Football News

Glen Johnson: Why I respect Mohamed Salah’s reaction to Jurgen Klopp spat

By Harry Edwards

Published: 11:11, 2 May 2024

Former Liverpool defender Glen Johnson spoke to Squawka about his appreciation of Mohamed Salah’s honesty following his spat with Jurgen Klopp.

Other topics covered included Liverpool’s faltering title bid, Feyenoord boss Arne Slot replacing Jurgen Klopp, and the upcoming game between Tottenham and Manchester City game.

Johnson also spoke about the reported Premier League spending cap, Thiago Silva’s imminent exit, former club Portsmouth winning League One, and who could replace Gareth Southgate if he leaves England.

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Your Liverpool legends team ran out 4-2 winners over a Man Utd legends team in Kuala Lumpur over the weekend – congrats! Are there any of your Reds’ legends team-mates you think could still do a job as a pro?

Well it depends on what level of pro you’re talking about. In terms of lower level, [Florent] Sinama Pongolle, he’s still fit and quick, Jamo (David James) can still do a job. So there’s probably two or three that can do a job at the lower level. But for them to put their shirt back on and be in the Premier League would be pushing it a little bit.

Liverpool’s title challenge appears to have slipped away in recent weeks due to dropped points. Why do you think they have faltered at this late stage?

I just think it’s down to the fact that the title is so tight. To win this league, it takes a mammoth effort. And yes, they’ve probably thrown it away in the last few weeks, but points tally wise, they’re still going there. So it’s a shame that they’ve thrown it away towards the end, but I think it just comes down to those fine margins. If you’re not 95%, you can’t win these games. These teams are good enough now to come and beat you, so it’s just getting these fine details right.

And that’s why City are always going to be favourites. Because, when Liverpool are struggling with injuries, Man City are not because they’ve got fantastic players that can just easily slip back in and that means a lot across the season. So I don’t think they’ve given it away, or they’ve thrown it up, it just comes down to those minor margins.

Between Manchester City and Arsenal, who do you think has what it takes now to go on and win the Premier League title this season?

I still say City, just because they’ve been there and done it. As I said before about the squad, they’ve been there and done it, so they’re going to be super calm in the pressure moments, whereas Arsenal are going to want it more and put more pressure on themselves. But you never know. Arsenal are still there and they deserve to be. It’s going to be interesting, but I think it’s a two-horse race now for me.

With Liverpool ending the season with just the League Cup, what have you made of Jurgen Klopp’s final campaign as Liverpool manager? Is there any form of disappointment, given what might have been?

Yeah, when you think of where we were and what was possible a few weeks ago. And of course, right now, it sounds disappointing. But the reality is, it’s not. It’s very hard to win the league, you can easily get knocked out of a tournament. They’ve got one trophy and I think you’ve got to give the man the respect that he deserves for how good he’s been for the last however many years, and what he’s done to the football club. So if they end the season with just the League Cup in his final year, after what he’s done over the years, I think he deserves a standing ovation from everyone.

What did you make of Mohamed Salah’s ‘if I speak there will be fire’ comments after he was benched for the weekend’s draw with West Ham?

I appreciate his honesty because, the thing is, the only person that loses is him. If he speaks his mind and tells you what’s really on his brain, then everyone’s going to criticize him for it and he can’t win. So that’s why players shouldn’t do interviews when they’re fiery, or angry, or have just come off the pitch, or were sent off, because they’re going to speak from the heart. And some people aren’t designed to take that.

So I don’t mind it. At least he’s calculated and he knows that he’s going to say some stuff that’s going to upset people, so I’m sure he’s told the people that are upsetting him in person. I respect it. I’m sure he’s let his steam off elsewhere. Obviously other fans and the press would love him to do it, for them. But it isn’t about them. I’m sure whatever he’s got to say is for the benefit of the manager and the team.

Are these sorts of falling outs/spats between managers and players actually more common than fans see, in the dressing room and on the training pitch etc?

Yeah it happens all the time. You see players that aren’t playing banging the door down, players that get dragged off when they score two and want a hat-trick. It happens all the time. But it’s going because these people are at the top of their game, and you only get to the top of the game if you’re a winner. And if you want to win, and you feel like people are taking that away from you, it’s hard to accept. So it’s frustration done in the right way. And as long as you say what you’ve got to say, they say their piece and you shake hands and walk away, then you’re doing it for the benefit of the team. If you throw the towel and start sulking and walking around training, then you’re killing the team. So as long as you do it at the right time and get over it, then it’s part of the game.

Do you think this latest saga makes it more likely that Salah follows Jurgen Klopp in leaving Anfield this summer?

I don’t think that’s got anything to do with it, to be honest. Because whether he’s fallen out with Klopp or not, and I don’t know if he has, we’re just saying what we see. If he has, Klopp’s not going to be there next year anyway, so I don’t think that matters. I think he kind of knows what he wants already, and Liverpool probably know what they want. And it’s just a matter of if they get enough money, he’ll go. If they don’t, he’ll stay.

Salah’s form has dipped slightly towards the end of the season. Why do you think that might be? Is there something that’s obvious to you as a reason behind it?

Not really obvious, just the antics going on. His head is probably in the air a little bit of where he’s going to be next season, the manager’s leaving, there’s going to be a lot of change. And he’s got a lot of off-field decisions to make, which obviously can affect your performance. He hasn’t lost his magic, has he? He’s still a fantastic player, but sometimes when there’s a lot going on upstairs, it can affect your performance.

As a player, what’s the atmosphere like when you’re about to embark on a new era at a club? For example, at Chelsea when Jose Mourinho replaced Claudio Ranieri.

To be honest, we didn’t have this sort of notice. Liverpool have known for half a season which is kind of unusual. Because we finished second with Ranieri, with a very good team, so we didn’t expect him to get sacked, we thought it was super harsh. So we didn’t really have much time to think about it, we didn’t play many games knowing he was not going to be there, so it’s slightly different.

But I can only imagine it’s a bit weird, because obviously managers are making decisions for the future of the club. And I’m not putting words into Klopp’s mouth of course, but how much do you care about the future when you know you’re leaving? He’s a good guy and a great manager, so I’m sure he wants the best for Liverpool going forward. But it is hard to plan three years ahead when you’re leaving in the summer.

Arne Slot is the current favourite to take the Liverpool job. What do you make of that appointment?

To be honest, I haven’t seen many games that he’s managed, but I know he is very close to [Louis] van Gaal and people like that. So if he’s taken any leaves out of their books, like Brendan [Rodgers] did with Mourinho, then you’re learning from one of the best. They’ve got their eyes on him and Eddie [Michael Edwards] the sporting director knows exactly what he’s doing. And he’s a big fan of Van Gaal, so I’m sure that’s where the interest has come from. Liverpool make these signings and they usually get it right. It’s a tough job for him to go into and it’s a totally different league, but he’s going to inherit a fantastic team. So let’s see what he can do if he is the right man.

How important will it be for the new manager to quickly make their mark at Liverpool, when following a manager with a legacy like the one Klopp will leave at the club?

It’s important that he gets the boys on his side. He needs to get their attention, get their belief as soon as possible. Because if he hasn’t got that in four weeks, it isn’t going to work, maybe even less, maybe two weeks. They’re big characters. If he loses the dressing room in the first four weeks, it’s over. The players have to respect him and naturally they will do, they’re all good guys.

But what I mean by respect, I mean do they believe that he can make them win, or help them to win. He needs to make them believe in the training, in the philosophy, whatever it is that he’s going to bring. The belief of how they’re going to dissect other teams. The players have to buy into everything you say, otherwise it’s over.

As with any new manager, Slot – or whoever comes in – may look to make a couple of changes to the Liverpool squad. Are there any positions you feel Liverpool do need to strengthen, or move players on?

Every season, players come and go, whether that’s down to a lack of performance, lack of game time, or lack of time left in your contract, there’s always going to be some transactions. So I think there’ll definitely be four or five that could go. But in terms of where they need to strengthen, it’s a tough one because they haven’t fallen very short. I think it’s more about the squad, they’ve been quite unlucky with injuries. But then, to be honest, they’re still winning the games with those injuries and the games they’ve started to lose were actually when they brought all the players back. Maybe they shouldn’t have done it all at the same time.

I think they’ve got a good enough squad, they just need a bigger squad. And obviously, to win the league, you’ve got to have your striker firing. It’s hard to pick a better strike force and say they will score more goals, because it’s all about form, effort and timing. So it’s difficult.

Tottenham face Man City knowing that if they win they could hand rivals Arsenal the title. How do you think the Spurs players will approach this game and will this have an impact on them subconsciously?

It probably will, but they’re professionals and they need to go and try to win the game. Of course, the last thing they’ll want to do is beat Man City and Arsenal win the title. Of course they’d hate that. But they’re also not going to roll over and lose on purpose. However, they probably will lose anyway.

What are your initial thoughts on reports of a spending cap in the Premier League? Would this be good for competitiveness?

It would be good for the competitiveness of the league, but it would lower the standard. Because it would only benefit the smaller clubs who can’t afford the best players in the world anyway. It weakens the league because all the best players will be going elsewhere. It’s different if it’s across Europe. But if that starts happening and, for example, if we can only spend £50 million on a player, they’re never going to join the Premier League. They’re going to go to Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich or wherever. So you’d just weaken the overall standard of the league. I don’t think that can work as Premier League-only.

With Thiago Silva announcing that he will leave Chelsea at the end of the season, how vital is it that they add some experience to their young, disjointed squad this summer?

It’s important. They’ve got a lot of new faces, a lot of young faces, but you do need those guys in there that have been through the trenches. They know how to win, and win when you’re not playing well. Anyone can win when you’re playing well, but only experienced players understand how to win ugly. Sometimes you’ve just got to batten down the hatches and stick together, and you might all be having a bad day, but you can still win those games. And that’s not really something that young players have because they’re young. I think it’s very important to get that certain level of experience to help youngsters develop.

What have you made of Thiago Silva’s time at Chelsea? Signed a few months before turning 36, surely not many will have expected him to have the impact and longevity that he has had at Chelsea?

It’s a credit to him. He looks after himself. Obviously he’s not the player that he was, but that’s because he was world class. But he’s still a fantastic signing. They definitely should have got him and I’m sure they’re buzzing that they had him. He’s probably one of the first names on the team sheet, so it’s a credit to him. He’s done great, he’s been a great signing and I’m sure he’s helped a lot of the other players along the way. They’ll probably be gutted to see him go.

Reece James has returned to partial first-team training after his latest injury problem. Even at this late stage of the season, do Chelsea need to manage his return to ensure he doesn’t suffer again?

That’s the most important thing, right? He can’t have a recurring injury because if he does that’s his season over and Euros over. But at the same time, they’ve got to try and improve in the league. I think he needs to take his time. And I’ve been there, I’ve done it. You’re so eager to come back and play, you come back two weeks early because you feel great but all of a sudden you do it again and you’re out for another six to eight weeks.

It’s kind of a credit to the player because you want to get back fit, but you also have to be patient and try and wait. So if he feels he’s fully fit, he should probably just give it another week of training to build it up, get his body moving again, and then, not take it easy, but don’t do anything stupid in the games. That’s where an experienced player would understand, that youngsters are too keen and eager. So I just think he needs to get through the first few games, get some time into his lungs, and then hopefully he stays fit, plays well for Chelsea and then he’ll be going away with England.

Chelsea will end the season trophyless and European football looks like it may be too far. So, what have you made of Mauricio Pochettino’s first season as Chelsea manager?

It’s not really much of an improvement at the moment. I think they finished 11th or 12th last year? So if they increase it by two or three places, okay great. But that’s not really where they should be, is it? I still think he’s the right man for the job, and as I’ve said all along, there’s a lot of dust that needs to settle at Chelsea, and it’s going to take time.

I don’t really care if they finish eighth, ninth or 11th and 12th. What’s the difference? Chelsea need to be fighting in the top four at least. I still think he’s a good manager, I think it’s just that a lot of transactions have gone on, on and off the field. So give him another fraction of time in terms of, another pre-season, another transfer window. Then, I still think he’s the right man to get them back challenging.

If Chelsea don’t end up in Europe, how much pressure will be on Pochettino to deliver a cup or a top four finish next season?

I don’t think many people will accept it, if it’s three years in a row. Because, obviously I’m saying about giving him time, but the fans aren’t that patient. And obviously a club like Chelsea shouldn’t be knocking around in the middle of the table and win one, lose one, win on, lose one. They’re too good for that. I think if they do miss out on that European slot this year, they have to get that as an absolute minimum next year.

What changes do you think need to be made at Chelsea, if any, to ensure they do not suffer a repeat next season?

Get rid of anything that is not pulling in the same direction. We saw them fighting over a penalty, not so much Cole Palmer, he was obviously the calm one and he’s a penalty taker so he should be taking it. But you saw them pulling around the ball and it’s embarrassing. But that just shows you that they’re not a team, because you know who the penalty taker is before the game. So somebody has made a decision at the time to overrule the manager’s decision and the team’s decision, because of his own selfishness. And that’s not a team. So whoever’s not pulling in the right direction, get rid of them.

We’re not too far away from Euro 2024. Are there any players you feel could be making a late bid to be in Gareth Southgate’s England squad, that perhaps weren’t in the thoughts before?

Not really, to be honest. Gareth’s been really good with opening the squad up He’s given loads of debutants a chance. It sounds silly, but you haven’t got to try that hard to get into the England squad in the friendlies, because Gareth’s opening the door to a lot of people that are in form, and he’s given a lot of time to people. So I think everyone that’s been knocking on the door, Gareth’s already seen. So I don’t think there’ll be anyone that hasn’t been in an England squad yet, that will go to the Euros.

Gareth Southgate has been linked with leaving the England job this year, most notably for Manchester United. If he does leave, are there any names you’d back to be the next England manager?

Let’s get Harry Redknapp back out of retirement! I don’t know. The thing is, I don’t think the next manager will be English, because what English managers are good enough at that level, that are available at the moment? It’s a big role and international football is different to domestic football. So I think it’ll be a foreign manager that’s been there and done it in the past. But who that is, God knows.

How happy were you to see your old club Portsmouth win the League One title? Do their fans deserve this success after so many years of hardship?

Absolutely. They’ve got a great fan base there, and obviously from our days at Portsmouth, the club is in a totally different place and the team’s totally different. But it’s good to see them get back up. Obviously it’s a long way from where they should have been. Like you say, the fans have suffered for a long, long time now, so at least they can enjoy this moment. Hopefully they prepare right through the summer, get some better players in and try to compete next year.

At that level, League One and Championship, a bit of organisation puts you in front of 10 other teams. It’s a tough league to win but there are 12 teams that are as good as each other, so sometimes it’s about a little bit of organisation, a bit of belief and that can catapult you up. So they could compete next year as well if they get the market right.

With Pompey having gone for experience in their previous two appointments in hiring Kenny Jackett and Danny Cowley before hiring John Mousinho, how much importance do you place on experience when it comes to management? Can players sometimes benefit from an entirely new approach?

At that level, I think it’s all about experience. These guys know these leagues, they know how tough it is, how demanding it is. So it’s more about the experience of those leagues. You’re not going to get a young manager that goes in and wants to start playing out from the back and doing what you see Man City, Liverpool and Arsenal doing. Because, no disrespect, but the players are good enough to do it right. So you’ve got to play the way the league’s used to. And all you’ve got to do is beat the team in front of you. So I think the manager is more important with the experience at that level for sure.