In spite of the turmoil at Arsenal in recent weeks, with the transfer rumours concerning Emmanuel Adebayor and Alexander Hleb that just wonâ€™t go away, there was some good news for Gunners fans when Gael Clichy signed a new long-term deal with the club. However, there was a time when it looked as though Clichy would never get the chance to play for such an illustrious club. Nick Turner profiles the young French full-backâ€¦
Name: Gael Clichy
Date of Birth: July 26, 1985
Place of Birth: Toulouse, France
Height: 5’9″ (1.75 m)
Weight: 10st 4lbs (65kg)
Early Career â€“ And An Early Scare
Born in the South-West of France in the town of Toulouse on July 26th 1985, Clichy grew up obsessed with football – so much so that his parents felt that he would benefit greatly from a move to the AS Cannes academy set-up, famous for its youth policy and producing stars such as Zinedine Zidane and Patrick Vieira.
However, at the age of fifteen, Clichy had not long been involved in the Cannes setup when he had an accident that nearly ended his life.
As Clichy recalls, â€œAt Cannes, the stadium was being reconstructed. My friend and I decided to cut through the building site to get back to the academy quicker. When I jumped over a metal fence my ring got caught and I tore my finger off.â€
On Friday 13th, the young Frenchman had to endure a seven-hour operation to allow surgeons to sew his finger back on. At some point during the operation, a problem developed concerning his lungs, and the young full-back stopped breathing for a full 20 seconds. As the doctors frantically tried to find out what had happened, Clichyâ€™s heart began to start beating again, and he survived. Later, doctors described what had happened as a miracle, and could not believe that Clichy had lived through it.
Clichy made a full recovery and returned to training, where he impressed playing as a left full back. In 2003, he made 15 appearances for the Cannes first team, which caught the attention of Tottenhamâ€™s sporting director Damien Comolli, then Arsenalâ€™s French scout. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger had previously been involved in the youth system at Cannes, and knowing the potential that could arise from it, made moves to sign Clichy in the summer of 2003.
Becoming A Gunner
As a 17-year-old playing in the French third division, Clichy did not believe that his career could take such a dramatic step in the right direction, and when told by his parents that Arsenal wanted to sign him, Clichyâ€™s response was understandably sceptical, â€œDon’t joke about that, this is something important.â€ Just days after this news reached Clichy, Arsene Wenger himself had arrived in Cannes to meet him, and to discuss a possible move to North London.
“When you dream of playing for a big team at the highest level, when someone like Arsene Wenger and Arsenal come to you, you are really surprised.”
Clichy signed a contract with Arsenal later that summer on August 4th for a fee of Â£250,000. He was obviously delighted with the move, saying, â€œIt was amazing for me to sign for this club. During my first season, training with people like Patrick Vieira, Martin Keown and Dennis Bergkamp was incredible.â€
He made his debut for the club a couple of months later in a 3rd round League Cup match against Rotherham United, where he scored one of the spot-kicks in a penalty shoot-out in which Arsenal came out on top. Clichy saw this as vital experience in his career.
â€œI think I was 12th because I didn’t want to take one, but it was good experience,” he recalled.
Later in November 2003, he made his Premier League debut at Birmingham City. This was the first of 12 appearances that season, one in which Arsenal remained unbeaten as they cruised to the title. Clichyâ€™s contribution was enough to earn him a winnerâ€™s medal â€“ making him the youngest player ever to win a Premier League champions medal. For the next couple of years, Clichy would be the understudy to Ashley Cole, and had to be content with being the clubâ€™s second choice left-back, gaining experience when he could.
It looked as though his big chance had come when Cole suffered a stress fracture to his foot in October 2006, and Clichy seemed set for a long spell in the first team, gaining valuable experience. However, he was unlucky enough to suffer exactly the same injury as Cole four games later, and was out of action for six months.
He returned to first team action in April the following year, in time for Arsenalâ€™s Champions League semi-final second leg against Villarreal, during which he conceded an 88th minute penalty when adjudged to have fouled striker Jose Mari in the box. Luckily for Clichy, Arsenal keeper Jens Lehmann saved the resulting penalty from Juan Riquelme, and Arsenal made it to the Paris final. Unfortunately, Clichy suffered a recurrence of his foot injury and was unable to play in the final. He wouldnâ€™t return to the first team until October 2006 the following season.
First Choice At Last
That summer, Ashley Cole made the long-expected move away from Highbury to join Chelsea. As a result, Clichy became Arsenalâ€™s first choice left back, Arsene Wengerâ€™s refusal to spend big money on a new left-back confirming the faith the manager had in his young compatriot.
During the 2006-07 season, Clichy underlined his consistency by making a highly encouraging 40 appearances, and was quickly establishing himself as one of the best attacking left-backs in the league, with his raw pace making him hard to stop going forward, and hard to beat defensively.
He was also in brilliant form in the 2007-08 season, playing in 49 of Arsenalâ€™s 58 games, more than any other player. His performances last season were also recognised by his fellow professionals, as he was selected as the Premier Leagueâ€™s best left-back in the PFA Team of the Year, where he was joined by Arsenal colleagues Bacary Sagna, Cesc Fabregas and Emmanuel Adebayor.
Clichy was included in Raymond Domenechâ€™s provisional 30-man squad for Euro 2008, but didnâ€™t make the final cut as Domenech favoured Barcelonaâ€™s Eric Abidal and Manchester Unitedâ€™s Patrice Evra.
After much speculation about his future at the club, Arsenal announced on 20th June that Clichy had agreed a new improved contract extension, and is now tied to the club until 2012. The new deal makes him one of the highest earners at the Emirates. The contract extension also signals Clichyâ€™s commitment to the Gunners, and indicates that he will be at the club for the long-term. And under the guidance of Arsene Wenger, he can only get better – and join the ranks of famous full-backs such as Roberto Carlos and Bixente Lizarazu, as well as Arsenal left-back legends Nigel Winterburn, Kenny Sansom, Bob McNab and Eddie Hapgood. He may also end the quest for first Arsenal goal.