SWOL had the chance to sit down and chat with Swiss International Philippe Senderos over the Holiday and discuss everything from food to the Champions League Final. The towering defender has played in soccer’s biggest competitions in a career that has seen him feature for several of the world’s most renowned clubs. Now back in London, Senderos is enjoying life and his football at Fulham Football Club.
SWOL: First of all, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Getting right into the thick of things, we’d like to ask you about your homeland, Switzerland, and what football is like there. With players at Napoli, Bayern Munich, Juventus, and yourself at Fulham, the country must be doing something right?
Philippe Senderos: Yes, I would say ten years ago or even more a lot of the teams have invested money and time into academies and you see straight away how we got results. There is a lot of talent and a lot of good players and once you have the structure in place – that is how you see all this talent coming through and into the first team. There are a lot of immigrants and cultures in Switzerland and all these things, when brought into football, make for a great melting pot for the game.
Are there any specific areas of Switzerland that are known for more talent than others?
There are no specific areas but Young Boys, Bern, Basel, Grasshoppers, Geneva, Lausanne – the big cities and the top clubs have great setups – that is, they have the best facilities and coaches so they bring through more players. Financial problems in Swiss Football have made it difficult recently. For this reason, you see that the clubs in the German part of Switzerland do better in European competitions because they are better run at the moment.
S: Your own career has given you the chance to play for some of Europe’s top clubs and has seen you go from London to Milan to Liverpool and back to London. Which city have you enjoyed the most and why?
PS: I’ve enjoyed all my experiences at the different clubs – I would say on the city part, there is no other city like London – it such an amazing city. There is always something to do and something coming up in the city. There is such a big mix of culture in the city that there seems to be something for everyone. Milan was special because of the food, and the passion that the people show throughout the city on a daily basis. The people in Liverpool were incredibly kind. Despite being there for only six months, the people made me feel very welcome from the very beginning, and I really enjoyed that experience.
S: What are some of the differences in style of play between Italian Serie A and English Premier League:
PS: English football is much more physical and played at a much quicker pace. It is a cliché to say this, but Italian football is very tactical – even if a top team plays against a team at the bottom of the table, the lower team will still defend, and it’ll be a close game. In England, every team has the belief that they can beat any other team in the Leauge on any given day, which makes the game much more open. The game in Italy is much more tactical, and you’ll see games decided by one specific play rather than a series of back and forth sequences.
S: Now at Fulham, this is your second stint in London. You moved to London in 2003 when you signed for Arsenal in what was an incredibly special time for the club. What was it like being in North London during the time of the Invincibles?
PS: It was amazing to live such an experience especially at such a young age. I was lucky enough to have been given the chance to play with amazing players and they taught me a lot. One of the most important things was the fact that winning was a habit. That stuck with me and stayed in my head. It started in training and came out on matchdays. That team wanted to win everything and losing wasn’t an option.
When I came to England I thought I knew how to defend, but when you see other players do it at the top level, you learn a lot from what you see. When I saw guys like Kolo Toure, Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole, Lauren and Martin Keown, I learned a lot just watching them play. It was totally different from what I’d played in before. I came to Arsenal and the Premier League as a teenager who was playing in the Swiss League, and it was a massive jump. These guys were great teachers, though, and I learned a great deal.
My experience at Arsenal was much different than my other professional experiences to date because I was also still just a teenager. I lived in digs with Cesc Fabregas and we became very good friends. Cesc couldn’t speak English when he first came to England, and I could speak Spanish so we had that in common and became friends from the start.
S: With Arsenal you got the chance to play in the Champions League. With Switzerland, the World Cup. With AC Milan the Serie A, and with Arsenal, Everton, and Fulham, the Premier League. What is the most exciting competition you’ve played in and why?
PS: At the international level the World Cup is amazing. Everyone in the world is watching, and it’s a massively important competition. Playing for my country is big honor and nothing will ever replace the feeling I have when I put the Swiss shirt on.
For such a small country to qualify for such a big competition, it is always a massive accomplishment. You can feel that the entire country is behind you, and it makes for a great feeling.
From a club level, the Champions League is the best. It’s the competition that I dreamed about as a kid. Just hearing the Champions League theme song before games would give me goosebumps. I was lucky enough to make it to the final with Arsenal; unfortunately we lost to Barcelona, but it was an amazing run and experience.
What makes this competition so fun to play is the fact that there is no room for error in the Champions League – you have to be concentrated to the maximum, because if you make a mistake, you are facing the best players in the world. There’s also the fact that every game is of massive importance, and this raises the nerves before each kickoff. It’s such a prestigious competition – a competition that both fans and players will always keep an eye on.
S: What do you enjoy most about being a professional footballer?
PS: Doing what I love and living out my passion. Making a living from my passion – this is the best feeling. Knowing that I wake up everyday, and I get to do what I love to do. I am very privileged to get the chance to wake up and play football for a living. I’ve been truly blessed with this opportunity
From a footballing standpoint, I enjoy the opportunity to play against the best players in the world. From the moment you are in the dressing room, you are concentrating and thinking about what to do in the game – you know the opposition you are playing against -their strengths, their weaknesses.
Personally I’m a fan of match preparation and the training aspect of it all. You can’t just show up at the stadium on a weekend and expect to be your best. I’ve always enjoyed the preparation that goes into the buildup to a matchday.
S: During the Olympics, you were quite active on Twitter with some of the athletes across different sports. How did your friendship with Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng come about, and have you guys every attended one another’s games?
PS: Luol has been to several Arsenal games actually – I’ve never had the chance to watch the Bulls play but I’d like to. We met throug our sponsor, Nike, at an event. I love basketball and I used to watch him when he was at Duke, and I continued following his career when he got drafted to the NBA. We just seemed to click when we met because we have several things in common.
I did get the chance to go watch him play during the Olympics with Team GB, but I’d like to get over to Chicago to see him at some point.
S: So you are clearly a basketball fan – what other sports do you enjoy following? If you had become a professional in another sport, what would you have enjoyed pursuing?
PS: If I could have done anything else, I would have loved to become a basketball player. My brother played for the Swiss National Team and did his college education through a basketball scholarship in America. Because of his involvement in the game, I’ve always followed it and quite enjoy the sport.
I also like to watch American football and tennis but I wouldn’t say I’m very good at playing tennis! My favorite player is a certain Swiss player, but I must say that I can’t really lose when it comes to tennis. I share Swiss roots with Federer. My father is Spanish so I support Nadal, and I enjoy watching Djokovic because of my Serbian roots.
S: When you aren’t playing football, what do you enjoy doing most?
PS: I enjoy going to the cinema and discovering new restaurants in London. I’m a big homebody. I love hanging out at my house and having people over. I enjoy reading and always enjoy a good biography.
S: You speak a number of languages, how did you come about learning them all and are you actively learning another?
PS : I speak French because I’m from Geneva – the French part of Switzerland. At home we spoke French and Spanish growing up because both my parents can speak Spanish. I learned German and English at school. I learned Italian while playing in Italy and Portuguese by spending time with my Portuguese speaking teammates. I’m also currently learning how to speak Farsi.
Favorite Food: Anything my mom and my wife make
Favorite Musician: Drake
Favorite Vacation Destination: Has to be Maldives and Dubai
Restaurant in London: Zuma – London
Childhood Idol: Fernando Hierro – a player I was lucky enough to play against when I was at Arsenal and he was at Madrid.
Childhood Team: I’ve always enjoyed Arsenal and Real Madrid, but my local team Servette is the team that has been in my heart from the beginning.