Defender of the nation

The president of the Swiss Football Association, Ralph Sloczower (left) congratulates Stéphane Henchoz (right) Keystone

Voted this year's best Swiss footballer abroad, Liverpool defender Stéphane Henchoz has been talking to swissinfo in Bern about his award, this year's achievements and Switzerland's hopes of reaching the World Cup.

This content was published on May 28, 2001 - 22:04

swissinfo: Stéphane, you've been named the best Swiss footballer based abroad. It's a nice way to come home.

Stéphane Henchoz: Yes, of course I'm very happy. And very proud of what we achieved this year at Liverpool.

swissinfo: This year in particular saw a lot of strong contenders for the award.

Stéphane Henchoz: Yes, a lot of Swiss players did well abroad this season. Ciriaco Sforza, Johann Vogel and Ramon Vega all won national titles in their respective leagues. And there was success in the UEFA Cup and Champions League for myself and Sforza.

swissinfo: Recently you criticised the Swiss media for not taking enough interest in players based abroad. Presumably awards like this can help to redress the balance a little?

Stéphane Henchoz: Yes, probably. But what I said a few weeks ago remains true. I think the French language media especially don't give enough coverage to Swiss players abroad, so I hope that will improve a bit next season.

swissinfo: Let's look a bit more at last season. Your first success came with the English League Cup, then winning the FA Cup, then going on to lift the UEFA Cup, before finally securing a place in next year's Champions League. Your best season by far?

Stéphane Henchoz: Oh yes, yes, of course. I think this season was absolutely great and so much more than we had hoped for at the start of the year. We just wanted to qualify for the Champions League and, if possible win a trophy. So to win three and qualify for the Champions League made it an amazing season.

swissinfo: And the UEFA Cup final was just as amazing. Nine goals and you having to watch the last stages from the bench. What are your memories of that night?

Stéphane Henchoz: Well we certainly didn't expect a match like that! We started so well with two goals in the first 20 minutes and maybe after that we thought it would be easy. But Alvares started to play well, coming back from 3-1 down. When we went 4-3 up though I thought it was in the bag. But then they equalised in the last minute and we had to go to extra time. We were a bit lucky then to win through an own goal, but also very happy to win a final that could have gone either way.

swissinfo: When you joined Liverpool, everyone in Switzerland knew the club because of their success in the 1970s and 80s. Is there a feeling now that those good times are coming back?

Stéphane Henchoz: Yes, because it's been such an historic season. It's been 16 years since Liverpool last won a European trophy, and the last ten years in particular have been less successful. So this has been a very important year for the supporters and now I think the current squad are starting to write more Liverpool history.

swissinfo: With all the competitions you were involved in, Liverpool had to squeeze in a lot of games at the end of the season. Have you had the chance to get your strength back in time for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers?

Stéphane Henchoz: Well I've had nine days to recover since the last day of the season. I came back to Switzerland last week and have been training at home since then. It was certainly very important to have a small break, because the last two or three weeks for Liverpool were very tough mentally. But I'm ready now for the next ten days with the national squad.

swissinfo: And for these two important matches against the Faroe Islands and Slovenia, is the aim to win all six points?

Stéphane Henchoz: Oh yes, because if you want to qualify you have beat the Faroe Islands. And after that we are at home against Slovenia, who are one of our biggest rivals, so we can't afford to lose any points at home.

swissinfo: And to follow up a season like the one you've just had with World Cup qualification this summer would be unbelievable.

Stéphane Henchoz: Yes, of course. I think if we can take six points from our next two games, we should be able to finish second and reach the playoff game. Then everything is possible.

interview by Mark Ledsom

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