Stéphane Henchoz of Switzerland: 'England play the football that suits us - we have a real chance'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Gérard Houllier is not credited with having unearthed many bargains during his six-year tenure at Liverpool. Much of the talk, particularly in the months leading up to his sacking, was about the money he allegedly squandered on foreign players such as El Hadji Diouf, Bruno Cheyrou, Igor Biscan and Salif Diao. But no one ever mentioned Stéphane Henchoz.

Gérard Houllier is not credited with having unearthed many bargains during his six-year tenure at Liverpool. Much of the talk, particularly in the months leading up to his sacking, was about the money he allegedly squandered on foreign players such as El Hadji Diouf, Bruno Cheyrou, Igor Biscan and Salif Diao. But no one ever mentioned Stéphane Henchoz.

How could they? Picked up for just £1.5m in the wake of Blackburn Rovers' relegation from the Premiership in 1999, the centre-back then went on to form the best defensive partnership in the division with Finland's Sami Hyypia. By anyone's standards, Henchoz has been a real success. Sven Goran Eriksson could certainly do with a defender of his calibre at the moment. "I wish I hadn't been so injured these last two seasons," Henchoz says, "because I could have helped Liverpool more."

If he is still in a generous mood when Euro 2004 kicks off, perhaps the Swiss international could help England out instead when the two countries meet on 17 June. The list of requests is simple: keep the trademark inch-perfect tackles down to the minimum, forget the always impeccable sense of positioning, and let any club team-mate, especially Michael Owen, roam free in the Swiss penalty box. "I'll see what I can do," he jokes.

Henchoz will obviously be doing England no favours in Coimbra. Switzerland qualified top of a difficult group that included the Republic of Ireland and Russia, so have no intention of throwing in the towel now. "We feel we are in an OK position," Henchoz says. "We would have preferred Sweden instead of France in our group, but otherwise we are satisfied. We play Croatia first, which is a good thing. If we beat them, we have a good chance of progressing to the quarter-finals."

It follows that Henchoz believes that England are vulnerable. "It's not so much that they have weaknesses," he explains, "but rather that they play the sort of football that suits us. We like a physical game and I think we have a real chance against them. We were really hoping that we would draw England. If you know how to play against them, they are definitely beatable."

Henchoz will not reveal the details of his defensive plans, but he believes there is a way of stopping Owen from running riot. "I've trained with him nearly every day for five years," the 29-year-old Henchoz says, "so I've picked up a few things. Don't get me wrong, he is one of the best in the world, but that does not mean we should fear him."

The last significant meeting between the two sides was in the opening game of Euro 96, when Terry Venables' men were lucky to leave Wembley with a 1-1 draw. But the Swiss failed to capitalise, subsequently losing narrowly to Holland and Scotland.

There followed five years of internal struggles during which senior players such as Henchoz and Stéphane Chapuisat were briefly excluded from the fold. Henchoz was eventually persuaded to return by the man who has been at the helm since 2001, Kobi Kuhn, and has since shared the central- defensive duties with Murat Yakin and Patrick Muller.

"I'm really looking forward to being in a major tournament again," he says. "Eight years is a long, long time to wait. It can be very boring."

Henchoz, who has 60 caps, adds: "What makes things worse is that Switzerland isn't really a big sporty country. There isn't the passion of England. Swiss people aren't obsessed with anything, let alone football." A win against England could change all that.

Comments