Three of the 2023 Premier League Hall of Fame inductees shared memories of their glittering careers at a star-studded evening in London.
Former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger said he only understands now the sacrifices it took for him to become such a successful manager, winning three Premier League titles.
“I realise now, five years on [from retirement], I was an animal,” he told the audience. “I had to sacrifice so much. I’m a normal human being again now.”
Wenger said he had to persuade his Arsenal players to believe that they could become invincible before they went on their famous unbeaten season in 2003/04.
“I thought after we won [the title] in 2002, ‘What can we do better?’” he said. “I said stupidly in a press conference that I think we can go unbeaten. We, of course, lost the next season…
"In pre-season, I went away and asked the players, ‘Why did we lose?’ They said, ‘Because of you! You put too much pressure on us.’
"You either say, ‘OK, sorry,’ or you say, ‘No, you can really do it.’ That’s the way I went.
"I discovered what’s it like to become a manager without fear. Before the game, we were totally relaxed. We went to another level, almost above ego.”
Former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand, who could almost see his Peckham birthplace from the event’s venue near London Bridge, explained how he had exceeded his dreams in football.
“We used to sit on the stairs of the estate, dreaming of players like Gazza [Paul Gascoigne] and [Diego] Maradona,” he said. “We had a motto growing up: ‘If I play one minute of professional football, I’ll die a happy man.
"This is a fabulous final curtain, really.”
After playing for West Ham United and Leeds United, Ferdinand moved to Manchester United in search of glory.
“I was obsessed and driven by the history of the club,” he said. “You’d only need to walk round the training ground and Old Trafford to feel it.
“You’d look round and see Becks [David Beckham], [Paul] Scholes and [Roy] Keane. That was the beauty of being at Man Utd - there was always a hunger to do better.
“The first Premier League title didn’t feel real because I didn’t think the team missed me. When I started to win more, I felt integral.”
Within a year of moving to Old Trafford in 2002 Ferdinand had claimed his first title and he revealed that he celebrated it in an unorthodox manner.
“Arsenal had lost to Leeds at Highbury and that meant we had won the league without playing,” he recalled. “I remember running out of the house I was living in the street at the time barefoot, ripping my feet apart, running down the road screaming!”
Petr Cech became only the second goalkeeper to be inducted into the Premier League Hall of Fame after Peter Schmeichel. And the Dane being at the event was a proud moment for the former Chelsea and Arsenal custodian.
“One of my earliest memories is the Euros in 1992,” said Cech. “I remember seeing this massive presence inside the Danish goal [Schmeichel] and it absolutely inspired me. To be now inducted with him is a total honour.”
Cech was inducted on the back of holding the record for clean sheets in the Premier League, achieving 202 shutouts, 33 clear of the nearest rival and 50 from the nearest current player, David De Gea.
As to whether his record can be broken, Cech doesn’t see it as insurmountable.
“Records are there to be broken, so if someone can manage to have a consistent level of performances, to stay fit and not come to the Premier League at a late stage of their career, we might see this record.
“But you need everyone to contribute. It’s not just the goalkeeper, but the defenders and the team.”