After topping Fulham's scoring charts in the Premier League, Louis Saha went onto play for Everton, Tottenham Hotspur and, of course, Manchester United. In this engaging extract from his upcoming autobiography, however, Saha recounts the momentary lapse in judgement while at Fulham that almost ended it all. Louis Saha - "Thinking Inside the Box" is the intelligent and thought provoking autobiography from the French striker and features the thoughts of Zinedine Zidane, Sir Alex Ferguson and Patrice Evra.
Many people realise too late the importance of choosing between having fun and signing what I like to call the Professional Sportsman’s Personal Sacrifice contract. The athlete signs it as proof that he is 100 per cent committed to his goal, which is to become a pro in his favourite sport. Most of all, he seals the deal with himself and must keep the contract in his pocket wherever he goes alone or with friends. He should also have it on him when he goes to school. The contract must always be with him in case he finds himself in a situation that could jeopardise his goals. Whenever the little devil on his shoulder queries his conscience he should take it out of his pocket and read it aloud.
My Professional Sportsman’s Personal Sacrifice contract:
I the undersigned Mr X promise before God and myself to act in the best way possible to achieve my goal to become a profes- sional football player. I will fight temptation on a daily basis by any and all means possible.
I promise always to think twice or even three times before making an important decision. I promise to listen to the advice of experienced advisors and to respect my coaches.
Signed Mr ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...
Dated ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...
Not to follow your mates, or indulge in the usual adolescent silliness is hard, but it’s crucial to minimise any consequences that could impact on a promising career. Nowadays, if he messes up, there are more ways for a recognised football pro to bounce back. However, a young player who still has to prove his worth is far less likely to be forgiven by his club.
Many people realise too late the importance of choosing between having fun and signing what I like to call the Professional Sportsman’s Personal Sacrifice contract
Something almost carnal and, with hindsight, comic which could have had more serious consequences happened at the end of my first season with Fulham, in 2001. I’d been a pro for nearly four years by then, and it was a lesson in temptation.
She was sleek and black with knobbly bits here and there. She was oh, so sophisticated. I loved her charm, her feline shape and sassy ass which made my jaw drop. Once I’d seen her in the magazines she was always on my mind. For months I waited, eager to devour her as a wolf waits for a sheep to stray from its flock. Did I own up to my obsession? Of course I said nothing to my family; especially not my father as he is so serious and wouldn’t have understood. I told my girlfriend and our conversation was electrified. I felt small but gave in to temptation. When I removed the packaging, I let out a little whimper. I was not licensed to drive my beautiful KTM Duke and had less experience with motorbikes than an eight-year-old. I remember how I rode her with a great big smile on my face; my dreads whipped by the wind as I went no more than 20 or 30 miles an hour. What a loser!
The euphoria of the previous year with our promotion to the Premier League and playing against Manchester United at Old Trafford the previous week were too much. I had put my Professional Sportsman’s Personal Sacrifice contract in the wrong pocket and let go, literally, as my bike was too wild; too ready to leap ahead from a standstill. She was for someone with a lot of riding experience, so I found myself on the pavement outside my house thanks to taking a tight corner a little off-balance on the super-powerful machine. The bike took off and we flew through the air. Boom! I came back to earth with a bump. Fear didn’t even get a look in. For a couple of seconds the realisation and acceptance of what was to come overwhelmed me. All of this on the morning of a big match at home to Sunderland. What a moron!
Once I’d seen her in the magazines she was always on my mind. For months I waited, eager to devour her as a wolf waits for a sheep to stray from its flock
I spent the morning trying to cook up a valid explanation for my gashed shin and burned leg. I was covered with bumps and scratches, but it seemed nothing was broken. My wrist hurt like hell and I was stunned by my total lack of self-awareness. I’d travelled three metres through the air and bitten the dust like Twit of the Year. I was a long way off cool.
We had to take three points at home after our 3-2 defeat against Manchester United in the first game of the season the previous week. Being newly promoted to the Premier League, we were keen to get points on the board to avoid the bookmakers making Fulham favourites for relegation at the end of the season.
My fiancée, my mate Manu and former French international, Sylvain Wiltord, were all planning to watch the game kick-off at 3pm from high up in the stands. But they all ended up waiting with me in A&E as my gash needed stitches to stop it healing into a thickened, raised scar. I soon saw how the medical system in England is creaking at the seams. Two guys with cut scalps following a punch up were sitting calmly on their best behaviour, clearly used to long waiting times. The battered scalps looked set to hang about for hours. If they weren’t considered urgent cases, it was pointless me waiting. I got treatment at home and set off, ready for action. Despite my limited knowledge of Shakespeare’s language, my story was well-oiled. I invented words and characters. My burned leg was the unfortunate result of me messing up with a frying pan. It was hard to verify. No way could the team doctor suspect a motorbike crash. I’d see soon enough, during the warm-up, if my damaged legs would be able to keep going at the intensity required of a Premier League match. I was not at my best, but the adrenaline rush triggered by the crash and my will to win did the rest. I held up well. What’s more, I played a good match and scored, clinching victory for us.
Despite my limited knowledge of Shakespeare’s language, my story was well-oiled. I invented words and characters.
It could all have ended very differently with irrevocable consequences. For example: I could have broken my leg and got in trouble with my insurers since professional footballers are not allowed to go on two wheels, skis, or do other dangerous sports. Like Matt Jansen and Carlo Cudicini, the former Blackburn Rovers and current Tottenham Hotspurs players, I could have ended up laid off, or making limited appearances and struggling to re-establish myself. Almost certainly the chairman, Mohammed Al Fayed, and my coach, Jean Tigana, would have punished me with a heavy fine and I’d have paid the penalty by earning a bad reputation: playing in the reserves, perhaps never getting back to the top level, breach of contract, unemployment, divorce . . . A split-second mistake can mean the end of the dream: never forget this. Everything can change like dominoes falling the wrong way. The choices we make build our future.
Louis Saha - "Thinking Inside the Box" is out now from Vision Sports Publishing.
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