St Ledger’s chance to shine

NEW season, new beginnings. But, for Sean St Ledger, that means a lot more than most.

Over the past two years, the central defender has defined a certain type of Irish squad member. Following in the line of Jason McAteer, Kevin Kilbane, Gary Breen and even Robbie Keane, St Ledger has raised his game for his country while enduring a difficult spell at club level. Most recently, the 26-year-old went from relegation with Preston to immediately playing his part in an impressive win over Italy. That seemed to emphasise that it was it a case of the right player in the wrong club conditions.

But that balance has now been redressed. St Ledger has gone from a club that has just exited the Championship through the trapdoor to one with genuinely exciting prospects of leaving it at the other end.

Indeed, his £1.2m (€1.38m) transfer fee helped make up the £10m (€11.5m) Sven Goran Eriksson has spent at Leicester City this summer. As St Ledger says, there’s a real “buzz” about the place ahead of their opening game away to Coventry today.

“It’s good. I was at Preston for a long, long time. I’ve got a lot to thank them for. But obviously my form the last couple of seasons has been inconsistent. I’ve come to Leicester to try and put that right. I’m at a great football club. Good stadium. Good players.”

And, of course, famous manager. As St Ledger admits, though, Eriksson might have overlooked him had he seen some of those Preston performances.

Having been one of the Championship’s best defenders up to the 2008-09 season, St Ledger then seemed to suffer from both a change in central defensive partner as well as speculation about his future.

Increasingly unhappy, he spent two years trying to get out of Preston only for moves to Middlesbrough and Celtic to break down. Luckily, though, Eriksson had seen his displays for Ireland and decided to seek Giovanni Trapattoni’s counsel.

“He (Trapattoni) gave me a recommendation and I sent him a text afterwards thanking him for the kind words. He said ‘no worries, now go and show Sven what you can do’.

“Sven’s very good. He’s got the foreign mentality, pretty similar to Giovanni. But Giovanni can be intense when the qualifiers come around. We’ve not had a competitive game yet at Leicester so it’s too early to compare the two. Sven is very relaxed and approachable. Obviously I was talking to him about the draw for the World Cup since he’s from Sweden. He says they’re very organised... but there’s been no stick between us yet. Maybe nearer the time!”

Was it not a curious challenge, though, to constantly leap from a second division to international level?

“It’s strange. They’re at different ends of the scale. The Championship is very physical and international can be quite tactical. More quality. A lot of the football is mainly in front of you. Teams take their time to build up attacks. International is slower but then suddenly very quick when on the counter-attack. Playing Russia was probably a taste of that because they were one of the best international sides I’ve come across.”

Despite the fees Leicester have spent on relative Premier League quality like Paul Konchesky, Neil Danns and David Nugent, it is that contrasting chaos of the Championship which can make it unpredictable.

As such, as well as the excitement around Leicester, there’s also a certain amount of expectation — and pressure — that may not necessarily be fulfilled with the likes of Sam Allardyce’s West Ham around.

“It’s an exciting league. There are a few teams who have been in the Premier League, a lot of big clubs with big support. And I’m fully aware of what lies ahead. We’ve got good quality players who were in the Premier League but we know there’s a lot of hard work throughout the season.

“I do think there’s added pressure with the amount of money we’ve spent. But I’m sure that the players thrive on that. As a professional that’s what you should look forward to. Attack them and not be scared.

“The Premier League is my target. The aim of my career has been to play in one of the world’s top leagues. The Premier League is where it’s at.”

Finally, St Ledger will get the opportunity to tip that balance even further.

Picture: Neil Plumb Photography

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