William Gallas's celebrations were extraordinary. The Chelsea defender had just scored the winning goal - a "brilliant goal", he agrees, the best of his career - against Tottenham Hotspur deep into injury-time. The relief, the joy, the wild, unbridled jubilation. It was almost manic. At the final whistle, seconds later, Gallas was last off the pitch. His celebrations continued. "It was amazing, yes," he says. "I wanted to see my wife, my daughter and my father. I didn't get the chance to do that after the goal."
Ernest Gallas was there in the stands. The next day he was on a flight back to Guadeloupe. "He lives in the West Indies and sometimes he comes over for a special game," Gallas says of his father. "He left on Sunday morning. I think he was very happy." Lea, his daughter by a previous relationship, was also pleased. "It was special, very special for her. She doesn't live with me and I was so happy to score while she was here." Gallas pauses, smiling when it is suggested that she will now expect him to repeat the feat every time she watches him. "She doesn't really realise what my job is. She's just four."
The victory was important for other reasons. Three days earlier Ernest had also been in the Nou Camp when Chelsea exited the Champions' League against Barcelona. "We lost," says Gallas of the tie, "and for two, three days the atmosphere was not good." He leans forward in his chair and attempts to explain the defeat. It's rare for him to grant an interview. His words carry even more weight because, softly spoken, he thinks hard about what he says.
"We did not play well and that was the problem. I don't know why. It is not the first time we played like that in a big competition. Last year against Liverpool [in the semi-final] we did not play. Against Barcelona in the second leg, we did not play. It's very sad because in the big games you want to enjoy it. Maybe sometimes you don't know why. Maybe the pressure is too high. But now we have the experience. I think next season we are going to do better."
Next season Gallas always does better. And better. And better. "For me every player can be a good player for maybe one year," he says. "But it's important to be a good player for 10 years." Every week, Gallas adds, he wants to "push myself". "I want to give the maximum over the 10 years. Now I'm 28 so, say, another six years. I want to give the maximum. Because, after football, when it's finished, it's finished. And I don't want to have any regrets."
Jose Mourinho said something similar to the Chelsea players when he arrived as manager in the summer of 2004. They were good players. But they had not won anything. Did they want a career of regrets? "I think we realised we could do something," Gallas says when reminded of that address. "Now we train and we train for something. We train because we want to win some trophies. The message from the boss was a good one. We want to win every game and, if we draw, we are disappointed."
Mourinho was the manager Gallas had been waiting for all his life and he brushes aside suggestions that Chelsea's real advantage is their money. "What is more important," he says, "is how you manage your team. And I think he manages his team very well. The best example is Real Madrid. They have a lot of stars but this season they will finish second. They won't win anything.
"Jose Mourinho treats everybody on the same level and that, I think, is really important for the squad. Every day we try to give the maximum to be in the squad for the weekend. If one of us tried to play for himself, the day after Mourinho doesn't worry about saying exactly what he thinks about that player in front of everybody. He has done it before and we don't want to be that player. He said the star is the team. It's not one player and that's true. I like that."
He also likes to win. "What's most important are the trophies. When you finish your career you can have pictures in your house. When you have children you can tell them, 'Look, I was a footballer and I won that, that, that'. You know when I started in football I didn't think about money. For me it was to be a professional."
Gallas was born in the Parisien suburb of Villeneuve-la-Garenne, near where the Stade de France now stands, and has a younger brother and sister. When he was 13 he was offered a place at National Academy in Clairefontaine. His destiny seemed set - but then, because it was deemed better for his brother's upbringing - the family returned to Guadeloupe. He stayed behind. "I wanted to be a footballer," Gallas says. "It was my dream in life. Every day I fought the battle of football, football, football." His parents wanted him to join them. "It was more difficult for them. For my mum [Viviane] and dad. But now, I think, they are happy."
Even so he struggled at first, was labelled a rebel - a tag he brushes off, saying "it's because I was young. I think everyone is like that when they are young and, after that, I changed. But Clarefontaine was not easy. It was a fight." His attitude also showed a strong spirit and after a brief spell with second division Caen, Gallas signed for Olympique Marseille. At first there were problems, a coach who did not want him and then, when he made it into the team, a familiar theme. "I played left-back, right-back - and it's not easy to show you are a good player," he says.
It is a puzzling conundrum. Gallas is undoubtedly one of the best central defenders in the world. But he is rarely given an extended run in one role. His versatility means he has to adapt. In the past it was irritating. "It's still not easy," Gallas, now Chelsea's first-choice left-back, says. "I want to say that. But I'm enjoying it. I don't think about it. Maybe a few months ago, yeah, I wanted to play in one position and to show everybody. Sometimes I hear that this player is the best or that is the best and I like the competition. I like to be compared to another player. I want that. But it's not easy when you change position because naturally at the end of the season people say 'ah, that player is the best'. And sometimes my name is not included. Now I don't mind. I know what I can do. Maybe I can show people that I can be the best left-back."
It is an insight into his motivation. "Pressure depends on the person," Gallas says. "Some people don't like it. Me, I don't mind. You know when I am on the pitch and when I play the game against a striker I just want to show him that I am better than him. I think it's the same for him. That's good. It's competitive. I always think like this. My job is to defend and to defend very well. If I have the left-winger or right-winger I don't want him to do anything against me because I know people might laugh. That way we show the team we are better than them.
"When we play we play for, first of all, us and win for us. If we lose people are disappointed but we are more disappointed than them."
Soon, Gallas believes, Chelsea will be the very best. "If you want to be a big club you have to have ambition. We can do it, we have good players and I think that maybe next season or in two years we are going to win everything. I think people are going to respect Chelsea. They do now. We are big but not like Juventus, or Milan because they have already won the Champions' League."
That cannot happen for Chelsea this year but Gallas says retaining the Premiership title - they face Fulham today- and winning the FA Cup would represent success. On Wednesday they face Newcastle United for a place in the semi-finals.
Last season's championship and League Cup were the first trophies of his career, a wait that gnawed away at him. "And when you win a trophy you want to win every year more and more."Reuse content