Gallas's French revolution

After all the trials and trivials, William Gallas's career and life has come a full circle, writes Andy Hampson.

A versatile, attack-minded defender who came through the famed French football academy at Clairefontaine, William Gallas played for two of Europe's biggest clubs, Marseille and Chelsea, before moving to another, Arsenal, in an acrimonious transfer last summer. He has also appeared at Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup with France.

Gallas was born in Asnieres-sur-Seine, the eldest of three children, and grew up in the nearby Paris suburb of Villeneuve-la-Garenne. His parents came from Guadeloupe and had to return there when he was just 13. They agonised over whether to take him with them but, as he had just been selected for the academy, they allowed him to stay in France to pursue his dream of becoming a footballer.

He lived with an uncle and aunt and graduated from the academy at 17 when his first club, Caen, took him on. He joined its first-team squad after 18 months and made his debut against Lens in 1996. He went on to make 16 appearances as Caen pipped Marseille to the second division title, but was relegated the following summer.

Gallas moved to Marseille but an administrative error meant the club could not register him as a professional until January 1998. Gallas was angered by the situation and then, to make matters worse, he broke his toe and effectively wrote off his first season at the Stade Velodrome.

His breakthrough came the following season as he made his mark at left back and shone in the side that reached the UEFA Cup final and finished second in the French championship.

UEFA Champions League football came the following season — and Gallas scored a memorable winner in one encounter against Manchester United — but a broken leg cost him valuable playing time in the build up to Euro 2000 and he did not make the national side. Gallas was by now a highly accomplished centre-half and interest in him from other clubs was growing. He eventually decided to move in 2001 when an offer came from English Premier League side Chelsea. There was little fanfare as he arrived at Stamford Bridge, despite his 6.2million pound fee, and he quietly made his name alongside fellow Frenchman Marcel Desailly.

He soon became a bedrock of the side, impressing in a largely understated way but proving invaluable due to his excellence in a number of positions. He was a key member of the side that went on to win successive Barclays English Premier League titles in 2005 and 2006.

Gallas stated that he preferred to play in the centre but he was at left-back for most of the 2005-06 campaign. Indeed, Gallas's desire to play in the centre was one of the main reasons he eventually sought a move from Chelsea. He initially expressed an interest in playing in Italy but it was London rival Arsenal who secured his services after a protracted and bitter transfer saga.

Gallas had to wait until 2002 for international recognition but is now a mainstay of a France side that reached the World Cup final last summer.

His move to Arsenal was an unsavoury affair. He upset Chelsea when he turned down the offer of a new contract in May 2006 and then courted real controversy when he failed to report for the club's pre-season training camp in Los Angeles. He could have landed himself in serious disciplinary trouble but a move to Arsenal was engineered because Chelsea was so keen to sign Ashley Cole, who had similarly fallen out with the Gunners. A swap deal was agreed, with Arsenal receiving 5million pounds plus Gallas for Cole.

That was not the end of the matter, however, as Chelsea was still furious with Gallas's conduct. After he left, the club issued an extraordinary statement claiming he had threatened to score own goals and get sent off if he was not allowed to leave.

Married to Nadege, Gallas has a daughter, Lea, who was born in 2001, from a previous relationship.

He was angry when Chelsea reallocated his number 13 shirt before he had left the club but was pleased to be given the number 10 by Arsenal. "My wife was thrilled," he said. "She was born on May 10 and my daughter Lea on November 10. It is a sign."

Gallas owns a very impressive Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, a powerful sportscar rated as the fastest automatic transmission car available. It can do 0-60mph in 3.4 seconds and has a top speed of 207mph. It probably set him back somewhere in the region of 315,000 pounds.

Factfile

Name: William Gallas Position: Defender Club: Arsenal DOB: 17/08/1977 France Caps: 52 France Goals: 2 France debut: v Slovenia, October 2002

Moment to remember

It is remarkable to think that when Gallas struck a brilliant curling long-range winner against Tottenham to take Chelsea closer to the Barclays English Premier League title last March his days at the club were actually numbered. He could barely contain his delight as he celebrated, racing towards the stand where his wife, father and daughter were watching.

Moment to forget

The only major blemish on his otherwise impressive disciplinary record was a sending off in a stormy game against Fulham last March, just a week after his Spurs winner. Gallas was dismissed for stamping on Heidar Helguson in injury time and then compounded his error by storming off the field and goading Fulham fans as he left.

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