Football Insights - William Gallas
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Football Insights - William Gallas

Former Premier League star William Gallas talks exclusively to Genting Casino about the weekend of Premier League action and the up and coming Champions League action.

On The North London Derby

Who do you think will come out on top in the North London Derby?

For me it's a 50/50 at the moment even if Arsenal are top of the league and have started the season very well.

They failed at Old Trafford, but they are still at the top of the table. Tottenham are in a good position, even if they haven’t been playing the best football, they are still getting good results. They play Italian-style football, it’s not very nice to watch but I think it's very difficult to play against Tottenham. They are very compact, and they like to play on the counter-attack, and with players like Kane, Richarlison and now you have Son who has opened in account for the season, so I think for that game I will go for a 50/50.

But Arsenal are playing at home, and normally when you play at home you have to win, especially in a big derby like this. Your fans will be with you, so that's going to boost them a little bit more, so for me Arsenal have to win the game, but Tottenham are good at the moment so it won’t be easy.

Arsenal have improved a lot, if you look at the start of their season, they’ve won almost every game, they play good football and the players are doing what Arteta is asking. But against Manchester United it was their first big test against a big club and unfortunately they failed. So that's why for me, it looks like Arsenal still have the same problems against the big clubs and Tottenham will be another big club to play against. 

They have improved a lot, they know each other very well and they play fantastic football. Sometimes I think they need to have some more experienced players on the pitch and for them to speak up when they’re in a difficult moment. Those players have to talk to other players to help guide them.

For example against Manchester United, I didn't like it when they conceded those goals, especially the last one, 75 minutes, you can't concede that. That's why when you have experienced players, straight away you can speak to them and explain, guys, you have to calm down, don't panic, we still have time to come back. So against Tottenham, you never know what can happen, but you really need those players who can speak to the other players.

 

Do you think Arsenal lack that experienced player, and should have recruited one?

For me, it's always the same, it can be Arsenal or another team - Tottenham or Chelsea. You always need experienced players in your squad and in the starting 11. I know football has changed, and now you have more young players than experienced players, so that's why I think some clubs make mistakes because for a young player, sometimes it's difficult for them to be ready for the big games. That's why you need experienced players, like Thiago Silva at Chelsea, who can speak to his players and explain to them 'guys, we have to calm down, don't panic, don't be in a rush'.

So I think for Arsenal at the back, they are missing that player.

 

Which new signings from both Tottenham and Arsenal have impressed you the most?

Richarlison for Tottenham is a good signing. At the beginning he was on the bench and that was normal because he'd just arrived so it was important for him to settle at the club and to get to know his teammates better, and slowly start to integrate in to the starting 11. When you see him play, he’s very clever because he knows he always has to find Harry Kane so when he plays he's always looking for him and you can feel them understand each other. So that's good for Tottenham.

For Arsenal, it's a little bit different because even the new signings are really good. I think Gabriel Jesus has had a good impact on Arteta’s system, he's brought his experience with him from City and he's very strong. He makes space for other players to go beyond him, so I think those two players are the best signings for both teams.

 

How do those two compare to the strikers you have played with, from Robin van Persie to Didier Drogba?

It's a different style, but I think Harry Kane now, compared to a few years ago, he was on top. Last season was difficult because he wanted to leave Tottenham but it didn’t happen, it affected him mentally and he struggled. Now I think he's back, he's starting to score and he's putting everything behind him. Different style, but I'm sure if you play against him it's not easy because he's very strong, very clever, and he moves all the time.

He doesn't always stay in front, which for the centre back can be a little difficult, because he drops deeper to get the ball, and with his technique he can find his teammates. Then when he's in the box he's a danger, because you never know which way he will go, right, left foot, he’s so strong with both feet, and his head.

So I would put him on the same level as Robin van Persie.

Didier Drogba was a beast, he scored in the Champions League final, and many other finals, so that's why he is on top. Robin was not too far away as well, his quality was different, but to play and win the Champions League is something different than to win the Premier League. But Didier did them both, he won the Premier League and Champions League with Chelsea, he scored that goal in the final, so that's why for me I put Didier on top. 

 

You said you never appreciated how good Drogba was until you played against him?

I had the opportunity to train with Didier Drogba, and it's always different to train with someone every day, you know him every day. You know him very well, how he moves, but the training is not the game. When I moved to Arsenal and played against him, I truly understood how good he was.

You can be a bit worried because you know he's very strong and at any time, he can do something and you can be a little bit surprised. He had a very difficult game against Nemanja Vidic, I think it was, who gave him problems. But as a defender it was always difficult against Didier.

 

Who do you believe will finish higher, and can they both challenge for the Premier League title?

I think Arsenal have a better opportunity to compete for the title than Tottenham because this season they aren’t playing in the Champions League, and I think they have to be focussed on the title. I don't know what their target is, but whether it's top four or to win the title, I hope Arteta has told his players, “this season we have a good opportunity to fight for the title, so let's do it”.

I think that would be a great message if he said that because it can boost the players. If they win the title, that means they will qualify for the top four. So I think Arsenal have a better opportunity to fight for the title.

 

Does William Saliba have the potential to be as good as some of the best defenders you played with? 

William Saliba has the same style as Rio Ferdinand. When you see Saliba and how he plays, and when you compare with Rio when he was young, I think they are similar. But it's always the same problem, who is going to be next to you to learn? He's still young and at this age you need to learn and you need to have the right players next to you. That's why I said it's very important when you play centre-back, you need to have experienced players you can learn from. 

At the moment Saliba doesn't have anyone. When I talk about experienced players, I'm talking about top-class defenders. That's why I'm a little bit worried for him. If he wants to go to another level he needs to be next to top class defenders. If we speak about John Terry, who was next to him? Marcel Desailly. Rio Ferdinand? He was next to Vidic, or I'm not sure who before that. All the defenders, they learned from someone. Nesta, he was next to Maldini. So for defenders to go to the next level you need that. When he turns 25, 26, it will be his turn to lead the defensive line and he will play with young players who will learn from him.

For example Fofana, he has a great opportunity to learn a lot from Thiago Silva.

 

What do you remember from north London derby atmospheres?

Electric. It was just unbearable when I used to go to White Hart Lane. It was just wow, their fans were crazy. As a player, you want to play in that kind of game. You can feel the hunger from the fans, and you want your teammates to fight for the ball, challenge, be strong in the tackle. But it has changed a little bit, it's not like when I played where I'd say it was crazier.

The last few years, I've found the derby has not been the same as maybe 20-30 years ago. It looks like all the players know each other. When I said “fight” I meant in the right way, when you go on the pitch, even if you know some players on the opposite team, when you are on the pitch, they are not your friend anymore and you have to represent your shirt. In the big challenges, the 50/50s, you have to win them and be strong. Sometimes there are arguments on the pitch, that's what I want to see. I used to watch the big London derby from France, and there was always fighting, arguments and when I went there it was the same. But slowly, slowly it stopped. 

 

What was the best opposition atmosphere you ever played in?

I think White Hart Lane. When you played against Tottenham, the fans were crazy. I'm not sure why, maybe it's because it's been a long time since they won the league so there's a spirit to win that competition and it's been a long time. I remember when I used to go there I would feel the fans, there's a spirit to beat us. With Arsenal, when I was playing at Highbury, it was same when I was at Chelsea, to go there was crazy as well.

Since of the move to Emirates, maybe because of the stadium, it's bigger and the fans are a little bit far from the pitch, maybe you can't have the same feeling, but I would say White Hart Lane.


On Chelsea

What do you make of Graham Potter at Chelsea so far?

He seems like a nice guy and a good manager, but I'm still waiting to see what he's going to do to get Chelsea back to top form. He looks very calm, and looks like he likes to have conversations with his players from what I see from the outside, but I don't know if he's like this in reality. I'm still waiting. He did a good job at Brighton, but Chelsea is not Brighton, he has gone to another level with more expectations, more pressure, so it will be good to see if he can be the right manager.

 

What do you make of Potter playing Raheem Sterling as a wing-back?

That is a problem. When I see Sterling playing as left wing-back, I didn't understand it. It's difficult for me to understand why he wants to experiment with something like this, especially in a Champions League game. You are playing at home and you put Cucurella as a centre-back, you have Fofana on the bench with Koulibaly, Chalobah on the bench, and you put Sterling as a left-wing back? I don't understand. In the end, they didn't have a good result, they drew 1-1. People will always judge the result, and the question is why did he put those two players in those positions.


On France

Last year, you described N'Golo Kante as the best player in the world. Do you still feel that way?

It's different as he's struggling with injury, you can't be the best player in the world if you are injured. That is his problem at the moment, he has to come back and be fit. We all know how it can be difficult to come back after injury and be on top form, but I hope he can come back soon.

But right not, he's not the best player in the world. I think players like Karim Benzema has shown everyone he is the best player.

 

Do you believe Benzema is the best player in the world right now?

After the season Karim Benzema had for Real Madrid, how can he not be the best player? With Real Madrid, he's scored the most goals in La Liga and the Champions League. He was just magnificent, so give me one name? But for me Karim was the best player.

 

How far can France go at the World Cup?

At the moment, France have a lot of issues, so I don't know how they are going to deal with those problems. We have a lot of injuries, and it looks like it will be very difficult for France to go very far. The last game, we lost 2-0 against Denmark, so the signs are not good for us and I think people are worried about the French national team. We have a lot of issues with injuries and private lives. 

 

Should William Saliba start for France at the World Cup?

William Saliba is not ready. Against Denmark, he played only 45 minutes. I want to tell young players, just because you play for your club, if you're in the starting 11, that doesn't mean you are ready for the national team, it's another level. Even if with your club, you play Champions League, it doesn't mean you're ready. The national team is the top, top competition to play in. It's completely different.

Sometimes young players talk in the newspapers that they are ready for the national team, “I have to play”. If the manager called you and you are in the 11, it's like the door is open, you go through and behind you, you close that door. That means you have to play very well. At the moment in France, we don't even know who will play in defence. You have Varane, for sure, but on the other side we don't know. All the players who have the possibility to play, they are not playing well, so the manager doesn't know who he's going to pick for the starting 11. When you have that opportunity, you have to take it.

 

How much of a loss would Paul Pogba be, and can France afford to take him if he hasn't been playing?

It will be hard because at the moment he is injured, he has some problems in his private life, it will be very difficult for him to be ready. I am sure Didier Deschamps doesn't know what to do because you have to bring your best players who are ready and at the moment Pogba is not ready because he is injured. 

Even if he comes back, he won't be 100% fit because he has private problems in his life. We have some really good players who can play in the middle. Tchouameni is playing very, very well at Real Madrid. Fofana, Kante if fit, he has more of a chance of being fit than Pogba. So if Paul is not there, I think we have some players who can play and who can do a job.

 

How does Kylian Mbappe compare to Thierry Henry?

I don't think you can compare Kylian Mbappe and Thierry Henry, they are two different players. Thierry was really good with Arsenal and he was a king in the Premier League and with the national team, he had a big influence on the pitch. Defences were afraid of Henry. 

Now everyone knows Kylian, it looks like he's going to same way. When Thierry was at the same age, I think Kylian scored more goals. But, you can't compare because at the time when Thierry was playing, defenders were stronger than they are now. 20 years ago there were more quality defenders than now.

Now it's difficult to give 10 names for the top class defenders. 20 or 30 years ago, even before, it was easy to give 10 big names for defenders. But if we talk about the quality of Kylian, he's got it. I'm sure playing against him is not easy, he can go right, left, he's so quick. If I played against him, the night before I'd be in front of my computer to know how he moves and to be ready.

 

This is likely to be Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo's final World Cup. Who will have the bigger impact on this tournament?

For everyone, it will be nice to see both players make a big impact. For the fans, people who love football, it will be great to see them on top. But it doesn't depend on the battle of individuals, it depends on the team. And it looks like Argentina have a better opportunity to go far. I hope we're going to see them in the spotlight. As a fan you just want to see them leave that competition in the best way.

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