Bacary Sagna has opened up about leaving his ‘beloved’ Arsenal in 2014, admitting that he lost his head at the club’s reluctance to open contract talks.
Having arrived in north London in 2007, Sagna quickly established himself as one of the best defenders in the Premier League with his consistent performances on the right side of Arsenal’s back four.
He was named in the Premier League team of the year in 2008 and 2011 and went on to make 284 appearances for the Gunners during his seven-year stay with the club.
But he left on a free transfer in the summer of 2014, having let his contract run down, and went on to make a move to Manchester City, where he spent the next three seasons before leaving in 2017.
The ex-France international has now revealed why the circumstances around Emirates Stadium at the time left him with no option other than to leave.
Sagna - who is a free agent and living with his family in Canada - admits Arsenal’s decisions to sell Robin van Persie to Manchester United and Alex Song to Barcelona played a part in bringing about his exit, but the main reason was how late the club left it before trying to enter into talks about a new contract.
“I got upset, not when [Cesc] Fabregas left - because that was quite an obvious move - not when [Samir] Nasri left, but when Robin left. It was like a statement from the club. He left in a way that no-one understood because he was flying,” the 37-year-old told Goal in an exclusive interview.
“He was a different type of player. An animal on the pitch, a goalscoring machine. When he left, I wondered why Arsenal didn’t try more to keep him.
“Even if they had to spend lots of money, just do it because you have to spend money to get another player. And if you want to win something, it’s going to take time for that player to adapt.
“I didn’t understand that and Alex Song’s move. The two of them left at the same time and I found out reading the French press. That got me really upset.”
Sagna added: “Not long afterwards I had an interview with L’Equipe and they asked me what my future was and at that time, I hadn’t held any talks about my future and I only had one year left before the end of my contract.
“To me, personally, if they wanted me to stay I would have stayed. But I didn’t feel like they did everything to make me stay. I was not expecting them to run around after me, but I at least expected them to show me some love and make me feel like they wanted me to stay one year before the end of the same contract I had kept for six years without asking for one penny more.
“But they only talked to me after I did that interview with L’Equipe. It did not feel like a natural move and I didn’t feel comfortable at all. This hurt me as a player and as a person because I always gave my best, I never asked for anything from 2008 to 2014.
“I didn’t knock at the club’s door to change contract, I respected my contract, but the way I left was a bit dirty. I didn’t like it, I didn’t feel comfortable anymore. Something broke inside my head.”
At the time of Sagna’s exit, there were many suggestions that his move was purely about getting one last big payday.
He was 31 at the time; the latest in a long line of players to move from Arsenal to big-spending Manchester City, following the likes of Emmanuel Adebayor, Kolo Toure, Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri.
But Sagna is adamant money had nothing to do with his decision.
“It was not about money like people think or any way of leaving to win trophies. No, I was happy at Arsenal,” he said.
“But my head was gone. I was upset. I remember the fans singing ‘we want you to stay’, but I couldn’t stay because I was upset and I couldn’t play with my head.
“Even my dad talked to me, saying ‘look you need to clear this up’ but I said I was too upset. I was not even performing. I remember my dad and my brother came to a game and they didn’t recognise me.
“I had some great moments, some difficult moments. I had some good seasons, some average seasons. But during that period I think I did more positive things than negative things and I never asked for anything.
“So I expected a bit more respect and so I made up my mind. When they came and said how can we help you, I said it was too late.”
Sagna is now living in Canada having spent the past two seasons playing in MLS with Montreal Impact.
He is currently without a club, but has not ruled out playing again once football’s temporary suspension caused by the coronavirus pandemic is lifted.
He could have returned to Europe in January, with several offers on the table, but he opted to remain in Montreal because he is currently applying for citizenship in Canada and any move would have seen he and his family lose their Canadian status.
It’s been nearly six years since the last of his 284 appearances for Arsenal - which came in the 2014 FA Cup Final, when the Gunners finally ended their nine-year wait for silverware.
After some near misses in terms of the title during Sagna’s spell at the club, and a painful defeat to Birmingham City in the League Cup final in 2011, Arsene Wenger’s side went into the game against Hull City as overwhelming favourites.
But they found themselves facing more heartache when they fell 2-0 down inside 10 minutes at Wembley before mounting a thrilling comeback to win 3-2 thanks to Aaron Ramsey’s now iconic extra-time winner.
For Sagna, it was an afternoon packed full of emotion, one that was perfectly encapsulated by a picture taken seconds after the full-time whistle where he is kneeling on the turf praying, while Arsene Wenger kisses him on the forehead.
“It was a hard game for me, honestly,” he said. “I knew I was going to leave and I wanted to win it so much.
“But when you want something too much, maybe it can have the opposite impact and we started really badly.
“On the pitch I had tears coming because I didn’t want to leave that way. I was desperate to win that game and so when we came back and managed to win, yes I was praying at the end because I was very grateful for winning in that shirt.
“For me, Arsenal is my beloved club. When I was in France, I used to watch Arsenal and it was something special to play for Arsenal. It was a privilege.
“So I was really grateful and I’m sill grateful to the club, to Arsene, because he was the one who brought me to the club and I had an amazing relationship with him.”
That FA Cup was the only trophy Sagna lifted during his time in north London, but it had looked for some time like he might mark his first season in England with the Premier League title having made the move from Auxerre in the summer of 2007.
Wenger’s exciting young side were five points clear at the top of the table during the 2007-08 season and had the chance to extend that advantage to eight points when they travelled to Birmingham City on February 23.
But the horrific leg break suffered by Eduardo in the opening minutes of that clash at St Andrew's, combined with James McFadden rescuing a point for the home side with an injury-time penalty, was the catalyst for an end-of-season collapse.
Arsenal drew their next three games in the league before losing at Chelsea and Manchester United. They ended up third, four points behind champions United.
A season that promised so much ended in disappointment and Sagna admits that game at Birmingham played a big part in the sudden loss of form.
“It was a massive blow to our team,” said the defender. “We were so confident, we had some form and we were not scared of anyone.
"Everything was going our way. Even when we began the season, we managed to win no matter what. Every time we were losing 1-0, we used to come back and win. The fans played a big part in it as well. They were pushing and the atmosphere was great.
“We were doing very good and Eduardo was flying, he was scoring many goals. He was our main scorer and the fact that he got injured I think it put some insecurity in our team, it maybe made us think about what might happen next.
“It was quite the shock to be on the pitch that day. I don’t want to use it as an excuse because after this we didn’t manage to win for so many games, which was not normal.
“That day at Birmingham was bad. It put insecurity into the team and we were not able to come back.”
The draw at St Andrew's also brought then-Gunners captain William Gallas' now infamous tantrum following the award of Birmingham’s late penalty.
The centre-back stormed to the halfway line in disgust before kicking an advertising hoarding and, after the final whistle, he sat alone on the pitch rather than join his team-mates back in the changing room.
Many felt Gallas’ outburst was another contributing factor in Arsenal’s capitulation, but Sagna does not believe that assessment is a fair one.
“I think it’s easy to say that he had the wrong attitude, but he was our captain and that time he tried his best,” said the right-back.
“Of course, showing in front of everyone that he wasn’t happy was not the best action, but for us, it was more that no-one could really understand why [he did it], instead of being upset with him.
“It’s the kind of thing that happened that shouldn’t be happening. But he was not the reason why we went down and I think everyone was a bit harsh on him.
“The press was really hard on him, even the club. I think he lost the captaincy soon after.
“Of course he made a mistake, but we were still on the path to achieving a great season and we all could have done better. On the pitch as players and as a club.”