Football Fancast meets Arsenal legend at Europcar event

Safe from the torrential rain of south Wales, we at Football FanCast were given the privilege of watching Arsenal’s Premier League clash with Swansea on Sunday afternoon in the warmer, dryer and exceptionally swanky surroundings of the Emirates Stadium’s 49ers Bar, courtesy of Europcar – Arsenal Football Club’s official car and van rental partner.

The Gunners unfortunately lost 2-1 as a three-minute double-salvo from the Welsh side, including a sublime Gylfi Sigurdsson free-kick and a powerful Bafetimbi Gomis header, eclipsed Arsenal’s 63rd minute opener; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain the instigator, Danny Welbeck the provider and Alexis Sanchez, the club’s £35million summer signing from Barcelona, the finisher.

Yet, the mood in the 49ers lounge was kept at its utmost by the presence of former Arsenal and England midfielder Ray Parlour.

His ever-approachable and gregarious self, Parlour, who made over 300 league appearances and won three Premier League titles during his twelve years at Arsenal, spent the afternoon mingling with supporters, signing autographs and answering  a plethora of diverse questions, often in the form of comedic tales from his younger years.

And knowing how much we adore English football’s cult heroes, Romford’s Pele also found time for an exclusive interview with Football Fancast.

Hello Ray, I thought we could start off with a little fantasy five-aside to get the mind juices flowing. It’s kind of like a quick-fire one-to-eleven but without Paul Merson’s witty anecdotes.

In all honesty, a brief, polite chuckle was expected at this point. Instead, Ray looked at us like we were speaking in German, perhaps thrown by ‘Paul Merson’ and ‘witty’ being used in the same sentence.

Ahem. Starting us off then, who is the best player you’ve ever played with?

Very hard to choose between Bergkamp and Henry, but if I had to pick one, I’d go Bergkamp – brilliant player. Well, actually, it’s a toss of a coin between the two.

How about the best player you’ve played against?

I’m going to go back to when I was playing right midfield; I’d always look at the left back. So probably the hardest player I came up against regularly was Stuart Pearce. He was unbelievable, a really tough player to play against.

Your footballing role model growing up?

Bryan Robson – absolutely, without a doubt. Box-to-box midfielder, up and down, did a bit of everything.

Someone playing today you wish you could’ve played alongside?

For me, it would be Luis Suarez. The way he closes people down, as a midfielder, he’d be a dream to play with purely because of his work-rate. If I had to pick from Arsenal right now, it’d be Alexis Sanchez.

And finally, any goalkeeper?

Any goalkeeper in the world? Ever?

Yes, Ray. We’re very laissez-faire when it comes to fantasy goalkeepers.

Blimey… I’ll go with Manuel Neuer then.

So would we. Many an Arsenal fan will adamantly argue you’re one of your generation’s most underrated players. So who is the Ray Parlour of 2014? A million-dollar question for Ray, who understandably took much deliberation in deciding who deserved to take his mantle.

Probably James Milner, he’s really underrated. He plays every week and always does a great job for the team. People say he’s not good enough but he always seems to perform well – for me anyway.

We watch Ray insightfully analysing almost every morning on Sky Sports News, so deciding upon the subject of our next question was simple; You’ve gone into punditry instead of coaching or management after hanging up your boots, was that a conscious decision?

No, I could still get into coaching. I put my name down for Arsenal’s academy; I’d love to work with the youngsters. I just want to tell them how privileged they are to be playing for Arsenal at a young age, but also how much hard work you’ve got to do. I’d  go through with them what I did to earn my first team debut.

So I still might do some coaching but I’m also enjoying punditry – I’m enjoying doing my life really now. Every day is different; some former players can’t organise their own diary but I do it all myself.

I know exactly what I’m doing, week-in-week-out. Football is very regimental, everybody’s saying ‘do this, do that’, but now I can pick and choose what I do and I’m really enjoying it.

Do you think it’s become harder or less attractive for former players to go into coaching?

Well it’s tough – it’s very tough to get a job these days. You’re not guaranteed to get a management role, even if you’ve done all your badges. A lot of the time you’ve got to rely on your mates – if your mates in football have management jobs, you’ve got to ask for a chance to get on the coaching ladder. And there’s lots of great coaches out there already, so it’s not easy.

From a management point of view, I’d love to have a go, but you’d have to start at bottom level and you never know how well it’s going to go – that’s the only problem. Take Tony Adams for example, great player but he had a go at Wycombe and it was a nightmare. It just shows that it’s tougher than you think it is, but certainly I’d love to attempt it and see what happens.

Parlour’s last season at Arsenal was their legendary ‘Invincibles’ campaign, where the north Londoners won the Premier League title undefeated. Having made 25 appearances that season and provided integral back-up to the Gunners’ more exotic stars, we felt compelled to quiz him on the burning issue of the current campaign; Do Chelsea have what it takes to go unbeaten this season?

Well, eleven games in, you can’t really talk about that. Jose Mourinho wouldn’t even have mentioned it yet, because it’s all about winning the league for Chelsea. As soon as they’ve won the league, if they’re still unbeaten, then of course they can start focusing on it. But it’s very competitive out there and every club always has a couple of bad games – then again, I suppose you could say that when we went unbeaten.

But at the moment, I really admire what Chelsea are doing. It’s one of those situations where the players probably aren’t even thinking about it. We only thought about it when we had seven or eight games to go, so I’m sure they’d be the same.

Is it actually possible with the strength of competition in the Premier League nowadays?

It’s still possible. They’ve got a good squad. The main thing for Chelsea is defensively and whether they they can keep their defenders fit. You always have a few bad games where you can’t score a goal, but if they’re defensively sound they can grind out a 0-0 draw, like we did a lot of the time. We always had quite a good defence.

But of course it’s possible. It’s a lot more competitive now, so It’s harder to do in all honesty, but it’s definitely possible.

Thanks Ray, you cheeky gentleman. 

This interview was brought to you by Europcar, the official car and van rental partner of Arsenal Football Club.