After spending 14 calendar years in England, it was somewhat of a surprise when Louis Saha announced that he was signing for Lazio in January of this year. Since then the 34-year-old Frenchman has made a handful of appearances as he adjusts to life in Serie A, but is approaching the challenge with his honest approach, experience and footballing qualities.
FIFA.com was fortunate to have an in-depth interview with the former Manchester United, Newcastle United and Everton forward on a whole range of subjects ranging from Ryan Giggs to racism in the game. In part one, he discusses him move to Italy, his memories of England and why Sir Alex Ferguson is the greatest.
Watch out for part two, which will be posted on FIFA.com on Tuesday.
FIFA.com: How are you settling in to life at Lazio?
Louis Saha: It took time to reach a certain level of fitness because the pace has been different. The way of training is a little bit different so it took me a bit of time to settle. But straight away the team spirit is good and all of the players have done really well to make me feel accepted. You always know that it is a bit better when you are scoring goals and playing but I am still happy and with a smile on my face so it’s OK.
How would you say your role on the pitch has changed?
You always want to play all the games and every minute of the season but things have changed a little bit. Football has changed a lot so you have to adapt and share a bit more with other strikers. My role is the same - I want to be on the pitch scoring goals but when you get older it is a bit tougher.
What would you say is the main difference between Serie A and the Premier League?
I always had in my mind that it would be more difficult for me as a striker. I have been used to the English league which is a bit more open with more free roles for every player on the pitch but the main thing is the freedom of the players. Here (in Italy) it is a bit more tactical and very organised. It is not the catenaccio that it used to be years ago but it is still very defensive which means as a striker you are always facing two or three defenders. In England you may have a few possibilities to be one-on-one with a few more chances to score goals. Italian football did change and technically it is very impressive and sharp with many small players who have technical abilities.
What did you make of the atmosphere when Lazio played Roma?
It was great. I was trying to compare to English games – for sure it is a bit different – but the atmosphere is special because it is such a big derby. I had a chance to see a few in England with Arsenal-Tottenham and Manchester United against City or Everton v Liverpool. It is up there.
At which English club would you say you were at your happiest?
I had a great time at every club that I had the opportunity to play for. As a Manchester United player you are expected to win things so that was definitely a special time for me. But as I said, I really liked when I played for Everton or Fulham because you play most of the games. I had small spells with Newcastle, Sunderland and Tottenham which is harder to consider them as a better time because I didn’t play much for them but every experience was great because I’m here to enjoy my football and try to learn from those experiences.
You’ve called some of the biggest stadia in England your home (St James’ Park, Stadium of Light, Old Trafford, Goodison Park) – at which stadium did you feel the most energy from the fans?
It would be easy to say Old Trafford but where I felt the spirit of the ‘12th player’ was at Everton. There is definitely something special there as the crowd are right behind you and very demanding at the same time. I really felt it there, there are some special fans there.
I would say that they felt like a ‘12th man’. With the spirit of the club, when you play for Everton you feel like any team that is coming to Goodison Park will feel the pressure. The way the team plays and the way the team defends is definitely like a unit. Goodison would only come second in terms of the numbers to Old Trafford.
Manchester United just celebrated their 20th title and you played under Sir Alex Ferguson, who is now retiring, for four years. What lessons did you learn from him?
The first lesson straightaway is the consistency. He is a very demanding manager but he is trying to understand your quality and improve on it. Some managers try to improve the mistakes but he tries to emphasise the quality of every player. He makes the team play in a certain way to emphasise your quality – that is something that is really special as a manager because you may think that he would be trying to erase mistakes but he tries to make sure that you keep doing the things you’re good at. That is something I learned from him – consistency.
Whatever you do – whether it’s scoring goals or whatever – you have to do it every week. When you win a title, the hardest thing is to do it the next year and obviously he has that in him. Every player said at the start of this season that they never saw him like he has been this year. He has been very demanding with the players, very harsh and trying to improve them. He is older but he has still acting like a really young manager with a lot of passion. That is something special.
Would you say that Ryan Giggs is one of the best players you’ve played with?
Yes definitely the best player. So many players wish to play with him and if you do so, you know you’ll be playing at a top level. Giggsy is a top example for any professional not only the youngsters because he’s got that desire and respect for the tradition of the club and his work ethic. When you have the chance to work with someone like him it is a privilege.