Olivier Giroud interview
Aux, Champs-Elysees, la la la...” Olivier Giroud is singing. He‘s not bad, though the lyrics lack a certain je ne sais quoi, if you will. The same could be said of the song Arsenal fans have adopted for their new striker – it‘s mostly comprised of “na na naaaas“, followed by “Giroooouuud”, to the tune of The Beatles‘ Hey Jude.
The Gooners crowd belted it out at Upton Park a fortnight ago when, after 303 minutes of league football in an Arsenal shirt, the 26-year-old scored his first Premier League goal, cancelling out Mohamed Diame‘s wondrous opening strike for West Ham.
It‘s a few days later when Sport meets Giroud in Paris, where he‘s preparing for France‘s World Cup qualifying game against Spain. But the post-match high is still written all over the Frenchman‘s finely chiselled face, as he recalls his celebratory sprint over to teammate Lukas Podolski.
“I was so happy, I ran to Lukas and said: ‘Come my friend, I want to kiss you.‘” The German, perhaps unsurprisingly, held Giroud at arm‘s length. “I am too big,” he laughs. “But it was a wonderful moment – I want to live more moments like this.”
By which Giroud means not sleepless nights for Podolski, but that he wants to add to his goal tally for Arsenal – which currently numbers two, being that he also scored in the Gunners‘ 6-1 mauling of Coventry in the League Cup last month. Giroud has some way to go to match his record of 21 goals in the French league last season, however – a figure that made him joint-top scorer and helped his team, Montpellier, win their first ever Ligue 1 title.
STRENGTH OF CHARACTER
It was against this impressive backdrop that Giroud arrived in north London in August, evidently as a replacement for wantaway striker Robin van Persie. When that all-important first goal took its time to arrive, though, there were fears that Arsene Wenger‘s £12m outlay was misplaced.
“I kept trust and confidence about my quality and my talent,” says Giroud. “Sometimes, when you‘re a striker, you have difficulty in scoring. But you have to ignore the doubts and just concentrate on your work on the pitch. I knew the goal would come, so I persevered.”
It perhaps takes such strength of character to leave behind a title-winning team for one with a trophy cabinet that has – in case you had forgotten – been gathering dust since the 2005 FA Cup final.
“It didn‘t worry me,” says Giroud, of the choice he made. “Since I was very young, I dreamed of playing for Arsenal because a lot of French guys have succeeded there and it‘s a a big club. Every year they play in the Champions League, and that was important in my decision. But also, I believe in this team and this squad. And I think we have a great chance to win something this year.”
Giroud‘s dreams of playing in England date back to the days when, as an aspiring footballer, he spent every single weekend watching the likes of Eric Cantona take what the Premier League‘s latest Gallic import refers to as the “French philosophy of football“ into the top flight.
“I loved to watch him play, both for his charisma and his talent,“ says Giroud. “Thierry Henry, too, was great to watch.”
When he wasn‘t watching football, Giroud was trying to emulate his heroes on the streets of Froges in southeast France, where he was raised. “I was born into a football family,” he explains. “My father played a little bit, but his level is bad. [Laughs] And one of my two brothers played in the young national team with Titi [Thierry] Henry. So I always had a ball at my feet, trying to score goals.”
“I think I‘m a complete striker now,” he continues, when asked to name his best qualities. “I have a good technical left foot, my heading game is good, I can keep the ball, I‘m strong and I can assist as well as score.” Indeed, Giroud currently tops Arsenal‘s assists charts – a sign that he‘s settled well at his new club.
SING WHEN YOU'RE WINNING
It has helped that Laurent Koscielny was already a friend from Giroud‘s time on loan at Ligue 2 club Tours, and he admits the centre back was influential in his decision to join Arsenal: “He told me about the club, the structure and the staff – how everything is made so the player can focus on the game.”
Koscielny also gave his fellow Frenchman a heads-up about what awaited him as an initiation task at the Emirates. “Ah yes, I had to sing a song,” grins Giroud. “A French song...” Cue the singing: “Aux Champs- Elysees... it‘s by Joe Dassin, you know?” His fellow new arrivals had to follow suit, with Podolski singing a German ditty and Santi Cazorla opting for the ever popular Macarena – dance moves included, according to Giroud.
And on that bombshell, he stands and shakes us warmly by the hand before departing to join up with his French teammates. With Wenger‘s new goal hunter finally off the mark in the league, Arsenal fans will hope he returns hungry to continue what looks like another Gallic success story in north London.
Sarah Shephard @sarahsportmag
Olivier Giroud wears the PUMA evoSPEED iFG football boot. See puma.com