Football News

Glen Johnson: England can learn from Real Madrid’s Champions League win

By Harry Edwards

Published: 10:00, 5 June 2024

Former England defender Glen Johnson spoke to Squawka about the Three Lions’ chances at Euro 2024 this summer.

Johnson commented on the differences between his squad and his England teams, Gareth Southgate’s right-back choice and what the Three Lions can learn from past heartache.

He also spoke about Mauricio Pochettino leaving Chelsea, Enzo Maresca’s first tasks as Blues manager and Darwin Nunez’s Liverpool future.

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Since we last spoke, Mauricio Pochettino has left Chelsea. What did you think of that decision?

I was surprised. To be honest, I didn’t hear the news straightaway. And when I did, just through gossip, I was pretty shocked. Mainly because, obviously, I’ve supported him pretty much the whole time. They’ve had the best team they’ve had for probably three years and I don’t really know what they were expecting. So yeah, it did come as a bit of a surprise.

You’ve mentioned previously that when you were at Chelsea, you were surprised to see Claudio Ranieri sacked in 2004. How does a surprise sacking/managerial departure impact the players and the dressing room?

I guess with the Ranieri situation, that was a bigger shock because we had a fantastic team and we finished second. So we’re thinking we’re on the right path already, how much better can it get? But luckily Roman (Abramovich) and the team got it right because obviously they brought in (Jose) Mourinho and the rest is history.

But with this sacking, I guess it’s less surprising just because they’re not where Chelsea should be. But they bought players to plan for the next five or six years, I thought they took the manager that’s going to plan for that as well. Rome wasn’t built in a day. So it’s a bit surprising as I don’t really know what they were expecting. And a new manager, yeah it could put the cat amongst the pigeons and get some reactions out of the players, and it can work as we’ve seen before. But it just seems a bit odd to me at the moment.

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Enzo Maresca is the man expected to replace Pochettino. Are the Blues taking a risk in appointing a manager with no Premier League experience?

There are elements of risk with every new manager, even with Premier League experience, but it doesn’t mean he’s not going to be successful. I don’t know much about him to be honest. I’ve never met him, I haven’t seen many games that he’s managed, so I don’t know much about him. But again, he’s got to take over what Pochettino has left. And now it seems that the owners don’t have a four or five-year plan. So it’d be interesting to hear what the owners are saying to whoever the new manager is.

What does Maresca need to do to win over a dressing room that seemed pretty upset that Pochettino left? What did Jose Mourinho do to make his mark early on with your group of players?

To be honest, he just turned up like a grenade. He just walked straight into the dressing room and obviously he’s got a presence about him. He just delivered his character straight away and everyone was like, “wow, who’s this guy?” But in a good way, in a sense that he just got everyone’s attention immediately. Straight away he told us exactly what he was going to do, what we were going to win, when we’re going to win it. And it was just a way of introducing yourself that I’ve never seen.

Not everyone’s like Mourinho, so I appreciate that you can’t just bang the doors of its hinges. But he does need to get the players’ respect early, in whichever way he sees fit. And for me, you have to make sure you’ve got a team. I don’t care if they’re the best players in the dressing room or not, you need a team. So he needs to work out who isn’t going to be pulling in his direction as quickly as possible, and get rid of them.

Chelsea are being linked with the likes of Victor Osimhen and Lautaro Martinez in the summer transfer window. Would they be doing the right thing in signing a striker, or would this halt any progress that was made by Nicolas Jackson last season?

Well it might halt it, but if he’s not good enough to start, then he’s not good enough to start. So I think you need players like that to come in, that have played at the top. I’ve mentioned I’ve been a fan of Martinez for a while. Players like that are used to big games, they should be able to handle the Premier League. And if he’s got a player like that breathing down his neck, it might kick him on. Or, if not, then he’s not good enough anyway, so you might as well find out sooner rather than later.

What should Chelsea’s priority in the summer transfer window be?

I’d probably still say a striker and probably a centre half, maybe.

Reece James wasn’t included in Gareth Southgate’s preliminary squad for Euro 2024. Were you surprised that he was left out?

On ability, absolutely. But he hasn’t been fit. So you can only assume it’s down to the fitness, not clearly on how he’s been playing or on his ability. Because if they’re all fit then he’s the one that will probably start. It’s not a surprise because he hasn’t had many minutes and he’s obviously not match fit.

Who do you expect to be England’s starting right-back at Euro 2024? And who would you pick, if your choice is different?

Right now, with the circumstances, I’d probably say Kyle Walker will start. Obviously he’s had a good season, I would have picked Reece if he was fit. And Trent (Alexander-Arnold), for certain games he’s going to be perfect at right-back and for other games he’d be great in midfield. So as an out-and-out right back, with everything going on, I’d say Kyle Walker.

Kyle Walker recently named Reece James as his best right back in the world right now. Do you agree? If not, who would be your choice?

It’s difficult because there are a lot of good right backs out there that, in a certain month, are probably the best right back in the world for that month. But to say someone’s the best right back for, say, five years, I don’t think anyone’s done that. Everyone’s had their dips, which is normal, but it’s a hard thing. You’ve got to be out-and-out the absolute best for anyone to say you’re the best right back in the world across a few years-stint. But I’d certainly put him up there, with a good shout and a good argument.

When building up to a major tournament, how important is it that you win your warm up matches? Or is it better that the players just gel on the pitch?

It’s both really, You need to work on certain things that you’re going to try and do in the tournament. You’ve got to try a few things out, if you’re doing something different depending on who you’re going to be playing against in a group. But you always want to go into tournaments with momentum, and good feelings, and you want to get some goals for the strikers and get their confidence blooming.

It’s important to win, really, but it’s more important that the players stay fit, gel well and are prepared perfectly for the tournament. But if you go in there losing a couple of games before the tournament, then of course everything looks down and it’s going to look and sound negative. So you do really want to get some positive results.

You represented England at three major tournaments. What goes through a player’s mind for these warm up games ahead of major tournaments? Are you trying your best, or just hoping to avoid injury?

You always try your best but, absolutely, you don’t want to get injured. You’re not going to be going into daft tackles. There are certain times when players tackle thinking ‘cor I could get hurt’ and you don’t go into those ones. The manager would go mad and the teammates would go mad if you did something stupid like that and got yourself injured for no reason whatsoever. But that doesn’t mean you play with the handbrake on. You’re still giving it everything, but you’re just playing more sensibly.

What can England learn from their previous tournament heartbreak to potentially get them over the line this summer?

I think they were just a bit too naive in the last one. They’re just too nice, they’re obviously lovely lads and bloody good footballs. But you can’t win these tournaments by being nice guys playing nice football, it doesn’t happen. Look at Real Madrid in the Champions League final. They were rubbish for 75 minutes, but they managed to win and that’s the difference.

We were the best team against Italy for 60 minutes, maybe a bit less. But then you just need to find a way to win, and that means they have to do the nasty bits. If you’re caught out of position, you have to make a foul, you have to take a booking at the right time, you have to kill the clock every now and then. You can’t win these major tournaments when all the other players are also good players with a winning mentality, you have to match it.

What differences do you see between this England team and yours from Euro 2012?

I’d probably say it’s the opposite in a sense. Obviously this team is probably a lot younger, I don’t know what it is off the top of my head, but just thinking out loud it’s probably a lot younger. And I’d probably say our defensive side was better than what we have now, but I’d say this team going forward is better than what we had. The team is almost upside down.

From your experience of previous tournament squads, does it make any difference to have players, like Jude Bellingham, who link up later due to club commitments such as the Champions League final?

Not really, because there are only ever one or two. And if they’re late, it’s because they’re playing in the Champions League final, so it’s a bloody good thing. He doesn’t need to play another game for England before the tournament, he’s just played another 90 minutes more than anybody else. You want him to be fit.

He’s not really going to learn anything by playing a couple of pre-competition games. And, let’s face it, he’s going to start. Everyone knows that. The lads will be lovely, welcoming him with open arms and he just needs to learn what the manager is trying to do in the meeting room rather than on the pitch. But if you’re good enough to play in the Champions League final, then you’re good enough to miss a couple of pre-competition games.

The likes of Harvey Eliott, Adam Wharton and Jarrell Quansah have made the step up from England’s under-21s from March. As someone who has made that jump, what is the first camp with the senior squad like?

It’s a bit nerve-wracking. From my situation, obviously you’re young, you’re super young, and you’re now in the dressing room with all the players you were watching when you were at school. So it’s a big jump, but you have to get over that as quickly as possible. From my situation, the lads were great to me and welcomed me early anyway, and I’m sure this group would do exactly the same.

So for the youngsters, they’ve got to enjoy it because they probably won’t go to the tournament, but it’s still great that they’re even in with a shout, or in that circle. So they need to enjoy it, and try to learn as much as they can.

Jarrell Quansah was perhaps a bit of a shock call up to England’s preliminary squad. What did you make of his season with Liverpool?

I think there were a lot of positives. I’d say to put him into the England squad right now is probably a big step forward, but he certainly had some performances where he caught the eye and you think there’s a lot of potential there.

But you don’t want to judge a young kid on that, because it’s not really even his first [full] season. It’s been a bit stop start, stop start. So it’s hard for youngsters to gain any confidence and momentum when they’re doing that. And obviously next year will be a big year for him.

Even if he doesn’t make the squad, how helpful will the experience of being with the England first team be for his future? And for the other youngsters’ futures?

Yeah it’s great. He gets to sample it, see what it’s about, see where the standard is and realise what he’s got to match or live up to. So it’s great to almost be like a fly on the wall and see what goes on. So he can go away, have a big pre-season and prepare himself. And when he comes back, he maybe won’t be so nervous, because he’s seen it all before.

When named in a preliminary squad that needs to be cut down before a tournament, as a player do you normally have a rough idea on whether you’ll make it or not, and who is likely to be dropped out?

Absolutely. If everyone stays fit, you know exactly who’s not in the squad. But things happen and they’re there for a reason. Anything can happen in training, someone can get injured in the pre-games and then all of a sudden they might make the main squad. But if everyone stays fit then you almost know the starting XI, give or take one or two. You definitely know the start, and then you kind of know the two, or three, or four that won’t be on the plane so to speak. But, like I say, that’s if everything stays rosy.

According to reports, Liverpool are eyeing Ollie Watkins as a potential replacement for Darwin Nunez. Would Watkins be a good signing for Liverpool?

Yeah, if he could keep giving you 18 to 20 goals a year, then absolutely. Whether he can do that under that sort of pressure at Liverpool, we don’t know. But he’s certainly doing the right things at the moment at Aston Villa. And there are not many people out there doing what he’s doing, so you’d be mad not to give him a chance.

But it would just be about what it costs. I don’t think he’s a world-beater by world football standards, but he certainly knows where the goal is, and works hard and knows how to play football. He’s certainly a great player, I think it just boils down to what it’s going to cost. Because he’s not going to start for England, so if you’re not really starting for England, are you good enough for Liverpool? I don’t really know.

What should Liverpool do with Darwin Nunez? Has he done enough to show he can be the main man in Liverpool’s attack?

People still think I’m bonkers, but yeah I think he is. The thing is, I know everyone says he misses so many chances, blah blah blah. Yes, he does, but he creates so many chances, and he’s a pain in the backside for any defender to play against. And even when he’s not scoring goals or getting assists, he’s still affecting the game. So I think they’d be absolutely mental to get rid of him. I know a lot of people have said I’m mad for saying it but I’d love to have him in my team.

Ibrahima Konate is a player being linked with a move away to PSG, while Liverpool are reportedly in talks with the defender for a new contract. Do you see Konate as part of Liverpool’s future?

I do. I think he’s had a good spell at Liverpool, I don’t know who you’re going to replace him with that can guarantee what he’s capable of doing. So I think it’s quite an easy decision to renew his deal. But I guess it’s down to him and obviously what the new manager is looking for. There are going to be a lot of these sorts of question marks over players, whether they’re going to believe in the new manager and regime. But if they’ve got a good relationship, or can have a good relationship, then I think they should keep him.