A loan spell at Portsmouth was Vincent Pericard's punishment – but he has no regrets even today.
The former Juventus prodigy certainly learned his lesson – just not the one the Italian giants wanted nor expected. Pericard’s unbelievable move to Portsmouth is one of the most bizarre transfer tales of the modern era. He was initially signed by the Serie A outfit from Saint Etienne in 2000, after he was the main star of a documentary titled 'The Man Who Will Be Worth Billions'.
He became an instant hit in the Bianconeri's reserve team and even made his full debut in a Champions League tie against Arsenal. A Pericard shaped void appeared to be opening just ahead of Zinedine Zidane and next to Alessandro Del Piero. That was until he and French teammates Aboubacar Fofana and Frantz Bertin decided to ask their Italian tutor out for a few drinks in the city – and Pericard's career would never be the same.
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Pericard pressed send on the request and, before he knew it, his career at Juventus was all but over. “It was a shock, a great disappointment with some feelings of unfairness about the way it happened,” Pericard said in an exclusive interview with Daily Star Sport.
“From the moment I joined Juventus, everything was going well. I was the top striker when I was playing with the reserve teams, I was with the first team training, going to Champions League games. There was no indication that, firstly, I was not good enough for Juventus and secondly that my future was not at Juventus.
"It was one evening with my French colleagues where we decided to go out for a drink. We were just at home and we thought ‘who should we invite’ and one of my friends suggested we invite the Italian tutor we had at the time.
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“I was the one to get my phone out and message her. But unfortunately, unknown to me and to us, she happened to be in bed with one of the directors of Juventus. Literally ten minutes after I sent the text, I got a phone call from the director saying ‘you three in my office tomorrow’.”
Unbeknown to Pericard, the Italian tutor assisting the French trio’s integration into Turin was dating Juventus vice-president Roberto Bettega. “We went to the office and then they said ‘Vincent you’re going to Portsmouth and you two are going to X and X’ and that was the end of it.
“I had never heard of Portsmouth, I had never been to England, so it was a big shock and disappointment.” Pericard was only 19-years-old when his Juventus career was swept out from beneath his feet. In the modern game, agents follow their clients by the heel and can always be found whispering into the ears of their players.
But such was the speed of the saga, Pericard’s agent was not only absent from Bettega’s office, he was not even aware of the situation unfolding. “It happened so fast,” Pericard added. “What initially was my suspicion but was confirmed later in time was that coincidentally, Harry Redknapp, his agent, and the agent representing Juventus were in discussions as he was looking for a striker on loan.
“I think I fitted the bill perfectly for that transfer to happen. Redknapp was looking for a striker, he had a connection with Juventus, and he was probably asking if they had anybody who was talented and young to take for one year, because that was a great model at the time.
“The events happened at the same time, so for them it was a done deal and it was easy. It was ‘here is Vincent Pericard, take him’. My agent was not present, he was not even aware.
“It was unfortunate, but I put it down to one of those situations in life where you are not in control, you don’t see it coming, and to get to the top you need a bit of luck.” There is little doubt in Pericard’s mind that his move to the South Coast side was a punishment. An exile, a warning, a message of ‘back off’ from Bettega.
But Juventus were not finished with the Frenchman. Pericard’s phone rang and the Italian juggernauts were on the other end. Yet, Pericard had been seduced by Portsmouth. Harry Redknapp’s infamous charm, the sea breeze, the way Fratton Park strikes terror into the opposition but touches the heart of those who wear the famous blue, Pericard could not turn his back on Portsmouth and return to the arms of the club who so callously and cruelly banished him.
“At the end of my loan at Portsmouth, I was given the opportunity to go back to Juventus,” Pericard added. “They wanted me back but I said ‘no’ because I enjoyed my time at Portsmouth so much. I felt like it was time for me to move on from Juventus.
“It was a huge decision. I remember very well because at Juventus I got brought in to become the next big talent. I was in the first team, but not fully in the first team.
“But when I came to Portsmouth, the reason why I loved it so much was because I felt like an integral player. I was part of the first team, playing weekly in and out, I was on the pitch and scoring goals. The second thing is playing at Fratton Park, feeling the atmosphere, where the fans were so close to the pitch and very much on your toes.
“The feeling of playing football at Portsmouth was more than playing at Juventus where there is more of a prestige.” Pericard became a Pompey hero, netting ten goals in 35 appearances for the club, until a horrific torn quadricep muscle forced him off in the penultimate game against Rotherham.
This triggered a terrifying succession of injuries that hampered his playing career to the point he called time on his career at the age of 28-years-old when he was playing for Havant and Waterlooville. In between his time at Portsmouth and his retirement, Pericard also had spells with Sheffield United, Plymouth Argyle, Stoke City, Southampton, Millwall, Carlisle United and Swindon Town, before joining the non-league side.
And Pericard has set out to help the next generation of footballers and young people who have endured the same mental health struggles he has. He currently details his experiences on his website, his blog and he also co-founded the ‘ WhatsUp?’ app, an application launched in the University of Portsmouth that helps people overcome mental health issues by providing a direct route to wellbeing professionals.
Pericard’s spectacular fall from Juventus’ next big prospect to Portsmouth loan signing hampered his mental health – not that he realised it at the time.
“I was very sad at that time. As I previously mentioned, what made it easier for me was that I was so young and naive. I was willing to conquer the world, so the weight of expectation and people looking at me, did not affect me at all.
“Around mental health, I had never had any challenges [when I was younger] which was probably the problem. I didn’t know what mental health was, I didn’t know about wellbeing and when things happened I didn’t recognise the signs that maybe I was struggling.
“All of that started at Portsmouth but at Juventus everything was easy. What I would say now, because I do a lot of work in personal development and that is something I am trying to drive in my company and my mental shape, is that I was also very naive to the fact that discipline is very important to succeed.
“Instead of going out three times a week, and not resting and doing my work, then if I was aware of the value, the quality and the mindset to become a successful football player, then there’s nights I wouldn’t have gone out, drink,things I wouldn’t have done.
“I believe that could have been the difference, maybe between me sending that text and not sending that text. It’s not so much mental health but more so the professional development side.”
Pericard looks back on several moments of his career with frustration but there is no bitterness, regret, and no animosity. “Right now, I would say no. I wouldn’t change anything,” he added.
“I was giving a talk two weeks ago, when somebody asked me what my definition of success was when I was playing football.
“And I remember, clear as day, my definition was the car I was driving, the girlfriend I had, the restaurant I was going to, and the holiday. But my definition of success is how happy I am, what kind of people are around me, the level of freedom I have, the friendships, it’s more like the personal things that I consider as success.
“I can see now that I have so much contentment, I feel more at peace, and that comes from all of my experience that I am able to be grateful for. I wouldn’t change anything.”
Pericard is the co-founder of 'WhatsUp?' an application that provides a communication platform for people to reach wellbeing staff who offer support.
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