5 Minutes with Graeme Le Saux

In the run up to the World Cup 2018 Graeme Le Saux kindly gave us 5 minutes of his time to discuss all things football, dancing and charity, including how he chose which team to play for, why he retired when he did and his predictions for the World Cup winner 2018!

Hi Graeme, please could you tell us a little about what you’ve been up to?

Hello, yes of course! I work with NBC Television covering the Premier League but in England! So that takes up the majority of my time as I’m going up and down the country watching matches and commentating for the US - I have been working for them for 5 years. I also do some work with Real Mallorca Football Club, so that’s been another of my main focuses over the last year.

Most of the work I do is with the Premier League and FA so I’m still heavily involved in football.

You played football for England and Chelsea; what was that experience like?

Obviously, it was my childhood dream to play professional football, I never dreamed I would play at the level I did and play for England! The best way to describe it is that afterwards you look back and see what a privilege it was. I played for 18 years at the top level, and to play for those crowds you realise how lucky you’ve been to play for that long.

You rely on so many factors, for example your body must be able to cope at the level you are playing at, but that’s not really something you are in control of! You can work as hard as you want but that doesn’t mean you can play regularly at that level. Every game requires 100% commitment and I tried to appreciate every match I played in. Particularly for the National teams; it is very competitive to get into the team and you have to perform your best at every game as you are always playing for the next game! It’s unreal to play for big crowds where sometimes they will be singing your name, and to represent England in the World Cup in 1988 – I could never have imagined doing that as a boy growing up in Jersey!

How do you feel about this years World cup, do you have any predictions for who will win?

I think it’s an exciting tournament this year, I don’t think anyone is a standout favourite necessarily. For most of the teams who are playing, the gap between the best and the worst isn’t as big as it used to be. Of course some teams are there to make up the numbers, but I look at the teams in the tournament and think its very hard to predict who’s going to win a match. Belgium has some fantastic players and we are waiting for them to deliver, so they have great potential. England has some great players and has young players which can work for or against you. I think we are in an era now where you can never underestimate the players, the teams play in a lot of countries, the coaches have a lot of experience. They are fit, well organised, and always have technical players.

I am really excited, I think the favourite is down to the level of belief that the players and the team have. Having been successful in the past, playing in the tournament is very different to playing qualifiers. Germany and Brazil are teams that have pedigree in Cups, so you can imagine them getting through to the later stages, but I am optimistic with England, if we play with the freedom to express ourselves, and if the fear of failure doesn’t overplay then we will be a very difficult team to come up against. I’m not saying we are going to win it, but we can get to the quarter finals or similar, maybe even the semi, if we can get that momentum.

In 2009 you competed on Dancing on Ice, how would you compare the sport of Ice Skating against Football?

Oh dancing on ice, that was an experience. I have got so much respect for both the men and women that compete on the ice, it really is brutal. It’s one of the toughest sports in terms of when you get hurt, you get really hurt. The power and strength that the guys have and their balance is incredible. And then you also have the toughness of the women, they get thrown up in the air and all over the place, they get damaged ribs and bad backs as they get put in all these positions and always continue fighting for more.

It’s hard to imagine unless you’ve been on the ice with professionals and seen them perform. As a spectator the art of ice skating is elegant and graceful, but when you see the training you realise there is a lot of training behind it, and there is a lot that goes wrong, I saw peoples thighs being cut with blades amongst many other injuries! I’ve always been a fan of sport, not necessarily ice skating specifically, but when you see any sport performed at that level you really appreciate how much work it is, and the sort of skill level these people have.

It seems like you are a fan of Ruark with both an R7 and R2s, what do you think of both products?

Well I am a fan, absolutely. The R7 first caught my eye because of what it looks like, it is a beautiful piece of furniture. From a design view it certainly stands out, there are a lot of products out there but the R7 really stood out from an aesthetic point of view. But you also want it to work well and have all the features. We have a big open plan kitchen, and the R7 sits up against the wall and its brilliant. It’s the first thing turned on in the morning and the last thing turned off at night. It has all the technology, DAB radio, FM, and the sound quality is fantastic! I’ve got lots of CDs that I’ve collected over the years, so we will often pick a random CD and put that on as well. Just fantastic.

The R2s look great and are very practical. We have them in the bedrooms, the sound quality is brilliant especially from something so compact, in fact, if I was to say what would stand out from a Ruark compared to the other products I’ve had over the years it is definitely the sound quality.

Why did you choose Ruark Audio as your sound system of choice?

I saw the R7 advertised, and it was the flagship of the Ruark range. We saw it in a John Lewis magazine pull-out when they were doing a feature on sound systems, and it stood out. I think it’s like anything, you’re attracted to how something looks first, and then you find out more. And that’s what happened, we saw the R7 and thought it would look really nice in the house. Its not cheap, not that it needs to be, but you pay the money for the quality and you get so much from it. The amount of people who come round and say they love the stereo and ask where’s it from! It just looks quite iconic I think as a piece, so that’s certainly how we came across it, it caught our eye and so we found out more – and now we are part of the Ruark family.

You were part of the winning Premier League team in 1994-95, tell us about that experience? How did the team celebrate after winning?

We won on the last game of the season, and everyone in football is super superstitious, so nothing was planned and it was all very spontaneous. I was playing for Blackburn at the time, so we ended up in a restaurant come music venue. Once the staff and waiters finished serving they’d play live music, they’d do different sets, soul etc and that’s where we used to go sometimes after games. So we phoned the owner up and said we need to go out, he organised it and we all ended up in this restaurant place in Preston, and then because it was the last game that was it – we all went off on our holiday or met up with National teams.

It’s very hard to explain the feeling when you achieve something like winning a league title; you work so hard to achieve it, it’s almost a disappointment when it’s over. The achievement is in the doing rather than finishing. Managers, I think in a funny way, probably get to enjoy the success more than the players do. For the players as soon as you finish one season, you have to get over it and start again. You don’t get the chance to look back until after you’ve finished. Now I can look back to see we achieved 4th, 2nd, and 1st, with Blackburn winning the premier league. It was a great achievement and privilege to play.

In your opinion, who is the most underrated player you’ve ever played with?

Oh my word, underrated?! That’s a really difficult question actually. Most of the players I played with that were good got recognition for that. I think when we were at Blackburn two players Stuart Ripley and Jason Wilcox were players who weren’t necessarily appreciated as much from the outside as they were from us as a team. They played left midfield and right midfield and they worked so hard, as well as having really good quality, they gave so much on the pitch, in those positions they had to. It’s not necessarily they were underrated but undervalued from the outside. They were appreciated but not to the level they deserved I think.

Why did you decide to retire when you did?

Because I couldn’t run anymore! I was 36, and I had a horrific ankle injury before Euro 96 which took nearly a year to recover from. Then I had more surgery that year and by the time it got to 2005 my body was starting to really struggle, and I was getting quite a few muscle injuries from the recovery time from that injury too.

I played 18 years you know, if I was a car I’d have been taken straight to the scrapyard at that point! I was very lucky that I stopped when I could and didn’t have to stop due to injury at a young age like some players do. That’s something I’ll always be grateful for, I had fulfilled my potential in terms of playing for as long as I could, whereas other people didn’t get that chance.

How did you choose which club to play for?

There aren’t many times where you get to choose, it’s the middle of your career when you may be in more control of where you go. When I was young I had trials with various clubs and no one wanted me, but then when I was 18 Chelsea gave me a contract but it was more they chose me then I chose them. Then when Blackburn approached me I was having a tough time with Chelsea, and again they chose me. They were very interested in buying me, and I felt they were an ambitious team and club. I think when you move from one club to another, you have some choice but its not like you can choose to go anywhere, you must choose the best option based on the opportunities you get to be successful.

Some people move for contracts, some people see it as another opportunity, whereas I would urge players to consider if the club is right for them, and to look at the long-term benefit rather than what’s in front of you. When big clubs come after you, its very flattering! They have a greater choice of players to choose from for what they want, so if they choose you they make you feel like you are what they’re after.

You’re also a trustee for ‘Fields in Trust’, the UK charity protecting green spaces and promotes sports and recreation, what made you choose to become a trustee for this charity?

I’m so glad you mentioned that as they don’t get as much recognition as they deserve as a charity. Fields in Trust protect parks and green places from being sold off or built on. Obviously, I love sport and growing up I had a lot of access to outdoor green space. To think all these places that we take for granted, all these parks we can play in, we just assume that they will always be there but that’s not the case.

With local councils, and the lack of protection the government give to these places we see more and more green spaces being sold off. Whether you live in a city or a rural area you should have access to parkland, sports facilities etc. Its very much a core part to any community, especially to people who live in flats and don’t necessarily have a garden. The problem is, once you’ve lost a green space, it’s never going to be a green space again, so for me the most important thing I try to do when talking to people is make them aware of how important these places are. And to protect them so they can’t be developed. It’s a very important charity that needs I think, a bit more recognition. Prince William is our current patron, but for many years Prince Phillip was the patron of the charity. It was set up in the 20’s and it’s evolved over time.

And finally Graeme Le Saux, what’s your biggest bucket list goal?

We like to travel a lot, so it would have to be something to do with a family trip. My 19 year old daughter is desperate to go to Japan, so I would say a family skiing trip to Japan - that would be up there. I don’t know if it’s a bucket list goal, but she’d disown me if I didn’t take her!!