Pascal Chimbonda
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Pascal Chimbonda on Tottenham, Wigan and the aftermath of the 2006 World Cup final

| 15.12.2021

Pascal Chimbonda spent time at Tottenham and Wigan in the Premier League and was part of the France squad that reached the World Cup final in 2006.

In an exclusive interview, he looks back at his time in England and the World Cup, as well as giving his opinion on this season’s Premier League.

Spurs should have let Harry Kane leave

As a player when you have a big opportunity arise like Harry Kane did in the summer and the club turns it down, you do feel like you’ve been betrayed a little, because you’ve given everything for the club and you didn’t get the move you wanted.

When you play football, naturally you want the best for yourself; you want to be competing at the top level. I personally think Spurs should have let Harry go in the summer and brought in two or three strikers with the money they would’ve got for him.

Opportunities like that don’t come around very often in a player’s career, and I don’t think it’ll come around again for Kane. He’s only scored one goal in the Premier League so far this season, which is a shame for a guy who is normally a killer in front of goal.

Spurs should learn from Manchester United/Cristiano Ronaldo and bring Bale back AGAIN

I played many times against Cristiano Ronaldo, and to defend against him was always tough. Of course, at that time, he was so quick and skilful, whereas he’s now changed his game and is the main striker for Man United.

He’s built to win, that’s just how his mentality is. I actually hope to see Gareth Bale again come back to Spurs and do a similar job as Ronaldo has done for United. I think that’s a move which would benefit everyone, to be honest.

When he came back last season he ended up scoring 16 goals in all competitions. I’ve spoken before about Tottenham’s need for strength in depth for when Harry Kane goes through a tough spell.

If Gareth Bale came back to Spurs, they could use him as an out-and-out striker, either alongside Kane or in place of him if he’s out of form.

Gareth Bale, Harry Kane, Tottenham

Tottenham’s difficulty is that they need a player to come in and accept that they’re going to be playing a second role, most likely on the bench behind Kane, because we know how Tottenham like to play and we know Kane is always going to be their main man.

You have to be careful when bringing someone in because you need to make sure the player knows his role, but you also need that striker to be reliable enough to take the pressure off Kane and Heung-min Son – and that’s something Gareth Bale was when he signed for the club last season.

There’s a big gap at the top of the table at the moment between Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea and the rest of the chasing pack. The problem Tottenham are having is that if Harry Kane doesn’t score, they struggle to find the back of the net.

They’re doing well defensively in recent games but they definitely need to strengthen up front. To close that gap on the front three, they’ll need to strengthen all over the pitch – but a good start would be to bring in a forward.

Daniel Levy needs to listen to the manager and give him what he needs to compete with the likes of Manchester City.

I’ve never watched the 2006 World Cup final – and never will

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t surprised to feature in France’s 23-man squad for the 2006 squad. Of course it was a proud moment for me when I got the call, because I’d never made an appearance for the national team.

So when I got the call it was a surprise, but when I think back to the season I had with Wigan, where we’d finished 10th in the Premier League in our first season and I’d featured in the Team of the Year, I think it’s fair to say I deserved the call-up.

It was a dream come true for me. When France won the World Cup in 1998 I was in my homeland of Guadeloupe, so to imagine myself being part of that squad in just eight years was unbelievable. I worked very hard, though, to get to where I did.

Things ended badly in that tournament for us, though, as we lost on penalties to Italy in the final. Nobody is talking in the dressing room afterwards.

These are big guys, big players who have been there and done it all before. They knew how to win and could handle defeat. When the game finished heads were down and nobody was talking. What can you say? We lost in the worst possible way – you can’t say anything to anyone at that point; it doesn’t matter how big a personality you usually are. No one knows what to say to each other.

I was the least experienced name in that dressing room, but some of the characters in there, Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, these guys have seen it all before.

I think we all knew we had to put it to one side and use that pain to help us go on to be better players in the future.

I was still relatively young at the time, but even if I could go back now with all of my experience, I still wouldn’t know what to say to those guys.

David Trezeguet

The only person I remember anyone speaking to was David Trezeguet. We all really felt for him and told him everything was OK. These things happen in football, and we tried to reassure him that things would be OK.

He was in tears, it was really tough to see. But, as I said, it happens to the best of players. What’s done is done; you can’t go back and change things.

There was no meeting between the players after the game. We got back to the hotel and went our separate ways the next day. Nobody wanted to speak about what had happened. It was very tough.

Everybody was shocked and heads were down. We came so close to winning something big, at a time where so many people doubted us.

We were apparently too old; we were supposed to exit the competition at the group stage – we heard all of those things going into the tournament. We proved everyone wrong.

Age doesn’t matter; if you have a group of players who are all heading in the same direction, age simply doesn’t matter. It made us stronger, we had the strength to go on to the end. Unfortunately we didn’t win it but I can look back now on some great memories.

I’ve never watched the game back, and I never will. It would be too painful. Before the game I passed the trophy during the warm-up and I thought ‘I could be holding that at some point tonight’ and it never happened. There’s too much pain attached to that game to watch it back.

Zidane’s head was down after the Materazzi incident; no one knew what to say to him

Of course, one of the big talking points in that 2006 final was the incident between Zinedine Zidane and Marco Materazzi. At the time when he did what he did, none of us on the bench saw it. The referee didn’t even see it; I think it was one of his assistants who told him what happened.

As soon as you go down to 10 men in a final of that magnitude, it’s always going to be difficult. Not only that, but we were losing our best player, our main provider, in the form of his life, playing in his last game before he retired.

You just couldn’t really sum up how we were feeling when we saw everything play out the way it did. It was just “wow”. That’s all I could say.

After the game in the dressing room, I just remember seeing Zinedine in the shower. I couldn’t say anything to him. I just passed him; his head was down.

What are you going to say to him in a moment like that? He’s Zidane; I’m no one, I’m just Pascal Chimbonda. Zinedine Zidane has won everything there is to win. What is Pascal Chimbonda going to say to him to make him feel better?

Zinedine Zidane

To be honest I didn’t see him ever stepping into management. When we played together I never thought he’d step into coaching.

When he was a player he was obviously such a big character, but I just didn’t see it happening. He’s done a fantastic job, though. He knows how to win, and he knows how to get out of any situation.

Zidane isn’t someone I see stepping in at Manchester United. If he was interested in that role, he’d have taken it a long time ago, as I’m sure he’s had opportunities in the past to go there. I know he’s been one of the favourites to take over in the summer but I just don’t see it happening.

I think the next step for him is the French national side. He wants to coach the French team. I think he’s waiting for that moment. He did so well at Real Madrid, and now I think he wants to replicate that on an international stage.

Cristian Romero can become one of the best defenders in the Premier League; he reminds me of Ledley King

A good season for Antonio Conte at Tottenham is qualification for the Champions League. That would be a great achievement for him. The next step is to win a trophy; not necessarily a major trophy, but something like an FA Cup – it would be a great achievement for the club simply because it’s been so long since the team won anything.

I was part of the last Tottenham team to win a trophy, and that was 13 years ago now. It would be great for the fans to celebrate more success and I think Conte is the best person for the job.

He’s a very good manager who is already getting the best out of his players; you can see how passionate he is on the bench, and it looks like the fans are reacting well to him.

I get on well with the people of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club; I always gave the club 100% on the pitch, the fans knew I’d give everything – it didn’t matter who we were playing against. That was the best thing about me as a player, I think – and I know fans love players like this.

The club have a great player in Cristian Romero. I saw him play a lot with Argentina and I’d describe him as a proper defender. He loves to defend, he loves a challenge and he’s not bad at all on the ball.

He’s a very reliable player when he’s on the pitch, and he reminds me of my experience playing alongside Ledley King. You knew that regardless of who made a mistake at the back, Ledley would be there to cover for you. I see the same attributes in Romero.

I like him a lot and I believe he’ll go on to become one of the best defenders in the Premier League.

Man City are too good not to win the Premier League, Man Utd will sneak into top four

I think Manchester City win the Premier League this season; that’s who I’d put my money on.

They just keep on winning; it seems like Pep Guardiola knows exactly how to do things at the moment. He’s happy with his team commanding games and winning 1-0 – that’s not something Chelsea can seem to do.

They win crucial games that Chelsea and Liverpool don’t do. They rarely lose against lower sides in the division, something Chelsea and Liverpool are both more capable of doing. They’ve got everything it takes to win the Premier League.

And they’re doing all of this without an out-and-out striker playing week-in, week-out. I can tell you from experience as a Premier League defender, what Pep Guardiola is doing tactically is a nightmare for the opposition’s defence; you don’t know who to track.

You don’t know where the ball’s going to go; they play long, short, deep, danger can come from anywhere. Everyone in that team can score goals.

Bernardo Silva, Manchester City

There’s one guy in that team that doesn’t get enough credit for them at the moment – that’s Bernardo Silva. People don’t talk that much about him – but he’s their best player right now.

He quietly goes about his business and I think that’s better for a player. When you’re a player who people don’t talk too much about, that’s when you sometimes start to lose your head. But in the case of Bernardo Silva not a lot of eyes are on him in that way, and that can only benefit his game.

I think Manchester United will take that final spot in the top four. We know Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool will all be up there in the top three, I don’t see West Ham sustaining this form for the whole season and I just feel like the sheer size of the club will get Man United over the line.

As if they didn’t already have a strong enough squad capable of finishing in the top four, you wouldn’t be surprised to see them go out and add another name in the January transfer window.

I see them finishing in the top four, which obviously leaves Tottenham out of the Champions League places this season – but for me all I want this year is for Spurs to finish ahead of Arsenal. If we finish ahead of them, fans will be happy and that’s all that matters this season.

Here’s why I dropped into non-league football

It’s hard as a footballer coming to the end of your career; it’s hard to quit. Football is part of your life; for me it was so hard to give up playing, that’s why I took up any opportunity I could towards the end of my career. It didn’t matter what league it was in; if a friend asked me to come and play four or five games for his team I was there.

I just love the game, I love to play football, I love everything about it, I don’t know how to do anything else.

It doesn’t matter what division you’re playing in; you never lose that competitiveness. Of course I’m aware it must be strange for non-league players when they line up against an ex-Premier League player.

I’ve definitely noticed lots of wingers step up their game and give it a good go against me to see how good I am. But I’m also aware of my own abilities these days.

I played to my strengths, and while in my youth I’d always be bombing up and down the right wing, when I dropped down the divisions I was conscious enough to reserve my energy and stay at the back. There are plenty of young legs who can do the job going forward!

I’ve been kicked countless times at that level; I’ve nearly broken my leg, because these players just go at you. They don’t care who you are or where you’re from; if you play at that level you have to be prepared for anything. I loved it, though.

The future will be bright for Arsenal

Mikel Arteta’s done a good job in charge of Arsenal as far as I’m concerned. When the season started there was talk about him being sacked, but after that difficult period they look like they’ve turned things around.

They’re sixth in the table and can go into the top four if they beat West Ham this week. People are now starting to see that Arteta is the right man for the job. These things take time in management – he’s dealing with a lot of new players and they’ve been hit with a few injuries.

Mikel Arteta, Arsenal

He needs to sort things out with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, because when he does that, I’m sure we’ll start to see the type of football we were used to seeing from the club when Arsene Wenger was in charge.

The future will be bright for Arsenal, I’m sure, but I don’t really look at them; I just focus on Spurs and how we’re getting on.

I always used to love playing in the north London derby because at the time I had a lot of friends playing for Arsenal, so it was always good to compete with them. You have to enjoy all of those moments in football, but in particular that derby was one I loved playing in.

I chose Wigan over Marseille in 2005

It was always my dream to play in the Premier League. I always say that’s where I feel like my career started. Lots of things went on during my time in France but I was always desperate to play in England and test myself against some of the best players in the world.

When the move from Wigan came in, I knew I had to jump on it. At that time, I had Marseille who wanted me to sign for them, but I told my agent I wanted to sign for Wigan. I wanted to start a fresh life and put everything that happened to me in France behind me. That’s why I ended up joining Wigan.

When I first arrived there was a big language barrier because I couldn’t speak any English – that was the hardest thing for me, but the players were all so welcoming and helped me settle straight away.

Paul Scharner is one of the names that always stands out to me from my time at Wigan. He’s a good guy; a really funny guy.

Before the game when you see the players arrive, we had a certain dress code we had to follow when arriving to home games; a shirt and tie. You’d see Paul turn up in these crazy ties and jackets – he was a really funny guy to have around the place.

At that time we had a really friendly group of players. The club had just been promoted to the Premier League for the first time and we all just felt so free. No one knew much about us, and that helped us in that first season, where we eventually finished 10th in the table.

When I signed for Wigan, I can say I never thought we’d finish in the top half of the table, but we had a great team spirit and I think that goes a long way.

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Author

Andrew McDermott