The first question is just about Wilf, really.
Well, it’s quite good news really. He has returned to training, albeit a little bit modified, at the start of this week. But he looks really ready to go again. We’ll have to wait for the green light I think from the doctor and the medical staff, but it’s really looking very, very positive. I think I’ll be able to welcome back into the squad very, very soon. So that’s positive news, and while we’re talking about positive news, I’m also very, very pleased that Jeff Schlupp and Connor Wickham have recovered from the long spell on the sidelines they’ve had to face and and will be available for me as well. So it’s good news, if you like, on the offensive front and we’re looking much more like we should be looking now than we have done in the last four or five weeks when all these guys have been out injured.
Can you be more specific about Wilf? Obviously not back for United tomorrow, but Spurs? West Brom?
I’m optimistic – I haven’t checked that out with the doctor perhaps as much as I should have done and no doubt he might be watching this interview shaking his head and telling me ‘don’t be so bold’, but my optimistic nature says to me that both of those players will be back very soon.
It’s been bad news on top of bad news injury-wise for you.
Yeah, it’s been a tough time. It has been a difficult time. We’re not alone, though, are we? The fact is that these games are coming so thick and fast and whatsmore, we’re reaching a stage now in the season where it seems like we’ve been playing forever. The break really between that ‘Project Restart’ and this season just seems to merge into one. I think that for all of us it’s becoming much more of a slog than it normally would be at this time of year. I think even the supporters are starting to feel that as well. It’s game after game, night after night. And of course we are seeing a lot of injuries, I haven’t wanted to talk that much about our injury situation because I know we’re very much not alone. Every day I read about teams having to deal without their best players.
So Wilf, Connor and Jeff will be involved either against Spurs or West Brom?
Yes, in fact I think even with Jeff and Connor, they will be available even for tomorrow evening so… It’s Wilf, James McArthur, James Tomkins and Mamadou Sakho at the moment that we are missing. And unfortunately we’re also missing Nathaniel Clyne and Tyrick Mitchell with lesser injuries, but injuries which will keep them out for a week or two.
And you’re missing James McArthur’s engine at the moment, it seems, aren’t you?
But James McCarthy is back, which is good, because we haven’t had James McCarthy for a long time. As for James McArthur, unfortunately I think we’re probably going to have to wait until the international break before we see him again.
How’s Nathan Ferguson progressing?
Yeah, good, I’m glad you asked the question there. In fact it was his first day training with the squad on Monday, but at the moment that squad is going to be the Under-23 squad for a period of a couple of weeks because we don’t want to thrust him in after such a long time out with the intensity of first team training just in case he does some more damage to a muscle. So we’re going to give him two weeks with the Under-23s to see how that progresses. We hope that will go well and then we can welcome him back into the fold here.
That good news up front will help address the lack of shots in the last couple of games, even though you’ve had decent results.
Yeah. We’ve been pushed back by both Brighton and Fulham, they’ve played very well against us and we weren’t able to unleash the attacking play that we’d have liked to in those games. It’s partly because we haven’t done well enough, but it’s also a credit to Brighton and Fulham for the way they’ve pressed the ball in the midfield area, making life difficult for us to get the time on the ball that we’d have wanted. Certainly the level of players that are coming back will help us in that area. I’ve seen us player very well on the ball through the midfield area on many occasions through my time here and I think you sometimes go through a period where something doesn’t quite gel for you. At one stage earlier on this season it was our defending that was not up to the standard that we wanted to see from the players; now that defending has really reached the highest standards that I can expect from them and we’ve lost a bit in the other direction. It’s not abnormal during the course of a season. But I’m pretty optimistic at the moment looking at the squad, looking at the mood and the spirit that we’ve got more than enough in us to finish the season well enough to ensure that Palace are into that ninth season in the Premier League which is so vitally important to everyone at the club, supporters included of course.
A win tomorrow would be a double over Man United – your record against them recently has been pretty good, you’ve won two of the last three.
Yeah, we’ve done well in all the games against them, but the results strangely enough have come away from home when they’ve probably had the lion’s share of possession, the better of the game if you like, and we’ve done extremely well on the counter attack and taken our chances to come away with all the points. The games here at home have often been much closer affairs in the sense that we’ve matched them quite well for long periods but then they’ve done to us what we’ve done to them at Old Trafford. They’ve taken the points despite the fact that we could look back at the game and think we did well. These games are an opportunity, always. We’re playing the team that’s second in the league, full of international stars, a team that’s been put together at quite considerable cost, and also a team that’s got a very, very decent record – not least of all away from home. So we’re very aware of all those things, but it’s an opportunity for us to go out there and do what we can do and hope that the Gods smile on us.
Sad news today about Ian St John. I guess you must have come across him a few times, particularly during your time at Anfield?
Yes, strangely enough… I mean, obviously a man that I revere and respect enormously for everything that he did for Liverpool and Scotland. There’s no doubt that his name was mentioned in revered terms during the time I spent at Liverpool. I think I actually only met him once, and I’m not even certain I can swear to that either. He didn’t seem to be around the club an awful lot during that period of time. But my condolences of course to his family. I’ve been blown away a little bit by all the wonderful tributes that have been made to him by people that knew him well, and perhaps a little bit disappointed that during my time at Liverpool I didn’t get a chance to spend a bit more time to spend in his company, because I’m sure I really would have enjoyed it. I think he could have taught me a lot of things about football and his time at Liverpool and his life in general. I’m happy to have the chance to add my words, praise for what a wonderful player and person he was. But I’m afraid I can’t claim any real knowledge of him because we didn’t come across each other that many times.
Gary Cahill put in another great last-ditch block against Fulham. Something that has been levelled at Crystal Palace is that there’s an ageing squad, but what do you think of his current form?
Well, he’s in excellent form. I’m afraid we can’t balk too much at criticism that we’re an ageing squad, because we are. Our average age is much higher than every other team in the league. People like Gary are doing a fantastic job, but he can’t deny that he’s 34 years of age, it’s a fact of life. But I think it’s very important that you mention what a fantastic job he’s done, especially in the last two games. In terms of defensive play, he’s been a real hero for us. The block from Andersen [against Fulham] – which I’d like to mention actually comes from him having been fouled in the first place, that block shouldn’t have been necessary – a free-kick that we should have had for a foul committed by Anguissa flying through and knocking him over – but it was incredible the way he recovered from that, to get himself up and block a shot which looked for all the world as if it would go in. So we’re delighted with Gary. So happy to see him playing the football that he’s always played and enjoying his football so much. He really does prove that age is a number, because at the moment I don’t think a younger player would do any better or could do any better than he’s done for us in the last games.
It will be a huge task against United, who have one of the most attacking line ups. Cavani could be back – how much of handful could he be?
Well unfortunately if it’s not him is Martial. If it’s not him it’s Greenwood. If it’s not him it’s Rashford. So it’s really take your pick up there, isn’t it? One world star after another. Fantastic group of players. We have to be ready for everything they’re going to throw at us, and they’re going to throw a lot at us because as you rightly say they have so many good quality players at their disposal. That’s why they score so many goals. They don’t need that many chances either to score the goals, because people chip in with goals from all sorts of angles and distances. We’re aware that we’re playing the team that lies second in the table, a team that hasn’t lost away from home in 20 games, all those figures are impossible to debate or detract from. What we can do is to try and make certain that we get our act together, that we prepare for the game in the best possible way, that we defend as well as we’ve done at least in the last couple of games against a team that’s had more possession than us because that could easily happen again tomorrow night, to make certain that they can’t get through and then hope that when we do win the ball back we will be able to hurt them on the counterattack like we’ve done on several occasions in the past.
A little more lighthearted, Ted Lasso won a Golden Globe. It was filmed at Selhurst Park – have you watched it and were you aware of all the filming going on at the time?
No, funnily enough I wasn’t. To be fair, our ventures to Selhurst Park only occur on matchdays because we train in Beckenham, which is quite a long way from Selhurst Park. No I wasn’t actually aware of that. I saw a clip of him receiving the award, and many congratulations to him, but unfortunately I wasn’t aware that Selhurst Park was the venue. We can be pleased of that, we can be proud of that.
What’s your reaction to the news of a World Cup 2030 bid for the UK and Ireland?
Delighted. Wonderful news. I think that England has got everything needed to host a fabulous World Cup. We still do believe that to some extent that it is was we who exported the game to so many countries so we have that always in our locker. The ’66 World Cup was a fantastic occasion, but it’s a long, long time ago now. To wait until 2030 is more than long enough to give England a go at the World Cup again with all the stadia we have, with the fans, the ability we have to welcome people to the country and house them. It’s got the makings of a fantastic World Cup. So I really hope the government can give enough as much support to it as is needed to make certain that FIFA decide that we’re the country that deserve it. But I hope I’m still alive and around to watch it, that’s even more important!
From your time as an England manager, did you pick up on an animosity towards England that has stopped them hosting since 1966?
Yeah, difficult one, that one. There have been times where obviously FIFA are the governing body, a very, very important governing body and at times there are various factions which seem to have a bit more power with the powers that be in FIFA than at other times. But I don’t want to believe there’s any agenda to anything like that. But it’s going to be very important, I think, for England to realise that an awful lot of work does need to be done behind the scenes. You have to make friends to show that you’re good people and that they want to have you around. Maybe in the past we haven’t done quite as much on that front as other nations. My advice would be to use these next 10 years to make certain that when our name is mentioned, a smile comes to people’s faces rather than a frown.
I only really know of Ian St John because of Saint and Greavsie, but I guess you know more of him having watched him play football. Can you tell us about what a great striker he was?
Well he was one of those strikers who had an incredible knack for scoring goals. Strangely enough, I do remember him as a player, but my memories of him even them are not that great. You must remember I left the country for two years in the early 70s and then from 76 until the early 90s I wasn’t back in the country. You mention Saint and Greavsie I never saw that programme. I’ve seen the odd clips of it and I know what an iconic programme it was, but I wasn’t in the country to watch it at the time and it certainly wasn’t shown in the countries I was working in. So I do remember him as a player. What I remember most, I think, are two things: one is the incredibly high regard everyone had for him at Liverpool Football Club in the fairly short period I worked for the club. Every time his name was mentioned, as it would be from time to time, it drew a sort of hushed reverence, really. And I remember that incredible story – a true story, I believe – outside a church in Liverpool where I think someone had written: ‘What will you do when God returns to earth?’ And someone had written: ‘We’ll move Ian St John to inside right’. I think that really says everything about what people thought about Ian St John, and it’s better than anything I can really say about him. My regret, to some extent, was I was lucky enough to meet most of the real legendary Liverpool players in one shape or form during my time either at Liverpool or before I got to Liverpool, but Ian St John was one I didn’t get a chance to speak to or have any real connection with, and I regret that. Because I’m sure that would have been a very nice connection to have had. I think I met him once, just as I only met Roger Hunt once. It’s quite strange, but it probably is because I think both men were people who did not seek to push themselves forward at any time, they were perhaps content to live in the legendary status that they’d achieved through their playing days.
More sad news after the passing of Glenn Roeder as well.
I knew Glenn a little bit more, yeah, I spent some time with Glenn. I can’t remember what context it was in now, but I do remember having meetings and talking on many occasions with Glenn. Very,very sad to hear about his passing as well. It’s been a sad, sad couple of days for football to lose two such great football men and two such excellent players as well.
Have you had any more thoughts or discussions on whether you want to carry on managing beyond the end of this season?
Once again, I don’t really want to think about that too much. I mean, there’s a lot to be done this season and look forward to in this season with the 12 games that remain. I’m really excited about trying to finish strongly. So I’m just content at the moment to continue along those lines and see where it brings me. I would prefer not to have to at this moment in time start saying: ‘Yes I want to continue’, or: ‘No, I don’t’. So I’m afraid I’m going to keep ducking the question and keep pushing it back for you to allow me to get on with my life because at the moment, it’s a life that I’m quite enjoying at the moment. We’ll see what the future brings. When people talk about some of the best free transfers over the last few years, Gary Cahill pops up. Will he be continuing next season? Well again, that will be a question for the club. At the moment, the club doesn’t seem to be in any particular hurry to address questions of the 11 players that we’ve got out of contract. It’s an awful lot of players to have out of contract at the end of the season, but the people at the head of the club seem quite happy to allow us to carry on doing what we’re doing. They obviously feel satisfied that we’re still doing our job to the best of our abilities and people like Gary Cahill are still more than good enough to represent the club and help us to get some results. Really and truly, if you wanted a real angle or sign of what’s going to happen to Gary Cahill and the 10 other players alongside him, you’ve really got to address those questions to the people who run the club. Namely Steve Parish, the American owners and Doug Freedman whose job is technical director and is involved in those things. As it is, I’m more than happy to continue working with these guys and pleased they’re still doing as much for the club as they are doing. If they’re happy to let things pass as I have then so be it. Let’s carry on in that way. But I can’t give you the sort of information that you’re trying to seek from me because a) I don’t have it and b) it’s not really in my remit to talk about.
I’m sure if you did you wouldn’t tell me anyway!
You never know, I’m in a good mood today, I might have done. But I will stick to my answer, which is the only one I can give you. I’m relatively honest, you know, I don’t try and disguise or cheat too much on my answers.
You’ve got four points from six with about four shots on target. Are you hoping for a more expansive game against Man United, or would that be not a great idea against them?
Well, to be expansive, I suppose you’ve got to make good use of the ball when you get it. We weren’t able to do that against Brighton or Fulham as I said, partly because I don’t think we have been going through our best spell in that area, but also partly because the two teams we’ve been playing against deserve an awful lot of credit for making certain we didn’t get a chance to show what we can do. But I’m optimistic because some of the players that probably would help us more in terms of causing problems for the opposition and threatening their goal are now coming back into the team. It’s not been easy to deal without them. We haven’t had enough shots at goal, we haven’t created enough goal chances, I’m aware of that, but I’m afraid sometimes that is what happens in a football season. There was a moment when we were doing neither, and whatsmore we weren’t defending well at all. At least we’ve put that side right, and I’m pretty certain that the other side of the game that we care very much about and we believe we’ve got the ability to show that we can do it, that will become more evident as the players get back on the field again and we can threaten the opponents’ goal more than we have done in the last two, where quite frankly it hasn’t been enough. Although I’m sceptical about shots at goal. We haven’t actually, strangely enough, conceded all that many shots at our goal. You know, our goalkeeper hasn’t got man of the match in either of the last two games. So a lot of it has been a bit of a stalemate, a lot of midfield play. But we haven’t done enough with the ball, we’re fully aware of that, but we will get better.
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