Sylvain Wiltord, forever remembered as the man who clinched as the 2001-02 title. He scored the only goal in the penultimate game of the season as Arsenal edged a tight affair 1-0 and resigned Manchester United to second place. Blessed with pace, strength and a good eye for goal Wiltord had a strong scoring record throughout his career for both club and country>
Wiltord’s career started at Rennes and after coming through the youth ranks he made his senior debut in 92/93 season and impressed in 1993-94 season with 8 goals in 26 appearances as Rennes won promotion to the top division. He made a name for himself with his rapid pace making him useful for balls in behind or beating players on the wing. He stayed at Rennes for 3 seasons in the top flight and his best season saw him accumulate 15 goals in 37 appearances. He in fact did join Deportivo La Coruna for one season who loaned him back to Rennes.
Deportivo La Coruna decided to move him onto Bordeaux after a less then impressive season on loan scoring 3 goals in 35 appearance albeit it many of those appearances from the wing. At Bordeaux he rediscovered his shooting boots and scored 11 in his first season before helping Bordeuax to the Ligue 1 title in 1998/99 with a league best 22 goals in 33 games. Due to his impressive league form he was called up to the French squad where he was a mainstay for the next 7 years.
Heading into the 1999/00 season Wiltord was already being linked with a host of big name clubs around Europe but decided to stay at Bordeaux to try and ensure his place in the up and coming Euro’s. He scored 13 goals that season and saw himself make the Euro squad featuring prominently from the bench and even scoring the goal in the final against Italy in the 94th minute to send the game in extra-time where France would eventually triumph. Despite France having a wealth of talent at their disposal it was a surprise Wiltord did not start for them in the Euro’s given he won French Footballer of the year in 1999 and was tipped to be a key member for the squad pre-tournament.
After an impressive Euro’s performance Wiltord was one of the biggest transfer targets in the summer of 2000, Deportivo La Coruna had first option on Wiltord after selling him to Bordeaux but they could not watch Arsenal’s then club record offer in the region of £12 million. Wiltord joined Arsenal to the ongoing French revolution which was being overseen by Arsene Wenger.
In his first season he saw Arsenal finish 2nd in the league and lose a frustrating final due to Michael Owen’s quickfire double key to note that Arsenal where denied a goal by a clear Henchoz handball on the line a fact that is often overlooked as people celebrate Owen’s impressive goals. Wiltord featured regularly for Arsenal often alongside Thierry Henry and managed to score 15 goals in 47 appearances which is not bad for your first season in the Premier League.
The 2001/02 season saw Arsenal win an impressive double and Wiltord again amassed 54 appearances and 17 goals which is a strong return seeing as he spent a large chunk of the season out on the wing. As stated above his greatest moment in an Arsenal shirt came when he scored the winner in the 1-0 victory at Old Trafford securing us the title and ensuring manic celebrations come the final whistle.
The 2002/03 season was mixed for Arsenal as it saw them retain the FA Cup but throw away an 8 point lead in the Premier League and saw the beginning of an almost traditional end of season jitters for Arsenal. The FA Cup was a stodgy affair against Southampton which we scraped 1-0 and is remembered for Arsenal resorting to time-wasting tactics to see out the win which was surprising given the pre-match predictions that we did dominate proceedings. Wiltord produced another consistent season chiming in with 13 goals in 53 appearances. Wiltord opened the season scoring against Birmingham City to see Arsenal claim the Premier League record for most victories in a row.
Wiltord had one year left on his contract entering the 2003/04 season and with his refusal to come to reasonable terms with Arsenal began to be frozen out of the first team. He amassed just 12 league appearances in Arsenal’s greatest ever season of “The Invincibiles” and Wiltord’s reign at the club ended in a timid affair seeing how much he had contributed over the years.
In the summer of 2004 Wiltord moved back to France signing for Lyon, he stayed here for 3 years and won 3 Ligue 1 titles. He had not moved from a striker to featuring much more prominently from the wing and as such got 20 goals in 82 appearances. This was Wiltord’s ending days at the top level, he featured in the 2006 World cup for France and scored one of the penalties in the shoot out but was powerless to see them lose the Cup to Italy.
In 2007 he went back to where it all began, Rennes, and so the decline of Wiltord began with just 6 goals in 29 appearances in his first season despite featuring as a Striker he was released midway through his second season at the club to join Marseille for the rest of the season where his form did not improve with just 1 goal in the remaining months of the season.
Wiltord thought about retiring as when released from his contract at the end of the 2008/09 season the opportunities for him to continue playing were seemingly few and none to his liking. However in January of 2010 he signed for Metz in Ligue 2 keen to as he put it ” just return to playing football”. He hoped the step down in competitiveness would allow him to continue playing for longer, in his 6 months at the club he scored 3 goals and it became apparent that due to his reliance as a player in his pace which had now all but gone he was not going to have an impact. He retired in the summer of 2010.
However in a surprising turn of events he came out of retirement for one season, 2011/12, to power in 8 goals for Nantes, Les Canaries, which saw them finish 9th. Wiltord realised that 20 years of football was know taking its toll on his body and retired permanently in the summer of 2012. The france federation of football paid tribute to his role in French football for club and country as Wiltord retired a well liked player throughout France.
Wiltord is one of the least fabled players of Arsenal who ran his contract down at the club but he did give a committed first 3 years at the club and was actually here during our most recent successful period in the club where we secured 4 trophies in 3 years. His goal at Old Trafford was most notable for Vieria’s ability to jump over him, all which can be seen in the link below.
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