“I just want to play football again. I want to have the buzz of getting changed on a Saturday knowing I've got a game, I've missed that.
Name: Sean St Ledger
Previous clubs: Peterborough United, Preston North End, Middlesbrough, Leicester City, Millwall, Orlando City, Colorado Rapids.
Current club: Unattached
Sean St Ledger, a 32-year-old defender with over 300 appearances under his belt. A scorer of Republic of Ireland’s only goal in Euro 2012, and a Championship title winner in 2014. The experienced player now finds himself without a club and currently undergoing rehabilitation for an ongoing injury.
Many would consider a defender to be around their peak at that age, but Sean has found it difficult over the past few years to find some consistency. A move to USA opened up some possibilities for him and he would not rule out further moves away from Britain as he looks to get back involved with another club. In fact, he would even be open to a change in position as long as it meant he could feel the buzz of a match day once again.
“I just want to play football again, I feel you appreciate the game a lot more after a long time out injured. I'm open to play anywhere right now, I'm in the final years of my career and as I've been injured for the whole season I don't care where I play because I just want to have the buzz of getting changed on a Saturday knowing I've got a game, I've missed that."
Indeed Preston North End fans often felt he would have made a great central midfielder during his spell with the club between 2006-2011. Perhaps at Preston was where St Ledger enjoyed the best part of his career, as since then injuries and stop-start spells at other clubs have curtailed his progress. It’s easy to forget that he has 37 caps with Republic of Ireland and was a key part of Giovanni Trapattoni’s strong team that were cruelly denied a place in the 2010 World Cup before qualifying for Euro 2012. As well as his goal against Croatia in that competition he also scored against Italy at Croke Park on just his sixth cap to give Ireland a lead, before Alberto Gilardino denied them a famous win.
The former Leicester City, Middlesbrough and Preston North End defender considers his international caps with Ireland as the highlight of his career so far.
“I think the highlight of my career would be putting on the green jersey for Ireland and getting to the Euros. Scoring is always a great feeling but I think if I had to choose one moment it would be the play-off game for Euro 2012 when we beat Estonia away from home. It was a convincing victory and even though there was another leg to be played we kind of knew we were going to the Euros.”
At that stage of his career he would have walked in to all Championship teams, and a few Premier League teams too. But after a few long spells out on the sidelines the defender took the opportunity to move to USA.
“DC United had enquired about me while I was at Leicester but then when I came out of contract I went on pre-season with them in Sarasota Florida, they didn't offer me a contract but we played Orlando in a friendly and then went on trial, got a contract there.”
He looks back on both spells fondly. Kaka would become one of his teammates at Orlando City; something he had never envisaged before St Ledger moved to Colorado Rapids. His spell at Colorado was blighted by injury and he was disappointed to not play a bigger part in their successful season. They finished second in the Western Conference regular standings before losing in the semi-finals of the MLS Cup to eventual winner Seattle Sounders.
“Obviously not playing this season through injury was a low point and especially how well the team did it would've been great to have been a part of it. Orlando was good because we had great support and the chance to play with Kaka is something I never would've thought would've happened in my career. Both really good places to live!”
Another Irishman was with Sean at Colorado Rapids; Kevin Doyle now enjoys his football there, and a move to the MLS is becoming common amongst British players. It is something Sean recommends to anybody given the opportunity and whilst there are obvious differences, there’s plenty of benefits to playing across the pond such as not receiving as much stick from the crowd!
“It's different for sure. The terminology is different as in soccer/football, cleats/football boots it can take a while to get used to! You probably don't get as much abuse in America as you do in England. The standard of play is very good. It can sometimes be slower but I put that down to weather conditions as in America you play through the summer. It can be difficult playing in the Dallas heat!”
“The biggest difference is the travelling for away games can take a lot out of you going from one coast to the other coast on a 5hr plane journey with time difference. Differences in the games I would say is that the ball is turned over more in America than what it is in England but the standard of players is very good, some really good technical players in the MLS. Also, the weather conditions you could be playing in Orlando when it's so hot you’re literally drenched in sweat when you come off or in Colorado you play at high altitude.”
The central defender is full of praise for USA and the MLS and believes the league will continue growing. When I asked if he would recommend it to other players he was adamant it would be a great move.
“100% I would recommend it. It's been a great opportunity to experience a different culture. I think it's got great potential, I think the leagues are only going to get better and better with time, I don't know how long it will take but it will be one of the best leagues in the world I believe.”
As free agents go, there isn’t many better out there at the moment than Sean St Ledger. A player with a great pedigree, experience at club and international level, and determined to carry on his career with another club. He knows he still has a lot to give, and once full recovered from his injury there should be a long list of interested clubs.
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