Talking Football With......Matt Holland
Matt Holland enjoyed a great career with both Ipswich Town and Charlton Athletic, not to mention representing and scoring for the Republic Of Ireland in the 2002 World Cup. Today on the blog Arsenal TV's Adrian Clarke talks with Matt about his days on the field and his career in the football media.
Hi Matt, you’ve been retired from football for four years now, what do you miss about it the most?
Lots of ex-players say they miss the dressing room camaraderie and I did for the first six months. I really struggled, and would go to the gym on my own wanting to get chatting with people and have a laugh.
However, it’s the match day that I miss the most. Everything about being a professional footballer is geared to that 90 minutes and nothing can replace the feelings it gives you. The next best thing would be to be a manager, but that’s a 24-hour a day job.
Would you consider management then?
It’s not something I’d write off. I’d be foolish to say no if a really tempting managerial job was offered to me. If the right job came up at the right time, who knows? The thing that puts me off is job security. Over 50 per cent of first-time managers never get another opportunity.
The game has evolved greatly since you began playing, what is the best development?
Professionalism has grown beyond belief since I was a kid making my way at West Ham. Back then we’d not see a football for the first two weeks of pre-season training, we’d go on agonising eight mile runs, and none of that was specific to football.
Nowadays there’s such a scientific approach to everything and that’s most certainly a positive.
What do you think the pro game lacks now that it had before?
The relationship between players and fans has been lost and that’s a huge pity. I fondly remember parking my car and then signing autographs and having chats with supporters, but these days the players are whisked in and out of stadiums barely acknowledging the fans who have waited to see them.
Things like Twitter help, but the distance that’s now between the two is too much.
Ipswich Town is the club you’re most synonymous with. Are they the team you support/choose to watch most?
I watch the Blues around eight times a year, and because they are the closest club to where I live, then that’s who I watch most. I’m also fond of Charlton Athletic of course, and whenever I get the chance to return to The Valley I try and take it.
Would you back Ipswich Town to survive the drop in the Championship this season?
I do back them to stay up, yes. Mick McCarthy is the first to admit that style is being sacrificed for points at the moment and that’s a sensible decision. Ipswich Town are looking a lot harder to beat than they did. It’s pretty tight, and it all feels a bit nervy but from what I’ve seen myself I believe the players and staff have enough about them to survive.
You played 223 games in a row and then had to miss one through international duty. How did you honestly feel? Sick?
The rule at that time was that you needed three players away on international duty to call a match off, and we only had two – including me – for a match at Gillingham in the Championship. There was nothing I could do, and I don’t mind admitting that I was absolutely gutted. I hated missing matches more than anything. It was a real choker.
Why did you never get ill or injured?!
I was lucky. Whenever I did get a knock we’d not have a match until the following weekend, and whenever I was under the weather I’d just about be OK to play. I played injured and ill an awful lot of times let me tell you!
It also helped that George Burley gave me the fitness tests instead of the physio. He wanted me to say I was OK, so after about three minutes and some light exercises he’d always say ‘you’re fine’. He also believed in the healing powers of the sea in Brightlingsea, Essex. If ever I was injured he’d make me go and paddle in the sea, and usually it did the trick.
Are footballers too soft now?
Yes. They’re way too soft. Most footballers don’t want to be rested or rotated, they want to play, but lots these days seem happy to miss games if they aren’t 100 per cent fit. A little niggle and they’ll pull out. As clubs have bigger squads they are happy to take fewer chances than they used to.
From what I can recall, I never ever played when I was 100 per cent fit!
You also enjoyed some good times with Charlton Athletic, playing alongside some top players. Who was the best?
For technical ability the most talented was Paolo di Canio. He was in his mid-30s at the time but was a brilliant trainer, who was at the front of the running and pushing himself to the maximum every day. In terms of looking after himself he was second to none, and a brilliant example to the young pros.
Claus Jensen was another top talent with quality technique, but as an all-round player my best team-mate was Scott Parker. He was so young at the time, but as a box-to-box midfielder he was very, very good.
You were also managed by two well respected English managers in Alan Curbishley and Alan Pardew. How did those two differ?
They were two very different characters. Alan Pardew was a confident, chatty and outgoing guy, whereas Curbs was more inward and thoughtful, keeping a distance between himself and the players.
I suppose Pardew was a more player-friendly coach and his sessions were all about passion and high tempo, while Curbs was more methodical in training, setting up a lot of organisational play in training. They had contrasting styles, but were equally as good as one another.
Now managed by Chris Powell, what are the odds on them making a return to the Premier League?
I don’t see why not? The Championship is extremely hard to get out of, and usually the more money you spend, the greater your chances, but clubs such as Hull City, Blackpool, Reading and Swansea City have proven you can do it on a limited budget.
Powelly is a great guy, I really like him, and if he’s given time I believe he can get Charlton close. I’d love to see Charlton and Ipswich back in the top flight sometime soon.
For Ireland you made 49 appearances, and played in the 2002 World Cup Finals. What are your fondest memories of international football?
I have two stand-out memories. The first is when I captained Ireland for the first time against Scotland at Hampden Park when we won 2-0. That was a great experience. The other is scoring in the 2002 World Cup finals against Cameroon. It was a dream to play in that tournament but to score was taking it to another level.
Before the game I’d spotted my wife and kids in the crowd, so when I scored at that end I ran right towards them. It was awesome.
Nowadays you’re in the media – is it as much fun as it looks?
I really enjoy it. You can’t beat playing but punditry is a half decent substitute. As a freelancer I have the freedom to pick and choose when I work, and I also have the added bonus of having the perfect excuse to watch the game on TV when I’m at home.
If the wife moans, all I say is that it’s research! I’m lucky.
Assuming the Premier League is done and dusted, which teams would your money be on to win the Champions League and FA Cup this season?
I would still have my money on Barcelona. The Champions League is as wide open as I can remember with Germany and Spain both having very strong representation but I believe Barca still have the best side. Lionel Messi is the greatest player of all-time, so it’s impossible for me to argue against them.
As for the FA Cup, I’d be backing Man City. They really need the FA Cup this season, and because of that desperate need to deliver silverware I reckon Roberto Mancini will have them spot on for their semi-final.
Who should get Footballer of the Year?
Gareth Bale and Robin van Persie are right up there, but if I was voting I’d pick Luis Suarez. He’s been outstanding all season, and has practically carried Liverpool the whole way.
I must say I’m not convinced Suarez will win it because lots of players might not like him as much as the other candidates but for me, he’d be the most deserving winner.
Follow Matt on Twitter: @mattholland8
And follow Adrian on Twitter: @adrianjclarke