French soccer legends such as Arsene Wenger, Robert Pires and Christian Karembeu had a day to remember on Wednesday, playing against Fratteli Tutti—a team made up of seminarians and Vatican priests. They used soccer as an excuse to unite.
“I think it’s a good mix, soccer and religion,” Robert Pires, 1998 World Cup and 2000 Eurocup Champion, said. “It depends who you play with, but I think most are here because they believe in God, that’s why I’m here.”
The French team gave Pope Francis the #10 jersey as a gift. But the Pope joked that he wasn’t very good and even had a nickname when he was younger.
“They said I was clumsy,” Pires said.
Christian Karembeu—European champion with Real Madrid—has played with the Vatican before.
“It will probably be the only time playing against them, even though in 2009 we faced the Swiss Guards,” Karembeu, 2000 World Champion, 1998 and 2002 European Champion, said. “Tonight is going to be very difficult because we don’t know if we’ll win.”
Wilfried Mbappé, father of French soccer player Kylian Mbappé, had no doubts.
“Today we will win,” Mbappé said.
The game was held at the Stadium dei Marmi in the shadow of the Olympic Stadium in Rome. The players took to the field and began the game with a prayer.
At the age of 73, Arsene Wenger played the entire first half on France’s defensive line.
“Well, for me, playing at my age is already a miracle,” Arsene Wenger, Former coach of Arsenal F. C., said. “Playing with good players is a second miracle. It has been an extraordinary day for us. We meet up with friends to play charity games from time to time. Today, we all met the Pope together, visited the Vatican, and attended Mass. It is an unforgettable day for everyone.”
With the friendly and unforgettable game behind them, both teams set their sights on their next goal: the 2024 Olympic Games.