The former FC Sion defender joined the Western United FC club in the Australian Championship in September 2021. A few days before the start of the play-offs, he entrusted his first season on the other side of the world.
“Welcome to Australia”: This is how Léo Lacroix was received by Jamie Maclaren, the Australian international striker from Melbourne City. “During my first friendly with Western United, Maclaren left a big mark on me and then pulled out this phrase that characterized me,” recalled the defender. Harassment and introductions were made between the two men.
A few months later, 30-year-old Vaudois is perfectly acclimatized to Australian football. An undisputed starter in his club Western United FC in the A-League, he won over spectators and observers with his defensive interventions. From his first weeks of activity, he was voted best player of the month. “I was surprised to receive this award because it is usually more strikers or midfielders who win it,” he says, “since I arrived, the club has given me confidence and responsibilities. In addition, I get on very well with captaincy Alessandro Diamanti (17 caps with Italy) who immediately explained to me the expectations of the club,” adds former FC Sion.
With the second best defense of the Championship, many are the teams that broke teeth on Western United and Léo Lacroix, most notably Melbourne City, a certain Jamie Maclaren and regular season winner. “We didn’t lose to them in three games and Maclaren came to see me at the end of the third game to tell me it was very complicated to play against me,” said the defender with a small smile.
Happiness after difficult times
Smile, happiness and fun seem to characterize Léo Lacroix’s life in Australia. These good times come after more difficult times. Between September 2019 and January 2021, the defender experienced a complicated period both at Saint-Étienne and during his six-month period without a club. With the Greens, he hoped to regain confidence with the arrival on the bench of Claude Puel who wanted to breathe new life into the cards. “I believed in this speech and I have always trained thoroughly, but with Wesley Fofana and William Saliba there were two excellent defenders and it was the right choice to have them play in my place,” details without bitterness I former member of ASSE.
After six months without a club, Lacroix will return to FC Sion in January 2021 with the aim of finding the rhythm and helping the Wallisers in their fight against relegation. Unfortunately, not everything goes as planned for the defender. “I wasn’t happy with my performance at all, but it’s complicated to come back when you’re out of shape, especially because I’m a player who has to be top physical to perform,” he admits honestly. Although criticism appears on social networks, he prefers to ignore it. “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, you are being criticized today. Personally, it doesn’t bother me and I focus on myself, he explains with great maturity. For some, criticizing is a hobby and unfortunately that is often the case in today’s society.
An exceptional human adventure
After the start of the 2021-2022 season in Sion, Léo Lacroix has chosen to take on a new challenge at the end of the summer transfer window and sign with Western United FC, a club from Melbourne. Surprisingly from Switzerland, this transfer did not come about by chance. “At the end of my contract with Saint-Etienne I had already received a proposal from Melbourne Victory, but with the Covid it was vague and I was not enthusiastic about the idea,” recalls the international. Swiss himself. The second phone call from Australia is the right one and the whole family flies to Melbourne for a new adventure.
“In addition to the sporty aspect, it was also a choice for our two children. With my wife, we wanted to give them the opportunity to speak English from a very young age,” Western United’s number 4 recognizes. More generally, it is the whole adventure on the other side of the world with in particular the discovery of beautiful landscapes, walks in the parks of Melbourne and the wonderful human encounters that conquered Léo Lacroix: “I do not regret that I went to Australia. I met amazing people, the locals are amazing and it’s an incredible experience to live.”
A different mentality
In addition to the change of life and environment, the defensive rock also had to adapt to a new football and all the specifics that come with it. Unknown to the European public, the A-League is of a good standard with several Australian internationals and players with good individual qualities. “It is an intensive game and it goes in all directions. Compared to Switzerland, I run between 1.5 and 2 km more per game,” says the former FC Basel player.
However, the main difference with European football is in the mentality of the players. The Australian Championship operates on an American system with play-offs at the end of the season and no relegation. There is therefore less pressure on results during the regular season, which Léo Lacroix does not necessarily like. “I miss this pressure, here the regular season is less important, you just have to finish in the top 6 to qualify for the final,” explains the defender. “Here, if you miss your peace, there is no Constantin coming to reframe you in the dressing room,” he adds with a laugh.
As he adapts to the Australian mentality, the former Hamburg defender is trying to bring his touch thanks to the experience gained during his career and his winning spirit. A winning soul, Western United, third in the regular season, will need it for its first playoffs.
A desire to make history
The club, founded in 2019, is entering the first finals in its history against New Zealanders Wellington Phoenix, against whom they have lost twice in as many matches this season, in a knockout match. “Anyone can beat anyone in this championship, but we have the advantage of playing this game at home,” said Léo Lacroix motivated.
After the disappointment of the end of the regular season in which Western United had what it takes to take first place and direct qualification to the semi-finals, the defensive pillar doesn’t want to miss this second chance to make club history. “The club has not set any goals, but I feel we can do something with our team and I want us to win the first title in club history,” he said with certainty.
At the end of the contract, Léo Lacroix leaves his future open. Right now, his goal is to win the championship before potentially finishing the season at a high level by being selected into the A-League All-Stars team that will meet FC Barcelona in an exhibition game on May 25.