Speaking in an exclusive interview with L’Équipe Magazine, Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud looks back on a frustrating season so far at club level and much more.
What star sign are you?
I do not pay attention to my star sign. I do not believe much in things like that.
It is a shame that you are not a Scorpion…
The Scorpion kick… In relation to my goal on the 1st January against Crystal Palace? It was an instinctive gesture. I watched it many times over. I was even sent a video where it was commentated on in numerous different languages live. It was nice. I quickly moved past it and thankfully, four days later, I scored again with Arsenal, an important goal (vs Bournemouth).
This goal seemed to set the stage for an incredible 2017 for you, but then you accumulated some physical problems…
Yes, I too, believed in an incredible 2017. Already the match before against West Brom, I scored the decisive goal, and there, I was beginning to get a series under my belt. What followed resembled more my situation in Autumn.
At the time, the team was going well, and I, I came back late from the Euros and had to wait to win a place. Then I started to have slight physical problems. Obviously, it is frustrating. My aim is to score my 100th goal this season for Arsenal. I have 94. That would give me an average of 20 goals a season with Arsenal. Not bad, eh?
Before coming here, I studied your astral situation. I would like to use it as a thread in this interview. I start with the number 9, seemingly the number of your life. That is quite good for a centre forward no?
Well no… for me, the number of my life is 7. Even if I do not ask for it on my shirt. The 7, is a mystical number, of faith, of Christ. The seven sacraments, the seven sins, the seven joys and the seven sorrows of Mary. But I am not superstitious. The proof, is that I play with the number 12.
At Montpellier, I chose 17 because I was advised against the 9 shirt which never worked at that particular club. I took 17 which was Bruno Carotti’s, who I knew well. And it had the 7 in it. In the French national team, the 9 was available, it was offered to me, so I took it. I did not ask for anything. I promise.
The scorpion is an important sign in your situation. You are notably described as under its influence “proud, enjoying conflict, combative, but most often secretly.”
Yes, that resembles me quite a bit. That’s funny. My career was chaotic at the start. I did not play in Ligue 1 until I was 24. That forges your character. Everything that I have, I had to go and get myself. I never give up, but I do not feel the need to make noise to make my desires known.
Do you feel like a member of the same family as Ribèry, Valbuena, players who were not known in their early years and who take their revenge later on?
A while ago, I saw a documentary on the French national team looking back at some of the more unusual paths for some off the players. Lolo (Koscielny) and others. It made us stronger mentally. The idea of being constantly questioned is ingrained in us.
As we are discussing adversity, this season with Arsenal, you are regularly confined to the bench, coming on regularly. Arsène Wenger justifies this because of the 4-2-3-1 formation he uses, where Alexis Sanchez is preferred. How are you coping with that?
The coach explained to me that he was adopting this system to find a defensive balance. Sometimes, I played with Sanchez on the left, but the rest of time I have to adapt to the tactical decisions. I understand the notion of balance once the ball is lost.
For me, the most difficult moment was that after scoring an important goal against Manchester United, I thought that I had scored some points and that I would start against PSG… but no. So I asked to speak to the coach to understand. I accept his decisions but I tell him what I think, without being negative, without antagonising. There are no misunderstandings between us.
It cannot be easy to hear your coach be paradoxical by saying: “Olivier is a starter, even on the bench.”
It is true that it is a very well annunciated phrase. He made me understand that I was very important for the team, even if I was playing less. He knows that, even if I am not in the starting XI, I will give everything when I come on.
How do you curb your frustration, you who is, according to the stars, “a fighter who quickly loses his patience, who becomes febrile and allows himself to be engulfed by anger, which affects his performances”?
That is funny because it is sort of true. Well, it was true. It was a behaviour that could, in recent years, engulf me in a match. I could sometimes fall out of the match, lose the plot. That ended either in the form of a red card or through a series of bad touches, harming my concentration. I have learnt to work on myself to avoid being polluted by negative feelings. But I do not want to reassess bad memories. I have left that behind.
How are you dealing with this frustrating season? I read that your mother gave you a book, “Invigorating Thoughts,” by Françoise Garagnon, that you flick through regularly. Does it help you?
There is not necessarily a link with anything spiritual in this book. The reference for me is rather A Moment With Jesus, by Sarah Young. Thanks to this book, each day I share an exchange with Jesus. That allows me to start my day right. Each day corresponds with a text, a thought.
And on your arm you have another biblical thought inscribed…
Yes, “With the Lord as my shepherd, I shall not want.” I grew up with Christian values and I have always felt safe conforming to them. These serious words on my arm reassure me, I know that if I need something, help, I can pray.
Even during a match?
Sometimes I have prayed in the middle of a match, yes. Sometimes, when everything is not going the way that I want, I seek help from Jesus. That helps me concentrate again. To focus on what is essential. Speaking to him allows me to clear my mind. It only goes on for a few seconds, but it helps me to rid of my frustration.
Ok but, today, the problem for Arsenal who have been eliminated from Europe, in the battle for the league and with fans doubting you, that does not come under the category of individual struggle. You are all implicated in that together.
For five years we have had these sorts of sensations and we always finished in the “big four”. The team does not feel that pressure, which you describe from the outside. The coach regularly tells us to ignore what is going on around us and to leave him to deal with the critics. Play, I will deal with the rest.
Two FA Cups in five seasons at Arsenal, that is not much during your time there, no?
And two Community Shields! To win titles is our aim, but it is not a determining factor in my career. I am very happy at Arsenal.
You were therefore able to get over the failed final at EURO 2016?
That is different, that is the French national team. The final, if we played that game ten times, eight out of the ten times we would have won, it is like that. We gave everything. But at the final whistle against Portugal, that was hard. At the point, I really cracked.
I cried with all of the tears that my body had. You feel alone from the rest of the world. Crushed. After a few minutes, you think about your family, you come back to life. And then the reaction of the public, in the days that followed, allowed us to relativise a little. Even if I played the cockroach for a while after. We felt love, warmth and pride.
Could you enjoy yourself under the direction of a hyperrealistic manager like Mourinho, Conte, Simeone?
As an idea, why not? Each experience is good to live through. I would adapt. At Montpellier in 2011-12, René Girard was of the fighting mentality, of a player who never gave up, of open-mindedness, of fight. A barker. We were the champions of France with him.
As you are talking about fighting, you are facing competition with the national team from Kevin Gameiro, who plays weekly alongside Antoine Griezmann. Not easy for you?
It is an advantage for him, certainly. Those who are absent always lose something and when I was injured, Kevin did a good job, you have to accept that. So, it is a new battle. Not to the extent that you forget everything that has happened. My stats speak for themselves: 9 goals in 14 matches in 2016. And then we do not have the same playing styles. Depending on the context, these complementarities can be different. I do not think about it more than that.
You were undoubtedly more got at when you were the hostage in Karim Benzema’s off the pitch matters which excluded him from the French national team?
Hostage? I don’t know. I have nothing to do with all of that.
You were however booed in bad taste, during France vs Cameroon before the Euros in Nantes.
Yes, and that hurt me, but very quickly that went away because that night I was fortunate enough to score. We then were all carried by a collective momentum. We shared an extraordinary human adventure. We were sad to leave each other at the end of two months of the adventure. Those are not merely words. A number of us had tears in our eyes when we all left each other.
According to your sign, “you create the impression that your are impermeable to criticism and emotions.”
I am not going to deny to have been hurt by the boos at Nantes. I did everything I could, not to allow my wounds and emotions to show. Certainly, you hear them.
A little deeper into your sign, you are depicted as someone who likes to “please, to be liked, sensitive to your image.”
I want people to remember me as a good striker, but also as man who tried to be a good model for the youngest in society. Me, when I was small, I looked up to the guys from 1998. I liked their sense of togetherness, their desire to advance together. I wanted to mirror them. I want little kids to have models on the pitch who are also “good people”. On or off the pitch, you have to return the love that they have for you. To be generous. Attentive.
Generous, as in?
It is not me who says it, it is my wife.
That is paradoxical. You are the youngest of four children, and, in general, the youngest is protected, moulded and developed into a bit of a selfish personality.
I am luck to have had parents who paid attention to that. My two brothers and my sister also knew to manage that situation. I think that I remained normal with them, grateful. There you go, that is the word. The chance that I have had, I want to be able to share it with those close to me. Generous, does not necessarily mean uniquely from a material point of view but also in terms of love, being available, listening. All whilst remaining in my position in the family.
Your sign says that you are “individualistic” – like all strikers who are respected – and yet, I have the impression that that is not who you are.
There is no doubt that I am not selfish enough. I live my football as a team player.
You like quotes, but do you have a motto?
Yes: “The construction of the path to success is never finished.” That is from Romain, one of my brothers, who gave me a magnet to put on the fridge with this phrase. It has become my maxim.