The big interview: William Gallas – "I never said I'd score an own goal on purpose. How can you say that?!"
Not many foreign imports have shown such clear affection for the English capital as French defender William Gallas. The versatile stopper played in 319 Premier League matches over a dozen years in London with Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham. It’s therefore fitting that our meeting with the 39-year-old begins in a black cab as he heads to the location of his photo shoot: Stamford Bridge, no less.
But even for this adopted Londoner, the jellied eels on offer were too much. “What is this?!” a squirming Gallas asks as FFT presents him with the eels. “I’ve never seen this before in my life...”
What he has seen is Premier League glory, World Cup final failure, dressing room bust-ups and lots of controversy....
What is it about London that you like so much? And what’s the one thing about the city that annoys you most?
Natasha Hart, via Facebook
It’s a cosmopolitan city. You can meet different people, experience different cultures and you feel you can speak to anyone in the street. For example, if you want to go somewhere and you’re lost, people will stop and take time to show you the correct route. But at the same time, London has changed a lot. When I arrived in 2001 there was not much traffic and people were very patient on the road. But right now, people are not that patient in their cars any more.
Your cousin is the French rugby union player Mathieu Bastareaud. Did you ever play rugby? Did he play football? And if he and you had swapped sports, who do you think would fare better?
Alan Reeves, via Facebook
[Laughs] Me, playing rugby?! Look at my body, how could I play rugby? I would break my leg. I would be finished if I did that! You know, my cousin is the same height as me, 1.83m, but my weight is 82 kilos and his is almost 120! He’s big, but he’s still really fast. He is passionate about football, but I’m not too sure how good a player he is these days. I would say he would be better playing football than I would be playing rugby. If I ever played rugby, I’d just run away. I know the opposition would be able to catch me and put me on the floor very easily.
Your first goal for Marseille involved a run from the halfway line against Manchester United in the Champions League in 1999-2000. Did you used to fancy yourself as a forward back then?
Greg Harris, via Twitter
I started out as a striker when I was at Clairefontaine [France’s national football academy]. But while the other players got scouted and signed by clubs after two years, I stayed for one more year in the academy as I wasn’t performing well in attacking positions. My coach said: ‘William, you’re not that good as a striker, not that good as a winger and not that good as a midfielder. This year is your last season, so you have to play at the back.’
I remember this happened before a game with Paris Saint-Germain. I started playing right-back and I was good. And the next game was against Auxerre and I was pretty good again. My coach said, ‘That is your position.’ At the end of that season I received an invitation from Caen, then I went to play in their first team after a year. Two seasons later I went to Marseille.
How did Marcel Desailly and John Terry compare as central defensive partners when you were at Chelsea, and which one was your favourite?
Robert Barnes, London
I can’t choose – both were world-class defenders. In around 1998 Marcel was the best defender in the world, while John had his best time maybe around 2006. I think Marcel was a teacher to John. When I joined Chelsea, Marcel said to me: ‘William, we have a young boy here and he is really talented, he will be the future captain of England.’
I remember my first training session with them. Because everything was so new to me I was a bit intimidated, and when I saw John, I thought, ‘Oh my God. He can play and give long passes with both of his feet – I can’t do that.’ And he was so strong as well. I thought it would be really difficult for me to get into the Chelsea first team. But I gave it my all every day and in the end I got to play in various positions across the back four, just like I had done with Marseille.
How much did Chelsea transform as a football club after the arrival of Roman Abramovich back in 2003?
Alberto Vega, via Twitter
It became more professional. The level of organisation increased a great deal. Abramovich started to invest a lot of money in players, but also other staff like coaches, doctors, physios and even a chef to make the food. He also moved the training ground from Harlington to a new one at Cobham. I once heard this story that before Abramovich came to Chelsea, he wasn't sure which club he wanted to invest in. I heard it was between Chelsea, Spurs and Liverpool. He decided to buy Chelsea when we beat Liverpool in our last match of the 2002-03 season, which meant that we finished in fourth spot and qualified for the Champions League at Liverpool’s expense. Maybe otherwise he would have bought Liverpool.
As a chairman he is very passionate. When we won games, he would often come to the changing room and speak to some of the players. He was like, ‘How are you? How do you feel? Are you OK? I’ve seen you receiving some kicks, do you think you will be all right to play in the next match?’ He was really close to us all.
The ‘ghost goal’ at Anfield in 2005 – do you think the ball crossed the line?
Mark Smith, via Facebook
No, no – the ball did not pass the line. I’m sure, as I cleared it! I remember it vividly. It was disappointing, because our team was probably the strongest in Europe back in 2005 and if we had the opportunity to go to the final, we would have been champions. To win the Champions League was my dream.
What people have also got to understand is that we never had any fights with each other on the pitch. That was thanks to Jose
Chelsea only conceded 15 goals on the way to the Premier League title in 2004-05. That’s just crazy – how on earth did you all manage that?
Tony Valentine, via Facebook
It was unbelievable, but we were very strong defensively. Jose Mourinho was always focused on that side of things. Whenever we had a meeting with the players, he would say, ‘I don’t want my team to concede any goals.’ What people have also got to understand is that we never had any fights with each other on the pitch. That was thanks to Jose. If something went wrong, he would say straight away. If one player didn’t play well, he would tell him, ‘I asked you to do this. Why didn’t you do it?’ That made it easy for everyone, as you focused on your own game.
Have you ever hit a ball as sweet as your last-minute stunner for Chelsea against Spurs in 2006?
Steve Lambert, Kent
No, that is definitely the best goal of my career. How could I score better than that? [Laughs] Even my son still shows me that goal. ‘Do you realise what you did?’ he asks me. ‘Yes son I know,’ I’ll reply. He is still proud to watch that video.
Something people won’t know is that the night before that game, I got maybe two or three hours sleep. I forgot the game was a lunchtime kick-off so I went to bed late. When they phoned me the next morning I said, ‘I’m f**ked, I cannot play!’ My mind was tired. When I was on the pitch I didn’t think too much. Maybe that’s why I scored that goal!