagram.