Last week Chelsea in America was given a a wonderful opportunity by Matthew O’ Shea, Chelea FC’s Community manager, to begin the first of what he and we would like to be an ongoing series of short interviews with current and former players exclusively for the supporters here in the United States. Our first interview is with Chelsea Legend and current Club Ambassador Graeme La Saux!
La Saux is a Chelsea legend making almost 300 appearances as a no-nonsense defender. He made almost 300 appearancesfor Chelsea winning the League Cup, Cup Winners Cup and the 2000 Fa cup. He was also an England International with 36 caps including every single match in the 1998 World Cup.
Today Graeme has a role as Club Ambassador making regular appearances to reperesent the club in whatever capacity he is needed. Upon sitting down with Matt O’ Shea he was able to answer a few of our questions. From those of us here in C.I.A. we appreciate his time and are grateful for what he was able to answer!
Enjoy the interview!
- On the last day of the 2002-3 season we beat Liverpool 2-1 to make the champions league. Reportedly if we hadn’t won, it would have been a financial disaster for the club. Were you aware of just how important that result was?
Yeswe were, absolutely. Normally for home games we wouldn’t stay in a hotel, we’d just come in in the morning, but because of the significance of the match the club decided we’d stay in a London hotel the night before. They organized for a Vietnam vet to come in and give us a motivational speech the night before the game. It was an amazing story, talking about teamwork and survival, dragging people out with legs blown off, but by the time we’d finished the meeting we wanted to go out and play then, so we couldn’t get to sleep! It was like having 18 espressos before bed. I also think we needed to be consistent. If you change the routine because of a big game it can actually make people feel worse. I remember being in the tunnel before going out on to the pitch and Trevor Birch came up to me and said that if I played well then the team would play well. No pressure there then ! We all knew the significance of the game. It was a bizarre game actually. I’ve seen bits of it recently, both teams were really anxious. Jesper won it with his shot come tackle, as he slipped when he kicked it, a good strike!
I also think, despite the pressure , you’ve got to find a way of saying this is what I play football for, and I want to stand up and be counted.
- Was it a difficult transition from being a player to now holding more of an administrative role?
I think it’s difficult coming out of the game. You just have to look at other players, and some of the problems they get – depression, addiction, high divorce rates. Naturally you do a lot of soul searching, as you’ve had a fantastic experience, full of these incredible moments, and it’s very easy to then think – was that it, is that my life, I’m in my mid-thirties is that the best years behind me. But it’s up to you to change your mindset, and to not look back and regret anything, but look forward at opportunities. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to stay in the game, stay with the club – I’ve been working here for the last 5 years. I approach things with a different perspective because I was a player. There aren’t that many players that go into the more business side of the club. Obviously I’d love to do more, but I really enjoy what I do.
- Football (soccer) in America – what in your opinion are the biggest differences between the top flights in Europe and MLS?
I think the fundamental difference is the development of young players. The quality of grassroots coaching, once that improves, because physically you’ve got very good American soccer players – good athletes, a lot of outdoors sports in schools helps. Technically that’s where if the quality of coaching is improved that will improve the base in which players come from. But there’s a huge hunger for soccer, and I think that’s down to a lot of things. Economically soccer is a lot more accessible, you only need a ball. You don’t need other players like you would in Baseball for example, or a huge amount of equipment. Access to everyone is a big point. The thing is with America though, if they want to do something, they do it properly. Some of the facilities we visited in the summer were just phenomenal and it’s such a vast country with a huge population. If you get the infrastructure right then fast forward 15 years and they’re going to produce a whole generation of top players. I guess the only other thing holding back soccer in America, is at the top end. It’s competing with other college sports, American Football and so on. Youngsters see that as a professional career they don’t see soccer in that way yet. So if you have a chance you’d probably go down a different route.
- What does it mean to you personally to be a club ambassador, what are a few of your roles and or duties?
Working for the club as an ambassador for me means a lot but also the work that we’re doing behind the scenes in supporting the team, whether it be through the foundation and the community programmes that we run or some of the work we do on a national scale – I think being involved in these things is fundamental to any football club. My role is having input in all those areas but also to help activate some of the activities that we run.
Graeme La Saux Absolute Gent and Chelsea Legend!!