Thursday 25 February 2016, 13:52

Pires closes the book on 1998 winners

Robert Pires has become the last member of the FIFA World Cup™-winning French squad of 1998 to announce his retirement after the former Arsenal and Marseille midfielder deciding to hang up his boots at the tender age of 42, after more than two decades in professional football. His final appearance came almost a year ago, at Indian Super League side FC Goa.

"I'm 42 years old. We must say stop and above all must give way to the young," he said on beIN Sports, quoted by L'Equipe. "My last experience was in India."

Pires began his professional career with Metz, after coming through the youth set-up at his hometown club Reims, and was on the books of Les Grenats when he held aloft Les Bleus' inaugural World Cup trophy. He moved to French giants Marseille immediately after France 1998 and similarly departed l'OM for Arsenal days after winning UEFA EURO 2000. He won two English Premier League titles and three FA Cups trophies while in North London, most notably making up part of the fabled 'Invincibles' side which went unbeaten during their victorious 2003/04 league campaign.

After six seasons with the Gunners, he moved to Villarreal in Spain, back to England with Aston Villa, before finishing his career in India.

"I enjoyed India a lot," Pires said in an exclusive interview with . "I learned a lot and came face to face with the poverty there, which is very, very tough. One thing's for sure: I no longer have the right to complain about anything. That's impossible now. But I discovered a beautiful country, fabulous and very welcoming people, and the local cuisine."

Les Bleus' erstwhile No11 wore the famous shirt 79 times, scoring 14 goals. While the highlight was undoubtedly holding aloft the famous Trophy in Paris in July 1998, his international career saw other peaks too. Most notably, he laid on the assist for David Trezeguet's EURO 2000-winning Golden Goal and picked up the adidas Golden Boot and Golden Ball at the 2001 FIFA Confederations Cup.

"Arsene Wenger said to me at the time: 'I don't know what's happening at the moment, Robert, but I get the impression you're flying!'" Pires said when reflecting on the 2001 tournament. "And it's true that everything I did was coming off – all the controls, all the dribbles, all the shots. There are moments like that when you're in a state of grace."

In amongst the wonderful memories - and medals - that Pires can cling to in his retirement, he also forged some great friendships with some of world football's greatest players. "I was lucky because playing behind Bergkamp and Henry isn't too bad at all," he noted.

Like that pair of formidable forwards when they announced their own retirement, Pires leaves a great void in world football, but also an indelible mark.