Where Are They Now? is a series which will focus on players who never quite made it at Arsenal, and has a look at their careers before, during and after Arsenal.
In this edition of Where Are They Now?, I'll take you through a the career of a player who is still a fans favourite with many Arsenal fans—Gilles Grimandi.
Gilles Grimandi wasn't a flashy player. A no frills, hard-tackling, central defender/defensive-midfielder, Grimandi had a very understated career at Arsenal for five seasons. He was always a committed player, and won two doubles at Arsenal during his time there.
Before all this though, Grimandi started his career under Arsene Wenger at AS Monaco in 1990. He signed a professional contract with Monaco at the age of 19, and experienced quite an interesting new life in the principality.
"It was the beginning of a new life—I was living in a tiny flat on my own, and it was sometimes hard to be away from relatives and friends. In the youth academy, my team-mates were slightly younger than me. We were training hard and I wanted to succeed. I was quite happy after my first season. I worked incredibly hard, and as a reward I joined the professional squad trained by Monsieur Wenger," says Grimandi about his beginnings at AS Monaco.
He goes onto praise the "Monsieur" by saying, "I always refer to Arsene Wenger with the word Monsieur, because he is such a great trainer, such a gentleman."
He made his debut with AS Monaco in his second season against AS Nancy in 1991. He then joined a special regiment for sports persons, as part of his military service, known as the EIS. This meant that he could only appear eight times for his club that season. However, he did partake in the qualification campaign for the military World Cup as part of the French military football team.
His third season at AS Monaco saw him appearing 19 times in Ligue 1, with the team also reaching the semifinals of the Champions League. Unfortunately AS Monaco lost to AC Milan, and a poor start to the following season saw the sacking of Arsene Wenger.
He says of that time, "As far as I'm concerned, I knew immediately that [sacking Wenger] was the wrong decision, because we were losing competence, responsibility, passion, and hard work when Monsieur Wenger left."
After Jean Tigana's appointment as Monaco's manager, Grimandi featured just 14 times for the team in the 1995-96 season, but managed to feature a bit more regularly in the following season, winning the Ligue 1 and also reaching the UEFA Cup semifinal, losing this time to Inter Milan.
After seven years at the club, Grimandi got an offer to join Arsenal, managed by his mentor, Arsene Wenger. He made his Arsenal debut against Leeds United in the first game of the 1997-98 season. His first season at Arsenal saw him featuring in 28 games and, while he admits that it was tough to adapt into Arsenal's well-settled team, he won the double with Arsenal during his first season there.
He didn't have the best of times in the 1998-99 season, starting just three games and suffering from self-doubt. He recovered in the next season, though, starting a whopping 43 games.
It was in a Champions League game in that season where Grimandi got caught in an incident with Lazio's Diego Simeone. It was a game where Sinisa Mijahlovic racially abused Patrick Vieira, with the former getting a two-match ban for his actions. Grimandi received a three-game ban, with him accusing the Lazio players of intimidating their opponents.
Grimandi said at the time, "It was not a punch. I caught him (Simeone) with the flat of my hand because I was trying to push him away when he pulled my shirt and held me as we went in for a free-kick being taken."
"It was not my intention to hurt him even though throughout the match I was being hit all the time," the Frenchman added.
He won a second double at Arsenal in the 2001-02 season, which turned out to be his last one there. At the end of his Arsenal career, he had won four trophies, and played a part en route to a UEFA Cup final in 2000.
He left Arsenal in search of regular first-team football and joined the MLS team, Colorado Rapids. However, he effectively retired from football after playing just one friendly game for the MLS outfit.
He then took on a role as director of football in 2004 at ASOA Valence, a third division team in France before the club filed for bankruptcy the following year.
He has since been Arsenal's Chief Scout in France. Grimandi has been active as a scout in France, having found the likes of Abou Diaby and Bacary Sagna.
At the time of signing Sagna, he told BBC, "We have been following Bacary for a long time. He is very well known in France and we first noticed him three years ago—we've been very impressed by him."
"We've watched him both playing for Auxerre and the Under-21 team and scouted him over more than 40 games," added Grimandi at the time.
Grimandi will always be adored by Arsenal fans who remember him. He was always 100% committed, and has even been linked with the Director of Football role with Arsenal recently.
He was certainly an unsung hero for Arsenal, and with his services for Arsenal still continuing, the association doesn't look like it's going to end soon.
Quotes Source: www.icons.com/grimandi/
To read the previous edition of Where Are They Now?, click here.