Glen Johnson on gaming during the World Cup, England's loss to France, and more

Glen Johnson on gaming during the World Cup, England's loss to France, and more
Image via Shutterstock

Written by 

Jake Bannister


13th Dec 2022 09:42

England's World Cup run didn't exactly go to plan, a solid Group Stage followed by a convincing win over Senegal, only to fall at the next hurdle to a strong French team - the squad can still hold their heads up high.

To discuss all things England, we spoke with the former Three Lions and Liverpool right-back on how players used to use their downtime between games during the World Cup, the state of England after their loss to France, and how Jude Bellingham stepped up to the plate.

With the 2022 World Cup semi-finals upon us, we wanted to ask you whether video games played a big part in any free time you had between games when you were at a major tournament previously?

Some players would play video games. Obviously, there are some players who are more into gaming than others, and usually, it was the younger lads. There were occasions when people would get together for a few hours and mess around together because it was important to have a bit of time together and take your mind away from football.

Would you say your teammates were more engrossed by playing video games or watching the other matches in the competition during their free time?

It was a mixture. Some players liked to watch every game, and some didn't. When I was away at major tournaments, we used to watch quite a lot of the games after dinner. We'd have dinner and then watch whatever the next game was and then go and do whatever it was we wanted to do. There's no right or wrong, as you don't have to watch the games. Some people are natural football fans, and some aren't, so there's no right or wrong for me.

Onto the football and beginning with England's defeat to France on Saturday evening, where does this England side rank amongst the best you've seen in your lifetime? Are they England's golden generation in your eyes? And if so, have they blown a major opportunity for silverware?

It's tough to say because England always has good teams. We always easily qualify and blow the smaller teams out of the water all the time, so I believe England sides have always been good.

What's impressive about this team is what we have going forward. I'd say that's the bit that stands out, so I wouldn't say it's a full golden generation at all. It's obviously full of young, talented lads for sure, but I do believe they will be kicking themselves when you think that half of Morocco's team, who they would have faced, are on the treatment table.

Realistically, they should have been in the final if they had beaten France, and I mean that with no disrespect towards Morocco. You have to beat a big team eventually, but unfortunately, England just fell short.

The fact that many of England's squad will still be in their twenties by the time the 2026 World Cup comes about, do you believe the experience they gained from this current one will put them in good stead going into 2026?

Four years is a long time, and you don't know what's going to happen between now and then. If those players continue on the trajectory which they're on at the moment, then blimey, they'll have some of the best players at the tournament by then. If they continue to progress in the same manner they currently are then this experience will be massive for them.

The English FA reportedly want to keep Gareth Southgate for Euro 2024. In your opinion, do you want to see Gareth continue as England manager or do you believe it's time for change heading into the next tournament?

I definitely want him to stay, as he's done brilliantly if I'm being honest. Everybody clearly enjoys working with him, and he's taken the country forward and brought everybody together, so I want him to stay.

Hypothetically, if Gareth was to step down as England manager, then who would you like to see come in and replace him?

I don't want anybody to come in to replace him as I don't want anybody else. I’ve never thought about it because I want Gareth to stay. I don't think Gareth will go anywhere anyway.

Former Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino is one of the bookmakers' favourites to replace Gareth if he does decide to leave. Do you believe he would want a job in international football management?

Mauricio is a good footballing coach isn't he? So some of his time may be wasted in international management. He may be twiddling his thumbs in between games and there's not a great amount of time to get to know your players, so I believe he'll prefer a job when it's day in, day out. I think he'd buzz off that.

In your opinion, who do you think was England’s player of the tournament? And do you believe any players underperformed?

I think Jude [Bellingham] was our player of the tournament. For such a young bloke, he handled it all very well and played really bloody well.

Who underperformed? I think it's harsh to make that call. I thought everybody who played did well, with the only negative being the performance against the USA. However, that didn’t matter as we still got out of the group. They also played well enough to have gotten past France, even though they didn’t, so it's harsh to highlight anyone in particular for underperforming as I don't believe anyone did.

Jude Bellingham has been compared to both Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, two of your former teammates at club and international level. However, in your opinion, which former midfielder does Jude remind you most of?

I don't know because he's got a bit of everyone. I've not seen him struggle in any situation. Some midfielders are better defensively or better going forward, but Jude seems to be good at everything. I don't know if I've seen somebody like him to be honest. If I had to say anybody, then I'd say Steven Gerrard, somebody who can tackle, run, has great energy and scores goals. He's more like Stevie than anybody else he's been compared to.

Is Jude Bellingham a future England captain in your opinion?

Yes, but we can't expect too much as we're setting the boy up to fail. Everybody thinks the world of him, so when it does happen, everybody will be like 'yes, we knew this was going to happen,' rather than letting him just go on that path naturally.

You don't want to heap that pressure on him because he's a young boy, but if he continues to progress like the way he has been already, then I'm sure he'll wear the armband one day.

Manchester United has been heavily linked with a move for Dutch forward Cody Gakpo and were reportedly interested in securing his signature last summer. Since the move failed to develop, he's gone on to have a very fruitful season with PSV and has impressed greatly at the World Cup, with his value rising to a reported £50 million. Liverpool is now said to be interested in the player, along with Real Madrid, so if you were Liverpool, would you encourage them to try and hijack any move Manchester United make for him in January?

I'd encourage them to hijack the move purely for how good the player is rather than the fact he could be going to Manchester United. £50 million is cheap nowadays, so if you can get a young, quality player for that price, then you've got to do what you can to hijack it.

Declan Rice claimed recently that he wants to play in the Champions League in his future, opening the door to a potential exit from West Ham. Do you think now is the right time for Declan to pursue a move? And where do you believe he will end up? He's linked with Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United?

I don't want him to but he needs to move if he wants to kick on in his career. I think he will end up at Chelsea because he has a soft spot for the club and he knows a number of the lads there. However, you can never know where he will go because he will have a lot of options.

There are reports that Chelsea could be prepared to make a move for Manchester United's Jadon Sancho, who's struggled to impress during his spell at Old Trafford. Do you believe a move to Stamford Bridge could give Jadon, who is from London, the perfect platform to succeed in the Premier League and get back to the ability he showed at Borussia Dortmund?

No. He's not doing it at Manchester United, which is a place where he can prove if he can do it in the Premier League. I can probably count on one hand the amount of times I've seen him play for Manchester United. Chelsea isn't going to want somebody who's not performing for Manchester United because if you can’t get into United's team then you're not getting into Chelsea's team.

Inter Milan and Netherland’s right-back Denzel Dumfries has claimed that he sees himself being linked with Chelsea as a compliment. He is another player who impressed at the World Cup and he was on the scoresheet for his country against the USA. Do you believe he would be a good addition to your former side? And do you believe it’s an area of Chelsea's squad that needs strengthening, considering the injury record of Reece James?

He's a good player that would suit Chelsea. It would be great for Chelsea to have two top players for every position and they'd be signing him to keep Reece James on his toes and they can battle it out to be the club's first-choice right-back. It could be a deal that’s not too expensive as well, and he's certainly a good player.

Joško Gvardiol, who was Thomas Tuchel's top target last summer, is still said to be on Chelsea's radar. He’s put in a number of impressive performances for Croatia in Qatar over the last month, which has reportedly brought other club's into the race for his signature. Will Chelsea regret not getting this deal done last summer considering this news?

Yes, definitely. They could have signed him under the radar last summer and now he's performing brilliantly at the World Cup, with the eyes of everyone on him. By Chelsea not getting the deal done, his performances will have woken up a lot of other clubs who didn't realise just how good he was. I definitely believe that Chelsea will be kicking themselves and they're going to have a much harder task of signing him now.

Chelsea signing of RB Leipzig and France forward Christopher Nkunku is confirmed to be near completion. Before this news, he was one of world football's most sought-after players, so in your opinion, how much of a statement is Chelsea making with this signing? Do you believe he could make the same level of impact that Eden Hazard made on the club when he first signed for Chelsea, considering they both play in the same position?

He's certainly a good player but whether he's the sort of player Chelsea need right now, then I'm not sure. He has the attributes and ability to be a success, but you can never know how a new signing will click. We don't know how long it'll take him to settle in but I certainly believe he's worth taking a chance on.

Hakim Ziyech really has shone for Morocco at the World Cup. Your former teammate Joe Cole has claimed that Ziyech 'doesn’t suit the Premier League,' so do you agree with that statement? Or do you believe these performances at the World Cup will fill him with the confidence to head back to Chelsea and show everybody what he's really about?

I'm a big fan of him and he's obviously a super player, however, I believe that the Premier League may be a little bit too aggressive for him. Technically there's no doubt about what he can do as he's one of the best, but international football is closer to Champions League football than it is the Premier League and what I mean by that is, is that you get more time on the ball and you’ve got more time to take the ball down and play.

That suits Hakim more than the speed and physicality of the Premier League. International football and Champions League football suits him better.

Manchester United is once again linked with a loan move for Chelsea winger Christian Pulisic. Do you believe it would be an odd move from your former club to loan a player of his calibre to a fellow team that's also competing for the top four with Chelsea?

I can't imagine Chelsea would let him move to Manchester United. He could end up bouncing back and really help them out, so I suppose the only reason you'd let him out on loan is to get his value up and then sell him. That’s the only reason why he'd go on loan at this stage, and I'd be very shocked if he goes to Manchester United.

If he went to Newcastle, then that would be less of a risk, because even though they've been performing out of their skin so far, I'm not sure if they can do that from when the Premier League returns, up until the end of the season. However, I've been wrong many times in the past but I'd be really surprised if they maintained this form between now and the end of the season.

Arsenal's Gabriel Jesus is said to be potentially out for the next three months after undergoing knee surgery. Do you believe this injury is big enough to impact their chances of winning the title? Will they have to go into the January market to replace him? Would Cristiano Ronaldo provide a good short-term fix for Arsenal?

In terms of a short-term solution, then yes, definitely. Jesus is class, and if Arsenal is going to win the league, and if Jesus is going to be out for three months, then you don't have three months to wait if you're trying to win a Premier League title. To sign Ronaldo on a short-term deal would represent a sensible option.

Manchester United is said to be fearful that it'll be forced to sell Marcus Rashford this upcoming summer, with his contract expiring in 2024. Real Madrid are rumoured as potential suitors. Do you believe he's good enough to play for Real Madrid? Madrid are said to want Rashford as a long-term replacement for their captain Karim Benzema.

Well, it's a massive void, let's put it that way. I'm a massive fan of Rashford, and when he presses and he's at his best, then he's unstoppable. I have no doubt that Real Madrid would want to sign him if he's going to go for less than he should, if his deal's not too far away from expiring.

Will he be good enough to fill the shoes of Benzema? We won't know that until he's playing in the Champions League week in, week out for them. He certainly has the potential to.

The Mirror is also claiming that Rashford is of interest to PSG when his contract expires, and that they're prepared to make him one of football's best-paid players. If you were him, what would you do? Paris, Madrid, or stay in Manchester?

Real Madrid 100%. It's a galactico club, you live in Madrid, and wherever he goes he will be paid well enough. He doesn't need to think about that. Real Madrid will be competing for La Liga, they'll go deep in the Champions League, and you can live in the sun, so for me. it's a no-brainer.

When teams like PSG and Real Madrid want you, then 100% you'd be interested in them. Obviously, he's from Manchester and is already at a big football club, but if any footballer told you that they weren't interested in even having a chat with a club like Real Madrid, they'll be lying. He may not say it, but he will be interested.

Do you believe it's a huge risk making a move for a player purely off the back of a successful campaign at an international tournament?

100%. These lads look forward to the World Cup for four years and you're going into it trying to be the best you can be for four games or however many it may be. It's like a cup final for them. Will that player give that level of effort all year round? Probably not. That's why you get some players that are pretty average for their clubs but play really well for their nations. Some players can't repeat that level of commitment. There have been loads of horrific signings off the back of an impressive international competition.

Which four Premier League teams do you believe will qualify for the Champions League next season?

Obviously, Manchester City and Arsenal. For the other two spaces I'm going to go to Chelsea, and I really want to say Liverpool, but I'm really not sure. I'm going to say Tottenham for fourth, which hurts me to say, but if I had to put my money on it, I'd say Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham.

And who do you believe will win the Premier League this season?

It would be good for the Premier League if Arsenal won the title. Somebody outside of Manchester City or Liverpool would ruffle the feathers of everyone and bring the league back to life. It's good for the Premier League if Arsenal win it, but I obviously don't want them to, but I don't want Manchester City to win it either.

Jake is GGRecon's Co-Founder and Operations Director. You'll find him covering our word game brain teasers, as well as sports games such as Football Manager and EA FC. He's also that teammate on your Rocket League team spamming "Wow!".

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