Football News

Glen Johnson: ‘Chelsea are miles away — they could be waiting until 2027 for Premier League title push’

By Harry Edwards

Glen Johnson Chelsea Mauricio Pochettino

Published: 11:09, 21 February 2024

Former Chelsea defender Glen Johnson has spoken about their chances of mounting a Premier League title challenge in the coming seasons.

Johnson also discussed England’s Euro 2024 hopes, possible replacements for Jurgen Klopp, and his thoughts on the proposed introduction of blue cards.

There was also room for a word on VAR, and a possible domination of European football by the Premier League sides.

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You spent time playing under Jose Mourinho, Harry Redknapp and Roy Hodgson at club level as well as Sven Goran-Eriksson and Fabio Capello for England. Who do you think gave you the best football education?

As a manager, probably Mourinho. In terms of understanding the game, what’s expected of you, tactically as well. But then in terms of allowing me to be me and do what I’m good at, I’d say Harry Redknapp. Both different managers, for obvious reasons, but I’d probably say Mourinho.

Is there one manager you wish you had the opportunity to play under?

Nowadays, it has to be Klopp or Pep. Obviously, both world-class managers. There have been a few over the years — Fergie. But nowadays, I’d probably have to pick one of those two.

You were the first signing of the Roman Abramovich era, how did that go down? Did you think Chelsea would go on to be the powerhouse of football they went on to become when signing the contract?

We obviously knew there were big plans ahead, And they told me that they were going to be signing other top players. I didn’t quite know or understand how many, because we signed an awful lot and were breaking transfer records quite regularly. But the thing is, the team that I joined was a good side. So obviously when you add the top players that followed me through the door on top of that, then it’s exciting times. In training everything was so competitive, you’re just thinking, how can anyone beat us? The standard was through the roof.

You played for both West Ham and Millwall, what was it like crossing that divide as a young player who came through the West Ham youth? Did you think twice about the Millwall loan offer?

I think it was a little bit different – of course, it’s a huge rivalry, certainly amongst the fans. But the thing is, the difference for me at the time, obviously I was super young, I just wanted to play football and I wasn’t really known at West Ham. So it wasn’t like I was going from West Ham’s first team to Millwall. I think that would have been a lot harder. But the fact I thought, ‘yes, going from West Ham to Millwall is technically a negative but if I play my football and show what I can do, then I know they’re going to like me’. It’s a bit of a gamble, but I was confident at the time. I was training well with West Ham, so I was confident that I could do it. And luckily, the gamble paid off.

With social media being so prevalent nowadays, we’re often exposed to transfers much earlier than we used to be. Was there ever a time you came close to a transfer that fell through at the last minute?

Not fell through in the dying minutes, but there’s a lot of transfer speculation with a lot of players. So yeah, there were times I came close to signing for a lot of teams, but in football there’s a lot of talk without things happening. So how close they actually were to being complete, you never really know. There are certainly deals that got close. But how close? I’ll never know.

With last season setting a new Premier League goals record and more attacking-based football being favoured across all levels of the game, is the art of defending losing its value? Would you have enjoyed playing more during this era?

Well, of course, I was super happy during my time, but obviously we were attacking but at times it’d be frowned upon. Whereas now it seems super accepted, and people have now understood what we were trying to do. Nowadays would suit me, but there’s a lot of today’s game I don’t like. It’s basically a non-contact sport, VAR drives me mad. So, no I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to play in those times, but I would have liked to have played in the free-flowing, attacking football, for sure.

How do you rate England’s chances of success at Euro 2024 this summer? 

I think they will do well again. We’ve got a very good side. They’ve been doing well in the previous tournaments, so I definitely think they’re good enough to compete. And if we’re going to lose it, it’d probably be because of our defence. The midfielder is world class, arguably one of the best, the same going forward. I just don’t think you can say that about a solid defence, whether it’s a three or a four. That would probably be the only weakness. But that’s not saying it’s going to be a let down, it’s just not as good as our midfield or going forward.

England’s right-back situation looks fairly muddled. How do you envisage Gareth Southgate narrowing down the options in your old England position for the Euro 2024 squad?

Well, yeah I think it’s an issue right now. But the good news is, the tournament’s not right now. We’ve got loads of time for Reece to get fit, someone else to hit some form. There’s probably going to be another injury before, from now until then. So if the tournament’s now, you’re struggling a little bit. But one or two of them are going to come good by the time of the tournament, I’m sure. Hopefully Reece James is fighting fit and finds some form, then it’s job done – or one of them, for that matter, in terms of an England fan. But I can’t imagine all four of them to be struggling by the time the tournament comes around.

Assuming Gareth Southgate sticks with the formation that got them through the qualification phase, who comprises your front three if England hope to go all the way?

Well the good thing is, now it’s a hard question to answer because we’ve got so many options. I think it has to be Kane, I’ll probably go Foden and Saka. But even now answering that, there’s Jack Grealish, Maddison, a few others knocking on the door. You could ask five people who would probably pick five different front threes. So like I say, it’s a good problem. But if the tournament was today, that’s what I’d start with.

Petr Cech suggested that the 2025/26 season is the earliest realistic target for Chelsea to consider challenging for the Premier League. When do you think that Chelsea could be a potential title contender again?

If you don’t agree with Petr, it’d probably be the year after. At the minute, they’re miles away from it, which sounds crazy looking at the players they have and the money they’ve spent. They’re going to need a big turnaround if they’re going to be competing next season. I think it’s at least what Petr says, maybe the year after.

What do you make of Liverpool’s current right-back situation? Conor Bradley has come through and he’s in good form and performing well. When he’s fully fit, does that allow Jurgen Klopp to fully convert Trent Alexander-Arnold into a midfielder?

For certain opponents, I think so. Certainly for home games, when they dominate possession. Because like you say, Bradley’s come through and he’s looked great. So as long as he can maintain his standard, then he deserves to play. Obviously Trent is still world class, so it’s a good problem for a manager again. But I think Trent could definitely be more midfield-based at home, if Bradley is still in form.

With Klopp set to leave in the summer, who would you like to see succeed him in the dugout at Anfield?

It’s a tough one, because you’re filling bloody big shoes – if you’re filling them at all. So I kind of feel sorry for whoever takes the job next, in a good way. But one thing’s for sure, they’ll be inheriting a top club, top team. It’s just hard, because people are going to expect so much. But obviously there’s no smoke without fire, and Xabi seems to be putting his hand in the air for the job, which is great. Someone like him that obviously is doing a great job at Leverkusen, and the lads would love him. So I’d like to see someone like that, but then I wouldn’t like to see him fail at the same time. I think you’ve got to throw caution to the wind.

Are there any upcoming English managers that you feel deserve a chance at a club like Liverpool, or who you see as having the potential to manage a top six club in the future?

Right now, I think there’s no doubt it has to be Gary O’Neil. He’s doing a great job at Wolves, from where he took over. They were really struggling, and now, they’re not winning games by a fluke, they’re dominating games and looking like a real side. And obviously they don’t have the players that the top six have. So someone like that can get players firing, and motivated. Then if you do the same with better players, then of course you’re to kick on. So right now it has to be Gary O’Neil.

Do you foresee a potential three-way title race going deep into the season?

As a football fan, I hope so. We’ve had some, not boring seasons, but we’ve had some seasons where teams just ran away with it. It’s credit to them, but it’s not good to watch – well, you know what I mean, it’s good to watch because they’re obviously sensational, but I mean it’s not good to watch when you want to see competitive big games. You want to see things go down to the wire, and the top teams lock horns. So I think it’d be great for the Premier League if they do go all the way. But, of course, I want Liverpool to struggle but get there by a point. That’d be nice.

Do you think the Premier League domination of Europe will continue for at least a few years to come?

Yeah, I think so. Because they probably have already done so for the last few years. And like you say, you’ve got Arsenal, Liverpool, and City that are there, and you’ve also got Man Utd and Chelsea that will bounce back. If they bounce back, and we’ve got five teams like that, then there’s no league in the world that will touch that. Because it’s a matter of time for United to be there, and it’s a matter of time for Chelsea. So, as long as the other three big guns are still doing it, then the Premier League will be untouchable.

What are the key differences and difficulties with playing in Europe AND chasing domestic glory?

The difficulty is, the demand on your body, the standard, the travelling. But the differences will be, European stuff is more like international football. It’s a bit more like NFL if you like, it’s a bit more stop-start, and a bit more building up your plays. Whereas your domestic league is a bit more free-flowing, and a bit more freestyle. Of course, you have a game plan, but then you can let players do what they need to do. Whereas the Champions League and stuff, because you’re normally playing against top sides and top players that can hurt you just as well as you can hurt them, so you have to be a bit more dialled in and a bit more rigid. They are different types of football, but it’s a great problem to have, right? As long as you can stay fit, and keep the squad fit, you want to be going deep in both.

How do you assess the job that John Mousinho has done at Fratton Park and could you see them returning to the Premier League in the next few seasons?

I think “the next few seasons” is a bit much. There’s a massive gap between, even the bottom of the Championship to the top, and then there’s a bigger gap from the top of the Championship to the bottom of the Premier League. So I think they’ve got an awful long way to go. But look, all they can do is their challenges right now. The first job is to get out of this league, and then you keep rebuilding, keep trying to improve. I think talking about the Premier League right now is getting a bit carried away, but if they can keep putting one foot in front of the other, and getting results, and getting landmarks, and moving forward, then maybe in five or six years. But I don’t think two or three.

VAR has dominated the headlines for the past couple of seasons. Do you see it as a positive or negative in the game today? Are there any changes you’d make to the way it works?

It has to be a negative, because that’s all we bloody talk about! I just like football to be more natural, you know? Because the problem we have is they’re still getting it wrong. So if we were sat here now, and they hadn’t made a mistake, whether you like it or not, you’d have to say, it’s doing its job because every decision is correct. But you’ve still got human people making the decisions and making it wrong with the technology, so what’s the bloody point? You might as well get it wrong at the time and stop waiting around. Because there’s been some horrendous decisions lately, it’s probably worse recently than ever. So I’d rather just let the ref get it wrong at the time, which is fine. And sometimes you get away with a foul, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes a striker is two inches offside and he gets away with it. You know, that’s football. We want to see goals, we want to see passion. And you don’t want to wait half an hour for a decision – or, well that would be bloody quick! You don’t have to wait five minutes for a decision, and you don’t want 12 minutes of added time.

Blue cards are set to be introduced into football in the near future? What is your view on this? Do you think it will add excitement to the game for that 10 minute period or will teams look to waste time when they are down to 10 men and play out the clock?

It’d be absolutely ridiculous. That is the worst idea I’ve ever heard. Because, like you say, it’s not going to do anything. You can waste 10 minutes easily. In 10 minutes of football, the ball is probably on the pitch for about a minute and a half anyway! So what’s it going to matter? I won’t watch football again if they start doing that.

Kylian Mbappe has announced he will leave PSG. If you were in his situation, where would you go next and why?

I’d probably say it’d have to be Real Madrid. Just because, there’s not often in the player’s career that you could go there, in your peak. They’re going to want him, they’re going to win stuff, they’ve got some world class players there. And I just think with the other situations, you know, like Liverpool now with the uncertainty of Klopp, he’s not going to go there. Bayern aren’t the same. United aren’t the same. Chelsea aren’t the same. I just think, even if they were all the same, Madrid would probably still be number one. I just think any time that comes around, I think players would like to jump at it.

If Mbappe was going to come to the Premier League, which club could you see him joining?

With the way it all is, you probably would have to pick Liverpool, because he’s not going to go to City. They don’t need him. Arsenal, I can’t imagine, would break the bank like that. Chelsea, he’s not going there at the moment. United, he’s not going there at the moment. So I’d probably say Liverpool, but even that I don’t think there’s any realistic chance.

Thierry Henry is the only player to score 20+ goals and provide 20+ assists in a Premier League campaign. Could Mbappe become the second? If not, is there anyone in the Premier League at the moment that you could see achieving that same feat?

Well, absolutely, he could break the record. Don’t be wrong, Thierry set the bar very, very high. But if there’s anyone that even plays like Thierry, it’s him. And if the Premier League was to suit him, then yeah he has all the credentials to break that. But, having said that, we’ve had some world class strikers in the past, even Salah now, Torres, Suarez, if they can’t do it, it shows you how high the bar is.

Back to VAR, there have been suggestions that ex-professionals could be asked to work alongside VAR, whether that be in the decision making process or not. Do you think adding playable experience to the VAR would be of benefit? Would it be something you would consider doing in the future, if asked?

I definitely think it could help, because certain things happen on a pitch that only players can see. What I mean by that is, as a player, you know if someone’s tried to do you, or if they’ve just caught you by accident. But on a still frame, it looks awful. But you know, as a player, he hasn’t meant to do X, Y or Z. So definitely I think the players’ experience would help. Would I be up for it? First of all, I’d rather it not be an option, but if it was, then yeah I probably would. Because you need someone that’s been there and done it, and I know there’s a lot of retired players, but I definitely think it could help because obviously the guys that are doing it, they know the game and they know the rulebook probably better than us now, it’s changed so much. But at least we would know for a fact if someone has deliberately tried to do whatever, and you give the players the benefit of doubt, because you don’t want to be getting players sent off and ruining games or whatever. We want to see free flowing football, goals and entertainment.