‘I want to play there. I want to be a Gunner,’ writes Olivier Giroud on his decision to join Arsenal from Montpellier in 2012 in his autobiography, Always Believe – words that epitomise not only why the Frenchman became a firm favourite in North London but also his determination and commitment to the shirt – in this case Arsenal, but before that Grenoble, Istres, Tours, Montpellier and later Chelsea, AC Milan and, of course, France. Yet, Giroud is perhaps one of the most undervalued, underrated and underplayed of modern footballers. I say that admittedly as an Arsenal fan for whom Giroud is amongst my favourite ever players, but it is also based on the fact that he sits in the top 10 of Premier League goalscorers for Arsenal, for headed Premier League goals and goal-scoring subs. He is a player who can be relied up on, who has delivered when it matters and always does a job for his team. Having not really followed his story off the pitch away from England, I was not too familiar with his background or journey so was hugely excited to read this autobiography.
The autobiography is fairly unique in style. It starts with traditional football book fare, diving straight into the 2018 World Cup, but from there it diverts away from football somewhat, with chapters on Giroud’s childhood, religion, adolescence and love. It is fascinating to hear him open up on his faith and marriage, amongst other lesser-explored themes, which, indeed, tend to be minor or even absent in other football autobiographies, but which clearly pay a huge role in his life and footballing journey. The second half of the book sees the focus switch more inevitably to footballing matters and Giroud’s trajectory from Grenoble to Milan.
One of the challenges of autobiographies, especially for someone as successful as Giroud, who has won Ligue 1, four FA Cups, three Community Shields, the Europa League, the Champions League, the World Cup and been awarded France’s highest order of merit, the Legion d’honneur, is how to squeeze everything in, and it certainly is a challenge here. Rather than deep-diving into the details, what the reader gets instead is more of a broad overview of his entire career, with a couple of key moments, most notably that World Cup win, getting slightly more airtime. Details on managers, players, cultures, specific games are largely sparse, with a few exceptions, and those coming to the book looking for controversy or vitriol won’t find it. Giroud remains professional and respectful to the last.
What you do get from the book is a sense of Giroud’s journey, professional, personal and spiritual, a sense of his values and his resolve. His love for playing for his national team, his ability to face challenges and to overcome obstacles all shine through in the book, as they have done in his career. Fighting for his place and position in teams is also a common theme and one that underlines his perseverance and his unfailing quality. Many may have long given up or accepted playing second fiddle, but time after time Giroud has remained patient, earnt his place and reminded everybody of his class. His scorpion goal against Crystal Palace which scooped him the 2017 FIFA Puskas Award epitomises that but also leaves some, like me, scratching their heads at why Giroud has not always been given the opportunity or plaudits he deserves.
At 34, Giroud is inevitably moving towards the end of his career, although, at the time of writing, with three goals in four league games so far for Milan this season, the Frenchman is once more defying challenges. It remains to be seen whether Giroud will build on his 110 caps and 46 goals (just four behind leading goalscorer Thierry Henry) for his nation and be recalled for next year’s World Cup, but if there is one thing Giroud has demonstrated it’s that you can’t keep a good striker down. To my mind, he is someone who deserves greater recognition, and this book serves to give his story visibility. Whatever happens next for Giroud, and I for one hope it is further success at domestic and international level, this book is a reminder of a player who has proved his doubters wrong over and over again, proved his worth over and over again and proved his class over and over again.
(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. October 2021. Hardcover: 288 pages)