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Exclusive: Olivier Giroud on Wenger, Tuchel, Arsenal fans & leaving Chelsea

Sitting six goals shy of becoming France's all-time leading scorer, you could forgive Olivier Giroud for feeling slighted about not being picked for Les Bleus since their disappointing Euro 2020 campaign.

Only days after France's Nations League triumph over Spain, Giroud appears in high spirits when we connect over Zoom on a sunny morning in Milan, his new home after moving from Chelsea in the summer.

He admits it was "painful" that manager Didier Deschamps, his long-time ally, had overlooked him for both the recent World Cup qualifiers and Nations League, but the 35-year-old insists he has not given up on representing his country again.

"I didn't think it would happen [being left out of the France squad] because I started well this season and when the manager didn't pick me in September, I was sad, obviously. I didn't think it would happen," he tells Tribalfootball.com.

"I never asked for game time, even during my time at Chelsea when Frank [Lampard] didn't play me. I just tried to keep focus on the pitch and what I have to do at training to show him that I'm ready, and that's what I'm going to do with AC Milan. I'm 100 percent focused on my club and my family. I didn't say that I'm retired from the national team. I'm going to do the same as I've always done."


Deschamps and Giroud share a moment after the World Cup final triumph


As recounted in his recently translated autobiography, Always Believe, what Giroud has always done is defy his critics. This dates back to his formative years with hometown club, Grenoble Foot. After signing his first professional contract at the age of 21, Giroud could not break into the first-team under manager Mehmed Baždarević.

Rather than sulk, he took the risk of joining French third-division side Istres. Giroud then worked his way back to Ligue 2, then Ligue 1, and eventually, the Premier League. So far, Giroud has won the World Cup, Champions League, Europa League, Ligue 1 title and four FA Cups.

Faith plays an integral role in Giroud's life. He explains how his Christian values have helped him overcome intense scrutiny and criticism during his career, which has been most fervent whilst playing for France. In the years during Karim Benzema's exile from the national team - which stemmed from the 'sex-tape' scandal involving Mathieu Valbuena - Giroud was often made a scapegoat for their failures, including the Euro 2016 final loss to Portugal. Benzema only fuelled the saga by saying Giroud was a go-kart while he was a Formula One car.


Giroud replacing Benzema at Euro2020


"As a Christian, my personality, I have no resentment," Giroud says. "That's really important for me. And I believe one of the most important things in life is to forgive. It was painful at that time, especially before the Euros in 2016 when I was booed by a minority of the public [in a match against Cameroon in Nantes] but this opposition with Karim Benzema, the media created it, I never had a problem with him.

"I was just the striker who was playing in the same position as him, and at that time you had the Pro-Benzema and Pro-Giroud [groups]. At the moment it was tough but I moved on, but it's a bit more painful if your family is suffering from that, it was a tough time."

Vindication came for Giroud in Russia three years ago. The 6ft 4in forward striker was benched for the opening match against Australia, which saw France battle to an unconvincing 2-1 victory. Deschamps didn't make the same mistake again. Giroud started the remaining six matches, and despite not scoring, proved to be the perfect lynchpin to allow Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe to work their magic. Asked about helping France lift their second World Cup trophy, he reflects: "I couldn't hope for anything better, it was my childhood dream [to win the World Cup], so it was a nice end to a nice story."


Pure elation in Moscow


But Giroud's story isn't over, which is why reading an autobiography from a footballer still playing at the highest level feels as rare as it does insightful. Giroud responds to this point by using Montpellier's improbable Ligue 1 2011/12 title victory, in which he played an integral role by winning the Golden Boot, to explain why he felt compelled to pen the details of his career so far.

"In life when you go for things, when you have to grab your destiny in your hands, when things are difficult, I believe it is even more enjoyable," he says. "For example, the title we won with Montpellier, it was not planned at all, it was not the target of the club at all to win the league, so when you win it in the end, it is even more enjoyable because people didn't expect that and it's a bit the same with my career.

"I was not promised to become a World Cup winner and to have the chance to win so many trophies, so that's why I feel blessed, I feel blessed and I wanted to put it down in a book and talk about overcoming difficulties, doubts, because it is not only the story of my life but of so many people, not only in sport but in general."

For many outside France, Giroud's story began when he joined English giants Arsenal in 2012. The move significantly changed his career as he achieved a lifelong goal of playing in the Premier League. There is no doubt that Giroud became synonymous with the Emirates. Who could forget his scorpion goal over Crystal Palace in 2017, which won the Puskas award, or his important role in Jack Wilshere's epic one-two goal against Norwich in 2013? There is one man for whom Giroud is forever grateful, the man he says changed his life, former Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger.

"I owe him a lot because he made my dreams come true," Giroud says of Wenger. "I really improved tactically, technically also by working hard at training and he gave me that confidence that I needed to step up and improve and become a better striker.

"I also improved as a man, he always tried to work psychologically with the players, so I grew up as a man also and that is very important."


Giroud salutes the Arsenal supporters


Giroud made over 250 appearances in five-and-a-half years with Arsenal and admits he still feels affection for the club. "When I cross people in the street in London, they come to me and say thank you for what you achieved for the club," he continues. "There is so much respect you know and that makes me feel proud for what I've done with Arsenal. I'm still in contact with some of the players at the club and people at the club. You can't forget five-and-a-half years like that, if I can say, 'once a Gooner, always a Gooner'."

Some might find that sentiment confusing given Giroud left Arsenal for Chelsea in January 2018, but he insists it could have been worse. "It was a bit difficult to leave Arsenal like that, but it was the time to leave because I needed to play in the World Cup and get into the starting XI for France. It was tough but it was not like I left Arsenal to go to Tottenham." In fact, as he recounts in his book, Spurs were interested in acquiring him during his time at Stamford Bridge, but when asked if he seriously considered moving across north London, he replies: "I wouldn't see myself playing for Tottenham after being a Gooner, no."

Giroud has "fond memories" of his time with Chelsea, and understandably so. In his first two seasons at Stamford Bridge, Giroud won the FA Cup and Europa League, scoring and assisting in the latter final against Arsenal, no less. But Giroud's competitiveness nagged at him as he became a peripheral figure under Lampard, eventually pushing to leave the club in January 2020. Inter Milan showed interest, but the transfer was blocked by Lampard at the 11th hour. It proved a fortuitous turn of events as Giroud stayed, Lampard was replaced by Thomas Tuchel a year later and the Blues went on to win the Champions League at the end of last season.


Giroud after Chelsea beat Manchester City in the last season's Champions League final


How did Tuchel make such a drastic transformation in a short amount of time? Giroud believes the German was the perfect fit for the struggling Blues. "Tuchel brought serenity and confidence to the team again by being successful," he explains. "It is always easier when you win games, so we built that confidence step by step, and with the philosophy of his game playing a 3-4-3, with the great players we had, his ideas fit perfectly to the team. I think we finished strong and solid, and in the end we qualified fourth and won the Champions League so what more can you say."

But it was time to move on, according to Giroud, who says it was destiny that he now represents the Rossoneri instead of their local rivals.

"I was close to joining Inter and in my first interview here [at AC Milan] they asked me, you were so close to going to the closest rival Inter, and I said no that was not my destiny and God's got plans for every single person on earth, and for me it was not the time to go there and at the end of the day, I believe we do our part and God sets the path and I pray to the Lord to make the right decision and AC Milan were there and it was a fantastic opportunity to sign for the club."

Giroud knows he still has more pages to write in his book, starting with his next chapter in Serie A.

After signing a two-year contract in the summer, Giroud scored a brace for Milan in a victory over Cagliari in August. A recent bout of COVID-19 put him on the sidelines, before he suffered a back injury against Liverpool in the Champions League, which he says was his own fault for rushing back too quickly after quarantine.


A new beginning in red and black


Giroud received a warm San Siro welcome from fellow veteran Zlatan Ibrahimovic - still playing at the age of 40 - whom he describes as "a normal person in the dressing room, a strong leader and a huge example for the youngsters." Playing the role of mentor is something Giroud is relishing at Milan, especially with young forward Rafael Leão.

"Milan needed a bit of experience, especially since we are playing in the Champions League after not being involved in the competition for seven years," Giroud says. "And I've been surprised by the quality, energy and intensity of the young players at Milan.

"I really believe we can share great things together and Rafael [Leao] is one of those players who is still young and I think in a few years he will go very high if keeps the same mentality, the good work at training and efficiency in the games. It is not only him, there are a lot of good players, so I'm very glad to be a big brother if they need advice or to bring a little bit of experience."



Now focused on success with AC Milan, Giroud has adapted quickly to the Italian lifestyle, immersing himself in the language and culture. He knows old Father Time is close to paying him a visit, but until then, one of the most underrated strikers in football wants to go out with a bang.

"The most important is your head," he says. "If you have motivation and determination to play at a high level, it is very demanding, but I feel my head and body is ready. As long as my body follows, I will play.

"Milan will probably be my last challenge in Europe and after that I have no idea. I really want to be successful in Milan and to win the Scudetto, and more trophies. But after that we will see, I hope to play football for a few years, I might stay in football, I don't know in what yet, but it's the thing I know the most, I've done it all my life, so I think I've got credit in football and I will carry on."

But what about that eclipsing Thierry Henry as France's all-time scorer?

"It's true, there is the record, we will see..."


Always Believe by Olivier Giroud, out now from Pitch Publishing.


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Andrew Maclean
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