Saints captain Adam Lallana may just be England’s secret World Cup weapon. Ben Isaacs meets a player who has paid his dues
In some ways, Adam Lallana is the prototypical modern footballer; he’s confident on the pitch and models for French Connection off it. But he’s also a refreshing throwback to the days when footballers were more grounded and relatable. He plied his trade in League One – not because he was loaned out by a mega-rich parent club, but by necessity for two years, helping Southampton fight its way out of a crisis.
The hard work has paid off this season with Saints playing attractive football in the top half of the Premier League, and 25-year-old skipper Lallana has become an England squad regular who joined Luis Suarez and Yaya Toure on the PFA Player Of The Year shortlist. If England want to make an impact in Brazil this summer they need Lallana. We know it, Roy Hodgson must know it, but don’t expect modest Lallana to admit it…
How did it feel to make your England debut this season?
I was really proud, especially knowing my family was there. To play for my country is the proudest I’ve ever been, with the exception of when my son was born. I just want to relive the moment of stepping on the pitch and make it happen as many more times as possible.
What was your dad’s reaction when you got your first call up?
Delighted, but shocked. I don’t think my mum enjoyed watching my England debut because she gets quite nervous.
Was your dad one of those fathers who was always saying “My boy’s gonna play for England” when you were a kid showing promise?
He would never have said it to me because it might’ve sent me the wrong message. He’s always been very relaxed about it all. If I had a good game he’d tell me, and if I had a bad game he’d tell me. That’s the best way. He never pushed me, and that was a good thing. He always told me to go out and enjoy it, whether it was a trial game, playing for Southampton or the school team. That’s advice I give to every young player. You realise how serious it can get once you step up.
Speaking of stepping up, has the World Cup always been your main dream?
I think it’s every professional footballer’s dream. I remember as a kid watching all the big tournaments on TV with my mum and dad. If you’d told me this time last year there was even a slight possibility of making my England debut the following season I wouldn’t have believed you. I couldn’t be happier with how the season has progressed. I’m just looking to finish it strongly. The squad decision is out of my hands, so I won’t be thinking about it every night when I go to bed.
What’s your earliest World Cup memory?
Probably seeing England go out on penalties [laughs].
Yeah, name a year and that’ll probably be it. Anything else?
Seeing strong sides from France and Germany. Brazil, and Ronaldo, especially. The World Cup is the pinnacle. It’s where history is made. In a World Cup season, everyone is striving to prove their worth.
If you get the call to say you’re going to Brazil what will you do?
It’s a long way off, a lot of players want to be on that plane. But I’d probably call my dad. And my mates – get them to book their flights [laughs].
Away from the pitch, you’re now modelling for French Connection. Who are your football style icons?
David Beckham is obviously a role model for a lot of people. If I was looking up to anyone, it’s him.
You’re just one of many recent products of the Southampton Academy in the Premier League. What’s the secret?
One of the main pulls is that, at Southampton, you know you’re going to get a chance in the first team. Ever since Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and myself – now you’ve got Luke Shaw and Calum Chambers. It can’t be a fluke. In the under-14s there’ll be a couple of lads who might be the next Bale.
Would you follow in Bale’s footsteps and play abroad?
I’ve never really thought about it, but fair play to him because it’s not easy. You have to learn a new language, take your family over, and that’s without even mentioning the added pressure of playing for Real Madrid. He’s been outstanding and fits in brilliantly. That’s not luck, there’s been a lot of graft. He’s playing with the elite and is an elite player himself. People ask how he can cope with that price tag, but he’s proved his point already, even without having a full pre-season.
Your manager Mauricio Pochettino has overseen a great campaign. What’s he like?
World class. He’s been a big ingredient in our success this season and I’m sure every player in the squad will agree with me. It’s a pleasure just going to train with him. It’s not like we go in and have a jolly outing – we work hard and that’s the reason we do well.
How important is it that you’ve seen League One and the Championship?
It’s helped me massively. I appreciate what it’s like to be on -10 points in League One [after Southampton went into administration]. Five years ago the club was facing liquidation. It keeps you grounded and lets you cherish every moment and realise how lucky you are to be in the Premier League.
Ever get in trouble on the training ground back in your lower-league days? Nutmeg someone you shouldn’t have?
I think that’s the norm when you’re a kid coming up – a bit cocky. It only takes one tackle or to be told in a particular way by a senior pro that’s not what you should do. It’s part of the learning curve and how you gain respect. It was probably worse when I was younger, and worse again five or 10 years before that, but it makes you learn.
Finally, who were your football heroes when you were a kid?
I was an Everton supporter, so I was a big Duncan Ferguson fan. Even when Gascoigne went there, it was the back-end of his career, but he was still absolutely outstanding. If I was kicking a ball round the park, I’d be running around saying “Gazza”.
Adam Lallana models French Connection’s debut pre-fall ’14 collection, available now at frenchconnection.com