Brief Encounters… Robert Pires at FC Goa
In 2011, Robert Pires brought down the curtain on an incredible career. After a less than memorable season at Aston Villa, he hung up his boots at the age of 38. Three years later however, those boots were dusted off and put back on in a surprise move to FC Goa.
He completed only eight games in India, scoring one goal, before calling it a day on a dazzling career. His spell in the Indian Super League (ISL) was brief, and the visit was not without its hiccups.
A trophy-filled career
For country, Pires was a World Cup and European Championship winner, but it’s not what fans in England will remember him for. Pires will forever be known as a member of a very small group who can call themselves the ‘Invincibles’, an integral part of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal team who went a full season unbeaten.
In 2014, a 2-year-old club in a 4-year-old league acquired the services of the former Arsenal superhero, “F.C. Goa is proud to announce its marquee player, Robert Pires!” What a scoop.
“Goa is the best area in India, with beautiful beaches and food”
Pires had offers from the USA and Qatar but said he wanted to be part of a new beginning for the sport in India.
On arrival, the humble Frenchman described Goa as “the best area in India, with beautiful beaches and food.” He added, “The reception at the airport was amazing. Thank you for the welcome India… and the spicy food.”
His teammates had a rude awakening on their training methods. The ISL was still very much in its infancy. Players commented on how ‘awestruck’ they were about the Frenchman’s dedication to every training session, even at 40-years-old.
Even for Pires though, the schedule was harsh. The season ran for only three months, once a year. Squeezing in a game nearly every three days, he said, “There is no chance for rest and the league can be intense, which is a shame.” It has since been lengthened to six months as the game continues to grow in popularity across Asia.
“Pires was punched in the face and it is very shameful!”
The Frenchman’s time was not without controversy. After a heated first half against Atlético Kolkata in which seven yellow cards were shown, an altercation broke out in the tunnel. Brazilian legend, and then Goa manager, Zico, claimed that Pires was attacked by opposition manager Antonio Lopez Habas.
“One of our players was beaten by the coach of the other team”, said the ex-Brazil international. “Pires was punched in the face and it is very shameful! I don’t think Pires will lie and say it never happened.”
A potential managerial role
Despite such a brief visit, Pires said the league hasn’t grown much in recent years, but remains confident that the future of Indian football will get brighter. “I played one season and there was a lot of passion among the players. I saw some good Indian talent out there. They need an Italian, French or maybe Spanish and Portuguese to help them grow.”
He is still an ambassador for Arsenal and is a regular on talk shows. Last year, he even expressed an interest as a potential successor to Arsene Wenger, but still awaits a manager’s position.
Who knows, even though the division was not as developed as he would have liked, he may well appear in the Indian Super League again in the very near future.
Greg is a lifelong Blackburn Rovers fan, even though the toughest times are bordering on ridiculous. After marrying into a French family, he had to learn fast the ways of Ligue 1. Constantly trying to convince everyone that there are 5 big European leagues, not 4.