He’s one of Jersey’s favorite sons. Not that Jersey. This one. Graeme Le Saux knows a little something about English football, making 327 Premier League appearances for Southampton, Chelsea and Blackburn, helping bring the latter a title in ‘94 – ’95. These days Graeme plays the Goose to Arlo White’s Maverick on NBC’s Premier League coverage (Sorry, Lee Dixon, you’re Merlin). We caught up with Graeme via phone this week to talk about Chelsea’s title chase, his favorite gantry in the Premier League, and his (very) short stint working in the kitchen of a high-end London eatery.
MiB: You’ve spoken with Antonio Conte since he took the Chelsea job, and have gotten a sense of the kind of person he is. How has he been able to adapt to the Premier League in a way that Pep Guardiola has not?
GLS: Antonio Conte gives me the impression that he’s a very honest, fair manager, who is happy to confront issues head on, confident in his own opinion. He’s very experienced in dealing with big players, and what he’s done brilliantly is treat everybody fairly. As Pep is finding out, you can have the most incredible CV and philosophy on the game, but ultimately you’ve still got to work with a group and be flexible with them, in terms of your own philosophy. That’s where Conte has been ahead of everyone else.
MiB: The Diego Costa situation. He’s injured. He’s had a bust up with Conte. He’s off to China. All these rumors, yet he’s back in the team and scoring on the weekend. How damaging can this be to team chemistry?
GLS: It can be very damaging. It really can. But I think Conte’s leadership has really helped. And Costa must’ve explained himself to the players, or they would have held him accountable for wanting to leave at such an important stage of the season, if it was true. When he scored against Hull, the whole team went over and celebrated with him. For me, that suggests they’ve accepted whatever he’s said behind closed doors.
MiB: If one of these teams in the chasing peloton were to challenge Chelsea, who do you think it could be?
GLS: Tottenham. Their fundamentals are so good and they came so close last year. That pain serves as good fuel for this season. When I look at Arsenal, I still think they’re not a team with the resilience to keep plowing through the football calendar and come out with more points than Chelsea. Liverpool gives us a lot of excitement, because they score a lot of goals, but there are defensive liabilities. To lose to Swansea the way they did last weekend, with the game tied at two and all of the momentum, that’s damaging for a title run. Manchester United have found some fantastic form, but they fell so far behind at the start of the season. To make up that deficit would be a miracle.
MiB: Now to the important stuff. What’s the best gantry in the Premier League and why?
GLS: Oh my word. Let’s be honest, it’s not like choosing between a Rolls Royce and a Bentley. They’re all quite rudimentary. I’m thinking, probably which ones are the least cold and best position. I know Spurs are redeveloping their ground, but I like their current gantry because you almost hang over the pitch. Everton’s is fantastic as well because you’re stuck out from the middle tier, so you’re connected to the pitch. Either of those would be my pick.
MiB: Best restaurant near Stamford Bridge. What are we ordering?
GLS: One of my favorite restaurants in London is The River Cafe. It’s run by a fantastic chef Ruthie Rodgers. It’s about 10 minutes by car from Stamford Bridge on the River Thames. I’ve actually done a shift in their kitchen when I was a player at Chelsea. I told them I was tired after a game and they said, “You don’t know what tired is. Come do a double-shift in the restaurant.” I took them up on it and worked in the restaurant one day. They had me doing all the dirty jobs. By the end I was exhausted and couldn’t wait to get my boots back on. For a dish, they do the most amazing beef with split olives and ragù lentil. It’s phenomenal.