Gaël Clichy: ‘Talking about racism means we are moving forward’
As Gaël Clichy closes in on his 36th birthday it is unsurprising he has one eye on the future. Retirement was not an option for the Frenchman after winning the 2019-20 Turkish Super Lig with Istanbul Basaksehir, so he bided his time to move closer to home, eventually joining Servette last December.
In Switzerland he has joined up with his former Arsenal teammate Philippe Senderos, Servette’s sporting director. Both are starting on the next chapter of their journey, with Clichy working towards life after playing even though he feels he has a few years left on the pitch.
“The idea is to become a manager,” he says, “but I do not know if I will be good or if I will like it, so the first step is to learn. I am talking to the coaches, I am going to start my badges and from that moment I will see if I have that feeling and desire to do it. At the moment I do but when I am available and have my badges, maybe I will feel it is not really for me.
“I want to give it a go because when you have been in an industry for 20 years it is very difficult to see yourself do something else and I really do love football, and the closest thing to playing is being a manager and I want to be on a coaching staff and learn. Who knows where this will take me?”
Clichy has played under two of Europe’s best managers of the last 20 years in Arsène Wenger and Pep Guardiola. Although he only spent a season under Guardiola at Manchester City, Clichy is constantly analysing the Spaniard’s work and that of others.
“Football is evolving every year and maybe he [Guardiola] is the best manager in the world, at least in the top three,” he says. “He has definitely changed the way football has been played and as a full-back it was very interesting to see the reasons he was doing this. You realise quickly enough that he is doing this to be more stable at the back, to concede less chances but to still involve the guys, and when you have João Cancelo and Kyle Walker, it is very simple; they have the brain, they have the physical and technical capabilities to be that kind of full-back.”
The Turkish title was added in the last of Clichy’s three years in Istanbul to his three Premier League winners’ medals. Heavy investment saw a squad including Martin Skrtel and Robinho end the dominance of Galatasaray, Besiktas and Fenerbahce, as Basaksehir became the sixth club to win the league.
“I wouldn’t say it was a better feeling than winning the Premier League – that would be wrong – but the feeling I had by winning it was very strong. It just shows you that wherever you are, whatever division you are in, if you put in the work and have some objectives you can be happy and proud of yourself.
“When you speak of someone like Guardiola, he always talks about detail and being happy in winning games and I think that’s what he is trying to say: it does not matter if you play for Man City, Madrid, Munich, Basaksehir or a third division team – give yourself an objective, work hard, have the desire to always get better and your life will be full of happiness.”
Without Clichy Basaksehir enjoyed their first foray into the Champions League group stages, amid a domestic relegation battle. If the European Super League idea had not collapsed in mildly comical style, clubs such as Basaksehir would have missed out on future chances to come up against Manchester United, whom they beat at home.
“It is wrong,” Clichy says. “The only argument I will use is that football is on merit and it’s as simple as that. What we want is to live those feelings, live those moments like [2016 Premier League champions] Leicester … A team reaching from the second division to the first and reaching the top four is what you want because those moments are high moments and you take that away from the game, what is left within it? Money and wealth. I guess the world is guided by money, so we are not doing so well, are we?”
Basaksehir’s Champions League campaign was notable for the players walking off after alleged racism from a match official during their game against Paris Saint-Germain. Clichy knows the impact of racist abuse, after a banana was thrown at him during a pre-season friendly in the Republic of Ireland with Manchester City.
“The fact we are talking about racism means that it is still there and what we’re doing is not enough, but the fact we are talking about it also means we are moving forward,” Clichy says. “When you talk about racism it is never fast enough but the fact we are talking about it is a good point.
“A few years ago I remember when I arrived at Arsenal there were some incidents which were not talked about and that’s important to understand the progress we are making. We have to try to find ways and I would say that everybody individually can have an impact; a small one, a big one, it does not matter, as we carry on protesting against this, I think we are progressing.”