Women’s Super League and Bundesliga most exciting in Europe – Melanie Leupolz

German women’s football leads the way in Europe, if not the world, but England are certainly gaining on their old rivals.

You only have to look at the UEFA Women’s Champions League to recognise Germany’s domestic dominance. They possess the most successful league in the tournament’s history, with a total of nine titles won by four Women’s Bundesliga clubs. The German national team are the only side to have successfully defended the FIFA Women’s World Cup and have also won the last six European Championships.

Women’s football in England is making huge leaps forward. In the last year, there has been a number of significant landmarks. The Lionesses beat Germany for the first time in 20 attempts at last year’s World Cup to finish third – the highest placed European side. The performance was the second best by an England team following the 1966 win by the men’s side.

After the World Cup success, average attendances at the following FA Women’s Super League (WSL) fixtures more than doubled, Chelsea beat Notts County 1-0 in front of a record crowd in the first FA Women’s Cup final at Wembley and Lucy Bronze was nominated for Sports Personality of the Year.

Melanie Leupolz
Bayern Munich and Germany’s Melanie Leupolz

Bayern Munich and Germany midfielder Melanie Leupolz, who was involved in the World Cup defeat to England, is aware of these developments and feels they have strengthened the English game.

“The English soccer, or the women’s soccer has changed a lot, they improved and we saw it at the World Cup,” she said when I sat down with her at Sabener Strasse, Bayern Munich’s training ground.

“In my opinion, the German Bundesliga and the English Super League are the strongest and most exciting leagues in Europe, as all teams play on a very high level. Every match day is a big challenge, what I personally like a lot,” she added.

 Sabener Strasse training complex in Munich
Sabener Strasse training complex in Munich

Chelsea begin their WSL title defence as the season returns on 23rd March. The league is expanding and for the 2017 season WSL 1 and WSL 2 will increase to 10 teams each. The English league appeals to Leupolz and is somewhere she can see herself playing, after admitting one day she would like to move abroad.

“Now I have a contract with Bayern and I am happy, we are successful and I have big goals with the club. But I am only 21-years-old. In general, I am a person who is highly interested in other countries and foreign mentalities.

“That is why I could imagine making some other experiences in the future. The English League could be a good way to go some day. But this is nothing which I think about at this time of my career. At this moment Bayern is Munich is perfect for me,” she explained.

Bayern’s number eight, a hard-working central midfielder, is pleased the famous clubs in England have female teams as it increases the strength in depth in Europe.

“I like it when the big clubs like Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester [City] and Liverpool also have good women’s team and then the soccer in Europe is improving.”

Grassroots level is again advancing in England and football is now officially the biggest female team sport. Recently the FA raised the age limit for mixed football teams from under-16s to under-18s, in a move inspired by Germany and other European countries.

The former Freiburg midfielder started playing football with the boys at her primary school and later progressed through the German tiers.

“I was playing until I was 14 with the boys in my home club, then I switched to a girls club – it was an under-17s team.

“They played in the highest league in Germany and there I played two years. Then I went to a boarding school, to FC Freiburg. I played one year in the second Bundesliga and then we went to the first Bundesliga.

“There I played three years and then I switched to FC Bayern.”

Bayern Munich going strong

Bayern Munich are a giant of world football and the 21-year-old described it as a “pleasure” to sign for them in 2014. Bayern emulated the men’s team’s success as they lifted their first league title since 1976 last season and are in a great position to reclaim it this year. They currently sit 10 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga table.

“Maybe we haven’t won many titles in the past, just the one Championship, and we are out of the Champions League so we, of course, want to win the German Championship.

“We are working hard every day and every training we are focused and want to learn more.”

Further Developments

Not only have we seen huge developments in England but also globally, with female players being included in Electronic Arts’ FIFA 2016 football video game for the first time. The Bayern star sees the fun side of having her own computer game character.

“Now seeing me play on the Playstation is great. I don’t like [to play] Playstation that much but when I see myself, then it’s a little bit funny because I’m always discussing with the referee and I think I always get yellow cards,” she jokes.

 FIFA 2016 includes Women's National Teams
FIFA 2016 includes Women’s National Teams for the first time

Mark Sampson’s side face Germany on 6 March in America during the SheBelieves Cup as they look to continue their progression against the world’s best. The German international, who has since had to pull out of the competition with an ankle injury, sees it as a chance for “revenge” and recognises what a difficult fixture it will be.

“I think with the USA, the French and England, there are many good teams and good tests for the future.

“I count, like I say, England one of the best teams in Europe, so I’m looking forward to the game and of course we want to try and beat them.”

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‘You’re the tenth coolest man in Britain but what I want to know is…’ – An interview with Soccer AM’s Tubes

Tubes Soccer AM -SkySports.com

He is the gangster rapping, dance off dancing, straight faced all round funny guy at Soccer AM. Interviewing Hollywood’s and the Premier League’s finest are weekly occurrences for the recently crowned tenth coolest man in Britain 2013, voted ahead of the likes of Noel Gallagher, Robbie Williams and Plan B.

Tubes, who got his nickname from the band Peter and the Test Tube Babies, has gone from production runner to rapper at Sky Sports after starting at the age of sixteen. The assistant producer on the highly popular Saturday morning football show likes to spark more unique answers from interviewees with his particular styles of interviewing. I recently got a behind the scenes insight into the show whilst also discussing rapping, football and how it feels to be alongside David Beckham in the top ten coolest men in Britain. Thankfully he didn’t restrict me to one question only.

Tell me a bit about what goes into the show during the week and what your role involves?

“In my role, I look after the football side of it. I have to book the football guest each week, which means a lot of phone calls. I’ve never used a phone so much in my life but yeah it’s fun. Obviously when you get people like Adebayo Akinfenwa who we’ve got tomorrow (Saturday 11th May) it’s a good one for the hardest man in football, which is cool and then I also interview footballers as well. This week I did Mark Schwarzer and I like to find out different things, not just your bog standard questions. Like this week, for example, I found out he (Schwarzer) has had the same pair of shin pads since he was 19 years old which is interesting.

“On the other side of that I do the rap stuff, which is fun, especially when it’s someone like Denzel Washington who basically tells you to do one but mucking around. So that’s my role and I enjoy it, I’m not the sharpest knife but I love football, so I’m pretty lucky.”

You were recently named the tenth coolest man in Britain as part of a poll in Zoo magazine, how did you feel when you found out?

“Rocket mentioned early on I was third in some poll in Zoo which I thought was mad. He encouraged people to vote for me, I had nothing to do with it. I ended up finishing tenth which was amazing and I was just happy to finish above Noel Gallagher because he’s the coolest guy in the world.”

How did you become such an integral part of the rap game and where did it all begin?

“I used to be a character called Peter the Test Tube Baby which was years and years ago (on the show). One afternoon (Tim) Lovejoy called me up. I was working as a runner for the sports library, just doing every Saturday for free since, I was sixteen at the time. Lovejoy said, ‘Come upstairs, that little bugger Rocket’s gone on holiday skiing, I like you, we like you, so we want to make you a character.’ I went ‘Oh here we go’, and he said ‘There used to be a band called Peter and the Test Tube Babies‘. I’d never heard of them, and he went, ‘So you’re Peter the Test Tube Baby.’ I went, ‘Right, what’s that?’ So he said ‘Basically you’ve got to come out with a can of beer and bring the balls out.’ I thought that sounds all right but, ‘You’re in a nappy.’ It was November at the time, so I nearly caught pneumonia.

“I did that for three years and then Lovejoy went, ‘I’m bored of that’, and so was I. Also I nearly died from the cold and I had frosted nipples, and couldn’t walk properly but it was fun, so Lovejoy said, ‘Look you’ve got one question, one question only, do what you want with it but you’ve only got three chances, if it’s not good enough you’re out.’ First question was the worst question ever, I walked up there, so nervous, shaking, and the question was to Frank Worthington. I literally just walked on the stage, Lovejoy said, ‘Alright Tubes who’s your question for?’ I said ‘It’s for Frank. Hi Frank, did you score more on or off the pitch?’ Frank Worthington just looked at me and went, ‘On.’ and I just walked off. Everyone thought, ‘What was that?’ Lovejoy just went you’ve got two more chances.

“So I used to go to school in Surrey, which is quite a nice part of the world, but you get these people who think they’re really streetwise but actually they live in a four million pound house or whatever and they all used to say, ‘You alright bruv, what you saying’, and all that. I’d be like, ‘I know your Mum’s got a Lamborghini, I don’t understand why you’re talking like you come from the ghetto’, but it made me laugh. So I thought I’m going to incorporate that nonsense speech into the question. I think I said, ‘Rough it up rude boy you’re coming on fresh you nahh’, and everyone just creased up laughing, so that’s how it started. Then I’ve carried on doing it ever since.”

How do you prepare for, and write your raps?

“I just literally write them on the day; it’s not a whole week of prep. I haven’t got a lyrics book, I just roll up and think what rhymes with that and what can I do to make it hopefully amusing, that’s it.”

Have you always done it that way?

“I’ve never written a rap down on a piece of paper, I’ve always done it the night before or in the morning. You’ve got to keep the lyrics fresh in your mind. Know what I mean?”

My favourite ‘Tubes Question’ was when you interviewed 50 Cent the first time. What was that like to interview such a world famous fellow lyricist?

“It was brilliant, I wasn’t nervous but I was just intrigued to see what he’d be like. You hear all these stories like he’s been shot like 54 times and survived. So I got to a hotel and I’ve never seen bigger men than his people. They were like the size of this edit suite, standing outside the door and I’m like, ‘I’m here to see 50 Cent’. I walked in and he was nice as pie, he didn’t really get what was going on but then the second time I went back to see him, he was like ‘Heyyy, how you doing?’ I was like I’m chilling with 50 Cent, have some of that. So that was interesting.”

Who’s been your favourite person to interview and given the best reaction so far?

“The best reaction was from Denzel Washington. I turned up basically and when you arrive at these junkets, you turn up to a nice hotel which is heavily overpriced. I’m basically wearing jeans and trainers with everyone else all suited and booted sat around this waiting room talking like they know Denzel Washington. They were like ‘Yeah, me and Denz, we met at Cannes last year.’ I sit in the corner with my Asda black shirt on and they all look at me and said ‘Are you actually doing Denzel Washington today?’ So I said ‘Yeah, I’ve not just come to sit around a hotel.’ So they said ‘He’s hard work, he will not like you.’ Oh well that sounds like quite good fun then so as I walked in they were all saying ‘Good luck.’

“He basically plays along brilliantly and at the end of the interview, the door opens and he’s got me in a headlock saying ‘Don’t mess with me Toobes’, but mucking around and laughing saying ‘You’re the man’, and all that. All these people in suits were shocked and astounded so I said ‘He wasn’t that bad’, so that’s probably my favourite.”

How are your raps and unique interview technique received from celebrities – do you think they enjoy something different?

“I’ve seen Bruce Willis say I’m hungry and four grown people literally poo themselves and run to try get some food. It’s not them but they’re so heavily protected and looked after and when someone like myself goes in there and asks them something completely random, they like it because they’re bored of answering the same questions from different interviewers all day. So I suppose it is what the shows about and I think the celebrities do quite like it sometimes because they are bored.”

You started interviewing footballers in a more sit-down interview format recently. Who has been the best footballer you’ve interviewed so far?

“I love doing the sit-down interviews with players and, as I say, I did Mark Schwarzer yesterday, and I did Gareth Bale last week – the day after he won all those awards – he was nice. Michael Owen was a lovely bloke, well funny as well – dry sense of humour. Joey Cole was great, Kevin Keegan – I thought he wasn’t going to like me but we were spraying perfume on each other by the end of it – it was well fun. Kyle Walker as well was great.”

Have you interviewed any Chelsea players and with you being a fan, does it have more significance when you do?

“Not done many interviews with Chelsea players, no. I want to get (Frank) Lampard though. I do have to admit it does ‘Juan Mata’ a bit more for me.”

As this season’s end approaches, it’s been another successful campaign for Soccer AM in its 18th year. The football show has been an enormous part of Sky Sports since it first aired in 1995.

The substantial ‘Tubes Question’ remains an entertaining, comical addition to the show. The Surrey-born rapper recently added another element to his game with a more formal sit down style of interviewing and it’ll be interesting to see if there’s a lean more towards one approach in the future. The Chelsea fan, along with the rest of the show’s crew, will soon enjoy the summer off and prepare to come back stronger than ever next season.

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Manchester United’s Director of Communications Phil Townsend talks Reds off the pitch

Manchester United Director of Communications Phil Townsend believes the rivalry between United and City is a “good thing” for the Premier League.

The Manchester rivalry has intensified in recent years, and after Manchester City overcame their neighbours to win the Premier League in an emphatic late comeback on the final day, this sets up the most enthralling bout yet between the two sides next season.

Townsend believes the competition between the top teams is a positive advert for the league in general.

“The fact that it’s a more exciting and a closer product than the Spanish or Italian League, it’s a major part in its popularity and value to television companies around the world, ” he said. “I think it is a good thing for the Premier League as a whole, there are several teams now who are capable of winning the league.”

The Red’s Director of Communications believes the club has become more proactive on the commercial side since he arrived. After the club recently announced followers of 659 million across the world, he spoke about how it has become easier to communicate with such a large fan base.

“The mobile partners that we have in 45 countries, allow you to literally bring the team and action to the palm of someone’s hand as people obviously carry mobile phones around. Through that, it’s possible to speak directly to supporters.”

The Old Trafford board member made it clear, ahead of next season’s pre-season tour, how not only is a global fan base important but also local supporters. Last year’s ‘Champions 19 Tour’ visited places across the world but also to the local community.

“What is also important is the Manchester legs of the tour, so it went to schools in Stretford, Urmston, Flixton and places like that. There was never an ignoring of the local fan base. It was a global thing but very much for the whole Manchester United family.”

Old Trafford
Old Trafford

Townsend, who has been at the club for eight and half seasons, reiterated how important Old Trafford is to the club.

“Old Trafford is one of the key assets of the club. The centenary celebrations that we had in 2010 were reflective of the value everybody sees in Old Trafford, you wouldn’t want to change it. You go to say the Emirates Stadium, the concourses are larger, the seats are probably bigger but for me, it doesn’t have the feel of Old Trafford.”

Sir Alex Ferguson celebrated 25 years in charge of Manchester United last season and the club dedicated this achievement by changing the name of the ‘North Stand’ to the ‘Sir Alex Ferguson Stand’. Townsend, who was studying his A-Levels when Sir Alex took charge, said it was completed with great secrecy with only a few people knowing about the change.

Sir Alex Ferguson during the new stand name unveiling

“It was David Gill’s idea and he drew people in as and when necessary. We were able to source a company, the company was never told in what order the letters would be appearing. They were just sent a random array of letters,” he explains.

“They assembled them in blocks of three, those blocks were erected in a certain order and the guys putting them up didn’t know. Whilst they were putting it up it was covered so the CCTV cameras in the stadium couldn’t pick it up and see it.

“I think the fact the manager didn’t know was, firstly astonishing but also added to the sense of occasion on the day as he was staggered by what he was seeing.

“I think it achieved everything we wanted it to, we probably kept that more quiet than Paul Scholes’s return in January, because even his team-mates didn’t know. So it shows even in football you can keep secrets from people some of the time.”

The planned Sir Alex Ferguson statue is on course to be up by November time.

“The plan for that will probably be for in or around the 26th anniversary to unveil that. It will be like, in terms of size and feel, the Sir Matt Busby statue and will be outside the Sir Alex Ferguson stand,” Townsend explains.

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An Interview with Alan Keegan ‘the Voice of Old Trafford’

Alan Keegan with Dennis Law

Alan Keegan has been the stadium announcer at Manchester United for over 10 years and has seen many changes at the club in that time.

I recently sat down with ‘the Voice of Old Trafford’ halfway through the 2011/12 season, which is his thirteenth with the Reds.

  • How did you become involved with Manchester United?

I’ve always been interested in sport on the whole, specifically Manchester United and football. If we’re looking at a pathway, when I was younger I did a lot of radio work and in the early days I worked for Manchester City and specifically their Junior Blues. It was a case of getting involved with a sport that I loved and the fact that I supported Manchester United was irrelevant at that time. I was just pleased to be involved with a football club; it didn’t matter if it was Backstreet Wonders as long as it was somebody I could just involve myself with. As a result of work with City’s Junior Blues I stepped in for James H.

Reeve, who was a prominent broadcaster in the Manchester area at the time. He used to host the Junior Blues once a month during the season for nine months and coming up to Christmas he dropped out as he had other things on his agenda. I got asked, to cut a long story short, two people recommended me and I ended up doing it for Ian Niven who was the chairman of the Junior Blues at the time and I was a bit concerned as I was a Man United fan. But I made it clear to him that I would be professional.

Then one thing let to another, where I remained at City for a number of years, and then they asked me to do the warm up on the pitch for the main announcer which I willingly did. It was a great step up for me and really boosted my confidence because I was talking in front of, at the time I think City’s capacity at Maine Road was 38,000 and it was packed every week. That was good training for me and their announcer left and I got his job, so it was over a period of years and I was always professional at Manchester City.

At the end of the day I had a great time at City, it was a fantastic stepping-stone for me and I was very grateful for the break. As a result of that I started working at Manchester United in corporate hospitality hosting their rooms. Then the Man United announcer at the time was leaving and United found out that the guy who did City was a United fan, maybe we should interview him and the rest is history. I got the job at the club that I love.

  • You’ve been at Manchester United now for over ten years, how has your job changed in that time?

It’s changed quite a lot actually as the part of the stadium announcer’s pre-match build up is now aimed at the commercial side and the sponsorship because nearly every match is sponsored by one of the companies at the club. For example one match it maybe Nike, the next it could be AON or Audi so there’s a lot of engagement with the sponsors at Old Trafford and partially with presentations. So over the years, what were just general announcements about the club and tickets, which we still do, it now has a bigger impact with the sponsorship side both pre-match and at half time. You’ll have a half time activity which might be a penalty shoot-out or it might just be a presentation so the role has changed considerably.

My role has also changed because I do a lot of events outside of the match days now as an announcer role. For example in the summer I went on tour with the team for the three weeks to America with my role being very much engaged with hosting the corporate events with the sponsors. DHL came on board and they had a lot of activity, especially during half time for the first three games, so there’s a lot of interaction and activity which I’m involved in.

  • Do you have any interesting stories from your time at Manchester United which you can tell?

Well there’s always interesting stories when you work in the public domain, and you’re doing an announcing job there’s always going to be situations which occur that are always funny on the back of a mishap, and there’s been many of them. I’ve had quite a few mishaps in the last ten years but you’re experience takes you through. There’s been a few funny stories, for example, Teddy Sheringham came back to the club when he was playing for Spurs, he was substituted and due to force of habit he went to go into the United dugout and as I stand next to the dugout on a match day, I just gave him the nod and said Teddy you’re over there. The lads were saying you should have let him come up, it would have been even funnier and maybe I should have as it would have bee very funny.

Then you’ve got the scenario, because of where I’m positioned on a match- day, when Arsene Wenger kicked the water bottle and the referee sent him to the stands. He ended up going on to the presentation platform and it we had this glorious picture of him with his arms out. So there’s all those funny situations, Sir Alex is brilliant when you do any events with him, he’s absolutely fantastic. He’s such a fan of the club, I know he’s the manager but he’s a fan as well which comes across and what he doesn’t know about United’s not worth talking about.

Arsene Wenger stands in front of the Old Trafford crowd
  • You’ve been described as ‘the Voice of Old Trafford’, how does it feel to be associated with a ground which boasts over a hundred years of history and with Manchester United?

It’s an honour, a privilege. It’s absolutely fantastic because I’m Manchester born and bred. I consider it a privilege to be called ‘the Voice of Old Trafford’, they did a day in the life of me a number of years ago on DVD and the section was called ‘the Voice of Old Trafford’ and it’s sort of stuck. It’s brilliant, I love it, I’m a Manchester United fan and I celebrate like a fan when we score a goal, really there should be a bit of me which is impartial because of where I am but I can’t help it.

I never ever bore of what I do, every match day’s different. It’s just a dream come true, it’s the ultimate dream job. I love the fact I’ve had some great times in the time I’ve been the announcer as a supporter of United as I remember when we got relegated and the Tommy Docherty era where Stevie Coppell and Gordon Hill . Two wingers playing great football and winning promotion but like I say it’s a dream job.

  • You spoke about Sir Alex Ferguson, what are your opinions of the United manager who recently turned 70-years-old and what he’s achieved, and still achieving in his career?

Unbelievable. His energy, his enthusiasm. I’ve been fortunate enough, like I say, to have worked at the club for thirteen seasons and had a lot of interaction with Sir Alex because you’re doing presentations with him, you’re doing the corporate events and it never ceases to amaze me, his energy. I think that’s the ultimate compliment I can give him; he’s always energised and very active in the club, and proactive with what he wants to achieve. I think the beauty of Sir Alex is he’s the leader, he’s the man that we follow and you know at the end of the day, he’s 70-years-old but he certainly doesn’t look it in my opinion and doesn’t act like it.

I think that the team and the club but particularly the team, the way he’s rebuilt it over the years, they keep him youthful. I think he’s had to change as the years have developed and he’s moved with the changes, that’s the key to his success. If you think back to when he first joined, the main basis of the team was British players, as such and over time you’ve got the foreign input of players and he’s gone with those changes and adapted. He’s just absolutely fantastic and long may it continue.

Sir Alex Ferguson
  • What are your opinions on the current title race which appears to be between your former employees Manchester City and United?

It’s fantastic for Manchester overall, at the end of the day it’s about us being the capital of football if you like. It’s interesting that it is City because we’ve always had challenges if it be Blackburn with the money that Jack Walker brought in, whether it’s Arsenal, Chelsea with the Roman Abramovich money and we now have another challenge, Man City and Sheikh Mansour’s money. So that challenge will always be there and I think that’s another element which keeps Sir Alex going and motivated because everything’s a challenge.

Obviously with we had the two Champions League finals which we lost to Barcelona but the beauty of Sir Alex is he always goes back and rises to the challenge and I think that’s what City has brought to the table. It’s an interesting time at the moment because of the next six games which the two clubs have, it appears City have the easier matches. We’ve [Manchester United] got a testing time ahead with our schedule, with Liverpool and with Chelsea coming up.

The football cliché is there’s no easy matches, so it’s interesting but we’ve been there before so that will hold is in good stead. As long as you’re only one match behind it’s a good place to be because we’ve got the experience in the club, a manager who knows what it’s like and I think it will go to the wire, I wouldn’t be surprised if it went down to the last day. I just hope it doesn’t go down to goal difference.

Find out more about Alan by visiting his official website.

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An interview with former Manchester United and Arsenal striker Frank Stapleton

Ahead of Manchester United’s recent Premier League tie with Fulham and on Old Trafford’s 100 year anniversary, I was fortunate enough to interview former Reds and Arsenal striker Frank Stapleton. He spoke fondly about knocking out Barcelona in the 1984 Cup Winners Cup, and how United came back at The Theatre of Dreams to win the tie. 

He mentioned his international career with the Republic of Ireland and how he held the record for the most goals scored for his country which stood for over 11 years. He also talked about what it was like to play against Maradona and how Wayne Rooney’s recent heading improvement is a great lesson to young footballers everywhere.

Frank Stapleton
Frank Stapleton playing for Manchester United
Firstly today is the official celebration of 100 years at Old Trafford – how have you been involved in the occasion?

“Well we’ve been doing some interviews with the TV station here, and they’ve been asking us about our memories and what was, our best ever game or the memories of our best ever game here. For me it was the Barcelona match in 1984 when we came back from 2-0 down (first leg) to win 3-0 (second leg) and I got the third goal in the game. It was just about the atmosphere, and that’s what you talk about when you’re talking about a place which is a hundred years old. When you talk about what it entails and what the whole place is about and of course people remember certain matches and that one stands out for a lot of people. When I speak to those who were old enough to be here, they always look back on that game as being the most special one, even now. There’s been some great nights and afternoons here with the team down the years.”

During your career, you played for both Arsenal and Manchester United, how did the two clubs compare off the pitch at that time?

“When I first came here [Manchester United] I’d spent nine years at Arsenal. At that time when I first arrived here, Manchester United wasn’t as efficient as it is today. Compare it to Arsenal at the time, the way it was run behind the scenes. I’ll give you an example they had a ticket office here were people could wander freely in and out of, I don’t mean staff, people who were friendly with staff used to wander in which is absolutely amazing. Think of security today and how where money is around there’s going to be the temptation for people to try and steal it but that was just open and of course just part of it at that period of time. Manchester United caught up and surpassed Arsenal in that respect but the two clubs are fantastic, brilliant, brilliant clubs and I’ve been very privileged to have played for both and to have spent 15 years at two of the best clubs in the world. I’m a very lucky guy and they’re both such great clubs and they’ll go onto be even greater as time goes on.”

Not many players have United and Arsenal on their CV’s, do you still receive a good reception when you go back to London?

I’ve been there a couple of times, I think if I was to walk out on the pitch I wouldn’t. When I first went back after leaving, I got stick and it continued thereafter, but that’s part and parcel for supporters. They wouldn’t boo you if they didn’t rate you, so I kind of look on that as a kind of compliment. Meeting people wherever, they obviously loathe the fact I ever left Arsenal but the circumstances at the time dictated the move, but they were good memories and I have a positive feeling from the club.”

You had a great international career with the Republic of Ireland, and you held the record of the highest goals scored for over a decade.

Yes I did, I think for 11 years which was amazing. When I look back on it now I don’t say too much because I think Robbie Keane scored 40 or 41 goals and I only got 20, so he’s blown that out of the water. Niall Quinn actually took the record away from me but then Robbie just went on and, I doubt at that level, it will ever be beaten and he’s well worthy of it. Playing for Ireland has been great but we obviously didn’t have the greatest teams. We had a nucleus of first division or Premier division players but the strength as a team both, at club and international level, was always to do with your squad and what goes from 11 to 22 these days, 11 to 16, 11 to 18 – that dictates how strong you are.”

You obviously had a great career, but who for you were the best players you played with and played against?

I played a lot of my years with Liam Brady at Arsenal and obviously with the Republic of Ireland, and he created an awful lot of the goals that I got. We had a very good understanding which just came from playing together for a number of years. I suppose I’ve got to say the best player I’ve played against was Maradona even though he didn’t play great against us, he was the greatest player you could come up against and over two games it doesn’t say whether you’re a good or bad player. We know over a period of time that he was absolutely fantastic, and one of the greatest players who played the game.”

D16MANU_413716k
Diego Maradona playing for Barcelona
To finish, you were a great header of the ball during your career, this is something Wayne Rooney has obviously worked on recently, what do you think of his current form?

It adds to the array of skills and ability that he’s got and it’s a lesson to youngsters that you can’t actually stand still and be happy with the way things are, you’ve always got to strive to be better, and better, and better, and be the best you can. Wayne Rooney isn’t known for being a good header of the ball, but as we’ve seen over the last few weeks the work that he’s put in on the training ground to improve his heading has helped him and I think seven of his last nine goals have been headers which is fantastic. It just shows what sort of rewards you can get allied to the other abilities he’s got. The fact he’s a very strong runner and he can score goals with both feet along with his heading makes him even more of a dangerous player. Working on things like that is a great lesson to youngsters who are wanting to be professional footballers.”

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