Former Spurs midfielder Chris Waddle spoke exclusively with Compare.bet following Spurs’ 4-0 victory over Leeds. The former England international spoke about the long-term future at the North London club, casting doubt over Antonio Conte’s future over the club and calling for reinforcements in order for Spurs to break into the Premier League’s top three once more. Waddle also spoke about England, and his concerns around some of the existing squad members in the build-up to World Cup 2022, including Jack Grealish’s lack of playing time and Harry Maguire’s poor form.
- On Liverpool’s title hopes: ‘City are going to have to make a mess of it’
- Sacked Bielsa “should have left in the summer”
- On Conte’s future: “It could be Man United”
- Sessegnon’s England future: ‘He’s got potential… I’d like to see more desire’
- Questions Grealish’s City move: “Is that good for his career?”
- On Harry Maguire’s form: “He is a worry at the minute”
- Waddle tips next United manager: ‘I like Hasenhüttl’
- “They [Newcastle] are looking to be a top-four club inside three years”
- On Newcastle’s pull in the transfer window: “Harder to attract players up North”
- “The youth setup at Newcastle has never been any good… they’ve got to invest”
DB: Hi Chris, did you watch the League Cup final last night?
CW: Yes. I actually predicted it would go to pens. There’s not a lot between them, I think. you put Manchester City in there, they’re the three best teams in the country, arguably in Europe, so it was always going to be a tight affair. But yes, you need a little bit of luck when you get to shoot-outs. Obviously the standard was very high, but Liverpool got that little bit of luck.
DB: We saw Kepa miss to hand Liverpool the victory. What do you think of Tuchel’s decision to sub him on?
CW: I’ve seen it happen before. I think a lot of people have talked about it before. I think a lot of people mentioned it, and even as far back as 1990 when we lost to Germany in the shoot-out. They were on about putting Dave Beasant in instead of Peter Shilton, whose record of saving pens wasn’t as good as other goalies probably, but a lot of people thought that was a brave decision. Holland did it in the World Cup with van Gaal bringing Tim Krul on. I think it’s a good idea. If he thinks he’s a better saver, it gives you a greater chance of winning. The unfortunate thing for him is he probably never thought it would come round to the goalkeeper taking a pen! So, on that side of it, I saw Tuchel in the press saying it was his fault for changing the goalie and whatever, but he made a decision.
I’ve got to say, over the years I’ve played with a lot of goalkeepers who were very, very good at taking them, so he’s probably thought he’ll be alright. Goalies are very good at distribution, especially in the modern day, so if a goalie has to go up and take a pen, it’s not a risk like it might have been many, many years ago. We see the goalies now, some of them are fantastic passers of the ball, so I don’t think you would have thought there was that much of a problem, him stepping up and taking one.
DB: Despite their recent success in the league and Champions League, this is Liverpool’s first domestic cup win in over a decade. Do you think this taste of silverware will have an impact on the title race in the Premier League this season?
CW: Yes. I think Liverpool will get a lot of confidence from that. They’ve got a lot of games left, and they’ve played a lot of games to win that. There was extra time, pens. They’ll go again, FA Cup, Norwich, they’ll fancy their chances there, rightly so, and they’ve got the Champions League. Plus they’ve got to keep winning game after game in the Premier League, because Man City, as we know, had a little blip against Tottenham, but you know Man City are not going to drop many more points.
Liverpool, from now until the end of the season, the only thing on their mind is winning, and it’s going to be difficult, I’ve got to say, you’ve basically got to win every game you’re going to play.
DB: Do you fancy Liverpool to go on and win the league, or Champions League, this season?
CW: Obviously when they play each other, Manchester City v Liverpool is going to be a massive game. But I think Liverpool have got a lot of games to play… and City have got games to play, don’t get me wrong, but I just look at the two squads and I think City is stronger, so that’s going to swing the balance for me. I think for Liverpool to win the title, Man City are going to have to really make a mess of it, and I can’t see that happening. I know City are desperate to win the Champions League. It’s an old saying that you’re a good club, great club, but you’re not a truly great club until you win the Champions League. And City, unfortunately, have had the odd chances to win that and they’ve never won it.
Liverpool, we know, have won it many times. They’ll fancy their chances in it this year, as will Chelsea. I looked around the Champions League and, for me, it’s going to be Liverpool, Man City, or Chelsea again. Bayern Munich are dangerous on the day, we know that. They can beat anybody on the day. Paris Saint-Germain can on the day, but Real Madrid or whoever’s left in it… come the end of these fixtures, City, Liverpool, and Chelsea will be looking at the Champions League thinking, ‘We have got a great chance of winning that’.
DB: We saw your former club Spurs comfortably beat Leeds 4-0 this Saturday. Bielsa was let go shortly after. They’ve conceded 20 goals in their last five games, but fans have gathered to protest against the sacking. What do you think of the decision to let Bielsa go?
CW: Bielsa has always had two years at every club he’s been at. This is the first time he’s actually extended his stay at a football club. I think the Leeds supporters have been magnificent to him, and I was at the game the other week against Man United. They got right behind the side, and you get the odd boos at half time and final whistle, but you’ve got to say 70-80% of that support was right behind Bielsa.
You’ve got to think he got them excited, the way he played. He took them up, which they’d been waiting for for a long, long time, so he’d sort of become a hero to them, and rightly so, but I thought he should have stayed. Last year, when he had that season, had a good season last year at Leeds, but you see many teams who come up, they don’t go straight back down. It’s the second season that really affects them. We saw it with Sheffield United, who had a very good first season. Second season, they were flat. They’d lost that, I don’t know, adrenaline, confidence, whatever it was, and you get found out. I think Leeds have been found out, and people can say he’s been unlucky with injuries, especially to Phillips. Bamford obviously scores. Cooper, not so much I would think, so he hasn’t got the biggest squad there.
On the bench, you never see a lot of experienced players on that bench. He’s always worked, and he works them hard, players. I know with Marseille, he was at Marseille for a period and the Marseille players said they never worked as hard. I think the second year at Marseille, they’ve really felt the effects of that in their legs. I’m not saying the legs have gone of Leeds, but they do look very stretched. I know they had a few good chances, don’t get us wrong, but Tottenham had got four and could have probably double that, easy. When teams are banging goals against you, Liverpool six, Man United four, Tottenham four, 3-3 at Villa, you’ve got to change your tactics. You’ve got to change your style. He believes in a certain style of football and he thought, ‘No, I’m not changing,’ and he’s never been defensive, but I think they waste a lot of energy, Leeds, when you watch them play. They do a lot of chasing of 30-40 odd chases where you think, ‘You’re not going to get the ball.’ You watch them chasing Tottenham, and they fell into Tottenham’s hands. Tottenham played exactly the way they did against Man City. They sit back, they frustrate, they hit you on the break, and that is the ideal game for Tottenham Hotspur at the moment.
I think he should have left in the summer when he was really talking about it. He was persuaded to stay, but if he was going to leave, he should have kept to what he’s always done in his career. He should have left then.
DB: It’s been a tough run for Spurs in the league as of late – they’ve lost three of their last five, but the wins at Manchester City and Leeds showed just how good they can be at their best. Do you think Spurs will finish the season in one of the top four places?
CW: I think they’re in the mix. As you said, they’ve had a mixed season, so they’ll still be looking, thinking, ‘You know what? We can finish fourth here,’ because that is up for grabs. The top three are the top three, we know that. Man United, Arsenal, West Ham, and Tottenham, one of them has just got to keep their form, get the right form until the end of season, and you can get that four spot and you could be probably 15-20 points behind the third, but you’ve got that fourth spot and that’s what you aim for.
You look at the three teams, four teams going for it, they’re very unpredictable, the four of them, so there’s no consistency among the four teams. It is going to go to the wire, and whether four are still in the race or goes down to two, we’ll see. For them to get fourth place would be a great achievement, considering the form of those four teams we’ve mentioned.
DB: Speaking of the win against City, that takes Conte to three wins and two losses in his five clashes with Pep. No other ‘big six’ manager has a winning record against Pep. Where do you rank Conte against Klopp and Pep who are often spoken about as the league’s best?
CW: I think Conte is a good manager. He’s proved that, but he likes to get a strong team. He likes to spend money. He likes to get good players like Pep has got and like Klopp has got. He likes to have them. Tottenham are probably four to five players short of being in that top three we talked about, so he’s looked at it and thought, ‘Yes, I’m still learning about this team,’ but they’re not consistent enough. To be honest, they’ve got one style of play at the minute. I think he wants to play a bit higher. I think he’d like to press a bit more, but he hasn’t got the players, so basically he went to a three at the back, into a five sometimes we know, get the midfield on top of the back five, and then even Harry Kane comes into the midfield now, and then try and hit teams on the break. That’s how Conte is going to get his success. The problem he gets, you lose to Burnley who weren’t going to sell themselves, they weren’t going to throw everything at Tottenham and get caught on the break, so that was going to be a frustration. Wolves are very much a counter-attacking team themselves. They beat them, so anybody who’s come up against Tottenham is thinking, ‘If we sit back, what’s Tottenham going to do?’
I think they find it very hard to break teams down with the same pace of Son. Obviously Harry Kane is in good form at the minute, his positional sense, his link-up play has been excellent, his distribution, creating goals, just scoring them. Kulusevski, the kid they’ve got from Juventus, looks like a good player down that right-hand side. Going forward on the counterattack, I think Tottenham have got that off to a tee, but the problem they get is when they play teams who want to sit back. The ideal game was Man City, yes, had to defend well, but they caught on the break. The ideal game was Leeds United, who threw everything at you and left gaps all over the place. It’s when they play teams who think, ‘You know what? We’re not going to go for it. We’re going to sit back as well,’ that’s where Tottenham become a problem.
DB: We’ve seen in the past that Conte isn’t afraid to up and leave if he feels he doesn’t have the right backing. Despite the additions of Kulusevski and Bentancur, Spurs did lose four players and miss out on Luis Diaz. Do you think Daniel Levy is doing enough to keep Conte satisfied?
CW: I think Daniel Levy has got his hands tied at times. You’ve got to think, he’s not the owner, Daniel Levy. He’s acting as if he runs the football club, and he’ll be talking to the owners about what they can spend and what they can’t. I think Tottenham was going the right way, and I thought great training ground, fantastic stadium, everything was going in place. They had all these NFL games come in, boxing, rugby. They were taking money, and then COVID hit. It affected a lot of clubs, but Tottenham must have thought, ‘We’ll have the stadium paid off in two seasons,’ and next season, they were probably looking to think, ‘We could have a go at the title here and we can bring players in who will cost a lot of money, but we can afford them.’ I think it set them back another two years.
Realistically, I think this season, next season is going to be difficult still for them, and I think maybe the season after that, when everything is back to normal hopefully, I think you will see Tottenham then be in a good position to strengthen, to buy top-class players, not sell their top-class players. Whether Conte wants to hang around for two-and-a-half more seasons, I don’t think he will.
DB: Conte has come across as disgruntled in a few recent post-game interviews, only fuelling the fire when it comes to rumours about an eventual departure. After the game against Burnley, he even suggested he could go. Do you see Conte sticking around beyond the end of this season?
CW: I think he’ll stay until the end of the season now, but listen. A lot of clubs will give him offers. It could be Man United, for all we know. It would be tempting, because Man United do spend money, so he might think, ‘Yes, I can turn Man United around, because I’ve got a cheque book which I can go and spend.’ Will he be lured back to Italy? Spain? There are a lot of big clubs around the world who wouldn’t be frightened to back his ideas in the transfer market and buy quality players and go and win, because he proves he can do it, but you’ve got to say, he needs a cheque book. He’s looked at Tottenham and he’s thinking, ‘Yes, we’ve got some good players, very good players, but overall, we’re not as good as Liverpool. We’re not as good as Man City. We’re not as good as Chelsea,’ and that’s where he wants to be. If Tottenham can say, ‘No, in the next two years or two-and-a-half seasons, we can’t get near them on demand of wages, transfer fees,’ that might turn his head and think, ‘I don’t want to finish fourth, fifth, or sixth. I want to be first.’ If he doesn’t see that ambition with Tottenham, I think he’ll move on.
DB: Looking at the squad now, what do you think Spurs need to find in the transfer market to get back to their best – being perennial title contenders and making deep Champions League runs
CW: They look one-paced. When you watch them play, they don’t seem to close teams down like Liverpool do, like Man City do. They don’t seem to have that energy level or pace or turn of pace which those clubs have got in their players. They look one-paced, so I can see Conte shouting, ‘Get up the field and go and hound the centre half and go and hound the full back.’ I just don’t think those players can do it. I don’t think it’s in their game. I don’t think that is their style. I think they find it very hard to play high-tempo football, and it suits Tottenham, the way they’re playing at the minute, but as I say, if you say, ‘We’re not going to attack Tottenham. We’re going to park the bus,’ as such, what’s Tottenham going to do then? They haven’t got that plan B where they can play a high-tempo game and change the pace of the game. They like to keep the ball, possession-wise, and they like to hit teams on the break. If you look at their game, Conte has looked at it and thought, ‘This is the only way we can play.’ Whether they’re going to win a lot of games from now until the end of the season, we’ll see, but I’m sure we’ve not heard the end of Conte getting frustrated.
DB: One player that Conte has backed to have a bright future is Ryan Sessegnon. The Spurs manager tipped him to be a future England international, despite his limited playing time for Spurs. Do you agree with Conte?
CW: I think he’s got the potential. I don’t think he’s England material yet. I watched a game against Leeds. He did well against a very tricky customer in Raphinha, who we know is excellent, a very good player for Leeds United. Tricky, clever, and he stood his ground. He had the pace to him and he watched the ball, he took the ball off him a lot. I just think with Ryan Sessegnon at the minute, I’d like to see a little bit more desire and a little bit more passion. I think sometimes you think it’s not going his way, he looks as if he’s sort of a, ‘It’s not my day,’ instead of thinking, ‘I’m going to make it my day.’ A little bit more hunger, a bit more energy. Sometimes the game passes him by a little bit, and I just wonder about that side of his game. I think football-wise, he’s fine. He’s got a good pace, he’s got a good left foot. He reads the game well. As I say, he’s got good energy, but sometimes I just think if it’s not going his way, it doesn’t look like he’s going to roll his sleeves up and think, ‘I’m going to make it go my way.’ I’d like to see a little bit more, I suppose, passion, desire, whatever it’s called. I’d like to see a little bit more of that in his game, and then I think he will make that step up to the England squad.
DB: There are plenty of other players vying for a place in Gareth Southgate’s World Cup squad, including some uncapped players like Curtis Jones, Jarrod Bowen, Jacob Ramsey and Harvey Elliott. Do you think anyone new can break into the squad?
CW: It’s amazing how many young ones keep coming through. How many more young’uns can you get in that squad? I think Gareth would be delighted. I think if you look at the form of certain players who might turn his head and give opportunities to younger players, at Arsenal, the two boys at Arsenal are excellent. You’ve got Bellingham, who could be. Again, maybe he’s trying to predict he’s going to be a great player. He’s a good player at the minute. If he keeps progressing and learning and keeping the desire and the passion you need, he could have a wonderful career and he could be a definite starter for England.
There are people who could get opportunities because people like Jadon Sancho have not performed well for Man United. Whether he’s lost confidence or the Premier League is too demanding, too physical, I don’t know. He’s not performing to what everybody expected when he came from Dortmund. I don’t think we’ve seen that. Obviously, Rashford has not hit the ground running. Foden is doing well for Man City, so there’s a lot of competition. Jack Grealish can’t even get in the Man City side, and people like Jack Grealish. We know that, because of his image, he’s a bit of a lad, he looks a bit of lad. He’s a good footballer, but he’s not getting in the City team. If you look, he’s had an injury, but before that, he was on the bench. I’m sure Jack Grealish will stay in the squad, but if they’re not playing and players are playing well, Smith Rowe, all these young players coming through, Gareth will probably think, ‘They’re playing and they’re playing well. I’m going to have to get them in.’ Unfortunately, some of the players who we think are normally automatic picks will get left out.
DB: Jude Bellingham is one of the latest to break into the national team and has blossomed into a star playing for Dortmund. He’s previously been linked with the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United. Where do you think he should play his football next season?
CW: Playing football, he needs to play. I think he’s in a league in Germany, the Bundesliga is a great learning opportunity, and it’s a hard league. I don’t think it’s as demanding as the Premier League. If you look at the full fixtures and you finish that season, I think there are a lot of very winnable games, compared to if you play anybody in the Premier League, you know you’re going to have to work hard and play well to win the game. I think in the Bundesliga, if you look at some of the results that are in, you just don’t know what you’re going to get in the Bundesliga, but he’s playing in the first team. He’s playing for a good club in Dortmund, and that’s the key. What I don’t want to see is players who come back and then they sit on the bench, and you need to play. You need to play. Yes, the rewards are there. We know the Premier League pays more than the Bundesliga. We know you can get your house, your cars, your money, whatever you want. You can get that. We know that, and it is a big head-turner, but at the end of the day, you’re a footballer and you want to be classed as a footballer, not somebody where people say, ‘He’s always on the bench. He was always in the stand.’ You look back at your career and you think, ‘I only played 20 games this season, 15 this season.’ You don’t want to be doing that. You want to be playing week in, week out. If you go to a big club, you’ve got to perform well, consistently, and this is the thing for Bellingham. You’ve got to play well every week, and he’s doing well for Dortmund.
I don’t think another year at Dortmund would hurt him. As I say, if he comes back, he’s got to go into a team at the start and say, ‘We’re building the team now, and you’re part of this team we’re building, and you are going to be playing from the start.’ He’s got to go to the right team. He likes to attack. He likes to run forward. He’s got to go into a team which fits the way he plays. He needs somebody sitting behind him. He’s got to look at that, as well. He can’t just think, ‘I want to play for Man United or I want to play for so-and-so,’ if they don’t suit your style of play. Listen, he’s going to get a lot of offers, not just from England. He’s going to get offers from all over. As I say, the one thing I’d say to him and to every player is wherever you go, make sure you’re starting. If you play badly, it doesn’t matter where you play, you’ll get dropped, but make sure you’re going to be a starting fixture. You don’t want to go there and think, ‘I’m on the bench.’ Jack Grealish left Villa, he’s been on the bench. He’s on the bench, he’s on the bench. Is that good for Jack Grealish’s career? It’s not going to get him on the England team, sitting on the bench. In Man City, we know we’ve got a great squad, but for me, sometimes players move to clubs where you think, ‘You don’t want to play.’
DB: England did well to get to the final but seemed to invite pressure from Italy after going 1-0 up and got punished, not too different from the World Cup semi-final against Croatia. What do you think of Southgate’s tactics in these big games?
CW: I think Gareth has done a great job. He talks a lot of sense. I don’t think he complicates it. I think he’s tried the three at the back, he’s tried the four. He went back to the three. He wasn’t afraid to play a four. He’s very flexible, which, let’s be honest, probably up until Glen Hoddle took over, we were rigid 4-4-2, and that was like that for a lifetime. All of a sudden, they’re playing 4-3 in the middle of the park, three upfront, two wide, 4-5-1. He’s tried systems and he looks at what he thinks is going to get the best out of his team and his players, so I think Gareth has done a good job.
The Italy game, yes, I agree. I think the two midfield guys where Italy started running the game, and I thought Rice and Phillips should have gone up against them too and think, ‘We’re going to nullify you.’ We set off and we let them pass, pass, pass, and then you start thinking, ‘They’re good enough to see a pass to make this goal opportunity.’ I thought, ‘Yes, we’ve come out the blocks quick, we’re 1-0 up,’ but in the end, you think if you’re drawing the Italians, are they going to hit them on the break? We didn’t, so it was a little bit strange, that. It went flat, as if, as you say, it was a failure and maybe they got a bit nervous, whatever, and you think you’re protecting the goal, which invited Italy on. I think Italy grew in the game with confidence, and a lot of England players lost confidence during that game. Come the shoot-out, you’ve got to say we looked more nervous than them, and they won it. It was a great opportunity to win a tournament, really top. Some people would say you’re not getting a better chance. You mightn’t, so you look back at that and think that was one more goal away. Most of his tactics have always been alright.
I think the Croatia game, what worked against Croatia was they played two wingers and the wingbacks couldn’t get out. They pushed them back, and it became a problem. Maybe in that game, he should have gone to a 4-3-3 or a 4-4-2 or a 4-5-1, but he didn’t. He stuck with it, and you’ve got to say Croatia, what an excellent side. They were a very experienced, very good side, very dangerous side. That was always going to be a tight game, but yes, when you play Italy in your back garden, you’d expect to win that. That’ll be one of those times when Gareth will always look back and think, ‘We should have won that tournament.’
DB: Fortunately, England have a young group that will get another crack at winning a major tournament this year. Looking ahead to the World Cup, do you think England can go one better after the Euros and win the tournament?
CW: I think they’ll go in as one of the favourites. The only thing for me, I know it’s in November, December, it’s still going to be very hot. The grass, whatever people think, the grass is not grass. It’s different. The climate, everything, the grass will probably be longer, it’ll probably be different. People say, ‘You can’t make excuses, it’s the same for everybody.’ I think maybe it’s the South Americans. I think Spain are becoming very good now. They’re a young side but getting better and better.
When you look back at that Euros, you’ll think yes, England is a young side, but we saw with Spain what development can do, and two years down the line they’re going to be two years older, better. Brazil’s record, Argentina, they’ll enjoy playing in places like that, because it’s a bit warmer and the grass is different. I think of us in Europe at the minute, I’d definitely fancy England to be right to the final stages, but we all know to win a tournament, you need a little bit of luck. If England stays on it, we’ve got the capabilities of winning it, and we’ve come close on the last two trophies, so there’s no reason why we can’t.
As I said, I think when you go to the World Cup, there are a lot more things you’ve got to address. It’s not as easy as the Euros, which was playing nearly every game at Wembley. You’re not going to get that, and that becomes harder straight away. Teams from around the world will show, Brazil will want to show that they want to win the World Cup again. Germany will have developed a lot more. They were getting an aged side, as we saw in the Euros. They’ll have started again. Spain, as I said, are always strong. We don’t know if Italy is going to qualify. They’ve got to play Portugal, but those two teams, whichever one of them gets through will always be difficult to play against. I think the World Cup is a lot harder to win than the Euros, just because of the travel and the different circumstances.
DB: We’ve seen some in the media talking about a ‘Euros hangover’, with the likes of Maguire, Shaw and Kane not performing as well as they did last season. How tough is it to kick on in the season coming off a deep run in an international tournament?
CW: World-class is a massive statement in football, and when you finish playing football, you’ll be able to say you’ve had 10-15 years of consistency, and that makes you a great player or a good player, a very good player. I think what we saw, Harry Maguire has been going along nicely. He played well in Russia, did well in the Euros, and since then, he’s lost his way. Now, is that the way Man United play? Has he not got the protection? We know he lacks pace. Has he hit a rut? Has he lost a lot of confidence? You’ve got to say, he’s a worry at the minute. If you’re going to play internationally against a good side, he is a little bit of a concern, to say would you even start him for England?
Luke Shaw, again, had a very good season last year. Lost his way again, and we know Luke Shaw had a lot of bad injuries. He came back and he was great in the Euros, but again, people don’t know. They play a lot of football, and the fatigue might have kicked in from the Euros. They didn’t get much breathing space, they didn’t get much time off, and all of a sudden, you’re back into a hard league. It’s not a league like the Dutch league, where there are three or four teams who are really above everybody else. The Premier League is a hard league to play in, and whether physically a lot of these players who lost their form from the Euros, obviously Man United players, whether they felt that more than other teams, I don’t know. It is a concern at the minute with Maguire and Shaw. I’m sure Gareth is looking at that and thinking, ‘If we’ve got any big games coming up, can I put my trust in them?’
DB: Harry Maguire in particular has come under scrutiny for his performances this season. Do you think he’s still guaranteed a place in Southgate’s starting XI?
CW: I don’t think he’s let him down, but he will be concerned about his form this season with Man United, but when he’s played for England, he’s looked alright, I suppose. I think he’s an experienced player now in an England shirt, and Gareth will like that. Then, when you start looking at the options, John Stones obviously back in the City team, who’s been at right-back, and then you’ve got Tyrone Mings who has had an up-and-down season himself, I would say. Not a lot really hits you to say he’s got to play. Gomez at Liverpool, he’s not really played. A lot of injuries, so there are not a lot of options for him. He could play Kyle Walker as a centre half, but I think if he goes to the three, I still think he trusts Maguire. I’m not sure about Shaw. I think that’ll be interesting, but I definitely think at the minute, he’ll look at Maguire and think, ‘He’s never let me down.’
DB: Ralf Rangnick has admitted that Maguire has had some weaker moments, but has said he doesn’t see any reason to strip him of the captaincy. Paul Scholes reiterated that there’s a lack of leadership after the game against Atletico, saying ‘Maguire’s captain and he doesn’t really do it.’ Seems that Maguire is someone that splits opinion – do you think he is the right man to captain Manchester United?
CW: I think, apart from this season, you’ve got to say Maguire’s done all right since he moved from Leicester. He’s done all right. Seems like he’s a popular guy in the changing room, he gets around the players, always encouraging them. He’s the captain… I’ve never been into this captaincy lark to be honest. You should have eleven captains, as far as I’m concerned. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got an armband, you know. I’ve never been into that talk of Ronaldo being captain, Fernandes, whoever should be captain. Listen, it’s an armband, when you get across that white line you’ve got to say what you think to win games, encourage other players, go at players. In every team I’ve played in, there have been many players like that. Even though they never wore a captain’s armband, I’d listen to them because what they were saying was right. Whether Maguire has an armband or not, it doesn’t make a difference, it’s how you play.
DB: Rangnick is of course only the interim manager. Bookies have the likes of Pochettino, Brendan Rodgers and Erik Ten Hag among the favourites to get the permanent role. Who do you think should bring in to turn things around at the club?
CW: I like the Southampton manager, Ralph Hasenhüttl. If he had a squad like what Man United’s got or could add to… we know United aren’t short of money! If he identified and brought in three of four players… I like the way he plays, he plays on the front foot, a little bit like Man City and Liverpool. It’s entertaining. He gets the most out of those Southampton players. You look at that squad and wonder how many would get into the teams of the big four or six. Not a lot of them would be automatic picks for any of those teams, but he’s getting the best out of a squad of players that he’s thought will do a job in this league. He’s got them playing wonderful football, and I could picture him with Man United, its ambitions and players he could get in. I can see them being a really exciting side that people would like to watch, and I think they would be challenging closer to the top of the table than they are now.
DB: Looking at the other end of the table, your former club Newcastle have enjoyed a rich vein of form as of late, with four wins in their last five. How would you assess Eddie Howe’s time in charge so far?
CW: He’s done well, Eddie Howe. I’ve got to say, I wasn’t too impressed with a lot of the signings they made, the so-called richest club in the world. He bought Chris Wood, Kieran Trippier… you think, does he need a full-back? Dan Burn from Brighton, too. But, you know, whatever they’ve done, these signings have come in and the other players have started fighting for their places. Joelinton’s been excellent in midfield. It’s taken four years for him to work out he’s a midfield player, and that was just by chance because of an injury where he filled in. That’s probably his best position. They’ve got something going, they’ve got a lot of energy, Wilson to come back, and we know he can score goals when he’s fit. Eddie’s done a job where I think he’s looked at ‘How am I going to get out of this relegation battle?’, and it looks like they’re going to do it.
There’s still a long way to go, but I think they’re looking and thinking ‘we can get out of this.’ And then we’ll see, in the summer, what he’s going to bring in. Once they stay up is it, ‘right, we want to get three or four more players in?’ Because they can just spend what they want. ‘Get two or three more in, and we’re aiming to finish above halfway. Then after that we’re looking to be in the top six, then we’re looking at the top four.’ It won’t happen overnight, and whether Eddie sees that journey out, time will tell. The best thing will be to see what he brings in the summer. If he brings in more of the same then you can say they’ll be mid-table next season.
DB: It seems an exciting time for Newcastle fans given the resources available in the transfer market. When you look at some of the title-winning sides in the past, there’s often been an influential signing that has had a transformative effect – the likes of Cantona, Shearer and more recently Virgil Van Dijk comes to mind. Who do you think could join Newcastle this summer and have a similar effect?
CW: They’ve got Bruno Guimarães from Lyon who we’ve not seen play yet. The fans are excited to see how good he’s going to be. So we’ll see if he’s the man to kick them on, if the fans take to him, if he helps change the belief that they can go after the top four. It’ll have to be a big player. We don’t know what will happen in two years’ time when they’re looking at getting into the top six, it won’t be next season. Season after, they’ll be looking at top six or seven, and that’s when they’ll probably bring somebody in. The fans will eventually demand that they want a big signing, the kind of person where you’ll say, ‘Wow, I can’t believe Newcastle got him.’ This is all going to be in the future, obviously, but we’ll wait and see. It’s good to know Newcastle’s ambition is to break into that top four, but in two years, four years, five years? The fans will get impatient if they aren’t seeing progress every year. I’d say they’re looking to be a top-four club inside three years.
DB: Big-name transfer targets from international leagues are often attracted by the stature of clubs like Liverpool and Manchester United, while some prefer a move to London. Do you think Newcastle’s location and lack of recent success could make it tough to attract big names?
CW: Yeah I think it is harder to attract players up north. As you said, players do look at the Manchester area and London definitely, where there’s a lot easier access to get home or when they go for international matches. Newcastle need to make a statement by signing someone who is world-class. Then that will open the door for a lot of players to think, ‘Why has he gone to Newcastle? I want to go there, is something happening up there?’ That signing – we don’t know who it’s going to be – I’m sure they have someone lined up. Might not be this summer, might not be next summer, but I’m sure they’ll be looking for opportunities, thinking ‘who can we get?’ and ‘who wants to come to Newcastle?’, which as we spoke about will be very difficult. We know that money talks – some players do chase the money. You might get a superstar, but he’s gotta fit into the system. It’s no good getting a superstar and surrounding him with average players. That’s what that big player will be looking at, he’ll be looking at the team thinking ‘if they get two or three players on my level, it’ll be interesting.’But you can’t just put a superstar in Newcastle’s team and think he’s gonna work miracles with that squad.
DB: The transfer market will be important for Newcastle, as it was for the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City before, however, these clubs have also spent heavily on developing their academies. The proposals for Newcastle’s new training facilities have given us a glimpse into how the future could look at the club. How important is it that Newcastle dedicates resources to youth development as they look to become a top-half club?
CW: Oh it’s massive, the training ground needs to be done up. They’ve sat on it for a while. I look back, over the years when I was growing up as a kid, I didn’t live too far from the ground, but the youth team never really produced players. Probably the best talent they had was when they won the Youth Cup with Gazza. But realistically out of that lot, it was only Gazza who went on to become a big player. The youth setup at Newcastle has never been any good. Middlesbrough have always dominated, with Sunderland behind them. Newcastle’s youth policies never ever took off and this is something they’ve got to address, because we’ve had a lot of talented footballers in the North East, and you think ‘where did they all go?’ Alan Shearer went to Southampton, Michael Carrick went to West Ham.
When I was a kid, I was on their doorstep. They tried to sign us as a schoolboy, messed us about a bit and I ended up going to Coventry City. Peter Beardsley ended up going to Carlisle, he ended up going to Canada. All these players were on their doorstep and too many got away. Newcastle have got to make their facilities and their training and scouting system better. They’ve got no excuse now, they’ve got the money, the resources. So make sure nobodies leaving the North East, because most of them want to play for Newcastle United. Alan Shearer went to Southampton, to Blackburn but came back to Newcastle because of how much he loves the club. Michael Carrick was a Newcastle fan and went to West Ham. A lot of these players who have left the North East should never have been allowed to leave and this shows what Newcastle was about and I don’t think they’ve changed to be perfectly honest. They’ve got to invest a lot money and get a good scouting system.
DB: There are a number of clubs now competing with the likes of Arsenal and Spurs to break that traditional big six. The likes of West Ham, Wolves and until this season, Leicester. Newcastle will be hoping to join the queue here. Do you fancy any of these sides to establish themselves as a perennial top-six team?
CW: I still think the big six are the big six. Maybe Everton in a few years when they get their new stadium up and running, they’ve got the potential to get back into the top six with owners who are not afraid to spend a bit of money. Realistically, we know who the top three at the minute then after that Manchester United definitely, Tottenham – yes, Arsenal – yes. They’re just enormous, these clubs. People don’t realise how big they are, support wise, money-wise, they are massive football clubs. It’s a hard group to get into, Wolves are trying, Newcastle will try I’m sure in the next two or three seasons.
Leicester were in there for a while and they seem to be falling away a little bit now. It shows you how hard it is to stay up there if you haven’t got the resources to be able to keep refreshing your squad. To be spending money like that, you need to be a top-four team. It costs a lot of money, so realistically I think it’ll be very hard for teams like Wolves to gatecrash, but we’ll see with Newcastle in time. People talk about Newcastle copying Manchester City, but they’re a long way off being a top-four club.
DB: You mentioned Everton there, they haven’t been afraid to splash the cash but they are just one point above the relegation zone. Do you think they’re in trouble this season?
CW: I do. I think they showed tremendous effort against Manchester City. They were organised, well-drilled, worked hard, you couldn’t ask any more of them physically. Technically, they are a bit lacking. They haven’t really got enough creativity in the team. The back four play a lot of long balls out, if it goes to Pickford, he plays it long. Richarlison works hard, Calvert-Lewin’s been injured a lot this season which doesn’t help them.
We’ll see how Van de Beek and Dele Alli develop, they’ve not really shown something where you think ‘wow, these look good signings that are gonna turn Everton around.’ They’ve probably been brought in for a bit of creativity. They’ve got Allan and Doucoure who have got the legs to go and get the ball back but we’ve not seen a lot of creativity from these players that I’ve mentioned. It is a bit of a concern. The most positive thing they’ve had is the young lad Gordon who’s been playing left side. He gets at them, dribbles, shoots, takes set-pieces. For a young player, he’s getting better every week and is a bright spark for them. I do think Everton is going to be in a fight till the end of the season. I don’t think they’ve got that much more than the teams around them.
DB: We’ve spoken about Spurs and Newcastle, one of your other former clubs, Sheffield Wednesday, are in the race for playoff places in League 1. Do you fancy them to go up this season?
CW: I’d love to see them go up, I still live in the area. I had a great four years with Sheffield Wednesday and I loved it, great support. When you see where they are as a football club at the minute, they need a new owner, if they ever want to progress and ever get to the Championship and survive, never mind the Premier League. They need someone to buy that football club and develop it. Great fanbase, Darren Moore had his critics, but they’re having a great run at the minute.
Where they were looking to get into the Playoffs, I think a lot of fans will be eyeing the automation promotion place behind Rotherham, the way they’ve been playing in the last month or so. They’re in the pack, they’ve just got to keep their good form going. Got a nice balance in the minute in the team, but they’ve struggled with finding a goalscorer. They haven’t got one, they’re starting to score goals now and it’s coming from all areas, but you’d like that goalscorer. Gregory’s been injured but you need somebody up there who is going to get you over 20 goals in that league and I don’t see anyone doing that. They create a lot but they haven’t got that natural goalscorer and that might hinder them going up automatically.