Danny Murphy Exclusive

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On His England Career

So you played with a lot of brilliant players for a career, Danny. This is a bit of a tough one. But who do you think was the best player you've ever played with? And what made them so good? 

Well, it's not a tough one at all. I was fortunate to play with Stevie Gerrard, who was the perfect footballer in many ways - he had absolutely everything you need to be a top player in terms of attitude, application, mentality, physicality, football intelligence, you know, he could destroy people in a disruptive way defensive way and could win games on his own. He was far and away the best I played with.  

 

And on the other side of the coin, who was the toughest opponent you faced?  

I played in a lot of different positions. When I used to play on the right hand side of midfield Ashley Cole was a nightmare to play against because he was so brilliant defensively and so good going forward that you spent a lot of the game thinking about stopping him rather than affecting the game yourself. 

When I played centrally, Paul Scholes was always somebody who, although he didn't possess the physical attributes you would be worried about before a game, in terms of football intelligence, he never allowed you to get near him. He never allowed you to dominate in any way. He could dominate games. If you stayed tight on him, he would have the ability to play around you and if you sat off him, he would read and conduct play. 

I was fortunate really to come up against the likes of Keane and Vieira, all those types. Lampard. Lampard was another one, so elusive. I mean, I didn't really have particular games where I man marked him, but I'd say Scholsey was the one who could hurt you, no matter what you did. It didn't really matter if you were on your game, he was that good. He was such an intelligent footballer. 

 

Can you describe the feeling of receiving your first England cap? How much of a big moment was that in your career? 

It’s a huge moment in anyone's career. I was immensely proud. It was at Old Trafford against Sweden. All of my family was there because they lived locally in Chester, so that was special because you get to share it with all the people who've supported you along the way. I think also for me, as it took me a little while to establish myself at Liverpool, I probably got my first England cap a bit later than I'd hoped. 

So it was an amazing feeling. It felt like after all the hard work I had done to establish myself at Liverpool, I was being rewarded by a call up to a very, very talented England squad. I mean, I was unfortunate in some respects because the squads I was in for a couple of years were the same squads that contained players like Scholes, Beckham, Joe Cole, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Nicky Butt, Owen Hargreaves, these type of players, and the midfield was blessed with talent. So of course, it was more difficult for me. Over the years, since retiring, when I look at the lack of options in midfield in previous England teams, it kind of makes you feel a little bit disappointed that you were in a different generation, but that's the way it was. I suppose you can look at it and say I did well to even get the caps that I did considering the competition. Making my debut and being part of an England squad gave me a sense of pride and also a sense of relief at getting the opportunity to represent your country.  

There were a lot of players in that generation of players that were big rivals, constantly competing against each other domestically.  

 

Did that have an effect on the harmony of the team?  For example, with the England team now, it doesn't feel like the domestic rivalries are as intense. 

I think there’s a few reasons why the rivalries are not as intense with this group, partly because the big teams in the Premier League don’t have as many locals lads. At Liverpool we had Robbie Fowler, Stevie G, Carra, myself, Michael Owen, all from the same area. So you can understand the Liverpool United rivalry, as they had the Class of ‘92 and several of those guys were in the England squad too, it was full of Mancs.  

There was a little bit of a rivalry, but I think it's overplayed. I don't believe for one second that all the lads in the squad now are all best mates and it's super harmonious. They'll still be groups who stick together more than the others. That's just the way of the world and the way of life.  

For me, the bigger issue with England was tactical. There was a lack of tactical flexibility. We always decided to play a 442 or a 4411 because Heskey and Owen had that combination, Beckham played on the right, the system was never tweaked and we never experimented with different options. Michael Owen was more than capable of playing down the middle on his own, so that's the manager's fault.  

It would have been really easy to play a midfield three with Gerrard, Lampard and Scholes, Beckham could have also played in the midfield, any three of those four. You could have played Beckham higher up on the right wing because he had the ability to play anywhere, but we never really experimented with it.  

The talk over the years about the cliques in the dressing room, this player not speaking to that one, my experience was totally different. When I came into the England team, Scholesy was brilliant - I had known Phil Neville since I was fourteen. Nicky Butt was a top lad.  

Garry Neville was a bit distant. There was a bit of a rivalry between Carragher and Neville, but it's hard to ever know that if the group were all best mates, if that would have made a difference in terms of what the group achieved on an international level. I don’t really think it's relevant at all. Look at the United treble-winning team, Andy Cole and Teddy Sheringham didn’t speak and that didn’t affect their combinations. I think in teams all over the world there are players that don't like each other, but they rise above it for the greater cause.  


England v Iran

You were a captain throughout your career. You were known for being a real leader. What did you think of the FA’s decision not to allow Harry Kane to wear the OneLove armband for the match against Iran? Do you think that was a bit of a missed opportunity for England to make a statement? 

I don’t really think the England players had a choice to wear the armband. I don’t think any player would be in their right mind to take a booking because of it. You work your whole life to get to the top of your industry, to play for your country at a World Cup and to jeopardise missing one of the biggest games in your career to make a political statement…the players shouldn’t be put in this position in the first place.  

This is something that shouldn’t have to happen. Football embraces everyone, there shouldn't be a need to make these kinds of stances because of where the World Cup is taking place, we all know that.  

I think the England camp were put in a no win situation. When the decision was made to punish anybody that wore it, it left the management and the players with an easy decision. I hear Roy Keane saying that Kane should have just taken the booking, but I’m not sure he would have done. He missed one of the biggest games of his life when he was suspended from playing in the Champions League final after picking up a couple of bookings. He’s forgetting that, as a player, Roy Keane’s priority was winning football matches and to win football matches you need your best players on the pitch. If you were to get booked at kick-off and then get booked by an overzealous referee, which we’ve seen a bit of at the tournament already, although most of them have been good, it would only take a misunderstanding of Kane going down too easily and all of a sudden you're down to ten men. I didn’t think his comments were thought through. England are there to win football matches, so why give yourself a disadvantage before you’ve even kicked a ball?  

 

I agree, the players shouldn’t have been put in this position in the first place 

They shouldn’t have been. The World Cup should be for everyone, everyone should feel like they can visit any World Cup in a joyous and harmonious environment where nobody feels intimidated or isolated. Qatar has been awarded a World Cup for the wrong reasons and we’re having to deal with the knock-on effects of that, which is a shame.  

 

After getting off to such a fantastic start, does the Iran performance send a message to the other challengers at the tournament or do you play it down given the quality of the opposition?  

I think it does send a little bit of a message, yeah. The best players in the world don’t worry about what other teams are doing - I don’t think Mbappe or Neymar would have lost any sleep because England beat Iran.  

A lot of the other teams, the teams that don’t have the world’s best players, especially if they saw the match, will be thinking that England look good, sharp and on the front foot. They will be thinking they don’t want to play England, they look like a good side.  

I think, to a degree, that England has set their stall out, but the world’s best players, the best teams on the planet, don't worry about what other teams are doing.  

It was a brilliant start. For me, it isn’t about winning the game so much, it was about how they won it. They won it playing high tempo, on the front foot football, which is something we’ve all been crying out for.  

The balance in the team was really good. I was pleased that he played four at the back, rather than a back three because that allows an extra attacking player and Mount and Bellingham can use their athleticism and their willingness to run forward and help the front three, which caused the Iranians all sorts of problems.  

 

I thought that it was quite a controlled, measured performance. It wasn’t gung-ho, despite the scoreline.  

It doesn’t look gung-ho when you’re playing against opposition that doesn’t have the quality to take advantage of the spaces England left by being a bit more adventurous and committed. The big test will always be when England pits themselves against a better team. Will we find ourselves conceding more chances when we’re playing that way? I think it's the lesser of two evils. I think by playing in this way, on the front foot with our attacking players, if you get done on occasion, that’s fine. It doesn’t matter if you win 2-1 or 3-2 at a tournament in the knockout stages because you don’t get anything for a draw, it goes to a shoot-out where it becomes a lottery.  

There might be occasions and, there were some towards the end of the game, where Iran caused us a few problems. There isn’t a perfect system. If you play high-tempo, front foot football, you’re going to concede chances.  

 

What did you make of the role the fullbacks played in the game? Kyle Walker is apparently fit for the next game. Would you change anything, or does Trippier deserve to keep the shirt?  

100% Trippier deserves to keep the shirt. I think the two fullbacks look like two players who are very comfortable doing what they’re doing at the moment. They’re both in magnificent form for their clubs. They look fit, sharp, hungry. There’s a calmness about them on the ball which is great. I think it would be very harsh to leave either of them out. If we get the second game won, you may want to start giving other players minutes, let them get some game time under their belt because you may need them later in the tournament.  

After a performance like that, I’d be surprised if he changed any of them. I mean it was not far off a perfect start. I think the two fullbacks look really accomplished.  

 

I have to ask you about Maguire because there was a lot of conversation about his inclusion in the team. I thought he looked pretty solid against Iran, his head was spinning a little bit towards the end and he needed to go off. What did you make of his performance and what do you think of Southgate’s loyalty towards the player.  

He wasn’t tested that much really, so it's hard to assess where he is at. He was certainly a threat attacking the box, he always has been. He looked fit enough. It is a difficult one to judge. He got done on the goal, which you can attribute to the fact that he was recovering from a knock at the time, but it was a poor mistake. Inevitably, when you’re winning a match so comfortably, there are little mistakes that get made, so I’m not overly concerned by that. I think the biggest benefit is that he got some minutes under his belt in these conditions, which will do his fitness and match sharpness the world of good because he hasn’t played that much. 

I think he will play the next game and loyalty towards players, generally, is a good thing. I think at club level and international level, cohesion and stability, the right partnerships, generally lead to better results. Obviously there's been a lot of speculation with Maguire because he’s been out of the United team and, they’re such a big club, it gets more attention. The bigger issue is that Gareth must feel that he doesn’t have an obvious replacement for Maguire, someone that can come in and be better than him. When I picked my first eleven, it was the same as Southgate’s with the only change being Ben White for Maguire because he’s been in sensational form for Arsenal, albeit playing at right back. There isn’t a stand-out candidate who is sitting on the bench that is impossible to leave out. If that was the case, then you could start thinking about why his loyalty overrides the obvious, but as it stands, in the last two tournaments that we’ve played and been successful in, he’s been one of our best players.  

Loyalty works both ways. If you play well for a manager, he rewards you by putting you  in the team and if you have a bad game, then you know that you’re still going to play the next one. Managers I played under like Houllier and Hodgson, they were both loyal to players that delivered for them. I appreciate international football is a bit different, but, overall, i think there are more pros than cons from showing loyalty to players. I think it's naive to think you can pick an international eleven based purely on form because there wouldn’t be any cohesion.  

 

Everyone knows that he hasn’t been playing well for United when he has played but… 

As a manager, you live and die by your decisions. The managers are the ones that face the brunt of it. If we play France in the quarter finals and Maguire has a bad game, it's Southgate who will face the repercussions, but if he pops up with a winning header then Southgate’s a genius isn’t he? This is the world we live in.  

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Jude Bellingham. He plays with such maturity and looks like he could be a real star for England at this tournament. 

What’s not to love about him! I spoke about Gerrard and the attributes he has, Bellingham has a lot of them. He’s super athletic, gets about the pitch quickly and works so hard for the team. He is one of those midfielders who has the attributes where he can be destructive and creative. He doesn’t struggle with the physical aspect of the game - doesn’t mind getting his foot in and tracking players.  

His bravery is what sets him apart. One of the things he did early in the match was drop deep to get touches of the ball, he followed the ball around. When I say following the ball, what I mean is that he followed the ball to make sure that he got plenty of it. In central midfield, if you follow the ball early in a game, you’ll see plenty of it. He did that. In fact, at various times, he ran past Declan Rice to get on the ball, just to get himself feeling comfortable.  

The best midfielders in the world are always judged on game-changing moments; the defence splitting pass, a goal. To score a brilliant header in his World Cup game, that’s what big players do. He has absolutely everything you need to be a world-class midfielder. The only thing now is, can he deal with the fame and the plaudits? Can he stay fit? These are all the challenges that face young players now. When you look at what he’s done by joining Dortmund, playing in a different country, a different culture, different language, it seems like he’s a very calm, intelligent lad who seems to embrace anything that comes in his path. He’s added real dynamism to our midfield. He’s everyone’s favourite player at the moment.  

 

Like you say, to go to a different country, to put yourself in a different environment and really flourish at such a young age is phenomenal. I think he plays with an old head on young shoulders and I like the fact that he’s got a bit of a nasty streak to him. He doesn’t care about reputations and ruffling feathers.  

Everybody likes that! Every football fan on the planet loves a midfield player that puts themselves about a bit, playing with passion and tenacity. If you get the extra bits on the top, skill, a great passing range and that ability to get you a goal, then you soon become a fans favourite. The prerequisite of a good midfielder and someone that engages with the fans is a player that works damn hard and puts themself about and he’s got that. You can see it in his game. He plays with energy and real bite. He demands the ball and he can go and get it. It’s a great trait to have and something that he will never lose because it's in his heart. 

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the England midfield. Whether it's a three or if he goes with two in there. Rice and Bellingham, working together, that’s a beautifully balanced midfield. If you think you can add Mount to that, Maddison, Foden - it looks like an area of the park where we’re blessed with so many options. How do you think our midfield ladders up to some of the other runners and riders at the tournament?  

When you play three in midfield, you generally play with one sitter and two in front or two sitters and one going forward. You should always be flexible in midfield otherwise you become too predictable. The best role for Bellingham, in my opinion, is as one of the two in front of a holding player. Rice holding, with Bellingham and another. I thought Mount’s performance against Iran probably went a little bit under the radar. His pressing and work ethic was fantastic and his tidiness on the ball, keeping it moving, he’s a tremendous player. A lot of people are saying it would be better to put Foden in there, Grealish or Maddison. I understand that train of thought because as players, they all offer you different things. I think Maddison, in terms of end product, is the best we have in that ten role. Mount is more of a midfielder than the others that we’ve mentioned. I’d still be happy with a three in there regardless of who we were playing because Mount does the work of a central midfielder, even though he’s playing as an eight or a ten. Bellingham is the same. They both have the ability to score goals and create, but they also have the discipline.  

If you look at City and Liverpool, the two dominant teams of the last five years, the midfield three that play most of the time all have a tremendous work ethic and do the work of a midfielder rather than a forward playing in midfield. At top level football, your number ten if you play with wide players has to be able to defend. If you think of PSG with arguably three of the best forwards on the planet, the reason they haven’t won a Champions League is because they don’t defend well enough. 

The dynamic in every game changes. You may need to add a Grealish or a Maddison if you're chasing a game and need a goal, but initially, the balance of Mount, Bellingham and Rice is the perfect one because it's got so much energy, tenacity and creativity. It would be a nightmare to play against those three. They look so hungry.  

 

Saka grabbed a brace, Rashford put one away off the bench. How much credit do these young players deserve for coming back onto the biggest stage, after what happened at the Euro’s and delivering for their country?   

I don’t think its so much coming back after missing the penalty, for me it's about having the mentality to kick on as a player and to put all of that negativity at the Euro’s to bed.  

Saka is super energetic. You can see that he has all the attributes and he has the mindset to just keep working hard, doing his bit for both Arsenal and England. For him to be picked on merit ahead of the likes of Grealsih and Foden, tells you everything that you need to know about him. That is the strength of character that top players have.  

Rashford, similarly. He has had an even more difficult time because he's received a lot of criticism - Saka hasn’t received much of that since he started playing, it's all been plaudits. Rashford started that way, but he’s faced a lot of criticism from a lot of different areas over the last eighteen months. I’ve never doubted Rashford's ability. I think his goal numbers show that and his ability to play in a number of positions can be a detriment to him because he gets moved about a lot. He has shown great resolve. Sometimes, when players go through difficult moments, they move on and seek a new challenge, but he has dug in at United, worked hard and got himself fit. I think he looks like a different player and he has put those troubles behind him. There’s a spring in his step, the header he scored recently at Old Trafford, you can see that he’s got that bit between his teeth to prove people wrong and he rightly deserves to be in the England squad. It probably felt more like redemption for him, scoring a goal, than it did for Saka. For me, they both possess that mental strength to overcome these difficult moments and that's a great sign for a young player.  

 

How likely would you say it is for England to win the World Cup? What does Gareth Southgate need to do to lead the Three Lions to their first major trophy since 1966? 

Before the tournament, I was a little bit sceptical because of our recent form and the fact that we had a few injuries to key players, players in the squad that haven’t been playing that much. When I say sceptical, I didn’t think we would go out in the group, I wasn’t convinced we had enough quality to win it. Looking at what I’ve already seen, there’s nothing to fear. We are capable of winning this World Cup, that's for sure, and I didn't believe that until the last few days after seeing some of the teams that have been built up as favourites. How many Argentina players would get in our team? Maybe two, three at the most. There’s nothing to fear.  

I think Southgate needs to maintain the belief in how good we are. If he maintains the belief with our forward players, our energy and ability to be creative, play on the front foot, the way our players like to play, like most of them do at club level, then I think we might be able to do it. I think if we become too cautious or pragmatic, I think it plays into the hands of whoever we come up against.  

The players in the team don’t play like that for their club teams. City don’t play that way. Liverpool and Arsenal don’t play that way, United don’t play that way now under ten Hag. I don’t think we should play any other way. Why play in a manner the players are not used to playing for their clubs? Why send a message to your opponent that says we’re showing you too much respect by playing five at the back?  

You might say we should be worried about Brazil because everyone is talking them up as favourites, but we haven’t seen them play yet. There’s no one really that I’ve seen that we should be scared of. Don’t get me wrong, watching Mbappe last night vs Australia, wow, wow, wow, what a player he is, but he is only one player. I actually thought that Australia created quite a few opportunities against France last night, they were caught wide open at times, but maybe that’s because the French team took its foot of the gas, who knows. The reality is that this group of England players is super talented and looks really confident. You need a bit of luck along the way, in tournament football, the best teams don't always win the tournament. In fact, rarely does the best team win the tournament because somewhere along the line, something will go against you. In a one off game, you can’t recover. Tournament football at international level is one off games in a knock out format, its different form the Champions League where a lot of teams get to the latter stages because they have two games and can correct any mistakes. Looking back at international tournaments, there are always moments that change games - Rooney getting sent off against Portugal, Beckham getting sent off. I think England win those games without those incidents.  

We will know a lot more about England’s chances after the second round of games, but I am more confident with this England team now than I have been in a long time. Everything looks good.  


On Wales And Group B

Did you see anything from either side that gave you cause for concern before they face England? 

Absolutely not. Abso-lutely not! England is way ahead of both Wales and the USA, without being disrespectful. There’s always a strange thing that happens when players that know each other really well, play against each other. It always seems to create a weird dynamic on the pitch, and there’s a lot of those Welsh lads that will know our players and vice versa. That could be a little concern. A British rivalry, it can almost become like a bit of a cup game; a minnow vs a giant.  

I thought the USA played well for half an hour, Wales had a good fight back and, both have got one or two players that could hurt you, of course. If we didn’t win either of those games, it would have to be a really bad day at the office.  

People could get a bit upset with me speaking about another home nation like that - I was born five miles away in Chester, so I’m very aware of the Welsh pride - the reality is quite simple: both Wales and the USA are nowhere near where we are in terms of quality.  

I can’t see us not winning either of those games and, given the quality we have, losing to either shouldn’t be an option. Football is a funny game. Who would have thought that Saudi Arabia would have beaten Argentina with a magnificent, athletic performance - we’ve seen Wales do that in the past where they’ve beaten Belgium, England only beat them with a late goal when we played them at the Euro’s at 2016. Anything can happen, but I can’t see it.  

 

Do you think Wales will qualify from the group?  

I think there are so many variables. Iran will be hurting after the England result, so they'll come out fighting against Wales. Playing a wounded team is always difficult. It comes down to the last game. I think Wales will feel confident. It could come down to goal difference, we’ll have to wait and see. It's imperative that they beat Iran, that's the be all and end all for them. I think it will be between them and the USA, it’s impossible to call at the moment.  


England v USA 

Do you think that we should stick with the tactical blueprint that worked so well against Iran, or do you think we should make a few changes?  

It wouldn’t worry me if Southgate made a couple of changes because we’ve got so much quality. What I’m more interested in is making sure that England plays with the same tempo and the balance is right. That means sticking to the same formation and approaching the game in the same way. Playing in that manner comes with belief. If you go after a team and you believe that you can beat them, then it's easier to play with a higher tempo.  

Not that I think he will, but if he made three changes and Wilson, Foden and Grealish played, it wouldn’t bother me because they’ve all got wonderful ability. I just want to see England play with the same intensity, on the front foot, where we go after the opponent because if we play like that we’ll win the game.  

 

Can you give me a prediction for the match on Friday night Danny?  

I don’t think it will be as easy as people think. The USA have got players that play in the Premier League and across Europe. I’ll go a bit safe and say 2-0 to England. Even though we have the capability of really going after them and scoring more, I think if we get in the lead by more than one, then we can see the game out and keep the ball. You have to factor in the conditions and the fact that they’ll be thinking about the next game, so 2-0.  


On The World Cup 

This tournament represents one last chance for some of the game's most decorated players, the likes of Ronaldo, Messi, Suarez, Thiago Silva. Who do you think will grab the opportunity?  

They’ll all have a huge desire to make a difference and to stamp their authority over this tournament - that’s what you do when you go on a football pitch. I suppose from a romantic point of view, if your own country doesn’t win it, then you would feel it was magical if Messi lifted the trophy, the greatest player that has ever lived, the greatest player that I’ve ever seen. It would be a fantastic reward for his amazing career and how much joy he's given to so many people. I think that would be something that a lot of people would like to see.  

Neymar will be desperate. I know he isn’t as old as Messi, Ronaldo etc. but he will be determined to show the world that he’s not a player that is behind the likes of Ronaldo, Messi and Mbappe. I think Neymar has fallen down the pecking order of the world’s best. When he was playing for Barcelona, he wasn’t at Messi’s level, but he was on the way up and being talked about as the next in line to the throne of the world’s best player. I think he will have a point to prove.  

All the older players will be relishing the challenge of trying to go out with a bang. I think the player that could have the biggest impact as an individual is Mbappe. He is phenomenal. He has explosive power but he is also so delicate. His decision making, his awareness - seeing it live against Australia was something else.  

I was doing the analysis at the last World Cup when France played Argentina, he scored two and went on a 70 yard run that ended with a penalty being awarded. After leaving the stadium, I was thinking that I had just witnessed something very special. Against Australia, it looked like he was light years ahead of everyone on the pitch.  

 

Would you consider Mbappe to be the world’s best player at the moment?  

I would, yeah. I’ve only seen two full PSG games this season, I’ve seen highlights of course, but in the two matches I saw, he was doing things that most people on the planet couldn’t do - a little bit like Messi at his best or Neymar at his best - nobody could handle them. Messi isn’t as sharp as he was, he’s still a brilliant player, of course he is. Neymar doesn’t have the same explosive power, yes he’s silky and he glides around the pitch, but the explosiveness of Mbappe is amazing to watch. 

 

Which teams do you think will be there or thereabouts when we get to the latter stages of the tournament?  

Different days bring different opinions. I think Spain, in this type of climate, depending on kick-off times, because of their philosophy of keeping the ball and the quality they have, they will be hard to beat. The only question with Spain is do they have the same sort of threat higher up the pitch that teams like England and France have? They will dominate teams. I thought Spain were the best team at the 2020 Euro’s.  

I thought it was only through clever management from Mancini, making lots of subs when they were being dominated, there was only one winner during that semi-final. Credit to Mancini for introducing fresh legs and swinging the match back in the Italian’s favour, but Spain were the best team for me.  

Spain are currently under the radar in terms of the favourites to win the World Cup, which they won’t mind one bit. They have great young players who will be looking to express themselves. 

 

How about in that engine room, outside of the English boys, who do you like and who are you looking forward to seeing gracing football's biggest stage? 

I was looking forward to seeing Tchouaméni, who I saw live against Australia. I always like to see players play live that I haven’t seen before. I’m looking forward to seeing Pedri.  

Another one is Musiala. He plays in a more advanced role, but he looks like a real talent. I’ve only seen snippets of him at Bayern, so I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do. He’s scored nine goals already this season. He has a wonderful, elegant style. I don’t know why he chose to play for Germany though (laughs)! Saying that, I don’t think he’d get into our team at the moment, so that says a lot about where we’re at.  


Trending news 

I read reports yesterday afternoon that Pep Guardiola has signed a two year extension with Manchester City. Can you share a word on the impact that Pep has had on our football and will this news send shivers down the spine of the likes of Arteta, Klopp, Conte and all the other big managers in the league?  

I don’t think any of the managers would say it, but, if they were being honest, they’d be thinking please go. Please god, just go. What he’s created is incredible. He has a legacy of playing that has followed him wherever he has been. Calm on the ball, possession-based with great intensity - it’s an amazing way of playing. Phenomenal football.  

I think one of his biggest assets is the way that he improves individual players. Very few players go the other way under him, they all improve not only their game awareness and intelligence, but their intensity. He has ridiculously high expectations of his players and what they should do. Although Man City would be competitive if he left tomorrow because of the squad and the funding they’ve got, I’m not sure any other manager would be able to create a team that plays football in the same way. He has his own unique style and way of managing that will be remembered for many years to come. This City side, his Barca side and, even his Munich side to a degree, because of the way they played football, when he stops managing, these teams will be spoken about for decades to come. He is an amazing guy.  

To go back to the other managers response to him singing a new deal, even though someone like Jurgen Klopp is generally quite honest and very charismatic, he’ll say the right thing in an interview, but I think behind closed doors he’d have been hoping, along with ten Hag and Arteta, that Pep was looking at a challenge somewhere else.  

 

How did you react to Cristiano Ronaldo's exit from Manchester United? Chelsea have been heavily linked with Ronaldo, do you think the Blues should try to sign him? 

I think that it's a shame that it ended this way. We're talking about one of the greatest players that's ever lived, a guy that has been an inspiration to kids and footballers around the world by demonstrating what you can achieve through hard work mixed with talent. He has done remarkable things in the game, and I don’t like the fact that he is leaving a club that he has had such an affinity with, in a negative way.   

Hopefully, over time, he'll be remembered for all of the good things that he did there and I think that will be the case. It is a shame for both him and the club. I think that it's a decision that suits both parties. Sometimes things come to an end, and, when things end because of a breakdown, it's very rare they end nicely.  

I think it's the right decision. He needs a new challenge and will want to finish his last year or two in the game playing regularly. Good luck to him. In an ideal world these things wouldn’t happen and would be dealt with behind closed doors. I think over time it will die down. I don’t think it will be forgotten, but his success, goals and triumphs will be remembered as the overriding memory, not this incident.  

For United, they can move forward now and put this to bed. They can concentrate on improving the young players they have and can bring in some new ones.   

In terms of moving to Chelsea, I can’t see it. I think Graham Potter would inherit the same problems if he doesn’t play him every week, and Graham Potter likes to rotate. In fact, he is a manager that never plays the same team every week. I don’t think Ronaldo would be too engaged with his rotation policy. I really can’t see it happening. I’d be gobsmacked if it did.  

 

What kind of impact do you think the World Cup break will have on Liverpool? Do you think that would help boost their top-four hopes? 

I think the World Cup break can help Liverpool’s bid for a top four finish because they’ve got key players that are injured, guys like Diaz and Jota. So when they come back into the team, they will have more fire power and the option to rotate that forward line. Liverpool have been down to the bare bones, which isn’t the only reason why they’ve struggled this season, but I do think the break will help them.  

I don’t agree with the idea that if you’ve got less players at the World Cup, your team will be in better shape when the season restarts. In Liverpool’s case it's different because they have had so many injuries. I think the hardest thing in football is regaining fitness and momentum. If you’re not playing for five or six weeks and then you’re asked to play a Premier League game in late December and early January, I think it will take three or four games to get your sharpness back, but the guys that are playing at the World Cup will maintain those fitness levels because they haven’t had a break, they’re just carrying on like a normal season. I think that the teams that will benefit the most are the ones that have the most players playing at the tournament, not the other way round. My general view on it is that those players who are playing regularly at the tournament can come back into the Premier League without the need to do a mini pre-season, they’ll be the players that are good to go. 

 

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