Monday 9 November 2009

Stan Collymore Exclusive Interview

"Ferguson should be using his position of power much better than he currently does"

In a typically honest and frank interview, former footballer-turned talkSPORT favourite Stan Collymore talks to Football Pundette about his career and his views on City's takeover, cheating and Ferguson's referee issues.

FP: What made you want to become a footballer?

It started from the age of six really. I just got bitten by the bug. I was playing with friends at the age of seven or eight then playing for under 10s and 11 teams. It wasn’t the traditional route of your dad taking you to the games and living the dream through him if you like, it was just me going out and enjoying football at a very early age.

FP: Who did you regard as a role model during your career?

SC: Well there are a couple of people really. There was a guy who scouted me and brought me into the school team a couple of years younger than I should have been who I learned a lot from. In terms of a professional player, that would have to be a guy called Gary Shaw who used to play for Aston Villa. He was European Young Player of the Year and helped Villa win the European Cup in 1982 but unfortunately he suffered a bad knee injury and never really came back from that. I’d have to say it was him.

FP: You played for the likes of Crystal Palace, Nottingham Forest, Liverpool and Aston Villa amongst others. What was your career highlight?

SC: I think making my England debut at Wembley. Making my Liverpool debut and scoring on it against Sheffield Wednesday at Anfield. Also a great European night when Aston Villa played Athletico Madrid and beat them 2-1. I scored a cracker at the Holte End that night which is where I used to stand as a kid. The Liverpool-Newcastle 4-3 game is high on that list too. Everybody regards that as one of the best Premier League games. It was a fantastic game for a lot of people and for Liverpool fans, including me, as I scored the third goal and then the winner in the last minute. But it would be eclipsed by my England debut. For me without a doubt, my highlight is representing my country and getting my first cap for England against Japan.

FP: You retired at the relatively young age of 30. Why was that, given your impressive goal ratio?

SC: I think I’d just had enough. I’d been playing for 22 years, since a really early age. Some people carry on until they are 38 or 39 and can hardly walk and I had just had enough. There was more reasons, family reasons, but really I just wanted a change of direction and to quit while I was still relatively fit.

FP: Your career took off at a similar time to the Premier League being launched. How do you think the game has changed since its introduction?

SC: Massively. The money involved nowadays is phenomenal. I personally broke the British transfer record at the time in 1995 going from Forest to Liverpool for £8.5 million. There’s now 24-hour football news. There’s huge intrusion by the press into your personal lives. Now in the media you have to just say what you feel rather just go along with it, you have to be honest.

I think the bigger clubs have a massive advantage: there’s only ever been a handful of clubs that have been able to win the old First Division and the Premier League, but now you see a group of five or six that probably for the next 20-so years will only have a chance of winning it. I think that’s one of the downsides.
But in terms of the upsides we’ve got great stadia now and there’s football on seven days a week. I think without a doubt the biggest single factor has been the money that clubs have had to spend.

FP: What are your thoughts regarding Manchester City’s takeover, with people suggesting the club are trying to ‘buy’ success? Do you think they have what it takes to challenge for top honours?

SC: I was at City against Burnley. Obviously defensively they look a bit flaky at the moment but in terms of City moving forward there’s no doubt that if the owners stay where they are, with the kind of financial clout that they have, City will eventually win something. It’s almost guaranteed.

Look at the situation at Chelsea: they were £80 million in debt and Ken Bates sold the club to Roman Abramovich. They went on to win two titles back-to-back and will probably win a third this season.

I think it’s unfair to clubs like Everton who are working on a budget and still manage to be competitive and they keep seeing clubs overtake them. But like I say, that is the Premier League. It’s about money. It’s about having money in the here and now and being competitive in terms of buying the best players.

Do I think it’s fair? No. It would be great to have a system where everybody has to deal with the same financial constraints so you would see a proper champion at the end of the season. But the way it is, with anybody happening upon the situation that City are in, they are almost guaranteed success.

FP: Do you think that referees are actually intimidated by Alex Ferguson?

SC: Well it’s quite topical. I think Ferguson in terms of achievement over 25 years at United he has real clout and power in the game. But again after the Chelsea game he was critical of the referee. I don’t think managers should be able to talk about anything other than their own team in both pre and post-match interviews and press conferences.

We’re struggling for referees as it is. I think 7-8,000 walk away from the game every year and we’re struggling to fill that gap. If you’re a young lad at home that isn’t perhaps quite good enough to be a professional footballer but would maybe like to be a referee who then see a post-match press conference with the likes of Ferguson making those comments, would you like to be a referee? So I think without a doubt Ferguson should be using his position of power much better than he currently does.

FP: How do you feel about the so-called ‘cheating’ that goes on in football, with the likes of Didier Drogba and Eduardo?

SC: I think it’s disgusting. I think the fact that even when I played and we had the influx of foreign players it was almost like a badge of honour for English players or British-based players to try as much as possible to stay on your feet. That’s just the way it is; cheating, diving, leaving your trailing leg in. Other people do it in other leagues and we shouldn’t condone it in the Premier League as we’ve always been straight and honest. In all honestly now, it doesn’t matter which name you pick out, there’s probably half a dozen English or foreign-based Premier League superstars that routinely cheat.

I’ve always thought that, on a weekly basis, the Premier League should come out and name and shame them and accompany that with length bans and big fines for the culprits. But Sepp Blatter said a couple of weeks ago that he’s more concerned with buying young players from clubs abroad than diving, so I don’t think it’s high on UEFA or FIFA’s agenda. But make no bones about it, it’s cheating.

FP: With so many ex-players involved in management nowadays, who do you think has made the most impressive transition? Have you ever been tempted to become a manager?

SC: I’ve never been tempted to go into management. Coaching on a level with kids where you can have the ability to help them along yes, but once you get the final product in terms of adult and you’re working with players who have their own mindset, it’s very difficult to mould them into playing the way you want them to.

Players who have made a good transition...the likes of Roberto Martinez, who played in the lower leagues and have gone on to manage Wigan Athletic with relative success. I think Gareth Southgate was a bit hard done by at Middlesbrough with all the financial restraints there. Martin O’Neill, who was a European Cup-Winner and captain of Northern Ireland, he’s gone on to have a fantastic managerial career. Steve Bruce is doing very, very well. There are plenty of them. If you look up and down the Premier League, virtually all of them have played in the old First Division as it was.

But in terms of young managers, Paul Ince has had a spell at Blackburn and now he’s back at MK Dons, I’m sure he will benefit from that experience. Without a doubt, there are managers who have played in the Premier League that will go on and have success in managerial careers.

FP: Do you think Mark Hughes is the right man to lead Manchester City to success?
SC: It will be interesting. I think him and his players have got to get used to the added expectation. At Blackburn and his first season at City there was expectation: with Blackburn it was to stay in the Premier League and with City it was to be in the top half. But now people see City as a scalp, which I think is one of the reasons why they have drawn their last five games. Teams are going to make it really difficult as it’s like a cup final for the opposition. Mark Hughes has to adjust to that. I think we’ll only tell really by the end of the season whether or not he’s a manager that can cope with that kind of pressure, tactically and mentally, to take City forward. I think the jury’s out to be honest. He’s had a decent start, he’s signed some great players, but I think they are going through a bit of a blip with five draws. I think we’ll be better placed to answer that question come January if he’s still in the job and see if he’s got money to strength with then.

FP: Is there anything you would change about today’s game?

SC: Yes. I’d introduce long bans. I’m talking eight-game bans for proven cheats. What we have in English football is a very honest and fast-paced game. I talk to fans up and down the country and the one thing they hate, the one thing that keeps cropping up, is players diving and cheating. This not just from opposition players but from their own players. That would be the one thing I would change.
Listen to Stan on talkSPORT 1089/1053 Medium Wave and follow him on Twitter @StanCollymore.

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