Arsenal legend Robert Pires has opened up about some of the best players he has played with and against, as well as his struggles adapting to Premier League football when he left Marseille in 2000.
Speaking on the BBC MOTD Top 10 podcast, Pires named former Chelsea captain John Terry and Manchester United star Rio Ferdinand as two of his toughest competitors.
“In the Premier League it was John Terry and Rio Ferdinand. Matches against Chelsea and Manchester United were always hard and Terry and Ferdinand were very tough, very physical,” he said.
“Coming from France to play in the Premier League, it was very difficult at the beginning.
“Arsene Wenger told me: ‘It’s not the same football. It’s physical, you need to learn.’ “My first match was at Sunderland. I was sitting on the bench and after about 20-25 minutes I remember thinking: ‘Wow, this football is not for me.'”
Pires also paid tribute to Gunners team-mate Dennis Bergkamp and his captain in international football, Zinedine Zidane, adding: “I learned a lot from Zinedine Zidane with the national team.
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“Zidane was a leader and a strong character. When I joined Arsenal in 2000 I learned a lot from Dennis Bergkamp. He was the mind of the team and he made things look easy.
“I loved the type of player he was, and today I love watching Kevin de Bruyne. I loved watching Andres Iniesta. Bergkamp was very important for Arsene Wenger.”
Pires also said it was “an honour and a privilege” to work under Arsene Wenger, adding: “Arsene helped me off the field too. He was like a second dad to me.
“He loved a player with very good quality and ability with the ball. That’s why he enjoyed Thierry Henry, Nwankwo Kanu and Bergkamp.
“Two days after the Champions League final in 2006 [Arsenal lost 2-1 to Barcelona] I said: ‘Look, Arsene, thank you very much for everything, but now I have a great opportunity to play in Spain for Villarreal.’
“He was very surprised but when you have an opportunity to play in a different country you need to try it.”