The left-back made his European debut in Chelsea’s Champions League final win in 2012 but injuries have hampered his progress for club and country
• Danny Rose called up for England
• Ryan Bertrand reveals final secrets
Ryan Bertrand has been reminiscing about everything from a kickabout in Peckham to the unforgettable night in Munich that ended with Didier Drogba throwing him in a swimming pool but it is a new lease of life on the south coast, and a determination to reignite a promising career, that is focusing his mind. “England caps, a solid finish with Southampton and a full season playing in the Premier League,” Bertrand says, when asked what he hopes the next nine months will bring.
It was the final question in an interview that took place on the same day that Roy Hodgson named his England squad and, in the absence of the injured Luke Shaw – the left-back whose boots Bertrand has filled at Southampton – called up Danny Rose as understudy to Leighton Baines. Bertrand, who won the last of his two caps in a World Cup qualifier against Ukraine two years ago, admits it is “a bit disappointing not getting the shout” but also accepts that a lack of football over the past 12 months has hindered his chances.
After being a regular fixture in and around the Chelsea team the season before last, when he made 38 appearances – including 26 starts – Bertrand found himself on the fringes after José Mourinho returned in 2013. He spent the second half of last season on loan at Aston Villa and, without needing to speak to Mourinho this summer, knew that he had to move on. “I always stayed at Chelsea as long as I could see progression and if you look, [since 2010-11] it went from one appearance to 15 to 38. As long as I could see that progression, and felt it, I was content,” Bertrand says. “Last summer I had some chances to leave, to go to decent clubs, but I was under the impression that I didn’t need to pursue them, so we didn’t. Little did I know that I would have to go somewhere in January, so it hit me.
“No matter how much I love the club, and obviously I’ve been there for so long, I wasn’t just there because it was Chelsea. I was there for reasons that I’d earned with hard work over the years. I really wanted to get back to playing football – knowing if you’re training hard and doing well, you’re going to play.”
Southampton have given Bertrand that platform. It is the seventh club he has joined on loan since signing for Chelsea from Gillingham in 2005 but this latest move, which could become permanent, feels different. “I’m not going out on a Saturday thinking: ‘I’ve got to do well because I want to get back to Chelsea’, which is how it was previously whenever you went on loan,” Bertrand says before Saturday’s trip to West Ham United. “Now, I’m just playing my game and seeing where that takes me.”
An affable character who was always hell-bent on making the most of his talent, Bertrand grew up on the Friary Estate in Peckham, south London, where an adventure playground became “my little Wembley” and Rio Ferdinand lived around the corner. Life was not always easy in an area where Bertrand would now like to become involved in charity work but his older brother, Nathan, looked out for him and his mother, Debbie, worked tirelessly to provide for her sons.
“Mum has been a massive influence,” Bertrand says. “There was just the three of us from a young age, so for a woman to raise two boys … I like to think that me and my brother have come out as good people more than anything, and that’s testament to her. She made so many sacrifices, working endless hours, two, maybe three, jobs at times, getting back from work to take me to football. I remember we used to turn up at Gillingham with the worst car – we had a red Metro, the exhaust had blown! But they were good times.”
It was after the family relocated to Kent that Bertrand was spotted by Gillingham. He started out as a striker but was also learning another trade. “From the age of 13, every summer holiday I would go and work with my friend’s brother, who owned a business laying flooring,” says Bertrand, who breaks into laughter when asked if he was putting down the sort of oak flooring in the hotel where we are talking. “Not like this – that’s high-end!”
That part-time career finished when Chelsea turned his world upside down at the age of 15.
“I had my £40-a-week scholarship at Gillingham planned out. I was looking at a Peugeot 106 and I was already working out how I was going to save the money. Then Chelsea came calling and it was like going into a completely different world. It dawned on me then that I was striving to be one of the best.”
It was never going to be easy breaking through at Chelsea, especially with Ashley Cole holding down the left-back position for so long, but Bertrand, 25, is entitled to be proud of the fact that he clocked up 57 appearances for the club in an era when most academy graduates never get a sniff. “I take extreme satisfaction from what I’ve done and I know I’ve given it everything. There isn’t one regret,” he says.
One Chelsea appearance will, of course, always stick in the memory. In May 2012, Bertrand became the first player to make his Champions League debut in the final. He smiles as he listens to an extract from the Observer report on the part he played that evening, when Chelsea beat Bayern Munich on penalties. “As you talked through that, I can replay it all in my mind. What a day.
“A few memories stand out. From the game it would be how everyone grabs the trophy for a couple of minutes and you think: ‘This is my time to have a little play with it.’ I remember taking it over to the fans. There was the changing room moment when the owner [Roman Abramovich] was in there afterwards. And then when I got back to the hotel to see my mum – it was a massive emotional ride, right up to the party, where I think Drogba threw me and [Gary] Cahill in the swimming pool.”
For Bertrand, who was 22 at the time, it would be understandable if he questioned whether the rest of his career will ever come close to providing him with a moment as magical as Munich and a medal so valuable that he keeps it locked in a safe.
“I want that [success] again,” Bertrand says. “But if it did happen, I don’t think it would feel like that game. The late goal [from Drogba to equalise]; the final in their ground; [Arjen] Robben missing a penalty; Didier tucked his away with what was meant to be his last kick for Chelsea – it was a crazy script. I’ll never play that night down but, at the same time, I’ll never rest on it. I always think about winning more.”
For the moment, it is all about getting back on track at Southampton, where Bertrand already feels at home. “Seeing the club, the set-up, the direction, one-on-one conversations with the owners – the other week the chairman and the owner gave us a lift to the restaurant down the road – I’m happy,” he says.
“I’m in a place where I am getting a chance to play my football, the way I like to play it and in a club striving to go forward at the same pace as me.”