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world cup winner emmanuel petit in action for france

Emmanuel Petit: One Of The Best Defensive Midfielders

Emmanuel Petit is a retired soccer player who represented the French national soccer team and some of the biggest clubs in Europe such as Arsenal, Barcelona, Chelsea, and Monaco. Petit came to worldwide prominence with the midfield partnership he developed with Patrick Vieira for Arsenal and France.

emmanuel petit english soccer career

Early Days

Emmanuel Laurent Petit started his youth career with Arques-la-Bataille, a small club in the Normandy region in northwest France. Petit grew up in awe of soccer players like Beckenbauer, Tresor and Battiston. He played most of his career as a defensive midfielder.

At his peak, the Frenchman was one of the best defensive midfielders in soccer. He not only had the positional intelligence required for this role but he was also known for his physical prowess and athleticism. Petit’s flexibility is also assisted by his ability to pass with either foot.

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In 1988, Petit signed for French top tier side Monaco. The principality club was managed by Arsène Wenger, who would later sign Petit again at Arsenal. The French midfielder was only 18-years-old when he joined the giants of French soccer.

However, it didn’t take him long to break into the senior squad, as he made 18 appearances in his debut season with the club.

Emmanuel Petit spent a total of nine seasons with Monaco. During his time with the Monégasques, he won Coupe de France in 1990-91 and the Division 1 title in 1996-97 and became the captain in his final season.

French midfielder Petit celebrating scoring a goal for arsenal

Move To England

When Arsène Wenger took over the reins at Arsenal, Emmanuel Petit became one of his first signings and became a premier league player. The French midfielder joined the Gunners in a £2.5 million pound deal in June 1997 and took over the no.17 jersey.

The long blonde ponytail playmaker immediately impacted English football stadiums throughout the country as Arsenal did the double of the Premier League title and the FA Cup in his debut season. Laurent Petit made 32 premier league appearances as the North London club lifted the Premier League title in 1997-98.

His good form for Arsenal helped him to get selected for France and achieve success on the international stage too.

He was an integral part of the Golden Generation of the French national team that won the 1998 World Cup and EURO 2000. Furthermore, he was one of the goal scorers for France in their historic World Cup final over Brazil in 1998.

From the day of his arrival, the French soccer player made it clear that he was openly unhappy with both English fans and the tabloid press. He almost fell out with the English players in the dressing room when they threatened to cut off his ponytail.  The midfielder initially struggled with the laid-back attitude of the English players in the Arsenal squad.

It always seemed inevitable that the World Cup winner would get his wish in the summer of 2000 when FC Barcelona came in with a double swoop for him and Marc Overmars.

emmanuel petit kissing his Euro 2000 winners medal

FC Barcelona Bound

His success at the club and international level attracted interest from multiple clubs. In 2000, the No/17 jersey decided to join FC Barcelona in a £7 million deal. However, his spell in Spain proved to be short-lived and unsuccessful. He struggled to force his way into the team – and when he did get picked was always played out of position in defense.

A year later, Petit moved back to Premier League. This time for Arsenal’s London rivals – Chelsea. In the end, it was Chelsea Football Club who lured him back to these shores – although at one late stage it appeared Manchester United had highjacked the move.

Petit’s value soared to £7.5million pounds when he left FC Barcelona for Chelsea despite the player being unable to get into the Catalan side.

In his second spell as a premier league player, he enjoyed a couple of decent seasons with the West London club. He made his Chelsea debut in a 1-1 draw with Newcastle United at Stamford Bridge, however, he barely stayed fit in 2003-04 due to successive knee injuries.

Petit was selected for the France 2002 World Cup to defend their title and played in the defeat to Senegal and the draw with Uruguay as his country were sent home with their tails between their legs without scoring.

After failing to fully recover from his knee problems, the French soccer player announced his retirement from soccer on 20 January 2005. Petit currently works as a soccer pundit and has appeared on major channels such as RMC, BT Sport, ITV, Cannes, SBC, and more.

french footballing internatonals Petit and Patrick Vieria with world cup trophy

Interview With Emmanuel Petit

Our lead writer, Rhett Lewis, sits down with Emmanuel Laurent Petit to relive the 1998 France victory.

History Of Soccer: What is your very first memory of the FIFA World Cup?

Emmanuel Petit: The famous semi-final between Germany and France in 1982, when Harald Schumacher came out of his goal. It’s a bad memory because we lost after Maxime Bossis missed his penalty. A more pleasant memory is 1986 and France beating Brazil thanks to Luis Fernandez’s penalty.

HOS: Michel Platini called you up to the France team in 1990, but you weren’t part of the squad in 1994. What did you feel when you found out you had been selected in 1998?

Emmanuel Petit: It was my dream to climb back on board. In 1990, at the age of 19, I was a bit ahead of the rest of my generation. Then, in 1992, I went to the European Championship in Sweden. But in 1993, we lost to Bulgaria and Israel while needing just a point to qualify for the World Cup in the USA. After that, I spent two or three years in the wilderness.

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HOS: The squad list came in for some criticism in 1998, and Aime Jacquet was under attack. Did that affect the team at all, and what was your attitude at the time?

Emmanuel Petit: It didn’t affect us. We understand how the press works, and I don’t think that’s a purely French phenomenon. In every country where soccer is important, the press is always doing the job they feel they need to do.

HOS:  Your aggression comes through when watching those matches again, and you were often one of the first to congratulate a fellow Frenchman who had just scored. Was that your trademark?

Emmanuel Petit: At the English premier league team Arsenal, my team mates nicknamed me ‘the Lion‘, and for France, it was all to do with my position on the field. I started as a defender. Then I was moved up into midfield. If you don’t have a solid physical presence, you disappear from the game because you’re the link between defense and attack. As for the goal celebrations, if I was the first person to congratulate the scorer, I was happy, not just for him, but above all for the team.

Working On Set Pieces

HOS: You were often involved at crucial moments in the World Cup Final, in particular during corners. Did you spend a long time working on those in training?

Emmanuel Petit: Every one of the six or seven team mates involved in a corner knew precisely where they should be in the area. The player taking the corner had to take into account the aerial strength of the other team. If you have good technique and can distribute the ball well, you can put it exactly where you want seven times out of ten. Of course, sometimes you miss completely: maybe the ball isn’t high enough, or it’s too high, or perhaps the goalkeeper can grab hold of it too easily. In general, though, you know where you want to put it when you play at a high level.

emmanuel petit taking the soccer ball away from brazilian attacker

HOS: So were you deliberately aiming for the head of Zinedine Zidane?

Emmanuel Petit: Yes, I aimed for the near post because I knew Zizou had a great leap. When people talked about his skills, they never mentioned his aerial game because he rarely scored goals with his head. I also noticed that the Brazilians always put a player on the back post for corners but often left unguarded near the post. So I needed to send the football in relatively high and with enough power to stop it from intercepting by the goalkeeper or a defender.

HOS: What instructions did you receive at half-time after Zinezane Zidane had put you two goals up?

Emmanuel Petit: There was massive excitement in the changing room. The Brazilians looked a bit lost out there. Some of them were even screaming at each other. When you’re 2-0 up, and your opponents are shouting at each other, you know you’ve taken a massive step towards victory. We were so excited that Aime told us to “calm down and carry on as if it were 0-0”. It’s never over until they’re on their knees.

Second Half

HOS: Indeed, in the second half, the Auriverde looked eager to mount a comeback.

Emmanuel Petit: Yes, I think they had five forwards on the pitch. What’s more, we lost Marcel Desailly to a red card. So there was a tremendous amount of pressure on our goal in the last 15 minutes. Luckily, we were able to rely on Fabien Barthez, who was in great form. Above all, I remember the point-blank shot he managed to keep out from Ronaldo. At that moment, the footballing gods were smiling on us because at 2-1, and with ten men against 11, the last ten minutes had been tough.

HOS: Brazil won a corner towards the end, the ball fell to you, and you resembled a center-forward as you sprinted like crazy.

Emmanuel Petit: Like a madman! Everything happened so quickly. Our defense cleared the ball and, as I’d replaced Marcel Desailly in central defense, I felt I could make something happen. In the space of two or three passes, we made our way up the field, and then Patrick passed the ball through the middle.

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HOS: After that, you finished like a forward too. Could you take us through that third goal?

Emmanuel Petit: When Patrick was about to give me the ball, I spotted Cafu halt his run a little because he watched Patrick Vieria. I took advantage of making a run a couple of meters before him to stay onside, heading through the middle, almost level with the near post of Claudio Taffarel’s goal. Patrick put the ball into space. I quickly glanced at Cafu’s positioning and saw he was in trouble, protecting the near post well but leaving the far post completely open. The more I ran towards him, the more that space began to close down. If I’d been an out-and-out striker, maybe I would have tried dribbling around the keeper, but seeing as I’m not a striker, I chose to hit it straight away, instinctively, above all to surprise him. He wasn’t expecting me to shoot at all.

HOS: You were not to be seen holding the Trophy aloft during the ceremony afterward. Why was that?

Emmanuel Petit: No, I did get to hold it, but, indeed, I didn’t lift it during the official presentation ceremony. I must have been behind everyone else. I touched it afterward, in the changing room.

HOS: Does this bring back any memories after 24 years? ( handing him the World Cup Trophy)

Emmanuel Petit: Is it the real one? Come on, all kidding aside, is this the real one? How did you manage to get it?

HOS: How does it make you feel?

Emmanuel Petit: It’s magnificent! How does it make me feel? Well, it’s a childhood dream. Like all the other kids, I collected the photos in the Panini albums, which we used to swap at school. It was so challenging to get the tournament, by which I mean the sticker, of course. Of all the cups I’ve ever had a chance to touch or see, I think this is the most beautiful because of what it represents, with the figures holding the world at their fingertips. For a footballer, this is the Holy Grail!

france world cup winners 1998 celebrating with trophy

Emmanuel Laurent Petit Stats, Clubs, And Honors

Personal Details:

Full Name: Emmanuel Laurent Petit
Birthplace: Dieppe, France
Date Of Birth: 22/09/1970 (current age: 51)

Club Career:

  • 1988–1997: Monaco
  • 1997–2000: Arsenal
  • 2000–2001: Barcelona
  • 2001–2004: Chelsea

Club Honors:

  • 1 French (Ligue 1) Championship
  • 1 Coupe de France Trophy
  • 1 English Premier League Championship
  • 1 FA Cup Trophy

International Career:

  • France National Team
  • 66 Appearances
  • 6 Goals
  • 2 World cup tournaments (1998, 2002)
  • 1 Euro Champtionships (2000)

International Honors:

  • 1998 World Cup Winners
  • 2000 Euro Championship Winners

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