William Gallas On His Playing Career
William, obviously you were part of some really impressive partnerships at the centre of defence. Who do you think was the best defender you played alongside?
I’ve got so many. I played with players like Marcel Desailly, Lillian Thuram, John Terry, Thomas Vermaelen and Jan Vertonghen, but for me the best defender I played with was John because of the understanding we developed. We didn’t have to speak on the pitch.
We knew what we had to do. Terry was a tall guy, very strong. He was not quick but because I knew he was not quick I would cover for him. He was a very patient defender and could read the game so well, which helped him protect me. He was the best defender I played with.
And do you and John, do you still talk to each other? Are you still like friends?
Yes. I am very happy for him because he is back home at Chelsea coaching the younger players. He can share his experience with the young players and help them with their career. It was a good opportunity for him to come back to Chelsea and I’m sure he will do a great job.
How much would it mean as a young player to see, John Terry in the building?
You know, he’s a legendary player. That’s why I’m sure the young boys, they will listen to him because John can help them a lot.
Absolutely. On a similar note, you’ve been managed by some legendary managers. Did you have a favourite during your career?
Every manager I’ve played under has helped me improve my game, and to be prepared for a match on the weekend. I feel the manager who helped me the most and made my game very consistent was José Mourinho, because he was a perfectionist as a manager.
Every training session was very hard, which suited me because I was a guy who wanted to improve every day and in every match. When you have a manager like José Mourinho you just progress.
When I was playing for him at Chelsea I understood the commitment required to play at the top level every weekend. He made me understand that if I wanted to be one of the top defenders in the Premier League and in the world I needed to play well every weekend.
On a similar note, you’ve played with some absolute legends throughout your career. Who do you think was the best player that you ever played with?
I played with some incredible players during my career. John Terry was the captain of Chelsea, and he was a warrior. He was very important. Frank Lampard was another legendary player. When José Mourinho arrived, Frank improved so much under him and slowly transformed into one of the best midfielders in the Premier League and the world.
He was amazing. Thierry Henry was magnificent. His speed. Zidane was the playmaker. I always remember when France played against Brazil in the quarter final of the World Cup in 2006. Zidane told the players to give him the ball and he will make the difference.
When your captain says this, you know something is going to happen. All the players, were looking for him when we had the ball. Zidane was the main reason France had a great tournament in 2006. He was the best I played with.
What were the standards that senior players like yourself demanded of your teammates?
The demand was very simple. I expected them to perform at their best level and they expected me to perform at my best level. When you play, it is very rare to have one or two players that can carry a team; all of the players make a difference especially when you play for a big club.
I demanded that everyone played at their best level because if you want to win the match, if you want to win titles, you need everyone performing.
It would be fair to say that you’re a demanding character and a winner, and sometimes that could result in a few disagreements with some managers that you played with. As a player, what is the most important element of a relationship between a player and a manager?
I always demanded honesty from my managers. I wanted my managers to speak openly and honestly with me face-to-face. if I had a poor match I expected to have a conversation with the manager about it and I would respect his decision if I was a substitute for the next game.
I had a few managers who understood me completely. When I was at Tottenham, I had a little problem with André Villas-Boas. I was the captain during the first half of the season.
In the second half of the season he started putting me on the bench, which was frustrating because I had a conversation with him about my playing time. Because I was older and wanted to play every week, I asked him face-to-face if I was part of his plans.
His response was, “Yes, I need you. You will play.” I trusted him, and slowly I started to only play in the European games. I was very frustrated because he was dishonest. I was disappointed because I knew him from Chelsea (André Villas-Boas was part of José Mourinho’s coaching staff) and we are the same age.
When we had our conversation, man to man, if he said to me, “William, I want to try a different player, you will be on the bench,” I would have understood his decision. The minimum I expected from any of my managers was honesty.
Football has now changed. Managers have to have a lot of communication with both senior and younger players. Before, managers only really had to have difficult conversations with the more experienced players, and with the young players it was a little bit different.
Now young players who play one or two games and find themselves on the bench for the next one demand an explanation. Less experienced, younger players can become disillusioned quickly, and with more young players in the game now, it is very important for a manager to communicate with them as often as possible.
William Gallas On Challenges Facing Younger Players
Do you think it’s easier for younger players now than it was when you were starting out in the game?
It’s easier for them now because there are so many young players that are playing regularly in first teams. They don’t feel isolated, they have connections. Now, the spotlight shines very brightly on young players.
Sometimes after one or two good performances, a younger player can be talked about as the best player in the world. Sometimes they can start to believe their own hype and think, “OK, I’m playing in the first team. I have had three good games and I can relax a little bit.”
When I played it was completely different. Before my first international cap, I had two good seasons with Chelsea. I was 24 or 25. You had to prove you could do it over the course of a season, not just after two or three games.
Now after two or three good games young players are called into the senior squads of national teams. I think if you compare the quality of some of the players now against when I played, there is a big difference.
Do you think it’s a lower quality now?
Yes. Especially the defenders.
Do you feel that in certain squads you need to have older players, more experienced players, like yourself, to put these younger guys right in case they start developing big egos? Do you need that balance to ensure everybody remains focussed?
I think so. I’ve seen too many young players develop bad habits. Would they have if they had more experienced players around them? It’s very difficult for young players to deal with everything. Sometimes, we can be guilty of forgetting how young some of these players are, boys who are 17, 18, 19 years old, they are still maturing as people and have a lot to learn.
Football is changing and there are more youngster in squads than ever before. When I played, maybe there was a ratio of 80:20 of experienced and younger players. This was a better environment for players to learn and develop in as they could rely on the more experienced players.
Players would be given first-team football slowly and by the time they were 22 or 23 they would be ready to play for a full season. Now, the players are younger and are expected to play a full season and sometimes it’s too difficult for them.
Do you think that the riches football offers young players has helped create some of these problems?
That is a problem in football. I believe that some players are overvalued because clubs will pay big transfer fees and salaries based on potential to players that haven’t proved anything. Some players don’t fulfil their potential because of this.
William Gallas On Man City
Manchester City have a big points advantage at the top. Do you think that Pep Guardiola has the magic touch when it comes to motivating his players when compared to title rivals like Chelsea and Liverpool?
City have gone up a level. They are playing the same style that is typical City but they are scoring more goals. I think this is something that Pep has demanded of his players. It doesn’t matter who they play, they can outscore any opponent and this sends a strong message to all of the clubs in the league.
Every team in the Premier League will be scared of Manchester City. It is brilliant management from Guardiola. He is tough with his players and everyone that plays for Manchester City understands that if their level drops, they will be on the bench. At the moment, the players are doing exactly what he demands of them. He has created a winning machine and it will be very difficult for anyone to beat them.
William Gallas On Liverpool Missing Mane And Salah
A lot of players have departed for AFCON. Liverpool obviously have lost a couple of their big guys in Salah and Mane. Do you think they will be OK without them?
I don’t think so because Mane and Salah are world class players and it’s very difficult to play without them, especially with the way that Klopp plays. In a 433 formation, these players can’t be replaced. Maybe Klopp will have to change his system, but I think Liverpool could be in a difficult situation for the next few weeks.
Are you happy that Liverpool are going to be weakened during this period and could that offer Chelsea an opportunity to get away from them?
I’m unhappy with Chelsea’s league position. They are ten points behind City after suffering in December. When they played Liverpool at Stamford Bridge, they showed character to come back from being two down to draw.
That was an unbelievable game, but if you want to win the title, you can’t concede two goals at home and draw games like this. You have to win them. I hope against Manchester City Chelsea can take all three points.
Chelsea need to change something. They need to get back to winning matches and try and reduce the gap at the top of the table, while potentially taking advantage of any slip-ups from Liverpool. It will be difficult, but I believe they can do it.
William Gallas On Chelsea
You mentioned that Chelsea had a disappointing December. They drew a lot of games against teams they should really be beating, Everton, Wolves, Brighton, Burnley the previous month. Why do you think that they’ve suffered against teams people would expect them to beat?
When you play for Chelsea, the minimum requirement at the beginning of the season is to win the League. Last season they won the Champions League and they carried that form into the season and were doing really well.
They then had a bit of a blip and began to drop points against teams they would have expected to beat. You can’t drop points against clubs like Everton, Wolves and Brighton if you want to win the title. Of course, I’m disappointed and all of the fans will be too.
The players must show character. They must show more commitment. When you look at the Chelsea squad, it is full of world-class players, which is why it is difficult to understand why they are ten points behind City. They have to come back and try and win the next game.
Do you think that the losses of Chilwell and Reece James could explain why some of these points have been dropped, or would that be an excuse?
Chelsea shouldn’t use injuries as a reason or look for excuses. They have a big squad filled with top players. If one or two players are injured then there are players like Alonso who can come in. Azpi (César Azpilicueta) can come in on the right. OK, he’s not young anymore but he’s got a lot of experience. There are several others who can play there too.
When Manchester City rotate, the performances are the same. The Chelsea players need to take their opportunity and show Tuchel what they can do.
I’m going to ask you about Lukaku, William. Because obviously he had an interview and it caused a few issues, and as a player in your history you’ve had interviews in the past where your words have been misrepresented by the media.
When the Lukaku story came out, did you feel sorry for him, or do you think that he should have been a little bit wiser?
It was an interview with an Italian TV station, so it is a little bit different to having an interview with a newspaper. He has put himself in a situation that he didn’t need to. I saw that he apologised publicly, but the people at Chelsea will only forgive if he starts performing at the level we have come to expect from him.
Chelsea fans will not forget what he said unless he starts scoring goals and delivering match-winning performances.
I don’t know exactly what happened, but I do know that players have to be very careful about what they say. There is so much media interest in absolutely everything.
He said he was unhappy because he was on the bench when he felt he was fit and he spoke about the manager and his tactics. You have to adapt. He is a world-class player. This a £100m pound player; a record transfer for the club. When you’re this type of player you have to adapt to any system and you have to score goals. That’s what we expect from you.
I don’t think it was very clever for him to speak about Tuchel and his tactics. He has received his punishment and learned from it. The most important thing is how he responds. He has to be focussed and ready for his team. He needs to start scoring goals for Chelsea.
Chelsea’s next game is against Spurs, another one of your teams, in the League Cup. Chelsea dominated Spurs in the first leg. The 2-0 score could have been a lot bigger. Would you be surprised if Chelsea didn’t make it to the final, and do you expect a much better showing from Spurs in the second leg?
I’m expecting a response from Tottenham. Conte will try and find the right tactics to cause Chelsea problems, although I don’t think Tottenham will have enough to turn this around. It will take some serious mistakes from the Chelsea players to not qualify for the final. It will be a great match, but I expect Chelsea to finish the job.
Chelsea are ten points behind City who they play away on Saturday. Realistically, even if they won this match, do you think they can still win the title, or should they focus on other things?
Anything can happen in the Premier League, which is why people all over the world love watching it. It is why the best players want to play in it. For these reasons, Chelsea must remain focussed.
Chelsea can go there and beat them. They may have injuries to deal with or go on a poor run. The players and staff must believe until the end. Chelsea’s target will always be to finish the season as champions.
They must go into the match on Saturday with the confidence and belief that they can win the match. It is a great opportunity for them to show City that they are as good as them. The players will have to be at their best and Tuchel has to find the right system that will cause City problems.
What is the biggest worry when you play a team like Man City? If you were playing would there be somebody that you’d be particularly worried about?
The problem when you play against City is that they have quality in every department. You have to be worried about all of their players because anyone in that side can hurt you. It doesn’t matter who they play, they play with the same style and purpose.
In these games, against the very best, playing away from home, you must be completely focussed for 90 minutes. You have to remain strong and frustrate them. It is so important to start the game well. You need to be solid at the back to give your attacking players the opportunity to make the difference. When the chance arrives to score, Chelsea must take it.
All of the City players are dangerous. This is a team that scores goals for fun. City are a machine.
William Gallas On Arsenal
What did you make of Arsenal losing to Nottingham Forrest in the FA Cup?
I was surprised about the result because Arsenal have been in good form and playing well. It was important Arsenal won that match to keep the confidence levels of the players high. After the defeat, they will now find themselves under pressure.
Do you think that defeat highlights the difference between Arsenal and the bigger clubs in terms of squad depth and having the right attitude?
Yes. Maybe the players didn’t show enough respect to Nottingham Forrest and didn’t prepare as well as they could have. As a former player, I know what it’s like when you play a team from a lower division. Sometimes your preparation can be a little bit lazy.
Preparation for this game wouldn’t have been intense; it wouldn’t have been like when you prepare to face Chelsea, Tottenham, United or City.
It doesn’t matter who you play, you have to have the correct attitude and desire to win. Against Forrest, perhaps some of the players were complacent and thought they just needed to show up and win.
For these type of games, away in the FA Cup against a Championship team, you need experienced players and the manager to make sure the players are focussed and understand the danger of going out of the cup. You need players to lead in the dressing room before the match and at half-time. You need leaders on the pitch.
Arsenal have put themselves in a difficult situation because they have been knocked out in the first round. They have to respond and try and beat Liverpool in the League Cup and to qualify for the Champions League.
William Gallas On Arsenal And Spurs
Between Tottenham and Arsenal, who do you think has the best chance of qualifying for the Champions League and do you think that this game will make a big difference?
First of all, the fans will not be thinking about qualifying for the Champions League, they will want to see their team win the derby. They can think about Europe afterwards, there is a long way to go.
This match is so important for the fans. As a player you have to understand that. This is an opportunity for players to show their passion and commitment for their club. You need passion in the derby. When I played in these games, I wanted to show everyone I was the best. I loved these games and the atmosphere was always crazy.
It doesn’t matter if you play well or not – fans don’t care – they expect you to give 110% and they want to win. Winning is all that matters.
You know a lot about London Derbies. Which do you think is the biggest?
The biggest one is Arsenal against Tottenham. It is the biggest because the two clubs are so close to each other in North London. The fans are absolutely crazy in the stadium. It is tribal. Before the match starts, when you can feel the atmosphere, it changes players.
When I played in these games I was like a warrior and just wanted to do everything possible to win the game for my club and the fans.
I’m sure the players will give absolutely everything. The two teams are so close in the table and both clubs have an opportunity to underline their ambitions in this fixture. Tottenham has an opportunity to go above Arsenal, while Arsenal can create a bigger lead. It will be a great game.
In your first season after leaving Arsenal, you joined Tottenham and captained them to a 3-2 victory. Was there extra motivation for you in that game to show Arsenal what they were missing?
Every game was very important. it didn’t matter if I was wearing the shirt of Arsenal, Tottenham or Chelsea. I wanted to win every match that I played in and I used every match as an opportunity to show the world how good I was. But, for this game, my first trip to The Emirates after leaving, there was a little bit of extra motivation.
I knew how the fans would respond to me and I was ready for the boos. I was prepared for a difficult time. What I didn’t expect was to be the captain on the day. It’s a great story. Harry Redknapp (Tottenham manager) gave me the armband for the match.
He saw a story about me in the paper and on the day of the game, in the dressing room, he said to me, “You will be my captain today. Can you deal with it?” I said, “No problem. I will do my job.”
Harry was very clever because he knew that this decision would drive the Arsenal fans crazy, which it did. The atmosphere was electric. We won the match 2-3 after coming from behind. It was just unbelievable.
My first thought was don’t make a mistake. Most of the fans in The Emirates wanted me to make a mistake and I knew that if I made an error, it would be much worse than any other player making a mistake. It would have been a huge talking point.
I had to be completely focussed during the 90 minutes. I put myself under a huge amount of pressure. It’s not easy. And, yes, at the same time I wanted to show Arsenal they made a mistake in not giving me a two-year deal.
That was the decision of Wenger. These were some of his rules, when you reach a certain age, you get one year, I wanted two and the rest is history.
It must have felt pretty sweet at the full-time whistle?
It was. I came back home (to The Emirates) and got a result. I was really happy about the result and it enabled me to relax. I knew I was going to enjoy watching the match again when I got home. It was a big story, William Gallas returns to The Emirates as the captain of Tottenham and wins. It was a great feeling, but I’m telling you, before and during the game it was not easy.
If you had to pick between Arsenal and Tottenham, who do you think will finish in that top four?
Arsenal. Arsenal has a great chance to finish in front of Tottenham – what they’ve shown in the last Premier League games is very, very positive. Arsenal have played some good football and the players seem very committed. They understand what they have to do.
At the same time they have to be careful. We saw the result against Forrest. Sometimes you can become complacent and drop points. They have an opportunity to finish above Spurs and to qualify for the top four but they have to respect Tottenham. Tottenham are showing positive signs under Antonio Conte.
Make no mistake, the game on Sunday can be crucial (in the race for Champions League qualification). I’m very excited to see the match and to see who can grab the opportunity. Whoever wins will take advantage for the rest of the season.
William Gallas On Tottenham
After Chelsea defeated Tottenham in the League Cup lost last week, Antonio Conte said that the tie highlighted how big a difference there was between Spurs and Chelsea. What do you think he needs to do to get Spurs to a similar level?
He needs time. Don’t forget that he was appointed in November. What he has achieved in two months is really impressive and Tottenham look like a totally different team. If you forget about the Chelsea defeat, Tottenham have looked a lot stronger.
With time, the players will begin to understand his demands. They will understand what he wants and how he wants them to play. He is a classic Italian manager; everything starts at the back. That is very important for him. He wants the defence to be strong as this will give his attacking players the platform to make the difference.
He will work his players hard. Training will be intense and at a very high level. Given time, next season you will see a completely different Tottenham.
William, if you were Antonio Conte and you had money to spend in January, what part of your squad would you be looking to improve?
Tottenham need to improve every part of the squad. They need at least one top class defender, midfielder and another striker because I don’t think Harry Kane will stay at Tottenham beyond this season.
I’m sure Antonio Conte will bring the players he thinks he needs to compete for the Premier League next season. If he has money, I’m sure he will spend it in the right way and bring in the players he needs to play his preferred system.
Tanguy N’Dombele, obviously a guy that played for Lyon and had a big move that hasn’t worked out for him.
This a typical example of a player who has failed. He is an example of a player who performed brilliantly for one or two seasons in France and obviously has a lot of quality, but in a Tottenham shirt he hasn’t shown what he can do. He hasn’t been consistent.
When you play at the highest level, you have to be consistent. You can’t just play two or three good games and then disappear for a month before playing well again. You have to be consistent for the entire season, and it’s difficult, but that’s what the best players, world-class players produce.
Dele Alli is the same. That’s why I feel football needs to change something with the way we develop and reward younger players. When I was younger, I wasn’t the complete player, I had to work incredibly hard to reach the top level. When I got there, I knew it was important to stay there. I didn’t want to be on the bench.
I learned a lot from experienced players. When I turned 24/25 I was always in the first 11. Chelsea, Arsenal, the national team, I was first choice. If I was not in the 11 it’s because I was injured.
Players like N’Dombele and Dele Alli, have to prove that it isn’t luck. Anyone can have a good game; a good season; you have to do it season after season. You have to have higher expectations as a player and you never stop working hard.
That’s why, unfortunately, Dele Alli is on the bench. Maybe he was not mentally strong enough to put in the hard work. Sometimes it’s difficult for young players to understand how they can go from being a star to sitting on the bench. Sometimes they don’t know how to react. It’s a huge shame that they can’t realise their obvious quality.
Do you think it would be better if N’Dombele and Alli look for a fresh start at a different club?
They have to. Maybe they have to leave to fulfil their potential, but it will depend on what they want. Some players prefer the easy option. Some players want to play without the pressure on their shoulders because it isn’t easy to play like this for a full season.
But, if you want to compete for the biggest prizes, even when it can be hard, you find the resources to deal with the situation. You deal with the pressure of big games and with consistently showing people how good you are. You need to make sacrifices and some players are not committed enough to do that. This is the difference between an average player and a world-class player.
William Gallas On Transfers
A player that’s been linked with some of the big clubs in the Premier League is Jules Koundé. Do you think he could make a difference in the Premier League? Do you think he could come into Chelsea for example and work well?
I think so. He’s shown he has good quality and he is very strong. He can read the game very well. If he were to join Chelsea, I would be concerned about which position he would play. If they stick with a back three, I think he could fit in to that system perfectly.
If they played with a back four, maybe he would be better suited as a right-back. In the Premier League you have to be tall and strong, and all the clubs are looking for the tall and strong defenders. Jules Koundé is not tall. He’s a very powerful guy, but he’s not tall. I’m a little bit concerned about that, but as I said, if he plays in a three, he would suit that system.
Hugo Lloris is obviously the Spurs captain, he’s been there for a long time, his contract runs out in the summer. If you were at Spurs, if you were Antonio Conte, would you be giving him a new contract?
Antonio Conte has spoken about this already. He said he would like to keep him. Hugo has played for Tottenham for almost ten years. And for ten years he has shown his quality.
He’s 35 years old. I’m sure that conversations are happening between him and the club to discuss what is the best solution for everyone. Whether he stays or goes, Hugo has shown he’s one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League. If he stays, will be the number one or the number two, that is always the question.
On the subject of contracts, three Chelsea players in Rudiger, Christensen and Azpi have deals that expire this season. Is that something that worries you? Do you think that they should try and sign up some of these guys?
They have to try to sign at least one of them. If I had to choose, I would say sign Rudiger because he is the best defender out of the three.
With Rudiger, if Chelsea can’t find an agreement, they will need to replace him with another good defender who has the quality to play in a back three or a back four. I am sure they are looking at potential targets at the moment.
Azpi is 32 years old, so it is a little bit different because at his age he will want to play every week. I know what that is like. It can be hard to accept not being a first team regular and sitting on the bench and not all players can accept it.
I don’t know what is going on with Christensen. I don’t know if Chelsea are happy with his performances, but he’s still young. They didn’t extend his contract, so it looks like they are looking to replace him. It is a really difficult situation because Christensen is still young, but it’s not looking good for him to stay at the club.