You would’ve played in the 1998 World Cup Final if Marcel Desailly hadn’t been sent off. How did you feel when you realised that red card had ended your World Cup dream? Did it spoil your celebrations?
David Moss, via email
It was tough. It was a World Cup Final, after all. The coach Aime Jacquet had told me to go and warm up at half-time: “You’re going to go on,” he said. A bit of time passed and then he said “OK, five more minutes,” and then the card came. It’s true that for a fraction of a second I thought “Fuck!” but it didn’t spoil my celebrations – it was an extraordinary triumph.
After the World Cup, you moved to Juventus: what went wrong?
Ryan White, via email
There’s something that needs clearing up. People often say I didn’t play much at Juve, but I always played. First of all, I only joined them in January, which explains the limited number of games. I played in all of the remaining 16 games of the season, starting in 13 of them; the first three I was on the bench because the coach, Marcello Lippi, was in the process of deciding to quit the club and thought it best to give me a bit of time.
And in the last five or six games I either scored or set up a goal. One or the other. It’s true that it took me a few games to get used to the system, because we played a 3-5-2 system I wasn’t used to, but I soon adapted and started to play well. I left Juventus for other reasons, which I’ve never wanted to go into. [FFT: But now you’re going to reveal all?] No.
What are your most cherished memories of your time at Arsenal?
Steve Pears, North London
I think the best memory will always be going through the whole season unbeaten, breaking the record and holding on to our invincibility. That’s a hell of an achievement in English football, what with all the tough games there are. And nobody will ever be able to take that away from us.
At what point during Arsenal’s ‘invincible’ season did the players really start to believe you’d go the whole campaign unbeaten?
Sarah Campbell, Stevenage
The only time we really said anything amongst ourselves was at Portsmouth, the third-last game of the season, when we went behind before drawing 1-1. We said that it would be silly to go and lose now with the end of season in sight. Maybe subconsciously we began to think about it in the last four or five games, but honestly, to think about it is the worst thing you can do. You start trying not to lose rather than playing your usual way.
Do you regret that incredible rant at Graham Poll at Highbury when you had to be pulled away several times after the final whistle?
Neil Kateley, Ealing
Some of my team-mates came over to pull me away, yes, but only because they thought I was going to lose it. That wasn’t the case. When I went over to Poll, there was no one around, so if I had wanted to touch him, I’d have touched him. I just wanted to talk to him face to face. Eye to eye. I told him that he had falsified the game, and he had.
But he wasn’t man enough to admit it, and that was what made me angry. He sent off Craig Bellamy – I still don’t know what for – and sent off Ray Parlour for next to nothing. And then Sol Campbell pulls off an absolutely magnificent defensive move and he blows for a penalty! At the end of the game I simply asked why he had ruined the game: ruined it for Newcastle and ruined it for us. He wasn’t able to provide me with an answer. If you’re a man, you can reply. Everybody makes mistakes.
I once saw a young female Arsenal fan with Thierry Henry tattooed across her stomach. How does that make you feel?
Mimi Taylor, via e-mail
I remember after one game a fan asked me to sign my autograph on his arm. I said, “Give me a piece of paper or something, because it’ll wash out on your arm”, but he said, “No, I’m going to get it tattooed over your signature.” I find that a bit hard to understand because after all I’m just a footballer, I don’t save people’s lives or anything. You have to be a fan to understand. I have to say when he came back and showed me I was agreeably surprised. But I’m sometimes a bit ill at ease with that sort of thing.
What’s the most mind-boggling English habit you’ve encountered?
Rose Simons, via e-mail
Ketchup! Ketchup here, ketchup there, you put ketchup on everything! Don’t you want to taste the food? [Laughs] I’ve got a friend here, and if you give him spaghetti bolognese he’ll put ketchup on it. Any kind of food, he’ll put ketchup on it. I say to him “If you like it so much, drink it! Put a straw in the bottle, go for it!”
The other thing is gravy – all over the food, all over the plate until you can see nothing but gravy. At Arsenal we have a masseur who is just extraordinary. He takes his plate, and fills it with a bit of everything, everything on the same plate! He puts his starter on one side, then some mashed potato, some pasta, some rice. Then he slaps a bit of meat on top of it all and drowns it in sauce.
I say to him “Put your starter on one plate and then get up and go and get another one for your main dish?” I mean, if it’s a pre-match meal, OK, you might take a bit of pasta and a bit of rice on the same plate. Or if it’s an English breakfast, then you have several things that go together. But when I see them sometimes with their plates with salads, pasta, meat, sauce all together, you just have to laugh.
Is it true that you paid a man to hang a picture in your house? If so, could you not have done it yourself, it's really very easy...
Matt Barnes, Tasmania
I’m not going to even answer that one. I don’t know where people get some of this stuff from!
You’ve never been known for diving and, indeed, attacked Barça’s players for doing so, yet during the World Cup, Carlos Puyol brushed your chest and you went down clutching your face. Did you make a conscious decision to go to ground, and do you regret it now?
OK, this is a very simple one. Carlos Puyol is a nice guy but there was foul after foul after foul, and the referee didn’t have the guts to do what needed doing. In the end I was being penalised because I wasn’t going down. In the Champions League Final, he committed two really big fouls on me, but I didn’t go down and he didn’t get the card he deserved.
After a while I turned to the referee and said “OK, you can wave play on, but you have the power to come back to the foul once the ball is out of play.” He said “Yes, but you didn’t go down.” What’s that got to do with it? First half of our match at the World Cup, when the ball’s not even near us, he comes across and elbows me. I looked at the referee and he said “You have the advantage, play on.”
In the second half, same thing. He put his hand in my face at one stage – nothing. I said, “Next time, I’ll fall.”
For the incident the question refers to, I’m running for a ball that Pernia should get easily because I’m a bit late on it. I see Puyol move across to block me and I try to run around him but he takes that extra step to block me. Now I like basketball, where blocking has its place, but not in football so I went down. Maybe it’s not good, but after a while you realise you aren’t doing yourself any favours by staying on your feet. For me, it’s justified.
Who’s the best strike partner you’ve ever had? Or do you prefer to play up front alone?
Lee Atherton, Manchester
[Without a second’s hesitation] Dennis Bergkamp. Dennis.
Who’s the most difficult centre-back you’ve been marked by?
John Quay, via e-mail
It’s hard to say. Of course John Terry would be among them, Sol Campbell, Ledley King, William Gallas. But you know I’ve also had tough games against defenders who might not be among your obvious candidates. At times it’s a war out there – when you go to Blackburn, Bolton, Everton, you know you’re going to have to battle. It makes me laugh when I hear some say it’s easy in England! They should come and play some of those type of games and take the knocks that come your way. Sometimes those matches are the hardest.
You’ve got the looks, style and flair to move into movies: could you be the first French James Bond? If not, what kind of films would you like to star in?
Claire Thomas, via e-mail
No. For now I’m happy to remain a footballer and I have no pretensions of one day being an actor. To be an actor you’d have to be good at acting and it’s hard enough being a footballer!