France and Arsenal legend Robert Pires revealed that he has “no longer had to pay for restaurants and nightclubs” following his country’s joyous World Cup win on home turf in 1998.
In what was a memorable World Cup blessed with the likes of Paolo Maldini, Ronaldo, Davor Suker, Dennis Bergkamp and Gabriel Batistuta all in their prime years, Pires and his French teammates surprisingly came out on top. It forever cemented their place in the history of French and European football and in the collective consciousness. In fact, they became immortal.
Seven matches were enough to see the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Christophe Dugarry, Fabien Barthez and David Trezeguet defy the odds and culminate the eternal dream of “la grande nation.”
Yet, after comfortably beating Brazil 3-0 in the final in Saint-Denis, French fans celebrated a famous win and both the players and supporters still pride themselves on that huge achievement today, twenty years later.
“In hindsight, the World Cup ‘98 has represented a lot for us players,” Pires, who is now a UNICEF ambassador and a BeIN Sport pundit, recalls.
“When you are young, you want to win the World Cup at least once in your life.
“Despite the difficulty of the task you want to have a crack at it, especially when you are young and have dreams.
“We have to thank Michel Platini because he did everything for France to stage the tournament on home turf.
“When you play in front of your own public it’s always interesting but the pressure on our shoulders was huge.
“Today when I look back, what we did for us players and for French football is huge.
“We did something great for the country. If you look at the shirt there is one star on it, and that is thanks to us.
“And having a star on the jersey is something symbolic in football,” Pires proudly stressed.
The World Cup undoubtedly laid the foundations for a new career and life. Pires was an example of youthful promise unearthed by then French manager Aimé Jacquet and turned into a global superstar.
And Pires lavishes praise on his former manager by pointing out his mental strength and his ability to silence the doubters.
“I think that Jacquet played a key role in 1998.
“Journalists criticised him before the tournament but that is part of the game.
“But he accepted criticism and it paid dividends as we did what we did.”
If he had been plying his trade for Ligue 1 minnows Metz before the tournament, the World Cup gave his career and life a totally new dimension.
The triumph represented a clear break from the past as Pires became a household name in football. On the market, his stock rose exponentially.
“Our self-image and public perception clearly changed after the World Cup,” Pires said.
“People started to see us in a different light.
“They started to think: ‘now these are great players, now they can play at big European clubs’.”
In the years following the World Cup, Pires forged an even more successful career courtesy of his big-money moves to Marseille and Arsenal.
“For ourselves, winning France ’98 was important too because it meant bigger clubs, bigger contracts, more money, more notoriety.
“For instance we no longer had to pay for restaurants or nightclubs.”
“We have had many benefits in the wake of France ’98 and we are conscious that what we did is enormous.
“But what we want is that France add a second star to the shirt at the next World Cup.”
When asked if he feels nostalgic about the good old days, the now 44-year old said: “I love nostalgia. From time to time it’s nice to see the images and videos on television.
“We were young. Things have evolved and changed.
“The images on television are no longer the same but from time to time it makes me feel good to see what we pulled off.
“I love looking back at what we did almost 20 years ago.”