Eddie Howe has been linked with the managerial job at Celtic. I spoke to Carl Fletcher who played with Eddie and worked under him at Bournemouth for a number of years. Listen to the FULL INTERVIEW here.
What is it like working alongside Eddie Howe? He’s described by certain elements of the media as a quiet man. Does he have a steely side to him too?
I’ve worked for Eddie as part of his staff and during our playing days I also lived with him when we were establishing ourselves at Bournemouth so I know him very well as a person.
He definitely has an edge to him like all good managers do and working for him is very good. He’s driven and does all that he can to succeed. I worked under him at Bournemouth on his staff for five years.
He drives everyone at the club from the top down and seeks improvement in everyone around him. He is also very demanding of himself and is always striving to better himself as a coach.
He never likes his teams to sit still. He is always looking at improving training sessions from a coaching perspective and he wants the very best for his players and his staff alike.
Without doubt he has a steely side to him. Everyone knows where they stand with Eddie because he has a clear plan and a way of working that he communicates from day one. You either buy into it or you don’t.
Eddie has always worked closely with all staff at Bournemouth from the academy staff to the medical staff. He likes to know what is going on at the club on a daily, weekly and monthly basis and drive improvements from the front as the manager too.
It has been a very interesting and…… chaotic off-season in China shall we say. Following club name changes, team relocations, 2020 CSL champions Jiangsu FC disappearing from existence and a mass exodus of foreign signings, theres not much that hasn’t happen in the leagues 6 month hiatus.
Despite all of this ‘excitement’ and instability, the CSL is poised to return tomorrow and hopes to showcase itself as one of the best leagues in Asia, with it’s big name players, national stars and managerial appointments.
Unlike other seasons, there has not been any ‘big name’ signings coming into the league for this 2021 season. With most clubs choosing to strengthen in areas where they lack, looking to Chinese veterans, upcoming youth talent and experienced players from Europe and South America. There has also been rule changes to the league, with CFA (Chinese Football Association) imposing a salary cap on players wages and clubs wages. Clubs are are capped at ¥600 million (£3,975,600) on wages, whereas player wages are capped at ¥5 million for Chinese players and ¥3 million for foreign players.
In 2020 we saw the CSL have to change it’s format due to covid-19 and this season is no different for the time being. The league will be split into two seperate groups or ‘bubbles’, with half the league playing matches in Guangzhou and the other half playing matches in Suzhou for 14 games. It is not known how the league will look after these games, but this will hopefully be explained in the near the future. Unlike previous years, there will be no direct relegation to China League One due to upcoming expansion and will instead feature a relegation playoff, with third and fourth place teams in League One vying for a place in the top division.
But enough chit chat, let’s get to the clubs for this 2021 CSL season!
During the off-season Guoan have brought in a high profile name in the form of ex- West Brom and West Ham manager Slaven Bilic. This managerial change should come as a positive to the club, given their inability to live up to the expectations placed on them last year. Despite reaching the semi-final of the championship stage, the Imperial Guards looked shakey in defence, conceding 27 goals across the season. With Bilic coming into the fold and notoroiously being a manager who looks to be compact defensively, break on the counter and start an attack from his backline, it shoudl hoepfully solve Guoans defensive issues.
But despite the good bit of business on a managerial front, the team did not bring in any signings during the winter period and may be found guilty of becoming stagnant. Particularly given that teams around them and at a similar level have strengthened across the board. On the plus side however, they haven’t lost any of their key players from last year and are relativley unchanged, which is a rare commodity in modern day football, particularly in Chinese Super League. Unfortunately though, their Brazilian forward Renato Augusto, who has 35 goals in 122 appearances for the capital side, will be unavaliable for some time. This is due to covid restrictions preventing Augusto from entering the country.
Cangzhou Mighty Lions
A phoneix rising from the ashes? We will let the 2021 season be the judge of that.
Circumstances have completely changed for Shijiazhuang Everbright, who were due to be relegated to China League One following their loss in the relegation stage of the 2020 season. However, a series of fortuanate events have allowed the club to maintain it’s top flight status. It only cost them a re-brand, re-location and demise of Jiangsu in the offseason. So say goodbye to Shijiazhuang Everbright and hello to Cangzhou Mighty Lions.
Despite their near relegation last season, Cangzhou were quite a good side for a large part of the year, but fell foul to the leagues unusual system which nearly cost them their place in the topflight. So my hope is that Cangzhou can use this second chance to show how good they can be and why they could be a side to keep an eye on this upcoming season.
Despite the negatives of relocating and renaming, it has allowed some positives too. They have recieved backing and investment from the local government which has allowed them to be very busy in the transfer market. Cuangzhou have brought three players from free agency, all from the former CSL Champions, Jiangsu. They have picked up wingers Luo Jing, Xie Pengfe and 23 year old full back, Abduhamit Abdugheni. For those that follow MLS (Major League Soccer) like I do, then Norwegian international and striker Adama Diomande should ring a bell for you. That’s because he played for Hull City for three years, prior to joining LAFC, where he had an impressive 20 goals in 44 appearances.
So given that Cangzhou have strengthened defensively with former champions players and a goal poachers in Diomande, things are certainly looking up for the Hebei side and this rebuild looks to be a positive one.
After a two year abscence in League One, Changchun Yatai have returned to the Chinese Super League in 2021 following promotion. An impressive performance during the regular season and equally impressive performance during the playoffs, saw the club verify it’s place in top flight once again. Chinese striker, Tan Long being the key man for the club that season, scoring 10 goals in 10 games.
Despite his impressive form however, the club have made the decision to bring in more attacking talent for this upcoming 2021 season and has looked abroad to do that. K League fans would or should know the name of former Ulsan Hyundai striker, Junior Negrao, who won the golden boot prior to his departure to China, scoring 26 goals in a covid hit season.
Last year Changchun’s defence was stalwart, conceding seven times in 15 games. They have managed to keep ahold of most of their back line for this 2021 season, which is a huge bonus to them as they look to readjust to life in the topflight. And with the additions in attack, particularly that of Junior Negrao, Yatai could be a very exciting side to watch this year and pssible dark horse.
Chongqing Liangjiang Athletic
Despite a positive and surprising campaign last year, Chongqing will be fortunate to replicate the same success this season. During the winter period, there were alot of departures from the club, including key man, Adrian Mierzejewski, who was one of the leagues best players in attacking midfield and will be a huge loss for them. Particualry due to him joining fellow CSL side Shanghai Shenhua on loan.
As well as Mierzejewski, they have lost three other starting regulars in the form of forward Alan Kardec, Dilmurat Mawlanniyaz and centre-back Mincheng Yuan.
But despite these losses, Chongqing have brought in a fantastic signing in Brazilian Miler Bolanos, who joins from Shanghai Shenhua. He only played 4 times last year, but scored 3 times and is sure to be a great acquistion.
With Rafa Benitez leaving in January and a poor season last year that almost saw them relegated, 2021 looks set to be a difficult year for Dalian.
Jose Gonzalez, formly manager at Wuhan, has taken over the side. But fans won’t be feeling inspired or motivated by this appointment, given the fact that Gonzalez had an poor spell at Wuhan, where the team won 6, drew 5, lost 9 and conceded 22 goals.
As well as losing Rafa Benitez, Dalian has also lost key players such as Marek Hamsik to IFK Goteborg and Salomon Rondon to CSKA Moscow on loan.
With all the outgoings and none coming in, it’s hard to see Pro doing well. However, Dalian do still have a relatively talented young squad, with players such as defender, Tong Lei, winger Lin Liangming who was part of Real Madrid’s youth team and B side and 21 year old Wang Zhen’ao. 24 year old striker, Emmanuel Boateng could be the teams saving grace, should he find form and hit the back of the net. The Ghanaian has 10 goals in 28 appearances for Dalain.
A club which undoubtedly has to be considered the favourites to win the league and have won the league 8 times and finished runners up twice since the CSL’s formation in 2004. Guangzhou as they are now called (Formally Guangzhou Evergrande) were in fine form throughout 2020 and expecting to win back to back titles, until Jiangsu Suning causing an upset in the final to steal the title from the esteemed champions.
With Jiangsu no longer an exisitng club, Guangzhou have a very strong chance to claim the 2021 champions title. With only Shandong Taishan and Shanghai Port (Formerly Shanghai SIPG) looking to spoil the party.
Guangzhou are a team with incredible talent and array of players, from CSL veterans, upcoming young talent, big name signings and experienced foreign players to make them the powerhouse of China. Despite covid restrcitions preventing Paulinho and Talisca from entering into the country, Guangzhou have enough about them to cope without the Brazilians for the time being and should find themselves bolstered once they rejoin the team.
Guangzhou City (Formerly Guanghzou R&F) are a side which have poor for many years now in the Chinese Super League. They remind me almost of my English team Sunderland when they were in the premier league, in the sense we would be awful every season and in a relegation battle, only to find form and goals when it mattered. Until eventually it caught up to us. Guangzhou City are very much the same, with an abysmal defence which has been one of the worst out of all teams for some time. The only reason they have avoided the drop is due to their ability to pull goals out of nowhere and outscore their opponent. But this again, can only last so long.
Guangzhou City have brought in Jean-Paul van Gastel to manage the helm this season and he has already looked to rectify and solve some of the issues with the club during the winter period. Without a doubt, 34 year old defensive midfielder and Sweden international Gustav Svensson from Seattle Sounders, looks to be the best bit of business theyve done during the off season. They have also brought in former Bejing Renhe striker Tiago Leonco, who had 8 goals in 17 appearances during his loan spell at Renhe and also 20 goals in 35 appearances for Guangzhou’s satellite team which were based in Hong Kong, R&F.
Despite the positive acquisitions, Guangzhou City will be missing Israeli forward Eran Zahavi who scored a hopping 91 goals in 106 games for City during 2016-2020. He has since joined Eredivisie side, PSV Eindhoven.
Another side with a name change, previously Hebei China Fortune, the side have changed their name to Hebei FC for this upcoming 2021 season. They were a dark horse last year, quietly going about their business, not looking like a contender for the Championship stage before nabbing a spot.
Whilst not being overly active in the offseason in terms of incomings, there have been a few outgoings. Namely the likes of Sierre Leone international Mohamed Buya Turay, who had 5 goals in 16 appearances before leaving to Henan. But also loanee attacking midfielder Ricardo Goulart who has returned to his parent club Guangzhou.
Despite these losses, those familar with K League will recognise the name Kim Jong-boo who is a Korean coach which previously managed Gyeongnam FC before swapping Korea for China. They also have strong squad which is made up of veterans, experienced foreign players and youth which will allow them to have a relatively good season.
Henan Songshan Longmen
Whilst there were teams which did incredible last year, there are those that were incredibly poor and difficult to watch and unfortunately Henan were ones of those teams. The side very narrowly avoided the drop to League One due to Spaniard Javier Pereira taking over just in the nick of time. They also had Croatian Toni Sunjic who was on loan from Beijing Guaon, that reignited the defensive line to become ‘almost’ impenetrable towards the end of the season.
In some smart buisness, Henan acquired Sunjic from his parent club permanently and have hoped to build the squad around his defensive presence by signing full-back Dilmurat Mawlanyaz from Chongqing.
As well as defence, they have sured up in attack, bringing in striker Mohamed Buya Turay from Hebei, who had 5 goals in 16 appearances.
With these acquisitions, holidng onto their core team and keeping Pereira in charge, Henan certainly look to be in a better position than they were last year. Likely to finish lower midtable.
Qingdao had a very mixed 2020 season, starting off very well before having an abysmal run of form towards the end which almost ended in them being relegated to China League One. Given that poor form and startlingly end to the season, you would have imagined that Qingdao would have looked to have strengthened in certain areas. However the side have had a quiet offseason and transfer market. Despite this though they have brought in Fredril Ulvestad, who is a defensive midfielder with plenty of experience in Europe, playing for the likes of Aalesund, Burnley, Charlton and lastly Djurgardens IF
Ultimately, I feel that Qingdao will struggle this year. Other teams around them who would normally be considered relegation contenders have strengthened, whereas Qingdao have stagnated and don’t look be anything spectacular.
Shandong Taishan are side which are known for having some fantastic foreign talent as well as developing their own. The likes of ex- Man United and Everton midfielder Marourane Fellaini, Moises and Rodger Guedes, with the latter two currently unable to get into the country due to covid restrcitions.
Over recent years, Shandong have proven to be a team which can contend with top teams such as Guangzhou and Shanghai Port. Whilst they have lost former manager, Li Xiaopeng, they have called upon Hao Wei who was Li’s assistant to take the helm for the time. Despite this being his first time in charge of a club, Wei has experience as assistant manager at various clubs over the last 14 years. Already into his tenure, he has made a fantastic signing in Son Jun-Ho from K League champions Jeonbuk Hyundai. Jun-ho won the 2020 K League 1 MVP award. and was a ever present figure in their midfield. They have also added Shi Ke who is one of the CSL’s best defenders, he had 127 appearances for Shanghai SIPG.
Securing an ACL spot has to be their main goal, but I feel that Taishan have enough about them to challenge the likes of Guanghzou and Shanghai for the title.
Shenhua had a solid 2020 season despite their relativley slow start, shocking some to qualify for the championship stage. They’ve had the CSL elude them so far since the CSL’s formation in 2004, however they have won the Chinese FA Cup 5 times, with the latest in 2019. They have also won the Chinese Super Cup 3 times and the previous top flight Chinese league, Jia-A, 3 times.
Whilst their offseason and transfer business has been a good one, its argubably been a confusing one, with the club looking to aging players and CSL veterans, rather than youth talent. The club already have one of the oldest squads in the league, so it is a questionable strategy and possible gamble that Shenhua are trying to play. The team they have now is a strong side which should sit comfortably in the top half of the league, but in terms of future planning, the club needs to change its ethos.
Adrian Mierzejewski despite his age, is a great acquistion for Shenhua but is only on loan from Chongqing for the season. They also snapped up CSL veteran and former Jiangsu Suning player Wu Xi on a free.
Formerly Shanghai SIPG, they like many other clubs this year have seen a name change during the winter period. They also saw key players in the form of Hulk Paraiba leave during the offseason to return to his home country, Brazil. During his time in Shanghai he scored 51 times in 100 games, using his brute strength to shrug off defenders or hold the ball up to involve teammates around him. Their other loss is defender Shi Ke, who has moved to fellow title rivals in Shandong Taishan (Shandong Luneng)
Despite these losses, Port have enough talent and experience to be a serious contender for the title. They have the likes of Oscar (Formly at Chelsea), Australian Aaron Mooy and controversial forward Marko Arnautovic.
2018 was the last time Shanghai Port lifted the league trophy and will be looking to challenge Guangzhou to the prestigious title.
Shenzhen are a team which are on the up. Not long ago they were dwelling in China League One, where they had been since 2012 until they achieved promotion to CSL in 2018. A large part of this success is due their hard work in developing their current squad, utilising young players and making use of their finances to bring in big attacking talent. Such talent they have brought in for this 2021 season is super striker Alan Kardec from Chongqing Lifan and Juan Quintero from River Plate. They also gained great acquisitions from free agency in former Jiangsu player Muburak Wakaso and Ghanaian Frank Acheampong formly at Tianjin TEDA
Despite a slow start to the 2020 season, Shenzhen began to clinch results with part of that success being due to Jordi Cruyff taking over as manager towards the end of the year. Jordi Cruyff is a name known by alot who follow Chinese Super League, particualry when he was at Chongqing. Once Cruyff came into the scene, Shenzhen picked up some amazing form and looked to cause upsets. I would expect something similar this season and for them top finish towards the top of the table.
Tianjin Jinmen Tigers
Like many clubs in Chinese Super League, Tianjin were very close to joining the likes of champions Jiangsu Suning in being erased. Despite Tianjin TEDA Co withdrawing their investment in the club, Tianjin were able to find enough investment from elsewhere to remain afloat (barely) for this 2021 season.
Despite just hanging onto their clubs existence, it does not look good for Tianjin whatsoever. Without the same financial backing they had before, the Tigers have not been able to bring in signings during the offseason. Despite money certainly being a key aspect, the fact that there was so much uncertainity of the club existing that it meant a huge exodus of players going out the door and no one wanting to join. Tianjin have barely got a squad to field as it is and those that are left would have to pull off something sensational to stop them being relegated this season.
With Jose Gonzalez at the helm, 2020 was a year for Wuhan to forget and that’s before we even mention football.
Despite their shortcomings, Wuhan have done a fantatsic bit of business in bringing in Li Xiaopeng as manager. Formly a footballer himself, he played as a midfielder for Shandong Luneng where he stayed for his entire career, playing 217 times and scoring 42 goals. He was also capped for China, playing 39 times between 2000-2004. Once he finished his playing career, he managed the China’s national team for the women and had a stint at Qingdao Jonoon, before being offered the job at Shandong Luneng. It was here that he developed Shandong into a title contending side.
With Li taking over at Wuhan, there is positivity and vibrance within the club which has been missing for some time. Li has gotten straight to work in improving the squad, off-loading players who are no longer required, looking to the free agents market as well as smart loan singings. Wuhan have brought in Yang Boyu on a free transfer following Jiangsu’s collapse and Stephane Mbia who was on loan to Wuhan in 2019. With these acquisitions, Wuhan have looked to solidify the defence, which was a concern last year.
Similarly to other teams in the league, Wuhan have been affected by the covid regulations in place in the country which is currently preventing a lot of players joining back up with their respective clubs. Leo Baptistao and Rafael Silva are currently part of that contingent. So with this, Wuhan may be looking to new Martinique signing Yoann Arquin to deliver the goods as well as striker Everand Kouassi.
How to watch
The coverage of Chinese Super League isn’t great in the UK, with skysports occasionally (and i use the term occasionally very loosely) showing some games on TV. This is the same for the likes of Premiersports and Freesports as well, where there will occasionally be game on.
Usually the likes of bet365 can be a saving grace to watch some Asian football, but not in this instance.
So if you want to keep with Chinese Super League you’ll have to search on google I’m afraid or follow @wildeastfootbal on twitter who provide up to date news and articles on CSL and Chinese football in English
Name changes for 2021
• Guangzhou R&F changed their name to Guangzhou City
• Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao changed their name Guangzhou
• Shandong Luneng Taishan changed their to Shandong Taishan
• Shanghai SIPG changed their name to Shanghai Port
• Shijiazhuang Ever Bright FC moved to Cangzhou and changed their name to Cangzhou Mighty Lions
• Tianjin TEDA changed their name to Tianjin Jinmen Tiger
• Qingdao Huanghai changed their name to Qingdao
• Shanghai Greenland Shenhua changed their name to Shanghai Shenhua
• Hebei China Fortune changed their name to Hebei
• Wuhan Zall changed their name to Wuhan
• Henan Jianye changed their name to Henan Songshan Longmen
• Chongqing Dangdai Lifan changed their name to Chongqing Liangjiang Athletic
• Beijing Sinobo Guoan changed their name to Beijing Guoan
Over the last two weeks, news came out that the FA council will finalise the ratification of a partial implementation of the planned restructure of the non-league pyramid.
It means that for up to 110 of the best performing clubs at steps 5 to 7 over the last two seasons. Their efforts will be rewarded with what the FA are calling not ‘promotion’ but ‘advancement’ up the pyramid. That is because the non-league restructure that was due to come in at the summer of 2020 with the aim of giving the English pyramid system what has been called a ‘pure’ look (also known as the 1-2-4-8-16 structure).
Obviously, it was postponed last summer as the COVID-19 pandemic began to make its in-roads but it appears the FA don’t want to delay it again, especially with the prospect of reduced travel distances at Step 4 with the extra league, especially to entice more Northern League teams to step up.
WHAT IS THE RESTRUCTURE?
But what was the proposed restructure? Well, Its actually the second phase of a two-part plan by the FA to implement the ‘pure pyramid’, the first part was initiated in the summer of 2018 where a series of mass promotions saw the creation of a 4th league at Step 3 (The Southern Central Premier) and a 7th league at Step 4 (the Isthmian South Central). For context though, here is the proposed Phase two in full as described step by step when it was originally announced before the 2019-20 season.
STEP 1: National League to remain unchanged at 24 clubs
STEP 2: National League North & South to be increased from 22 to 24 clubs each
STEP 3: Regional Premier Leagues to remain unchanged at 22 clubs each
STEP 4: New NPL run division implemented, increasing to 8 leagues of 20 clubs each
STEP 5: Two new leagues run by the United Counties and the Combined Counties, increasing to 16 leagues of 20 clubs each
STEP 6: Reducing from 20 leagues to 17 leagues, but all will increase in size to 20 clubs each
STEP 7: Mass promotion of clubs from here to step 6 to fill any gaps with priority based around the needs of certain leagues.
Now things have changed since then and the null and void of Step 2 this season has complicated things to the point that the proposed restructure has been adapted to not include Steps 1, 2 and 3 in this proposal. This means the following
No relegation out of Step 1 (The National League)
No Promotion or relegation from Step 2
No promotion or relegation from Step 3
No promotion or relegation from Step 4
So in short, the proposal is to incorporate the restructure from promotion into Step 4 onwards so the proposed new divisions can be created.
HOW WILL IT WORK?
But how will it work?
For the purpose of this piece, I’ll look at the main part of the restructure, and that is the introduction of the brand new division at Step 4.
To do this, there is a controversial move to ‘un-nullify’ the playing records from the 2019/20 season and include them with the 2020/21 season. From this data, the FA Council will offer ‘advancement’ to 20 Step 5 clubs with a priority weighting given to the three northernmost divisions as the new Step 4 division will come under the administration of the Northern Premier League.
To put it simply, from these 3 leagues (Northern League, Northern Counties East and North West Counties), will each provide three clubs, and the other 11 Step 5 leagues will each provide one club to come up.
However, the offer that the FA Council will send out will not be a mandatory request meaning if need be, clubs can refuse the offer if they don’t feel ready either financially or from a sporting sense. For this, each league will also have two clubs on standby if any prioritised club does not wish to take up the offer of advancement into Step 4.
How are these clubs decided? Well, this is where the data from two seasons comes into play, clubs would be ranked on a points per game basis from the last two seasons with the prioritised clubs being decided on these leagues ranking on those PPG ratios.
Using that hypothesis, here are the 20 clubs that I believe will be prioritised for advancement along with the 28 others that will be on standby.
Using the spreadsheet of @NonLeagueMaps, this is who I think will be the first 20 clubs to be offered a spot in the all new Step 4…and also the 28 clubs that are most likely to be placed on standby pic.twitter.com/TDFnjmUhX6
The restructure in my eyes has been brought about to help encourage more representation in the upper echelons of the non-league pyramid in the North-East of England, a region that over the last 25 years has seen a massive boom of interest and success but not when it comes to providing clubs to play further up the pyramid.
This became a big problem at the conclusion of the 2011-12 season with the demise of Darlington FC. With them having to reform in the Northern League, it meant that in the top 4 tiers of Non-League football, the North East was only represented by just three clubs (Gateshead, Blyth Spartans and Whitby Town).
And this is despite below Step 4, the region being immensely successful at Step 5 with multiple wins in the FA Vase, cementing the Northern League as the strongest league at Step 5, with the 2012 final for the first time being an all Northern League affair with Dunston beating West Auckland Town 2-0.
With this restructure, the FA hope that it will mean more Northern League clubs will come up to populate Step 4 and thereby move the NPL’s boundary further northwards. They also hope this will address a similar issue in another of England’s most distant outposts, the South West. Especially as the Western League’s boundary in most recent years has begun to stretch into the likes of Bristol, making progress more difficult for clubs in Cornwall who at the time of writing this are only represented in the top eight tiers of English football by Truro City.
THE FINAL WORD
Obviously it’s very controversial, especially as this involves the ‘un-nullifying’ of records from the previous season, something that some clubs fought for in arbitration last summer and ultimately lost (a move which cost South Shields FC a reported £200,000 in legal fees). And also some clubs that lead their divisions at Steps 5 and 6 in the 2020/21 season that could miss out.
But looking long term, I think it’s a move that the English pyramid has needed for a very long time. The mess of the 2018/19 super playoffs farce (a system that saw Step 4 playoff winners Pontefract Collieries and Heybridge Swifts refused promotion) is a scenario that the FA do not want to see repeated.
This will provide the pyramid with a hopefully smooth transition of promotion and relegation between levels, thereby giving ambitious clubs a more clear path towards where they want to be.
You played for Stallion FC in your native Philippines. How do you look back on your time at the club and do you have any particular highlights or memories?
Yes, with Stallion FC back in 2015 and 2016, I had just graduated college and I was signed by the club and at that time at the club I was really doing well.
I was then able to join up with the Philippines national team and we went to play in Uzbekistan to play in the World Cup qualifiers but unfortunately we lost that game 1-0.
I was also part of the team that played against Tajikistan and North Korea as well but then I sustained an injury.
Looking back Stallion FC gave me the chance to showcase myself and that talent that I have but unfortunately in the Philippines football is not great and there are only a minimum of games that you can play along with international games.
At that time the Philippines were not participating in the Asian Football Confederation whereas as now there are currently two teams doing so this year United City FC (Ceres) who will participate in the Asian Football Champions League and Kaya F.C.–Iloilo that participate in the AFC Cup.
You also played for Mendiola FC. How do you look back on your time at the club and do you have any special memories or highlights?
Mendiola FC is for me my family because the football club are part of my college team so the story of Mendiola FC is that the core of players are made up of the college students and the football club wants to give an opportunity to the college players to turn professional so that is why they founded the club.
When you graduate from college you have an option to play and if you want to play for the club you can so when they started to think about getting back into the Philippians professional league back in 2018.
It was really something for me because I could represent my school again and that was something special for me because the graduates and the people around the club are very close to me and I was willing to play and represent them every time.
We did well in our first season and we were drew against Ceres who were the Asian Football Confederation champions Johor Darul Ta’zim II FC at the time and I felt really comfortable playing for Mendiola FC because for me they are like my hometown and they gave me the opportunity to represent them again as captain of the club last season and this season.
I am looking forward to getting back involved with the national team again and performing well and part of that process is to show people that the young kids of the Philippines can play football and the aim is for them to get signed to a football club outside of the Philippines and for the young kids to see that there is a chance of Philippine players playing outside of the country.
You have also been capped by the Philippines. How do you look back on representing your country and what are your highlights and memories of playing international football?
It is amazing how football is really big around the world because when I went with the national team it was the first time I had played in front of a 50,000 fans in a stadium and it really is something amazing and it is something that I am really looking forward to the experiencing in the future.
I am really proud to have shared a changing room with Neil Etheridge who played in the Premier League for Cardiff City and he is currently playing for Birmingham City in the Championship and it was a great experience was amazing because I saw the talent of good Philippine players.
They can play and the local players are really fast and although not very tall they are really fast and that is football. Football needs fast players because the pitch is big and I think my experience with the Philippines national team in general was great.
I hope many players can go on to play in other countries and for me it is my job now as a coach as well to a least give an example and give the young players a chance to see that Philippine players can play outside of their own country and in Europe too and that is what I am doing.
You mentioned coaching and I wanted to ask how are you enjoying coaching and what do you believe are the skills required for Philippine players to go on and make a success of their careers and ply their trade in a major and well-known league in Europe or elsewhere?
I think it is the opportunity that is missing for young Philippine players because at the moment we do not have an established league which is known to showcase the talent of course but I think right now it is becoming different and some players are currently playing in Thailand.
The league there is really good and it is an established league where scouts from some teams can look at the players and for my the skills that Philippine players need to establish themselves is to maintain their fitness and their speed because nobody can teach you speed but the skills and technique in football can be taught whether you are 16 or 17 years old you can still learn but nobody can teach you speed and that is what we have in the Philippines and I believe that is the core skill in my opinion.
Finally Jim, you are still young a young coach. Is there anything in particular that you would like to ideally achieve during the remainder of your coaching career?
Of course in my coaching the plan is , I am currently a Asian Football Confederation licensed B coach and that is an equivalent to a European C license so my short term plan is to obtain a level of coaching that is higher because I am still learning and I want to continue to learn and the only thing for me to learn is to go outside of the Philippines and see the football community and that is where you learn and my plan is that if there is an opportunity to get a European license that is my main goal.
Celtic have had a year full of pain compared to their previous decade or so – from Europa League disappointment to bottling 10 titles in a row to Old Firm rivals Rangers, it hasn’t been great! They now are looking for the man that can change their fortunes and take them into an era of prosperity, and more importantly, back to the top of the table.
Here are 5 managers who could do so, in no particular order:
1. Roy Keane
Roy Keane is one of the men linked with the job, despite Keane’s previous scattered attempts into management. Keane played for Celtic for a season at the end of his career after very successful times at Forest and then Manchester United, Roy has worked under some of the greatest managers ever, but it hasn’t quite worked out for the former Ipswich manager. In his first managerial adventure, Roy led Sunderland to Championship promotion, winning the league with 88 points. He then kept the Black Cats up, finishing 15th! Aswell as his time at Sunderland, Keane has managed East Anglia outfit Ipswich Town in the Championship, finishing 15th, and then getting sacked in the January of the following season. Could the Super Sunday pundit be the man to lead Celtic flying into a new era?
2. Domènec Torrent
Domènec Torrent may be less familiar to some readers, but the Manchester City fans among you will almost certainly know who he is. The Spaniard has had spells at Girona, and has been a coach at European giants Barcelona, Bayern and obviously City, and after that has managed Flamengo and City sister club, NYCFC. Despite never really hitting the heights as a ‘proper’ manager, Domènec is a very intelligent man who could well flourish at Celtic if given the right budget, and if they recruit the right players! If Torrent were to join, Celtic fans would be right to be excited about seeing attacking football.
3. Chris Wilder
From Barcelona, Bayern and Manchester City, to Northampton, Oxford and Sheffield United! Wilder has a vastly different career to Torrent, but still has an identity! His Sheffield United side are known for their brave style of play, and their famous ‘overlapping centre halves’, creating movement and overloads in the final third of the pitch, which would be an exciting concept with Celtic’s technical centre halves, such as Kristoffer Ajer, who may fit that role, or the role of central defender that does not overlap, played by John Egan at the Blades. Wilder plays a 3 at the back with great success, prioritising defensive stability whilst still being able to score goals sufficiently. Sadly, this season didn’t work out for Wilder’s men, which is why he is now linked with the Celtic job!
4. Enzo Maresca
Former Italy u21 international Vincenzo Maresca has been linked with the Celtic job along with the others! Another name that’ll be familiar with Manchester City fans as he is the current Elite Development Squad manager at City, who won the FA Youth Cup in 2020, beating Chelsea in the final. Although the transition from youth management to senior management may be tricky, Enzo certainly has all the tactical knowledge he could have, like Torrent! City’s youngsters play very good football, so it acts as a great pathway to the first team for some, and Maresca would be an exciting prospect for Celtic fans, as, like Torrent, he is plays very exciting, expansive football!
5. John Kennedy
John Kennedy is the current Celtic caretaker manager and is Celtic through and through! He’s been at Celtic virtually all his life, disregarding a loan move to Norwich in 2008. Kennedy also played once for Scotland, although sadly he suffered a horrific knee injury in that match, which he never truly recovered from. Kennedy has done okay so far as caretaker, with just one loss so far. They haven’t been excellent yet, but Kennedy may just be the safe pair of hands that Celtic need.
Celtic fans, who would you want? Personally I think Maresca would be a cracking appointment, but the potential of a Roy Keane docu-series is very exciting!
West Brom full accounts now published: Main points (13 months in 2020 compared to 12 in 2019)
* Income down 24% to £54m * Wages up 43% to £67m * Operating loss up 168% to £47m * Player sale profits up 192% to £29m * Player purchases £33m * Player sales £36m * Cash at 30/6/20 £14m
Total revenue down due to covid and tapering of parachute payments Lower than Leeds who had no parachutes.
Closed doors matches contributed to WBA ticket sales down over a third.
TV money fell as WBA in second year of parachute payments, but still gives a financial advantage over the hardy perennials of the Championship.
Sponsor/other income down 22% due to second season in Championship.
Main costs for clubs are wages, significant rise does include promotion bonuses and impact of 13 months accounting period compared to 12 in 2019. £28,695 a week still buys a decent fish supper in Smethwick though.
West Brom paid more in wages than generated in income for the first time in over a decade.
West Brom spent £33.6m in 2019/20 signing players, but may include some deals after club was promoted to Premier League as goes up to 31 July 2020.
West Brom had player sales of £36m in 2019/20.
West Brom squad cost £85m at 31 July 2020.
West Brom had day to day operating losses of £47m in 2019/20, although player sales helped reduce this by £29m.
West Brom wrote down player values by £6m at end of 2019/20.
Following a second heavy Melbourne Derby defeat at the hands of Melbourne City, Melbourne Victory have announced that head coach Grant Brebner had been relieved of his duties.
Many felt his time had come after the Victory suffered a 6 – 0 loss just over a month ago, but the club stood by the manager, releasing a public statement giving him their full backing. Brebner’s men managed to pick up some points in the games that followed, including a shock draw over the then league leading Central Coast Mariners, but another abysmal performance that saw their cross town rivals out seven unanswered goals past a ten man Victory side proved to be the final straw.
The writing was on the wall when the club refused to speak to Fox Sports cameras after the match, and after a long wait, chairman Anthony Di Pietro and Brebner finally emerged to inform media gathered for the post match press conference that the Scotsman would no longer continue in his role.
Brebner initially took charge at the end of last season as caretaker, and stated publicly he had no intention of applying for the role on a permanent basis as he lacked the experience. Despite these comments, and the fact that the Victory won just one of the five games under his stewardship, the club named him manager ahead of the commencement of the 2020/21 A-League season.
Performances have been truly abysmal this season, and the club remain rooted to the bottom of the ladder after picking up just three wins. Multiple league and championship winners, the aggregate 13 – 0 demolition in the recent Melbourne Derbies show just how far the club have fallen from their once heady heights.
You have to feel sorry for Grant Brebner. The former Hibernian and Dundee United midfielder is a club legend, playing over 120 games and lifting two championships with the Victory, before spending six years developing the next generation of talent as part of the club’s academy. It was clear to see he was out of his depth, but the firing, while understandable, feels like a poor attempt to make him a scapegoat for wider failings and brings a horrible end to a 12-year tenure at the club.
Brebner’s appointment has been the latest mistake in a long line of poor decisions from the clubs hierarchy, and fans will be looking for further shake-ups behind the scenes to prevent further damage to the legacy of the A-League’s second most successful club.
While chairman Di Pietro refused to be drawn on whether Brebner would return to an academy coaching role, he did confirm to the media that former Blackburn manager Steve Kean and recently arrived Jean-Paul de Marigny, who were part of Brebner’s coaching staff, will remain employed by the club.
The duo are expected to take charge on an interim basis ahead of the Victory’s home fixture against Western Sydney Wanderers on Friday.
Ian Little recruited fan favourite Kevin Haynes as his assistant manager in Summer 2019, marking a return to Shielfield Park for the former ‘Gers hitman after a memorable spell with the club between 2005-2007.
During his first spell with the club, Kevin netted 22 goals in 55 appearances and was a key figure in the club’s 2006/07 championship-winning side.
Since retiring, Kevin has moved into coaching and management, and was manager of Dalkeith Thistle prior to his return.
I spoke to Kevin about returning to the club and his ambition for Berwick Rangers.
How do you reflect back on your playing career?
My playing career I’d describe as thoroughly enjoying and fairly successful. I won trophies, leagues and international recognition in the non league and the professional league game.
What is it like working at Berwick Rangers as assistant manager having played at the club as a player and how do you and Ian Little work together?
I love my job at Berwick Rangers and was thankful Ian who was was a team mate back in the mid 2000’s asked me to join his staff as he’s a top coach and I have learnt lots from him.
The dedication he puts into the training sessions and the coaching is unbelievable. I like the interaction with the players and understanding how and what makes the players function. I love the uniqueness of the club. The fact the club is based in England but play in Scotland.
Ambition you both have for Berwick next season?
Our ambition is to win 3 points in every league match we play, I know that’s not always possible but that’s the plan from week to week. We never go out to win a point, we pick a team we feel can win the match in question.
You spent a total of four seasons at Celtic FC. How do you look back on your time there?
Celtic FC was where I started my career, and I was there for four years, but for my last two years I was pretty much away on loan during that period, and only at Celtic FC for pre season.
It’s obviously a massive club and I probably did not realise how big of a club and what it meant at that time.
I had a different upbringing in terms of football when I was younger. I did not come through academies, and maybe that served me well, because I went in not knowing anything really, and there were not the expectations and pressure of having out my whole life into it.
I finished school and I went over to Scotland and everything was new to me and I believed that helped me to adjust to my new environment.
You are probably most well known for your successful time at APOEL Nicosia, winning two Cypriot League titles and Cypriot Cups.
I remember watching you play for APOEL against Ajax in Amsterdam in the Champions League in December 2014. How do you look back on your time in Cyprus?
I would say that my time at APOEL was the most successful time I have had in my career so far in terms of winning things and playing Champions League and Europa League football.
I admit that when I went to Cyprus I underestimated the league. It was a better standard than I anticipated.
The top five or six teams can all play good football. They have good players and they can generally handle themselves against other European teams and qualify for European football.
The standard of football in Cyprus is not what we think from the UK. We do not really look at any other leagues outside of the UK.
You can see this season that AEK Larnaca and Apollon Limassol are playing in the Europa League, and in my opinion AEK Larnaca have been very close the last few years.
Looking from the outside I would say that they are the most professionally run club in Cyprus. They structure everything and they work within their means. They do everything the right way and it was great to see them get that success from it this season in the Europa League.
Apollon Limassol also recently had a great result drawing 2-2 at home to Olympique Marseille.
You have played with many good players throughout your career in different countries. Could you tell me the players that you have played alongside that have stood out for you?
There have been a few. I would like to mention that better players that I did not know about.
At APOEL there was Gustavo Manduca. He was a Brazilian who also played for AEK Athens.
At Omonia Nicosia I played with Nuno Assis who was 36 when I went there, and he was still one of the best players in the Cypriot League.
As a striker as well they are the players that made a good impression because they would see my runs and appeared to be a level above in terms of ability.
Are there any particular opponents that have stood out. You mentioned playing Champions League and Europa League football?
During the season I played Champions League football with APOEL, we played against Paris Saint-Germain with David Luiz and Thiago Silva, and FC Barcelona with Gerard Pique. I also thought that Marc Barta was a very good player.
When we played at home against FC Barcelona, nearly every time we would pass the ball or had a throw in, and I was up the pitch ready to make a run, as soon as the pass happened the Barcelona back four were all pushing up, with their forwards applying pressure, too.
Their movement was very impressive and they were defending without having to defend, basically.
In a CFB exclusive, our chief football writer James Rowe sat down with Rangers striker Kemar Roofe.
You recently signed for Rangers FC. How proud are you to make such a transfer and what were the deciding factors in your decision to sign for the club?
To be honest every time I do move clubs it is a proud moment because someone has got to want you, someone has got to be impressed by you and someone must like you to want you so it is always a good sign and it gets boosted a bit more when it is the likes of Vincent Kompany, Steven Gerrard they are big names and knowing that these big names are watching and like the way you play means a lot.
You played three seasons for Leeds United. How do you look back on your time at the club and do you have any highlights or special memories?
I enjoyed my time at Leeds United a lot and I really like the club. Leeds United are a club that will stay close to my heart. They are a massive club with an excellent fan-base as well. It was a real journey it really was each year I improved and each year the team improved and also the relationship between myself and the fans improved and I understood them and what they wanted from me as a player as well and it helps because they are the ones that will encourage you the most on the pitch and give you that extra boost and motivation to go a little bit harder at times.
You played abroad for arguably the biggest club in Belgium RSC Anderlecht. How do you look back on your time abroad and do you have any special memories or highlights?
Like you said RSC Anderlecht are the biggest club in Belgium so when they come ringing and asking for you especially with Vincent Kompany as the player manager it is a hard one to turn down and I thought why not?
These great opportunities are not going to come round every season and not many players get the opportunity to go to a club like RSC Anderlecht and play in a different country. It was a different style of football which suited me a lot. I learned a lot under Vincent Kompany and enjoyed my time at the club.
We had a difficult season because I went there with an injury and I was going to do my rehab, be patient and wait for my chance for when I am fully fit to be able to help the team out. There was a lot of new players that season so everyone was learning the system so that took a bit of time so the start of the season for the team was not the greatest and then Coronavirus came and stopped the season which messed us up a lot because we were only one place away from the play-offs with eleven games to go and we were growing game by game and we were getting a lot stronger and we all believed that we could have had the final push and make it to the Europa League spots.
Unfortunately Coronavirus came and stopped that and to be honest Coronavirus prevented that season from really progressing and being successful but I really enjoyed my time at RSC Anderlecht and I learned a lot and then Rangers FC came knocking and RSC Anderlecht were in a position where they needed to sell and the deal got done.
You have accrued a lot of experience in England , Belgium and now Scotland could you say who are among the best players you have played alongside so far in your career?
I would have to say that Vincent Kompany is just unbelievable and he makes such a difference and I learned a lot from him both on and off the pitch. The likes of Samir Nasri and Nacer Chadli. They both had a few injuries during the season so they were not able a times to hit their peak due to injury but their careers speak for itself.
I can imagine in your position as a winger/ striker that you have come up against difficult opponents through the years so far in your career. Could you say which opponents have stood out in terms of talent and ability?
KIt’s a hard question because I always go into games and play my game not focusing on the opposition or the defenders because I am confident enough and I believe in myself that I have done enough during the week or during my career practice wise and that I have put the work in also in the gym to be able to be positive and believe in whatever I do if I do it one hundred percent that it is going to be enough and that I am going to get through and be ok. I have never really been aware of other players of the opposition. That being said I have played against some good defenders and good teams.
Finally Kemar. Could you say who are the coaches and managers who have meant a lot to you so far and how played a key role in your development as a professional footballer?
He is not a manager but the main person is my Dad Glendon Roofe. He is the one that started it and will be there until I finish my career. He is the one that has got and had the most influence on my career. The way I play and everything that I have learned in football is ninety percent from him and the rest is obviously experience and picking up things from coaches and other managers like Marcelo Bielsa, Vincent Kompany and Steven Gerrard.
I also like to pick things up from the older players, the experienced players as I mentioned, Samir Nasri, Jermain Defoe, Nacer Chadli these are players that have played at the top level and being in and around them everyday and seeing what they do, seeing how they act and seeing the little things they do in training and how they train and the way that they think as well sometimes I would think I am doing things correctly or is my opinion the same as anyone else’s and those guys that have been there and done it a lot of the time it is very similar so it is nice to kind of compare yourself to these guys.
They way in which Marcelo Bielsa and Steven Gerrard see the game it is not let’s line up eleven against eleven and see what happens at the final whistle it is not like that. Everything is thought out and there is a reason behind why we are doing it, actual tactics and we will train a certain way to help us in the next game. We will set up a certain way and players will get certain roles and jobs to do for different games so it’s like a game of chess basically. It is not always down to who works the hardest running wise or who is strongest or skillful there is a lot more to it such as formations, positions and how to actually play certain formations. There is so much behind it and there is a lot of thought that goes into it.
Before we signed him on loan, I spoke extensively to Brendan Rodgers about him. I’ve known Brendan for many years and we used to play against each other in the England vs Northern Ireland school boy games.
Brendan wanted Kristoffer to play in midfield and he asked me if I could play him there during the loan spell so that he could get used to playing in tight areas ahead of a transition to centre back long term. I saw that as a good fit for what I wanted to do and I paired him with Sean Longstaff now of Newcastle United. They were sensational together.
They added a whole new dynamic to the group. He would drop back to centre back if we needed him to. For someone who is 6’4” he is so elegant as a footballer and he has an unbelievable attitude for the game.
He always wanted to do extra training and it doesn’t shock me to see the success that he has went on to achieve at Celtic.
VFB Stuttgart and the Central Coast Mariners announced earlier today that they had reached an agreement over the transfer of the young striker, bringing an end to weeks of speculation.
Despite making just five starts since his debut last year, Kuol has been a breakout star, capturing hearts and minds with his raw potential, exuberant personality and his inspiring journey. Born in Khartoum in Sudan, Kuol and his family left the war-torn country when he was just three years old, making the journey to Australia via Egypt, before eventually settling city of Shepparton in rural Victoria.
It was here that the youngster started his senior football career, making headlines and catching the eye of A-League clubs with an incredible return of 22 goals in 26 games for NPL2 side Goulburn Valley Suns, winning the Golden Boot aged just 18.
Melbourne Victory and Western United both took him on trial, but passed, before he was offered a deal by the struggling Mariners. After impressing for their Y-League academy side, he was given a chance in the first team and hasn’t looked back.
The 19 year old has played a huge part in the Mariners turnaround this season, netting seven goals and setting up a further two in just 16 appearances. The young striker has started just four of those games, utilised mostly as an impact sub by head coach Alen Stajcic, but his injection of pace, his driving runs and his aerial ability have proved devastating for A-League defences.
Despite playing just 665 minutes of A-League football, he has clearly shown enough to catch the “diamond eye’ of Stuttgart Sporting Director Sven Mislintat, the former Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal talent scout who unearthed the likes of Aubameyang and Lewandowski.
As exciting as he is, Kuol is undoubtedly still a raw talent, but in Stuttgart, he will be joining a Bundesliga giant with a proven track record of developing exciting young talent. The likes of Bernd Leno, Timo Werner, Serge Gnabry, Joshua Kimmich all spent time learning their craft at Die Roten, and if Kuol can emulate the development of any of these superstars in his time at the Mercedes-Benz Arena, he will be one of Australia’s finest exports.
Stuttgart announced Kuol had signed a four year deal on a free transfer, though it is believed, per Vince Rugari, that the Mariners have received “significant’ training compensation and have sell on-clauses written into the deal.
Kuol will remain on the Central Coast until the end of the season, before heading to Stuttgart, where he is expected to be part of their Under 21s team.
I had the pleasure of speaking to Francis Cagigao, from how his life has changed after his mutual agreement to depart from Arsenal on the 1st September after serving as International Head of Recruitment, as well as dipping into the fascinating tales of scouting Cesc Fabregas, Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique in the Barcelona Academy and to hear his thoughts on the immediate future of scouting, given the current climate where there are so many travel restrictions and his thoughts on the use of data analytics in comparison to live scouting.
Francis began his playing career with The Gunners. Born in Paddington, he spent four years with the club at youth level, winning the FA Youth Cup under the management of Pat Rice along the way. He moved on from Arsenal to join Barcelona B which started a professional career where he had short spells in Spain and in England before his career unfortunately ended at the expense of an ankle injury at the age of just 29 whilst at Club Lemos.
Before the aforementioned injury, he was already coaching the Youth and Academy Teams for Club Lemos as well as playing. In doing so, Francis was rewarded with the role of First Team Recruitment Manager and Technical Director of the club.
Whilst on a week-long work experience as part of his UEFA A Coaching Badge, Francis was given the opportunity to return to North London:
“I’d always kept in touch with people like Pat Rice and Don Howe. I was working with the Under 16’s for a week and after one of the sessions I was asked to take a meeting with Pat Rice, Arsene Wenger and Steve Rowley (then Chief Scout of the club). They told me that they were setting up a new global scouting department, and if I would like to become one of the first members.
“I told them that I’d be delighted to be able to do it, but I had a contract in place and that I wanted to be a coach. There was an agreement in place between Club Lemos and Arsenal that I could be a part-time scout for Arsenal in Spain and Portugal, whilst I was a manager in the Spanish 3rd Division.
Francis continued to do this for a few years before Arsenal came calling with the option of a full-time contract. I don’t believe for a minute that he would’ve imagined working in a role which he said “fell upon him by accident” to span over almost two and a half decades”.
After discussing working under the “fantastic” Arsene Wenger and Steve Rowley, we went on to talk about the methods of scouting when joining up with the club full time. I asked what the usage of video scouting was in comparison to now, where we have a vast range of technology at our disposal to watch and analyse football:
“Video scouting has always existed, of course now we have more technology and platforms, but video scouting has always been there. Back in the day we would use VHS Recorders, we had a huge volume of games on VHS which formatted to DVD’s and from then it went to the internet”
“You could say that a lot of the time we used it (video analysis) to save us time and money. Through that we would watch clips of players or whole games to decide where to travel. Apart from watching games live, you would also watch about 10-12 games per week on video. I’ve been doing that for the last 24 years”.
With the evolution of data analysis nowadays, do you think that clubs leaning more heavily on this solely as a scouting method when signing players is less reliable than flying out to judge a player first-hand?
“There’s two parts to this. Every resource that you can tailor to the specific needs to your club is important, as long as you get your percentages right. There are a lot of players who won’t come up on data, some not even on video scouting. I’ve got a lot of players I’ve scouted who have gone on to become top players or have made the club millions in transfers. To this day, some of these players would’ve been practically impossible to sign based on the use of video, online scouting or data alone.
“There’s never been an argument for me on whether it’s Scouting vs Data, both things are needed.
“I’ve worked with data scientists and statistic programs. I’ve also looked a lot into different data systems, there are the good and the bad. I think the important thing is who’s interpreting the information, who’s watching the game and what their knowledge is. Do they have a proven track record of recommending top level players? Do they have a proven track record of projecting the pathway of a young player?
“If you can have the experienced trained eye with a proven track record, who also can work with modern day technology and resources, then I think you’ve got the perfect fit. But again, it comes down to every club’s culture, tradition, policy and how they tailor things to suit their needs”.
Do you think that in this current climate, data analysis is something which clubs can rely on, as there are so many travel restrictions worldwide which denies the ability to live scout?:
“I think what we have to look at with this problem that we are facing just now as a society, is that it’s not an eternal problem, hopefully. We’re talking about something that’s disrupted all our lives for 9-12, possibly 18 months. If you’re looking at long term remedies to solve short term problems, you’re probably making an error of judgement.
“When you’re looking at young top development players, it’s very much a long-term method. A short-term fix would be those top players who are already in the market, those who have had 7-9 seasons at the top level.
“These next top superstars are in development or youth level at the moment. I’ll give you an example, we signed Gabi Martinelli from the fourth division in Brazil. There was hardly any data and not an extensive amount of video footage on him. So very much so, live scouting was needed, my presence was needed. Also, to find out about his character, to find out what he is like under pressure, to find out what type of background he is from and what he is like is a person, will he adapt, will he not adapt?
“All of these things are not things you will find in numbers. You need to go out there and do your work, you need interaction. Yes, numbers are necessary, and they are very helpful. You need to still interpret them, and you need technical people to interpret them and make them valid for your club. It’s a great resource, but we must never lose the essence of football.
“Saying we don’t want scouts with a trained eye who have been coaches, players, people who are qualified and have a talent for the game, to say they’re not needed at grounds would be a little bit like saying fans aren’t needed at grounds. Let’s just keep fans watching TV. Go out there and ask the fans what they’d think about that. You would be losing the essence of the game”.
Discussing the scouting process of Kieran Tierney in relation to scouting presence requirements for upcoming talent development. Francis said:
“A player like Kieran Tierney, we’ve watched a lot of him since he broke into the first team where you will have a lot of data and the possibility to do a lot of video scouting on the player. But that started with a recommendation from our Scottish Scout, when Kieran was a youth player. So, we’ve been watching the player since then, since when we didn’t have data or video scouting available on him. Like those cases, there are many many more.
“Also, I have used online and video scouting a lot myself, but you must remember that when you watch a game on a screen, it tracks the ball, what you’re getting is everything in relation to the ball. Now of course, that is hugely important but there are other areas such as off the ball movement, things that players are doing off the ball which is not caught on camera. Of course, the offensive actions will be caught. The offensive off the ball actions will be caught on camera but you’ve got a lot of other things that are to do with decision making, creating and filling space, compactness and tactical decisions where you can study a players tactical makeup, his awareness and his understanding of the game which you won’t get on video and online scouting. You need to be at the game.
“Don’t think that scouts don’t analyse because in some areas there seems to be a question where they are trying to use analysis against scouts, scouts are analysts. That’s what a scout is, they analyse players individually. They also analyse teams a lot of the time, I spent seven years analysing opponents in the Champions League for Arsenal”.
You witnessed a lot of talent, but during your 24 years at Arsenal, who was the most exciting player that you witnessed when scouting?:
“As a scout, you see a lot of top talents. Some you’re able to recommend and sign, others you’re not able to even recommend, let alone sign for various reasons. When we signed Cesc Fabregas, we did try to sign Pique and Messi, that is a true story. For work permit reasons and bureaucracy reasons we couldn’t go down that line with Leo Messi. We were very, very close, I’d say an inch away to signing Gerard Pique.
He was in London and he was very close to joining us. But out of the three we got one very good player (Fabregas), and at the time we got an exceptional player, who became the youngest ever player to debut with Arsenal at the time, one of the youngest captains in history, a World Cup winner and a player who went on to make a lot of money for the club when he was sold, at a time the club didn’t want to sell him, but he wanted to leave after giving the club nearly nine years. So, I’d say he is one of those players.
Gabi Martinelli of late is another one, completely different players but the same focus, the same determination, hunger to succeed and drive. You can see already that he’s going to be a top, top player. Both have something very much in common in that they adapted far quicker than we thought they would. In the case of Cesc, it was 6 months, with Gabi it was 3 months. he adapted exceptionally quickly to the situation.
Then you’ve got somebody like Emi Martinez, who I first saw in 2009 in the South American U17’s in Chile. You couldn’t say that Emi really broke through until nine years later, that for me is a tremendous success story. That wasn’t through not adapting, it was more through when you’re a goalkeeper that only one can play, if you’re an outfield player there are ten spots to fill. The fact that last season he could show his exceptional ability, talent and character, is a fantastic success story for scouting and of course the development of the club. We had some great goalkeeping coaches, people like Gerry Peyton and Sal Bibbo working with him over the years.
But it is a great success story, of course he’s left Arsenal now, but he’s gone for big money, and that is a success story for both him and for scouting”.
What were your final months like at Arsenal amidst all the changes due to the pandemic?
At this time, I could only video scout. I would be watching 6/7 games on video every day, also watching the edited clips that I would be given. But I did what I could with the resources I had at the time.
But yes, you are frustrated because you can’t go and see those other things. Luckily, we’re talking about what was a short space of time, so all those players (I’d watched on video) had been very much scouted beforehand and in some cases for many years.
Did you begin to scout any new players during this time where you couldn’t live scout?:
“No, but clubs do that anyway. Clubs will have people looking at lower, lesser leagues, or leagues outwith what is considered the top ten leagues in the world. Most that have resources will be looking on video at these leagues. You’ll be looking at debutant players from all over the world because you will have the information and a platform that gives you those debutants information on a daily basis.
“Then, how each club tailors it or how each clubs’ hierarchies decide to go about it is a decision that each club makes. I think over the last few years, a club like Liverpool, they seem to have got their percentages right. They’ve got a top class, elite manager, but they’ve also done very well with their academy, and within their scouting and recruitment, you see the figure of someone like (Arthur) Edwards who is very strongly data driven, but working alongside people like Barry Hunter, people with a very good track record in scouting. They seem to have come across the perfect mould for Liverpool Football Club, which a lot of clubs can aspire to”.
Did your experience change from Arsene Wenger, Unai Emery and Mikel Arteta being in charge?
“First and foremost, they are all very good coaches and managers. I think that someone with the longevity and track record of Arsene at Arsenal is incomparable. Who can you compare it to? Alex Ferguson, maybe? People that have left legacies, Bill Shankly and Jock Stein.
Unai and Mikel are modern day managers, Unai has won trophies and Mikel, you’re talking about somebody who has just started his managerial career. Mikel is somebody who I think could go on to be an exceptional manager, but of course he’s at the start. He’s had a fantastic apprenticeship at Manchester City under Pep Guardiola which I think has been fundamental in his learning curve. But I think he’s at the right club, because he was an Arsenal player and he understands the club, he’ll have a burning ambition to do well.
But all of them have brought good things to the table, in terms of their relationship with scouting and recruitment, I think it would be unfair to judge Unai or Mikel with Arsene at this time. But the scouting and recruitment departments are there to identify and recommend, then of course it’s the club who sign the players and in a lot of cases of those players it was Arsene who had the final say, he believed in his scouting and recruitment groups.
I think in terms of someone who has given a chance or helped progress young players or made them top, world stage footballers, I think Arsene Wenger is incomparable”.
Last question on the video scouting side, were any of your high-profile recommendations ever signed without live scouting them?
“In my time at the club, we had to see every player. Even the really well-known ones, Arsene would insist on up to date reports. On how they played, on their movement on and off the ball, how they were physically and their mindset. He would want you going to watch games live and reporting back.
“Arsene didn’t have the time to travel and watch live football, I think he only came with me twice to watch a game live, and one was a Champions League Semi Final. The rest of the time, he would watch as much as he could on a screen, and you would get a lot of cases of him seeing something on a screen and asking if we knew this player and telling us to go and watch them live. So, in some cases, that’s how it would work.
“I can’t remember signing a player basically just off video, but I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen and I’m not saying that it couldn’t be a success. But I think if you were to call it gambling, I think the percentages would be lower than having seem them various times live.
“It’s all good and well saying I’m going to buy a £50 suit off the peg and to say let’s give it a go but if you want a tailor-made suit that you’re paying over £1000 for, well are you not going to try it on? If you’re not going to try on a tailor-made suit that you’re paying over a grand for it then good luck. Then maybe the sleeves are too short, or I know it’s modern day but if the ankles are showing too much then you might have very well made a mistake.
Lastly, what is next for you as the dust settles on almost a quarter-century of success in North London? Will we see you operate and bring more high-profile names to the future of the game?:
“Well I’ve had half my life at a club where I started my career, so I’m at a moment now where I’ve generated a lot of experience and I’m excited in terms of what the future can bring.
“I’m in a situation where what I have to do first and foremost is to listen, to see what’s out there, listen to projects, and when there is a project that is a perfect fit for me then I’ll look to return. But it does have to be something that falls in line with my skill set, my mentality and thinking on the game.
“Sometimes this can take a week, and you can jump straight back in, but I think before doing that, you have to take some time to reflect and you have to take some time to see what’s out there, to listen to people. That’s the moment I’m in, I left Arsenal on the 1st of September and that’s very recent, so now is the time to reflect and to listen to people before I’m in a position to make that sort of decision”.
You are the new manager of Stumptown AC. How excited are you for this new challenge?
This is a great opportunity and excited to get to work.
I want to build something special the community will be proud of to support. Also a winning club that provides players a chance to grow and develop
My managerial philosophy is to playing attacking Football with players expressing their abilities and defensively disciplined making it difficult for the opponents. I Think it is vital to build relationships with each player knows they are trusted, valued and respected as human beings first and foremost.
You retired from professional football in 2002. How are you enjoying retirement and how is life away from the pitch?
“Life away from the football pitch is ok and not necessarily the same. When you are in that football environment you get told when you are young that the time is going to go very quickly but because you are having such a good time and you are focusing on playing professional football you just go along with it. Before you know it you hit 30 and then you start you realize that you have to count how many years you have left.
“I have been very fortunate and I have been very grateful and also lucky that when I retired from football I gave myself a couple of years to think about what I was going to do next. I did a couple of ventures. I went into the restaurant business and that did not really replace the feeling that I had in football, so I got back into football coaching and I was fortunate to get a job coaching my mother’s country of Montserrat, a little Caribbean Island. We took part in the Gold Cup which I really enjoyed.
“I came back and I have always been involved in the club where I first started, Whitton United, where I was born in Ipswich, and still to this day, I do not live very far from the ground where I started playing football.
“I started to help out at the club coaching, playing and being chairman, and it got to the stage where I felt I needed another challenge so I stepped down and for the last ten years I have been running my own fitness boot camp.”
You played one season for Newcastle United. How do you look back on your time at the club and do you have any highlights or special memories?
“I loved my time at Newcastle United. I felt that it was a step up from when I was playing at Norwich City. I had some great times at Norwich City when we were in the running for the Premier League. We finished third and we qualified for Europe. I was enjoying my football.
“I, along with Chris Sutton, was one of the main players in the team and I had no reason to leave. It was just one of those things that happen in football where I came into training one day and I received a phone call to go and see the chairman and he told me that Newcastle United had come in for me. At that time I did not have an agent so I was not aware of any rumours going around. I read the papers but I never really took any notice of it.
“The chairman asked me if I would like to go and speak to Newcastle United, to which I replied: ‘if you are allowing me to speak to them that means you would allow me to go’ which I was not too happy about. I wanted to stay, and also at the time, I knew I would get to the stage of my career where the team we had at Norwich City had done so well, that I did not think that we were going to reinvest in a stronger squad because we pushed it so hard so the timing probably worked out well.
“I went to Newcastle initially for one day to speak to Terry McDermott and Kevin Keegan, and I ended up not coming home. I stayed up there. I only had an overnight bag and that is how much influence Kevin Keegan had on me.
“Because they wanted to secure my signature they locked me up in a hotel and I had to get my gear sent up to me over the next few months. I had a great time at Newcastle United, and for an attacking player to be coached and receive advice by two great players that had won everything, and then alongside them you had Arthur Cox who also managed Kevin Keegan.
“The three of them all together were fantastic for me. We played some great football similar to my time at Norwich City but also of a higher level. I loved every minute of my time at the club.”
You played two seasons for West Bromwich Albion. How do you look back on your time at the club and do you have any special memories or highlights?
“Before signing for West Bromwich Albion I spent a long time at Tottenham Hotspur, and during my time at the club we went through five managers, and each had their different ways of playing.
“After three seasons of playing regularly for the club, I got to the stage where I was playing under some managers and not under others. I was in and out. I knew Gary Megson from my Norwich City days and he inquired about obtaining my services during the last year of my contract and he spoke to me a few times about going up to West Brom.
“I was also at the stage where I was also thinking about stopping playing professional football. Gary Megson was a senior player at Norwich City and he looked after all the youngsters and gave us good advice. I felt just because it was him I am going to go to West Brom and play under him. He explained that he wanted someone there who could guide the youngsters.
“I signed a two-year contract and I really enjoyed my time at the club. It is a pity that when they got promoted to the Premier League I would have perhaps liked to have one more go in the Premier League. But I also had to be realistic and I thought to myself, I have played all my life in the Premier League apart from my time in the Championship with West Brom, and I was not going to kid myself and think I could just jump back into the Premier League as I knew how hard it is.
“Even though I had the option of another season extension I decided at that age, travelling back and forth, that it was taking its toll on me a little bit. Fortunately for me, I was not at the age where I had any severe injuries and I had fallen out of love with the game a little bit due to the travelling and also, family commitments were important to me.
“I was captain of the team and part of the squad that got us promoted so that was a good way to finish my professional career.”
You mentioned your Mother’s country of Montserrat, and you have caps for the country. How do you reflect on your time playing international football and what are your highlights and memories?
“For me playing for Montserrat was historic. When you get to the age of 31 you start to look at things that are more important, and I have been very fortunate to come from a one-parent family and get to the level that I did. People forget that I was in the full England squad and I played for England B.
“I was not even looking to play when I went to Montserrat, it was only that they highlighted to me that I was able to play for them because I had not yet played for the England senior side. In the nineties, you had England B and then the England senior squad.
“After going to Montserrat and joining in training and being around the players and I was still quite fit and the coach kept whispering in my ear that I should play and give it a go. I said no, and then I spoke to my mother and she was proud of the fact I was going to play.
“Montserrat was at the time in the bottom five of FIFA rankings and I stood out a mile and it was good for me to help out and guide the players in the right way.
“I played in the Gold Cup and it was the first time in Montserrat’s history that they picked up points in a major tournament, so you can imagine when we returned to the island after playing Saint Kitts and Nevis and Saint Lucia, upon our arrival there was a big celebration just for gaining a few points. That made me feel like I made the right choice even though I am still waiting for my caps.”
I can imagine in your position as a winger that you came up against some difficult opponents during your professional career, particularly in the Premier League. could you say which opponents stood out for you?
“I played with some very talented players and I also played against some very difficult players. Playing on the wing and coming up against left-backs such as Stuart Pearce, who was very experienced, was not an easy time. He knew how to get in your ear and intimidate you and nudge you off the ball, but I loved the challenge.
“When you play in the Premier League every opponent is difficult and sometimes you have the luck of scoring against certain teams and playing well. It just becomes instinctive. I used to love playing against Nigel Winterburn and me and him would have some good battles. I always enjoyed playing against Arsenal because they played a similar type of football to us and have the freedom to play on the wing.
“I also faced opponents who knew about my pace and ability and they would try and limit me. I played against Francis Benali at Southampton and even when I was a kid Mark Dennis, also of Southampton, was a bit of a psycho.
“Pat van de Hauwe, who again had a reputation as a kicker, so in my position I played against a lot of left-backs who liked to tackle.
“Julian Dicks of West Ham United was a fantastic player and he did not suffer any fools and I had to be on the top of my game when playing against such opponents. They were always good battles and good competition.”
Finally, Ruel, you already mentioned Terry McDermott and Kevin Keegan. When you look back on your career could you say who were the coaches and managers who meant a lot to you and played a key role in your development as a professional footballer?
“I believe it starts from when I was a child. I always remember people that looked after me. When I was younger I did not realize the talent that I had. When we were kids we would play every weekend at Christchurch Park in Ipswich. Sometimes it would be 30-a-side and people would have their barbecues up there too. It was shirts against skins and I reflect back to my elders who always looked out for me if I got roughed up.
“When I went to Norwich City it just seemed to carry on people seemed to put me under their wing. A Norwich City scout by the name of Ronnie Brooks was the one who looked after me after my successful trial at the club, and he did a lot of things that I will never forget. He would pay for my family to come and watch me. He would drive me back to Ipswich which was an hour. He would allow me to return home even though we had digs in Norwich.
“I will always remember those people before I mention anybody else. Without the help of Ronnie Brooks, I am not going to lie, at the time I was a black lad playing in a majority white team and I was the only black player playing and I got a lot of stick, but he would always look after me and speak to my brother Lenny. He looked after me really well.
“Ken Brown was brilliant with me when I made the Norwich City first team. He gave me my debut at the age of 17 in a League Cup match against Coventry City at Carrow Road. I played against former Norwich City left-back Greg Downs who was coming to the end of his playing career, so Ken Brown probably thought I would get the better of him due to my pace.
“I have always been fortunate to have a manager in place who always saw my potential and knew how to get the best out of me, and that carried on to Newcastle United. When I went to Tottenham Hotspur it was slightly different. I am not putting any blame on the managers because when I look back at it you have got to be a little bit more professional sometimes.
“I always say that the good managers have got great people skills, which means they are able to adapt to each individual and they are able to get the best out of each individual — even some rebel individuals who might not show the effort, you have got to know how to put your arm around them and get the best out of them. You have to know when to give someone a kick up the backside when they are not doing well, and a manager has to pick and chose with which players they do it. I am fortunate that I played under managers who knew how to get the best out of me.”
Rangers captain James Tavernier has felt the wrath from the club’s support and pundits in the media, but this season he has played a massive part in Rangers clinching their 55th league title.
The English right-back James Tavernier, 29, signed for the Ibrox club under ex-manager Mark Warburton from Wigan Athletic for a fee of £200,000 in 2015, and it’s been an eventful time since.
Tavernier, who’s played 200 league games for the Light Blues, has been seen as a scapegoat by some of the Rangers support and has always divided opinion. 17 goals and 15 assists in all competitions this season for a fullback are incredible stats.
Last season Tavernier told the Rangers programme before his teams shocked 1-0 defeat to Hamilton Academical at Ibrox. The pressure sometimes gets to the players as expected from the demanding support. He received a backlash for his comments.
He stated: “Whenever anybody puts a bit of pressure on us in Scotland or gets in our face, it seems to affect us too much. At the start of the season, teams dropped us off, but now they smell blood straight away and put us under pressure.”
His form started to dip in the 2019/2020 season after the Portuguese winger Daniel Candeias’ departure to Turkish side Genclerbirligl in the summer transfer window. The pair had great chemistry down the right flank in the 2018/2019 season as 23 goals and 22 assists combined came from the two players.
Tavernier was inconsistent in the 2019/2020 season and struggled to find the chemistry with Joe Arbio and Scott Arfield on the midfield’s right side.
He made catastrophic mistakes against Hearts away at Tynecastle in the Scottish Premiership. The game finished 1-1 and in the Europa League group stage against Swiss side BSC Young Boys, which led to Rangers losing the game 2-1 away from home.
Many, I included, questioned Rangers manager Steven Gerrard’s decision to allow Tavernier to keep the armband. It was evident that he was struggling in the role, and the responsibility that it entails seemed to be affecting his performances.
Gerrard stuck by his guns and ignored criticism from pundits such as former Celtic striker Chris Sutton who branded the former Leeds United youth player a “serial loser”.
The Rangers manager responded to Sutton’s outburst by defending his captain. He said: “I don’t think that person deserves the airtime.”
Gerrard’s stubbornness and continued support of Tavernier have paid off, and Rangers fan David Welch, 22 from Renfrew, could not be happier with his performances this season.
He said: “James Tavernier has matured this season for me. He’s a man who is leading by example. I think the manager has put complete faith back in his ability, and while he is scoring more goals and assists than ever, I think his defensive side has improved so much that it allows him to go forward more.”
The modern game has changed from yesteryear, and modern full-backs play a crucial role in getting forward and participating in the attack – Tavernier fits that role perfectly.
Tavernier signed a new deal at Rangers until 2024, which is a massive boost to continue the successful project Gerrard has built at Rangers.
James Tavernier will go down as a Rangers legend. From being in the team that gained promotion to the Premiership, seeing all the highs and lows from losing the Scottish Cup final and the embarrassing Old Firm defeats, captaining Rangers to the title has cemented his hero status with the Rangers support.
You are currently manager of Formartine United since 2017 having also plates for the club. How are you enjoying management so far and what do you view as the challenges of managing a club such as Formartine United?
First of all it does not replace playing. I have really enjoyed my time managing Formartine United. When I took on the job it was as player manager and I was a bit reluctant at the time due to thinking that it would maybe stop me from playing as much which has been the case and that was disappointing. At the time the Chairman persuaded me to give it a try and I have enjoyed it don’t get me wrong. The role does indeed bring challenges part- time football is different to what I was used to in my playing career playing full time.
You are coming up against different things and you are battling against players not turning up because they have to work late or in certain aspects it is not their number one priority because they have a full time job themselves. There are obstacles but at the same time it can be very enjoyable as well.
You played three seasons for Celtic FC. How do you look back on your time at the club and do you have any highlights or special memories?
Yes. Making my debut for the club would be a highlight. I debuted away to Dunfermline Athletic at East End Park. I was at Celtic FC from the age of 14 and when you sign for the club as a schoolboy the aim is to get in the first team and obviously you want to stay there and be a regular but it was not to be for me but I can still say that I played a few games and made it to the Celtic FC first team but ultimately it is one of those things that I can be very proud off.
To play for the biggest club in the country and Celtic FC are also probably one of the biggest clubs in Europe so it is something that I am very proud off but I would have liked to have been a regular in the first team. I played and trained with some of the best players around so that is always great to have in terms of memories.
You played two seasons for Motherwell FC. How do you look back on your time at the club and do you have any special memories or highlights?
My time at Motherwell FC was a very frustrating time for me. Everything seemed right and it was great and I really enjoyed my time under Stuart McCall and I hold him in very high regard and he is one of the best managers I have worked under.
The players were great and the lads were all fantastic and I really enjoyed that side of things but on the pitch it did not quite work out for me. I suffered loss of form and a lot of injuries and I look back on a frustrating period in my career and if there is one thing that I could change it would probably be that.
You accrued a lot of experience during your playing career. When you look back could you say who were among the best players you played alongside?
Yes, When I was a young player at Celtic FC there were players that you would look up to and you had the pleasure of training alongside them. One player that stood out for me was when I spent a season playing alongside him in the reserve team was Paul Lambert. He was coming to the end of his career and he was wanting to keep playing and he spent a season in the reserves helping young players like myself and to play alongside him was a great help especially in terms of playing in a similar position and working together.
During my time at Ross County playing alongside Ivan Sproule and he was a player that really stood out due to the way that he played the game suited the way I play the game and we seemed to click well and that in turn seemed to work well for the team.
I was fortunate to play alongside numerous good players such Keith Lasley and Steven Hammell at Motherwell who are top professionals and good players. Even in my days in the youth teams playing with the likes of Aiden McGeady, Sean Maloney and John Kennedy. I have been very lucky to play with such good players during my professional career.
You played under very good managers during your professional career. Did you receive any particular advice and encouragement before embarking on your own managerial career?
When I was younger I had a youth team coach at Celtic FC in Willie McStay and a reserve team coach in Kenny McDowell and they were both a huge influence on me. They taught me that game and I really enjoyed working under them. Willie was probably more tactical and would often work on shape on the coaching side as it whereas Kenny was a great man managing who made you become a man and set you up for going into the professional game.
Stuart McCall was also a great manager to work under and I thought his man management skills were excellent and I really enjoyed my time working under Jimmy Calderwood as well. Not so much on the tactical side but his man management skills were superb and he managed to get the best out of his players.
Finally Paul. You are still a young manager. Looking forward to the future is there anything in particular that you would ideally like to achieve in your managerial career?
I had not set out to be a football manager to be honest. It was something that was kind of thrust upon me but like I say I am enjoying every minute of it ever since I have been in it. The aim is to get Formartine United to progress into the Scottish Football League and that is the target that I am setting myself and I have not thought any further than that to be honest. I am concentrating on this club and I really enjoy it here. I have a great Chairman who is very supportive and his dream is to get Formartine United promoted and to win a title and I really want to pay him and get the club to where we want them to be.
Joey Barton spoke exclusively to me about his time in Scottish football.
“Rangers was the only blot on my copybook, where I didn’t have a successful period. That’s something that I would like to do. I don’t know why, because of the way I was treated there, but if you’ve ever had a loss on your record as a boxer, you always want the opportunity to put that right.
“I have to say this, Scottish football is not as good as what people in Scotland think it is. But it’s also not as bad as what people in England think it is.
“There’s a lot of qualities about it. It’s a tough place to play. The standard is definitely different from the Premier League and Championship in England, even the most ardent Scottish football fan would accept. But there’s still a uniqueness about.
“It’s not an easy league to win, although the dominance of your Celtics and Rangers financially makes it very difficult for your Aberdeens, Hearts, Hibs and Kilmarnock to break into that top echelon.
Aberdeen’s best shot at that under Derek McInnes was when Rangers were out the top flight. They made it competitive for Celtic but they didn’t quite do it and it became a bit monotonous.
“The difficulty about Rangers was that it was a complete rebuild. You’d seen the fiasco of Rangers being demoted to the bottom tier and the Phoenix rising back up.”
“The underdog story appealed to me. I thought ‘f***ing hell, that’s a huge football club and an incredible fanbase. It needed helping.
“I wanted to win a league and Rangers came out of the blue.
“Frank McParland spoke to me and I’d watched Warbs’ team at Brentford and they played good stuff.
“I was 34/35 and it was probably the right time to go to Scotland. I’d done the fighting relegation in England, so lets go to Rangers and have four or five good years trying to get them back to the top of the Scottish game.
“I knew they had a fantastic fanbase. I’d seen the UEFA Cup final at the City of Manchester Stadium where they took over Manchester and shut the town down. I thought it would be great to have them at your back.”
“They’d been starved of success and had been demoted. It would be great to get them back to their rightful position.”
Dr. Grant Campbell of the ‘Campbell’s Footballs’ podcast (a.k.a. Stato) discusses his predictions and thoughts each week in the Danske Bank Premiership in Northern Ireland. Grant will provide his thoughts on the upcoming league matches and offers his predictions.
Crusaders v Cliftonville
Glenavon v Ballymena
Glentoran v Dungannon Swifts
Larne v Linfield
Portadown v Carrick Rangers
Warrenpoint Town v Coleraine
Glentoran v Coleraine (TUES)
Portadown v Dungannon Swifts (TUES)
Warrenpoint Town v Carrick Rangers (TUES)
From the six games played last weekend, I got six correct outcomes with two perfect score. As close to a full house as I’m going to get! I picked up one point from the matches on Tuesday evening with no perfect scores. Let’s see if I can fare as well, or better, in this weekend’s matches.
Player of the Week: Rory Donnelly (Glentoran)
After his double against Dungannon and overall performances against the Swifts and Coleraine this week, Rory Donnelly wins my player of the week award (pictured).
His first goal against Dungannon was an exquisite finish but his second goal was superb vision and sheer opportunistic brilliance. Donnelly took advantage of Roy Carroll being so far out of his goal to head the ball from all of 35 yards out into the net.
If that was Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, I guarantee you it would have had billions of views on YouTube and other streaming channels.
You can perhaps blame the goalkeeper for his decision making but you can’t take anything away from Donnelly and his quick thinking.
He probably won’t score a better goal than that in his entire career.
Certainly not with his head anyway!
Team of the Week: Portadown and Northern Ireland Women
After back to back wins and clean sheets against Carrick and Dungannon respectively, Portadown win my team of the week award.
It’s been a superb week for Matthew Tipton’s side as goals from Lee Bonis and Ben Tilney secured the win over Carrick Rangers on Saturday before backing that up on Tuesday night against Dungannon as Adam Salley’s only goal was the difference.
Those two wins moved Portadown nine points clear of the bottom and they are now right on the coattails of Warrenpoint in ninth. When I spoke to Matthew for my Campbells Footballs Podcast at the start of the season, he said tenth was the target and anything else would be a bonus. The way things are going at present, you wouldn’t bet against them picking Warrenpoint off for ninth yet. The momentum is certainly with them.
You have to also give a massive congratulations to Northern Ireland Women on qualification to the Euro 2022 Championships. Kenny Shiels girls’ won 2-1 over in Ukraine and followed that up with an excellent 2-0 home win in the return game at Seaview.
Led by captain Marissa Callaghan of Cliftonville Ladies, Shiels’ team showed great tenacity, determination and quality to see off their opponents at the home of Crusaders on Tuesday. Callaghan was brave in taking advantage of inept defending to put the hosts in front before a late goal by Nadene Caldwell (pictured) sealed a perfect storm for Northern Ireland as they won 4-1 on aggregate.
The first leg was a superb showing as well with Rachel Furness and Simone Magill delivering the goods out in Kovalivka but it was in truth two magnificent team performances across the board.
Julie Nelson and Ashley Hutton were in particular solid in defence throughout the two legs and the team played with bravery and passion throughout. Kenny Shiels described it as the biggest sporting achievement in the UK. I don’t think he’s too far wrong.
As Thomas Kane said superbly in commentary: “sometimes dreams do come true. Northern Ireland are heading to the Euros…”
And HOW!! Congratulations to the girls and Kenny.
Friday 16th March – Coleraine v Glentoran, Coleraine Showgrounds, KO 19.30, BBC Sport NI
For the second time in a week, it’s second against third in the Irish League, as Coleraine and Glentoran go head to head again, this time at the Coleraine Showgrounds.
After both teams won last weekend against Dungannon and Warrenpoint respectively, the two teams shared a four goal thriller on Tuesday night at the Oval.
It’s been an interesting few days for Coleraine. Stephen O’Donnell doesn’t score many goals but his brace on Saturday turned the game around for the Bannsiders after they fell behind at Warrenpoint. At the Oval, Matthew Shevlin (pictured) looked to have been the match winner with two well taken goals of his own but it was a freakish own goal by Josh Carson that ended up gifting Glentoran a point in the end. Carson could have made that challenge 10,000 times and only once would that have occurred. You simply have to see it to believe it.
For Glentoran, it’s been an intriguing week for them too.
Rory Donnelly will probably have never been viewed as much on social media as he has been for a long time after his 35 yard header for the second goal against Dungannon on Saturday. It was opportunist and clinical from the big striker. If that was done in any of Europe’s top leagues, it would have to be a clear winner for the Puskas award. His first goal wasn’t bad either. Not to be out done though, his brother Jay got in on the act too in the Coleraine game with an exquisite opening goal which left Martin Gallagher with no chance.
Both teams were competitive on Tuesday night and I expect this to be another exciting game on Friday night, though I expect whoever wins this game is probably going to finish second. The gap to Linfield at the top, for me, is too large to close down.
Mick McDermott’s (pictured) team will be keen to get one over Oran Kearney and his side before the split and I will boldly predict that they will get the win here and put themselves in pole position to finish second behind the Blues.
Stato’s Prediction: Coleraine 1-2 Glentoran
Friday 16th March – Carrick Rangers v Dungannon Swifts, Taylor’s Avenue, KO 19.45, BBC Sport NI
The bottom two meet on Friday night at Taylor’s Avenue as Carrick host Dungannon with both teams on a six game winless run.
Niall Currie’s (pictured) side have had a mixed week after losing 2-0 away at Portadown where they came undone by two fabulous finishes before claiming a rare clean sheet in a goalless draw away at Warrenpoint.
As for Dungannon, they also came unstuck at Portadown and were on the end of a Glentoran masterclass at the Oval last weekend. The biggest problem for the Swifts this season has been a lack of goals. They have only scored 17 in the league all season and like Carrick have conceded too much at the other end.
Dean Shiels (pictured) has a lot of work to do to try and make Dungannon competitive but this is the time to do it especially with no relegation this season.
Dungannon have not scored against Carrick this season and Carrick won the last meeting between the two sides 2-0 at Stangmore Park earlier in the campaign.
I’m going to go for a narrow home win here. You always feel Carrick have guys in their side who can score and I think one goal might settle things.
Saturday 27th March – Crusaders v Glenavon, Seaview, KO 19.45, BBC Sport NI
The battle for the top six continues to hot up this weekend as Crusaders and Glenavon meet at Seaview on Friday night.
Crusaders come off the back of a draw in the North Belfast derby last weekend and I think overall Stephen Baxter will have been pleased his side got something from the game. Philip Lowry’s (pictured) cheeky back heel finish rescued a point for the Crues but what will concern Baxter is the two goals his team conceded to Cliftonville as both were route one. There’s small signs of life still in Crusaders season but they need it more than ever now.
I fancied Glenavon to beat Ballymena last weekend at Mourneview and I was proven right as the Lurgan Blues picked up all three points in an entertaining encounter. Two of the three Glenavon goals came from set pieces and a late Danny Purkis penalty won it for Gary Hamilton’s men in the closing stages.
I was pleased to see James Singleton (pictured) get on the scoresheet last weekend. He’s a classy full back and always puts in consistent showings for Hamilton and Glenavon.
Crusaders come into this match favourites with the bookmakers but Glenavon are unbeaten in their last four meetings with the Crues and have won three of those.
I’m going to back an entertaining draw here which I’m not sure will suit either team in their quest to get into that top six.
Stato’s Prediction: Crusaders 2-2 Glenavon
Saturday 27th March – Larne v Warrenpoint Town, Inver Park, KO 20.00, BBC Sport NI
Larne and Warrenpoint take on each other this weekend at Inver Park.
Tiernan Lynch’s side played very well against Linfield last weekend but only got a point for their efforts. Marty Donnelly was back to his best with some fabulous ingenuity and creativity and Ronan Hale got himself on the scoresheet again.
It was agony for Larne though as they conceded a late equaliser and to make matters worse Fuad Sule (pictured) came so close to scoring one of the goals of the season late on had it not been for a stunning save by Chris Johns.
It’s been a frustrating week for Warrenpoint, who have now gone ten games without a win since that 2-0 victory at Crusaders. From their two home games against Coleraine and Carrick, they only amassed a solitary point for their efforts. The Point had Coleraine in all sorts of trouble when Kealan Dillon (pictured) opened the scoring with an exquisite finish from distance but they’ll have been annoyed with the two goals they conceded from set pieces.
As for Carrick, they’ll have been disappointed to have only got a draw I’m sure.
Both previous meetings between the two sides have finished 1-1 but I am backing Larne to continue their good form of late and record a comfortable home win and go unbeaten in ten of their last eleven matches.
Stato’s Prediction: Larne 2-0 Warrenpoint Town
Saturday 27th March – Linfield v Ballymena United, Windsor Park, KO 17.30, BBC Sport NI
David Healy’s men will be aiming to take another massive stride towards defending the title on Saturday as they host David Jeffrey’s Ballymena at Windsor Park.
Linfield were abject for much of the game at Inver Park last weekend but when you have a poacher like Andy Waterworth (pictured) to bring off the bench you’ve always got a chance and the Blues legend tapped home late on to claim a vital point for Healy and his side. What was just as crucial was the stunning Chris Johns save from Fuad Sule late on to preserve the draw. It was an outstanding finger tip save.
Ballymena will have been disappointed with the quality of goals they gave away last weekend at Glenavon. The first two goals were awful to concede from corners but the Sky Blues showed great character to come back to 2-2. Unfortunately a late penalty conceded by Ryan Harpur (pictured) proved decisive as Glenavon won the game.
Jeffrey will know the importance of bouncing back from that and what better game to do that than in a matchup against the side he had so much success with back in the day.
Ballymena won the previous meeting between the two sides at the Showgrounds with Connor Keeley’s double proving decisive but going to Windsor and getting a result is so tough and I simply cannot see history repeating itself here.
Therefore, I’m going to go for Linfield to win this match by a couple of goals.
Stato’s Prediction: Linfield 3-1 Ballymena United
Saturday 27th March – Portadown v Cliftonville, Shamrock Park, KO 17.30, BBC Sport NI
Having picked up back to back home wins this week, Portadown will be keen to make it three in a row as they host a Cliftonville side who are still ticking along nicely in their quest for top six football.
What was also rare about Portadown’s back to back wins was also the fact they kept clean sheets in both games too. Jacob Carney (pictured) was a big reason for that with a string of fine saves and growing confidence in between the sticks. The goal scoring was also of real quality this week from Portadown too with Ben Tilney, Lee Bonis and Adam Salley all scoring fine goals.
Paddy McLaughlin looked a man massively frustrated that his side dropped two points against Crusaders last weekend. He was disappointed in the manner of the two goals his team conceded from set pieces and I can definitely understand his frustration. He’ll have been pleased though that his side did not lose the game as his team are still very much in pole position to get into that top six and push on for Europe.
It’s over ten years since Portadown beat the Reds at Shamrock Park in the League so all the form must go to Cliftonville heading into this one.
This could be a very intriguing game though and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Matthew Tipton’s side got a draw here, especially as there seems a renewed confidence in his side. They have nothing to lose and that makes them more dangerous.
Cliftonville will have to play well to win here.
Stato’s Prediction: Portadown 1-1 Cliftonville
Useful Links and sources which you should check out:
NIFL Premiership Highlights Show:
The Score NI with Michael Clarke:
The Waffle – Irish League Podcast
That’s What I Call Football
Check out quality Irish League content from some of the Leagues top names:
Joel Taggart, Liam Beckett, Michael Clarke, Nicola McCarthy, Colin Hopkins, Steven Beacom, Mark McIntosh and find some of the characters I’ve interviewed so far by visiting the Campbell’s Footballs archive.
You started your career at Celje and were the youngest manager in the Slovenian PrvaLiga aged 31. How do you reflect on your time there?
Getting a chance at that age is something I’m really proud of, and I’ll always be grateful to the management of the club at that time, who entrusted me the position to take over the club as the manager.
When I took over, the club was desperately fighting for staying in the league, and in last eight matches we’ve managed to fulfill that goal. The next season was even better, actually much better, as we’ve finished it second in the league and in the cup, and all that with by far the youngest team in the league.
You then make the move to fellow Slovenian club Domžale in 2016. During your time there you win promotion to the top flight and win the Slovenian Cup by beating NK Olimpija Ljubljana 1-0 in the final. What are your memories of the final and Domžale as a whole?
Well, it was my first trophy in senior football, so memories are definitely positive. It was a tactical match, a lot of fighting, but we deservedly won it.
Overall, my time in Domžale was very successful, we had some fantastic results, also on the European level, like winning against Freiburg in Europa League qualifiers, drawing against Marseille.
However, it wasn’t just results, what makes me happy while reflecting that on time, is also a number of players that we’ve helped to get on a higher level. Success of everyone is something that always give me extra satisfaction in my line of work.
I always point out to the players, that my job is to help them get better, and we can do wonderful things if we all give our best and grow as a team.
You moved to Croatian football with Rijeka in 2019. You qualified for the Europa League group phase and played against Napoli, Real Sociedad and AZ Alkmaar. What was it like managing in the Europa League?
It think it’s safe to say that qualifying to Europa League is an amazing achievement, especially in a club like Rijeka, where an event like that happened only once before.
Nobody expected us to be in that company before qualifiers, so it definitely was an overachieving event.
Being able to manage a team in group stage against teams like that was just like playing Champions League.
At the time, Real Sociedad was first in the Spanish league, AZ was almost Dutch champion some months ago, while we all know who Napoli is.
It’s a proud moment of my career, which I’ll work hard to repeat as often as possible in my career. Hopefully with Maribor next season.
You won the Croatian Cup in 2020 by defeating NK Lokomotiva in the final. How proud are you of that experience?
Winning a trophy is always a fantastic experience. I’m really proud of it, especially because it gives you some extra satisfaction.
At the end, everyone that’s working in football, wants to win, but winning a title means that you were successful in long term, as you had to beat every team on your way to the end.
You are now the manager of Maribor. How excited are you to be managing such a big club with European heritage?
It’s a big honour and a privilege to manage Maribor, a club that, as you’ve mentioned, has such a good reputation and history of success, not just in Slovenia, but also in Europe.
It’s a fantastic club, with great players and amazing fans, and I can guarantee I’ll give my best every second while being here.
One of the most famous and least talked about clubs in the world is Penarol of Uruguay. They are also the forerunners of professionalism in the sport, but to get it passed they had to convince the English settlers that it was better than the amateur concept that they were so used to. After the adaptation very few clubs can boast the upwards trajectory of what Penarol became.
The club existed before becoming professional like most clubs in the world. The club is named after the area they are in, and that area got its name from a Northern Italian from the city of Pinerolo, named Piedmontese Juan Bautista Crosa. By 1751 he left Italy and emigrated to the Americas. He settled in Banda Oriental. Records at that time show he went by the name Crosa Pienerolo, then Crosa Pinarol, and eventually going down to Penarol.
In July of 1890, the Central Uruguay Railway Company decided to acquire a plot of land in Montevideo, a place known as Penarol, which belonged to Don Juan Leard. In May of 1891 Villa Penarol was inaugurated. That was followed by in September of 1891 when a sports club was created, called the Central Uruguay Railway Cricket Club. People knew it by Penarol.
On September 28, 1891 the club was brought into existence, so that took them from just having cricket to having football to. Most clubs in South America started out with either rugby or cricket as their main sport, due to the high volume of English expats in the area. Football was thought of as a low class sport up until maybe the nineties. The colors adopted by the club were gold and black which were adopted to represent the colors of a railroad. The first match was against the students of the British School. Penarol won 2-0. Which would bring up almost thirty years later the need for professionalism in the game.
The first official league match has a different tone to it. The first league had clubs: Penarol, Deustcher Fussball Klub, Albion F Club and Uruguay Club. So on June 10, there were two matches with Albion, and Penarol started with a line up of Faustino Fabre, Richard de los Rios, James Buchanan, Carlos Ward, Lorenzo Mazzuco, Alfredo Jones, Edmundo Acebedo, Guillermo Davis, Juan Pena, Tomas Lewis, and Charles Lidneblad. It was a hard fought match, from the jump Albion took the lead with a goal from Lodge. Guillermo Davis then took it upon himself to even the score not too long after, putting the ball past Enrique Sanderson. But he wasn’t done as just before the end of the first half he took a pass from Juan Pena and put the ball in the back of the net to go in 2-1. The match was a back and forth affair after that before it finished 2-1 for Penarol.
Penarol held assemblies that were very heated, and were going against the deficit of 1931. After many sessions of peace talks on April 7, 1932 the assembly accepted a conditional resolution: Penarol would accept professionalism, would agree with the entities whose economic interests agree with the club, and they must provide a balance sheet of all money for the club. The ten clubs going to the structured professional league was: Penarol, Wanderers, Defensor, River Plate, Racing, Bella Vista, Central, Rampla Juniors, South America, and Nacional. The championship was to be played over three rounds, with one of them being on a neutral field. Players contracts would be a maximum of two years, and once it expired the player could get their player pass.
Penarol approved their admission into the professional game during an assembly on May 9, 1932. After this the club showed their talent by winning their first match as a professional side 2-0 with goals from Lorenzo Fernandez and Luis Matta. It didn’t take them too long to get their goals flowing as in another big match they won 2-0 with Perez Seres and Lorenzo Fernandez scoring. Records at this time are hard to find so you have many half scores, no opposition side, or players known,
Penarol started out like most clubs in South America. Soon they were to make massive inroads into becoming the great club that they are. The continent of South America has gone through some really long periods of wars, and problems. However the sport has flourished in many parts of the continent. Penarol can be seen as one of the great sides in the hemisphere.
The current A-League season has been one of the most exciting in recent memory, with new teams, new records and the emergence of new, young, home-grown talent all playing their role in exciting audiences in Australia and beyond.
The feel-good story of the season, however, has undoubtedly been the Leicester-esque turnaround of the Central Coast Mariners, who sit top of the ladder after finishing dead last in the previous season.
Now, their fairytale season looks to have taken another twist, with reports emerging from Australia in the last 24 hours that the Mariners could be set for a takeover, with at least two major parties in talks to purchase the club’s license.
The news was first broken by Dominic Bossi of the Sydney Morning Herald, who dropped the incredible news that Manchester United were in talks to takeover the cash strapped club, which was soon followed by a report from colleague Vince Rugari that the Red Devils faced competition from American pair Jordan Gardner and Brett Johnston, who had previously backed an A-League expansion bid in 2018.
Despite winning the league twice and winning the Grand Final in 2013, the Mariners have consistently struggled to compete financially and have become perennial basement dwellers in recent years, ending the season at the bottom of the ladder in four of the last five seasons. Owner Mike Charlesworth has made it clear that he wishes to sever all ties with the club, and had previously held unsuccessful talks with Singapore-based consortium First11 Capital.
While details of talks remain clouded in rumour and speculation, both reports suggest that any takeover bid could see the Mariners undergo a rebrand and be uprooted from their home in Gosport.
Gardner and Johnston, who are involved in a number of other clubs including Swansea City, Helsingor and most recently Ipswich Town, remain committed to funding an A-League return to the Gold Coast following their unsuccessful expansion bid back in 2018.
The Red Devils on the other hand are rumoured to be looking to rebrand the Mariners and move them some 50km down the coast to North Sydney or Brookvale, as they look to follow their cross-town rivals Manchester City in investing in the Australian game.
The Mariners have moved to distance themselves from the rumours, with CEO Shaun Mielekamp tweeting out that “meetings had happened with clubs all over the world” and that “speculations are nothing more than that” as the club remain focused on building on their surprise success on the field.
Whatever the outcome of these talks, any takeover, rebrand or move would have to be ratified by both Football Australia and the APL, who took over the running of the A-League ahead of last season.
A club of Manchester United’s stature showing an interest in investing in Australian football is massive, and the interest, attention and investment that they would bring to the A-League could truly be unprecedented.
However, it would be far more palatable if it came in the form of a new club or expansion bid, rather than at the expense of the Mariners. The Gosford side are founding members of the A-League, former champions and remain the sole major sports club on the Central Coast, and without them the league would be a poorer place.
The APL have regularly re-iterated their desire to make football the most popular sport in Australia, but any deal that sees one of the few clubs outside of the major hubs of Melbourne and Sydney absorbed in to these already over saturated markets would do more harm to this goal than good, even with a global powerhouse like United at the helm.
Photo: Frank Skillinghaug (Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike 3.0)
You arrived at Liverpool in 2001. You win the FA Cup, the UEFA Cup and the UEFA Super Cup in your first season with the club under Gérard Houllier. What are your memories of that season?
I have only great memories of that season because we won three special trophies. It was an unbelievable era because we had some top players and a top coach. I really enjoyed my time at the club and I would describe it as a pleasure and an honour to wear the red shirt of Liverpool.
You played alongside Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Sami Hyppia and a host of top players during your time at the club. How was the standard of training alongside those players?
The standard was so high and you learn a lot playing with players of that calibre each day.
I arrived at the club from Montpellier and I learned a lot from the coaching staff and my teammates. Every single day was like a dream come true for me.
Overall, how do you look back on your time at Liverpool?
For me, I always think back to my first game at Anfield and walking out in front of the Kop and the fans. The first time you experience Anfield is special and for me it was no different. The fans are amazing and I love English football so to play for the biggest club in England was a dream come true.
When I found out that I was in the squad, I couldn’t sleep the night before because I was so excited by the opportunity. I only have great things to say about Liverpool as a club because it is such a special club to be at and to play for.
You joined Rangers on loan under Alex McLeish. What was your initial impression of Rangers?
Glasgow Rangers is a special club for me because I’ve played for the club and coached at the club.
When I arrived, I knew that the club was a massive institution just as Liverpool are. It was an important step in my career and my season with the club was very special as I won two trophies and we were successful as a team.
You play and score against Celtic at Celtic Park in a 2-0 win. Sum up your emotion from that match?
When you are playing any derby match it is special but playing against Celtic in the Old Firm derby is the most special. Playing at Celtic Park was an incredible experience especially as I scored and we won the match as well as winning the title in that season.
Scoring at Parkhead was a pleasure as a Rangers player and a moment that I’ll never forget.
My time at Rangers as a whole is something that I’m proud of because we had a great squad. We played for each other and it was such a positive time in my career.
Do you regret leaving Rangers given the success that you had at the club during your loan spell?
I wanted to stay at Rangers but it wasn’t possible because both clubs couldn’t agree on the terms of a deal. I ended up going to Portsmouth as they agreed terms with Liverpool but I never wanted to leave Rangers.
I came back as a coach because the club means a lot to me and I would love to return for a third spell one day. It was a massive club that never leaves you once you’ve experienced it first hand like I was fortunate enough to do.
You joined Portsmouth and you play under Harry Redknapp during your time there. How do you reflect on your spell at Fratton Park?
I came to the club under Alain Perrin then after a period of time we changed manager and that’s when Harry arrived. It was a very good club.
Playing in the Premier League was an ambition for me and we achieved survival during my time at Portsmouth which was the aim.
Following your time in the British football, you return to France and win the Ligue 2 title with RC Lens. How proud are you of that achievement?
Winning a title in France meant a lot to me as Lens is a big club with a passionate fanbase. Everyone in the city lives for the club so winning the league trophy under Jean-Guy Wallemme was special. I enjoyed playing under him and another trophy in the bag for me which was very good.
You return to the U.K. with spells at Southampton and Birmingham City. Sum up those experiences from your perspective?
Both clubs were good. I played a lot of games under good managers and I have a lot of respect for the Southampton and Birmingham fans. They are both big clubs and I was really happy to play for them in English football as I love English football.
You won the European Championships with France at Under 18 level and also represented the club at Under 21 level. How special are your memories of representing your country?
I played alongside Djibril Cissé, Bruno Cheyrou and many good players. We won the Euros and to be honest, we should have won the World Cup at that level also.
Representing France meant a lot to me and I gave my best in every training session and in every match. I have a host of good memories to look back on which makes me very proud.
You have coached at Rangers and most recently at Marseille. Do you want to be a manager in your own right one day?
I started my coaching journey in 2012 and one day I would like to become a manager. I’ve worked at Montpellier, Rangers with the under 18’s and with the women’s team and most recently Marseille.
I am in the process of finishing my UEFA Pro License and we will have to wait and see where I am in the next few years as a coach.
Based on your career across various leagues and clubs, who were the best players that you played with?
I’d have to say Steven Gerrard. He represented the DNA of Liverpool and England. He was such a good professional and won almost everything that there was to win in the game.
A lot of people talk about the fact that he didn’t win the Premier League as a player but I think he will go on to win it as a manager.
On the other hand, who were your toughest opponents?
Without doubt, Zinedine Zidane because he was the best in the world. It is as simple as that (laughs).
Last but not least, which manager had the biggest impact on you as a player?
Gérard Houllier for sure.
He was a top manager but more importantly, he was a top human being.
I’m so sad that he has passed away. He was much more than a manager. He helped everyone out in anyway that they needed him to.
He is a big miss and I can honestly say that he changed my life.
As a manager, he won many trophies and it’s important that we look back on the success that he has and the person that he was with pride because he was such a special person and a special football manager too.
Photographs courtesy of Manchester United with prior written approval.
As a manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær has shown that he will give young players an opportunity with Shola Shoretire being the latest example. How important is it from your perspective to have a first team manager who believes in youth development?
First and foremost, it’s vital for the academy to have someone at the top who believes in youth and the development that is ongoing within the academy structure at the club.
It’s also vital that we produce players who are capable of stepping up because he’s shown that he will give those younger players a chance when they are ready.
Its fantastic to work with the manager because he genuinely keeps a close eye on the youth set up at the club. Similarly, Kieran McKenna and Michael Carrick are vital because both of them have a strong interest in the youth system and experience of coaching within it.
Everytime I speak with the first team coaching staff, I get a great feeling because we are all on the same page which is to develop the very best players possible for Manchester United. Of course, the boys have to have the sufficient technical and physical attributes too as they won’t be put into the first team as a favour to the academy. They have to be ready and that’s what we work on with them.
Nicky Butt is also crucial as a buffer between the academy and the first team. Neil Wood and I work very closely with Nicky and the first team coaches as a tight knit group to ensure that we all have the same end goal which is to produce Manchester United players.
We haven’t been on site together over the last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the protocols that followed but we still connect and work together virtually to ensure that our communication process is the best that it can be and the manager regular keeps in touch with Neil Wood and I to discuss our performances and the young players that we have coming through.
All photographs courtesy of Manchester United with prior written approval.
Preparing young footballers at a club such as Manchester United is no easy feat. What are the key principles that you try and engrain into the players that you work with each day?
First of all we start with the basics such as hard work and desire. Every player needs to have a strong work ethic and a dedication to the game.
Respect for your fellow players and coaches is of paramount importance also. We strive to produce high quality human beings as well as high quality footballers.
Everything we do within the academy is structured to ensure that the players remain humble. It’s vital that the boys learn not to get too carried away with success and not to get too down when they’re going through a difficult period in their career as well. Success and failure of part of the journey as a footballer and for any human being in everyday life too.
The boys have to learn to take the knocks that will come along the way for them as well as the success that will that they will undoubtedly have. We teach them to react to the ups and downs with an even appraisal of what they’re doing in order to improve and become the best possible footballers and human beings that they can be.
Photo by DavyJAllan who grants anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions.
You retired in 2017. How are you enjoying retirement from professional football and how is life for you these days?
It is a strange one because I think when you play the word retirement is looked at as a word that you do not want to discuss even though you think about it. I knew I was coming towards the end of my playing career. My body was slowly giving up and it became difficult to get back fit and when you got back fit you got injured again and it was just a vicious cycle and then you fall a little bit out of love with football.
I have been retired three and a half years and I think looking back if someone else’s would have told me that I would retire through injury I think there might have been a little bit of my that thought I could have done a little bit more and gone on a little bit longer but the fact that I chose to retire myself knowing that my body had enough and that I could not do the things I wanted to and it became frustrating and I think that allowed me to put a full stop on Rob Jones the footballer scenario and my career and open up the avenues do to the coaching side.
Looking back it was the right time to retire and I am enjoying coaching which has become my passion and my drive in life and looking over the last year I have had the opportunity to spend a whole year at home with my children which when you are a footballer the supporters do not see that side of it because when I was a player I was quite intense and everything was focused around a Tuesday game, Saturday game and making sure that I prepare properly and unfortunately my family came a close second at the time.
I am really happy and I am looking to get back into football at some point in some capacity and I am in a really good place at the moment.
You played for Hibernian FC in Scotland. How do you look back on your time at the club and do you have any highlights or special memories?
Yes, My time at Hibernian FC was brilliant from start to finish. I was sold after three years and went to play in the English Championship which was probably manufactured a little bit by myself because I wanted to play Championship football and I wanted to test myself at that level and get the opportunity to go and play in the Premier League but the later was not available for me. I had three fantastic years and my youngest son was born in Scotland so he is now Scottish and there is that positive side to it too.
Edinburgh is such a beautiful city and Hibernian FC are a fantastic football club and their fan base were so warm and welcoming from day one and now Sunshine On Leith follows me around wherever I go and I have massive highlights from my time at Hibernian FC.
I had never played in Europe before and my first game for the club was in the UEFA Intertoto Cup against Odense BK of Denmark and I had new experiences all the time with the big standout being when we won the Scottish League Cup Final in 2007 and I was the captain that day. I went to Hibernian FC as a 6ft 7in unknown central defender and I came away three years later with everybody knowing who I was and what I was about. Hibernian FC and Scotland was such a memorable time for me and my family.
Following a successful loan spell you signed for Sheffield Wednesday. How do you look back on your time at the club and do you have any special memories or highlights?
I enjoyed every minute of my time at Sheffield Wednesday. I was brought up as a Sheffield Wednesday fan adds that little bit of extra spice and prestige to it. After an initial loan spell my deal was made permanent and I had a brilliant time under Gary Megson.
I was made captain of the club and four five years I lived every boy’s childhood dream I played and scored in a cup final, lifted a trophy and I played for and captained my boyhood club and there are not an awful lot of football players that can say that. I look back on that as I was very lucky and very indebted to the people that gave me an opportunity to do that but when you reflect on that kind of stuff it’s surreal sometimes.
I came into football late but Sheffield Wednesday is my club so there was always that added factor in there when I first arrived at the club that I am now sitting where all my idols used to sit and I am going to play where my idols have played and I used to stand in The Kop End with my uncle and cousin at Hillsborough Stadium watching the home games and I used to dream about playing on that pitch and thankfully that dream came true.
You accrued great experience at club level. When you look back could you say who are among the best players you played alongside during your playing career?
Yes, I played alongside Scott Brown who is currently the Celtic FC captain and he was young and up and coming and he just had everything that the modern midfielder needed to have and it is no surprises that he went on to do what he did and continues to do.
Steven Fletcher is probably the best finisher I have come across in my playing career. He was sensational and ruthless in front of goal and he has also had such a prestigious career.
At Doncaster Rovers I played with James Coppinger who has recently made his 800th appearances for his football club which is just never heard off in the modern era of players moving here and there and he has been there for an awful long time and I believe he is retiring at the end of this season and to make over 800 appearances for one club is fantastic for him and his family.
David Murphy who is a defender who went on to play for Birmingham City is also a very good player. When I first arrived at Hibernian FC I got into a squad which was full of talent and that was apparent since day one and many great players from that squad went on to have great careers. Nick Weaver at Sheffield Wednesday who also played for Manchester City was a good player and you could see that he played at a high level himself including having played in Europe.
I have been fortunate to play with many good players so far in my career and when you are growing up you want to play with the best players and thankfully I have played with quite a few of them.
I can imagine in your position as a defender that you came up against many difficult opponents through the years. Could you say which opponents have stood out for you in terms of talent and ability?
When I played for Hibernian FC we played a pre season friendly at Murrayfield Stadium against FC Barcelona and I got the pleasure of playing against Lionel Messi and arguably he is the best player in the world and he has been for the last 15 years in my opinion and it was a privilege to be on the same pitch as him but it was a difficult match.
I played against John Carew when he was at Stoke City. Louis Saha at Everton FC, Carlos Tevez at Manchester City and also the Brazilian Robinho too. I would say that Alan Shearer was my toughest opponent. I remember when I was at Grimsby Town we played against Newcastle in the League Cup and we got beat 1-0 and Alan scored and played against one of my idols in him and someone who had captained England it was sensational to play against him.
Robbie Keane was also a terrific player. I have been fortunate to play against many difficult opponents and there have been an awful lot of positives come out of a condensed career as a professional footballer and I believe that more positives and negatives have come out of my professional career.
Finally Rob. When you look back could you say who were the coaches and managers who meant a lot to you and played a key role in your development as a professional footballer?
Carlton Palmer was my manager at Stockport County and he is the one who gave me my first opportunity in professional football so I will always be forever indebted to him because he was fantastic with me.
Russell Slade was brilliant with me,he just got me and he is a really good guy and I learned a lot from him not just being a manager but also as a person and a man manager of a group of footballers.
I loved Tony Mowbray. He was fantastic and he was a manager who had an aura about him and he just oozed respect from everybody. He was one of those people where when he enters a room you all know he is there. Tony Mowbray brought me to Hibernian FC.
Gary Megson was incredible we just got each other obviously both being Sheffield Wednesday fans made a bit of a difference and also Dean Saunders who was my manager at Doncaster Rovers FC. He was a great character and a great guy and he was just one of those managers where it just clicked and you get along with him.
I look back on my time where I have had quite a few managers during my career as a footballer but the above managers were the ones that really stand out for me and I have taken little pieces from them and take them into how I manage at the level I am at because they were all great for me.
For those out there who may not know you, can you talk about your background, where you’re from and how you got yourself involved with Chester F.C?
“Yeah, basically I’ve been a Chester fan all my life, so I’ve virtually been blue since the early 1980’s. They were never the most successful of clubs, but they were the club closest to myself, so I always followed them. It was always a challenge with the Man United and Liverpool fans around the area as well – I enjoyed plenty of ridicule at school for supporting Chester!
“Things changed for us in the late 80’s when we lost our ground in Chester and we had to watch them play in Macclesfield for two years which was a 90 mile round trip.
“If we can get through that, you can pretty much get through anything! But what followed in 2010 when the club went under, thankfully, there was a group of us that decided that everyone needed to take some action a few months before that because we knew what was coming.
“So, from sitting in a pub, we decided to see what we could do to save football in Chester, and it went from there. The minute Chester City Football Club went under in the High Court we were ready to go with the official applications and reform the club”.
Did you have any form of role in the previous club before it was reformed in 2010?
“No I was just a fan of Chester City at the time, until I served on the board for the phoenix club for four or five years as Media Officer.
“When we put it together we all looked at each other and said ‘Well, what would you be good at?’ and I enjoyed all of the media side of things. So, that’s where we took the plunge with our roles and I decided to go ahead with the media role”.
What were your day-to-day requirements as Media Officer?
“To be honest it’s hard to say day-to-day because you’re still working at your normal job whilst trying to balance everything with the football club. I was fortunate to work at MBNA who are the clubs main sponsor and have been for over ten years now.
“I worked for that company at the time and we ended up taking interviews on the breaks at work where we’d have to go into a quiet corner, go on the phone and speak to the likes of Radio Five or Local Radio, just to try and do interviews to put the club out there as far and wide as possible.
“It sounds a bit of a cliche, but we had a dream and we wanted to try and push it out to as many people as possible and get support behind us. So, that’s the day-to-day things, and because I looked after the football clubs website to start off with, my day started at five in the morning, when I’d spend a couple of hours updating the website, go to work, and spend a couple of hours again when I was finished.
“That was difficult because it took a lot of your time up at home where really, that should be your family time. But you put everything you can into it to try and make sure that the club got off to a great start and obviously on the pitch was racing away with success as well- so it was hard to keep up in that respect, but it was a good challenge to have”.
How did you manage to consistently balance everything? It must have been extremely tiring…
“Yeah, 100%. I think the adrenaline pushes you on, which sounds strange in that kind of role, but knowing that things are going so well on the pitch, you don’t want that to fall.
“And the more you push for success, the more it finds you. But you’ve got a fan base out there almost like waiting on more information coming out.
“Because we were starting from scratch, there was so much news that had to be put out there, but it was kind of like a snowball effect where it never stopped. So yeah, very, very challenging, but enjoyable and rewarding at the same time”.
At the beginning, how many of there were you that had this collective idea of bringing the club back?
“There was probably about nine of us who were sat in the pub seeing what we could do. And from that point, we looked at the various supporters trusts and clubs that were there – we have four or five different support groups. So what we thought was the best thing to do was to have one group that would all fall under the same umbrella.
“And that’s how City Fans United was formed. Yep. We had a launch night, which celebrated the club as it has been where we had a group of old players come down for a night where we all enjoyed a good drink, celebrated and formed City Fans United.
“And it went from there really. What we wanted to do is just make sure everybody was on the same page, too many different supporters groups can maybe not help sometimes – so unifying everybody was important and it meant we all knew what we were aiming for and what we have to deliver”.
Going from nine of you in the beginning before forming City Fans United, how many members do you have now?
“So, now we’ve got between 1000-1500 members, but we’ve also got a good chunk of junior blues – about 300-400 of them.
“The challenge that we certainly faced straight away was that it was almost like a crisis time. A lot of people will sign up for things, bring the family and bring the dog in or whatever, and we had over 3000 members at the time – that was the peak.
“But the difficulty is when you get to a point where things are plateauing, after you’ve had the success, but then it balances where if you end up not going any further in the league, it becomes difficult to maintain that level of membership.
“But at the same time, it was the ownership of the football club, which is what City Fans United is all about – they own Chester Football Club. So, it was really trying to maintain a decent level of support and people coming through our gates – if you think about our average home gate, in normal times it would be around about 2000.
“So, to nearly have 2000 members is incredible really. But it’s all about everybody looking after their club and everybody doing their own little thing – I did my little thing. People do things like volunteering down at the ticket office, helping to decorate the ground. or even shaking tins to raise money.
“So, everybody does their little thing, but it means so much collectively – that’s what City Fans United is all about.”
I noticed when you said you’d done your little thing for the club that you pointed to the Chester F.C. badge, was there a reason for that?
“Well, the badge is a good thing in itself, I remember we had a launch night, like a public meeting, down at The Guild Hall which is one of the most historic venues in Chester, and we revealed a club badge that night, and it was designed by a Chester fan!
“We put a few ideas out there to be voted on. And we had this one revealed at the launch night, and it gathered pace from there. It’s an attractive looking badge and it’s got parts of the old Chester City badge on it as well.It’s just great that so many people believed in what we were trying to do”.
What have you found are the pros and cons to fan ownership?
“Well, the pros, first of all, is that the future is in your own hands – I know it sounds a bit of a cliche, but that’s exactly what it is.
“If we don’t put the effort in or look after the football club then it would just go straight back down the drain. The membership has pushed the club forward, there’s no doubt about that. To win the first three championships in a row, that was because people believed in what we were trying to do and the support was there.
“The cons I guess you could say is the argument of ‘is there is a ceiling to how far you can go as a fan owned club?’. Personally I don’t think there is. There’s certainly challenges, but you can look to other clubs, the likes of Wimbledon who’ve made it into the football league, Exeter have been one as well.
“So, there’s examples out there which you can certainly point to. But yeah, it doesn’t come without challenges and that’s probably the cons, every pound matters so much to a club like us. We’re seeing at the moment that there are clubs out there who are owned by individuals who can afford to throw money at it. But what you tend to find is those owners will end up attaching loans to the club, which immediately puts the clubs in debt. That’s pretty much exactly what has happened in the past.
“We had a succession of owners who were dragging the club down, which is very difficult as a fan to try and counteract that because you may not have the money that those people have to run the football club the way it should be. The last owners ran us into the ground because they didn’t pay a tax bill of £26,000, which in this day and age is criminal.
“For a football club loses history, almost, but certainly it’s lose its status in the football pyramid at that time. For the sake of just not wanting to pay a tax bill and killing the club out of spite, it’s disgusting, and this is where I say as fans we can control our club, it’s everyone’s club, and everybody has a responsibility to look after it”.
How has the past year been for you all, trying to work through the pandemic?
“Well, we’re used to challenges at Chester!
“I mentioned the owners in the past, and we had a flood not so long ago at the ground which set us back as well – that was difficult to work through. So, we seemed to come out of one crisis, whether it be a financial one or something at the ground, and then the Coronavirus comes in and hit you for six as well.
“I think as a club, we’ve dealt with it as best as we can. In terms of the health and safety side, there’s no issues at all. We’ve followed all the protocols and but everything into place. But obviously with no fans being allowed to into the ground, it’s, it’s really, really hard, because there’s no income.
“The football club still has bills to pay, and players wages to pay. We’ve got a great set of players who took part in the playoffs at the end of the season without pay, which for a football club is fantastic. And I don’t think it would have happened to any other club that wasn’t fan owned.
“But we’re seeing the challenges right now. We were quite vocal about it because as a fan owned club we don’t take on debt, our constitution says we don’t take on any loans because the club has to be debt free, simple as that. So, to be offered loans now, as a, as a way of survival just goes against the very point of a community run football club.
“So, with a lack of income, we’re relying on those grants that we’re fighting for at the moment. But if you can’t get the fans in, and nobody is wanting to give you grants, then how can we go any further? What we want to do is make sure we’re doing the right thing for the football club because it could just so easily be lost by making the wrong decision”.
Having looked at the City Fans United website, I can see there is a lot of community work and fundraisers organised by the group, can you tell me a little bit more about what that entails?
“Yeah, like I mentioned before, we have to raise the money ourselves, there’s no sugar daddy. So, everybody digs deep in the fan base to do what they can to support it.
“There’s different sort of fundraisers. Last year we did Boost the Budget, which was one that we decided to go out with – we’d looked at other couple of clubs who had done such an initiative, and whilst we don’t want to go the fans all the time asking for the money, we’re all owners, so we all need to contribute somehow to keep that going.
“And what it helped is where whilst we’re not playing football right now, but where you see Chester in the table is that the Boost the Budget has more than helped us get to where we will be. We were in need of support to try and help Bern and Jonno in their for promotion, because we all want to get promoted.
“But it’s kind of turned into a survival package now, because if the Boost the Budget money hadn’t been in there then we would have probably been stopped playing football a lot sooner. But there’s different things that we do – we’ve got the sales lottery, which everybody who is a member can take part in. We’ve had some fantastic emails through today actually about people who won first prize on that.
“But they’ve donated it back to the football club, because they know the football club needs it more, which is amazing. We’re talking about people winning £500 here and they’re telling us to take it back. Amazing”.
Especially in times like this, £500 can be huge money for a lot of people…
“Yeah, when you see people saying the club needs it more than them, you know they’ve got our badge in their heart, and if you cut them, if they probably bleed blue and white. It’s the simple things that make a massive difference”.
Short-term is of course to come through the other side of the pandemic, but once you see light at the end of the tunnel, what are the long-term goals both on and off the pitch at Chester F.C?
“Well, I think obviously short-term is survival. I think we’d love in the short-mid term to get back into the National League. We seem to be on course for a good shot at it this year, having had a couple of attempts, which we came close in.
“It’s a difficult one, but every Chester fan will think back to the days of being in the English Football League (EFL). When you see the memories videos on Twitter and you see a packed stadium with loads of people behind the goal. They were great times. We want those back.
“We had some great times less than 10 years ago and we want those back. But it takes a hell of a lot of work and time and effort to actually get anywhere close to that. But the ultimate aim personally, I want to see us back in the EFL, I grew up supporting Chester and I’d love to see us do that again.
“One of the reasons I got involved when I did over 10 years ago was because I wanted to see us beat Wrexham! They’re the best memories Chester fans have.
“And our first win back in the National League was away at Wrexham. We scored a last minute winner on the TV, Ben Heneghan steps up the last minute and scores in injury time”.
I bet that is exactly how you dreamed it!
“Every Chester fan probably dreamed of themselves scoring that winner to be honest!
“But it doesn’t matter who it is, as long as it was against Wrexham, that’s the main thing. We have a bit of banter about it, and that’s what football is all about. You don’t overstep the mark, but there’s lots of banter to be had with them. The ownership that they’re moving onto now obviously seems very lucrative, but for some reason they want to beat Chester as well so they might wait around a little bit for us to catch up with them!”.
El Clasico is a fixture of epic proportion. Not just for its football, but also for its cultural aspect. Pride is always at stake between two of the biggest clubs in the world, but this was definitely not a game to lose with both teams embroiled in the first real three-horse race deep into the season for the title with Atletico Madrid since the 2015/16 campaign. Before the start of play only 3 points separated the top 3 with Atleti’s lead shrinking as they have only won two out of their last eight games after having a sizeable lead.
Madrid welcomed back Federico Valverde into their starting XI as Marco Asensio dropped to the bench from the side that beat Liverpool 3-1 in the Champions League. Whereas Antoine Griezmann was only named on the Barca bench as Frenkie de Jong moved back into midfield, and Ronald Araujo started in defence from the team who won on Monday at home to Real Valladolid.
Barcelona had more of the ball to begin and Thibaut Courtois had to be alert to push away a Jordi Alba cross in the 9th minute. Despite the Catalans’ possession it was the home side who took the lead in the 14th minute. Real broke down the right and Valverde found Lucas Vazquezwhose cross was met by a deft back-heel at the near post by Karim Benzema, a really smart finish by the Frenchman.
In the 28th minute it was to be 2. The lively Vinicius Junior was brought down on the edge of the box by Araujo, and from the resulting free-kick Toni Kroos found the net via two deflections from Sergino Dest in the wall and then Jordi Alba on the line. Madrid’s game plan to hit Barca on the break was working perfectly and it could well have been 3 after 36 minutes as Valverde’sshot deflected off of Clement Lenglet and hit the post, then from the rebound Marc-Andre Ter Stegen denied Vazquez.
A nasty clash in the middle of the park in the 38th minute between Vazquez and Sergio Busquets saw Vazquez have to be replaced five minutes later by Alvaro Odriozola. Barcelona closed the half well and almost pulled a goal back. First from an audacious attempt to score from a corner, Lionel Messi rocked the woodwork. Then in the final minute of injury time Courtois denied Messi down low from Ousmane Dembele’s corner. Barcelona had it all to do despite having 68% of the possession in the half, Real were easily the more dangerous.
Barca took off Dest and brought on Antoine Griezmann to start the second half. The rain came bucketing down and the game lost its way a bit for the first ten minutes. In the 55th minute, Griezmann put the ball wide from close range after meeting de Jong’s ball, but to spare his embarrassment the flag went up. Ronald Koeman’s men continued to probe and on the hour they were level. Centre half Oscar Mingueza timed his run to perfection to meet Alba’s cross after Griezmann smartly stepped over the ball. This sparked Los Blancos back into action,and the game went from end-to-end in a thrilling ten-minute spell. Firstly in the 63rd minute Real went close as Vinicius’ ball in was deflected onto the post, then a minute later Courtois kept out Messi’s cross at his near post. Vinicius was to again break free again but he could not find Benzema when Barcelona were completed stretched as once again their high line was exposed. Benzema then in the 68th minute made poor contact on a header that would have surely sealed the game. In the 71stminute it was the away sides chance to break and substitute Sergi Roberto drove a vicious ball right across the face of goal.
Barcelona were outraged not to be given a penalty in the 83rd minute when as Alba’s effort went well wide Ferland Mendy held Martin Braithwaite but no penalty was given. The contact was minimal to say the least but we have seen them given before. As Barcelona searched for a vital goal Casemiro was sent off in the 90th minute as he fouled Griezmann just outside the box for his second booking. Messi took the free-kick but Courtois made a routine save. There was almost the spectacular ending that the game deserved as another Barca substitute Moriba Illaix’ effort cannoned off the bar with the last kick of the game.
So a thrilling El Clasico ended with a massive win for Zinedine Zidane’s men. They are now level on 66 points with their city rivals Atletico, but top the table on their head-to-head record having played a game more. Diego Simeone’s men play away at Manuel Pellegrini’s Real Betis on Sunday in what will be a tricky encounter.
You started your career at Reading. You were there as a young player and established yourself at the club following a few loan spells. Reading was a big part of your career so how do you look back on your time at the club now?
It was a very important part of my career. It’s very easy to say that you were a part of a club without really playing for the first team so for me it was vital to work hard and succeed to the best of my ability.
Going on loan helped me develop as a player because as a young player, you need to learn quickly what it’s like playing first team football and needing to compete for three points in meaningful games.
It can be tricky to settle in when you go on loan. I settled when I arrived at Exeter on loan because it was a sustained loan spell rather than a very short term loan. I learned so much from the different environments that come with each club.
You achieved many a young players dream by representing Wales at first team level. How proud are you of that experience?
It’s my proudest moment that no one can ever take away from me. To be involved in the Wales squad and to play for my national team is my fondest achievement so far.
I trained and played alongside Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey and it was a whirlwind as I had only broken into the Reading first team on a consistent basis. Gareth was the most expensive player in the world at the time and I learned so much from training alongside him and the rest of the team.
You experienced Scottish football with Motherwell. How do you reflect on your time at Motherwell?
It was the toughest time of my career in all honesty. I went there with a manager who was under a bit of pressure then the manager changed during my time there which led to me being out of favour.
It’s part and parcel of football but it was very difficult being so far away from home and not playing at all.
Motherwell as a club was very well run and the set up was good. Unfortunately, it just didn’t work out for me but I don’t regret going there.
You join Exeter permanently following your time at Reading. What was it like working with Paul Tisdale in your first few years at the club?
I’ll always be grateful for the experiences that Paul gave me when I was on loan. He dealt with me brilliantly during our time working together. He built exciting squads and it was unbelievable that we didn’t achieve promotion in those years.
What is Matt Taylor like to work with because Exeter are still a side that are highly regarded?
It was difficult for him coming in straight away as Paul was here for so long but he’s been great to work with. He’s made good signings and put his faith in youth which is something that the club is renowned for.
We’ve got close to promotion under Matt and just missing out in the play off final last year was heartbreaking but we are heading in the right direction and it’s a great club to be at.
As a senior player and club captain, how do you help the younger players at the club?
It’s vital that I help them be the best that they can be and that comes from the staff as well as myself and the senior players that we have.
I am always here to give any player advice and when you look at the younger players we’ve sold in recent years they’ve went on to achieve great things. Ollie Watkins is a great example of that.
You’ve played most of your club football with Exeter now. What does the club mean to you after all of these years?
It means a lot to me because the club gave me a chance and an opportunity as a youngster on loan from Reading and then allowed me to develop into a captain and a leader when I joined permanently.
It’s a family club and the fans love the club. We have missed them being with us and I cannot wait until they are back because I owe a lot to them and to the club as a whole.
Last but not least, who are the best players you’ve played with and who have your toughest opponents been over the years?
The easy answer is Gareth Bale. He’s a phenomenal talent as his career shows.
At club level, Ollie Watkins was superb and we knew he’d go on to play at the top level.
In regards to opponents I’d say Matt Doherty who is at Spurs now as he was very mobile and a player who would do all that he could to nullify you as a winger trying to go forward and create attacks.