Alan Smith Exclusive

Alan Smith Exclusive


How important is the owners show of faith in the job that Mikel Arteta is doing by sanctioning such a significant transfer outlay this summer? 

Every manager would want the support of the owners, wouldn't they? Some don't get it, some do. 

Some Arsenal fans haven’t been happy with Stan and Josh Kroenke at times over the last few years, but I don’t think they can have too many complaints because over the last few transfer windows, the money's been there. Arsenal generates money and those funds have been made available for the manager, but the owner has certainly put his hand in his pocket, and I think that over the last couple of years the money has been invested really wisely at the club.  

Arsenal have been very thoughtful making signings – we’ve seen other clubs waste money when they have it – the recruitment team led by Edu has been very switched on and done really well. I hope that continues. 

Do you think the Kroenke’s are backing Arteta because he feels he is capable of winning the Premier League?  

They’ll be hoping so. The Kroenke’s certainly have faith in Arteta, there's no question about that. There was a time, 18 months ago where Arteta was on shaky ground and another owner would have got rid of the manager. He’s given Arteta his space and he’s given him authority. I think you need that in the modern dressing room whereby everybody looks at the manager and thinks, he's here to stay. So often if a manager’s coats on a shaky peg, the players will think, ‘Well, I'm going to be here longer than you,’ and things don't work; the dynamic is wrong.   

Arteta has got the authority and that power at the club. I think Kroenke thinks he's picked the right man. And at the moment it's hard to disagree. 

After some eye-catching transfers, what do you think is the minimum objective for Arsenal next season?  

The minimum would be to finish in the Champions League again now that they're there. It’s taken a while for Arsenal to return to the competition. I think we almost took Champions League qualification for granted under Wenger. Even when the team wasn't having a go at the title, they always finished in the top four. 

It’s great to be back in the Champions League. Obviously with the revenue that generates and the fact you can attract better players, Arsenal need to stay at that level.  

There's no question that they should be looking to challenge for the title like they did last year and try take it as far as they possibly can. There might be a few more contenders this year, Liverpool and the like. Going forward, the objective will be to be a consistently strong team that's in that Champions League and to have a real push for the title. 

When you look at this Arsenal squad’s average age and the player’s that they are adding to it, do you think that this could be a squad that is capable of consistently challenging for top honours over the next four-to-five seasons.  

All the ingredients are in place. Arsenal has a great raft of younger players who should only get better as long as their attitudes are right, which I think they are. They've got a good group of lads there. That’s key for Arteta. The attitude of the squad is just as important as the ability. 

The likes of Saka, Saliba and Martinelli, all those boys, they've got those few years of experience at the top level, and they should only improve from here on in. The future looks bright and having the financial power to add to that with the likes of Declan Rice, who himself is still a young lad with his best years ahead of him. 

I think it's looking very good. Nothing's guaranteed in football, but at the moment Arsenal are a club that people want to join because they can see things happening there and that's what attracts players. Players want to win trophies and at Arsenal they see a good chance to do that. 

Arsenal Squad & Transfers 

As a former Gunners striker, do you think that the club has enough in that department going into the new season?  

The Havertz signing was interesting, nobody really linked the player with Arsenal in the months towards the end of the season. I think that's why the recruitment department is so efficient. They can do the business without many people finding out.  

I like Havertz. He's more of a number ten. He played through the middle for Chelsea, and he can do it on a good day, but that's not his role. It's going to be interesting to see how Arteta does use him. There's a suggestion that he’ll be used in the Xhaka role, playing a little deeper and arriving in the box late.  

In that striker role, a lot of people like Gabriel Jesus and he's a fine player, but is he a 25-goal season man? I think he's got the potential to do that for Arsenal and I hope that he can become that. Eddie Nketiah is there as a back-up, and as it looks like Balogun might be on his way. With Havertz signing, they club are a bit stronger in that department. 

Florian Balogun is a player that is attracting a lot of interest from clubs all over Europe after experiencing a productive loan spell in France. His future leaves Arteta and Edu with a bit of a dilemma. How do you think Arsenal should approach his future over the coming weeks? Do you think he should be given an opportunity in the first team?  

It is hard because he's a few notches down the pecking order now, especially with Havertz coming into the squad. I think the management probably see Nketiah being further ahead of him at the moment, they are similar types of players, and the club must think that Nketiah is a little bit better than Balogun.  

From Balogun’s point of view, he will be thinking more about how much game time he’s going to get. Given that he doesn't want to go back out on loan, he may have to leave the football club. It's always a shame when somebody has come through the ranks like that and does leave. There is every chance that he could go on and have a fantastic career elsewhere and score lots of goals.  

If he does move on, it will give Arsenal a chance to recoup quite a lot of money. He's a valuable player who can probably fetch £30 million plus after the season he had in France. With financial fair play and all the rest of it, that that could help Arsenal a fair bit. 

What are your thoughts on your former club preparing to break the British transfer record to sign Declan Rice from West Ham?  

I wasn't sure how high they were going to go because the club will have a figure in mind that they won't go above. We saw that with Mudryk, who obviously went to Chelsea.  

Without question, it is a lot of money. It's a lot of money for a player that you wouldn't describe as a match winner.  

Declan Rice has his best years ahead of him. He's a really good character. He'll fit into that dressing room really well. He's a Londoner. He won't take any adjustment. It's a great signing, and it's another indication that Arsenal is a is a club that people want to join. 

Players can see success lying ahead. I'll go back to when I joined Arsenal way back in ‘87 and we had Tony Adams, David Rocastle, Michael Thomas and Paul Merson coming through the ranks. George Graham had joined the year before as manager. You could see things were happening then and its definitely similar at Arsenal now with Arteta. There are good times ahead. Declan Rice has clearly seen that, and he will be a big addition to the squad. If that's the amount of money it takes to get him and Arsenal can afford it, so be it.  

Does the addition of Declan Rice automatically transform Arsenal into guaranteed contenders for football’s biggest prizes?  

Nothing's guaranteed, but they should be contenders without question because the signing of Declan Rice makes Arsenal stronger. Havertz also makes them stronger. Hopefully they get off to a good start and have a really consistent season. I think Declan Rice will improve them. I don't think there'll be too much of a bedding in period. I mean, you think of Jack Grealish at Manchester City for £100 million and it did take him a season to adjust to Guardiola's demands. I don't think it's going to be quite the same for Declan Rice.  

It will be interesting to see the shape of Arsenal’s midfield with Xhaka leaving the club and Rice coming in. What type of role will Thomas Partey play? It’s going to be interesting to see how that develops. 

Where can you see Havertz fitting into this Arsenal team? 

He's versatile and that's another string to his bow. If push comes to shove, at times he could play through the middle as a striker, but not for any length of time. He could do it for a few games. If he played in the Xhaka role, that midfield is quite attacking. If Partey stays at the club, they’ll be times when its Partey and Rice to give Arsenal a good solid base. Havertz might not be in the starting eleven every to start off with, we’ll have to wait and see. I think he could play even deeper than that Xhaka position if needed, he’s an intelligent boy. It gives Arteta more options in that area of the pitch.  

After such a significant outlay, certain players will have to move on. When you look at the squad, who do you think are the likely candidates to move on this summer.  

Rob Holding has been linked with a move away. There's not much potential for him to get into the team now. I think you'd be loathe to let him go because he just seems like such a good team player. Holding is great in the dressing room and he will always give it his all but he is probably a level below where you need to be for Arsenal. He may have to leave. 

Nicolas Pepe, I haven't seen too much about him in the papers regarding a move. He was bought for far too much money, and it'd be great to recoup some of that because I don't think Arteta is a massive fan. You can't hang your hat on him. Players like Tavares and Lokonga, promising youngsters, could move on. Arteta certainly does need to get two or three players off of the wage bill. 

One player that is reported be attracting a lot of Premier League interest is Kieran Tierney. How much of a good player will his perspective club be getting if he moves on? 

It seems that he's not quite an Arteta player in terms of his playing style, but as a personality, he is. Kieran Tierney’s attitude is first class, but that kind of attacking left back bombing down the outside and getting crosses in doesn't seem to be the way that Arteta wants to go. He likes to play with an inverted full back.  

Defensively, one against one, he is better than Zinchenko. It looks like he might leave the club, which is a shame because the fans love him. They love his attitude. He deserves to be playing every week and whoever gets him will be signing a good player and person.  

Arsenal are being linked with a sensational swoop for France international Kylian Mbappe. What do you make of those rumours and what do you think are the chances of the French superstar following in the footsteps of Thierry Henry and joining the club?  

I would think that the chances of Mbappe joining Arsenal are extremely unlikely. The money that it would take to sign him would be astronomical. I think the only place he can go is Real Madrid. I think that's the only place and that is probably the place that he wants to go as well.  

Financially, we know the club is run really well. I think Arsenal would be very conscious of the wage structure they have in place, which needs to be tightly controlled. I would be very surprised if they were to smash that with the signing of Mbappe, as great as it would be to have him because he is one of the best players in the world. I don’t think it’s very likely (that he will join the club).

Finally, how much credit does Edu and Arteta deserve for remoulding this group of players over the last few seasons?  

I think Arteta and Edu deserve a huge amount of credit. Arteta is clearly a very talented coach who improves players on the training ground, and he's engendered a really good team spirit, these are the signs of a good manager. Arteta has built a squad with the right characters and personalities in the dressing room – he’s got a good group of players. 

Every football club needs their manager and Director of Football to be on the same page. They've got to get on and think the same way. They have to like the same players. Arteta and Edu seem to have a great partnership. You can tell that they've got a good working relationship, and it's not easy to get that chemistry. It seems to be in place at Arsenal. 

Arsene Wenger 

It’s been confirmed that Arsenal are going to honour Arsene Wenger with a statue at The Emirates. What are your thoughts on the Frenchman’s current relationship with the club?  

What Wenger achieved at Arsenal and in English football broke new ground. The statue is a fitting tribute for him. We know that he stayed away for a long time, which was probably his choice. I think he needed that space between himself and the club after all that time together. 

He came back last season and got a great reception from the fans, and he would have been happy with that. I think he was also conscious of the fact that he didn’t want to put pressure on Arteta by being ever-present. Any ex-manager probably wants to give the existing manager a bit more space than to be constantly hovering over him and putting pressure on him just by being in the ground. 

I think it was vital that he did stay away. Wenger should have a close relationship with Arsenal after the time that he spent there, and the statue is a great thing to have. I'm all for it and hopefully we’ll see more of him next season.  

Leicester City 

When you look at the clubs that were relegated from the Premier League, of the three of them, who do you think has the best chance of returning at the first attempt?  

I would like to say Leicester as they are my old team, but they've lost a few good players. Maddison's gone and it looks like Harvey Barnes will go. 

I was reading that the new manager, Maresca, wants to switch to more of a possession-based game, where Leicester have always been a counter-attacking side with Vardy looking to get onto things. Vardy is 36 now. Can he keep going in the rough and tumble of The Championship? 

Leeds have just appointed Daniel Farke. He knows The Championship well from his time with Norwich, but he is another new manager, and we’re not sure how well and how quickly he will settle into the hot seat at Leeds. I would say that Leeds have got a slight advantage over Leicester and Southampton because Elland Road is such an intimidating atmosphere – nobody will want to go there, which is something you can’t say about the other two relegated clubs.  

If Daniel Farke can get things together and Leeds can get off to a fast start, that momentum can carry you through the first few months of the season. He’s joined the club quite late, so he’s going to have act quickly in regard to making signings and selling players.  

I hope Leicester can bounce back. Leicester has always been that yo-yo club historically. In recent years the club has achieved some incredible things, winning the title and FA Cup, but when I played for them, they were always up and down. Hopefully they can return to the Premier League next season.  

Leicester City talisman Jamie Vardy has been linked with a big money move to Saudi Arabia, although it looks like he will snub that interest and remain with the club. How important is it for the club to hold onto Vardy?  

When you're Vardy’s age it's hard to come in to the team every four or five weeks as a sub, which is what happened with him at times last season. I saw some matches last season where he didn't finish his chances that he previously would have taken easily. I think last season he was stop-start and that had an impact on his performances. 

It's refreshing that he's turned down a move to Saudi Arabia if that's true. There's not many players turning down those offers at 36. If that's true, it's nice in a way. Let's hope he can have one more good season. Physically, The Championship is really trying. There are a lot of games to play. Vardy might have to be used a bit more sparingly. I think he will certainly enjoy getting a few more chances in The Championship compared to what he would get in the Premier League. 

I think Vardy can have an impact. Patson Daka and Kelechi Iheanacho were bought for quite a few quid and neither have really staked a claim to be automatic starters. I think the club still needs Vardy.  

The club have signed Harry Winks and Connor Coady, two experienced players. What do you think of that business?  

Harry Winks and Connor Coady are two solid pros, and you certainly need players like that in The Championship.  

Coady is a natural leader in the dressing room who will demand high standards and he'll want to get back on the horse. I think he had a frustrating time at at Everton. He couldn't nail down a regular place. He will be hungry to show what he’s all about as a player, similarly with Harry Winks. At Tottenham, he was always just a squad player, but he is a talented boy.  

I think these are two solid signings. When you think about Leicester over the years, they had a great record signing players like Kante and Mahrez. The recruitment wasn’t brilliant last year, so hopefully they've chosen two good ones in Coady and Winks.  

One player that is attracting an awful lot of interest is Harvey Barnes. How much of a good player will his perspective club be getting when he moves on?  

Harvey Barnes is a good player. I think he’s really dangerous when he's on song. He’s quick and carries the ball really well. He can finish well when he comes inside from the left-hand side.  

Newcastle have been linked with him and you could see that. He will be a big loss for Leicester but somebody like that won't want to stay in The Championship. I think whoever signs him will be getting a good player. 


The club confirmed the capture of James Maddison from Leicester earlier in the transfer window. Were you surprised that he turned down Champions League football with Newcastle to join the club?  

if that's the case (that Maddison turned down a move to Newcastle to sign for Tottenham) it might be a little bit surprising.  Sometimes it can be hard to attract players to the North East. Back in the day, it would be hard for Newcastle, Sunderland, Middlesbrough to sign top players for whatever reason. There's a special buzz at Newcastle now. I've commentated there a few times and it's absolutely electric at St. James’ Park these days. 

I don't know how Maddison thinks or feels. Maybe he looked at Spurs, who are a big, established, London club, which, like it or not, is an attraction for players and their families. London is a nice place to live and a nice place to spend your money. Ultimately, he made the decision to join Spurs and he’s joining a great club.  

How do you think Maddison will fit into new Spurs coach Ange Postecoglou’s style of play?  

I think Tottenham were missing that creativity in midfield last season. Having a lack of creativity was their downfall in a lot of games and Bentancur dropping out was a big blow. 

To have Maddison able to come in the team, all of a sudden, Tottenham have got a lot more creativity. Harry Kane’s future is a little bit up in the air, but at least Tottenham’s midfield now looks better equipped to create more chances.  

Midfield was definitely an area of the pitch where they needed to look at and improve. In Maddison, they've got a really, really talented player that should hit the ground running.  

Do you think Harry Kane will enjoy playing with Maddison? Could it convince him to stay at Tottenham? 

I think any player would enjoy playing with Maddison. I don't know whether that would be enough to convince Kane to stay; one player coming in.  

Maddison’s signing is not going to turn Tottenham into title challengers. Kane obviously wants to win trophies. Will he be allowed to leave? I think we’ll know more over the coming weeks. I think Tottenham would be reluctant to let him join Manchester United, who are a club that he’s been linked with.  

For me, if he were to move on this summer, Bayern Munich, feels more realistic. I don’t think that Kane will want to leave on a free transfer. I think that would leave a sour taste for his club at the end of the season.  

If Spurs don't want to sell him, then that seems the most likely option for him (to leave on a free transfer). It's a conundrum, isn't it (Kane’s future)? It's been that way for the last couple of summers with Kane, but I always thought he wouldn't go abroad unless it was maybe Real Madrid.  

Going to Bayern Munich is a chance to win silverware and a chance to compete in the Champions League, at the highest level. It could be a move that appeals to him because of that.  

If you were in Kane’s shoes, what would you do this summer?  

He wanted to join Man City a couple of years ago. That tells you that he'd now like to pursue trophies and to be at a club that regularly competes for the biggest prizes. I don't imagine that's changed. Talks will be ongoing as to whether he'll be allowed to leave and the options he's got. Manchester City is a different kettle of fish to Bayern Munich in terms of your lifestyle off the pitch as much as anything else. Only he knows really what he'd like to do. 

After such a disappointing end to the season last term, what do you think Tottenham will be looking to achieve this season?  

Tottenham will certainly be looking for more consistency this season. They will want to develop a defined style of play. We never quite knew what Conte wanted to do at times. He would often set his team up to defend very deep and try to hit teams on the break. When those tactics didn't work, he was stubborn and stuck with it. I think the football was a bit of a mish mash under him, especially last season.  

Ange Postecoglou will want to stamp his own way of playing on the side and his first objective will be to achieve more consistency and challenge for that top four. Missing out on the Champions League last season would have been a big blow having qualified the year before. It’s going to be difficult for them because there are several teams that will be looking to get into the top four. 

Manchester United 

How do you think Manchester United can close the gap on their city rivals this year?  

I think that Manchester United can close the gap on their city rivals, but not to the extent where they're challenging them for the Premier League title. United need a striker, no question about that. If they could get an A-grade striker, that would make a big difference.  

Mason Mount is a good signing. I don’t think United are going to go far wrong with him. I've really got a lot of time for Mason Mount. How he slots into the team with Bruno Fernandes will be interesting to see. Perhaps in certain games, both of them will play centrally as attacking 8’s. Like Havertz, Mount is a really versatile player. I think that's a really good signing, but I'm sure Manchester United will be thinking they’ve got quite a bit more business to do before the window shuts. 

I don’t think it’s a secret that United need a new striker. Who do you think they should be looking at to lead the line?  

I've mentioned Kane. Obviously, Kane would be as good as it gets, really. In an ideal world you'd probably want somebody slightly younger, who's ready to go.  

Chelsea have signed Nkunku and I think he can hit the ground running and score goals straight away. He didn't come cheap, but I think that’s the type of player that United should be looking at. Someone that has done will in Germany or Spain and can offer goals straight away. This is why as a top club you have to get recruitment right. I’m sure United will have targets in mind.  

What do you think the minimum objective will be for the club this season? 

Getting in the Champions League and playing a bigger part in the title race because last season, they were never really in the conversation. There was a time, halfway through the season where you wondered, but United fell away.  

Ten Hag will want to be involved in the title race so he can give the United supporters hope that they can become a force to be reckoned with over the coming seasons. He did well winning the League Cup last season and he’ll want to win another trophy this season. 

Manchester City 

The club had a wonderful season last year, completing the treble. How impressed were you with Jack Grealish’s development last season and what do you expect from him next season?  

It was great to see Grealish play such a pivotal role for Manchester City last season. I was a Villa fan as a boy, so I wanted him to do well after a difficult first campaign. A lot of players struggle to adjust to Guardiola’s demands, and he’s a very different player to the one he was at Villa.  

He doesn't hold on to the ball anywhere near as much now, but it was brilliant to see him become a really important player for Pep. To do that in this City team takes some doing and he was there week in, week out.  

Grealish’s performances kept Phil Foden on the bench. I think he’ll be looking for more of the same next season and will just want to carry on. It's been an incredible year for him and his club.  

The challenge, of course, is for him and all his team mates to retain the hunger and go again. He loves the game of football so much, that appetite for the game is very difficult to put into somebody. I hope he can continue in the same vein and have another brilliant season.  

If you were to be picky, you could look at his goals and say that is an area where he can improve. City create so many chances, so it’s possible for Jack to improve that part of his game. I can remember that one season where Sterling got about 20 goals just by arriving at the far post and tapping them in. It is possible (for Grealish to add more goals to his game). I certainly believe that Grealish can do that as well as score more spectacular efforts. I don't know whether he'd have a target, but he’ll be looking at improving his goals and assists because the best players are always looking to raise their game season after season.  

How much do you think Manchester City will miss Ilkay Gundogan next season after he swapped Manchester for Barcelona?  

They won’t just be missing a wonderful player but a good character as well. Gundogan is a player that would always be demanding high standards on the training ground as well as the pitch.  

To a certain extent, he would have been the voice of Guardiola on the pitch. He achieved everything there was to win at Manchester City and perhaps he wanted a new challenge with Barcelona.   

Kovacic has come in from Chelsea. He's not going to score anywhere near the amount of goals that Gundogan got, he’s a obviously a different type of player.   

One thing that I really admire about Guardiola is that he's got the confidence to let players go, even if it will strengthen their rivals. He allowed Jesus and Zinchenko to join what became title rivals when they signed for Arsenal. He has that confidence in his squad. I'm sure he still feels he has the best squad in the Premier League without Gundogan.  

City are rumoured to be lining up a world-record bid for Josko Gvardiol. Is he a player that you think the club needs given the collection of defenders that are already at the club?  

That would be the last area I'd be looking at, but perhaps one or two of their centre halves might leave the club this summer.  

When you think about their defenders, Stones, Nathan Ake, Akanji, they were brilliant last season. I thought that Akanji had a phenomenal debut campaign. Dias, when he played towards the end of the season, was magnificent.  

I think the signing of Gvardiol would be a bit of a surprise. It would be just like Guardiola to sign him and then play him in midfield and surprise everyone! City seem to have everything. Most importantly, they've got the best coach that’s probably ever managed in Pep Guardiola.  

At the start of every campaign, City’s players always retain that hunger to go and compete again. It was something that Manchester United did so brilliantly under Alex Ferguson who constantly pushed and motivated his teams to keep climbing the mountain. Pep Guardiola has that quality, and he will have his team raring to go again. It’s hard to look past them for the title again.  

What do you think City will be looking to accomplish next season after such a historic year?  

Where do you go from the treble? The quadruple? Nobody's done the Treble twice, perhaps that is something they will be thinking about. I think his message to his players will quite simple: keep winning games and keep winning trophies. Last season was a remarkable achievement where everything clicked for them – it’s going to be hard to better that achievement.  

Manchester City look like an unstoppable juggernaut at the moment. People will be thinking, ‘How can anyone stop them over the next five years,’ but we've said that a lot of times in football, you think a team is going to dominate and then it doesn't pan out. They have dominated English football over the last few years, but we know in football that nothing lasts for ever. At the moment they are the team to beat by some distance.  


It’s fair to say that Liverpool didn’t have a brilliant season last year compared to their usual standards. Do you expect them to come back fighting this year and to mount a title challenge?  

I certainly expect them to be better. Last season was a big disappointment for everybody connected to the club. They lacked that spark last time out and lost that intensity we expect from them under Jurgen Klopp.   

Midfield was a weak point for them. It's difficult work so hard in terms of that high press and closing teams down. 

For the players that have been there for a while, it's hard to keep it going. I think we definitely saw that last year and that's why Liverpool needed new blood coming into the squad to freshen things up. Klopp has addressed that by bringing in Alexis Mac Allister from Brighton and Dominik Szoboszlai from RB Leipzig. I’m looking forward to seeing the shape of his new look midfield, and I expect them to have a better season than last year. 

One player that seems like he has all the raw ingredients to become a top striker is Darwin Nunez. He had his moments last year. What do you think we can expect from him in his second season?  

Darwin Nunez always gives the impression of being really close to becoming something quite special. There's no question about his attitude or his work ethic, he’s a player that is desperate to do well. Sometimes he does things in too much of a hurry. He can be overanxious in the vital moments, but he's had a season to iron out those faults, and I’m sure he’s been working with Klopp and his staff to look at where he can improve. 

There's definitely a player in there. Physically, he is more than equipped for the Premier League. If he gets off to a good start, then you could easily be looking at a very good season for him.  

What do you make of the captures of Alexis Mac Allister and Dominic Szoboszlai?  

Midfield was the area that Liverpool needed to look at. I saw Szoboszlai playing for Hungary when he was a teenager. Even though he is young, he’s experienced. It feels like he’s been on people’s radar for a while as he was not only the big hope for Hungary, but for European football. Everyone thought he was going places and the fact he captains Hungary tells you a little bit about his character. I think now he's ready to go. 

It's going to be really interesting to see how Klopp uses him. He's definitely a talented boy, as is McAllister, another lad who works really hard alongside that talent and who had a great World Cup. Being a World Cup winner gives you that confidence as well. Mac Allister will feel a few inches taller, having the title of World Champion on his head.  

These are two good signings for Liverpool. Given Mac Allister is Premier League ready, you’d expect him to slot into that team straight away and start having a bigger impact than Szoboszlai to begin with.  

What do you think the minimum objective will be for the club this season?  

They’ll want to be playing Champions League next season. That has to be the first objective, and for them to get back in there maybe they’ll really go for the Europa League. I think that is a trophy they should be targeting this season. Liverpool will be a force in the Europa League.  

Individually, they’ll be looking for some of their key players like van Dijk to get back to his best form. If he can do that, that will be a major boost for everyone at the club.  


For the first time in 20 years, Chelsea was forced to sell players you could argue that they would have rather of kept this summer. Do you think those sales show Chelsea’s dramatic decline since Todd Boehly bought the club?  

It was such a haphazard approach to signing players; it was really scattergun. I don't think there was any method to their business last season. The signing of Mudryk is a great example of that. Arsenal was interested and they thought they'd pinch him off their London rivals.  

Chelsea have collected all these players. It looks like something Pochettino and the club are trying to sort out. Koulibaly came in last summer, now he's gone. Some of the lads that have come through the ranks, they’ve been moved on and it appears like more of them might be on the way out of the club.  Mason Mount and Ruben Loftus-Cheek have left, which is a shame because club’s don’t like to lose academy players that have come through the ranks.  

They need to get back to more of an organized approach. With so much movement in and out of the team, I think it’s going to be hard for Pochettino.  

How much of a big job does Mauricio Pochettino have on his hands at the club?  

This is a really tough job for Pochettino. It would have been tough for him at PSG because of the characters he was working with there. At PSG he had massive stars with big egos who are always difficult to manage, whereas at Tottenham, he had players that worked their socks off for him.  

He must bring discipline back into the football club in terms of how the players train. In many ways, the club needs to go back to basics to get those standards back. From what I hear, those fell by the wayside last season. He needs to bring that winning culture into the club, which won’t be easy.  

He would have been made aware of the challenges before taking it on, and I think in many ways, it was too tempting a job to turn down. It will be fascinating to watch what he does next season, but make no mistake, It’s a massive job for him.   


Brighton had a remarkable season last year and will be playing Europa League football this time around. How can they sustain their improvement and potentially kick on to another level next season?  

I think they can retain the level that they've got a good squad and a talented manager. We know that the big boys will swoop and nick some of their players, they’ve already lost Mac Allister and there are a lot of rumours about Caicedo moving on.  

I also think that De Zerbi will have plenty of suitors and probably had a few offers over the summer from bigger clubs than Brighton. He’s only been there for nine months, and I don’t think it was the time for him to move on, especially after he guided the club into the Europa League.  

When I think of the youthful talent that Brighton has in the team, it really is quite amazing. Evan Ferguson burst onto the scene from nowhere and looks a heck of a player that will get better and better. I’m looking forward to seeing him go up a level next season.  

The boys that they brought in from South America have been superb. Enciso, Buonanotte, it’s great to see such superb young talent at the club. Brighton seems to pluck these lads from nowhere, so they deserve a massive amount of credit in terms of recruitment.  

When you've got a good coach like De Zerbi nurturing them, these youngsters have hit the ground running. They seem to adapt to the Premier League pretty much straight away, which is some feat for them and for the coach. They've got some good pros in there. The likes of Lallana, Lewis Dunk and James Milner who has just joined. The Brighton squad has a really nice blend, and, under De Zerbi, we can expect some very entertaining football and hopefully another good campaign. 

Aston Villa 

How highly do you rate Ollie Watkins?  

I really like Ollie Watkins. He's had a tough time in certain periods in his Villa career, but in the second half of the season, he scored a lot of goals, and you can see him enjoying his football again and getting into a lot of good positions. 

At one stage it looked as if his Villa career wasn’t going to be a success. I think when the club decided to let Danny Ings go, that was the moment when everything clicked for him at Villa. It definitely helped Ollie Watkins understand that he would be the main man at the club in terms of scoring goals and it showed the faith that Unai Emery had in him to score those goals. I really like him as a player and look forward to seeing what he can do next season.  

Villa finished the season brilliantly under Unai Emery. What do you think they will be looking to achieve this time around?  

I think it will be very difficult for Aston Villa to improve on last season. They obviously finished the season brilliantly – Unai Emery transformed them after he came into the football club – and qualifying for the Europa Conference League was a great achievement. 

I think it will be hard to push up the table and gate crash that top four. There were a lot of clubs like Liverpool and Tottenham that will be looking to improve on last season.  

I think Emery is a fine, fine coach. They’ve made some good signings already with the likes of Youri Tielemans joining and Pau Torres on his way. I think they will fancy having a real go at winning the Europa Conference League next season. You'd fancy Villa to do really well in that. Unai Emery is a European expert in terms of winning trophies, so it should be another good season for the Villa.  

Video Games 

A lot of football fans know you as playing a role in the iconic FIFA game franchise. How much fun was it to work on those games and can you tell us a little bit about the process? 

Martin Tyler and I would go to the recording studios in London with a producer. For each game, we’d probably go in ten times a year to record different sound bites and commentary. We'd have a script for that day, but it's not a script you would read verbatim, it would cover in game scenarios and our job was to describe those scenarios. 

For example, we’d be in the studio and for the first hour, we're going to talk about free kicks. Over the wall, hitting the bar, over the bar, and the producers ask you to give different versions of that situation.  

All of the commentary, everything that you hear in the game, is completely off the cuff. When we recorded the commentary, all of the scenarios that we’re describing are in our imagination. You're not looking at a screen or anything, there’s no match footage or footage from the game, so we would sit in the studio and Martin would say something and I'll feed off that.  

The games were very authentic, and our job was to make the commentary seem as realistic as possible. It was great fun to be a part of and I really loved doing it for nine years. Martin did it a little bit longer than I did. It was a great honour to be part of the franchise and it gave me a whole new fanbase.  


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