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Glen Johnson On Football Clubs Expanding Into Esports, What Chelsea Should Do Next, And More

Glen Johnson On Football Clubs Expanding Into Esports, What Chelsea Should Do Next, And More
Image via Shutterstock

Written by 

Jake Bannister

Posted 

26th Jul 2022 08:55

Within the esports world, more and more football clubs are expanding with FIFA teams, and even playing their hand at more non conventional esports, with PSG operating in the likes of League of Legends.

We spoke with the former Liverpool, Chelsea, and England right back on what's next for esports in the UK, alongside Chelsea's state of affairs, how Núñez should perform in a Liverpool shirt, and more.

Football organisations such as PSG, Man City, Wolves, and even basketball teams like Golden State Warriors, all have esports teams. Many people now go to watch esports events live, can you see a future where people are going to watch a football team for the esports rather than the actual football itself?

I definitely think there's a market for it for people to be able to go and watch. But not to actually replace football itself. I hope not anyway! I can't see esports replacing football but there's certainly enough excitement around it to warrant people to go and watch it.

The esports industry is projected to be worth around $2bn by the end of this year. With the scene growing so rapidly, do you think more and more people will be looking at ways to get into the industry through colleges and universities who now offer esports courses?

Yes, I think so. It's like anything. If people see the opportunities from which they think they can make a good living and have a good career, then I think there is interest. But what that actually means in relation to the esports industry I'm not so sure.

Esports is growing at a rate where it is now included at the Commonwealth Games and is being considered for a future Olympic event. It's even an official medal at the Asian Games. Do you think eventually esports will be a staple when it comes to representing your country?

I guess so. If clubs are already starting to build esports teams then it's only going to be a matter of time until someone who is the best in the UK competes against the best in Europe, who then competes against the best in the world. You could see it all in the near future, if it keeps growing at the pace it is.

People are often encouraged to be more physically active and get involved in sports, whereas gaming might be seen as having the reverse effect. Do you think this attitude towards gaming will change in the future?

No. Not unless they find a way for the gamers to actually move around. Years ago, everyone was going on about obesity and that everyone needs to get fitter and healthier and how it's good for the mental state. And then this encourages the complete opposite. But you can understand that the games are so good these days that the kids do get addicted to them. Everyone sees it differently. You don't see kids playing as much in the parks and playgrounds as you used to. So, no, I don't think you can become an athlete and a top gamer.

Onto the football, now it's been confirmed that Cristiano Ronaldo will not be moving to Chelsea and Robert Lewandowski has joined Barcelona. If you were Thomas Tuchel, which striker would you realistically pursue now?

A striker that's already performed within the Premier League is always better than a striker brought in from a different league. They've already established what they're capable of. With Gabriel Jesus, I think Chelsea should have bit Manchester City's arm off to try and get him to be honest. Actually, I'm surprised that City even let him go. And I'm certainly surprised that he's ended up at Arsenal.

Again, no offence to Arsenal, but I'm pretty certain that, if Chelsea had wanted him, he would have gone to Chelsea. It's bizarre how he left and it's bizarre where he's landed. For me, Jesus is a top player and, though he's still young, he's already done it for a top team in a top league, so why wouldn't you want him?

 

Centre-back Presnel Kimpembe could be the next signing for Chelsea. He's previously worked with Thomas Tuchel at PSG. It's a move that has attracted a mixed response as the 26-year-old defender is seemingly never too far away from a mistake. How do you feel about this potential Antonio Rüdiger replacement? Will his Tuchel relationship benefit his adaptation to the Premier League?

To have a relationship already going into a new club helps. It certainly shows the confidence of the manager in the player. It would certainly give the player a lot of confidence. I've not seen a great deal of Presnel Kimpembe, but Chelsea do their business quite well and Thomas Tuchel is super-smart. I'm sure Tuchel wouldn't want to re-sign someone like that if he didn't have full confidence.

Chelsea's year long pursuit of Sevilla centre-back Jules Koundé continues, but the player is apparently dead set on joining Barcelona. Should Chelsea chase a player that's not desperate to join them?

I don't think a player would go if they didn't want to, but you've got to put your hat in the ring and see where it lands. If Koundé is going, you just don't know because there's a lot of speculation as to what clubs are really interested until the final hurdle and then a few drop out. For me, Chelsea should run the race and see where they end up in terms of his opinions on them.

Raheem Sterling, Kimpembe, and Koulibaly are all seasoned professionals. What do you think about Chelsea's new 'buy ready' transfer philosophy?

It's hard to put a finger on exactly the player Chelsea need, but I do think they've done a fair bit of business this summer than they have done in the last few windows and finding these players that are not breaking the bank that are established and older: I know it's not great for the youngsters, but those youngsters have got to be better. Everyone's got to try harder to get into the team when the squad's better.

Speaking of which, do you think Manchester City will regret selling Sterling to Chelsea as one of the Blues' first statement signings of a potential new era?

I think they could. He's a really good player. I don't think City will be that bothered in terms of their squad because their squad is really really good but I think it could be a potential banana skin because he is a great player, Chelsea have a decent squad, and they are going to be competing. You just don't know. If Raheem hits the ground running then he could easily pop up with fifteen goals a season and plenty of assists and they'll win a few more matches than they did last year. I think it's a tricky one for City.

Chelsea lost 4-0 to Arsenal over the weekend. Do you think this result is a sign of things to come this season? Are the warning signs looking ominous for the Blues? Could Arsenal even overtake Chelsea into a top four spot?

No. To be honest Arsenal silently went about their business last year. They got a lot of criticism but kept plodding away and then got themselves into a respectful league position. But no one was ever talking about how good they were.

I don't expect them to pip Chelsea this year. In pre-season, random results can happen. Although you don't want the defeats, you want to gain momentum. Ultimately it's about getting your squad fit.

No one wants to get hammered 4-0 that's for sure, but I don't think Arsenal are going to turn it around over Chelsea this year, no.

Liverpool were defeated 4-0 by Manchester United in the Bangkok Century Cup a fortnight ago. The two teams meet again in Premier League gameweek three. Do you expect a reversal of this result?

Yes, I would expect a reversal of this result. I'm not saying Manchester United aren't capable of winning but I can't imagine they'd smash Liverpool 4-0. I do expect the result to be spun on its head. Manchester United should have a good season but Liverpool should beat them.

Do you believe that Darwin Núñez will have to hit top form in his first season for Liverpool to win the title?

He's certainly going to have to contribute if Liverpool are going to win the league title. I don't think he will have to be at his absolute best but he's certainly going to have some sort of impact. You know what strikers are like? They thrive off confidence. If he can grab an early goal or a couple of early goals then I believe he will thrive.

Everyone can't wait to stick their boot in. Everyone else will love it if Núñez doesn't perform and if Liverpool start slipping up. He's got a lot of pressure on his shoulders, but so does everyone, so he's going to find a way to deal with it. I believe that if he gets an early goal then he'll settle in nicely.

He scored four goals in a friendly against RB Leipzig last week. Do you believe this will have struck fear into Liverpool's rivals?

I do believe Núñez is a good player and I think he'll be class. I don't believe Núñez is a direct replacement for Sadio Mané but he's definitely capable of scoring goals and as long as the other players around him are performing and helping him then I don't think it'll be a problem. Other teams and other fans will love him to slip up.

Over the weekend, Juventus have been linked with a move for Roberto Firmino? For you, does he still have a place in Liverpool's starting front line? Could he be the next big name to exit Anfield?

You don't want to lose too many players who know the club inside out. I don't know if Firmino will be one of the first names on the teamsheet next season but I definitely believe that he will play a big part.

Let's face it, if you're a top player you want to play every single week so I don't know how he feels about potentially playing a bit less next season. Jürgen Klopp obviously loves him and he's a legend of the club, but is he going to be happy playing the last twenty minutes in certain games? Probably not.

The rumours linking Liverpool with a move for Jude Bellingham persist, with Jürgen Klopp supposedly being 'obsessed' with the player. Now there's speculation that Liverpool could try and secure his signature this summer with him remaining at Dortmund until 2023, which is very similar to the deal they did for Naby Keïta with RB Leipzig. Would that make sense for all parties? And if that was to happen, could it have a negative impact on Jude's form for Dortmund this season going into the World Cup in late November?

You'd usually operate a transfer like that with young players if they're currently not good enough to get into your team. Jude could improve Liverpool's team now. I see pros and cons for that sort of deal because Jude will have half an eye on Liverpool if they sign him before he leaves Dortmund. Of course, he would remain professional and do what he has to do for Dortmund but it would almost be impossible to not focus on your new club. If you're going to spend the money then do the deal now because he's good enough to play now anyway.

Brentford's Ivan Toney has been linked with a shock move to Manchester United recently. Now if Cristiano Ronaldo was to depart the club and Toney was to come in as his replacement, how worried do you believe the club's fans will be? Or do you believe it would be a sensible move by United?

I think if Manchester United ended up signing Ivan Toney, then that would be a massive reality check for them. Over the years they would have been signing the best players in the world. I'm a fan of Ivan Toney, but I don't believe it's a signing that will get Manchester United fans excited, but at the same time he's probably the sort of player they need. He would score goals there but it's not the galactico style signing the fans would want. I believe those days are over anyway.

Last week, the Telegraph published an article regarding why Manchester United 'buying Dutch' is a risk. Do you agree? Should Ten Hag have targeted more Premier League-ready players?

I think you need a happy balance. If the players Ten Hag has bought are the players that he believes will improve them, then regardless of what league they've played in before, then you've got to try and sign them.

Manchester United's pursuit for Frenkie de Jong has stalled. Youri Tielemans is one of the alternatives reportedly being considered by the club. Which signing do you believe would be best for Manchester United? Are you surprised that Tielemans hasn't already left Leicester during this window?

I am surprised that Youri Tielemans is still at Leicester City to be honest. He's had a few good seasons there and I believe he's a top player who could play for a top side. I'd be surprised if he starts the season at Leicester.

West Ham are closing in on the signing of Gianluca Scamacca from Sassuolo. The 23-year-old is very highly regarded and will cost West Ham £36million. How excited are you about this move and if you were your former club, would you have signed Armando Broja instead of the Italian?

I would have potentially opted for Armando Broja over Gianluca Scamacca, but it is exciting that West Ham are spending that sort of money on a striker. Scamacca is going to have to deliver. I would have only opted for Broja because he's got Premier League experience already but hopefully I'm wrong and he can smash in 25 goals.

Bayern Munich manager Julian Nagelsmann has been open with his interest in Tottenham striker Harry Kane. Do you think the open declaration is disrespectful? And in your opinion would a move to the Bundesliga represent a step down for the player? Despite the fact that the club in question are amongst Europe's elite.

Managers don't usually speak about players at other clubs, but perhaps that's tactical. Unfortunately, Harry Kane's not going to be fighting for trophies at Tottenham is he? If trophies are what he wants then he'd have to be prepared to go elsewhere. Both clubs have probably spoken about this anyway behind closed doors, so Nagelsmann's declaration of interest is probably nothing new to Tottenham. Putting it out there to the press is a bit daft as you're just going to p*ss off the other club and then they might not want to do the deal because you've gone the wrong way about it.

Taking all the 'Big Six' signings into account, could you please predict for us which each side will finish in the Premier League next season?

I'm going to go Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United sixth. I don't think Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United can break into the top three, so those positions are already boxed off.

And to conclude, after all of these transfer questions, could you tell us which club has had the best transfer window?

I think Chelsea have had the best transfer window so far. They've got Raheem Sterling in and they've got a centre-back, which they've certainly needed. They needed these players more than Manchester City needed Erling Haaland for example.

And which has had the worst?

I'd have to say Manchester United. Nobody they've signed I believe will improve them straight away.

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