William Gallas Exclusive

William Gallas Exclusive

Speaking to Gambling Zone, former Chelsea defender and Premier League winner William Gallas gives his verdict on:

  • The North London Derby
  • The Premier League Player of the Year Award
  • Mourinho and a return to the Premier League
  • The Champions League Semifinals
  • Potential summer transfers
  • Chelsea and Arsenal’s seasons

On Tottenham vs Arsenal

What is your Immediate reaction after the game?

I thought that this was a match that would be won by the team that scored first. The first goal was always going to be crucial, and for Tottenham to win the match, they needed to open the scoring. 

Arsenal went to their rivals and played some beautiful football in the first half. They were aggressive in the way they moved the ball around, and when the third goal went in, I was worried for Tottenham. I thought that Arsenal would score more goals in the second half but they didn’t play with the same intensity and they let Tottenham back into the game through two individual mistakes. 

The Raya mistake gave Tottenham believe when they were down and out, and Arsenal went into survival mode. The last ten minutes were nervy. It was a game of very fine margins. 

The best team won yesterday. Arsenal are the best team in London at the moment. The result makes the game seem closer than it was, but I thought Arsenal were the much better side and deserved the victory. It wasn’t tight. David Raya made a mistake and, up until that point, they completely controlled the game. 

Which players stood out for you?

To be honest, it’s hard to pick one stand-out player, because I thought it was a brilliant team performance from Arsenal. Arsenal have taken another step forward this season – they look stronger and more mature – they’ve gone up a level. They have the confidence that they can win every game. 

Even before the match started, I saw Odegaard talking to his players with so much authority. That is something I haven’t seen before – we’ve seen the Arsenal players huddle before a game, but this felt different. It was a big derby, and he was motivating the team with his gestures. 

This is an Arsenal team that has grown up a lot over the last couple of years. They are so close to winning the Premier League and that improved maturity is one of the main reasons. 

Does that result for Arsenal suggest that they are ready to push the title race to the last day?

I think Arsenal will push Manchester City all the way. I can see them taking this to the last day of the season. The one game that looks like it might be tricky is Manchester United away in a couple of weeks’ time. I would be a little bit worried about that game. 

Against Bournemouth, a couple of years ago that would be a game I would have had concerns about Arsenal dropping points in, but this season, I’m not worried. With the fans behind them, they will win that game by a minimum of two goals. 

Manchester United will want to finish the season as strongly as possible. They will need to win to help them qualify for European football. 

If Tottenham fail to qualify for the Champions League would the season be considered a failure? They started the season so will – there were whispers of a title challenge – but it’s slowly dwindling away from them. 

It’s always the same thing. If you’re a top club and you don’t qualify for a place in the Champions League, then you have failed. It’s as simple as that. When we spoke about Tottenham at the beginning of the season, Champions League qualification would have been the target. 

Tottenham started the season brilliantly. They were playing a new style of football under a new manager in Ange Postecoglou, and everyone was so happy to see Tottenham play brave, attacking football. Over the last few weeks, they’ve dropped too many points and some of their better players haven’t been playing at their best level. You can see that Tottenham are missing something. In the games that they have dropped points in recently, they’ve missed that player who can win a game on his own. Harry Kane was always that player, and they didn’t replace him when he moved to Bayern very late in the transfer window. 

Having a player like Kane in your team creates so many problems for your opponent and opens up the game for Tottenham’s other attacking players because the main focus is always on stopping him. He can score a goal at any time. 

I think Son has done brilliantly leading the Tottenham attack in Harry’s absence, but if you look at his stats this season, they aren’t as good as when Kane was there. There is more pressure on him to score the goals, and the opposition are targeting him. Son can’t do everything on his own. He has needed more support from his team mates. 

How disappointing will it be for Tottenham to miss out on the Champions League? 

Missing out on the Champions League will be a big disappointment for Tottenham. You have to also think about how physically demanding Ange Postecoglou’s tactics are on his group of players. He asks a lot of his players without the ball and that every game must be an energy-sapping experience for them. Pressing as high as Tottenham do isn’t easy over the course of the season, and I think that the Tottenham players look tired. 

You need to be really committed to be able to do this over the course of a season and you need a deeper squad because those physical demands are so high. It’s impossible to play with that intensity for a thirty-eight-game season when your squad isn’t deep enough, and I think that is why Tottenham’s results haven’t been as positive in the second half of the season. The group looks like it is running out of steam. I think Ange should have adapted his tactics in certain games – there were times when Spurs would have benefitted from a plan b – because you can’t play such a physically demanding style over an entire season (with such a small group of players). 

It's a little bit like Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds. Everyone loved the style with high intensity pressing, players playing with total commitment, but in the second half of the season the results dried up because the players were so tired. The same thing has happened at Tottenham. 

The fans might be happy with a fifth-place finish, but I think there will be some regrets within the Tottenham camp after the way they started the season. They will know that they could have done better if they miss out on the Champions League to Aston Villa. 

For Tottenham to take the next step, do they need to add more quality over the next few transfer windows? 

That feels like the answer, greater investment in the squad, but it has been that way for the last few years. Tottenham need to add better players to be able to consistently compete with the best clubs in England. 

Over the last few years, Tottenham haven’t been able to compete for the Premier League title. They really need to find the right players to make the squad stronger. They definitely need one more striker. Richarlison has had his problems away from the pitch this year – Tottenham are missing a finisher. They need a striker that scares defenders, while also creating some more space for Son. 

Is there a striker in the Premier League who you think would be a perfect fit for Tottenham? 

I think Ivan Toney would be a good fit for Tottenham. He is big and strong; he will work perfectly with Son and create spaces and opportunities for him to be more dangerous. Toney can hold up the ball really well and that means he can help Tottenham attack in greater numbers. 

Also, when you’re under a bit of pressure in a game, a guy like Toney can use his body and his strength as an out ball. He is a great option for a long ball. He’ll be a good addition for Tottenham (if they sign him).

What is the main lesson you think Ange Postecoglou would have learned this season after his first year managing in the Premier League? 

Firstly, I want to say that Ange Postecoglou has done well in his first season managing in the Premier League. I think for next year, he will maybe think about introducing a new tactical system for certain games. Sometimes you need to have a different approach, especially with the physical demands that he places on his players. They play such a high energy brand of football, and I think he will have realised that he doesn’t have the depth to play that style every single week. He will have learned that he will need to adapt.

The last few results will have shown him that tactically, he needs to be able to mix-up his approach. Tottenham have been neck-and-neck with Aston Villa over the last few weeks – they could have caught them – and I think the reason they’ve dropped points recently is because his players are very tired. 

The only teams in the Premier League that don’t change their style – and you can’t make the same comparison between these two clubs and Tottenham because they are on another level to them, is Manchester City and Arsenal. 

Pep Guardiola doesn’t change his approach regardless of the opponent. Guardiola and Arteta have one system and they force the opponent to play in a different way when they come up against them, but they have squads with more quality than Tottenham. Sometimes when you play teams like Arsenal and Manchester City, you have to accept that you’re not as good as them and try and win the game with a different approach. 

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On End Of Season Awards

Who do you think deserves to be crowned Premier League Player of the Year? 

I always believe that the Premier League Player of the Year should come from the team that wins the title – they should be a champion. 

The best players will be between Manchester City and Arsenal players. For me, I will pick Rodri from Manchester City. He has been really consistent for Manchester City this season. He has scored some important goals and when he is in the team, City are a much better side. He has the ability to control the midfield on his own. He can do everything in the midfield; offensive, defensive. He is the main man at Manchester City in my opinion. 

Kevin de Bruyne and ErlingHaaland have been injured at times this season, Rodri had that spell where he was suspended, and City dropped points. As an individual, I think that Rodri is the most important player in Pep Guardiola’s squad. That is why he should be named the Premier League Player of the Year. 

Who do think deserves to be Premier League Young Player of the Year (23 and under)? 

Cole Palmer definitely deserves to be recognised as the Premier League Young Player of the Year. What he has done for Chelsea this season is unbelievable. Can you imagine what he would he be like if he was playing with other players in this Chelsea team who had the same quality as him? He can do a lot more. He has scored twenty goals this season. That is something special, especially when the club he plays for are having such a bad season. There is a little bit of a crisis at Chelsea this season and he hasn’t let that affect him at all. He has been Chelsea’s best player this season and he normally always performs at a high level. He’s scored some absolutely beautiful goals too. 

He's a really unique player. There isn’t anyone else like him in the Premier League.

Cole Palmer is so unique. His movement is unique. When I watch him, he reminds me a little bit of Chris Waddle – he has that type of movement, coming off the right on his left foot. You don’t know if he will go inside or outside, and his movement is very difficult for defenders to deal with. He is tall, but he has good skill. If you compare him with Saka or Foden, he has a totally different style. 

Who has been the best defender in the Premier League this season? 

I will put William Saliba as the best defender in the Premier League this season. Gabriel could have also been up there, he has had a great season, he was really strong. For me, Saliba has been the best. He hasn’t made that many mistakes this season and it looks like he has gone up a level and improved a lot (since last season). 

He is very calm. Most of the time he is always in a good position because he reads the game really well. He has been the best defender in the Premier League. 

Who has been the best midfielder in the Premier League this season? 

Again, I have to say Rodri. He makes so much of a difference for Manchester City. 

Who has been the signing of the season in terms of a player’s overall impact?

Declan Rice has been the signing of the season. I think he has had an amazing season for Arsenal. It’s been his first season with the club – he has six goals and seven assists. 

With Rice, where do you think his best role is. We’ve seen him play in front of the defence and as a box-to-box player at times this season. 

I think getting the best out of Rice can be an issue, because, he has so much quality, sometimes you think it is a bit of a waste to ask him to sit in front of the defence and provide that protection. 

He can do everything in the midfield. He can defend, he can attack and, because he is still a young player, he has the legs to play a box-to-box role. I think he should play as a number eight to give him a bit more freedom. Arsenal need to find a player that plays in front of the centre backs to give Rice the freedom to express himself. 

Maybe Arsenal can play with two midfielders, with Odegaard in front of him. Of course, Rice can play that holding role, but when you watch him play, he looks like he wants to go forward because he has the energy and physical attributes to do it. 

I think Arsenal need to find a player like N’Golo Kante. Pogba and Kante worked beautifully as a central pair. Most of the time Pogba went forward and Kante stayed back, and vice versa. With Declan, Arsenal can do the same thing, they just need to find that perfect player to play alongside Rice.  

Who has been the flop of the season? 

I think Raheem Sterling has been a big disappointment. When I watch him play, he doesn’t look like a player that will return to the level that he was at Liverpool and Manchester City. 

This is his second season with the club, and he hasn’t showed anything. For a guy that has won so much in his career, he should be doing a lot more for Chelsea. He hasn’t done anything. 

Also, Mudryk, but the circumstances around his poor performances are a little bit different. We don’t know how he has been affected by the war in Ukraine. We don’t know what is happening with him – it must be very difficult for him. It looks like he isn’t enjoying his football or his time at Chelsea. When he plays, you can see he isn’t enjoying it. It’s a shame because everyone thought this would be the year where he showed his potential – I also thought that he would be a different player this season. 

Can we put Mudryk’s poor performances down to a lack of confidence? Would a change of scenery help the player? 

It’s hard for me to comment on whyMudryk looks like he doesn’t have the confidence or the enjoyment in his football. I don’t know if a change of scenery would benefit the player. We don’t know if a new club would change his fortunes on the pitch. We don’t know what is going on in his private life. The situation with the war is very hard – he could still have family in Ukraine. 

Only the players that are around him, the guys that live with him every single day, will know what the answer is. 

Which manager will be lucky to be still be in a job when the new season starts? 

This is a tricky one. It could be between Mauricio Pochettino and Erik ten Hag – both of them have had disappointing seasons. 

Erik ten Hag has Manchester United in a higher position than Chelsea in the Premier League, but it’s his second season with the club and most people expected Manchester United to take a step forward this year. They haven’t done that. Manchester United have gone backwards. 

I think ten Hag will be very lucky to keep his job going into next season. 

On The Premier League

One of your former managers Jose Mourinho has been speaking in the press this week. He said he didn’t have the same supports as Erik ten Hag has received when he was Manchester United manager. He has spoken about the magic of a club like Liverpool. Chelsea links are always bubbling in the background, even West Ham have been linked. Is there an opportunity for Mourinho this summer and which club would suit him best? 

I really hope that there is an opportunity for Jose Mourinho to come back and manage another big club in the Premier League next season. He has to do something because he is a special manager. I want to see him coaching again. I would love to see him back in the Premier League managing one big club. 

The Premier League is about to lose Jurgen Klopp. Next season, the only big, big managers in the league will be Pep Guardiola and Mikel Arteta, and Mikel hasn’t won the league yet. There is room for another prestigious manager to come in and compete with those two and I think that Jose Mourinho could be the man to do it. We need one more big manager in the Premier League. 

If Mourinho came back, it would be good for the Premier League and it would be exciting. I think everyone would be excited by the prospect of seeing Mourinho pitting his wits against Pep Guardiola and Mikel Arteta – something would happen. There would be fireworks. 

Do you think there is an opportunity for him this summer? 

Liverpool isn’t an opportunity for him. They are looking at another candidate and I think it would be impossible for Mourinho to manage there. 

If there was a club for him, who would it be? 

That is a good question. I actually think the best club for him would be to come back to Chelsea. That would be the best possible option for Mourinho. 

The fans would love that wouldn’t they? 

The best thing for Mourinho would be to return to Chelsea. The question is, if he comes back to Chelsea, he will need players with a different mentality and players with more quality than Chelsea currently have. He asks a lot of his players – he demands a lot – and that can be a problem for some players that don’t have the quality to give him what he needs. 

He knows what it takes to win. Guardiola also demands a lot from his players. That is the only way if you want to win the Premier League. Arteta, you can see that he has increased the demands over Arsenal’s players and this season, he has changed the way that he has spoken to his players. 

On The Champions League

The Champions League returns with the semi-finals this week. Of the remaining team, who do you think has the best chance of lifting the competition? 

I think it would be a brilliant story if we had a final between Real Madrid and PSG. That match would be all about Mbappe, and I think people would be crazy to see what will happen. 

Everyone expects Kylian to move to Real Madrid in the summer. The media would love that final. 

I think from a fans perspective, that is the final that most neutrals would like to see. 

PSG have never won the Champions League. There have been a lot of stories about Mbappe’s future for the last few years – it looks like this will be the summer when he finally departs. Madrid have the mystique in the Champions League. It will be a huge occasion. I hope that is the final. 

There are no English sides left at this stage in either the Champions League or the Europa League, with Aston Villa the last domestic club standing. The Premier League is regarded as the best league in the world, does the limited representation of English clubs in Europe suggest that it isn’t? 

The Premier League is still the best league in the world. I don’t think that will change because there are no English clubs in the semi-final of the Champions League or the Europa League. 

Maybe wedon’t have any English clubs in the last four because the Premier League is such an intense competition with such high standards. Every game in the Premier League is difficult. You have to approach every single game with a lot of energy otherwise you will lose. It’s hard, it’s physical. 

If you look at the other European leagues, PSG just won the title this weekend and are twelve points clear of their nearest rivals. Real Madrid are thirteen points clear and, in Germany, the two teams that are left in the Champions League have been miles behind the champions Bayer Leverkusen. There aren’t as many strong clubs in any of these leagues if you make a direct comparison to the Premier League. 

On Chelsea

The latest player to be injured is Enzo Fernandez. Enzo is out for the remainder of the season because he has chosen to have surgery on a hernia issue now so he can potentially be fit to play in this summer’s Copa America. Given his less than impressive performances for Chelsea, has he got his loyalties wrong? Shouldn’t his focus be on turning around his club’s form? 

If Chelsea were fighting for the title or had something important to play for between now and the end of the season, then I don’t think that Enzo Fernandez would have been allowed to have this operation now. He has decided to have the operation because Chelsea don’t have anything to play for. 

He has the Copa America that he is trying to get fit for. Playing for Argentina is very important for him, that’s what it seems like by choosing to have this operation now. I don’t think he has prioritised his national team over his club team by deciding that he wanted the operation now. Sometimes fans can find these decisions from players very frustrating – I’m sure there will be a few Chelsea fans who are unhappy with this decision by Enzo, but the reality is that this is a difficult decision. 

With or without him, Chelsea’s fortunes won’t change with him in the team. Since he’s joined the club, he’s had some good performances, but, unfortunately, he’s had some bad games, and he hasn’t been consistent at all. He hasn’t been the main man that a lot of people thought he would be since he joined the club.  

Maybe the operation will be good for him. Hopefully he can get fit, play a tournament and then get a good pre-season under his belt. 

It will be good for everyone if Enzo can start performing at the level that we expect from him. Hopefully he can get fit, have a good international tournament with Argentina and start the Premier League season with a bang. It’s a sensitive topic, but it was probably the right choice (to have the operation now). 

On Summer Transfers

We know Chelsea will likely be looking to splash the cash again in the summer. Are you worried that the club will be able to attract world-class players given the last couple of years at the club and doubts over Pochettino’s future or do you think world-class talents will be attracted to Chelsea regardless? 

Listen, Chelsea will always be an attractive proposition for any player, with or without Europe. The last few years haven’t been good, but don’t forget, this is a club that has won everything over the last twenty years. They have won it all. 

Players will love to go to Chelsea. Chelsea is one of the biggest club’s in the Premier League and globally, they are still one of the biggest clubs in the world. What has happened over the last couple of years won’t change that, and hopefully things can change on the pitch for them next season. 

On Arsenal

Gary Neville recently labelled Martin Odegaard as the best midfielder in his position in the Premier League. Do you agree with his assessment of the Arsenal captain? 

Martin Odegaard has taken another step this season. He has gone up a level and has been more consistent this year than last season. That means that next season, he will be even better. I think we could see the best version of Martin Odegaard next season because he has a complete understanding of the demands of the Premier League now and also what his role is in this Arsenal team. 

He knows what he has to do in every game. He will know the demands of what type of performances he and his team mates will need to deliver on a consistent basis if he wants to win the Premier League. 

In terms of the best playmaker in the Premier League, you can’t put Martin Odegaard in front of Kevin de Bruyne yet. De Bruyne is still the man – he is one level above. Kevin de Bruyne has shown he is the best for the last three or four seasons. He is resilient. When he came back from his injury, his performances reminded everyone of just how special he is as a player. There were no doubts if he was going to get back to his level, so he deserves credit for that in itself. 

Odegaard is on the right path. He is up there with the best in the Premier League, but to be the best, you need to win the title; you need to lift trophies. He’s Arsenal’s captain, he takes the responsibility, but the next step to be recognised as the best in the league, is to lead your team to the Premier League title. If Arsenal don’t win it this season, I think next season will be his year and we will see that torch being handed from Kevin de Bruyne to Martin Odegaard. 


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