- ‘Top goalscorers like Haaland do not win the league’
- Gomez has a future at Liverpool, but not in Klopp’s best XI
- Liverpool aren’t ‘desperate’ for Bellingham
- Declan Rice should stay with West Ham and be a one-club man
- Southgate right to stick by Pickford over Ramsdale
- Nick Pope not at Pickford’s level yet
- James: “I would be interested in managing Portsmouth Football Club”
DB: Liverpool will be coming back from the international break hoping to get some consistency going in the business end of the season. What do you think has to change for them to achieve a top-four finish?
DJ: Consistency looks like many different things and I think the consistency of winning is what they need. This season there is a kind of consistency – in that they’re not able to string four wins together in a row! Once everything seemed to be looking correct and fixed, then they ended up stumbling. It’s getting wins together, allowing other teams to stumble, such as Tottenham. With the likes of Brentford and Fulham putting in a very decent pitch for that top-four position, Chelsea, with Graham Potter, are turning a corner and starting to put some good form together. So I suppose the question is, who are Liverpool going to overtake to get in there? They just have to win at any cost. They aren’t competing anymore in the cup competitions, so then it’s 100% focus on Premier League football.
DB: Liverpool’s performances have dropped off significantly compared to last year, despite many of their best players being in their prime years – Fabinho is 29, Van Dijk is 31, Mo Salah is 30. They’ve all played a high-intensity style of football under Klopp over the last five years or so. Do you think it’s just a case of bad form, or do you think that ‘heavy metal’ football can take a toll on players?
DJ: I think you have to appreciate and respect the quality of the opposition. I always think when something new happens, you’ve got two opportunities in a season to deal with it. Obviously, you look at the quality of the players – looking at Haaland at the moment and his goal-scoring form at the beginning of the season compared to the second half of the season, it’s dramatically different. Everyone plays against him once and then works it out – or tries to work it out. This is the same with Liverpool where you had a style which was so so good, and now teams have formulated a way to stop Liverpool from playing that way. You had the injuries from the beginning of the season, you had the World Cup, so you’re talking about a situation where I think Liverpool have been finding it difficult to get back into that winning rhythm. The question could be aimed at the style of play but I think there are too many contributing factors to Liverpool’s season for it to be just the way they play. Someone like Diaz who came in last year and was exceptional. He’s been missing most of the season. That’s a key component in the style of play but also it’s a key component for the confidence the team has. You talk about players in their prime – Mo Salah. I love Mo Salah. There was a time a few years ago when I was questioning whether he was the right fit for Liverpool but I love him, the guy just doesn’t miss games. The way that Mo plays, even when he’s not scoring, there are times when you think that he should be doing other things. But that’s just the way that he plays. You take Diaz out of that, Firmino’s been injured as well – two players who are key for Liverpool. Then you’re putting a lot more emphasis and pressure on a limited number of players to actually produce the form and the winning goals. The midfield has been chopping and changing, Thiago being in and out – I think that hasn’t helped Liverpool’s winning consistency this season. So I don’t think it’s the style of play in itself, there are a lot of contributing factors. Diaz is training so he’s going to come back, Firmino’s back. I think this international break is something that Jurgen would have been looking forward to, to get that extra bit of fitness into the previously injured players, and to get things working on the training ground. I know a lot of players would have been away but many have stayed. Players in their prime – I don’t think age is a dictator of prime. Some players can be in their prime at 21 and then fall out of the game at 23 so someone like Mo Salah, who doesn’t miss games, could hit his prime at 35. And if he stays at Liverpool I think the fans will want his prime to be at 35 because that means there will be continued success.
DB: Last time we saw these two teams faced off, it was one of the few times Haaland has been kept quiet by a Premier League defence, as Liverpool kept a clean sheet at Anfield. Liverpool’s defence has looked very shaky at times since that game, do you think Haaland will be relishing facing Van Dijk and co.?
DJ: Yes of course, because Erling Haaland is an exceptional character, and he’s only going to get better. He’s already a record breaker and top goalscorer, but he’s also a young man who seems to be learning his game, and I think that there’s an opportunity – especially with Pep and his coaching staff – to help him become an even better striker, which is a scary thought for all the top clubs in the Premier League and in Europe. When you talk about Liverpool’s shaky defence, I think it’s more a case of the midfield – which is Liverpool’s engine room – not being as strong as it could be. I may be showing some favouritism because I love the guy, but Alisson has been the best goalkeeper in the world for the last couple of seasons, pulling off big saves that allowed Liverpool to go and win games of football, so they’ll always have a good chance of keeping someone like Haaland quiet. They did it back in October, which was one of their best performances of the season, and they’ll need to replicate that again. Having said that, it’s not just Haaland they have to worry about, Phil Foden is coming into a bit of form now following the World Cup, so Man City are a dangerous proposition.
DB: It feels like City still hasn’t quite found their most scintillating form as we’ve seen in recent seasons. Why do you think that is?
DJ: It’s all interlinked isn’t it? When you look at Erling Haaland, he’ll break records. I’m in Scotland now with a Premier League legends team to play against Rangers. Robin van Persie was here. He’s the last golden boot winner to win the league. The reality is that top goalscorers do not win the league. Man City have got the top goalscorer, barring some amazing events at the end of the season. You’ve got the top goalscorer, but I think that detracts from the productivity of the team. If you look at Arsenal, Bukayo Saka is their top goal scorer, but you’ve got Martinelli and Nketiah all spreading the goals around, similar to how City did it last season when they won the league. The same way that Chelsea did it when they won the Champions League, without a recognised number nine. Now that Man City have that number nine, over the course of this season I think spreading the goals around would have been more beneficial than having this dominant player. Pep and Haaland will become better, but I think their priority this season is to win the Champions League. They’ve been dominant in four out of the last five seasons, they could still win the league, of course. I just think they have another focus. If they finish second, some might see it as a failure. But provided they win the Champions League, I think they’ll see this season as a success with Erling Haaland finishing as the top scorer.
DB: Pep often chops and changes his defence, as a goalkeeper would you find that difficult playing behind a defence that changes in personnel and formation week in and week out?
DJ: For Ederson, I think he’s used to it, it’s not the first season that Pep’s been chopping and changing, and rotation of players is frequent for his Man City, so I think players are used to him. What’s quite interesting is that there used to be a thing of signing to play when you joined a team, whereas players who sign for City or make it through the system, like Foden, buy into the fact that they aren’t going to start every game. There’s a lot of rotation. For the goalkeeper, Ederson, he’s been the one consistent player, I think last season it was Ederson and Rodri who were essentially always present. Everyone else was rotated consistently, so you get used to it. I think Ederson has got 102 clean sheets, not a bad return for the 210 games that he’s played, nearly one in two clean sheets. I’d be happy with that.
DB: Alisson has been one of the few players that has remained at the top of his game this season for Liverpool. Yet, he’s been left out of the Brazil squad during this international break. Ederson himself said it surprised him, but of course, he’ll take the opportunity. Do you think there’s much between the two?
DJ: I love both of them. Last season, Alisson was number one and Ederson was very close, in my opinion, as number two in the world. I think this season, you look at Alisson and what he’s done for Liverpool. He’s been producing big, big saves early in games, and then he’s almost forgotten about in the context of the match when Liverpool go and win 3-0. But if it wasn’t for him making those big saves early, it’d put Liverpool under pressure. Even last season in the run-in for the Premier League title, if you look at Liverpool conceding early, it wasn’t a new phenomenon in the sense that Liverpool were conceding opportunities early, for one reason or another. Alisson wasn’t able to make the saves but Liverpool were still able to come back and… I just think the rest is needed considering Alisson has been more exposed. Going back to Ederson and the comparison of who’s best, look at the goals he’s conceded. He plays games where he doesn’t make saves. Manchester City have been so dominant that he hasn’t actually been exposed, but when he is, it’s critical, it’s one on one. I’m thinking of the Tottenham game in particular where a couple of errors in front of him led to a goalscoring opportunity which gave him no chance. I still love both of them but I still think Alisson is the best.
In Ederson’s position, I would think he’d be very frustrated that he had been exposed to the point where he’s been conceding goals.This is more about Alisson being right for Liverpool qualifying for the top four. For Ederson, if Alisson’s not there, he’ll take the opportunity and hope to be Brazil’s number one for the next round of games. We’re still talking about two absolute top-drawer goalkeepers who play slightly different games.
DB: We’re in the business end of the season now. It seems the momentum is with Arsenal, but City have so much experience in title races. Who do you think will end up winning the league?
DJ: The experience that City have in these situations is great, but Arsenal are five points clear, which is essentially two games. We’ve got eight or nine games left, which isn’t many. That means Arsenal would have to drop two of those games while City win every game left to take the lead. I still think Arsenal are favourites to win the league. It would need almost a catastrophic failure from Arsenal for City to win the league. Obviously, City play Arsenal which gives them a big opportunity, but it’s for Arsenal to lose. All of City’s experience of winning leagues in recent years is only dependent on Arsenal failing, not City’s quality. Arsenal are definitely still favourites.
DB: Joe Gomez has probably been the most heavily criticised of Liverpool’s back four in recent weeks. When fit, it seems Klopp prefers Ibrahima Konate as Van Dijk’s partner in defence. Do you think he could be up for sale this summer as Liverpool look to fund their pursuit of some reinforcements in midfield?
DJ: I like Joe. I think the problem with Liverpool is, and I experienced this myself as a player, is it is one of the biggest clubs in the world and if they’re not winning then there’s a perception that someone has to be blamed. And if you’re not winning it means you’re usually conceding goals. You mentioned Trent there, something that really annoys me is people saying Trent isn’t able to defend. Against Real Madrid he made a brilliant block to stop Benzema from scoring and did some quality defending, and it wasn’t recognised because there’s this perception that he can’t defend. I think Joe Gomez falls into this category too, when things aren’t going well for the team, he can get a lot of the blame. The way Liverpool have played is down to a lot of factors. The injuries, the rotations in midfield, the midfield not being as strong as it could be at times, can put pressure on the defence. Konate is a top draw defender, Joe Gomez has never been the regular defensive partner for Van Dijk, so his role at Liverpool isn’t as a consistent starter, but he has qualities. Rotation in a squad is an important factor in a title-winning squad and going back to last year, Joe Gomez was an important member of a team that performed so well and won two competitions and came second in two others. Long-term for Gomez, if he’s happy to be a member of that squad rotation system rather than starting every week then I think he has a future at Liverpool. Liverpool can put this season down as an anomaly in some sense, and look to next year. Hopefully for their sake they finish top four, but if they don’t it’s not to say they won’t be competing for the title next year, and I think Joe Gomez is an important part of that, so the idea of selling doesn’t sit right with me.
DB: One of those midfielders linked with Liverpool is Jude Bellingham. It’s been reported that it’s increasingly unlikely that Liverpool will make a move for him. Do you think that’s the right decision?
DJ: I think if you look at the midfield that Liverpool have at the moment, you’ve got Elliot and Bajcetic, young players who are in and out. Fabinho is a top-drawer player, not necessarily having the greatest of seasons but he’s had inconsistency with selection and injuries. Thiago has issues with injuries too. Liverpool need to focus on getting all their players fit, and if they are questioning whether players are injured too much or have issues with fitness, then bringing Jude Bellingham in makes a lot of sense. He doesn’t miss games, he’s 19 years old. With a fully fit midfield selection, Liverpool have a lot of very good players and the pressure to get Bellingham isn’t as big. Bellingham is a fantastic player, and as someone who played for both City and Liverpool I think he would improve either team, but I don’t think Liverpool are absolutely desperate to have him, and if he stayed at Dortmund for another year before they go after him again next year, that wouldn’t be critical.
DB: Liverpool have been linked with more than just one midfielder, with Matheus Nunes of Wolves and Chelsea’s Mason Mount also linked. With Thiago often injured, do you think Liverpool need to recruit for more than just one midfield role?
DJ: The question really has to be on how we can keep players fit, whether or not the players who keep breaking down are going to keep doing that. I’m not saying move players on, I don’t like saying that, but they will need to be replaced. So you’ve got Mason Mount, [Matheus] Nunes. I prefer Mason Mount over Nunes. I prefer Jude Bellingham over both of them. But it’s more about actually having fit players, rather than about the quality of the players available for Liverpool. Thiago on his day, is one of the most exciting contributors to Liverpool, but unfortunately, as you said, there are a lot of times when he’s injured.
DB: West Ham are in the relegation zone at the moment, do you think they are in danger of going down this season?
DJ: They’re staying up, don’t worry about that. It’s funny because… it’s not necessarily humorous if you’re a West Ham fan, but what’s happened at West Ham is very similar to what happened at Liverpool, in a lot of ways, when you think that they were on the cusp of winning a trophy. David Moyes put his eggs in one basket and it didn’t quite work out. It’s interesting as a player because the physical aspects of the game are acute, in the sense that if you’re not physically right, you can see it physically, it’s demonstrated when you can’t run, you can’t do whatever, you’ve got injuries. The psychological side is a lot harder to observe. Therefore, when you look at the potential impact of Liverpool’s run-in last season, using them as an example where they almost had a perfect season… If you said to players, this is what your end of season is going to look like, then players will say great, I can’t wait to play those games at the end of the season. But when you think of winning two trophies, then the defeats at the end of the season, losing the league on the last day of the season, losing the Champions League, the psychological impact that will have going into the following season, adding to injuries and all that… I think West Ham is the same because, three or four weeks before the end of the season, West Ham had the opportunity to win a trophy, which is what any player joins a club for. Of course, that didn’t happen. I think psychologically going into this season, for one reason or another West Ham haven’t been able to pick themselves up. I think David Moyes will keep them up. Of course I’m slightly biased as an ex-West Ham player, but they’re still in Europe, as well. This is the irony isn’t it, they could still actually win something this season. It’s whether or not David Moyes — and I think he will have done — will have learned from last season and will prioritise or handle the run-in of games in a slightly different way to make sure they have success. The difference with last season, where winning a trophy and qualifying for the Champions League were on the cards, is that the priority this season has to be staying in the Premier League. I think David Moyes and the players are good enough to achieve that.
DB: With West Ham being towards the bottom of the table and lots of teams – such as Arsenal, Chelsea and United – reportedly being interested in him, do you think West Ham will struggle to keep hold of Declan Rice?
DJ: It’s slightly ironic considering I played for ten clubs during my career, but I do like a one-club man. Mark Noble is the obvious example, and what a legend he was at West Ham, and I like the idea of someone like Declan Rice, or Harry Kane at Tottenham, staying at that club till the end of their career. If West Ham stay up, firstly it eases the pressure on Declan Rice in terms of having to go and look for another club, because if he’s playing Premier League football and regularly being selected for England then there will be part of him that questions why he needs to look anywhere else. However, Declan Rice is too good to be playing Championship football, and if West Ham were to go down I don’t think their fans would forgive David Moyes and the club for allowing Rice to be put in that situation. I was relegated with West Ham, and felt that I was partly responsible for that relegation so I stayed at the club in the Championship. My belief was that I was part of the problem and I wanted to be part of the solution. Obviously, at the time I had a manager who thought it was best that I left and I did end up leaving, but that was the club’s choice, not mine, and I’d like to think that Declan Rice is more influenced by the club and what it means to him, because he seems to love West Ham. Best case scenario, West Ham stay up, Declan Rice stays there, retires there and becomes part of the coaching staff. Worst case scenario, they go down, in which case I don’t there can be any problem with Declan Rice moving on.
DB: Everton have struggled this season and aren’t too far from the relegation zone, but Jordan Pickford has renewed his contract, committing his long-term future with the squad. He’s clearly Gareth Southgate’s favoured keeper, but he still gets a lot of criticism. Do you think that’s fair?
DJ: It’s part of being England’s number one keeper. I was fortunate enough to be that person on a number of occasions, it comes with a weight of expectations and observable critique, so yeah it’s fair. If you don’t want to be questioned, don’t be England’s number one. I don’t think for one minute that Jordan Pickford wants to give up England’s number one position. What’s interesting is, when you look at the selection of the last two games Jordan’s played… Everton are in a relegation dogfight at the moment, I’ve been that player as well going back to West Ham. I was England’s number one in a relegated season. I was interested to see in these last two games for England if someone like Aaron Ramsdale was going to get the nod. You’ve got an English goalkeeper who’s top of the league with Arsenal, there was a long break between the World Cup and these qualifiers, it was an opportunity for Gareth to say ‘Here’s your chance.’ But Gareth has rightly stuck by the fact that Jordan Pickford has been exceptional for England, and why drop him from the England team? Because the league positioning shouldn’t have any impact on a regular player. If he were an up and coming player, and Aaron Ramsdale probably fits that bill, or two players in the same position who haven’t been regular starters there might have been an opportunity to change, but I like the fact that Pickford has committed himself to Everton. He loves the club which is great. His form for England, ironically this time round he’s had two games and actually didn’t make a save, there was only one shot on target in the last two games against England. The opportunity for him to show his saving quality wasn’t there bar the one shot, it means he’s still in that position as England’s number one. Going back to Ramsdale, if Jordan Pickford was to join a team challenging for the Champions League and titles, it would be very interesting to see how good he would be. I think he would be performing even better than playing for Everton, and that’s not saying Everton can’t be a decent side, but look at Aaron Ramsdale. The couple of seasons he had with Sheffield United and Bournemouth, he goes to a team that’s challenging for the title and all of a sudden he’s producing the type of form that has him challenging Pickford for England’s number one. I like Jordan, I think he’s been exceptional for England and is part of a winning formula. As far as Everton, maybe they’ll get relegated and West Ham will stay up.
DB: One player that has been keeping Pickford on his toes is Nick Pope, who leads the Premier League in clean sheets this season. You’ve had a fair share of experience competing with other keepers in the England setup. What advice would you give to Nick Pope who’s waiting for his opportunity?
DJ: For Nick Pope, and even going back to Aaron Ramsdale, Newcastle are having an exceptional season compared to the last 15-20 years. They’ve got a chance of getting into the Champions League. A lot of what Nick Pope does is from a distance, looking at all the saves and goals he’s conceded this season, because that Newcastle defence is fantastic. He’s not getting heavily exposed or as exposed as a lot of other goalkeepers. That’s not to say that he hasn’t done well. He’s also in a very good defensive team. He had a couple of games in the Nations League prior to the World Cup where he had an opportunity to show Gareth Southgate that he is ready to step into that England position as the number one. I don’t think the performances were up to the level that Jordan Pickford had shown game in game out for England. It’s more a case of biding his time and just waiting. I was behind David Seaman for many years, and you just wait for the number one not to be performing at the levels he has and it becomes a dogfight. Jordan has been so dominant, Nick Pope isn’t number two necessarily, just as Aaron Ramsdale isn’t number three. It then becomes a question of if Jordan isn’t playing, who’s going to be Southgate’s next pick and replace him? Nick Pope isn’t just waiting for Jordan Pickford, he’s also competing with Aaron Ramsdale and as an England fan and former goalkeeper, it’s the best position for England. You’ve got three goalkeepers in their own right who are playing at the top of their game. One statistically, one literally in the case of Aaron Ramsdale and Arsenal, and Jordan Pickford who is the best for England so far in the past five years. It’s a good place for England, it’d be nice if there were eight English goalkeepers in the Premier League contesting England’s number one spot, but I think we should be grateful that we’ve got three who are really on top of their game at the moment.
DB: A couple of months ago John Mousinho was appointed as manager of your former club Portsmouth. On Friday, Sol Campbell told The News, Portsmouth that it’s the second time that he didn’t even get a chance to interview for the role. Do you think he deserves better treatment considering his time as club captain?
DJ: Sol Campbell and how many other hundred people applied for that job? I love Sol, if it wasn’t for Sol I wouldn’t have joined Portsmouth. I had a conversation with him before I signed. As a qualified pro licence holder, I would be interested in managing Portsmouth Football Club. It’s a fantastic football club. I do think there’s a problem in football, and I’m currently staying here on a trip with a number of people who are qualified to manage at any level of football. The consistent view is that football clubs in general are very poor at dealing with applicants for positions. I don’t think any football club should necessarily actively go out and look for ex-players of any stature and say ‘Do you want the job?’. If like myself you’re interested in becoming a manager, then you put applications left, right and centre. The issue in football is the actual response to applicants. It’s not because Sol Campbell was or I was a former player, it’s just that as a courtesy you should turn around and say in any language ‘Thank you for the enquiry but we’re not going to go with you’. There were a few former clubs which I applied for and I got absolutely no response for, and I thought that was a lack of courtesy rather than whether or not they liked me. With Sol, he falls into the category of many many wannabe coaches and managers like myself and it seems a little bit personal. It’s not, I just think that football in general is very bad at dealing with requests.