Proving his worth

GETTY IMAGES

Southampton has provided Ryan Bertrand with everything he hoped for — stability on and off the field, plus the stage to play regularly for an ever-improving side, writes Andrew McDermott.

Ryan Bertrand believes Chelsea made a mistake in letting him go but it is a desire to improve rather than prove anyone wrong that is driving on the Southampton left-back.

Eyebrows were raised last year when the much-vaunted 25-year-old departed Jose Mourinho’s men for St. Mary’s, where a summer talent drain left onlookers predicting a season of strife.

However, Southampton have proved the “perfect match” and provided Bertrand with everything he hoped for — stability on and off the field, plus the stage to play regularly for an ever-improving side.

Bertrand had been at Chelsea since 2005, when he was signed from Gillingham’s academy as a 16-year-old. A Football League tribunal decided the initial GBP125,000 fee which Gillingham chairman Paul Scally described as “derisory”.

There was little chance of breaking into Chelsea’s first team ahead of Ashley Cole and a number of loan moves followed, with Bertrand heading out to Bournemouth, Oldham, Norwich, Reading and Nottingham Forest.

He finally made his Premier League debut for Chelsea in April 2011 as a substitute and his potential was rewarded with a new four-year contract that summer.

He had to wait until April 2012 for his first league start and he impressed in a 2-1 victory against Wigan before being named Man of the Match in a goalless draw with Arsenal two weeks later.

The highlight of his Chelsea career came the following month when he became the first player in the Champions League era to make his competition debut in the final.

Bertrand played on the left of midfield and although he was forced off with an injury in the second-half, Chelsea edged out Bayern Munich on penalties to win Europe’s premier club competition for the first time.

Bertrand also featured for Great Britain at the London Olympics and he made his senior England debut as a substitute in a friendly against Italy.

His future at Stamford Bridge looked bright as he signed a new five-year deal in September 2012 but securing a regular place in the team was difficult and by January 2014 he was out on loan again, this time to Aston Villa.

At the start of last season he agreed yet another loan move and joined Southampton on a season-long deal. The initial loan was made permanent in February when Saints forked out GBP10 million, ending his long association with Chelsea.

“For me it wasn’t a case of ‘my career didn’t go right, I’m not playing for Chelsea,’” Bertrand said recently. “I know personally I should still be there and I should still be playing but it is no drama. That is football and these things happen.

“I am fantastically happy at Southampton, playing week in, week out and developing as a footballer and really enjoying life. I know in myself — that’s my inner confidence, I have the capabilities. It’s nothing to do with my capabilities that I’m not there, it’s purely circumstance.”

Bertrand has certainly proved his worth since moving to Saints, earning an England recall and a place in the PFA Team of the Year — the only non-Chelsea player to feature in the back four.

“That’s not really in my mind to go out and prove people wrong,” he said. “I’ve no grudges, no chip on my shoulder about showing him ‘look, I’m better than him’ — it was just about me. That was the whole decision.

“As a footballer you can’t get too carried away or too attached. I would play there and was happy but now I play at Southampton I really feel part of it. I really feel like a footballer.

“When the team gets a win and you are playing consistently, you feel good about it. You get a day off the next day and you feel like you deserved a day off.”

Surprisingly, Bertrand has never watched the 2012 Champions League final back — something he suggests may subconsciously be down to a determination to strive for more.

That hard work paid dividends when he made his first start for England in a friendly against Republic of Ireland.

Now established as one of the best defenders in the Premier League, becoming England’s first-choice left-back is a realistic ambition for Bertrand as he continues to justify his Stamford Bridge departure.

NAME: Ryan Bertrand POSITION: Left-back CLUB: Southampton D.0.B: 5/8/1989 ENGLAND CAPS: 4 ENGLAND GOALS: 0

MOMENT TO REMEMBER: Winning the Champions League final on his European debut for Chelsea against Bayern Munich.

MOMENT TO FORGET: Apologised and deleted his Twitter account after sending a tweet containing swear words following reports he had withdrawn from an England squad due to a sore throat.

© PA Sport