Joe Ledley: Premier League dream fulfilled after a decade

By Simon RobertsBBC Sport Wales
Crystal Palace and Wales midfielder Joe Ledley
Crystal Palace and Wales midfielder Joe Ledley

Not many players would willingly swap regular Champions League football for a Premier League relegation scrap, but that is exactly what Wales midfielder Joe Ledley has done.

Ledley, 27, has turned his back on guaranteed silverware with Celtic in the SPL for a white knuckle fight for survival with Crystal Palace in south London.

After a decade in the professional ranks, Ledley has finally achieved a long-held ambition of playing in the Premier League.

It has taken him from his hometown club, Cardiff City, to the old firm in Scotland and to the English capital to realise a personal dream.

Ledley was regularly linked with a move to England and abroad when he was at Cardiff, with Everton, Stoke and even Italian side AS Roma all ready to sign him, but he always stayed loyal to the Bluebirds.

The 50-times capped Welsh international seemed, at times, to be on a personal crusade to lead the club he supported as a boy into English football's top flight.

Premier League dream

"My main aim was to get Cardiff into the Premier League, but it didn't happen," Ledley told BBC Wales' Sport Wales.

He certainly gave it his best shot, playing twice at Wembley, in the FA Cup final defeat to Portsmouth in 2008 and the Championship play-off final defeat to Blackpool in 2010.

Ledley, who made his debut for the Bluebirds as a 17-year-old in the Championship back in 2004, stayed for six years and even went onto captain the club before he signed for Celtic in 2010.

During his stint with Celtic, he won three League titles and a Scottish Cup and was part of the team which has gone down in folklore after they beat Barcelona 2-1 at Celtic Park in 2012.

But in January he surprised many when he decided to leave Celtic Park, but says he felt his time in Scotland had come to an end.

He signed a three-and-half year deal at Selhurst Park and rolled up his sleeves for a relegation dogfight in the "best league in the world".

"I thought it was right for me to move on and I had a fantastic three and a half years at Celtic, played a lot of Champions League games and I just thought, with may age, it was the right thing to do to move and play in the Premier League," said Ledley.

"I just thought it was the right time for me to go, I was out of contract at the end of the season.

"They offered me a contract and I was actually planning on signing, but when the bid [by Crystal Palace] was accepted I just thought it was time for me to move on.

"I enjoyed every moment at Celtic and it's a fantastic club. It will always be with me in my heart.

Joe Ledley celebrates scoring for Celtic
Happy days at Celtic as Joe Ledley celebrates a goal.

"It was tough. I had the Champions League for a long time and won medals; then you're getting a bit older and at my age - hitting your potential - and I thought it was time for me to play in the Premier League.

"Not many players are lucky enough to have this opportunity and I just thought it was right."

The move south saw him finally sign for a manager who had tried to sign him twice before in his career for Stoke City - fellow Welshman Tony Pulis.

"Finally, third time lucky and it has happened," said Ledley.

"He is a fantastic manager and a proven Premier League manager and you can see that in the way he works because you come here and have to give 100% and work your socks off for the team.

"For me that is perfect and it's the way I like to play, giving 100% for my teammates.

"He is fantastic, not just on the pitch, but off it as well. He has really looked after me, making sure I am alright and my family is fine."

Relegation battle

Ledley's heart on his sleeve approach has always won him admirers with Wales, Cardiff, Celtic and now with the Eagles.

Scoring a goal on his Palace debut in the 3-1 win over West Bromwich Albion certainly would have helped.

"I just wanted the three points because we are trying to get as many points as we can, but to get a goal on your debut is just the icing on the cake," said Ledley.

Palace are currently 16th in the Premier League table in the tightest relegation battle in living memory - with 11 clubs all in the mix.

The Welshman acknowledges his side are in a battle, but he is quietly confident the Eagles will avoid the drop.

"It is very difficult because anything can happen and it's very difficult to say who is going to go down," said Ledley.

"It is a crazy league at the moment and everyone is right in the mix.

"Hopefully, we are one of the lucky teams who can get out and I don't see why not with the squad we have got."

Watch the Joe Ledley interview on Sport Wales, BBC Two Wales from 21:30 GMT on Friday, 28 February.