In the first couple of months I was almost ready to pack my stuff and get back home, so to settle was not easy, especially without the language. The boys tried – they came to me, they tried to talk, especially Beatts (James Beattie) for the jokes! But with the language barrier it was not easy. Every day was like a battle, not just on the football pitch, but also with settling into England and the dressing room. The first one who started helping me from day one was John Mortimore, who was a director in the club and the one who was responsible for my contract. He and his wife, Mary, helped out a lot – he took me to training and I would follow his car! Really friendly from day one was Franny Benali, who was living near to me and would take me to training. He and his wife Karen were very helpful, and then later I bought a house from his father-in-law! Matt Le Tissier is still a friend now, a big legend with a big heart. We had a great dressing room – maybe not massive quality compared to everybody else, but that spirit was amazing.
There were a lot of them! It was one great memory. I could start with my first official goal for the club, against Blackburn when we drew 3-3, because that will stay with me forever. Another one was when we moved to the new stadium at St Mary’s and it was difficult for us to adapt in the beginning. We didn’t win for the first five games in a row, but then that win came, finally, against Charlton, 1-0 and I scored that goal. That was a massive relief, because everybody was waiting such a long time for that win. The Dell was much easier – we felt at home, the fans were near us, helping us, you could even touch them!
Against Pompey when I came back from injury and scored that goal was also, for me personally, a big relief, because I was waiting such a long time to get through all my injuries and operations. I got depressed and that wasn’t easy at all – it was probably only my family and the fans who still believed and kept me going through it, because I was even thinking about finishing my career. When I finally came back, got into the team and managed to score a goal – especially against Portsmouth – I never celebrated crazy like this before in my life.
It is quite difficult, but The Dell is my favourite home stadium in my life, wherever I played. That was something special – my first goal against Blackburn, the two goals against Everton, the adaptation when I first came, my son was born… so many big memories and it all came in a short period of time. Those feelings you cannot forget; they stay with you like yesterday.
One hundred per cent the goal against Derby at home. We drew 3-3 and I scored with my left foot from 30 yards, in the top corner. I didn’t often score from outside the penalty area because I didn’t have a powerful shot like Beatts or Matthew Le Tissier, so that was special. It’s maybe not the fans’ favourite, but that’s my favourite. The goal I scored at Old Trafford changed my life – I became more famous – but the most beautiful one that gave me the most satisfaction was the Derby one.
I’ve got two. Unfortunately I couldn’t work together with Dave Jones for a long time because he left quite quickly after I came. I am very grateful for him believing in me, signing the boy from nowhere into the Premier League, and his man-management was amazing. Maybe I’m not talking about tactics or preparation, but you want to kill the opponent for him. The second one was Glenn Hoddle – I played my best football under Glenn, and he was a completely different type. Very intelligent, very clever and an amazing tactician, so these two I would pick as my favourites.
Definitely Le God! The only thing I would say is that I came when he was probably past his best years already. I saw the quality in him, but maybe not as sharp or as quick as before. I couldn’t see the best of him live, but the talent he showed in training and in the games, like the goal he scored against Arsenal in the last game at The Dell… that’s just pure class.
Thierry Henry is my favourite ever player in the Premier League. I followed, I learned and I enjoyed watching him play. The most difficult to play against was Sol Campbell – you cannot pass him, it was impossible for me! He was such a big man and just too quick, too strong and too powerful.
Old Trafford is the one. The atmosphere there was quite something. It’s big, it’s pressing on you, but at the same time it gave you those emotions that you wanted to play your best football.
I think it’s the people. It’s the fans who come to the stadium, the people in the city who I don’t even know but always show support, asking for an autograph or a photo. Anything in our life without people is nothing – we create that world, people in Southampton create that city, people in the city support our club and without their help I wouldn’t be the same. They helped me from day one; they cheered, they supported and I know what the fans can do. I know they can be hard to players if they don’t like his attitude or how he works on the pitch, but feeling their support as I did, I couldn’t not give 100 per cent. I gave everything, and I felt that from them. The people are the biggest memory.