Off The Ball co-presenter on the Reds, Sam Allardyce and England's search for a new manager
My first reaction when I heard the Sam Allardyce news? I was gutted.
I’ve known him since I was 15 and he had a huge influence on the early part of my career.
So you kind of have that sinking feeling, I suppose.
I think once the footage had come out and once we’d read the piece in the newspaper, I think we all knew he couldn’t continue as England manager. I think he knew that himself and the FA knew that.
The overwhelming emotion for me is just a little bit of sadness because even when he was my youth team manager, I remember how much he used to talk to us about it as kids. He was talking about lads, particularly over in England, that if you want to play for England, you should have that as your dream, and all these sort of things. And he said ‘I want to manage England one day’.
That was his ultimate job and for him to almost throw it away, it’s just sad really.
But where do the FA go from here in terms of looking for Sam’s successor? It looks unlikely for Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe. I saw him being interviewed a few weeks ago and he basically says he wouldn’t consider it for the next few years. He said he’d see it as his ultimate job, which is right.
That’s where his ultimate target is but certainly not in the near future for him. Alan Pardew at Crystal Palace is an interesting one. His record over the last 6-7 months hasn’t been great but overall he’s got a decent track record. A similar track record to Sam Allardyce, albeit he’s spent less time in the Premier League as a manager.
When it comes to Arsene Wenger, if the FA want someone, I think they’ve got to make a statement and they’ve got to go and get their No 1 target. If they want Wenger, they should go and speak to the Arsenal board and say ‘We want him. What will it take? How can we get him? Is there any way?’
If there is the sort of feeling that Wenger might be interested in taking that job, go and get him. That’s what they need to do. They have got to make a statement now.
I think with what’s happened, Wenger would be a big statement for them if they can get him. I doubt it would happen but that’s where I feel they need to be at the moment.
In the Premier League, this weekend, Liverpool are at Swansea on Saturday. Jurgen Klopp’s side are not in Europe this season and post-match recovery is often the over-riding factor in games.
Particularly, it has a knock-on effect for the teams in the Champions League and Europa League. And of course there are lads who will also be involved in international matches.
They very rarely get a week off at the top clubs. So I think it does play into Liverpool’s hands this season.
They get more time on the training ground, more time to work on what Klopp is trying to get across. He’s only a year into the job and he’s got a lot of new players at the club.
They’ll be used to his ideas and used to his methods. But he’ll still want to try and get more ideas across to the team.
My only worry for Liverpool going forward as serious title contenders would be whether they can maintain this intensity that they play at.
Now, it’s a huge factor that they’re not in Europe because it gives a lot more time for recovery.
But can they maintain that current intensity that they’re playing at? If they can, Liverpool will be difficult to stop because not everyone can stop that.
In their squad, they don’t have a traditional target-man but I don’t necessarily see that as a problem because we all know now that it will be three players from four: Coutinho, Firmino, Sturridge or Mané.
Any one of those four can play in any of the three forward positions. So Klopp doesn’t want a target man. And let’s not forget Divock Origi as well who hasn’t been getting as much game-time as he would want. Origi’s probably the player that you could put in as a target man for other players to run off. Sturridge can do that but he doesn’t necessarily want to because he floats around and he gets into different positions.
So you’ve got players that know the system and how Klopp wants to do it so I don’t see the lack of traditional target man being a problem.
I can’t see Klopp thinking all of a sudden that ‘I want to play with a No 9’, or a static striker.
In central midfield, Jordan Henderson is playing well in that position as the deepest player at the moment.
He’s played on the right-hand side of a three at times for Liverpool where it suits his energy and his game. I think the way Klopp plays, they play with that much intensity that he’s not necessarily a holding midfielder.
A holding midfielder in the traditional sense of the word is a player that just sits in front of the back four. But the way that Klopp wants his midfielders to press, that comes from the two centre-halves.
They want Henderson off their toes. They want him in a position further forward and that in turn pushes the other two midfielders on and the frontline forward.
In that respect, I think Henderson can still play with high energy and play his more natural game.
But is he going to be that traditional holding player? Again, it’s not what Klopp wants and it’s not necessarily what the club needs.
Milner and Henderson
For example, when you’re not playing at their intensity and players have to be disciplined positionally and you’ve got to sit in and try to contain sides in games, is Henderson your man to play in that position? That’s a reservation I would have but with the way Liverpool are pressing, Henderson suits the current role.
James Milner has slotted in well at left-back. It’s not his main position. I’ve played against him as a right winger,
I’ve seen him play centre-forward, as a 10, left winger and holding midfielder. I think the only position out-field he hasn’t played is centre-half.
I think he’s a must in any team. I’ve always thought that. Milner gives you so much. He gives you leadership on the pitch, a cool head and he’ll never, ever get flustered. He’ll never get overly excited over anything.
I like him as a player and I think you could play him anywhere so he’s proving what a good left-back he is at the moment.
Now, we may get 10 or 15 games into the season and maybe he may get exposed against real pace. But I think the way Liverpool play, they’re not allowing the full-backs to get exposed anyway because of the intensity and press they’re putting on sides. It’s difficult for opposition teams to get balls out to wide men because of the pressure that’s being put on them.
As a naturally right-footed left-back, we had one of our own in Denis Irwin for Ireland. Denis is the best full-back I’ve ever played with - the best of a generation in that position.
So if Denis Irwin can adjust from a right-back to a left-back and go for another six or seven years and win European Cups, James Milner can do it.