Home is where the Hearts is – Christophe Berra opens up over Ipswich Town exit
- Credit: Sarah Lucy brown
Christophe Berra has signed for his hometown club of Hearts after Ipswich Town agreed to release him. The Scottish defender opens up about the reasons behind his Portman Road exit.
The story of Christophe Berra’s amicable exit from Ipswich Town is a reminder that the Blues do still have some family values running through their core.
Players can enjoy financial rewards and be feted as heroes, but they can also be traded like commodities and expected to work and live like robots.
Not that you would know it from his stoic, warrior-like displays on the field, but Berra faced some family upheaval a year after joining the Blues. For the past three years he’s been living on his own in Suffolk, 400 miles away from his now four-and-a-half year old daughter Savannah in Edinburgh.
“She came down to me a lot and I travelled up there whenever I could, but, to be honest, that did take its toll,” he admits.
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“She’s starting school this year and, around Christmas time, I made the decision that I wanted to be closer to her and return to my roots.
“You realise how quick she’s growing up. My mum and dad take her to swimming lessons every Wednesday and I was missing out on things like that.”
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Berra was entering the final six months of his contract, but Ipswich held the option of a 12-month extension. There was the potential for a stand-off.
“I first spoke to the gaffer about it in January,” said the gnarled centre-back. “I just told him that I wanted to go home at some point.
“If the club had said they were keeping me for another year then I would have dealt with it. Some players might have got the hump and sacked it off, but there’s no way I’d ever do that. I’m a professional who will always give 100% in every training session and match.
“I think the club wanted to take my option up, and the gaffer said he didn’t want to lose me, but in the end they said they wouldn’t stand in my way.”
McCarthy, a father of three and now a doting grandfather, has always shown empathy to his players when it comes to family. He says the sight of Berra’s daughter running around the pitch following the final home game of the campaign struck a chord.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for both the owner and the gaffer for taking my personal situation into account,” said Berra, who was signed at Wolves by McCarthy too. “I don’t think there are many clubs who would have done that. A lot of owners would have tried to get some money for me and made it difficult.
“The gaffer has done wonders for my career. I gave him a phone call to say ‘thanks for everything you have done for me’ and he said the same back. He’s a top man. In football you are either loved or hated and he’s been around long enough to know that. He’ll be fine.”
The 34-cap international has, unsurprisingly, signed a three-year deal at Hearts. The Jam Tarts are his hometown club. It was there where he won the Scottish Cup Final, featured in the UEFA Cup and became the youngest captain in Scottish Premier League history.
“If I was 27/28 then maybe it would have been different,” he says. “But I’m 32 now and not getting any younger. I’ve played in England for eight-and-a-half years, had a good crack at it, had a lot of good times, and now just seems the right time to come home.
“Hopefully I can finish my career here. I do feel like I’ve got many years of football left in me.”
That last sentence could be hard to hear for Town fans. Should the Blues have been more hard-nosed about the situation? Berra understands the argument, but believes ultimately all parties could benefit.
“Change could be good for everybody – not just for me, but for the club too,” he says. “It’s a chance for the gaffer to get some new faces in and start again.
“Maybe we had punched above our weight before. The Championship is a tough league and it’s getting tougher every year with the money being spent by some clubs. You always go into every season with new hope though and I’m sure the boys can kick on again because there are a lot of good characters and good players in that dressing room. It’s small margins in the Championship.”
He reflects: “I think, over the piece, the Ipswich fans appreciated what I did for the team. I always put my head in where it hurts, gave my all and was quite consistent. Don’t get me wrong, I had some bad games and made mistakes, but that’s part and parcel of being a defender.
“It’s a great club, a great fanbase and I couldn’t have asked for a better set of team mates. There were a lot of highs, especially the play-off season, and I will always remember scoring that last minute winner against Derby.”
Caps: 34 for Scotland
Career: Hearts (146 apps, 5 goals), Wolves (154 apps, 0 goals), Ipswich (186 apps, 14 goals)
• Comes through the youth system Hearts. Youngest captain in SPL history at 22, wins Scottish Cup and features in UEFA Cup.
• Mick McCarthy signs him for Wolves in a £2.5m deal in January 2009.
• Key man at Molineux as Wolves claim the Championship title then finish 15th and 17th in the Premier League.
• Wolves are relegated in 2011/12 and McCarthy is sacked towards the end of that campaign. Wolves sink to League One the following year.
• Berra is reunited with McCarthy at Ipswich on a Bosman free transfer.
• Misses just 10 league games in his fours years at Portman Road. Imperious as Town finish sixth in 14/15.