On a humid afternoon in North London, former Southampton, Chelsea, Blackburn and England full-back Graeme Le Saux announces his return to football (albeit short term) alongside Ray Parlour, Martin Keown, Brian McBride, Claudio Caniggia and David Seaman (goal keeping coach) for non-league outfit Wembley FC, in an event held by Budweiser. Le Saux and the others will take part in Wembley’s FA Cup campaign next season under the club’s technical advisor Terry Venables.
Though this may seem like some sort of bizarre hallucinogenic dream, it’s not. And after a short(ish) press-conference in the Wembley club house and four complimentary pints of beer, the Wessex Scene took a few minutes from hob-knobbing and exploitation of free alcohol to prop itself up on the bar to chat to Graeme Le Saux about Southampton, England and retirement.
Hi Graeme, first off; how pleased were you to see your old team Southampton back in the Premier League?
“Well they’ve got Man City first game haven’t they, so welcome back to the Premier League! [laughs] I tweeted actually after the fixtures came out, that to see Southampton’s name back in the league was a great feeling and I was pleased for everyone involved with the club. As a former player it’s nice to see that and I’m really happy for them and the fans. I think the club has spent the last few years really establishing itself and they got their reward last season. Nigel [Adkins] got them playing really well with the ball, they’ve got a decent squad with some key players that were match winners for them.”
How do you see them fairing next season?
“I think for any club that gets promoted it’s a hard first season and they can maybe take a leaf out of Norwich and Swansea’s book, and know that if they play the right football and have the right players in their team that they can do well.”
Playing for England is something you can never really appreciate
Did you enjoy your time at St. Mary’s?
“I really did, it was the last years of my career and I was so well received by the supporters and the other players. Gordon Strachan brought me down to the club, but you know I think the saddest thing was when Gordon left. We went through four or five different managers and we had our problems on and off the pitch and it just shows, that how you run a club has a direct impact on what happens on the pitch.”
Was that a hard experience for you?
“It was probably the hardest day of my career when we got relegated by losing against Manchester United, so that was tough. The problem for me was that I knew I was retiring, I knew that I didn’t have the chance to try and put it right. But I’ll always have great memories of playing down there.”
When did you know it was time to retire? How much do you miss playing?
“I think you always miss the game when you’re not playing it every day and you’re used to doing that. The camaraderie, the team and working together to get results, it’s all part of what makes you enjoy the sport so much. But I played for 18 years so I was very fortunate enough to play at the level I did for that length of time, so I try not to miss it too much because I never thought I’d get that opportunity to be honest.”
Will playing for Wembley FC bring some of that back?
“Well I’m still involved in football; I do a lot around the game and play some matches as well. What I’ve got to remember here though is that it’s a competitive match, it’s not a charity match or Soccer Aid, there’s two teams really needing to win the match so you have to adjust your mentality to a situation like that and play the game accordingly.”
You had a good career for England Graeme with one superb goal against Brazil, how do you look back on it?
“I don’t know what you were like, but when I was a 6 or 7 year-old boy I dreamed of playing football as a profession and that was my sort of Disney moment if you like, but the reality was that I was just at school trying to do my best there. To actually become a professional footballer and then eventually to play for my country – playing for six years, playing in a World Cup, scoring against Brazil – it’s an achievement that I don’t think you can ever really appreciate. When you’re doing it, that’s just what you do, but when you look back it’s how long you want to dwell on that. I’m really grateful for the opportunity I had but I spend my life looking forward. My kids don’t care I played for England, so from that point of view it’s what’s ahead of you to achieve.”
As for Euro 2012, who was your tip for the tournament?
“I said Germany in the beginning, but I wasn’t really sticking my neck out!” [laughs]
Okay, but how far do you think England will go?
“From my point of view I thought that getting through the group stage was a big achievement, given the time that Roy’s [Hodgson] has had to work with them [the players] and the injuries that the team have had as well. I think they’ve played a very disciplined, structured tournament so far. Some people say they’ve not been very expansive but there’s not been much time since Roy took over and I think we’re in really good shape to play Italy in the way we’re playing. I think we can beat them, but equally you respect them enough to know that they’ve got some tremendous talents as well. I think it’ll be a very tight encounter, it’s almost impossible to call.”
Finally Graeme, do you see Chelsea improving next season?
“Chelsea are a team that will always be considered title hopefuls because they’ve got a fantastic squad and they invest in the team each year. The demands are on any top team to be up there competing for the Premier League, and I think last season we were inconsistent. But the irony is as poor as we were in the league; the Champions League goes against what you’d expect. It’ll be another exciting season under Roberto Di Matteo in charge, he’s got the opportunity to carry on with the good work he’s already done and the players had a very positive atmosphere towards the end of the season as well, so I’m sure that’s how the team will come back and start the season.”
And with that Graeme is off (he’s driving). The Scene’s getting the train though, so its only right to stay for one more…it is free after all.