"I feel like I want to move to a new club every season," Gaël Clichy says as he leans forward and looks straight at me with a deliberately earnest face. He allows that strange sentence to hang in the air just long enough to get the brain cells whirring and then, breaking his pause with perfect timing, Clichy shrugs in amusement. "Each time I go to a new club I win the title." He then laughed. "So probably that's what I should do."
We're deep into an interview as involving as it is relaxed and Clichy has just completed a detailed comparison between the two Premier League titles he has won – each coming in his first season with, respectively, Arsenal in 2004 and Manchester City this year. In a season when he made 16 appearances, with nine matches featuring a teenage Clichy in the starting line-up, Arsenal were truly the Invincibles. They did not lose a single league game and were 11 points ahead of second-placed Chelsea.
City, of course, won their first title in 44 years in the very last minute of the final game in May – and only goal difference separated them from Manchester United. Clichy has described it "as the dream scenario" and no other player in 20 years of the Premier League can lay claim to such divergent chunks of title-clinching history. If he is now sharply aware of his good fortune, Clichy was once oblivious to the significance of being the youngest Invincible.
"I remember Thierry [Henry] told me at the parade after we won that 'you have to enjoy this because players like Alan Shearer, the best England striker, have never won this trophy'. I was like: 'This is my first season and we don't lose one game? Come on, man. It's not possible it won't happen again.' But he was right. For me it's been eight years between the first title and the second.
"With the first one I was happy and proud but I'm not sure I really understood what it meant. I was in a different world. I was more focused on playing with my idols – Thierry and Bergkamp, Vieira and Campbell. I wasn't even thinking of the title. I was just happy to go to training and play some games. It was a pleasure to me."
Clichy might get mocked for his odd bizarre haircut but he has not been vilified by Arsenal supporters who have always been more angered by the sight of Emmanuel Adebayor and Samir Nasri in City shirts. Arsène Wenger has lost so many players he nurtured but Clichy denies that he was snubbed by his former manager when the teams met a few weeks ago. Television footage appeared to show the Arsenal manager walk straight past Clichy without offering his hand.
Clichy shakes his head. "I'm really close with Joleon Lescott and I didn't see the boss behind me. Jo asked me what's happening and as a joke I just said: 'It's only been nine years.' But of course when I saw [Wenger] after the game I shook his hand and later sent him a text. I don't have to tell Arsène Wenger how much I respect him and how much I owe him. He knows this and I know it."
Asked to compare Wenger with Roberto Mancini, Clichy pauses. "It's really difficult. You have one who built a club for 16 years now. He doesn't need to prove anything to anyone. He brought so many new things to England and made certain players – like Henry, who was the best in this country for years.
"People started saying things about Wenger leaving because Arsenal were not winning. This is also a club that is always competing in the Champions League with young players – and they reach many quarter-finals. People don't realise this achievement because they want trophies but he has done so much. I really don't see English football being where it is without Arsène Wenger.
"Then on the other side we have Roberto Mancini, another great manager who has more financial backing. It reminds everyone a little of the galácticos from Real Madrid with big players coming in. But it worked because we won the FA Cup and now the first title for 44 years. So they both have special qualities you have to respect."
As a way of discovering whether Clichy understood the release their title win brought to so many long-suffering fans, I ask if he'd heard of "City-itis"? Clichy looks puzzled. "No. What is it?"
Once the concept is explained – and Clichy nods at a reminder of the way in which City contrived to mess up their simplest dreams for decades – he makes a different analogy.
"I think I understood City when we won 6-1 at Old Trafford last season. For three weeks people weren't thinking who we were playing next – they were just thinking about this game. They were saying: 'You don't understand. Every day for the last 30 years we are getting it because United are United. Even if we are not going to win the title this will stay with us forever.' That was when I understood."
Their Champions League travails would suggest that City-itis has not been entirely abandoned. After their failure to qualify beyond the group stages last season, City are struggling again. Only a late and disputed penalty saved them from defeat against a superior Borussia Dortmund this week – while they conceded two late goals to lose 3–2 at Real Madrid in their opening match.
If Clichy highlights City's impressive collective defensive unity last season, and suggests that he was rarely left "on my own" as he had been on occasions at Arsenal, they allowed Real Madrid and Dortmund 57 attempts on goal in these two games. Clichy also stresses how much he has relied on Lescott – dropped for both fixtures despite being such a solid presence alongside Vincent Kompany last season.
It looks unlikely now but does Clichy believe City can win the Champions League? "If we come through this tough group then we still have a good chance. Look at last season. Chelsea were probably not the best team but they beat Barcelona and then won it. Anything can happen if we can make it out of this group."
One point out of a possible six underlines how much work City need to do if they are going to rescue their loftiest aspirations. Meanwhile, they lie fourth in the Premier League and are at home to Sunderland on Saturday. Clichy sets about making a different and more personal point after confirming that he has just signed a deal with Puma to wear their new speed boots from today. "Even more than football I am glad to be the man I am today. You know how much people talk about football players these days – saying this and that – but I'm proud of who I became. To be able to win the league twice, with different clubs, is a great achievement, but I've learnt a lot about life."
The son of a gardener and a nurse from Tournefeuille in suburban Toulouse, Clichy moved to England over nine years ago, when he was only 17, and he frames his career in a more grounded context. "It went quick, huh?" he says of his near-decade in England. "But it's been very good. Not just for football but because I like England and English people. I've definitely spent more time in England than Toulouse – which I left when I was 13."
Clichy only mentions it in passing but he almost died at the age of 15. He was climbing over a metal fence when he nearly severed a finger. During a seven-hour operation, as Clichy now remembers, "I did almost die. My heart stopped for 15 seconds. It made me realise that you have to be committed to life every day and to be close to my family and my friends. That's why I'm not just happy I won those titles. I became a person I like and that's more important.
"The oldest players tell me: 'Don't think about afterwards yet. Just enjoy it and train hard. And take pleasure from such good experiences.' I'm lucky I can talk to people from Argentina, Spain, Brazil, England, Serbia and other countries. That's a big thing. You know some of my friends never left Toulouse. It's a big shame.
"I've been lucky to experience new cultures because I'm part of the generation of French footballers that left home at a young age. I read an article last week and they were making a list of all the young players who went abroad and actually didn't make anything. I was one of the two players who made it out of, I think, 12. So you always have to believe in yourself."
That attitude typified him when he joined Arsenal from Cannes. Nine years ago this month Clichy and another newly arrived teenager, 16-year-old Cesc Fábregas, made their debuts for Arsenal in a League Cup game against Rotherham. Fábregas then lived with an Irish landlady in north London.
"They also asked me if I wanted to move in with someone who would look after me," Clichy remembers. "But I had been living with my friends in Cannes and, at 17, I decided it was time to start living by myself. I knew I would make some mistakes and the first six months were difficult. But then my dad came over and he taught me how to cook and from then it was good. I'm just lucky to have had this chance in England."
What does his family make of his surreal life as a footballer? "They are not into the internet so they will not know who is earning this or that. My mother is retired but my dad is still a gardener and he's really happy. When I'm home I'm Gaël their son and not the football player so I try to live as simply as possible with them. I don't want them to see what is happening because there are good and bad things in football.
"But when you stop playing football you will just be a normal guy like everyone else. So I want people to think of me as a good man because in five or six years I won't be playing football. But I will still have hopefully 50 years to live. That's when my real life will start properly."