Salutary lessons and broken bones

Graeme Le Saux, the Blackburn player, recounts a troubled start to the season
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The Independent Online
IT IS doubtful whether a game between Blackburn and Manchester United can pass without controversy. The match was well balanced, though United's youthful fight and desire won the night - unlike me after being booked for a "dive". In fact, I was anticipating a tackle as I moved the ball to one side of a defender I saw coming at me out of the corner of my eye. Like driving, you are always trying to think ahead. Still, I have to admit that no contact was made as Gary Neville pulled out, and as soon as I hit the ground I knew I had made an error of judgement.

The caution by the referee, David Elleray, did leave me feeling hard done by, however. Football is a spontaneous game, with milliseconds involved. And contrary to what everyone thought, I was not appealing for a penalty when I ran towards him. Instead I was asking him how many disciplinary points it would cost me. "Don't worry, it's only two," he replied. He had set a precedent for the rest of the match. Roy Keane was also sent off for a similar offence after having been already booked. Further punishment for me has been my sister Jeanette, who works at the Fort Regent swimming pool in Jersey, offering me diving lessons.

Ten minutes into England's match against Colombia, I thought I would have to come off. I felt in a daze. It was not just caused by the quality of the Colombians' passing; I had been up most of the night with a stomach upset.

I hung in there, though, and enjoyed the match. English football is often criticised for its poor technique but I really thought we matched them with some of our touches and passing, and Nicky Barmby, Jamie Redknapp and Steve McManaman moved the ball beautifully. In fact, we played like an international team.

Matches such as our opening Champions' League game, against Spartak Moscow, make me appreciate how diverse football is; their quick counter-attacking style against our out-and-out attack. They also provide a reminder of how much I do and don't know about getting better. The game was settled when the striker Sergei Yuran profited from a collision between me and our goalkeeper Tim Flowers, who arrived on the scene out of my eyeline. It seemed to mirror our season so far: you are moving nicely when suddenly . . .

We just don't seem to be able to get our noses in front at the moment. At least we have five more games to remedy the loss of three home points.

Three goals down at Liverpool in half an hour and it could have been six or seven. The worst I have played for Blackburn and I think the worst the team has played. Before, Ray Harford could always find some good things from our performances but this time there was none, and at half-time we learned some home truths.

In conjunction with his new right-hand man, Derek Fazackerley, he decided on a change to 3-5-2 and we looked a better side in the second half, until Henning Berg was sent off - wrongly, it was to turn out. I hope this is the end of our bad start to the season.

A 3-2 win at Swindon in the Coca-Cola Cup in midweek seems to have perked us up. Two early goals against Coventry and we are off and running. By contrast, I am off and limping. After Kevin Richardson unintentionally falls on my leg I spend the afternoon in the casualty department of Blackburn General sitting in my muddy kit, signing autographs and waiting in the queue to be seen. Feel like an idiot. Damage to shin and ankle. Glamorous life, this football.

My right foot is now in plaster, so I am forced to stay behind to watch our Champions' League match against Rosenborg Trondheim on television. It is the first time since I have been at the club that I have watched a whole Blackburn match and it is a curious feeling. In a strange way, I felt disloyal, like I should have been there. Another curious feeling is losing the chopstick with which I have been scratching my ankle down in the plaster.

We begin by passing the ball well enough but when a goal doesn't come we seem to start worrying a little. It is unusual for us. Last season we always seemed to score early on. It is very noticeable to me now that our confidence is low. Also, that we lack width - but then as a wide player not playing, I probably would say that. We do look a little staid, I have to say.

An injury always gives you time to reflect and I may have more time than I thought. I have a slight fracture of the fibula, an X-ray revealed after I had the plaster off this week. In such circumstances, it is easy to become negative, but a few thoughts do occur to me.

Much has been said about there being a crisis at Blackburn, and showdown meetings taking place. Ray Harford has had chats with us, but then he always does, being very open with the players. It is true, though, that the balance and stability that has always been at Blackburn in my time there has fluctuated somewhat for many small reasons.

Mistakes have put us under pressure and sometimes we have been thinking too much, rather than playing naturally. Trying too hard, too, by playing with more urgency but not the right sort. Also, we haven't looked a stable unit. The same balance and interaction hasn't been there.

Sometimes the defence gets isolated from the midfield and sometimes we have not quite been in harmony. Any change of style should not be a problem. We have been having good spells but they don't seem to last as long as last season, when we felt we were never going to lose.

Ray has been very brave in distancing himself from training - stepping outside to look in, as I have been doing - and the signing of Lars Bohinen shows his intention to get things right. Derek has reintroduced the fun factor and brought more variation with skill games, such as keeping the ball up.

As for Kenny Dalglish not being around the place much, I saw him only this morning in the weights room at the training ground. From under his bobble hat he said hello and proceeded to exercise his sore knee for all of two minutes.

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