Alan Smith Opinions - Euro 2024


On England vs Serbia

What were your thoughts on the game?

England started well and dominated the ball. It wasn't easy to create chances with Serbia sitting deep and defending in numbers - they were really physical throughout the game. We got the opening goal fairly early on in the match and you're hoping from that point you can go on and continue to dominate.

I only agree with what Gareth Southgate said in his post-match interview to a certain extent, it's international football and you can rarely dominate for 90 minutes. Once they got back into the game, it was hard for us to wrestle back the initiative, which was disappointing.

It was a bit of a Jekyll and Hide performance from England – what happened in the second half?

It's difficult to say (what went wrong in the second half). Serbia were one goal down but finished the first half really well, so then you’re hoping that the performance lifts in the second half and we can come out of the traps quickly. That didn't happen, and Serbia were more aggressive, more positive, and started getting the ball into the box. Whether it's a psychological thing from the players or whether it's coming from the manager, I don't know.

All the teams in this tournament can give you a game, but we've got more than enough and our players should be able to exert their dominance to wrestle back matches, but we weren’t able to do that. Substitutions or the lack of them played a part, like they have done in the past. Phil Foden had an unusually poor game by his standards. I thought someone like Anthony Gordon could have come on in that left hand side and give us that little bit of pace and ability to run in behind, but Gallagher and Kobbie Mainoo were brought on just to make us a bit more solid.

When you look at this group of players we've got the players, shouldn’t we really be looking to be a little bit more ambitious in a game than just trying to hold on to it against opposition like Serbia?

You don't want to be too critical (of the performance). It's the first game, we've won it, which is the most important thing in an opening game at any tournament. I’m pleased with the victory; three points, top of the table.

Looking ahead to Denmark, I think we can expect more. If it’s another laboured performance and we win, if that becomes a theme, then that would be a concern. Against the better teams, if you let them dominate the ball, they'll score against you.

Moving forward, you would hope that we can move on in our development. The performance last night showed that we haven't really moved on in terms of coming through periods of adversity and then getting that control back again.

It feels like Gareth Southgate is integrating new players and new roles in his team without bedding them in. Some of the new changes and players weren't necessarily implemented in the friendly games before the tournament.

Could that be one of the consequences of a performance like the one we saw against Serbia and if that is the case, surely this is something that Gareth should have been thinking about?

The biggest question mark was who's going to play in midfield alongside Declan Rice. It was Alexander-Arnold in the end – he hasn't played there too many times in the run-up – which makes you think that Southgate wasn't entirely sure what he was going to do with that midfield pairing.

Did any players in particular catch your eye?

The obvious one is Jude Bellingham. He was sensational. Even when we were struggling, he was getting about the pitch. He took some heavy knocks, it was obvious that some of the Serbian players had earmarked him as the danger man, but he seems to enjoy that and responds well to it.

Bellingham said afterwards that he handled himself a bit better, whereas in previous seasons gone by, he would have got wound up by some of the rough treatment. He was the standout player. He's a superstar. He'll get that kind of attention throughout the competition. Every team that England face will be talking about Jude Bellingham and what they can do to stop him having an influence on the game. Physically, he can be imposing and he will be a hard man to stop.

Saka did ever so well in the first half as well. He created the goal, but he ran out of steam a little bit as Serbia started defending better in the second half. Bellingham was my man of the match.

Thoughts on Trent Alexander-Arnold in midfield? Does he keep his place in the team moving forward?

I thought Alexander-Arnold did well. I thought he was disciplined. When he plays right back, he has been exposed on 1v1s at times for Liverpool and England, but in the middle of the park it's a slightly different scenario. He was very conscious of his positioning and I think he did well.

It is a new partnership with Rice and it will take time for them to get used to each other's games. Rice got through a mountain of work, he did brilliantly protecting the defence.

I would persist with Alexander-Arnold in that position because I do feel we need some continuity in that area of the pitch.

On Foden and England’s left side

Foden’s passing was unusually wayward at times. It's a shock to see him give the ball away as much as he did, but he's a brilliant player. We've got to stick with him and develop the partnerships in the team, and players like Bellingham and Foden will need a bit of time to get used to playing with each other. They are two hugely talented players, so it's just working things out a bit more as we go along. Bellingham has got that roving role where he goes and seeks the ball. Foden can also get into that number 10 position and the more minutes they have on the pitch, the better that understanding will become because great footballers always find a way to gel.

With Trippier at left back, he doesn’t give you the same balance as Luke Shaw, which didn’t help Foden. When Shaw plays, the balance on the left is much better because Shaw will go on the overlap and Foden can tuck in a bit more. The left side was the one area of the pitch where it was a bit clunky, which can happen when you’ve got a right footed player like Trippier playing at left back. We shouldn't be too concerned about Foden. He's only human. He was below par, but he's got to start against Denmark.

On Foden and Bellingham playing together

There were times where Foden would have wanted to have drifted into a pocket of space and he saw Bellingham there. They've just got to get used to each other's movements, but Foden can certainly make things happen for England. He can show his City form for his country and, on another day, I expect him to do that. Against Serbia, there were times where Foden and Bellingham want to occupy the same position, so that's when you've just got to work things out a little bit and adjust your game.

Foden will have to adjust his game more than Bellingham. I think you have to let Bellingham get on with it - he’s that type of player. It’s a brilliant double act, and if they can work in unison, it's as good as you'll see in world football.

There were doubts about Marc Guehi before the match, but he didn’t put a foot wrong. Did that performance address any concerns people may have had about him performing at the highest level?

I think Guehi’s performance would have addressed any concerns that people may have had about his ability to play at this level. It would have also done him the power of good.

When you go into a tournament for the first time with England, playing in a new partnership with John Stones, it’s natural that you will see plenty of the ball. He would have been pleased to get a few early touches and his passing was good. Confidence-wise, he’ll be delighted with his own performance. I also think that it will reassure John Stones as well. He would have looked at his partner and wouldn’t have been entirely sure how he was going to do. The two players need to have trust in each other.

After all the worry about Maguire not being there, I'm not saying that we've fixed the problem because they'll face sterner tests than they did last night, but at least he's got off to a really good start.

On England vs Denmark

Would you be tempted to make any changes for the next game against the Danes?

The only thing would be whether Luke Shaw's fit. I don't know how close he is to fitness, he can’t be too far away, otherwise he wouldn't be in the squad. If he’s fit, then I think he’ll come back into the team.

Gareth Southgate will want to try and build continuity with his defence. In tournament football, you have to mix things up because the games come quickly. You want to keep that zip in your play and you want to keep players fresh and involved. I think we’re able to do that in every department apart from the defence, so the sooner Shaw can start working his way back into the team, the better.

Do you think Gareth Southgate would have learnt any lessons from this opening match or taken anything from it that he will look to implement against the Danes?

When he looks back on it, you give post-match interviews five or ten minutes after the end of a game and sometimes you can say certain things that maybe don’t resonate with the fans at home. When you analyse the game back at the camp, you might think differently about certain things.

Southgate is human. He would have heard the criticism over the years about how he was unable to change the course of the match. The biggest one was the Italy final, so he’ll want to put those doubts to bed. I think he’ll be reflecting on what was good and what was bad (against Serbia). He’ll definitely want to learn lessons from the game – the impact of the subs is probably the area to focus on in terms of improvement.

We're all looking at Southgate in this tournament. People you talk to, everyone will always have an opinion on him. I think Gareth has a lot of doubters out there, which is unusual when we've reached the semis of the World Cup and the final of the Euros under him. If you looked at his situation from a distance, you'd think everyone would love the manager, but so many have got reservations about him. Hopefully he can put that to bed in this tournament.

England won the game, but the vibe afterwards wasn’t great. For England and Southgate to get that momentum and belief into the fans, do they need to deliver a complete performance against Denmark in the next game? Do they need something to change the negative energy into positive energy?

First and foremost, we need to win the game against Denmark. We want to win the game, but if it panned out like it did against Serbia, you'd be thinking, where are we going with this? Denmark are a different side to Serbia, they won't be so physical.

It's interesting in tournament football, you wonder how much of the reaction back home  the players are aware of? In my day, the question would be whether or not there would be English newspapers in the hotel? I remember Graham Taylor had them in Sweden in 92, which was probably a mistake because it wound him up as much as anybody. It’s a bit different these days with social media.

I think it's difficult for players not to look at that because it’s an intrinsic part of their lives. If it affects a player’s mood, then you’ve got to shut it all out. A good thing is that we’ve got so many players who are well experienced in tournament football, and they will be able to help some of the younger guys if they need it.

On Euro 2024

Was there a performance from a player or a manager that caught your eye over the opening weekend that you would like to single-out for special praise?

There's been some comprehensive wins. Germany kicking it off with a big victory. I read about Julian Nagelsmann, and there were a lot of doubts about him as the Germany manager, so he'll be absolutely delighted. They got an early goal through Wirtz and never looked back against Scotland. With the tournament on home soil, they'll be starting to think maybe we could get back to the heights that we've hit before.

Spain started brilliantly. They have so many good players. One of them who is always criticised at home is the captain Alvaro Morata. He gets loads of abuse in Spain during the season. He's one of those funny players, who can look disappointing, but he pops up and scores goals. Germany and Spain, those performances have been the standout ones.

One man that will want to make a mark this week is Cristiano Ronaldo. He was poor at the last World Cup and found himself on the bench in the knock-out stages. He also had his acrimonious departure from Manchester United before the tournament – do you think this tournament will be a different story for him?

Ronaldo should be coming into this tournament in a good place. He's enjoyed a great season in Saudi Arabia. Whatever you say about the level of football out there, he's still got that desire to score goals and to break records. He's not gone out there for a cushy retirement and I admire that about him. You could say he’s gone for the money, but he still wants to keep up those standards and he has largely.

This is surely his last tournament for Portugal and I’m sure he will want to go out with a big bang. Knowing the personality that he is, and the ego that he has, he'll be desperate to make a big mark on this competition, it just depends how the coach handles him. Does he see him starting? Does he see him completing 90 minutes? He's going to be a central figure for Portugal, no doubt.

Ronaldo has been making the right noises about respecting the wishes of the coach in terms of team selection, but in the same breath he was mentioning his individual records. For Portugal to thrive at this tournament, is the man-management of Ronaldo key?

His teammates will look towards him for guidance. If Ronaldo’s moping about the camp, looking unhappy, that's inevitably going to affect the mood. He's the senior man, the star.

Portugal will want him on board with what Roberto Martinez is trying to do, and Portugal were never going to discard somebody with his track record, regardless of his age. I commentated on the European Championship final in Paris in 2016 when he got injured early and missed out on his country’s finest moment. He would have been gutted about that and he will be wanting to make amends and be there if they can get to the final again.

Have you ever been in a squad where one man tends to dominate things and how does that effect the rest of the players?

I played with Gary Lineker at Leicester and he was obviously the main man, the main goal scorer, and you're trying to get good service to him. It was the same with Ian Wright at Arsenal and, to a certain extent, those players can dominate a group when that happens. At Arsenal, we were very reliant on Ian's goals for a time, so you have to be careful you don't become too one-dimensional and are always trying to find your chief goal-getter. When that happens, it can be easy for opponents to stop it. That's something Portugal should guard against.

Ukraine join the party this afternoon. They will have a lot of support in and away from Germany – how do you expect them to get on?

Ukraine have probably been stronger in past years, but there'll be a wave of emotions which can carry them to good performances and wins. I don't see them as a major threat in this tournament.

Poland put in a great performance against Holland and maybe Ukraine are on a similar level or just a little bit below them, but in tournament football you just never know.

Mudryk, he’s a player that looks like he’s carried the weight of the world on his shoulders at times for Chelsea, but when he plays for his country, he’s a different animal. Why do some players shine for their country, but not for their clubs?

Coming across to a foreign country and settling in London, that can take time. Some players adjust to the changes quicker than others. Mudryk obviously hasn't found his best form at Chelsea yet, whether he will is another matter. With Ukraine, he would feel more settled, more at home, more comfortable. Maybe there is a little bit less pressure on him, which sounds daft, but he's already done it for his country and people aren't constantly wondering whether he's going to burst into life.

It happens to a lot of players, doesn't it? Different levels of performance for club and country. He hasn't got those outside challenges to deal with when he plays for Ukraine like he does when he plays for Chelsea.

On The Premier League

What would be your message to Arsenal’s squad players that the club are reportedly keen on moving on? Players like Aaron Ramsdale, Eddie Nketiah, Kieran Tierney and Reis Nelson? Do they need to move for the good of their careers?

I think there are several players at Arsenal that must move on for the good of their careers. Ramsdale does not want to be sitting on the bench all season again, does he? He’s said as much in a recent interview. Ramsdale is good enough to occupy the number one spot in the Premier League for somebody, whether it's a top four club is another matter.

Eddie Nketiah used to get 20 minutes quite regularly the season before this one, but since Havertz has come in, that's not happening anymore. It’s a shame for him because I do like him. He's come through the ranks and he's a good finisher but with so little game time I'm sure now he'll want to start really getting his career going.

Reiss Nelson is in a very similar situation. He needs to be playing regularly now. From Arsenal's point of view, it is an advantage (to sell home grown players) because these youth team players can command good fees that, as we know with the financial regulations, are regarded as pure profit because they come through the academy.

Chelsea are trying to do that to offset all of their incomings.  Connor Gallagher and Trevoh Chalobah are the players that they are rumoured to be open to moving on. Selling them, Gallagher in particular, would have a much bigger impact on Chelsea than it would if Arsenal sold Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah. From a financial point of view, Arsenal have spent a lot of money over the last few windows, and they would need to sell in order to invest as heavily as they want to.

You’ve mentioned that Edu and Arteta have impressed in the transfer market, but I think some Arsenal fans believe the jury is still out when it comes to extracting top dollar for players the club are happy to move on. Is that a fair criticism in your opinion?

I don't know who the Arsenal fans are thinking of in regards to being critical of the amount of money the club generates from player sales. Reiss Nelson, maybe in the current market he's £20 million, I don't know. The market's mad, isn't it? £15 or £20 million is what is being mooted.

With Nketiah, I think Arsenal could expect a little bit more, because he's got a bit more experience and has a phenomenal record at international youth level for England. Any player that's got a good habit of putting the ball in the net is always going to command a bigger fee, so Arsenal could be looking at £30 or £40 million for him. Arsenal will be hoping to get the best price, which is half the battle, especially if other clubs know that you’re looking to sell, but the money coming in will allow them up to spend elsewhere.


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