The latest FWA Live, sponsored by Barclays, was another rousing success. A packed audience at the Soho Hotel in London heard some strong views from the panel which comprised Andy Dunn, chief sports writer of the Sunday Mirror and chairman of the Football Writers’ Association; Martin Lipton, chief football writer of the Daily Mirror; Alan Curbishley, the former Charlton and West Ham manager who had an eventful six weeks as technical director of Fulham; and Ray Wilkins, the former Chelsea and Manchester United (plus nine other clubs) midfielder who more recently was assistant first team coach at Chelsea and Fulham).
All proceeds from the event went to Beating Bowel Cancer, the charity represented by Ben Woolnough whose late father, Brian, was chief sports writer of the Daily Star and a long-standing member of the FWA.
Christopher Davies was there to cover the event for footballwriters.co.uk
The panel kicked-off with Brendan Rodgers, who is doing such a fine job at Liverpool.
AD: The jury was out for a long time but Rodgers deserves all credit he’s getting.
RW: At Chelsea [where Rodgers worked under Jose Mourinho] he watched, listened to and studied a guy at the top of his job.
AD: Brendan had some big decisions when he took over. He got rid of [Pepe] Reina and the club’s record signing [Andy Carroll] without giving him a chance and has been proved right.
RW: His bigger decisions will be next season because he can’t buy young players again, he’s got to buy established players. He will ask ‘can we progress by keep buying young players?’ No. For him to succeed he has to go on and bring in established players. By the way, can I say I think Steven Gerrard should win the [FWA’s] Footballer of the Year award by a mile. He has never played in a great Liverpool team, but has continually dragged the team up by its bootlaces. In Turkey, they were 3-0 down [to AC Milan] and it was Stevie who got Liverpool back in the game. Before the final he scored a wonder goal against Olympiacos to keep them in the tournament. For me he is a great footballer. The word ‘great’ is used too often but it is true with him
ML: Rafa Benitez didn’t trust him with the more defensive role he has now.
RW: He is the best midfield passer from deep position in the Barclays Premier League. I remember against Fulham this season he took four players out with one pass. His ability to adapt from being a more gung-ho midfielder has helped Liverpool and will help England in the World Cup.
PM: Manuel Pellegrini has made a positive impression at Manchester City…
AD: He has conducted himself well apart from one blip [when he criticised the referee after a Champions League tie]. He does not get carried away in victory or defeat. Perhaps Aguero came back too quickly from injury but in his first season in the Barclays Premier League you have to give a 60- year-old rookie a chance.
AC: There was always a crisis around the corner when Roberto Mancini was there. The way he handled Carlos Tevez was ridiculous, his comments about Tevez devalued the player to an extent some clubs might have considered it a sackable offence. He was always on edge, never seemed relaxed and they needed someone more affable. Pellegrini is far more relaxed.
PM: I remember talking to David Platt [Mancini’s assistant] and he told me Mancini had said: “Go out and buy trees so no one can see fights in training.” Platt said: “Why not just don’t fight?”
AC: The Barclays Premier League is not La Liga and when City were beaten at Cardiff he was was stunned by that but learned from it.
PM: Manchester United are a team close to your heart, Ray, do you have sympathy for David Moyes?
RW: I do not have sympathy with Manchester United but I do with David. The club should have been far more active in the transfer market last summer, they let David down there. Some criticism of him has been justified, some not, but it was an ageing squad he inherited and now it’s a year older. This isn’t a one-window scenario, it’s two or three and it will be hard to buy A-list players without the Champions League.
PM: What other blue chip company would appoint someone from a short-list of one?
ML: I can understand why you would want Sir Alex Ferguson to have an input. He wanted David Moyes to succeed and not succeeding is a blow to British coaching.
RW: Given the squad, would a foreign coach have done better?
ML: The issue is clubs won’t want to take that risk on a British manager. Watching United, they have lost their sense of fearlessness. When teams went to Old Trafford, United would come at you while at Everton it was more about resilience and hard work. Away from home that can work and United’s away results have been good but at home they have had shocking results.
AC: At Everton, David would dilly and dally over transfers but he was always shopping at Sainsburys. Now he is not shopping at Sainsburys and sometimes with less money it’s easier. You make small mistakes, if you spend £10 million and it doesn’t work out you can get away with it but some of the targets [at United] were pie in the sky.
RW: If Everton want £15 million for Leighton Baines, just buy him. United could afford it. If they want him, buy him. For me, the biggest failure in the January transfer market was Julian Draxler of Schalke 04 not going to Arsenal but they wouldn’t pay the asking price. Buy him, it’s not your money. A new face can be so important at that stage of the season.
PM: Would anyone at Arsenal sack Arsene Wenger?
ML: No, they are all scared witless of Wenger. No one has the courage to dismiss him. Personally I think he is too good a manager to let go.
PM: And you have to be careful what you wish for.
AC: No other top four club in Europe would let their manager go eight years without winning a trophy and still be there. It’s a unique situation at Arsenal.
RW: We cannot afford to lose great managers, we need his knowledge and we have to keep him in the Barclays Premier League.
PM: Do Arsenal look stale?
AD: They were humiliated at Anfield and pretty well so at Goodison, too. In big games do you think does he prepare for the opposition?
AC: He doesn’t. Ex-Arsenal players I know say he concentrates on his team, it’s all about them. They don’t discuss the opposition too much and this is not working.
RW: When he started winning with Arsenal he had an unbelievable back five. Seaman in goal, Dixon, Bould, Adams and Winterburn. In midfield there were Vieira and Petit and they were huge…beasts. More recently, at Chelsea our main function was to stop Arsenal coming through the centre of midfield, we made them go wide because JT and whoever could deal with balls into our box. I said to our players: ‘Make contact with them because they are weak…fragile.’ Drogba is the dog’s. The bee’s knees. He’d beat them up. Arsenal have never replaced that back-four.
PM: What about Roberto Martinez at Everton?
AC: I thought Roberto Martinez would have a more difficult job than David Moyes. I wasn’t really one of his biggest fans, but what he’s done this year is to improve Everton. Most teams go to the Emirates shaking in their boots and Everton took game to Arsenal.
AD: Everton fans won’t mind finishing sixth or seventh as long as Liverpool don’t win the Barclays Premier League.
PM: How do you think England will do at the World Cup and what would be success?
AD: Qualifying from the group and I think they will. Everyone is excited about a core of young players and what we want is for them to show there is hope for the future. No one expects them to win or even get beyond quarter-finals but I hope they make it enjoyable for us to watch England again.
AC: Roy Hodgson has a big decision – does he go with the young players? I hope he does. Over the years there has been a siege mentality around England, the players seem unhappy. I look at the England set-up and the players don’t look as if they are enjoying themselves. Roy must get them playing as they do for their clubs.
AD: In 2002 they were beaten in quarter-finals by Brazil, a really heart-breaking defeat as they would have played Turkey next but the England players couldn’t wait to get home. They did not enjoy it.
RW: I was in Kobe and the hotel was bloody enormous. Five-star luxury is perfectly right but to live in a room by themselves…? There was no banter and I think they have lost that along the way. If we get to the quarter-finals I’ll be absolutely delighted but win it? No chance. We are not good enough. I believe a European team can win the World Cup for the first time in South America but it will be Spain or Germany…maybe the Dutch.
AD: I wouldn’t look beyond Brazil though Spain will be major players again. The Spain team that won in 2010 had seven from Barcelona, three from Real Madrid and one who joined Barcelona afterwards. That will probably be the case in Brazil. Spain could pick a team from the Barclays Premier League*. England do not have that strength in depth.
ML: It’s Argentina for me. They are tactically talented and do not have the pressure of Brazil who still have the memory of the 1950 defeat which may wear them down. Germany are getting stronger but I’m not quite sure if Spain are where they were in 2010.
RW: We must be realistic. We don’t have enough world-class players. Brazil? Semi-finals max.
ML: In tournament history, how many major teams have England beaten away from Wembley in the knockout stages? None.
AD: I’d take Andy Carroll. You can afford a maverick pick. If you use him as an impact sub…I don’t think bringing on Rickie Lambert against Italy would unsettle them too much.
ML: I’m not sure if referees will allow Andy Carroll to get within five yards of an opponent.
*How about: De Gea (Man Utd) – Azpilcueta (Chelsea), Cuellar (A. Villa), Chico Flores (Swansea), Monreal (Arsenal) – David Silva (Man City), Mata (Man Utd), Cazorla (Arsenal) – Navas (Man City), Michu (Swansea), Negredo (Man City). Manager: Roberto Martinez (Everton).
MORE FROM THE PANEL NEXT WEEK.