How’s Gary Cahill?
Not very good, I’m afraid. It was a nasty injury, we’re still assessing it. He won’t be able to play tomorrow unless something miraculous happens overnight. But I hope it won’t keep him out for weeks on end, but it’s too soon I’m afraid after the kick that he took against Brighton.
Have you had much communication with Jordan Ayew after his positive COVID test?
We’ve spoken a couple of times on the phone of course because he’s self-isolating. The last time I spoke to him, which was the day before yesterday [Wednesday], he was feeling very, very good, he certainly felt he had no symptoms. He was just surprised that the test had come up and he had to self-isolate and miss what is now going to amount to two games.
One shot on target against Brighton – a concern for you?
Yeah, but once again we’re in the realm of statistics which I’m not a great lover of. I don’t follow Opta stats, I think that’s more for gambling companies and people like yourself to ask these questions. It was so long ago against Man United and Everton, that people were actually speaking unbelievably highly of our attacking threat and the quality we were showing when we had the ball. The fact that we didn’t do so on Sunday against Brighton, we obviously receive criticism for that and we are pretty critical of ourselves in that instance. But it’s not something which I expect to be taken forward game to game and I’m pretty sure the players will be very anxious tomorrow to be certain they show their quality they do have on the ball and that they are more than capable of creating goal chances and creating a little bit of havoc in the opposing team’s penalty area, which is far more important to me than shots.
Unusual start to the season with Everton and Villa in top two – any theory as to why?
No, I don’t have a theory. I just think that five games is too small a sample, quite frankly. There always seem to be a team or two who will start better than predicted and a couple of teams at the other end. It’s not five games that decides it; it’s not even 20 games that decides it. Certainly I don’t think we should be making any tremendous prediction or suggestions that this or that will happen. One congratulates the teams that have had a great start, Everton and Aston Villa must be delighted and deserve the praise they’re getting. But I’m pretty sure that the managers there know full well: let’s take the praise, be glad for it, but it doesn’t mean too much because there are a lot of games to come.
What are your thoughts on a European Premier League – is it a matter of time?
I’m not quite as pessimistic as that. Of course, like most people, I’m not in favour of it. I’m in favour of the current system where there are top leagues in the European countries, and we have a Champions League and even Europa League, which I think is dealing very, very well with our desire to see our top teams play against other top teams from other nations. We’ve got that at the moment and I’m a great admirer and supporter of the Premier League. I would be very disappointed to see a breakaway league, because it certainly won’t be advantageous in my opinion for domestic football – and that’s not just in England but all European countries. But I don’t really subscribe to the theory that it would be that an awful lot better for European football, either. I think we’ve got the Champions League, the Europa League, which is heavily biased, still, in favour of the top teams and the big leagues. For example, Malmo reaching the final in 1979 with Bob Houghton – we can forget those things happening now because of the bias towards making certain that the top teams get more than enough chances to get through.
You brought Scott Parker to Euro 2012 as a senior player – did you expect he’d go into management?
I’m not at all surprised that he’s done so. I must say that I don’t really think I can say honestly that while working with players I’ve ever considered to any great extent: is this a manager of the future? I suppose I work on a basis that being such good players, and in Scott’s case being such a good student of the game it would probably have been surprising had he not gone into management, but I’m really please to see him doing so well at the job and I certainly don’t have any surprise that this is the route that he’s taken.
Want your forward line to show more ruthlessness?
Yes, of course. The last game wasn’t one that we were that satisfied with in terms of our attacking play. We were extremely satisfied with our defensive play. I think we can consider ourselves a little bit unfortunate to concede so late in the game. We had such a good second goal which would have killed the game disallowed for a marginal offside. But that game’s gone. We would have liked to have played a bit better on the ball than we did that day and we intend to put that straight tomorrow.
Fulham were busy in the window, how do you think they’ve strengthened?
It’s difficult for me to say how well they’ve strengthened because I haven’t seen that much of them. They were only really visible in the last game against Sheffield United when Scott changed the team and put seven of them in the team to make their debut. But no doubt that on paper it looks like they’ve done extremely well, some very good business. A player that they’ve signed that I know well, Ruben Loftus-Cheek is an outstanding signing in my opinion because we have such a high opinion of him here. So we’re expecting a very difficult game. They had a difficult start, they seem to be getting better. The performance against Sheffield United was good, we’re five games in, I’m expecting them to build on the Sheffield United performance and move steadily up the table. I think they’ve got the quality of player, and the quality of the club as a whole. I always regard Fulham as a Premier League club.
It’s very unfortunate for Wayne Hennessey, who picked up such a serious injury in the last game of the international break. We were forced to act because we know he’ll be out until at least January, and even then it’ll be hard for him to get fit again. We needed to bring somebody in, but then our misfortune continued because no sooner had Jack come and signed that he tested positive for coronavirus, so we haven’t seen him yet. He has to self isolate. He’s stuck in a hotel room in London living a pretty boring existence, I can only imagine. He’s waiting for the magical period of time which you have to self-isolate for to pass, take another test and hopefully he’ll be cleared and I can answer your question a bit more about what it’s like to have him with us. At the moment he’s only with us in from afar. My only contact with him has been by telephone to ask how he’s feeling. But the good news is he’s feeling very good. Very frustrated and disappointed that all he sees is four walls and nothing else.
Getting more used to empty grounds – does it affect or alter your love of the game?
Nothing really, I think, will ever impact so badly that it will affect my love of the game. Whether or not the games are as enjoyable even for us who are the main participants is a matter of debate. Of course it’s very disappointing. I watched a couple of Champions League games, particularly the one in Kiev where you’re seeing games played in front of 20-25,000 people. I find it very hard to understand why the initial suggestion of fans being allowed in under controlled circumstances and maintaining social distances [are being declined]. Especially when pubs in many places are still open, events are still being held – I saw one at the London Palladium the other day. All of these things are still going on and I don’t really understand why there can’t be anyone other than maybe the authorities and chairman of the other club maybe, watching the game. I think that until we get fans back in a modified number, we’re going to be living with a product that is being damaged by the fact that we don’t have them.
How fondly do you remember your time at Fulham?
It was magical, really. A magical time in every respect. The way the job came about itself is a long story, then the struggle that first season just to try and stay in the league and the mysterious and magical way we achieved that – the Great Escape. There’s been plenty of situations in football where teams manage Great Escapes, and that was my one. And the two years that followed that, which culminated in a European final. I can’t think of anything of that time that isn’t really sprinkled with a bit of stardust. It’s dangerous because I’m certain there were difficult moments there, but certainly with a 10-year hiatus between that time and now, that is how I view it.
Do you think the job of being a Premier League manager has become tougher during your time, and what advice would you give Scott Parker?
He doesn’t need advice. He’s done extremely well and he’s got good people around him. Has the job become tougher? Frankly, I think It has. First of all, the quality of the Premier League has improved year by year – it’s got stronger. For the bulk of us not eyeing Champions League places, the act of survival becomes tougher every year with all the teams around you getting stronger and investing in players, working hard. You never meet a disorganised team. You never meet a team that will lay down and enable you to run over them. Every game is tough. And that’s what makes the league so good. Nobody really would ever honestly suggests that a team like ours is the better team than Liverpool or Manchester City, but we are still able to compete with them. But it has got harder and harder. The second thing is, the pressure is also getting greater. The need to stay in this league with all this pressure on you, gets greater too. Everyone realises, if you’re unlucky enough to get relegated, getting back up again is a much more arduous task than 10-15 years ago. There’s no doubt in my opinion that the job gets more and more difficult every year, and for the young managers coming in, they really do need to be well prepared for the challenges they will perhaps face. Ideally, they’d have someone at the club to help keep some sense of perspective, because you need it at any time. And certainly, the Premier League is probably not one of the best places to work if you want a clear perspective on your life at any one moment.
How difficult is it to prepare for Fulham after they made so many changes?
Well, we prepare very carefully every week. We start as soon as the last game ends. We have pretty much all the information we need on players. Quite often we know them anyway. You know, Loftus-Cheek we know quite well. We perhaps don’t know the goalkeeper quite that well, maybe the right-back. I’m not concerned in that respect. But of course, you’re not comparing a team you’ve been playing against in the Premier League on a regular basis year after year, it’s a team that came up this year and even over the course of five games has changed quite considerably. I don’t think that makes much difference to our preparation, we’ve got to prepare to play. We’ll base a lot of our analysis on the last game against Sheffield United as the team won’t change enormously from that game to this one. And most importantly we’ve got to focus on our own team and make certain that we’ve got the two pillars of football performance in shape, i.e. defending when we haven’t got the ball and doing something with it when we have.
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