Switzerland and Arsenal defender Philippe Senderos could be forgiven for walking around with a grin as big as the Cheshire Cat’s.This content was published on June 11, 2005 - 11:15
In the past six months he has picked up an FA Cup winners’ medal, helped his club to second place in the Premier League, made his Champions League debut and broken into the national team.
And right now he is out in the Netherlands captaining the Swiss under-20s at the World Youth Championship, which Switzerland are taking part in for the first time.
But the 20-year-old, who joined Arsenal from Servette in June 2003 for £500,000 ($400,000), is not about to get carried away. After spending most of his first year in London nursing foot and back injuries, he knows how quickly it can all go wrong.
"Last year – the year that I was injured – felt like the longest year of my life, because I was there [at Arsenal] but I wasn’t," he told swissinfo at a recent training session with the national team in Freienbach outside Zurich.
"I was part of it but I couldn’t get involved, so it was a difficult time. This year has been great and I really have to thank God and everyone who stuck by me."
Senderos made his Premier League debut for Arsenal in January and a string of impressive performances saw him keep his place in the side for the remainder of the season, including the FA Cup final win over Manchester United.
Last month Arsenal announced that they were ready to offer the centre-back a contract to keep him at the club until 2010, and Senderos says he expects to sign a new deal.
"I would love to. I’m very happy at this club and now that they’ve given me the opportunity to play at the top level, I’m really enjoying myself," he said. "When I started playing football at the age of five my dream was to be at a big club and win trophies."
In the end it was hardly surprising that Senderos plumped for Arsenal despite being tracked by the likes of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Manchester United.
Arsenal, who at one point last season fielded a side without a single English player, are a truly international club. Senderos, whose father is Spanish and mother Serbian, grew up in the international capital of the world – Geneva – and says he had little trouble settling in at Highbury.
"I could speak French, my English was coming along, I could speak a bit of German and some Spanish players joined the club so I felt great from the beginning," he recalled.
"I now have good friends at Arsenal and that’s what you need. I’m really enjoying myself."
Success at Arsenal coincided with his international debut for Switzerland in March against France in a World Cup qualifier. He was set to make his third appearance for the national team in last week's 3-1 win over the Faroe Islands but was laid low by a bout of tonsillitis.
His emergence in the side – along with a number of other talented young players – comes as Switzerland are starting to belie their perennial status as underdogs on the international stage.
The Swiss lie second in their qualifying group for the finals in Germany in 2006 and if this progress is maintained they can look forward with confidence to Euro 2008, which is being hosted jointly by Switzerland and Austria.
"There is a big future for Switzerland," he said. "I think I came through at a time when everything’s happening, and to be part of this team is great because a lot of players have experience, they have played abroad, for big clubs as well, and they have already played in big competitions."
Memorable six months
The one sour note during what has otherwise been an unforgettable six months was the demise of his former club Servette.
The Geneva side were officially declared bankrupt in February and kicked out of the Super League, after 115 years in the top flight. The club’s president Marc Roger was released on bail on Friday after languishing in jail on fraud charges.
"I felt bad because it was my club since I was five years old," said Senderos. "I grew up right next door to the old stadium and used to go to every game.
"It’s sad because there is now no Geneva club in the Super League and it’s a real blow for the youngsters in Servette and the rest of the city who don’t have a team to support. Hopefully another club will come and take the place of Servette, or Servette will come back."
As for his own future, the softly spoken defender says he is just content to take life as it comes.
"I try to do my best every day and don’t really look too far ahead or think I’m going to do this or that," he said. "I’m not trying to be Maradona tomorrow, I’m just trying to be Philippe Senderos."
swissinfo, Adam Beaumont
Born in Geneva on February 14, 1985.
Captained Switzerland to victory in the under-17 European Championship in 2002.
Joined Arsenal from Servette in June 2003.
Made his senior international debut against France in March this year.
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