Congratulations on being honoured with the Outstanding Contribution Award at this year’s London Football Awards. How does that feel?
Well thank you very much. It’s always very nice to be recognised for the body of work one’s done over a long career, so I’m grateful to the London awards and grateful of course to the Willow Foundation who sponsor this award or present this award, if you like, in tandem.
The Premier League are going to be asking for feedback from clubs on VAR in a survey – what would your feedback be?
Well I think there’s a lot to say, isn’t there, but I think it’s good the Premier League are asking for this feedback. I think it will be interesting to see how they frame the questions and what sort of feedback they really want from us. Because a lot of things have been going on all the while we’ve had VAR this season – there’s been a lot said and there’s already been some modifications, actually, during the season. I think all managers and club owners and technical directors will have quite a strong opinion about what’s happened so far and what can perhaps be done to improve it. So I’ll wait until the survey comes around and then I’ll sit down with Steve Parish and Doug Freedman and I think we’ll look at it together.
It looks like Chris Wilder will be leaving Sheffield United – how do you feel about that?
It’s a major surprise, I must say. I saw the headline on the television here in the training ground. It’s a major surprise for me. I think really I associate Chris so much with Sheffield United, and join everybody else really in congratulating him for the fantastic job he’s done over such a long period of time. I would have thought that he would be hard at work now preparing for next season, albeit realistically perhaps coming to terms with the fact that it’s more likely to be in the Championship than in the Premier League. But there’s still a lot to prepare and a lot to be done. So the fact that he’s leaving did come as a surprise and a shock to me, but I have no idea what lies behind that decision. So I can’t say any more at this stage because all I’ve got really is the blunt message that he likely to leave Sheffield United this afternoon.
Christian Benteke looks to be ahead of Michy Batshuayi and Jean-Philippe Mateta at the moment. Do you think he’s doing enough to be considered for a new contract?
Well I think the only way players can really give themselves a chance of getting a new contract is to – when they’ve been given a chance to play in the team – to show that they’re more than capable of playing in the team and can bring some good things to the team. Really, he’s doing what all players I think in his situation at the moment should be doing. They’ve got to be given the chance, of course, and that doesn’t necessarily depend upon them, that depends upon us the coaching staff. But once we’ve given them the opportunity it’s very important that they grasp it and you would have to say that in the last few games, Christian has done that.
On contracts, things are up in the air but do you have a feeling in your mind of who you would potentially like to keep or not in the summer? We’re heading into mid-March…
Yeah, but there’s still a lot of time to go. I’ve said on so many occasions now that it must be becoming quite boring, but as far as I’m concerned it’s all about making certain that we get through these next games in particular, get ourselves into a position where we can perhaps feel even more comfortable than we do at the moment with regard to our status next season. And that will be time, I’m sure, for the club to get into these contract situations. But at the moment, there’s big games ahead, not least of all the one that’s coming up tomorrow. I think that’s what our focus should be, and there’s no need if you like for a focus to be any further than that.
Sam Allardyce said that tomorrow’s game is bigger for West Brom than it is for Palace. Surely that’s not right, is it? It’s a big game for yourselves, isn’t it?
It is. It is a big game. A big game for both teams. But I understand where Sam is coming from, of course. They’ve had a little bit of a revival, four points from the last three games, not conceded hardly any goals, that’s a good spell they’re in and they must be thinking ‘we’ve got to build upon that’, and tomorrow is their opportunity to do that. We, by contrast, have got to make certain that we do not allow them to do so. I think it’s a difficult Premier League game, both teams are going into it will be wanting to win for their different reasons, or their different ambitions. And certainly we won’t be in any way fooled by the fact that they want it more so it should make it easier for us in some way – that’s not how it works out. I’ve been impressed by what they’ve done recently, I’ve been impressed by the videos that we’ve been following, analysing their play. They’re playing well at the moment, just as in the same way Fulham were playing well in the moment. All the teams below us in the table are actually in good form. As a result we’ve got to make certain that we don’t show anything other than the same desire to win as our opponent.
Back up against another old club – they loved you back in your time there, didn’t they?
Yeah, I had a good time there at the Hawthorns, the people there were very, very nice to me. I enjoyed the club, I enjoyed the 18 months I spent there. But unfortunately you have to move on to different clubs and then unfortunately, however much you enjoyed your time, however much affection you might have for a club like West Brom or Fulham a couple of weeks earlier, unfortunately they become the enemy when you meet them again when you’re managing your new club.
Ebere Eze was a big summer signing. How have you found him this season?
Very pleased with him. He’s made the step up if you like into Premier League football in the best possible way. We think he’s got a tremendous margin for progression as well because he does have so many qualities. I’m expecting him in the latter part of the season now, in the games remaining to really bring all of his talents to bear. We’d like to see him score a few more goals, we’d like to see him get into goalscoring positions more often to produce chances for us. But that’s all the things he has in his locker, and what he constantly works on. But I’m more than satisfied with Eberechi Eze, and I’m looking forward to him having a good end to the season helping us climb up the table.
Where do you think West Brom have improved most recently?
Well I think the loan signings they’ve brought in have have all been very good ones. I think they’ve all been very helpful. Conor Gallagher was there even when we played them in the first game of the season, he’s a player that I’ve admired for a long time, so I thought then ‘that’s a tremendous signing that you’ve made there’. And then of course Sam’s managed to add another three or four signings to that, all of whom I think are good players, and all of whom I think are improving the standard of the team. On top of that of course, a lot of players who are there have responded to the fact that they’re playing a little bit better and as a result they are getting better results. And if they’re not getting a result, they’re really getting themselves in a situation where a result is possible. And that’s been going on for quite a while now.
Time is running out for West Brom. How difficult is it to prepare against a team who are getting so desperate for points?
Yeah, it’s a good question but I’m afraid the answer is quite a simple one, that it’s not difficult at all. We’re fully aware that there’s 38 games for us to play in the Premier League each year, and there’s not one game we can afford to treat differently to any other, whether it’s Man City away or Sheffield United at home as it was a little while back where they were a bit divorced from the rest of the pack. You have to approach the game the same way. We know what we want to do, we know how we want to play, we know what problems we’re going to be faced with because we analyse the opponents like anyone else and put that in front of the players. So the job is there to be done and I believe the players are going to be comfortable knowing the job that’s to be done, and comfortable also feeling that they’re capable of doing it. So now it boils down to the referee’s whistle and crossing the white line and playing football. Sometimes that’s where all the plans and preparations go wrong because it’s a game, it’s not a science and we’re dealing with human beings, not robots. But I think the scene is set for a good game tomorrow. I’m expecting to be confronted by a very buoyant West Bromwich Albion, a very confident West Bromwich Albion and a West Bromwich Albion with good players as well, who are organised and know what they are doing. So we’ve got to make certain that we’re in exactly the same ballpark as them, and hopefully play better.
Is there any fitness changes in the team? Anyone coming back from injury?
No, unfortunately not. Fortunately none added to the list either, so that’s positive. But the ones missing are obviously our two centre-halves who’ve been missing now for months; Tyrick Mitchell hasn’t recovered as yet, neither have the two midfield players McArthur or McCarthy. So that’s where our injury list stands at the moment. But the good news is that one or two that have been out for a long time are now fit and able to take part again, so things are moving in the right direction for us.
Wilf Zaha is back fit – he could be starting and said that he might not take the knee before games. Have you spoken to him about that?
Yes, we have spoken about it and I’ve spoken as well publicly about it. As far as I’m concerned we respect every individual’s right to make his protest against the terrible things that are going on and certainly have been going on for such a long period of time. We respect their right to do it in the way they think is best and to show their abhorrence of all things racism in the strongest possible terms. Wilf is of the opinion that taking the knee now isn’t showing his abhorrence as much as he would like, so he’s decided to do something different. But the team, they’ve decided that they will continue to do what the other teams are doing, and this decision of Wilf’s is very much a personal one which we all respect and the team has no problem with it whatsoever. It will just mean that when the players take the knee, he will show his opposition to racism and everything that is going on in the way he thinks is the strongest way to do it. Because one thing is for certain here – Wilf’s feeling on the subject is every bit as strong as everybody else’s in the country. It’s just that he has decided he wants to find another way of showing it.
Wayne Hennessey is back in action with the Under-23s, how is he getting on in terms of rehabilitation, and I’m sure he has an eye on the international break with Wales.
Yes, he’s been back for a while now, he’s been working very hard. He had to be sort of eased into it after such a massive injury problem that he had, but thanks to the medical staff and what they did, they put him back onto the field with Dean Kiely’s work at the right time. So he’s come through all of that perfectly well and I would say now that he’s now absolutely fully fit, and it’s good that he’s going to get a chance to play this game and maybe one more Under-23 game before he has to leave to go and play for Wales, but when he gets there and joins the group to play those international matches, he’ll be ready as he ever was.
Just on Nathaniel Clyne – is he still out?
Yeah, he’s another one I should have mentioned on the injury list, I missed Nathaniel out. But no, he’s in the same boat. Again, making some progress, but unfortunately not quick enough for him to be involved this weekend. But I’m really rather hoping that – after this game, we don’t have a match next weekend because our game [against Man United] was brought forward as you all probably know – I’m hoping that in the period of time we have now, we’ll see a good number of those players back – in particular Nathaniel and Tyrick and the two Maccas. I don’t know whether that will be too early for the two centre-halves.
You said last week that Nathan Ferguson was training with the Under-23s. Is everything still good with him? A player to bring back into the fold after this game?
Absolutely. I think the international break, if all goes well, probably next week I think he continues with the Under-23s, but that’s gone well so far. He’s had no symptoms whatsoever of any recurrence of either the knee injury or the thigh injury which he picked up with us. So as long as that continues well next week as I expect it to do, I will also be expecting him to come and join us for the last two weeks before we play again, which will be part of the international break. So his progress is very encouraging, I’m very pleased for him. And again: he’s done a good job and the medical staff have done a good job to make certain that when he comes and joins us he should be fully fit and ready to go.
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