What were your thoughts on the Tottenham performance last night?
I wasn’t surprised because I think that Everton have been really poor all season under Benitez and it’s been difficult for Frank since he’s come in, especially away from home. I think when you give Spurs that type of space, they are always going to hurt you with the two world-class players in Son and Kane in front and with Bentancur dictating the game form the middle of the park, it was always going to be difficult.
I think the recruitment at Everton has been poor over the last few years. They’ve spent around £500 million in the last five years and don’t really have anything to show for it.
The Spurs performance was a top performance, but it just shows how inconsistent they can be. They beat Man City away and lost to Burnley. They got knocked out of the cup by Boro and go and beat Everton 5-0 and it could have been 7-0. This level of inconsistency will have Antonio Conte scratching his head.
I couldn’t agree with you more. How can Conte turn them into a more consistent team?
That’s the million-dollar question. I’d love to know myself. He’ll need some help from signings in the summer. I know he’s only got an 18-month contract, but I’m sure that’ll get renewed at some point because Spurs aren’t going to get a better manager than Antonio Conte. That is for starters.
It’s up to the players to produce on the day. They’re starting to get a settled side. Doherty and Sessegnon have played in the last few games. Romero is in with Davies and Dier, and you’ve got Bentancur, Hojbjerg in the middle of the pitch, with Kulusevski and Son out wide, and Kane through the middle. If Conte picks a consistent team, they might start getting more results, but at the minute Spurs are inconsistent, like a lot of teams in the Premier League.
Conte, he’s a winner, he’s got pedigree. At times, this season, he’s openly questioned the quality of his players. He has used his press conferences to complain about the quality of the club at times. As a player, how would that make you feel?
Is that a message for the players? Or is it a message to the board? He’s very clever in his press conferences. After the Burnley defeat, he was very clever in what he said. And sometimes, it depends on what type of player you are, do you take that criticism onboard? Or do you go the other way? For me, I’d take it onboard and I’d try and prove him wrong. I’m sure that’s the type of reaction he wants.
I do think Tottenham need more backing, especially going into next season. They’ll need to spend a lot of money to try and get into the Champions League next year. Three points behind Arsenal having played a game more. It’s not going to be easy for them to get into the Champions League now. For me, they’ve been too inconsistent to get there. If they get there, Conte has done an incredible job.
Do you expect Antonio to be the man to sort of end the trophy drought at Spurs?
They couldn’t get anyone better than Antonio Conte to try and do that. But everyone needs the right tools for the job. And at the minute, he hasn’t got those tools. Come the summer, hopefully Spurs back him and give him the resources to get the right players for how he wants to play. We’ve seen him do it at Inter Milan, Juventus and Chelsea. He’s a top manager. He’s got a pedigree at the top. I was surprised that other teams didn’t come in for Conte after he left Inter Milan because he’s an exceptional manager.
If there was going to be a guy to end the trophy drought, many may expect it to be him. I was surprised Man Utd didn’t move for him, to be honest with you.
I was surprised by that as well, because Man Utd want to win trophies, and they’ve had Moyes, Van Gaal, Mourinho, Solskjaer, why couldn’t you get Antonio Conte when he’s available? He’s an outstanding manager. I don’t buy into people saying he’s not a Man Utd manager, what is? You had Alex Ferguson, the man who’s brought the most success, the others who followed him haven’t been able to get close to winning the Premier League. I think Antonio Conte would have been perfect for Man Utd.
Do you think Conte’s shuffling of the Tottenham defence has contributed to some of the inconsistent performances that they’ve delivered?
I wouldn’t say so. These players are Premier League players at the end of the day, and Antonio Conte’s come in and he’s tried to find his best team. It took him a bit of time like it does with any manager. And because of the inconsistent performances, he’s probably thinking (about certain players) one week he could be very good, the next week he’s not so good, what do I do?
He’s had to try and find time to find that consistency, and it hasn’t been easy. But I wouldn’t say that shuffling the pack has contributed. Losing Romero and Dier for injury have been a factor, and that’s not down to him shuffling the pack, that’s down to them being injured.
I think when they play Dier and Romero, they look stronger, and they have Davies on the left side to bring that balance, they do look stronger in that area.
On Romero, a lot of pundits and fans are tipping him to be an integral part of Antonio Conte’s transformation of Tottenham and a big part of their future. Have you been impressed by what you’ve seen of him so far?
I like him. I know he’s still only young, 23 years old, Argentinian international. I like when he tries to defend on the front foot. He’s aggressive, he wants to try and win the ball when he goes up to the striker, and that’s what I like my defence to do. I don’t like defenders who sit off, I want them to be aggressive.
That’s what I like about him. He’s only going to get better with a manager of Conte’s standards. A manager who’s worked with Bonucci, Chiellini, these are top players we’re talking about, and I’m sure he’s going to learn even more from Conte. I do like him.
Conte places so much importance in the wingback role, and he’s tried a few different options so far with the players that he’s got at his disposal. You mentioned that he’s kind of settled on Sessegnon on the left and Doherty on the right. Out of the players in the squad, who would you go for in that position?
I like Reguilon. I liked him when he was loan to Sevilla. I think he’s a really good player. I think next season, that is the position, left and right wingbacks, they’ll look to bring people in. I think a few of the wingbacks will be getting shipped out, I really do. It’s a massive position for Antonio Conte, it’s a massive position for how he wants to play his football.
We know that he tried to sign Traore for the right wingback role in January, so he can’t be that confident in what he has, but to be fair, Doherty has done well recently. Hats off to him. He’s battled and he’s done well. I remember when he was at Wolves, he got a lot of assists in the Championship. At the minute, he’s got the bit between his teeth and doing well. But long-term I think Conte will be looking for something maybe a bit different.
We’re talking about Conte needing to bring in better players. Realistically, do you think that Spurs will be able to attract the players that Antonio Conte desires if they don’t qualify for the Champions League?
They have to be creative in what they do. Like they have with Bentancur and Kulusevski. They were just about to sign Diaz but Liverpool came in and took him away from them. I don’t blame Diaz. If a top team like Liverpool come for you, you’re going. They have to be creative and they have to look at different avenues. They’ll need to work closely with agents to find out if there’s any clauses in contracts to bring in certain players.
This is what they’ll have to be doing to get it right, because it is going to be difficult. Antonio Conte knows that Italian market like the back of his hand, that’s the reason why they got Bentancur and Kulusevski.
If they don’t finish in the Champions League, it’s going to be hard to really get top players to come because they don’t want to play in the Europa League or Europa Conference, they want to be playing at the highest level possible.
If they don’t finish in the top four it’s going to be difficult for them again. And difficult for Conte, would he sign another contract? I know he’s got a year left, but would he sign another contract if they were in the Europa League again? I’m not so sure.
Do you think they can finish in that top four?
If they become more consistent, but we’ve been saying it all season on Spurs, they’re very inconsistent. Really inconsistent, like United, Arsenal at times can be inconsistent, but Arsenal, they’re fourth at the minute and they look like the ones who are going to nick it. And if they do finish fourth, what a job Arteta has done from the start of the season they had.
What have you made of Kulusevski and Bentancur?
I watched Bentancur when he was at Boca Juniors, and I watched him quite a few times at Juventus. I’ve always liked him. I think he gives them something else in the centre of the pitch. Hojbjerg, Winks, and maybe Skipp, they’re a bit too similar. When Bentancur comes in, he’s more progressive with the ball, he gets on it, plays forward, passes. He looks stronger in that position.
Kulusevski, I didn’t know a lot about him when he first came. But he’s got a floating role on the right-hand side and done well. He’s a strong runner with the ball. He can see a pass, assists well, so he has been a good signing. That’s what I mean about Spurs, they have to be creative and sign these type of players to really progress.
Obviously last night, Harry Kane did the business again. Where do you think the future lies for Harry? Do you expect him to sign that contract, or likely try and get the move that didn’t happen for him in the summer?
At the end of this season, it’ll be two years left on his contract. I can’t see him wanting to stay. Harry Kane wants to win trophies. Every single player wants to win trophies and wants to play in the Champions League. He wanted to leave this season, he even said himself he wanted to leave. I can’t see how he stays at Spurs if he wants to win trophies.
What message does that send to the rest of the squad in terms of overall ambition if Kane were allowed to leave?
It’s the message, but then it’s how do you replace Harry Kane? If you get, I don’t know, how many million, how do you replace him? What players do you bring in to replace Harry Kane? And you can go again. He’ll be 29 when he leaves Tottenham? He’s been a top player, but when you start hitting 29, start hitting your 30s, then it becomes slightly difficult. You can see him now dropping deeper in games and hitting incredible passes. I just think it’s how they reinvest that money, it would show the likes of Son and Lloris a succession plan. The club are going to try and progress.
The players coming in would suggest that they are ready to spend.
On United v Spurs And The Race For A Top Four
United vs Tottenham at the weekend, how important to do you think this is for both clubs?
It’s massive for both. It’s so important for Man Utd after getting a real thumping from Man City and Tottenham need it. A draw for Tottenham wouldn’t be the worst result in the world, but for Man Utd, they need to win the game. They can’t afford to keep on getting beat after getting battered by Man City.
I think Gary Neville said in the aftermath of that City defeat, that if United lose this one, top four is out of the window. Would you agree with that for United?
I think the top four is still going to be difficult for United. The performances they’ve shown all season have been inconsistent. With the three games Arsenal have got in hand on them, it’s really going to be tough for them.
What do you think of Harry Maguire’s form this season? And if you were Rangnick, with your manager’s hat on Jonathan, would you think about protecting the player and taking him out of the firing line, because it looks to me like he’s struggling a little bit?
I think he was very good at the Euros in the summer. He’s the captain of Man Utd, you know he’s going to get scrutinised. For me, you’ve got to stick with him, because in my opinion he’s the second-best centre half at the football club behind Varane. The more Varane and Maguire play together, that partnership is going to get better. Varane’s been injured quite a bit this season, so it’s been tough for Maguire, but for me, you stick with him. You keep on playing him, because at the end of the day, what did they pay for him, 80-odd million?
He’s the captain of the club and it hasn’t been easy for him this season, but he’s still a good player, you don’t become a bad player overnight.
Given some of the United’s defensive woes, you’d think Harry Kane would be well up for it. Do you think he could be the difference maker in the game?
Him and Son could be the difference makers, because they’re two world class players for Tottenham. I’m sure they’ll probably sit back with a deep block and counter attack like they did so effectively against Man City where they scored three outstanding goals. If Man Utd are off it with the press, Harry Kane could capitalise because he’s a world class striker.
How different do you think United’s season could have been if they’d had brought in a permanent manager, like Conte? Rather than an interim in Rangnick?
I don’t think the interim thing works to be honest with you. I don’t think it’s worked for United. I think these players needed to really see someone who was going to be there for the next four years and understand what the club’s objectives are over that period. Man Utd should have got a manager in there who’s going to be there for the next four years, so they can build something.
I think with all the stories that come out of United, the leaks from inside the club, are absolutely disgraceful. The disrespect shown to the manager with some of the stories, it’s horrendous. That doesn’t come happen at a successful team. You don’t hear stories coming out of Man City, of Liverpool. You don’t hear these stories, because these are successful teams.
But United, because everything’s not going to plan, you always get these little murmurings. And that’s how it starts, and it snowballs. That’s what seems to be happening at United at the minute. There’s a lot of scrutiny on United because they’re one of the biggest clubs in world football. They’re not one of the best teams at the minute, because they aren’t producing.
They’ve got a lot of big players in that dressing room, and at the minute, they all deserve to be under scrutiny and their performances should be questioned. That’s when you stick together, and stories don’t get out of successful football clubs.
Can you imagine that in Alex Ferguson’s era, stories getting out like that? It wouldn’t happen.
Obviously, something’s happening. The club’s not being run properly. They haven’t got a manager in charge that’s going to be there for the long run, he’s an interim manager, and then he’s going to go upstairs next season.
If you look at the Ronaldo situation, Man Utd were never linked with Cristiano Ronaldo. It was only when Man City went to get him. Man Utd thought, ‘Oh, he can’t go to City’. Then they took him, for what reason? I don’t believe he was ever a target for them. At the last minute he became a Man Utd player. Where’s all the planning? Who planned it? Was it just off the cuff? Let’s go and sign Cristiano Ronaldo because he’s going to Man City. At a top football club, that can’t happen in my view. That’s just my view.
Ronaldo, his personal stats have been decent. And everybody knows the guy’s pedigree. But in many respects, I think you could say that he’s been a bit of a destabilising influence given that he wasn’t part of the plan.
No, I don’t agree with that. I think he’s a world class player. I think you bring Ronaldo in, then you’ve got to build a team around him. He scores goals for fun. You have to build a team around Ronaldo, because at the end of the day, you brought him in at the last minute, so if you’re going to bring him in last minute, then try and build a team around him. It doesn’t make sense if you’re not going to do that. I don’t think United really have built that team around Ronaldo to get the best out of a top-quality player.
Just going back to the interim situation with United, a lot of the criticism has been around a lack of leadership and we’ve mentioned the leaks and how disappointing that is. From your experience Jonathan, as someone’s who’s gone in before as a manager in football clubs on shorter term deals, how difficult is it to keep everybody focussed when the players know that come the end of the season, you’re not going to be there?
In my defence, I didn’t know that I wasn’t going to be there and neither did the players (Woodgate left AFC Bournemouth at the end of the 20/21 season). I think with Rangnick and Man Utd, they know he’s not going to be there because he’s apparently going upstairs for a two-year consultancy. For me it was slightly different.
At the minute, Rangnick’s working with world-class stars, which is very different when you’re working in the Championship. He’s working with egos. That squad is gigantic. I don’t know how you keep that unbalanced squad happy. It’s going to be tough for any manager, it really is. I feel sorry for him at times, because he’s got his work cut out, especially with all these things that are getting leaked. As I said previously, I think it’s disgusting what’s been going on.
Yeah. Do you expect things to get worse at United before they get better?
When they get a new manager in the summer, he really needs backing. He needs to get a lot of the players out and recruit top players, because Man Utd’s still an incredible football club. At the minute, it’s not a great team. And the imbalance of that squad, there’s a lot of individuals - if you look at Man City and how they play, they’re a team. Liverpool is a team. Man Utd have top quality players, but they aren’t a team.
Raphael Varane’s obviously come in La Liga, from Real Madrid. Some people have said that he’s struggled to adapt or come to terms with the intensity of our game over here. Do you think that’s a fair statement?
It's always hard for someone coming from La Liga to the Premier League, because the intensity is a different to any league. He’s a player who’s won four Champions Leagues for Real Madrid, and I know he only played 16 times this season. Man Utd have only lost in the league twice when he’s played, so I think if you pair him and Maguire up, then you start getting a bit tighter back there - the fullback’s become a bit steadier and more compact. Then you’re not going to concede as many goals.
It’s not all down to Varane. Do I think he’s struggled in this League? I don’t think it’s gone perfectly well, but I think he’s been injured a couple of times, I don’t think that’s helped. There’s no doubt he’s a top-quality player. He’s only 28 as well. I couldn’t believe that because he’s played at the top level for so many years and he’s got plenty of years ahead of him.
When you think of what he’s won, at his age. It’s amazing.
He’s had a fantastic career. Man Utd want, a van Dijk though I believe. And you have to search high and low for all these players, where can we get them from? But he’s not a van Dijk, he’s not a Rolls Royce. Still a good player. Still a top player in fact.
On Leeds United
Bielsa, obviously he left and he’s going to always be regarded as a legend there for what he did for Leeds. When you think about the job that he’s done, was there a standout moment for you?
There’s been that many to be honest with you. I mean his first season in the Championship, I think they won away at Derby and that was a statement. I know they got beat by Derby in the play-offs, but then I thought the next season they’d win it, and they did. They won it at a canter, they were brilliant. But you’ve got to think when Marcelo Bielsa came into Leeds, they were 14th in the Championship in that season, and if you look at what his done with the likes of Stuart Dallas, Ayling, he’s made Kalvin Phillips into an England regular. Kalvin got England Player of the Year. He’s turned those players into internationals. He’s made Patrick Bamford an England international. I mean what he’s done for that club is brilliant.
I think even if he’d had stayed in charge, they’d have stayed up, because they would have scored goals with the quality they have. OK, they would have got beaten like they did towards the end of his tenure, but I think if he’d stayed, they’d have stayed up.
If he had stayed, I think he’d have gone at the end of the season because he had a one year rolling contract.
Danny Mills praised Bielsa for the principles, the way he played football. But he thought that possibly he was a little bit stubborn when Leeds were getting badly beaten and he should have tweaked his tactics a little bit and made them a little bit more difficult to beat.
As a coach, how important are your principles, and when do you need to change them?
I think in certain scenarios, when you’re coming up against the best teams, you have to adapt. You can still have your identity, but you need to adapt your tactics at times. I didn’t hear anyone complaining when they beat Man City at the Etihad when they were still playing that same system, I think they went down to 10 men as well and then Stuart Dallas scored late on, no one was complaining then, were they?
That’s when they had their Bamford, Kalvin Phillips, that spine fit. It was difficult. I think that’s what really hurt Leeds this season. Patrick Bamford scored 17 goals last season, in the Premier League. Kalvin Phillips, centre midfielder, top player. They lost Cooper at the back. It’s always going to be difficult without your spine.
Not buying a centre forward in the January window – I know they’ve got Gelhardt, a young kid, a good little player – but they needed someone else to really step in that Bamford role. I think that’s where they come short.
When you saw Leeds shipping in all those goals, do you feel frustrated as a former player watching that?
I don’t feel frustrated, because I know what it’s like to be out there. And when you’re under that pressure, it’s difficult. When I was at Leeds and we were conceding goals, I’d be saying to David Batty and Oli Dacourt, ‘get in here and make us hard to beat for 10 or 15 minutes,’ when I kept a clean sheet, it was like scoring a goal to me. If we’d won 1-0 at away or at home, I’d be like over the moon. That’s a real passion of mine, not conceding goals. And I bet the Leeds United defenders were hurting because it’s not easy. It’s not nice to concede goals, especially the way they were conceding them.
The new manager comes in, Jesse Marsch, what did you think of his first, his debut performance against Leicester?
Outstanding. I thought Leeds were brilliant. I watched the game live and I liked what I saw. When they were pressing, they were going 4-2-4 really aggressive. When it went to the fullback, that was the trigger to really press and be aggressive, get men up the pitch. They were strong on the counter attack. They could have had a few goals. But I liked the way they played. I liked the patterns of Raphinha playing inside, and Harrison playing inside, trying to get behind. It wasn’t all pass, pass, pass, it was aggressive football. I really liked it.
What do you think Jesse’s biggest challenge is going into the club, because for me in many ways, and I think this is absolutely ludicrous one of the biggest challenges he’s going to have is dispelling the stereotypes that exist in our game about American coaches?
I think he’s knows that himself. Look what he did at Salzburg doing the double-double. When he was at Leipzig, he wasn’t there long, but he’s a manager who wants to press. A lot of the work, fundamentals of pressing and being aggressive is already there, he just has to change the man-to-man system, which he did perfectly at the weekend and the players had no problems doing it by the way.
It’s like going into a manual car and then going into an automatic car. You know how to do it straight away, so when you talk about tactics and man-to-man, then you go to a different system, the players got it straight away, and out in a really assured performance against Leicester.
What do you make of the American stuff?
I think it’s stupid. We’re not all wired the same way. People are going to have different views about it. But for me it’s nonsense, because he showed at Salzburg he was a really successful coach.
You mentioned Patrick Bamford. How much of a difference is it going to make to the team straight away?
A massive difference. He scored 17 goals last season and, if you look the way Patrick pressed under Bielsa, he was the one who started it off. Jesse Marsch wants to press, and he’s got the perfect player in Patrick who will run himself into the ground and who get you a goal, as he proved last season. I think it’s really important. He didn’t come off the bench at the weekend, maybe he’s not 100% fit. But it was good to see him back out there. It’s good to see him back in the squad.
Eddie Howe, how much credit do you think he deserves for the impact that he’s had since going in there?
Huge. I think when he first went in, it wasn’t easy. He had a transfer window which helped. He’s got good players and he got good characters in. And he’s done an exceptional job, unbeaten for eight games, which in the Premier League is really difficult to do.
He’s got them out of the relegation zone. I like the signings of Trippier and Dan Burn, they’ve been exceptional - I know Trippier’s injured but even though he’s injured, he’ll still give you that leadership around the club.
I can guarantee those training sessions they’re doing are intense. I had one of his coaches when I was at Bournemouth, Stephen Purches. His sessions were brilliant, really intense. He’s turned the club around and I hope they stick with him for as long as they can because he’s an exceptional young English manager who one day will manage England in my view. I think he’s that good.
The job he did at Bournemouth, bringing them all the way through the leagues, to the Premier League, staying in the Premier League for five seasons, he will be England Manager one day. Newcastle must stick with him. They must back him. Give him money for signings, because he’ll do a good job.
Of those players that he’s been working with, any individual who’s stood out for you?
I’d say Joelinton. He come from Hoffenheim as a £40 million striker. I didn’t seem him as that player, I didn’t think he was clinical enough, and he was in and out of the team. When you go to Newcastle and you put the iconic number 9 shirt on, it becomes difficult because they’ve had legends in that role. I mean the main man Alan Shearer, the top Premier League goal scorer, it’s a burden on you. It’s like when you go to Man Utd and put 7 on. It’s difficult.
For Eddie Howe to identify that he can play as an 8, just shows how much of a good coach he is. He’s identified attributes that Joelinton’s had, put it into practice, and it showed that he can carry that ball up the pitch. He can press, he’s aggressive. He’s got that eye for a goal, as an 8, but not prolific as a 9. Joelinton has been a revelation for me.
I’ve watched them a few times this season, and he’s been the one player who’s looked outstanding, Dan Burn as well. Signing him from Brighton, Eddie must have done his homework on him. He’s relentless when it comes to getting players in and looking at what attributes they have. Burn’s come in to Newcastle and he’s been one of the top signings.
Eddie’s done this a few times in his career, where like you said, he typically will sign players where he does a lot of homework, or of players that he’s familiar with before, like he worked with Trippier at Burnley. Obviously at Newcastle, they’ve got more money than God. How important is it to make sure you’re bringing in the right guys and how do you find those guys?
You’ve got to have a balance in your squad of senior players, young players and players who are reaching their prime. You’ve got to do your homework when recruiting. You’ve got to know personalities. You’ve got to know family background, any problems that they may have had. You have to know everything. Liverpool are a great example of a club that gets recruitment right, they are meticulous. I had the pleasure of working there for eight months (as a Scout) and learnt a hell of a lot. I’m sure Eddie Howe will be the same.
You have to be meticulous. You have to know the characters that you’re bringing into the building. If a player turns up, and he’s disruptive and he’s getting left out of the team, what’s his attitude going to be like? The next minute, you’ve got four players who have a clique and then it gets difficult. If you have senior professionals, the likes of Trippier, Dan Burn, Lascelles, who can then stitch a dressing room together, it’s always a positive. Leaders are massively important. Having senior pros in your football club that set the standard each day is huge.
Do you think that Newcastle are going to lay down a marker in the summer and sign some players tell the rest of the football world ‘we’re not messing around’?
I think they’ll sign players from teams that are between eighth and fifth in the league. I don’t see them getting Champions League players yet, I really don’t. I know they’ve got Trippier, but he wanted to come back to England. Leaving Atletico Madrid, you’re leaving Champions League Football. To really get top players, they’ll need a couple of seasons and will need and to develop as a club. If you get all these players in at once, does it always work? I’m not so sure. They’ll have to be meticulous about who they sign and what positions they go for.
On His Toughest Opponent
Who do you think was your toughest ever opponent?
I’m going to say three: Suarez, Henry, and Shearer. Henry’s pace, Shearer’s total goal threat, constantly in the box, and Suarez’s all-round play. As a centre forward, I’d never been rolled when getting too tight marking a player. Suarez rolled me three times in one game. This was when I was at Stoke City. I think I was 32 years old. He was so strong with the way he manipulated his body. He’d run with the ball, he’d get little ricochets but he’d keep on running. He was clever, his movement, his pace. He was just hard to play against, he was always on you. Always pressing you. But I’d say all three of them.
You were managing Bournemouth last season, is there any ambition to get back in the management?
Yeah, without a doubt. I want to get back into management, has to be the right opportunity. You can’t take any job that comes along, it has to be right. Hopefully something comes along. I’m watching a lot of football and staying busy by doing a lot of work on radio and the telly.
At Bournemouth, Parker spent a lot in January. Does he have to get them up this year after the level of investment?
I think the investment came in, because they started to slip a little bit. Fair play to Scott, when he got the job, he put a lot of the youngsters in because he didn’t have a massive squad, and they’ve done really well for him. Now that January’s gone, he brought some really talented players in, who are probably on the cusp of being Premier League players. Players Like Cantwell, Nat Phillips, good players.
They must think they’ve got a real chance. I think at the start of the season, the plan wouldn’t have been 100% promotion, but now it is with the talent they’ve brought in.
One guy you managed there, Danjuma, he was brilliant for you, and he’s gone to Villarreal, and he’s banging in the goals there. He’s been linked with quite a few of the big clubs in the Premier League, what do you make of him as a player, and do you think he could play for the top clubs?
He could play for the top clubs because he has the pace and he has the belief – he wants to be the best player he can be. His end product is very good. Last season when he was going through on goal, I thought to myself, he’ll score. He was clinical with his finishing. He was deadly, for a player that plays on the wing. He’s done really well at Villareal this season, but he can go further than that. He could play for a team of Liverpool’s calibre because he’s quick and he’s a very, very confident boy. I really enjoyed working with him, good mentality.
Which defenders have impressed you this year in the Premier League?
I watched Thiago Silva in the League Cup final at Wembley, he was out of this world. I mean out of this world. What a performance he put on. Van Dijk, the Rolls Royce. Rudiger’s had a really good season. Webster at Brighton’s been good, and is one that is maybe on the fringe of the England squad. Ben White, he didn’t have a great start, but he’s improved.
If you’re going to pick three teams you think might go down and who would they be?
Newcastle are out of it now, for me. Norwich, Watford, and I have a sneaking feeling, Brentford. They might get pulled back in to it, although Eriksen could be the talisman. Everton were terrible against Tottenham. Burnley, I think they’ve got a bit too much with Dyche. It’s hard, isn’t it?
OK, last one from me Woody as well, who’s going to win the title?
Middlesbrough’s playoff chances?
They’ll have momentum after the two FA Cup victories over Manchester United and Spurs. When Chris Wilder came in, they were fourteenth in the league and now they’re sixth, just in front of Sheffield United.
He’s changed Middlesbrough’s playing style for the better, and the attractive football is bringing more fans into the Riverside. He plays quick attacking football, playing out from the back, creating overloads in the wide areas – the way I think the game should be played. They’re playing good football and it’s been a pleasure to watch it. I think they will get into the playoffs, but this is a big game tonight.
Do you think Wilder is capable of getting the club promoted into the Premier League?
I think he’s capable. If Wilder had been in charge all season, you’d probably have seen Middlesbrough higher up the table. He’ll have a good chance this season and I think he’ll have an unbelievable chance next season, especially if he gets the backing from the club with signings.
Can Middlesbrough dare to dream about winning the FA Cup this season? What chance do you give them against Chelsea?
They beat Manchester United and Tottenham, two clubs that have been inconsistent this season, the next match against Chelsea is a step-up. You’re dealing with a team that are the European champions, that have just won the Club World Cup.
Since Tuchel arrived, he’s put three trophies in the cabinet. They were narrowly beaten by Liverpool in the League Cup. It is a different ball game for them now.
Middlesbrough are facing a team that are really well drilled, consistent, with an outstanding bench and outstanding starting eleven. I think it is going to be really difficult for Middlesbrough. The plus side for them is that the match is an evening kick-off at a full Riverside – the atmosphere will be great – and under the lights, Middlesbrough are a difficult team to play against.
Against the beast that are Chelsea, it’s going to be very hard.
I’d love to see it happen. Some of the performances from these players have been magnificent. When you’re playing against the best teams, every player needs to deliver an 8 or 9 out of 10. The performance of Johnny Howson in the middle of the park against Spurs was outstanding, especially when Kane and Son started dropping deep, he did a brilliant job in that area of the pitch. They’ll need to bring that level of performance and some again. It’s a big ask, but they’ve got nothing to lose. They’re on a great run and have already beaten a couple of the big boys. Who knows.
Isiah Jones and Djed Spence (on loan at Forest) are two Boro players that apparently have many admirers from big clubs across Europe. Have you been impressed by both of them this season?
Both of them were at the club when I was there (Woodgate managed Middlesbrough in 2019/20 season) and I gave Djed his debut. Isiah wasn’t ready to play at the time.
Both of them were at the club when I was there (Woodgate managed Middlesbrough in 2019/20 season) and I gave Djed his debut. Isiah wasn’t ready to play at the time.
You have to look at the recruitment. Martin Carter, the head of academy recruitment has done an incredible job in getting these players. Djed was released from Fulham, Martin went and watched him and signed him straight away. He picked up Isaiah Jones from Tooting & Mitcham in the non-league. Martin Carter is putting in the hard yards for Middlesbrough Football Club.
Martin Carter signed a player when I was the Under 18’s assistant called Billal Brahimi. He’s just joined Nice for a fee reported to be €10 million. Martin Carter is an incredible asset to the club. The amount of work he does in recruiting players for managers to coach. Incredible.
Would Isaiah have had the same impact if Djed was there? It’s a blessing in disguise that Djed joined Forest on loan and is playing outstandingly well. Isiah has come in and has been fantastic. I think if Middlesbrough don’t go up, then the clubs are going to come bidding for those players along with Dale Fry and Marcus Tavernier – there is a lot of young talent there.
When you were at the club, could you tell that these players had something special about them?
You could always tell, yeah. It wasn’t always so simple for Djed. It was tough. A few people at the club wanted him to go out on loan, but he stayed, fought for his place and he got his chance under me. He deserved it and did really well.
When Neil Warnock came in it changed for him. Djed wasn’t really getting in the team and the club loaned him out. Anyone that has a lot of pace and can defend one against one, as a right back or right wing back have always got a chance to deliver.
Marcus Tavernier in the middle of the pitch has so much energy, is quick, covers a lot of ground and is decent on the ball. He’s aggressive and wants to press.
When you look at these types of players, you can always see they’ve got something about them. The biggest challenge for them is how they progress – taking their games to another level and then another level – they’ve still got a long way to go, but they’re doing really well.
Real Madrid & Champions League
The Bernabeu will be absolutely bouncing, the atmosphere will be unreal. Sometimes it’s not always like that at The Bernabeu because the fans expect to be entertained, but for the Champions League nights, it’s a different ball game.
In the first leg, Madrid played very defensive tactics
Madrid were set up in a shape to counterattack. Sometimes the counterattack is better at catching teams out than a press and, with the width that PSG play with, you can get opportunities to hurt them on the break. I expect PSG to sit back a bit and counterattack – use the pace of Mbappe to hurt Madrid.
Ancelotti against Pochettino. I’m covering the game and I’m a lucky guy because it’s one of those matches you can’t miss. It’s going to be unbelievable.
Do you think Real Madrid can overturn the one nil deficit?
It’s one of those games that’s…. they’ve been only been beaten once at home this season and that was in the Champions League, unbeaten in the league. They’re playing against a team that can play. Messi, Mbappe if he is fit, and I hope he is because I want to see him live. I think it’s going to be tough for them. I can see PSG scoring and that will make it very difficult for Madrid. I think PSG will win.
PSG have so many attacking options. Is Mbappe the man to stop? How do you think the Madrid team can keep him quiet?
Yeah, but then you’ve got Messi! When he goes to The Bernabeu, he absolutely loves playing there, the amount of goals he’s scored there during his career is unbelievable. As a defender, you’ll be frightened to death by Maple’s pace, as a defender it frightens you.
When a player has real pace like Mbappe, you’ll be worried about leaving space in behind because he’ll beat you in a race, then his ability on the ball and the players that they have in the team who can thread things to him. I wouldn’t want to be a centre back playing against him!
Mbappe has been linked with Madrid on a free transfer. Not many players get to put on that beautiful jersey. Would you encourage him to join the club – how did you feel when you joined, it must be a dream for any player to have interest from Real Madrid?
It is a dream, when Madrid come calling. I didn’t need any encouragement to join them and I don’t think Mbappe will either. I think he will end up at the biggest club in world football, without doubt. I can’t see him going anywhere else, he is destined to play for that club.
I don’t think that Mbappe will need any persuading at all. He is Madrid’s number one target, especially on a free transfer, when you’re one of the world’s best players on a free transfer, every single club will want him. He will be joining the best club in the history of football.
How did you feel when you signed?
It was an incredible feeling. I had such a sense of pride to represent that football club, but it’s also a story of regret. My body let me down at times and I didn’t really have the chance to shine at a football club where I thought I could have made a difference defensively.
I was playing some outstanding football at Newcastle before I signed for them, some of the best football of my career. To go there and to not play for a while with injuries, it was really difficult.
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