Glen Johnson Exclusive: Liverpool Need ‘Gerrard-Like’ Bellingham

Following England’s midweek friendly against Ivory Coast, former Liverpool and Chelsea right-back Glen Johnson spoke exclusively with Compare.bet. The former England international, who also played for Portsmouth, urged Jürgen Klopp to sign Jude Bellingham, who he compared to club legend Steven Gerrard. He also spoke about Barcelona as a possible landing spot for top scorer Mohamed Salah, with his contract talks stalling over wages. Johnson spoke highly of Harvey Elliott and his potential to become world-class and tipped England captain Harry Kane to leave Spurs this summer, but dismissed Manchester United as an attractive destination.



DB: What did you think of England’s performance against Ivory Coast last night?

GJ: England can only beat what’s in front of them but it wasn’t a particularly strong contest to be honest, not helped by the sending off. I think England moved the ball well, scored some fantastic goals and overall, they looked sharp.

DB: We saw Raheem Sterling wear the armband, grab a goal and an assist. He seems to be at his best in an England shirt, yet at times has found himself out of the starting XI for City. He has 18 months left on his contract and has been linked with a move to Arsenal. Do you think that would be a good move for his career?

GJ: I think Sterling is more than capable and good enough to be playing for Manchester City for many years to come, so I don’t think it’s realistic at the moment to talk about him looking at a transfer. If he gets his head down there and finds anywhere near his England form then I think he can get back into the team and continue to have a big impact at Manchester City.

DB: Southgate has backed Harry Maguire despite some criticism from fans and the media, saying he’s capable of playing at the highest level. Do you agree with Southgate?

GJ: I think he certainly has the potential to get back to a higher level. I don’t think he’s playing at his best at the moment. However, he’s undoubtedly a good player, but I don’t think he’s what you may call a top, top player on current form.

DB: Maguire and Stones have been mainstays in Southgate’s backline at major tournaments. Stones has withdrawn due to injury and has only featured in 11 Premier League games for City so far this season. With players like Guehi and Ben White impressing this season, do you think we could see anyone overtaking Stones or Maguire in the pecking order?

GJ: It is possible, because things happen quickly in football. It only takes an injury or someone to hit top form and your place can be taken. I don’t think anyone can be confident about picking England’s best XI for the World Cup now. There are a lot of games to play before then and time for players to force their way into the team.

DB: Are there any centre backs, in particular, that could be a threat to those two?

GJ: When fit, Joe Gomez. He’s very talented, he just struggles a lot with injuries and then struggles to find his best form because he doesn’t play enough games in a row. Based on talent alone, he’s one of the best.

DB: Maguire’s teammates Sancho and Rashford didn’t make the latest squad. Sancho seemed to be finding his feet at United before the break, are you at all concerned about his chances of making the squad as we head towards the World Cup?

GJ: No, I’m not concerned at all. As long as the players going to the World Cup are the ones in form then I don’t really care who goes. It’s just good that you’ve got all these talented players knocking on the door as options. We’ve got some fantastic players and whoever hits form at the right time will be the ones that get picked.

DB: Rashford on the other hand seems to be going through a tough time with his club form. He’s still so early on in his career though, what advice would you give to him at this time?

GJ: Stay strong, keep working hard – harder than ever. He’s super talented and for me, he should be starting every single week, but obviously, there’s a reason why he isn’t. Just keep your head down, try to avoid distractions away from the pitch, work hard and keep believing in yourself.

DB: After the Switzerland game, Luke Shaw spoke about his differing form for club and country and pointed to enjoying the environment at the England camp. He’s getting a fair bit of stick from United fans for this, but it does seem to be a tight-knit group. How does this compare to your experience in the England squad?

GJ: At times, it was almost as if we weren’t allowed to enjoy it. Obviously, you enjoy every training session and game playing for your country but we didn’t have much downtime or time to relax together. I think that’s a key difference in what Southgate has done, he’s really brought the lads together. Rightly so, they enjoy going away on international breaks and that’s the way it should be and bodes well.

DB: Shaw praised Harry Kane after the Switzerland game, calling him the best striker in the world. This comes at a time when Manchester United are being linked with a move for the England captain. Kane made it clear last summer that he wanted out, do you think he should make the move to Old Trafford this summer?

GJ: I don’t know where he’ll end up but I can’t help but feel it’ll be this summer or never that he leaves Spurs for that big move. He’s found some form again and when he’s on form he’s one of the best for sure. Whether he ends up at United, I’m not sure but my instinct is that he will not be at Tottenham next season.

DB: Harry Kane has previously indicated that his motivation for leaving Spurs is to win trophies. Do you think that’s something he can achieve at Manchester United?

GJ: No, not at the moment no. I think there are many many clubs out in front of them at the moment. Of course, they’re capable of winning something domestically, but in terms of world football, no. You don’t go to a club like United to only win the Carabao Cup. So no, I think United are miles off winning the top trophies at the moment.

DB: Tyrick Mitchell has emerged as an option for Southgate given his impressive form for Crystal Palace this season, not least because England are short of options with Chilwell and Trippier out and Luke Shaw possibly out of favour at Old Trafford in recent weeks. Do you think Mitchell can make that left-back spot his own?

GJ: I believe it’s possible. He looked very comfortable on the ball last night, is quick and calm so I don’t see why not. The door is open for him at the moment to try and make that his spot.

DB: Looking at the other flank, you previously said that it’s a tight race, but you’d pick Reece James over Trent Alexander-Arnold. What does Trent need to do, in your opinion, to push ahead of Reece James in the debate?

GJ: I feel Trent needs to be more solid defensively. When I say Reece James, I think he’s the best overall, but Trent is better going forward, better from set pieces and has a better delivery. All of the guys have their own attributes. I don’t think Trent is out of favour, but I’d just tip Reece because I feel he’s a slightly better defender.

DB: Conor Gallagher is another Palace player who has impressed, on loan from Chelsea this season. Do you think returning to Chelsea would be the right move for his career given their midfield options at the moment?

GJ: Probably not at the moment – he’s enjoying his football, playing really well and making a name for himself at Palace. If I was him I’d like that to continue. Whether he’s good enough to get into the Chelsea team at the moment, none of us quite know yet. But I think whilst things are going well, I would consider looking to continue that and then if it’s meant to be at Chelsea it’s meant to be.

DB: There’s a lot of talk about Liverpool having momentum after Manchester City dropped points to Crystal Palace. Looking at the table and the fixtures ahead, who do you think has the upper hand?

GJ: It’s always hard to bet against City – but I just think Liverpool have the momentum. Back in January with the points gap everyone just assumed the league was over. City are looking over their shoulder more than Liverpool. Liverpool can just keep on going about their business, blowing away teams and keep winning and now the gap is what it is. They’re the ones in form and the team on the up – so if I had to gamble I’d go Liverpool.

DB: With many of Liverpool’s core group in or approaching their 30s, the club has been quite proactive in lining up their potential replacements. Konate, Jota, Elliott and Diaz are all part of the 25 and under contingent that have impressed as of late. Jordan Henderson has been singing the praises of Jude Bellingham while they’ve been away with the England squad, saying he’s got no doubt that he’s going to be a top player. Do you think Liverpool should be lining up a move for him as an eventual replacement for the club captain?

GJ: Replacement or not, if a player of Jude Bellingham’s quality becomes available then yes I’d say get him for sure. He’s certainly going to be world-class, looks the part and can do everything. If it’s a possibility, then a club like Liverpool need to be looking at signing him.

 

DB: He seems to have a really well-rounded game, playing box-to-box and getting forward well, but able to win the ball back too. Is there any past England player you’d compare him to?

GJ: I’d probably say he’s most like Gerrard. He’s physically bigger, but he gets around the park, can tackle and is good on the ball, and has that engine too. So I’d have to say Stevie.

DB: Another young English midfielder that has been linked to Liverpool is Jacob Ramsey. Earlier this month Steve McManaman said that Liverpool don’t need him. Do you agree with him, or do you think he’s ready for a big club like Liverpool?

GJ: Maybe they don’t need him today – but you also don’t buy players necessarily for today. You have to look at the average age of the group and be planning for the next 4-5 years. These young players such as Ramsey are only going to be getting more and more expensive. If they become available then you should consider signing them, whether it’s for today or 2-3 years time – but there needs to be a plan.

DB: Liverpool are known for being reluctant to offer long-term deals to players in their 30s, as seen with the likes of Lallana and Wijnaldum being allowed to leave the club. An increasing number of players are continuing to perform at the top level in their mid to late 30s, such as Thiago Silva, Ibrahimovic, and Ronaldo. With players like Salah, Mane and Van Dijk widely considered as some of the world’s best and in or approaching their 30s, do you think Liverpool should reconsider this strategy?

GJ: I’m sure they are fully aware of their strategy and it’s gonna be harder for those guys to do what Thiago Silva and Ibrahimovic are doing. Mane and Salah are flying wingers, so you can’t do that at 36. I’m sure they are aware of the situation, they’ve been very good with their strategies in the past. Whatever happens isn’t going to be an accident, they’re going to know their end plan.

DB: Harvey Elliott is at the opposite end of his career, and has just featured for England’s Under-21s. From what you’ve seen of him so far, do you think he has world-class potential?

GJ: Yeah I like him a lot, I think he looks really good, you can’t say he’s world-class now but he has potential. Obviously, he’s super young, but he’s not fazed by the big stage. He’s scored some goals where… I’m not being precious about goals, it’s the way he takes them. Some of the positions he finds himself in, he’s clearly intelligent. So yeah, I like him a lot. I think he could go a long way.

DB: Despite the ongoing contract talks, it seems Salah is laser-focused on Liverpool’s quadruple chase and has 28 goals in all competitions already. If he was to leave the club, do you think Liverpool could replace him and continue to compete at the very top?

GJ: Well, he’s impossible to replace unless you get super lucky. He’s one of the best players in the world. Those players don’t come around often. I think you’d have to get someone almost totally different, he’s one of the top players in the world. He scores goals for fun, and as we know those players are hard to find.

DB: We’ve seen Barcelona reemerge as a force in La Liga and Europe under Xavi. Do you think they are now an attractive destination for Mo Salah?

GJ: They could be. He’s won everything there is to win, he’s been super successful. For the quality of life, a beautiful place to live, and to play for a major club… it could be a possibility.

DB: With Salah’s contract talks stalling, do you think Liverpool could turn their attention to Erling Haaland, or will wage demands put Liverpool off?

GJ: I don’t think that’s relevant. I’m sure, as with all the top clubs, they’ll have half an eye on Haaland’s situation anyway. Like I say, we all know Salah isn’t going to be there in four years’ time, but a young player like Haaland might be. So no, I don’t think it’s a case of getting Haaland to replace him, I think if he’s available they’d want to get him anyway.

DB: Many people are looking to Liverpool’s two clashes with City in the space of 6 days as season-defining. Jordan Henderson suggested that the FA Cup semi-final could have been moved to accommodate the fans, with no trains to London running on the day. Players grow up dreaming of playing at Wembley, but do you think they should move the game to a neutral location in the North-West?

GJ: If there’s no transport it would obviously make sense. It’s a tough one isn’t it , not all the fans are from the actual city, they’re spread all over the country, but the majority would be up there. We live in a different world at the moment so you have to be a bit flexible.

DB: Liverpool’s former manager – someone you’ve worked with – Brendan Rodgers, has failed to build on last season’s fifth-place finish as Leicester currently sit 10th. While Leicester don’t have much to play for at the moment, he seems to be synonymous with late-season collapses – the 13/14 season at Liverpool and the last two years with Leicester dropping out of Champions League places. Why do you think his teams seem to tail off at the business end of the season?

GJ: I feel that might be a bit harsh because Leicester were challenging for the top four and doing really well for the whole of last season and it’s only at the end that they’ve slipped out, so it’s a bit harsh saying that they’ve tailed off. They don’t seem to finish as well as they start but I don’t really know. It could just be tough fixtures at the end, tired legs at the end of the season. There could be many factors.

DB: Do you think a return to one of the top six clubs is on the cards for Rodgers in the near future? Do you think he’s that calibre of manager?

GJ: I don’t see why not, he’s a good coach but recent months at Leicester haven’t gone as well as he would have hoped it would.

DB: Looking at your former club Portsmouth in League One. It looks like they may well have too much to do when it comes to reaching the play-off places this season. Next season would be their sixth successive season in the third tier. What do you think the club needs to start climbing the football ladder once more?

GJ: Well, as we know about those leagues, they’re super tough, super competitive. you need better players and a better structure. But, like all clubs, you have to start from the ground up. There’s no point in just getting a good starting eleven, you need to build literally the whole club, everything from the ground upward so that when you do start getting success you can maintain it and keep consistency.

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Compare.bet's online gambling content experts helped write, edit and check the content on this page:

Daniel is the editor-in-chief at Compare.bet. He has half a decade of experience writing on topics including sports betting, online casino and the NBA. Daniel also covers Premier League football for Compare.bet news and has interviewed Louis Saha, Richard Dunne and Gary Pallister. In his spare time, Daniel enjoys film photography and making Spotify playlists.

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