Gael Clichy: Pep turned my football world upside down – now I want to follow him in the dugout

Gael Clichy receives his instructions from Pep Guardiola during the 2016-17 season

Gael Clichy, left, had only a year at Manchester City with Pep Guardiola but it completely changed his ideas about the game – Reuters/Toby Melville

Almost two decades have passed since Gaël Clichy made his Premier League debut for Arsenal and, all these years later, he still remembers that day’s conversation with Arsène Wenger in precise detail. Arsenal won 3-0 at Birmingham City, with Clichy starting on the left wing as a fresh-faced teenager, and he approached Wenger in the moments following full-time.

“I went to him during the warm down,” Clichy recalls. “I was really keen to have his feedback. But he asked me two questions: ‘Did you enjoy your football?’ I said yes. ‘And did you give everything?’ I said yes. He said: ‘That is fine with me.’”

Clichy is now 38 and, as he prepares to enter the world of management, those two principles are still lodged in his mind. “There are now so many details that we did not have back in those days, but this will always remain,” Clichy tells Telegraph Sport. “Give everything, respect your team, enjoy your football.”

Clichy is one of the fortunate few who have been lucky enough to play for both Wenger and Pep Guardiola – perhaps the two most innovative coaches of their respective generations. “Both of them changed English football,” says Clichy. “I was blessed to play for them.”

Gael Clichy tries to tackle Jay-Jay Okocha in December 2003

Gael Clichy made 12 Premier League appearances during Arsenal’s Invincible season – Phil Noble/PA Photo

For years he has been planning this next step in his football career, thinking about the lessons he learned from those great managers and preparing for the jump from player to coach. Now, ahead of his reunion with Wenger at this weekend’s Game4Ukraine charity match (Wenger will be his manager once again), the former Arsenal and Manchester City defender feels ready to make that leap. Some players dread the end of their playing career, but Clichy is keen to embrace the change. “I am looking forward to the future,” he says.

To be clear, Clichy’s playing days are not officially over. “If a good project comes, I would think about playing one more year,” he says. But he knows that his new chapter will begin soon, and he is excited to see what he can produce in the dugout after years of success on the pitch.

A glittering playing career is no guarantee of coaching glory but Clichy’s CV is unquestionably impressive: with Arsenal and City, he won three Premier League titles, two League Cups and one FA Cup. He is an “Invincible”, having been part of Arsenal’s 2003/04 unbeaten campaign, and also a Turkish league winner with Istanbul Basaksehir. He has appeared 20 times for France, and has played for managers including Wenger, Guardiola, Roberto Mancini, Manuel Pellegrini, Didier Deschamps and Laurent Blanc.

“I have learned so much,” he says. “I know I am going to start as a manager from ground zero and I will have to build myself. But I already have my philosophy and my game-plan.”

Gael Clichy wins a header against Norwich

Clichy won two more Premier League titles with Man City but left at the end of Pep Guardiola’s season at the club – EPA/LINDSEY PARNABY

Clichy’s dream of becoming a coach started in 2016, when he first encountered Guardiola at City. “The year I met Pep, his first year at City, it changed my mind,” Clichy says. “He took my football world and he just turned it upside down. Now, when I watch football, I cannot distance myself from his philosophy. It is so intense and so clear that I cannot see anything else. It was beautiful for me to experience that.

“I was getting older and I knew that I could not compete on a certain level. I was really looking at what Pep was doing, how he was connecting with players, how he was behaving with his staff. He showed me a lot of examples of what it means to be a leader.”

As for his time with Wenger, it was a different era with a different level of detail. The human side of management, though, remains as important as ever. “Arsène was able to transform players into world-beaters,” says Clichy. “He was able to bring in a player for a few thousand pounds and make him a £20 million player. That is a hell of a success.”

Clichy spent the last few seasons as a player for Servette, in the Swiss league, and in the last year was also taking training sessions during the week. With tactical ideas inspired by his time with Guardiola, Clichy could see that he was influencing and shaping the style of his side.

“I was able to change the structure of the team and see that my ideas were working, with less quality than you have in the Premier League,” he says. “I had the chance to change the way we played and to train the players to produce what I needed from them. I realised that I love it.”

Stylistically, Clichy is aligned to the approach of Guardiola and Mikel Arteta, the current managers of his two former English teams. He delighted in last season’s title race – “I would have loved Arsenal to win” – and also in City’s “sensational” treble. “The way City have been working for 12 years,” he says. “It is an example of how you should behave.”

The two teams meet again in Sunday’s Community Shield and Clichy’s expectation is that they will once again go head-to-head for the biggest trophies this season. “Even if I was not the main guy in that team, I am an Invincible and that is something no one can take away from me,” he says. “I went on to win different trophies with City. To see those two teams now fighting, it is a nice feeling.”

If all goes to plan, and if he is able to seize the opportunities that will no doubt come his way, Clichy hopes to one day be in those conversations himself. “I love the game so much,” he says. “I have to find a way to share my knowledge.”

Tickets can still be purchased for the Game4Ukraine charity match at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge at www.game4ukraine.com. You can watch the game exclusively in the UK & Ireland on Sky Max, and listen exclusively on TalkSport.

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