Football News

Glen Johnson: ‘Jurgen Klopp right at the top of Liverpool’s greatest-ever managers’

By Harry Edwards

Published: 10:30, 22 May 2024

Former Liverpool defender Glen Johnson spoke to Squawka about the dawning of the new era at Anfield after Jurgen Klopp’s departure.

Other topics covered include potential transfer plans for Arne Slot, Liverpool links for Anthony Gordon, the big VAR vote and the most underrated player and manager of the season.

Johnson also spoke about Chelsea and their late European push, Cole Palmer, Reece James and gave his thoughts on England ahead of Euro 2024.

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Liverpool couldn’t quite keep up with the title charge in the end this season. Do you think they lost some momentum knowing that Jurgen Klopp was set to leave at the end of the season?

No. I think they definitely lost momentum in the sense that they didn’t go to the finish line with the others. But I don’t think it was down to Klopp [announcing his departure], because when the big news broke they went on a good run, so I don’t think it was that. I just think that it takes an awful lot to go toe-to-toe with City with their squad to the death, it takes an awful lot.

And you’re going to need a lot of luck along the way in terms of keeping people off the treatment table. So I put it more down to the demands to compete with City, more than Klopp leaving.

The Jurgen Klopp era has now officially come to an end. Just how did he transform Liverpool in his time at Anfield?

It’s probably gone full circle, to be honest. Obviously he didn’t do it on his own, the owners have been great in terms of allowing him to do what he needed to do. But he totally turned the team around, turned the squad around and literally turned the club around. I don’t think you can talk any higher of what he’s done at Liverpool. Everyone should be very proud and grateful that he was there for so long.

Where do you rank Klopp among all-time Liverpool managers?

It’s hard for me to comment on managers that were doing what they were doing before I was born, but for me, if they were doing similar stuff to Klopp then they must have been special. I can’t think of anyone that’s been better than him, and I would say, especially nowadays when football is so much more competitive than say 30 years ago.

But like I said, I don’t want to speak out of turn because I wasn’t around then and I didn’t see them play. But I can only imagine they weren’t as good as this Liverpool set-up. So, for me, he has to be ranked right at the top, if not the very top.

Pep Ljinders has since been announced as the new Red Bull Salzburg boss. Do you think he deserved a crack at the top job at Anfield? Or is it maybe a bit too early?

You never know, because as we’ve said many times in these chats, time is everything in football. Arne Slot might be there for the next 10 years, we don’t know. So it’s hard for young managers to try to turn down these job opportunities if they do become available, whether it’s too early in their career or not, because you just don’t know what’s around the corner, and you don’t know how well the next person is going to do. It’s a tough one, but the only real answer is with hindsight, and we don’t have that right now.

What do you think are the first priorities for the new Liverpool boss Arne Slot in the transfer market this summer?

It will probably be working out the so-called deadwood. At the end of the season, every team has deadwood, whether that’s people coming to the end of their contracts or people not wanting to be there.

So I think he needs to work out the players that are not going to fit into his regime or the way he wants to do things. And once he’s worked that out, depending on what types of players are going to be leaving, then obviously he needs to replace those players if that’s what they need.

Liverpool have confirmed that Thiago will leave when his contract expires in the summer, and he played just five minutes this season. Did Liverpool miss having someone like him in midfield?

Yeah, definitely. If you’ve got a fit Thiago, every team misses that, and those players are hard to come by. But, sadly for him, he couldn’t stay fit and then couldn’t get game time and couldn’t have an effect on the team, or help the team at all. But, in terms of a fit Thiago, that’s what every team needs, or every top team anyway.

None of Liverpool’s forwards were particularly clinical this season by their own standards. If Michael Edwards had to decide to replace one, which is most dispensable, or most likely to leave?

With all the speculation, I’ll probably go with Mo (Salah). I don’t want him to go, but in terms of the amount of money you’re going to get, with all the chat that we’ve heard over the season – whether any of that’s true or not, we don’t know. But I think the others are a lot younger, they’re hopefully going to be playing for Liverpool for the foreseeable future.

So he’s the one that’s probably only going to be there for another year or two maximum, so he wouldn’t probably be the one that you would try to replace, again just because the level of money that you would attract.

What do you make of Klopp chanting Arne Slot’s name after his final game as Liverpool manager?

He’s trying to do the right thing, and be nice and basically let the fans know that he’s on their side, which is a lovely thing to do. Klopp’s done it the whole time, trying to take the attention off of himself, which is just what a nice bloke does, he’s not there for attention. I think he’s just trying to let the fans know that he’s on their side, still on the new manager’s side, and he’s trying to give Arne Slot the best welcome that he can get.

Anthony Gordon has been linked with a move to Anfield after a scintillating season at St James’ Park. How do you think the Anfield crowd would react to an ex-Everton star like Gordon joining the club? Do you think he’d be a good signing for the Reds?

First of all, like anything in football, if he performs they won’t care where he’s come from, but if he doesn’t they’ll soon jump on his back. So for him, it’d definitely be a risky move, but not if he’s confident in what he can deliver.

If he performs, he’d win the fans over. I think he’s a good player, he’s had a great season, I guess the concerns would be that Newcastle would probably want double what they paid for him. So whether he’s that good, I don’t know. But he’s certainly a player that I think would excite Liverpool fans if you took away the Everton situation.

There has been big news around VAR this week with clubs set to vote on scrapping it for next season. Would you get rid of VAR or do you think it’s good for the game?

I’ll get rid of it straight away, in a heartbeat. I don’t think it’s good for the game at all. I think it slows it down, takes some of the emotion away from the game and, let’s face it, sport is not designed to be perfect. It’s you against the opponent, and some days you get away with stuff, some days you don’t.

Goalline technology and stuff like that I totally agree with, because that’s the stuff that changes games. But all we ever do is talk about VAR, so that tells you something’s wrong. And also it’s not like they even get all the decisions correct anyway.

The likes of Teun Koopmeiners and Manuel Ugarte have been linked with Chelsea as potential Conor Gallagher replacements this summer, but would it be a mistake for the Blues to sell their home-grown midfielder to sign one of these two?

I do, because we’ve seen many players that look good outside the Premier League come to these teams and fail. Obviously there’s been endless chat about Gallagher leaving, but I don’t think anyone can say confidently that these two could come in and be better than Gallagher. They’re two good players, but are they going to be better than what he’s doing in the Premier League right now? Obviously we don’t know. If it was a straight up 100% yes, then of course they’re worth signing.

But I think it’s a risky move when, for me, Gallagher has done a decent job. I know he’s not a so-called world beater but he knows the Premier League, he knows the club. He does his job very well and he’s one that certainly puts in a good shift. So he’s one of the few positions, really, that have come out of Chelsea I think.

After some much-improved form towards the end of the season, Chelsea have secured European football for next season. How important is this for their project at this stage?

It’s huge. A club like Chelsea can’t be outside Europe. And look, this is the first step, they need to be in the Champions League that’s for sure. But they’ve still finished six places in front of last year, so that has to be a positive that they are back in Europe. I think now they’ve got the platform where they can start building for next season and if they kick on again, then they should be back competing. It’s a positive season but they still finished about 30 points off the title pace.

With the added responsibilities in Europe, where do you think Chelsea can realistically finish next year?

I think if they get some recruitment in, and the correct recruitment obviously, then they can complete. On their day, they can compete with the best, but they just haven’t been doing it regularly. I think as long as they can get a few new experienced players in, then there’s no reason why they can’t bounce back quickly.

Chelsea have been linked with another Brazilian wonderkid in recent days. What do you make of this apparent transfer plan of signing very young players, often unknown by European football fans?

I don’t mind. You can’t build your business plan around it, but if they’ve got the funds to take one or two gambles every now and then, I think what they’re trying to do is great. You can understand that, but you can’t assume you’re going to get [a star]. So you’ve got to build your squad and then you have that as a luxury, not as your game plan.

Cole Palmer was named Premier League Young Player of the Year at the weekend. What have you made of his first season at Chelsea?

I think he’s been great. I didn’t know too much about him before the season to be honest, and I openly said that. But he grabbed the Premier League by storm, he’s looked very comfortable, I like the way he plays. He’s super intelligent, and he definitely shocked me with the amount of goals he’s got. You can tell he’s a technical player, I thought he’d be more of an assist man but at the minute he looks like a goal machine.

Will there be added pressure now for Cole Palmer to replicate these numbers? Would it matter too much if he had a slightly quieter campaign?

It would matter because now people are going to expect the same, or similar. So he’s kind of set the bar for himself, but people should realise that he is a young kid. It’s his first season, you shouldn’t really expect this, but I think people expect it because they believe in him so much.

But I do think people need to give him a bit of rope because – I hope this isn’t the case, but a lot of people take the first season by storm. It’s the second season that proves whether you’re at that level, or whether you were just living the dream, didn’t really know what you were doing and things were just working for you. So the second season is always the one. We’ve seen so many players come and go for one year, but I hope that’s not the case with him, because he seems like he’s calm and calculated. And he looks like he’s got loads of ability, so it definitely doesn’t look like a flash in the pan.

Reece James was sent off against Brighton in his second game back from injury for kicking out at an opponent. Does this bother you, coming from the club captain?

Yeah, well coming from anyone really. It’s just stupid, isn’t it? Anytime you get sent off, it’s hard to win football matches with 10 players. It’s hard to win with 11, let alone 10. If you’ve done something to try and help the team, then got sent off, like a last-ditch tackle and you got sent off then fine, that’s part of the game. But to be sent off for something so stupid, you’re gaining absolutely nothing. It’s probably just a bit of frustration from the last few months, in terms of not being able to play. But he should know better than that.

Reece James made his return from injury just before the end of the season. If you were in Gareth Southgate’s shoes, would you take him to Euro 2024 – especially with the 26-man squad?

Yeah I would, but I think you’d have to put him through a quite intensive fitness camp, because you can’t take people on their reputation alone. You need to take people that are fit and can help the team, so I’d want to make sure he’s fit before I agree to it. But I definitely think as long as he’s match fit, I’ll definitely take him. But he hasn’t played, so he can’t be that match fit. But like I said, if he went through some sort of strict five-day camp or whatever, then I’ll definitely take him.

What do you make of England’s chances at Euro 2024 this summer?

We have to be excited about it, there’s not many teams that have got an attacking force like we have, even in midfield. I think we have to be excited. They’ve competed in the last few major tournaments, and unfortunately come up against more experienced match winners. If they’ve learned from that, they’re all a few years older, hopefully they’ve taken that experience forward and you don’t have to be the best team to win, you just have to find a way to win. And that’s what you need in the latter stages, because in the latter stages, that’s when everyone is good enough to win.

Regardless of what happens this summer, how would you rate the job Gareth Southgate has done as England manager? Does he need a trophy for it to actually be deemed a success?

Yes and no. Probably more, yes, because it’s certainly better than it has been, we’re competing, we’re playing some good football and we have gone deep in major competitions. But at the moment the results are still the same. At the minute, all the managers are kind of the same, with no trophies. If you come second, third, fourth, who cares? I think for him to stand out about the rest, he definitely needs to get a trophy.

David Moyes has managed his last game in charge of West Ham this weekend. Did you feel the Hammers needed a change or is this a harsh decision?

It just depends on what their expectations are. Where did they finish, ninth wasn’t it? At the moment, with what they’ve got, I don’t know what they really expect. I think that’s a decent season for West Ham, they won a trophy not long ago, they’re in the top half of the league. Right now they’re not going to be breaking into the top six, so realistically they can only finish two places higher anyway.

But I guess it’s only due to the owners probably thinking they want to have a different style of football, but that’s fine. But then you need to get the players that can do that, so if they’ve got a plan for a new manager, and they’re going to put their hands in their pockets and sign some better players, then that’s fine. But if they’re just going to stick with the squad they’ve got, then I think they’ve made the wrong decision.

Who’s been the best right-back of the Premier League season?

I don’t think there was one that blew me away to be honest, loads had a good few weeks. (Malo) Gusto was good at Chelsea for a while, loads have come and gone. Just because there isn’t a standout, I’ll probably go with (Kyle) Walker because he’s obviously played a lot of minutes in the title-winning team, but performance-wise I think everyone’s pretty much been on par really.

Who do you think has been the most underrated player of the Premier League this season?

The first one that comes to my mind is probably (Alexis) Mac Allister at Liverpool. People have realised how good he is, but what I mean is he’s been playing out of position, with no fuss, but still keeping up really good performances and he scored some really big, important goals as well.

It’s not easy for some players to play out of position for so long and do it with a smile on their face. So I think people forget that he’s playing out of position, and he’d much rather play further up. So I’d probably pick someone like that, that’s done a job for the team and kind of sacrifices himself a little bit.

Who do you think has been the most underrated manager of the Premier League this season?

I think Sean Dyche. To stay out of the bottom three, to stay in the league is the first thing. But then also without that deduction, they finish mid-table, something like that? So I think he’s done a great job there and if they kick on and have the same sort of performances, then they’re not going to start with a points deduction next year, are they? Well, actually I better not say that, I don’t know but they shouldn’t be.

Having won the Premier League title for a fourth straight season, is this Manchester City team the greatest in the competition’s history?

For consistency, yes, in terms of doing it over the four years. But there have been a few teams over the years that have been sensational. So it’s hard to say in a one-off season it’d be hard to pick. But in terms of their dominance, and their domination over the last four or five years, it’s been special. I think because of that you’d probably say yes.

But in terms of one-off seasons, that (Invincibles) Arsenal side, our Chelsea team, that United team, if they were all in the same league at once, then it’d be bloody interesting. But like I say, for the past four or five years, I think I’d have to say yes.