Jonny McConnell chats with former Chelsea, Blackburn Rovers and England full back Graeme Le Saux about his career, his toughest opponents, and the current state of the English game.
What was the best thing about being a professional footballer?
Getting the chance to fulfil a childhood dream and follow in the footsteps of the heroes that I had followed, watched and read about as a boy. Stepping out onto that stage over 18 year period was a privilege.
Out of all your achievements, what do you think was your greatest?
Playing at the highest level (with the exception of my debut. 10 mins v Portsmouth in old Second Division). Winning trophies, playing for my country for six years and recovering from a serious ankle injury.
Who was the best player you played alongside and why?
Many fantastic colleagues. Hard to single out one as each player has different qualities. Overall Gianfranco Zola would be my favourite, for his humility, courtesy, work ethic as well as his ability and talent. Also he always laughed at my jokes, no matter how bad so he is also polite and forgiving!
Which player was your toughest opponent and why?
This is a question that made me realise the level I managed to achieve in the sport. So many world class players (a phrase I don’t use lightly) and I competed against them. Zidane, Figo, Raul, Henry, Bergkamp, Hagi, Stoichkov, both Ronaldos, Maldini to name but a few. My toughest opponent would be between Figo for Portugal and Brian Laudrup for Denmark.
What improvements need to be made to the English game, in your opinion?
Need to make sure the sport stays connected with supporters. They help make our leagues unique. Improve the standards demanded of all involved in the game at every level, from grassroots to elite. Ensure that playing for national team at any age group is the highest reward a player can receive. Achieve a healthy balance between nurturing domestic talent (both players and coaches) whilst embracing the positive influence that overseas influence is having.
Is there anything you think the English National Team must do in order to challenge for international honours?
Plenty of things! There are two elements. Environment and football ability.
Firstly, the team spirit and psychological aspects are a challenge. Do we have the right mentality and togetherness to succeed? Are the players in an environment where they feel comfortable and confident to express themselves without the fear of making a mistake?
Are we tactically good enough as players to manage our way through matches? Can we adapt as a game evolves? Are the players technically good enough to create and score goals without leaving the rest of the team vulnerable defensively?
Sorry, more questions than answers!
Did you enjoy your time playing for England? What was the best moment for you?
I did enjoy my time. I saw it as the pinnacle of my career. Playing at Wembley, for my Country and representing all those people that played a part in helping me get there. I enjoyed every moment although debut, scoring v Brazil and World Cup were highlights. Our achievement in Rome v Italy was the most unified I felt as an England player. As a team, a media and supporters.
If you could have changed one thing about your career, what would it be?
We cannot change anything that has already gone, although we can learn from it and not make the same mistake again.
Finally, when you signed your first professional contract, did you set yourself any career goals, and if so, did you achieve them?
I always did and always will set myself goals. As a boy, I used to time myself running and cycling and try to improve them. I worked in a fruit and veg store in the local market on a Saturday, me and my school friend set targets and we always tried to better them. With this mentality you can never actually reach your goals. The achievement is in keeping this mindset and the trying.
I never dreamt I could achieve what I did, but it didn’t mean I was ever happy to settle for those achievements as there was and is always something more to aim for.