We speak with the Invincible on the new head coach, facing Man City and more.
“It’s only Ray Parlour,” he said. No, that person was not the infamous Tim Lovejoy but one of this writer’s Sunday futsal buddies when he revealed that he was going to have a private sit down with an Invincible. For a player who has clocked in over 300 games for the Arsenal and won 3 Premier League titles, 4 FA Cups, 1 League Cup and one European Cup Winners’ Cup, Parlour could be one of the most underrated players of his generation.
We decided to shine a much needed light on Ray Parlour in Singapore before the friendly games against PSG and Atletico Madrid to hear his thoughts on the new season, his old teammates and Singaporean talent.
Q: It’s a new management regime with Unai Emery. I’m sure you’ve had a chat with the ex-Arsenal pros and teammates about this. What are they saying about Unai?
A: I think everyone’s pretty excited about the season in front. I’ve been on the plane (to Singapore) with the players and it’s been really lively. Everyone’s enjoying the training so far. The training for pre-season has been very good, Unai’s been working them a little bit harder. These are good warm up games for the season with Man City in the first game.
Q: You have been under Arsene Wenger for a long time, we now have Unai Emery in charge. What kind of difference can we expect from Arsenal now?
A: It’s going to be interesting to see a couple of new signings coming in. Formation – are we going to see them play 2 upfront? Intensity – maybe a bit more pressing from the front. I’m interested to see what he’s going to change and will be attending some training sessions in Singapore because I know exactly what Arsene Wenger would have done but I don’t know what Unai Emery’s going to do. All I can say that the players look to be responding to training and they really enjoy it.
Q: Which player are you hoping to see kick on this year?
A: I’m quite excited to see Aubameyang. It’s his first full season. He showed signs last year that he can be a real deadly striker. He can contend with players like Salah and Harry Kane for the Golden Boot. Torreira looks like a lively player. He’s the sort of player you would need in midfield – great energy and mobile.
Q: You were quite the underrated player back in the day. Who in the current team is equally underrated and deserves more praise?
A: Nacho Monreal, who isn’t here on tour. He’s been an excellent player for Arsenal not just at left back but when we moved to 3 at the back as well. He doesn’t get a lot of recognition like the forward players do but Monreal, over the past couple of seasons, has been our most consistent player.
Q: We lost Walcott and Chamberlain and we seem to be lacking some pace out wide. Do you think it’ll be an issue this year?
A: We’ve got some good youngsters coming through. Aubameyang maybe (can play there). I don’t know what sort of positions we’ll play, maybe he can drop to the left when Lacazette plays upfront. You’ll probably look at Bellerin to go forward. These days, the fullback have got to bomb on more than in our day. Kind of what Kyle Walker does at Man City.
Q: It’s a big season for Reine Adelaide. Where do you see his best position is at?
A: He’s a versatile player. He looks good in central midfield but where’s he going to get his opportunity? There’s so much competition there with Elneny, Torreira, Ramsey? He might have to bide his time to get a chance.
Q: How would you rate Arsenal’s transfer business so far?
A: (Emery) has gone for experience. I’m quite excited about Leno and how he’s going to pressure Cech. Sokratis at the back knows the ex-Dortmund players in the team. Lichtsteiner might be there in the dressing room area to support the guys. At the moment it’s good and we have good quality players. It’s just about getting the best out of these guys.
Q: How’s Steve Bould faring with Unai?
A: I think he’s been working with the defence and I’m really pleased he stayed as you need someone who’s been there and done it while Unai’s still settling in.
Q: There has been a young Singaporean prospect, Ben Davis, who signed a professional contract with Fulham FC – the first Singaporean to sign with an EPL club. However, he’s got to serve 2 years of military service in his late teens or early twenties. How important are those years to a professional footballer?
A: It’s really good that you have a Singaporean young talent playing in the Premier League. Fulham is an up and coming club, excellent last couple of seasons as well. It will affect him of course.
Q: Will he struggle to come back to pro football after 2 years out?
A: He could still play. I’m sure he’s training hard during this period but it’s not ideal. You’re still learning at that age and there are important things to learn if you’d want to make the step up to the first team.
Q: Thierry has given up his job at Sky to pursue coaching. He had a good experience with Belgium at the World Cup. Are you interested to see what happens next?
A: When Arsene Wenger came out to say that you can either do coaching or be with Sky, I think he was right because you can’t do both. You’ve got to dedicate yourself to TV or coaching. Thierry enjoyed the World Cup and wants to have a crack himself. I wish him good luck, he’s a very intelligent guy. If he was in any way as successful a player as he is a manager, then he’s going to be the best around.
Q: Arsenal’s first game is against Man City and we know Pep will be without a large number of players due to the World Cup. How do you think it’s gonna go?
A: It’s a good but tough start for us because Man City showed how good they are last year – 100 points and an amazing season. You got to play Man City sometime, I think the first game is ideal as they’ve got a lot more players missing. If we can have a good pre-season, it’s going to be a packed house at Arsenal and who knows, if we can win the first game, it’ll be an amazing start for Arsenal.
Q: You seem to have a reputation of being a class clown. How did you balance that and being professional in your job?
A: I was a class clown, I must admit! I think it’s important to have a bit of fun. When you train, you train hard but outside of your training sessions, you need to have a bit of fun without over-stepping the mark. People like Dennis Bergkamp were always having a laugh. Arsene Wenger liked having a bit of fun as well. People look at him on TV and don’t realize how funny he was behind the scenes.
Q: Favourite prank?
A: Martin Keown. It was the unbeaten season. He needed 1 more appearance for his medal. In those days, you needed to play 10 games to get a league medal. He had 9 and he had to get on the pitch. We’ve put 2 subs on already and that’s when he was getting a little worried that I might come on (as I decided to go and warm up).
Q: A teammate you once called “Big Nose” seems to be on his way to a Knighthood after the World Cup….
A: Sir Big Nose! We spoke about over-stepping the mark with jokes, I might have done it that day. It was a bit of fun and I think he took it the wrong way. I’m good mates with Gareth (Southgate), I’ve got so much respect for him. He’s got more things to worry about now and he’s doing a decent job for England.
This interview with Ray Parlour was done with members of the media and has been edited for brevity.