Sean St Ledger

Former Player Remembers: Sean St Ledger (Part Two)

Between 2002 and 2013, Sean St Ledger played a career total of 304 club games in the Football League and 37 international games for the Republic of Ireland, then playing in the MLS in America.
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Last month, Sean met Club Historian John Hutchinson in Seagrave to speak about his career in football. In part two of this interview, Sean speaks about his time with the Foxes, playing in the USA, featuring for the Republic of Ireland and about his current scouting role at Leicester City.  

“The move to Leicester came about partly because I was playing for Ireland at the time and the Republic’s manager was Giovanni Trapattoni,” Sean said. “He knew Sven-Göran Eriksson, as they’d both managed in Italy and I think Trapattoni mentioned me to Sven. Next thing I know, I’d signed for Leicester City in July 2011. My aim was to play in the Premier League and I thought that, at Leicester, I might be able to achieve this.”

Sean’s first game for City, on 30 July, 2011, was a pre-season friendly against José Mourinho’s star-studded Real Madrid in front of a record crowd at the newly-named King Power Stadium. Sean found himself playing against the likes of Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Unfortunately, Sean’s first few weeks at Filbert Way were hampered by injury and then, in October 2011, now back in the team, Leicester were defeated 3-0 at home by Millwall, leaving them 13th in the Championship. After that defeat, Eriksson left the Club and Nigel Pearson returned as Manager.

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Sean St Ledger & David Nugent

Celebrating with David Nugent at full-time after scoring at Norwich City in the FA Cup in 2012.

“I played in the first game after Nigel’s return,” he explained. “We beat Crystal Palace 3-0 and Paul Gallagher scored twice. I like Nigel. Sven was quite quiet and humble. Nigel would give you a direct answer, along the lines of: ‘You need to do this, you need to improve that’. He was more authoritarian. He was more like a manager, as well as being a coach. He’s a really good person.

“In December, Nigel dropped me. I didn’t think that I deserved to be dropped, but Nigel was very straight with me. That was fine. I accepted it. I was out of the side for four games but I got back into the team in January. There were quite a lot of injuries, and I ended up having to play. It was during this period that I was on the transfer list and Atalanta, in Serie A, wanted to take me on loan, but I didn’t go. Back in the side, I played well for the rest of the season.

“We had a good run in the FA Cup. We beat Forest, Swindon and then Norwich at Carrow Road. They were a Premier League side at the time and I scored. Then we lost to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the quarter-final.

“Nigel was starting to develop a culture at the Club and create a really good environment at the training ground. The squad became smaller, with maybe more homegrown players and players who had hunger and desire.”

However, Sean’s next season at Leicester (2012/13) was knocked off course by another injury. He was injured in a pre-season friendly against Burton Albion and only played a handful of games until he went on loan to Millwall in March 2013.

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Sean St Ledger

Making an appearance at Wembley for the 2013 FA Cup Semi-Final.

“I went to Germany to see a famous doctor there,” Sean recalled. “The Club looked after me really well. I had a big affinity with the Club because of this. I was loaned out to Millwall in March 2013. I wasn’t cup tied because I hadn’t been playing for Leicester and ended up playing for Millwall in an FA Cup Semi-Final against Wigan, who were in the Premier League.

“This meant that I was fortunate enough to play at Wembley. I actually played there twice, once for Millwall and once for the Republic of Ireland against England. We couldn’t get near Wigan. That was the year they beat Manchester City in the final.”

When Sean came back from his loan at Millwall, Leicester had just dramatically got through to the 2013 Championship Play-Off Semi-Final as a result of Anthony Knockaert’s last-gasp goal at Nottingham Forest.

“Then there was the equally dramatic second leg at Watford,” Sean remembered. “I wasn’t in the squad, but I was at the match. Leicester missed a last-minute penalty which would have won the tie and, then seconds later, Troy Deeney scored Watford’s winner at the other end. It was incredible. I’d never seen anything like it. We’d come a long way with Nigel. The team was developing, and they were well set up for the following year.”

The following season (2013/14), when Leicester City won the Championship title, Sean played in the opening fixture, an away win at Middlesbrough and, three days later, scored in a League Cup tie at Wycombe Wanderers.

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Sean St Ledger

The defender scored in what turned out to be his last game for the Club, away at Wycombe Wanderers in the League Cup.

“Then I got injured in training,” Sean added. “It was a knee injury, and I didn’t play again for the whole of that season. However, there was good energy in the changing room. Even though I wasn’t playing, I wanted the team to do well. David Nugent, for example, was one of my best friends so I wanted him and the others to advance. They were all good players.

“Although I’d been injured all season, I was awarded a Championship title winners’ medal. I was released at the end of the season when my contract expired, so the dream of playing in the Premier League had vanished. Obviously, I was disappointed, but I had been injured for a long time.  

“The following season (2014/15), I went to America. In one of the periods when I was at Leicester, DC United had wanted to sign me or take me on loan but it wasn’t the right time for me. However, in 2015, I had the opportunity to go to DC United on trial. I played for them in a friendly against Orlando and then Orlando signed me (in March 2015).

“It was really good in America and it was really different. There was a big difference in players’ standards in the MLS sides. You could have a college player who was just learning his craft as an apprentice. Then you could maybe have an American player who was more experienced.

“You had players like me who had played in Europe and at international level and then we had Kaká too! He’d played for AC Milan and Real Madrid and had made nearly 100 appearances for Brazil. He’d been one of the best players in the world at one point. He was on $7.5M a year at Orlando.

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Sean St Ledger

Time in the MLS included a spell with Orlando City.

“It was a great to experience playing in different cities. There was a lot of travelling. To get from Orlando to the West Coast would take six or seven hours. There were also different time zones and different temperatures. For example, it could be 80 degrees humidity in Orlando but very cold or really hot in Kansas, depending on the time of the year. In Colorado, altitude was an issue.

“I spent a season in Orlando and then joined Colorado Rapids in the MLS. The travel wasn’t as dramatic as we were in the Midwest, but it took a while to get used to the altitude. I guess that was an advantage for us against visiting teams who, because of the altitude, maybe played at little bit more conservatively than they usually did.

“Then there were astroturf pitches and grass pitches. Orlando was astro, Colorado was grass. I’d grown up playing on grass and I had to adapt. For example, if we were playing on astro in Portland where it could be really hot, they would water the pitch but then it would dry, so the ball would stick and not bounce like it would on grass.

“Then I had to have knee surgery again, but it kept swelling. My visa ran out, so I came back to England. I went to see the same doctor I’d been to before in Germany but was told: ‘This is probably going to be it for you’. I was only about 32 and didn’t really know then what my next step would be.”

Before moving on to his post-playing career, Sean spoke about playing 37 times for the Republic of Ireland, winning 19 of these caps while he was a Leicester City player.

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Sean St Ledger & Thierry Henry

Up against Thierry Henry during that infamous World Cup Play-Off match.

“When I was at Peterborough, I went to an Ireland Under-21s training camp but didn’t get called up,” he explained. “I received my first call-up when Steve Staunton was manager but I didn’t make my debut until Giovanni Trapattoni took over. I made my Ireland debut against Nigeria at Craven Cottage (in May 2009).

“My competitive debut was a few days later against Bulgaria in Sofia in a World Cup qualifying match. Alan Irvine, my old manager at Preston, went to the game as he was always supporting me.

“My first international goal was later that year in a World Cup qualifier against world champions Italy in a 2-2 draw at Croke Park. We needed to win to have a chance of qualifying automatically. Three minutes from time, when it was 1-1, I went up for a corner.

“Gianluigi Buffon was in goal. My marker was centre-forward Alberto Gilardino and I scored by heading in from four yards. Then Gilardino made it 2-2 three minutes later. This qualified us for a play-off against France at the Stade de France for a place in the World Cup finals.

“In extra time of the second leg, France scored after Thierry Henry handled the ball in the build-up leading to France’s winning goal. Every time I go to Paris, I always pass the Stade de France on the train, and it always brings back memories of that match.”

As a Leicester City player, Sean also played in the UEFA EURO 2012 finals. “We were in a really difficult group," he reflected. "We had Spain, Italy and Croatia. I scored against Croatia, but we didn’t get past the group stage.

“Playing for Ireland was the pinnacle of my career. I’ve been really fortunate to have played with and against some outstanding players, such as Luka Modrić, Mario Mandžukić, Gianluigi Buffon, Xabi Alonso, Cristiano Ronaldo, Fernando Torres, and Steven Gerrard.”

Turning to his post-playing career, Sean continued: “I’d no plans when I finished playing. Football had been my whole life, and I was a bit lost to be honest. I got in touch with Eduardo Macià in recruitment for Leicester City and I started doing some part-time scouting at Under-21s and Under-23s level and in the lower leagues.

“This continued and, for the last three or four years, I’ve had a full-time role in scouting. A whole department is involved in this. Factors like the profile of players, key performance indicators and financial accessibility are considered. We use data and video material which might lead to live coverage and to monitoring the players.

“A normal week might involve us looking at games in the Championship, European competitions and the National League. I really enjoy it.”

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