Gaël Clichy unmistakably recollects the minute Pep Guardiola changed his point of view toward how he would spend the final years of his career. Guardiola arrived at Manchester City in the late spring of 2016 and summoned the French safeguard to his office for a clinical appraisal of his future.
“Your career is behind you now,” Guardiola told Clichy bluntly. “But you have a duty, every day, every session, every behavior you have; young players are looking up to you and even if you don’t feel like a special player, you’ve done so many years in England, you’ve won trophies, you are somebody and those young players will look up to you and behave like you are behaving.”
After one influential season under the Catalan’s guidance Clichy and City parted ways, but his former manager’s words were etched in his memory. Not wanting to slip into mediocrity for the sake of money, Clichy made the bold decision to join the little-known Turkish club Istanbul Basaksehir, who are trying to break the triumvirate of city rivals Galatasaray, Besiktas and Fenerbahce despite taking on their current incarnation only four years ago.
When we meet at Basaksehir’s Fatih Terim Stadium, Clichy, now 32, says: “When I came here I thought it would be easier and maybe I could take it a bit easy. I was telling my wife it was my last few years so I want to enjoy it, but I am working even harder than I was at City. Why? Because the president gave me everything and they’re here for me. When you meet people like this you just want to give back, to work as hard as possible. The Turkish league is not as professional as the English league and I will always remember what Guardiola told me, so every day I will train as those guys are looking up to me, whether they want it or not. I have to change the club.
“You have to be realistic – I am not the Gaël Clichy of 10 years ago and if I was, I wouldn’t be here, that is just a normal process; but I do believe I still have something to give the club and the team. When they signed me, they told me they wanted to win the league – it could be this year, it could be next year, it could be in two years. What we do know is that we have all the weapons to do it; we have great facilities, the chairman is giving everything, we have great players and we go step by step, that’s their philosophy.”
Despite the club’s newness and it only attracting 5,000 fans on average to home games, they do have plenty of influence and other high-caliber players in Emmanuel Adebayor and Arda Turan. There are big plans to expand the training ground and incorporate their academy right next to the stadium. Three pitches are located next to the stadium and it will be 10 within two years in a plan not dissimilar to Manchester City’s, and it is no surprise the Turkish club are being advised by the Premier League champions. Players of Clichy’s experience have been brought in to improve professionalism.
“The Turkish league is not the Premier League but I’ve found a club with similarities to Manchester City; it’s a new club with good ambitions with a good setup and when I met the people from the club, the chairman and the vice-president, my mind was already made.”
Playing under Arsène Wenger and Guardiola gives Clichy plenty of knowledge to proffer. His eyes were opened to a new style under the Manchester City manager and the defender is enthused by what he can still achieve.
“When you’ve been used to playing for Arsenal for eight years, and for City for six, it’s always going to be a shock. When you leave those clubs you can only go down a level. I was lucky for the last 12 months to work with Guardiola and often you think of someone being a genius of football; but if someone is close, he is the one. I am not saying he’s the best, as other managers have had success with different methods, but he certainly shows you a different way of feeling and seeing football. It was a major shock.”
It looks as if Clichy will fall short of lifting another title this season but he is hoping to be part of a club trying to make a name for themselves. “The training ground is going to get better, we have great players and I cannot thank the chairman and vice-chairman enough for the advice they are giving every day to me and my family. It’s been very challenging and it is still an ongoing process to adapt to life here, as it’s a world apart from what I’ve been used to.”
Clichy is still focused on long-term success rather than potential disappointment in this season’s title race. He thinks Arsenal need to do the same as they attempt to replace Wenger. “For 22 years, what this guy has done not just for Arsenal, but for English football, people should remember.
“I think they came to a moment where people just want to see someone else. It’s not a matter of if you win the Europa League, the league or this or that, if you bring a new player in, they just want someone new. If even they had won the Europa League they would have asked for someone new because that’s football.”
Like Clichy, Wenger is still a long way from being finished and the former student believes he has plenty to bring to a different club in whatever role he takes on. “When you love football, you love the game and still have something left in the tank then you carry on. I don’t know where he will go but the club who will have him for whatever reason, as manager or [sporting] director, it will be a blessing for them. They will gain a true man, someone who changed the game.”
Clichy has played under two of the Premier League’s most influential managers since its inception but he knows in order to change the Super Lig he needs to stick to his simple philosophies. “I only have a few years left, I want to enjoy myself but for me to enjoy myself I need to work. I am a hardworking man and that’s what I’ve trained to do.”