Sean St Ledger

Former Player Remembers: Sean St Ledger

As the world celebrates St. Patrick's Day, we recall an extensive interview with Sean St Ledger about his time as a Leicester City player.
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Signed initially by Sven-Göran Eriksson in 2011, defender St Ledger went on to become a key member of Nigel Pearson's Leicester City side over a transformational period for the Football Club.

While he was at the Club, he played an important part in the Republic of Ireland’s 2012 UEFA European Championship campaign, which culminated in the finals in Poland and Ukraine. Later, he had a spell playing Major League Soccer in the United States, followed by coaching, scouting and media work back in the United Kingdom.

Solihull-born Sean’s career started as a youth player at Peterborough United, for whom he made nearly 100 appearances between 2002 and 2006.

Reflecting on his time at London Road, Sean recalled: “Peterborough was a good education for me. I was 18, going on 19 and playing regular first team football. I sometimes think that’s what the younger lads should be doing today, playing men’s football as soon as possible. There were quite a few managers when I was at Peterborough. People remember my time there because I was on that Sky documentary in 2006 called ‘Big Ron Manager’.

“It was based on Ron Atkinson’s efforts as troubleshooter at Peterborough and the tensions at the club involving Ron, manager Steve Bleasdale, chairman Barry Fry and several players. To be honest, the film didn’t show me in great light! Even now, years later, some people bring it up and put clips of it on the Twitter feed.”

Sean left Peterborough in July 2006, as he explained: “I went on trial to Steve Bruce’s Birmingham City in the 2006/07 pre-season. This happened because of the connection between Barry Fry (who had been manager at St. Andrew's in the 1990s) and Steve Bruce.

“Birmingham offered me a contract but then, on the same day, Preston offered me a contract as well and I signed for them. When I signed they said: ‘Look you are a young lad. You are going to be third or fourth choice’. But then one of their centre-backs had an anterior cruciate ligament injury so I started that season. This happens all the time in football, whether it is due to suspensions or long-term injuries. It’s a case of grasping that opportunity. I felt that I did this. I really enjoyed my football. I grew from there.”

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Sean St Ledger
Sean St Ledger

Sean's career took off at Preston North End, where he also became an international for the Republic of Ireland.

Sean spent five seasons at Deepdale. He was Preston’s Player of the Year for 2007/08 and reached the Championship Play-Off Semi-Finals the following season. In his fourth season at Preston, he had a spell on loan at Gareth Southgate’s Middlesbrough. The move was intended to be permanent but the deal fell through and Sean returned to Preston.

In July 2011, Sean moved to Eriksson's Championship side, Leicester City. The Foxes were backed substantially in the transfer market and tipped by many to be favourites for promotion.

“I was coming out of contract at Preston," Sean recalled. “I was playing for Ireland, whose manager, Giovanni Trapattoni, knew Sven from the time they had both managed in Serie A. Paul Gallagher rang me and told me that Sven was asking about me. It snowballed from there. It was a really exciting time to join Leicester because the Club had new owners in King Power and they had just signed my best mate and ex-Preston team-mate, David Nugent.

“I made some really good friends, like Lee Peltier and Neil Danns, who both signed at the same time as me. Lee has gone on to become one of my best friends. It was really tough to leave Preston as I really enjoyed my time there. My two favourite clubs were Preston because I played a lot there and Leicester because of the people and the Club.”

Two months into Sean’s first season at Leicester, Eriksson was replaced as manager by the returning Pearson, the man who had previously lifted the League 1 title on Filbert Way.

Nigel came in at a time when I was on international duty. I had just come back from qualifying for the Euros. I remember his first training session. He was all about pressing and I remember thinking, I’m really going to enjoy it under this manager.

Sean St Ledger

Sean explained: “When Sven left, the Club expected to be in a higher position than they were. I had been around football quite a long time and I could see that if the results aren’t going well and you have spent a lot of money, nine times out of 10, the manager will lose his job.

“Nigel came in at a time when I was on international duty. I had just come back from qualifying for the Euros. I remember his first training session. He was all about pressing and I remember thinking, I’m really going to enjoy it under this manager. His first game back was at home to Crystal Palace. I played in that. There was a good buzz. We got a good result on that Sunday.

“Initially, I played alongside Sol Bamba in defence. He was very powerful. He was a gentleman off the pitch. Overall, my main partner was Wes Morgan, who arrived in January 2012. Wes and I still keep in touch regularly now. It’s great to see what he has done with Leicester. He’s a great captain.”

The following season (2012/13) was very frustrating for Sean as injuries limited his opportunities to impress Pearson and keep his place in the starting XI.

“I got injured in a pre-season friendly at Burton,” he added. “I spent a lot of that season injured. That was the year I went on loan to Millwall (in March 2013). I got to the FA Cup Semi-Final with them. The semi-final was at Wembley against Wigan, who went on to win the cup. We avoided Manchester City in the semi-final so we thought we’d got the better draw, but on the day, Wigan were unbelievable. Kenny Jackett was a really good manager at Millwall.”

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Sean St Ledger
Sean St Ledger

St Ledger scored for the Foxes at Wycombe but another injury was just around the corner.

Sean returned to Leicester City for the 2013/14 season but once again, he suffered a serious injury.

He continued: “That was the season Leicester won the Championship. I started the season against Middlesbrough. I actually scored an own goal that day, but fortunately we won the game. I think Drinky (Danny Drinkwater) scored the winner so he saved me there! I also played in the next game, a League Cup tie against Wycombe, when I scored. Then, in training I went into a tackle with Richie de Laet and I did my medial collateral ligament. I was out for about six to eight weeks. Then, when I came back, the outside of my knee was sore. I went to have a scan and that’s when they said I had osteoarthritis. I had lost so much muscle mass in my quad by not doing anything during my medial injury that it started to have an effect on the outside of my knee and ever since then, I’ve had problems with my knee.

“When I was at Leicester, the American MLS side DC United were interested in signing me but I wanted to stay in England. When I came out of contract at Leicester, I went to Ipswich for a month (in November 2014) but their manager said that I should probably be thinking about going elsewhere, so I went on trial with DC and we played Orlando in a friendly. Orlando were looking for a defender. DC didn’t offer me a contract, so I went to Orlando and that’s how I got into the MLS.

“It was really good to see different cities in America and play in different stadiums but the travelling was ridiculous. I never realised how big the USA is. The amount of times I got ill from being on planes! I don’t mind flying but if you think of the size of planes that go from East Midlands to Dublin, you could be on one of those for six or seven hours going to places like Portland in Oregon. Whenever I flew, I always seemed to get ill.”

In August 2015, Sean signed for Colorado Rapids: “That was amazing. Denver is a fantastic city. I was playing with Tim Howard and Kevin Doyle. I really enjoyed my time in America, but I didn’t play one game in my second season due to the injury I’d got at Leicester. I have struggled with it ever since. The injury was to do with bones and structure and this is almost irreversible, whereas with a muscle, ligament or tendon injury, they can heal.”

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Sean St Ledger
Sean St Ledger

Ireland reached the 2012 European Championship, but were handed an unenviable group, including Spain, Croatia and Italy.

Sean then turned his attention to his career as a Republic of Ireland international: “At Peterborough, I went to an Irish Under-21s training camp but I never got into the squad. At Preston, the goalkeeping coach was Alan Kelly, the Irish international goalkeeper. He told the Preston manager that I had Irish connections and wanted to play for Ireland. When I got called up, it was amazing! Robbie Keane, Shay Given and Damien Duff (who had over 400 caps between them) were there. When Giovanni Trapattoni became Ireland’s manager, he watched me play for Preston at Reading. I was selected for a friendly in London against Nigeria and I played alongside Richard Dunne. He just talked me through the game. Then, I was selected for a Euro qualifier in Bulgaria. When a manager like Trapattoni selects you, it gives you great confidence.

“My highlight playing for Ireland was probably the game in Tallinn against Estonia when we won 4-0. After that game, we more or less knew we had qualified for the 2012 Euros. It was the best feeling because of what had happened in the World Cup play-off against France in 2009 when Thierry Henry’s handball prevented us making the finals. I had played in that game in Paris.

“In the finals, we were drawn against World Cup holders Spain, Italy and Croatia. Our first game was against Croatia. To qualify from this group, we had to beat them. [Luka] Modrić and [Mario] Mandžukić were in their side. Modrić controlled the game. I scored, but we lost 3-1.

“The next game was against Spain. We were told to keep it tight. I was up against Fernando Torres, who I’d played against for Leicester. As we got to the stadium the heavens opened. In our warm-up, the ball was skidding off the pitch but the Spanish were still passing with one touch in their warm-up. In the game, we struggled to get the ball off them and when we did, we had no time to pass it. They won 4-0.

The thing that I’ve found with Leicester is that the people that work within the Club are all fantastic people. That’s also what I enjoyed when I was playing at Leicester. It was a good environment to work in.

Sean St Ledger

“It was the same story against Italy in the last group game. It was tough. We lost 2-0. We couldn’t have been in a worse group really, but it was a great experience. There’s not much more we could have done. At the end of the day, we came up against the two best teams in the tournament. Spain beat Italy in the final. Croatia were also a very good side. Had they been in another group they would have progressed.”

Sean concluded by talking about his more recent career: “I finished playing in America with my knee injury. I didn’t want to believe the surgeon when he said I should retire so I went over to Munich to see a specialist who helped me to get back fit. I signed for Solihull in the Conference. I managed a couple of games. I played for them in the FA Cup against Wycombe and it was quite emotional as I’d been a long time out of football and I never thought I’d ever get back.

“In January 2018, I signed for Guiseley and when the manager lost his position they asked me to take over. It was a roller-coaster and a steep learning curve. I did my ‘B’ licence when I came back from America and I’m thinking of going down the coaching route.  

“I’ve also done some scouting work for Leicester City. In this connection, I can’t thank the Director of Football, Jon Rudkin, enough for what he has done for me.

“I also do some media work and some commentary for LCFC TV and LCFC Radio. I’ve done quite a lot of this for the Leicester City Under-23s games. It’s been good to see the players of the future. The thing that I’ve found with Leicester is that the people that work within the Club are all fantastic people. That’s also what I enjoyed when I was playing at Leicester. It was a good environment to work in.”

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