Glen Johnson On Gaming In His Playing Days, Salah’s New Potential Contract, And More
As a former Premier League, FA Cup, and a League Cup winner, Glen Johnson is one of the best right-backs in English football history. We spoke to the former Liverpool man on gaming in his playing days, Salah’s new potential contract, as well as Pogba’s next club.
We spoke to David James about gaming when he was with the England squad and he said that they were all big fans of FIFA and Pro Evo. When you were in the England setup did you play these games much? Which games did you play?
There was a mixture to be honest. There were more Call of Duty and Ghost Recon players. The main reason behind that was that we could all play against each other and do it on the bus. It was those sort of battle games where you could just have a four versus four and get a bit of banter going. However, there were a lot of players who played FIFA as well.
And who were the ones that stood out? You mentioned Call of Duty, was there anyone that would really rub it in when they beat you?
Everyone would, as soon as you lost everyone would rub it in! Everyone got their fair share so it was all good.
Was there anyone in the dressing room, whether it be at club or international level, that you can remember being good at gaming?
Ashley Cole was good, and Darren Bent was very good too. They put the time in so they bloody well should have been good.
Was gaming ever seen as a sort of hindrance by any of the clubs you played for? We’ve had players like Ousmane Dembélé who have reportedly spent too much time gaming and that has had a negative effect on their training at Barcelona. Did you ever see it creep into people’s lives and affect their training?
I guess it depends on the personnel. It was definitely a problem for some people. I never experienced it as a problem myself, but the problem is that gaming is so good now and it’s so interactive and, as you know, you can just sit at home and play it with all your mates. You put that thing on at 9 o’clock at night and next thing you know two hours have gone by. They’re just so good. They’ve made them addictive, haven’t they? In the wrong hands they could be a problem but other than a handful of people, they dealt with it alright.
Whilst it might not reach the heights of physical sports, can you see the appeal of watching esports online or even attending them in person?
My kids now sit there playing Fortnite whilst watching someone else play Fortnite on YouTube, which blows my mind, but that’s what they’re doing these days. I think if [they] could go to watch some sort of FIFA tournament or Call of Duty tournament, then they would go.
Onto the football now, and for starters, who do you see triumphing in the FA Cup final?
I think at the moment it has to be Liverpool. They just look unstoppable at the moment. Even when they’re not playing well they find a way to win and we saw that again yesterday against Everton. I think it’s hard to look past them.
With reports that Luis Suárez could be set for a reunion with his former teammate Steven Gerrard at Aston Villa when his contract at Atletico Madrid expires in the summer, do you think a return to the Premier League is a sensible option for Suárez at 35 years old or could it be too much for him and tarnish his legacy with the Liverpool fanbase?
To play in the Premier League after you’ve been in La Liga at 35 would be a big ask. But look, Luis is super fit and super determined and it wouldn’t surprise me if he goes back and tears it up again really.
With his contract still up in the air and turning 30 in June, if Mohamed Salah does win the quadruple with Liverpool, should he actually seek a new challenge elsewhere given that he would have won everything there is to win in England?
If they do the quadruple then he can only go downhill from there, can’t he? It would be interesting. If they were to tick that off, it would obviously be an amazing achievement and if he did leave after that, I think the fans would clap him off because what else can he do? I know he’s not doing it on his own but if he went off to seek another challenge, the fans would understand that.
Sticking on the subject of strikers, with Man City reportedly breaking the bank to sign Erling Haaland to spearhead their already frightening attack, who do Liverpool ideally need to recruit in order to get an edge on their rivals for the 2022/23 season?
Well, if Haaland goes to City then I’d say get Jude Bellingham. I’ve said it many times, I think he’s fantastic, he’s only going to get better and I think he’d suit the Premier League down to a tee.
This weekend, Liverpool defeated Merseyside rivals Everton at Anfield to continue their unbeaten run in the Premier League in 2022. Would you agree that the performance this weekend was a title-winning performance?
Yes, I do believe it was a title-winning performance. I think because Everton tried to do absolutely everything possible to disrupt the game and make it uncomfortable with 10, if not 11, behind the ball at all times. With eight men on the edge of the box, it’s tough to break down and that doesn’t matter how good the team is. Liverpool were still able to find a way, and if they play against other teams like this, they’ll win even easier. I think these are the games that determine it because it’s not easy to win when a team just sits back and doesn’t have an interest in winning, they’ll just take a draw.
The Champions League resumes this week. Can you tell us who you believe will advance to the final and who do you predict will be victorious in the final?
It sounds boring, but it’s hard to look past Liverpool and Manchester City making the final. They’ve avoided each other in the build-up to the final and that’s potentially going to set up a cracker. If they do get to the final then you could pick either side to be the victor, can’t you? I think if it is those two teams in the final, then I believe whoever’s won the Premier League by then will win the final because they’ll be on cloud nine. I wouldn’t put my mortgage on it, but that's what I believe will happen.
Manchester City have reportedly turned down the chance to sign Paul Pogba on a free transfer. If you were Liverpool or Chelsea, would you go in for him?
I wouldn’t go for him. He’s a sensational individual and he’s won most of the things you can win in football but I don’t believe he has the character to suit either Liverpool or Chelsea. There’s no way Jürgen Klopp would sign him. No chance.
Sports Illustrated are claiming that Liverpool have agreed personal terms with Benfica’s Darwin Núñez. Now you’ve had a chance to see him in action against your former club in the Champions League, do you think it’s likely they could make a move for him? Do you believe he’d suit their style of play?
He does look like a player that would suit Liverpool’s style of play. Whether he’s the type of player they need at the moment depends on what happens with Mohamed Salah in the summer. He looks like a flying, skillful, technical player that would suit the way Liverpool play. I’m sure he’s a player that’s on their radar.
Antonio Rüdiger is officially leaving Chelsea on a free transfer this summer. It looks like his next club is going to be Real Madrid. Are you surprised that Manchester City or Liverpool didn’t go in for him? Would he get in either of their starting XIs?
I am a bit surprised that neither of those teams seemed to make a move for him because great players available on a free don’t come around very often. But we all know the type of wages he will be demanding, and he will be demanding even more than he asked Chelsea for because he’s leaving on a free. Chelsea weren’t willing to break the bank for him and I agree with that. I think if he could get into one of Manchester City or Liverpool’s starting elevens, then I’d say Liverpool. I’d have liked seeing him alongside Virgil van Dijk. When he’s on song he’s fantastic, but he does have his faults, so you can’t break the bank for that.
Who would you realistically like to see come into the club to replace Rüdiger?
The problem with him going for free is that there aren’t many players who can walk into the Premier League, into a top team and hit the ground running straight away. He will be hard to replace as that Premier League experience is hard to replace sometimes. I’d like them to replace him with a player who’s already experienced the league.
With Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rüdiger leaving for free, and the chances of signing Declan Rice looking increasingly remote, what does this say about the current state of Chelsea Football Club?
We all know the issues they’ve got off the field but, look, it’s a fantastic club, they’ve got a fantastic team. They’ve just got two giants in Manchester City and Liverpool in front of them, and I think Chelsea are quite a way off of those two. That’s not only negative to Chelsea - I think most of world football’s miles off those two. So I don’t think it’s a too negative situation for Chelsea, it’s just that they’re coming up against two massive giants every single week, and if either of those two come calling then it’s hard to look anywhere else.
Would Wesley Fofana be a good replacement for Antonio Rüdiger?
Yeah, I love him to be honest, I think he’s fantastic. He reminds me of Raphaël Varane; quick, good on the ball, strong. I think Wesley Fofana would be a very good replacement for Antonio Rüdiger at Chelsea. Not long ago he wasn’t even in the France squad, which blew my mind because he was unbelievable. I like him a lot.
Reece James is being linked with a move to Real Madrid, with the club reportedly being impressed with his performance against them in the Champions League. Would he be an excellent long-term replacement for Dani Carvajal?
He would absolutely be a perfect long-term replacement for Dani Carvajal, but I can’t imagine that Chelsea would let him go and I doubt that Reece would want to leave the club anyway, but yes, if Real Madrid could land him then he would be a fantastic long-term replacement.
Lazio, Juventus and AC Milan are all said to be possible destinations for Chelsea and Italy midfielder Jorginho. Just last year the club’s vice-captain was being tipped up as a Ballon d’Or winner but is now unlikely to be offered an extension to a contract that expires at the end of next season. Is it the time to leave?
I don’t think it’s time for Jorginho to leave Chelsea. He’s possibly not playing as much football as he would like but I still believe he’s a fantastic player and certainly a great squad player. If I was Chelsea, I’d extend his contract and make sure you keep him.
Paul Merson recently claimed that Erling Haaland could replicate the struggles of Romelu Lukaku if he was to move to Manchester City this summer, in regards to how he may struggle to break down Premier League defences when they park the bus. Do you agree or disagree with this statement?
I don’t believe that Erling Haaland will struggle to adapt to the Premier League once he joins Manchester City. There’s always that risk of players who have come from a different league adapting, but I just believe that there’s something different about him. He’s much more mobile and agile than Lukaku and he scores all sorts of goals. He’s aggressive and I can’t see where the move would go wrong to be honest. If he’s going to City then he’s going to get so many goals.
With the season coming to a close, who are you giving Chelsea’s Player of the Year award to? Mason Mount won it last year, and Mateo Kovačić the year before that.
I’d have to say Mason Mount. He’s a part of everything they do and whenever they create a good chance he’s always involved. Even against West Ham at the weekend he was close to scoring two goals and everything they do well, he seems to be a part of it, so I’d have to choose him.
Now onto West Ham. Do you believe they can win the Europa League this season?
I bloody hope so. It’s going to be tough but the way they performed in Lyon is going to give them tremendous confidence, so when it comes to winning it, then why not? I think Frankfurt will be the toughest tie they could have possibly had left in the competition, but you don’t want to go into the game thinking that because you don’t want to think the final is going to be easy. Anyone they play in the final, if they get there, is going to be tough. They’ll have to bring their A-game, but I think the Frankfurt games will be the hardest as both teams will be dying to get to the final.
West Ham are linked with a move for Burnley’s Nick Pope. Would he be an ideal replacement for the aging Łukasz Fabiański? For context, Pope is 30 years old, whereas Łukasz Fabiański recently turned 37.
It’d be fantastic for Fabiański to end his West Ham career lifting that Europa League trophy in Seville. He’s been a good servant to them and he’s still a good keeper, but Nick Pope’s another good goalkeeper as well and somewhere like West Ham would suit him.
The Daily Mail yesterday claimed that Manchester City are very much in the race to sign Declan Rice, who has now turned down a third West Ham contract offer and is purportedly open to a transfer. West Ham have claimed that they’re unwilling to sell Rice this summer and have offered the Englishman the chance to be the club's best-paid player ever. If you could rate Declan’s chance of leaving the club as a percentage this summer, then what would it be?
I think there’s a good 80% chance of him leaving. If he’s turned down three contracts, West Ham are going to be sensible about him knowing that he’s not going to re-sign. And he’s got ‘the big guns’ calling, it’s hard to turn down. So I would say, yes, there’s an 80 to 85% chance that Declan Rice will leave West Ham.
If you were in Declan’s position, regardless of allegiance, a 23-year-old professional footballer with a £150million price tag over your head, plus the World Cup looming, would you stay at West Ham, go to Chelsea, or move to Manchester City?
Oh God. I have to say City. It pains me to say it, but you’re just going to be getting into finals every year, you’ll be fighting for the league every year. At 23 years old, Declan could be there for another ten years. He could end up with 30-odd trophies, you know?
AC Milan are reportedly on the verge of a takeover from Bahrain-based investment fund Investcorp. Apparently they’re targeting your former teammate Raheem Sterling as a statement signing for £85 million. Do you believe Raheem could make the move and do you believe when Raheem eventually leaves Manchester City that it would be for a club abroad?
Yes, possibly. You can obviously see why they want him. If Raheem Sterling goes to any other club in England, it’s going to be a backwards step. So to go and try something new in a different league, I think that’d be a lot more appealing to him.
Let’s face it, I’m not being rude, but Serie A is an easier league, and someone with his ability could tear that league apart. So I definitely think if the option is to leave, where’s he going to go in England? He could go to Chelsea but, no, I think something abroad where he could be fighting for a different title could appeal to him.
Speaking of potential outgoings from Manchester City, Arsenal are supposedly seriously interested in signing Gabriel Jesus this summer. The player is reportedly open to the move. Do you believe City could regret letting him go after his four-goals against Watford on Saturday, and do you believe he’d be the perfect replacement for Alexandre Lacazette, whose contract expires this summer?
I’d take Jesus all day long. I can’t imagine City would be happy to let him go. I think it’d all be based around whether they sign Haaland, I’d imagine. I think Jesus is a great player at a great age so I think whoever gets him is getting a fantastic player.
Mauricio Pochettino is sensationally set to be sacked as the manager of PSG after leading the club to the French title over the weekend. Spurs boss Antonio Conte is the current front runner for the job. Do you believe that would be the perfect opportunity for Poch to make a return to Spurs? And do you believe that Spurs fans will prefer that outcome to actually keeping Conte?
As a football fan, Pochettino is a top, top manager. But to be honest I think Conte is as well. It would be a strange reunion for Pochettino and Spurs I guess. You just don’t know. Tottenham do some stuff that surprises everybody. Nothing surprises me anymore, but I would be surprised if Pochettino does go back to Spurs, to be honest.
Liverpool legend Ian Rush last week claimed that he’s worried about Manchester United’s appointment of Erik ten Hag. As someone who has an affiliation with both Liverpool and Chelsea, are you yourself worried?
I’m worried in the sense that he’s going to get Liverpool and Chelsea’s attention. Manchester United are capable of getting it right. They’ve got fantastic players, and if the manager gets it right then they’re going to bounce much further up the table. I guess while some people like to watch Manchester United struggle, I think a new appointment will rally the troops. There’s going to be a long gameplan, and if Erik ten Hag can get the individuals working as a team, then of course they’re going to be a big threat to the others.