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Foot In Both Camps: William Gallas

William Gallas formed part of a formidable defensive unit as the Blues recorded back-to-back title triumphs in 2005 and 2006.

After leaving Stamford Bridge the Frenchman moved to Arsenal, before making the short switch to Tottenham, and we caught up with our former defender ahead of today's meeting with Mauricio Pochettino's side...

Few people know more about the experience of playing in big Premier League London derbies than William Gallas.

The former France international appeared in plenty during his five highly successful years with Chelsea at the start of the millennium, and then followed that with four seasons at Arsenal before closing out his career with three at today’s opponents Tottenham.

Needless to say the results he experienced in the derbies between these clubs varied but he had no shortage of wins with Chelsea, not least in the two seasons when Gallas played a major part in our winning of back-to-back league titles, when we clearly had the upper hand over the Gunners and Spurs. 

Now the latest chapter is about to be written in Chelsea v Tottenham games, and Gallas, speaking this week to the official Chelsea website, anticipates another gripping encounter.

‘To play against Tottenham was always electric,’ he says. ‘I remember when I used to play for Chelsea and when we played at Stamford Bridge or White Hart Lane it was an exciting game, so this Saturday I know both teams will be ready to try to win that game.

‘Tottenham haven’t lost yet this season and they have the best defensive record so it will be hard for Chelsea but with Diego Costa, who is on fire at the moment, and with Eden Hazard who is playing really, really well, Chelsea have a chance to win.’

Hazard’s equaliser in the corresponding fixture last season still burns bright in the memory and coming as it did with such a strike at the Shed End, at such a dramatic stage of the game and with such celebrations that followed, it had more than a shade of Gallas’s famous late winner against Spurs in the run-in to our championship win in 2006.

‘You know why people remember that goal?’ he asks. ‘Because it was from me and I am a defender, and I had never scored a goal like that in my career. Some people were in shock! Even me, I was shocked!

‘I could not breathe, everybody was jumping on me and after the goal I lost my head, I was running everywhere and was jumping on Jose [Mourinho]. It was a great moment.

‘That is why people like to play in England, that is why the Premier League is the best league in the world.’

Gallas had previously scored for Chelsea in a 4-0 win at White Hart Lane back in his first season here, and although he would later find the net in the same stadium for Spurs against us, that was also in a home defeat so we can say on balance, the Blues came out best from his derby scoring.

But it was rightly for his defending he most made his mark in his debut Chelsea campaign, 2001/02, when as part of an emerging new defence alongside John Terry and with Carlo Cudicini behind, they let in only one goal in seven straight matches. It set a new standard for Chelsea in the Premier League era, a high bar for clean-sheet keeping subsequently reached by the team in which Gallas won league titles and now with Antonio Conte’s side on its current run of form. Gallas’s versatility, athleticism and error-free play were fundamental when he was part of the picture.

‘Everything is about the connection, and the information the manager gives you,’ he lists as the keys to a water-tight defence. ‘Then as a player you have to do what you have to do, and if your midfield does a good job as well it will help you a lot.

‘So you can’t speak just about the defenders, you have to speak about the team as well. And at the moment, Chelsea are playing very well, they are not conceding many goals because they are very solid and the players do the job very well.

‘Concentration is very important, especially when you play against different strikers and if you don’t want to make any mistakes or take any risks you have to play simple. As a defender you have to read the game and have a good position and not take a risk. Maybe that is why I did not make too many mistakes in my career. I did not have many yellow or red cards, maybe one red card. That was my target, to be one of the best defenders in the world, and when you have a target as a player, you always want to learn and that means every day at training you will work on your weaknesses.’

Gallas, when his time at Chelsea came to an end in 2006 with Ashley Cole moving the other way as part of the transfer deal with Arsenal, remained in that Premier League he loves.

‘It was very important for me to remain in England because I liked the lifestyle, it was perfect for me and my family was living in England and my children went to school here, and that is why I stayed in London because it would be difficult for my family to move again.

‘People didn’t understand why I stayed to play for another London team but what was most important for me was to give everything when I was with Chelsea and I gave 100 per cent to that shirt. I had a great time with Chelsea and that was the most important thing.’

These days Gallas is working on screen for the French TV company that broadcasts Premier League games and it is another couple of French players catching the eye at Chelsea. Kurt Zouma is on the verge of a first team return and though bigger in build, he brings some of the pace and power Gallas used to supply. N’Golo Kante shares with Gallas an upbringing in the Paris suburbs as well as both playing for Caen early in their career.

‘Zouma is very strong and he has a future for Chelsea because he has all the quality,’ assesses Gallas.

‘I had the opportunity to speak with him to give him some advice and I am sure when he is fit, he will be amazing.

‘Kante is an unbelievable player. He can run and run and run for 90 minutes, for 100 minutes or more and he does a great job. He can defend very well, he defends like Claude Makelele but at the same time he can attack. He has the quality and he can do a lot for the club. He also is the future of the club.’

The immediate future is the game between Chelsea and Spurs and Gallas will be watching on. Let’s hope it is another derby as electric as the ones he recalls.