What do you make of Frank Lampard’s first season at Chelsea – do you think he was given more credit than he deserves after losing the FA Cup Final and crashing out of the Champions League?
I think Frank Lampard got the credit he deserved for his first season. He did a really good job last year with all the difficulties he had at the beginning – with Hazard leaving, Pulisic coming in and with the transfer ban. The young players coming in were actually really refreshing. But above all that, for me it was more about their playing style which was very important. They were playing really good football that you really like to see.
Lampard tried to play a kind of football that was entertaining and still gets points. The only negative that I think Frank will be feeling is the amount of goals that they conceded, especially at set pieces. But those are things that he can improve. But I think he had a really successful season. It was a pity that they lost the FA Cup - if he would have won that it would have been a really tremendous season.
What do you make of Chelsea’s transfer activities this summer?
Chelsea needed to bring in new faces and they are doing it aggressively. What I like most is that things have been done quickly. Timo Werner was done quickly, as was Thiago Silva and Ben Chilwell. They certainly do need to improve on last season and to do that, they need to get closer to Liverpool and Man City. That gap needs to be closed. Do I think they will be Champions this year or even challenge for the league? No, I don’t think they are there yet, especially with all the new additions coming in who will need to be given time. But they definitely need to make that gap smaller.
Chelsea have invested heavily this transfer window, should the club be expected to challenge Liverpool and Man City for the Premier League after the investments they have made?
Having spent considerably on players and with last season under his belt, the expectation on Frank this season is going to be totally different. But you have to be realistic. That's where we go wrong a little in football, you have to be realistic. You still have to give him the room of not having to be Champions straightaway because you don't build a team in one year – it takes time. So actually, last year, was not about building, it was about surviving. Now the building is started and you have to give it time. So, if they can get closer and make the gap significantly smaller, it's been a successful season.
How big of a signing is Timo Werner for Chelsea? Do you expect him to hit the ground running or does he need time to adapt to the Premier League?
German football is totally different to the English game so it will be difficult for Werner to settle straight in. We know he's a talented player. We know what he can do. And Chelsea need a player that can score goals. But, we also need to give him the time. If you look at Aubameyang when he came, he needed six months. So, give him those six months as well.
How important of a signing will Hakim Ziyech be for the club?
Hakim Ziyech is very creative, has an excellent left foot, is very good at set pieces and I expect a lot of assists from him. He’s got that aura around him in that he wants the ball. He wants that responsibility, he’s not afraid to score goals. Physically, he’ll possibly have a problem in the beginning, so he has to be smarter with his physical ability. But he is a silky, beautiful player and something that Chelsea don’t have – a midfielder with a left foot who can bring something different.
Chelsea have signed Thiago Silva. Do you think he still has enough quality to fix Chelsea’s defence?
Thiago Silva will bring with him a wealth of experience and know how, I understand the signing 100 per cent. Obviously, French football is also different than English football which is more demanding so he will have to look after his body especially as they are involved in the Champions League as well. But, he is a great addition.
Chelsea have a lot of young players and he will be there to help them. Chelsea have Jorginho who has done that job really, really well. If you look at him during the games when he's playing, he speaks a lot to the to the young players. I think Thiago Silva will be the same. He’s somebody that that the young players can look up to because he's won a lot. He's played a lot for Brazil – he’s been there and done it. He's also a very calm person who will help the young players relax.
Chelsea have been linked with a replacement goalkeeper with both Rennes goalkeeper Edouard Mendy and Lille goalkeeper Mike Maignan - how do you assess the goalkeeping situation at Chelsea?
I don’t think Kepa has been treated unfairly. If you analyse the great goalkeepers in the Premier League, the likes of Schmeichel, Cech, Courtois, Lehmann, Seaman, Ederson, Allison, have all been Champions. Analyse them - there are always moments in that team, that the goalkeeper has to make an incredible save or has to save his team. I’ve not seen that from Kepa. I have not seen that at all in the last two years even when Sarri was at Chelsea. And certain goals that have gone in, he should have done much better.
So, for Chelsea to talk about another goalkeeper or somebody to challenge Kepa, I can understand. If you want to progress, you need a goalkeeper who can concentrate and is going to pull off one or two very important saves every five or six games. He won't have a lot to do but when he has got something to do, he has to be there to make the difference. And I’ve not seen enough of that from Kepa.
Can Pulisic continue his late season form and establish himself as one of the best players in the world?
Christian Pulisic has been a revelation. If you compare him to when Hazard first came to Chelsea, Pulisic has in my opinion done better. But Hazard then went and became an absolutely brilliant star and carried everyone on his shoulders by winning games on his own. Pulisic can be the same – maybe even better. It’s not fair to compare them but Pulisic has done magnificently. I would just like him to be a little bit more clinical in terms of goals. I think he can score more goals.
Reuben Loftus Cheek has suffered injuries in recent years, is this season ‘make or break’ for his career?
This season is ‘make or break’ for Reuben Loftus-Cheek, although I see him having a good future. He needs to play more. He needs to be more aggressive when he plays. I always see him as a nice boy but he needs to own more games. He has so much talent, a great physical presence but he needs to play with a little bit more anger. But most importantly, he needs to stay healthy and keep playing games.
Can Olivier Giroud compete with Werner for a starting position next season?
Giroud has always been underrated. He is not a striker who is going to score you 25 goals but he is a striker who will make others around him play better. So, if he's going to be your main striker, you need wide players and midfielders who can score lots of goals and he will bring them in. Of late, when Giroud has been playing, the team play a lot better. I really like him. He holds the ball up really well, he brings other people in and he scores important goals
Who will be Chelsea’s most important player this season?
Kante will be Chelsea’s most important player this season. Chelsea are going to attack and be so dominant so I would like to see him a lot more behind the ball than in front of the ball. If he can rediscover his form, like it was in the first season under Conte, or like it was when he was at Leicester, then Chelsea will do really well.
What do you make of Messi potentially leaving Barcelona this summer?
Messi is Barcelona. As Barcelona, you don't let Messi go. Especially after what he has done. Of course every player comes to an end but I think Messi should come to an end at Barcelona. You could understand if he says, “okay, guys, I want to go back to Argentina and I'm going to play for my boyhood club”. What you can’t have is Messi going to Inter Milan or Man City like this. That's what I find a little bit strange!
With Ronaldo it is different. He started at Sporting, then went to Man United and then went to Real Madrid. He didn't start in the youth at Real Madrid. He came later at Real Madrid. So, for him to move to Juventus – you can understand it. But Messi, from 13 years-old, started at Barcelona. And the amount that he has won at Barcelona – he is the face of the club – he shouldn’t have the badge of another club on him.
Just how good of a job has Marcelo Bielsa done at Leeds United?
Marcelo Bielsa has brought intensity to the club. He demands a certain way of playing and won’t take anything less than his way. The intensity has been vital to Leeds’s success.
What will be the target for Leeds this season? Staying in the Premier League or will they be thinking more than that?
The main target for Leeds has to be staying in the Premier League and building from there but that is no reason why they shouldn’t aim higher. Leeds need to strengthen in all areas if they are going to do well - from goalkeeper all the way to the striker. There are a few players they have that will play week in week out – Phillips, Klich, Hernandez – but even then, Hernandez is getting older and was already stay struggling to stay fit the whole of last year. So, he's going to find it even harder this year. But those are players with big abilities who can play in the Premier League. But you also always need backup.
Leeds need to strengthen. They need a striker because you need goals - you might not create 10 chances like you were creating in the in the Championship. They also need a goalkeeper who is not as chaotic as the last one. So, they've got a big job to do ahead.
Kalvin Phillips was called up to the recent England squad. How big a thing is that for Leeds to have an England international again and just how good is Phillips?
It is massive for Leeds that they have Kalvin Phillips as an England international in their squad. I have followed him a lot. I do think it is a little bit too early for him to be involved, but I think he’ll get there – but this could give him a boost. He's a level-headed guy as far as I have seen but I would have wanted him to play really well in the Premier League first before being called up. Look, it's going to be a great experience for him but I would want him to not have to think about the England jersey yet and just think about only the Premier League. He's going to be a very, very important person for Leeds next year. Because he's Leeds through and through. He’s going to be the face of Leeds this season, so he will have already a lot on his shoulders.
There are rumours of Lewis Cook making a return to Leeds for a fee in the region of £15 million – should Leeds invest their money there or is the money better spent elsewhere?
Lewis Cook is a really good midfield player and I can understand why Leeds want him back. He gets up and down the pitch well. Technically, he is very, very good. He would be a big plus for Leeds if he were to join.
How special will it be for the Premier League to have Leeds back after so many years away?
Leeds at Elland Road on a Saturday afternoon is an experience. It gives you goose bumps if you're a Leeds fan but if you are an opposition fan and you go there for the first time, you will be intimidated. You will love the atmosphere – it is absolutely amazing. 96 minutes singing, provoking, it is a proper football arena.
Leeds against Manchester United is a fixture the Premier League has missed – it is such a hostile game. The beautiful thing about Leeds is when you when you walk in Leeds, and you're talking to a football fan in Leeds, they will be a Leeds fan. I still have lots of friends over there who have children who don’t have a choice who they support – it has to be Leeds. I tell them “you can't do that!” If you’re a Manchester United fan in Leeds then you are in big trouble!
After guiding them out of the relegation zone last season, how important is it for Middlesbrough to have Neil Warnock at the helm for possibly his last challenge before retiring?
Middlesbrough know what they’re going to get with Warnock. It doesn't matter how or what kind of football - he wants to get promotion, and he's going to try to find a way to get that. He's 70-odd but nothing has changed. He has the energy. He has the know-how. And I expect that Middlesbrough will be a force next year. He's going to work for one of the best owners around who will do his best to give him as much ammunition as possible. And if he does that, Neil Warnock is a dangerous man for all the other clubs in the division.
What are your highlights from your Middlesbrough days?
My biggest memories of Middlesbrough were from the European games against Basel and Steaua Bucharest. At home, coming from behind, going into the semi-final and then the final itself. Those were really historical games. They are games that I will never forget in my life. The atmosphere, the drama. The never die attitude. I remember sitting in the dressing room at halftime thinking that we were we were done, but we still found a little light. Those were amazing times.