Big Interview: Frederic Piquionne
He's now called time on a well-travelled career which has taken him across the globe.
Top-level experience in France, the Premier League, Major League Soccer and some mad times in India for the swansong of his playing days.
But none quite as crazy and memorable as the season Frederic Piquionne spent playing at Fratton Park.
Two managers, a relegation, the first team from the top level to enter administration and the small matter of a glory semi-final win as Pompey marched to the FA Cup final.
Yes, you couldn’t accuse the 2009-10 campaign of lacking drama.
‘It was a crazy season,’ said Piquionne, as he reflected on a campaign which saw him finish with 11 goals for the Blues.
‘We were relegated because of the problems inside the club.
‘It wasn’t the players but the owner. But my season was great.
‘I’d never experienced this before with the money, though. In France the salaries were paid!
‘But with the players we had one thing to think about – the Cup.
‘The league was bad but we were able to give some smiles to the fans. Yes, big smiles!
‘I scored a lot of goals and some crucial goals as well. There was the semi-final of the Cup and there were good goals against teams like Liverpool and Chelsea.
‘I played with some good players at Portsmouth and have some good memories of that season.’
There was little suggestion of what was ahead for both player and club as Piquionne and Pompey’s season started slowly.
One goal – against Hereford in the Carling Cup – arrived in his first 10 games as Paul Hart’s side had to wait nine league fixtures for their first win.
That led to Hart’s demise in November, to be replaced by a man who was to have a big impact on player and club.
Piquionne said: ‘I remember Paul Hart, who I signed with.
‘But he was sacked in November, and after that, Avram Grant came to the club. He was the manager and I scored for him.
‘I wasn’t scoring too many goals at the beginning because I did not know the Premier League so well.
‘In France it’s not the same thing. You can’t think because you play well in France you will play well in the Premier League.
‘You have to focus on the level, be strong and understand what a manager in England would want.
‘I needed games to adjust but then I started to score.’
Grant’s relationship with Piquionne helped the Frenchman play some of the best football of his career.
And the Israeli managed to extract the kind of qualities needed to prosper in England from the man who arrived on a season-long loan from Lyon.
‘When Avram became the manager he put me in the team and he liked me in my position,’ Piquionne said.
‘I played number nine, I ran fast and I also had a good jump for a striker.
‘I know English fans and they like a player like this. You can play a long ball and I can fight for it.
‘But I felt I had good technique as well and I could press the defender. With Avram, I had a good relationship and you could see that in the season.’
The momentum missing under Hart was found under Grant as goals arrived for the 37-year-old in December clashes against Chelsea and a 2-0 win over Liverpool.
Premier League form was not making for pretty viewing, however, as a run of one win in 11 left Pompey eight points from safety in February.
And, behind the scenes, the cautionary tale the Blues were going to become for the game was developing apace.
Wages went unpaid as the depth of the club’s financial issues became apparent.
And then arrived the death knell for league survival ambitions, as Pompey became the first Premier League side to go into administration and were docked nine points.
Through it all, however, there was a Cup of hope for players and fans alike.
Little did we know that Aaron Mokoena’s 120th-minute goal on a freezing night at the Ricoh Arena would pave the way for something so special after the third-round win at Coventry.
Sunderland were put to the sword before the memorable Demolition Derby win at Southampton, which elevated Grant to exalted status.
Then came the match which sealed the Wembley return against Birmingham – with Piquionne taking centre stage.
‘It was a special match because I scored two goals and was the player of the round,’ said Piquionne on a raucous and emotionally-charged day.
‘It meant we went to Wembley and the whole team played well.
‘It was special, too, for the fans after all the problems.’
With Pompey in disarray, few expected a return to the home of football two years after victory in the famous, old tournament.
Piquionne ensured that was the case with his quarter-final goals but there was trepidation at taking on their semi-final rivals.
Unlike 2008, there weren’t many who gave Grant’s side a prayer against Spurs.
Predictions of a thumping at the hands of former boss Harry Redknapp were rife. But, on a heavy pitch at the home of football, Pompey found previously unseen depths of resolve.
And when legs and minds became weary in extra-time, Piquionne stepped up as Michael Dawson slipped before Kevin-Prince Boateng secured a win many Pompey fans still rate as their ultimate high.
‘I am so proud,’ said Piquionne of his role in a day etched in Fratton folklore.
‘I scored in extra-time in the game and it was unbelievable. Really unbelievable.
‘I was so proud to score in that game and the memories are still strong. It really was something.
‘It was 11 players like a wall to stop them. We also needed to press, otherwise they could show the technique they had.
‘When you press a team like this they can make a mistake and we can score like I did.
‘The pitch was not good. We were slipping all the time and this even happened when I scored.
‘When you are at the bottom and playing Spurs at Wembley you are thinking: “Oh, no!”.
‘But that day was our day, my day and a day for Kevin-Prince. It was a day for Pompey.’
Of course, there was to be no fairytale finale against Chelsea.
Didier Drogba eventually saw to that five minutes after Boateng’s penalty miss following Michael Ballack’s foul in the box.
Piquionne remains convinced it would have been a different story had he found the net from 12 yards.
Again though, there was an indomitable streak to the Blues performance which left a pride among the Fratton faithful.
Grant had been proclaimed the true spirit of Pompey and Piquionne had another moment to savour.
‘These are my best memories,’ he said.
‘I’d never got into the Cup final in France.
‘So this meant we went to my first final. It was against Chelsea and a good game.
‘It was such a shame because we had the game in our hand.
‘If the penalty had gone in we would have won the game.
‘It was good and I have to say thank you to the fans for helping me with these memories.
‘The fans still send pictures to me of me playing at Wembley. It’s a good feeling.
‘I still look for the scores and follow the club on Twitter. I still look out for the club.
‘And this is because I have a special feeling for Pompey.’ FREDERIC PIQUIONNE ON...
...A POMPEY RETURN
Me, come back? Why not!
You never know in football what could happen.
If they need me in the future, why not? I remember a lot of people there, so I need to see them.
I will pass my coaching badge and then we see. Manager? Why not!
Of course, in the future Pompey can go back. Maybe they can be like Bournemouth and it will take four or five years.
If you have good young players, maybe they can grow year by year. They have to to get back to top with their fans. They belong in the Premier League.
...INDIA AND USA
They’ve been totally different places to play.
It was good in the USA for 18 months for Portland Timbers.
I played everywhere in a really big country, so the travelling there was very long.
The play is like England, though. You have to play and press.
It was a good trip for me.
Then India again was a different experience.
It was a tournament. We had 14 games and then we were finished for three months!
It was good but I wouldn’t want to live in India.
It’s a poor country. Not like Europe at all.