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Marouane Chamakh - How my idol Laurent Blanc helped secure a dream move to Arsenal

24 Mar 2011 20:10:28

Marouane Chamakh - How my idol Laurent Blanc helped secure a dream move to Arsenal

Marouane Chamakh lists an unusual set of talents for a professional footballer. He is good at reading spreadsheets, something of a master mathematician and even claims to be a dab hand at waiting tables. He still waits tables now, he says, when he's back home in France and working in his brother's salon de the. 'When I was playing in Bordeaux I would go back all the time,' he says. 'I used to really enjoy being part of the family environment, and I like to help out my little brother, Yassin, whenever I can. It's good fun.' Magic number: Marouane Chamakh scores Arsenal's third goal in the Champions League rout of Braga He could just as easily be in the back office doing his brother's accounts, though. Chamakh studied hard at school, gaining a Baccalaureate in accountancy before focusing exclusively on football. 'I am good at spreadsheets,' he says. 'Maths, accountancy; they were things that came easy to me. I found accountancy quite interesting, probably because I was good at maths. It was one of those subjects I didn't have to work too hard at because I just picked it up in the lessons.' In his first major interview since arriving at Arsenal in the summer, it quickly becomes apparent why Arsene Wenger signed the 26-year-old from Bordeaux. First and foremost he is a talented striker, as he has been quick to demonstrate in his short time at the Emirates with three goals.  But Wenger stores an awful lot of importance in a player's character and personality and this guy comes across as a joy to work with compared to someone as tempestuous as Emmanuel Adebayor. From a young age Chamakh was tipped for success. At his first club, near his home town of Aiguillon, the youth team coach nicknamed him 'Mr George'. 'After George Weah because I used to score four or five goals in every game,' he says. But Chamakh is a product of modest Moroccan parents and never took that seriously. 'I placed a lot of importance on my studies because I didn't want to neglect them for my football,' he says, having chosen to speak French and use an interpreter even though he clearly understands the questions I put to him across a table at Arsenal's training ground. Learning fast: Marouane Chamakh 'I passed my exams, got good results and got my Baccalaureate in accountancy, so I knew I would always have something to fall back on. 'Only once I had that qualification under my belt did I then focus more on my football. My parents encouraged me as well but I realised on my own that I needed options should things not work out as a player.' His talent came from his father, who had flirted with the idea of pursuing a football career - he played for a team in Casablanca - before leaving for France to secure more reliable work as a stone mason. His mother followed a year later, with Marouane arriving on the scene four years after that. 'From the beginning it was just football for me,' he says. 'At the age of seven or eight, I joined my first football club and that was pretty much that. I liked other sports but really it was only football.' By the time he was 16, the biggest club in his region had come calling. Girondins Bordeaux, he knew, had been home to Zinedine Zidane before France's greatest player made his move to Juventus and Chamakh began to have more serious aspirations. Within three years he had represented France at Under 19 level, with players like former Liverpool stars Anthony Le Tallec and Florent Sinama Pongolle. In the same year, however, came a call from Morocco to represent their senior side, and he decided to go with his heart. 'Before I came here to London, I lived my whole life in France,' he says. 'And when I was approached by Morocco it was a tough choice. I was 18 or 19 and I had to think long and hard about it, but I opted for Morocco and it's something I haven't regretted.' He never regretted moving to Bordeaux, either, because it would eventually give him the opportunity to work with the man he considers his most powerful influence. French fancy: Marouane Chamakh caught the eye at Bordeaux Chamakh idolises Laurent Blanc. He speaks of the 'golden goal' his hero scored against Paraguay during the 1998 World Cup. 'I remember it so well,' he says with boyish enthusiasm before then recalling how Blanc would kiss Fabien Barthez's bald head before every match. 'It was an amazing goal. 'When I ended up working with him at Bordeaux, it was brilliant. He was the fourth coach in my time there, and he was the one who really pushed me to improve. I worked with him for three magnificent years and I think my real development as footballer was down to him. 'I've learned things from all the coaches I've played for, going back to when I was a kid. I always made sure I listened and respected them. I've remembered lots of little pieces of advice along the way, so you could say each coach had an influence on me. They have all played a part in my development. 'But in Laurent Blanc I got the coach I needed at that stage of my career. I needed a character and a coach who could help me move to the next level. 'It's fair to say the fact that I'm now an Arsenal player is down to his advice and his experience as a player.' It seems Chamakh's talent for mathematics proved useful in absorbing the advice he received from Blanc. 'He told me that statistics are important for a striker,' he says. 'He believed that in the past I had been too generous towards my teammates, stressing that for a forward it's important to get on the scoresheet as well as get assists. 'That, he said, is what you will be judged on, and I took it on board.' Key figure: French coach Laurent Blanc The whole time he had one eye on Arsenal. For so many young players in France, Arsenal is the dream. The chance to play for Arsene Wenger in the Champions League as well as the Barclays Premier League. The chance to follow Henry and Vieira, Petit and Pires. 'Dennis Bergkamp was probably my favourite,' says Chamakh. 'I have followed Arsenal since I was 12 or 13. Bordeaux was my team, but Arsenal became my international team, because of the manager I guess. So it was always a dream to come here one day. 'I loved Bergkamp. I admired the whole team but Bergkamp was a great player. Classy. I liked his style of play but I loved the way he scored his goals, too. Do you remember the one against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup? That was the goal of the year!' Chamakh was a 14-year-old wa t ching the tournament on television and as well as Blanc and Bergkamp, there was one other. 'Zidane,' he says. ' I a l w a y s admired the w a y h e played but I like the man he is off the pitch, too; very humble. I had the chance to meet him when I was at Bordeaux. He would return to the club for special events; exhibition matches, things like that. And he was everything I thought he would be. 'He has such an aura. He has always been my inspiration to succeed in football. It's players like him who have motivated me to improve and make a big effort.' But it was Wenger who lured him towards Arsenal. This French manager who built teams that won trophies with style and imagination. 'That was the major factor that attracted me to the club,' he says. 'The manager. And the players, too. The chance to play with the French players and guys like Van Persie, Fabregas. 'They've all given me a brilliant welcome, the atmosphere is great and so is the football. I feel we can have real success together.' So why did he not come sooner? Why did he not come to England when Wenger, and indeed other Premier League clubs, first expressed an interest? 'It was quite complicated with Bordeaux,' he says. 'Before England I was supposed to join Lyon, with Gerard Houllier, in 2005. I was excited because I knew Houllier had done well with Liverpool. But Bordeaux wouldn't let me leave. 'It became complicated with the move to England, too, and in the end I had to run down my contract so I could get away. 'I would never have reached an agreement with Bordeaux otherwise, I guess because they valued me too highly. 'Even with just a year on my contract, we couldn't reach an agreement for me to leave the club. I had to be a free agent to move on or I would still be there now.' Not that he seems too bitter. 'I have mixed feelings about it,' he says. 'I was a little frustrated because I was so used to everything at Bordeaux and I wanted to experience something new. 'But at the same time I got to play Champions League football and f ight for the t i t l e unde r Laurent Blanc. I enjoyed being part of that success.' Now, however, he is at Arsenal, and learning what he can, as fast as he can, from Wenger. Another test awaits at Sunderland. 'I first met Arsene in May when I signed for the club,' he says. 'And at this point it's hard to explain what's special about him. 'I guess it's the small things. His charisma, perhaps, the fact that he has always managed to build a team which has consistently been at the top end of the league table and playing in the Champions League. That success personifies him. 'I thought he was going to be a really serious guy, never smiling, always appearing very concerned. But now I know him a bit I can see that in a relaxed environment he can also be really laid-back. He manages to appear serious yet relaxed at the same time, which is quite rare and quite an achievement.' A bit like combining football with accountancy.  You should have been here in the 60s! Spurs boss Harry Redknapp laughs off Arsene Wenger's claim that football is too physical nowSportsmail looks back at why Arsenal's fast starts in Europe always seem to come to a standstillArsenal 6 Braga 0: Fabregas fires Gunners to stunning winThe Matt Lawton interview: Hammer Grant - I'm used to battling adversity  Explore more:People: Marouane Chamakh, Gerard Houllier, Anthony Le Tallec, Emmanuel Adebayor, Zinedine Zidane Places: Liverpool, London, Lyon, Argentina, France, Morocco, Paraguay, United Kingdom


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