Le Saux doubts Rovers' ambition

Glenn Moore hears why the restless England defender feels the need to be released from his Ewood contract
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The Independent Online
Tom Finney has often recalled the time when, after a particularly impressive performance in an England international, he was offered a stunning money-plus-house-plus-car package by an Italian club. He returned to Preston, mentioned it to the chairman, and was told: `If you don't play for us I'll see you don't play for anyone.' Finney, who expected as much, returned to his place below stairs.

Many aspects of football have changed since those sepia days, but none more so than the relationship between players and employers. At the top end, there is no doubting who is in charge, even if some players, like Vinnie Jones, argue that contract law needs further liberalising and, unlike most professions, players cannot simply give three months notice to quit.

Thus Graeme Le Saux cannot copy Kevin Keegan's first walkout at Newcastle simply on the basis that life at Blackburn Rovers "is not what it says in the brochure" when he signed his current contract.

What he can do is make it clear that, unless the club shows that it matches his ambition, he will be seeking to leave as soon as possible. That was behind his being dropped last week. Blackburn, mindful of further changes in contract law, are trying to get Le Saux to sign an extension to his four-year deal which has two seasons to run. Le Saux, who has seen Kenny Dalglish, Alan Shearer and Ray Harford leave the club since he signed in the euphoric aftermath of their 1995 title, as yet sees no reason to do so.

Mercenary, disloyal, or justifiably pragmatic? After training at England's Bisham Abbey HQ yesterday, Le Saux, who turns 29 in October, explained himself. "I want to make as much of my career as I can," he said. "I have already missed 10 months through injury and I don't want to jeopardise my aspirations. That may be selfish but it is an attitude of ambition more than anything. I don't want to come out of football saying, `if only I had done that'. You have got to try and make it happen. Unfortunately, the way the game is, you sign contracts and have to honour them.

"When you sign a contract you want to honour it and do as well as you can, but the club bears a responsibility to fulfil your aspirations. It is easy to say `we're gonna win this and that'. But there are only three trophies and it's hard to win any of them.

"The situation leading up to when we won the championship was fantastic. Everyone can see it has not been carried on. We have spent two seasons going nowhere.

"I'm not driven purely by the money. It's not a situation where `if they offer me this much' I am happy again. It is finding a balance. I want to spend the next five or six years playing in Europe and winning trophies. No one can foresee the future, but you have to have indications. Anyone in any line of business would be looking at the same criteria.

"When I signed a contract we had won the League - the proof was there. You look for that continuity - I was not aware then that Kenny was going. Then Alan left, that was not a good sign. I've had a small taste of success and I want more. I'd be devastated if I lost my England place because I was not achieving or having the right profile at club level. I want to push myself all the time. I want to be in an environment where that is happening on a regular basis."

Some Blackburn fans might suggest that, after paying his wages for 10 months' of injury, Rovers deserve a bit more, but Le Saux countered: "That does not make me feel guilty. A lot of people get left by the wayside in football. If I had not come straight back they could have bought someone else. It took a lot of hard work from me to get back as well."

Le Saux admitted that the speculation had affected his form but felt it was obvious that it was not the real reason he was dropped last weekend (he was swiftly reinstated). The situation at the club, being involved in a relegation battle, and having, in Tony Parkes, a caretaker manager, made it difficult to discuss and settle his position.

The new manager, Roy Hodgson, will not arrive until July, which is longer than he wants to wait, although Le Saux admitted: "The club have done well to get him. Paul Ince [who is playing under Hodgson at Internazionale] is a fan of his. He describes him as a European-style manager who does not rule by fear but has respect for his players. Bringing him in is a plus."

In itself, however, it seems it will not be enough to persuade Le Saux to stay. With Arsenal among several clubs monitoring the situation, he wants further evidence of ambition. "There are questions I want to have answered and to ask of myself. How realistic are our chances next season?"