The former PSG and Arsenal man spoke exclusively to Goal ahead of Tuesday's Champions League group stage opener between the two sides
There are only three players to have played for Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain: Nicolas Anelka, Mikel Arteta and Kaba Diawara. Of the three, the latter is perhaps the one with the less notable history with the two clubs. However, Diawara has fond memories of his time in the French and English capitals.
What are your memories of playing for PSG?
I remember the first season when I signed. The team worked well as we finished second in the championship although we lost the final of the League Cup. At first, when I signed, some players were away at the African Nations Cup such as Jay-Jay Okocha. When he returned, I found a big brother and, with him, we felt we had a different mindset to the rest. I remember in the locker room he launched his "Bouyaka, Bouyaka, Bouyaka”. There is also this great moment with Bernard Lama in the last match at the Parc des Princes against Montpellier. He became a hero after the meeting. Bernard showed the way forward for young people and I was one. When I had my knee injury, he was always behind me. It was hard but it was for our good. Finally, I cannot forget Ali Benarbia, who helped bring me to PSG. I know he spoke well of me to the directors and management staff.
The club then was not what it has become now, yet it was already one of the biggest in France...
Yes, I did not necessarily succeed at the club, but I learned a lot. We played for the club from the capital so, when we played away from home, the stadiums were full and we felt this hatred of Paris, this animosity from the rest. It was a tight-knit group. I remember we had the pain of losing Bruno Carotti during the season and then we played in Bordeaux. We won for him. He was truly a man of the group, it has remained etched on me, even if it was 16 years ago. It was very special.
Are you still in contact with the club or former players?
Not really. A bit with Pierre Ducrocq or Gregory Paisley when I'm in Paris, and a lot with Didier Domi and Laurent Robert, otherwise it is difficult in the football world, but when we meet again it is with a lot of pleasure. The only one I still really talk to is Didier Domi. With the club it is more complicated. I am a consultant for Canal+ Afrique so I have been occasionally to the Parc des Princes, but the club has changed so much ... I commentated on PSG vs Olympiakos in the Champions League, it is not long ago and I remember I was looking for the "uncles". At the time, it was the elders who knew the club very well and that the volunteers who were helping the players were just stewards. I have not seen them. Only Christian Gavelle (official photographer of PSG) was still there. I did not feel real links with the past. A bit with Papus Camara and Claude Makelele at the time, but the players have moved into another dimension. I have no problem with that, to the extent that I have not marked the history of the club, but it is unfortunate that there is no such link like you can see at Arsenal or Bayern or AC Milan.
Do you also regret the change of atmosphere at the Parc des Princes?
There was a will to clean it up and it had to be done, but it killed the mood. It is now other supporter groups, other people who take over and bring back the atmosphere. I assure you that the Parc des Princes is the best stadium in France. Be patient, I think the atmosphere will return, especially in the big games.
Your two former clubs face each other on Tuesday, what are your thoughts on the game?
I commentated on the Arsenal match for Canal+ Africa and they’ve not been in great shape, even if Arsene Wenger did pick up a win. For PSG they’re still trying to establish their style. I know Unai Emery since I played with him in Spain [at Racing Ferrol]. He is a far better coach than he was a player (laughs), but in Paris it is a little difficult to take. We see that the transition to life without Zlatan is difficult. PSG must find their style and the Arsenal game comes at the right time, I think, as this will be used as a reference. Emery must continue to stamp his philosophy onto the team. Players are open to talking, but then we do not always do what you want on the field. What is good is that the Gunners never close the game down. PSG do not like teams that defend for 90 minutes and it will not be like that. I think Paris can win because they are at home, but only because of that. And then there will be the fans to get behind the players.