Classics: Le Saux when he settled back in

To mark his 50th birthday today, we bring you a classic interview from the past with our former England international Graeme Le Saux.

The left-sided player made more than 300 appearances over two spells at Chelsea and it was a few months after his return to the club in 1997 that this interview took place, originally carried in the matchday programme when, just like this coming weekend, Manchester United were the visitors to Stamford Bridge, on this occasion in the third round of the FA Cup…

When Graeme Le Saux left for Blackburn in 1993, the nearest any Chelsea player lived to central London was probably Dennis Wise in Shepherd’s Bush, or youngsters who had yet to leave home like Eddie Newton in White City and Frank Sinclair in Clapham.

Now he has moved into an area near Kensington Gardens with Roberto Di Matteo just around the corner and Dan Petrescu, Gianluca Vialli and Gianfranco Zola a few roads away.

“It’s a lot different living in town,” he says with the satisfaction of someone who has found his natural home. Everything’s on your doorstep and the city is your home.’

But obviously the changes in Chelsea since he’s been away mean that the city is several players’ home now.

Le Saux, 29 years old – that seems almost impossible, doesn’t it? – came to Chelsea after taking his ‘A’ levels.

“I never thought of living in London. I moved to Kingston because I knew people there and then it seemed the place to buy. But in my last year at Chelsea I was making more friends who lived in town. I was spending time there during the day.

“So when I came back from Blackburn I thought that maybe this was my only chance to live in London. I didn’t move in because of the other players here, but it’s nice to be able to phone them up and meet with them.

“It’s probably the best city in the world at the moment. I’ve enjoyed the restaurants and shops so far, but I’ve not had much of a chance to enjoy anything else. We spent so much time looking for somewhere to rent and then to buy, we only moved in at the end of October, and now it’s New Year we’re finally settling in.

“So now I’ll have to start getting Time Out to see what’s going on. I’ve not even been to a gig.”

‘We’ is him and his Argentine-born wife. London is for the now, not forever.

“When we start thinking about having children I couldn’t see us living there.”

Also for now is top-quality football (give or take the odd match at Southampton and home to Leeds).

Settling back in the team has not been as easy for him as everyone might assume. The difference in style of play to what he experienced here before or at Blackburn has been massive. He has spent over six weeks out injured. He has switched between left-back and left-midfield and has had a succession of partners down that side: Poyet, Babayaro, Nicholls and Granville.

“It’s gone as well as I’d hoped. I’d like to have scored more, but I think no-one would expect me to have done. I’m confident with the style of play. I think the supporters are happy with what they see on the pitch and hopefully they see me coming back as a good thing.”

He really did only find out about Chelsea’s interest on the day he signed. “I spoke to Ruud who said Chelsea were in need of a left-sided player and he had been looking at me for quite a long time.

“Challenging for the League is all about being versatile and if that means me having to play forward, that’s not a problem. I don’t feel threatened by that.”
But he started at left-back with Gustavo Poyet ahead of him. There seemed to be an instant understanding.

“Certainly Gus and I were working very well, but unfortunately his injury upset that permutation. But it’s all about how you play over a longer period, not just a few games. Mark Nicholls came in recently and we started to get a combination against Derby, Tottenham and Sheffield Wednesday.
“If you’re playing with good players it’s not hard to adapt.”

After the muddle of finding his best position at Chelsea first time around, it is ironic that the adaptability up that left flank now suits his international status where, as a wing-back, he operates between the two roles.

There is no doubting his international credentials, nor his high status at that level, after numerous good performances for England. All things being well, the World Cup awaits. But down at the strangely warm and un-windy Harlington, he is not fired up by the thought of it.

“At the moment I’m not even thinking about it,” he says dismissively. “Obviously I got excited when the draw was made and I was asked to comment, but since then it’s slipped out of my mind.

“What I want is that it is the climax to a very successful club season. At the moment I just want to play and win things at Chelsea, do my bit for us to stay up there.”

Everyone keeps asking him about the improvements at the club on his return, and no-one has asked him if there is anything he misses. Until now. Is there anything he misses? There is.

“I’ll always miss the Shed as it was,” he immediately offers. “That’s part of the history of the club. For new players coming into the team it was the historic place of the ground.”

But obviously the plusses outweigh any minuses. And now he embarks upon another FA Cup campaign. He’s relaxed and buoyant. Man about town.

“I think the winners of today’s game will win the Cup,” he smiles, his eyes lighting up. And he reveals a surprising Cup statistic.

“I’ve never gone very far in the competition. Sunderland in the quarter-finals when we went to the replay, that is the furthest.”

That was 1992. Who would bet against the settled London man taking the short trip to Wembley on May 16th, 1998!

He heads out of remote Harlington towards the centre of the city.

In the end, Le Saux’s prediction for the FA Cup proved wide of the mark as the trophy was lifted by Arsenal that season, although a few weeks earlier he was at Wembley as part of the Chelsea side that were triumphant in the League Cup final. He also played for England at the 1998 World Cup and made the quarter-finals before being beaten by Argentina on penalties.