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football | Tuesday, November 30, 2021 2:13 PM
Talking Football with....Tony Cottee: There's Two Ways To Keep Declan Rice At West Ham
Talking Football with....Tony Cottee: There's Two Ways To Keep Declan Rice At West Ham
PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Tony Cottee played 602 games in his long career spanning three decades, including 279 for West Ham United. With his former club well in the race to win this season’s Europa League title and complete a top 4 finish in the Premier League, we discuss West Ham’s hopes and ambitions for 2022.

West Ham is in a busy schedule at the moment with 5 games in the span of 14 days. How crucial is this stretch for the success of West Ham’s season?

“You know, West Ham is my club, it’s my team, it’s the team I support. So I follow them very closely. And, you know, they had a wonderful season last year, which meant they qualified for the Europa League. And of course, if you qualify for the Europa League, you’ve got six games guaranteed. They’ve qualified for the next round. So next March, they’re going to have two more games. At the same time. They’ve done well in the League Cup, the Carabao Cup, and they’ve got a quarterfinal against Spurs at the end of December. So I think you can’t have it both ways if you want to be successful. If you look at the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs, the other traditional London clubs, you know, they’ve all had hectic fixtures over the last few years. And I think it just is what it is.”

“And obviously it’s been difficult for West Ham, they’ve lost the last couple of games in the League against Wolves and Manchester City. You would expect the City one, but against Wolves, it was a disappointing performance.”

“But I think so far the manager David Moyes and the players I think they managed everything really well, when as a West Ham fan, which I am, I think everyone’s really happy at the moment.”

West Ham is doing well in the Europa League. How do you see their chances this season with how they have been playing so far, and how the other big teams in the competition are looking at the moment?

“Yes, it’s a difficult competition to win, you know that. There’s lots of games. And I think it becomes difficult when you get to next year, when you get to that knockout phase, and of course, you get the teams coming down from the Champions League.”

“And, you know, I was talking to my friend the other day, and I must admit, I don’t follow the Champions League that much, I follow the Europa League, obviously because of West Ham, but normally I’m working, I just don’t get the time to follow the Champions League, but my friend was telling me there’s a chance that Barcelona might be in the Europa League if results go against them.”

“That’s the challenge for clubs like West Ham, you know, I mean; have they got a good chance of winning the Europa League, I honestly think that they have, I think they’ve got a really, really good chance of winning the Europa League. They’ve got a very good squad, good players, a manager that is used to managing in Europe, so everything’s working in their favor. What you don’t know is who’s going to come down from the Champions League and what sort of draw you’re going to get. And, you know, sometimes with cup football, obviously, we’ve had the league stage, which is difficult and different to manage. And then you’re go into Cup football, as we all know, whether it’s the Euros, World Cup, FA Cup, whatever it might be, you know, Europa League in this case, it becomes knockout football when you’ve got the two legged games, but I honestly believe that West Ham have got the potential. I’m not saying they’re going to win it. I think they’ve got the potential to win the Europa League. And of course, if you win the Europa League, it ticks all the boxes for the fans, because you win a cup. First and foremost, the fans hopefully by March next year, things will have settled down and the fans can travel to the games. And of course, if you win the Europa League, as you know, you get in the Champions League. So I think that really should be the key focus for West Ham this year. Yes, I want them to do well in the Premier League. But I think the Europa League for me is the main thing to focus on.”

Will the investment from Daniel Kretinsky be what pushes West Ham to compete with the other big clubs?

“I don’t think it’s going to happen overnight. I mean, Daniel purchased 27 or 28% of the club. David Sullivan and David Gold are still at a football club, so there’s gonna be a gradual transition – phasing from one set of owners to another owner.”

“So I mean, hopefully in the long term, I think he’ll have the opportunity to purchase the club 100% and also will have the opportunity, if he wants to, to put money into the football club in various forms.”

“You know, obviously, as a fan, I think most fans just really want it, they’re not overly fussed about who the owners are as long as they sort of do the right things. They’re not really worried if they’re from the UK or from the Czech Republic. But the one thing they do want to see, and I think you know this with whatever club you follow, they want to see money in the transfer market. They want to see new players and of course if you if you want to build the football club, which we all do at West Ham, you know you you can’t just say ‘oh, we had a good season we finished sixth in the Premier League, we won’t buy anyone’, because then the other teams buy and strengthen and then instead of finishing sixth you finish eighth. So it’s continuous in the Premier League and we all know it’s a tough league and you have to invest. And those teams that haven’t invested, you look at, maybe as an example, my old club Everton. They haven’t really spent money in the transfer market and you look at the problems they’re having now.”

“So of course I want Westham to invest, but I don’t really want to see someone come into the club and spend, spend, spend and bring lots and lots of different players in. And I don’t think to be honest with you, I don’t think David Moyes will allow that. I think he’s the sort of manager that wants to keep control of who’s coming into the club. He wants players with the right attitude. As an example, the likes of Jared Bowen,he cost 17 million pounds, but he’s gone into the squad, he fits in the squad and gives 100%. And he’s a top player. And I think that’s the type of player West Ham need. Rather than a 50 million pound superstar that arrives at West Ham and doesn’t really understand the club and is not really that bothered.”

“So, I think long term, it should be good for the football club. I think we just got to see how it pans out over the next couple of years. And also Daniel owns Sparta Prague at the moment. So I think there’s an issue where you can’t own the two and can’t be 100% at two clubs. So I think that that’s something that’s got to be sorted out before he buys all of West Ham.”

West Ham United's Jarrod Bowen celebrates scoring their third goal with Declan Rice

REUTERS / Alamy Stock Photo

Declan Rice has been tremendous for the Hammers and England for quite some time now. Do you think it is possible for West Ham to keep him?

“There’s two ways to keep Declan and I’ve probably touched on them. The first one is to win a cup. It doesn’t have to be the Europa League. It could be the FA Cup, it could be the Carabao Cup. But winning a cup and Declan enjoying the feeling of winning with West Ham. The club hasn’t won a cup for 41 years now. It’ll be 42 years next year. 1980. So a long, long time. We laugh and joke about it, but it’s been a long time since West Ham won a trophy. So that would be a really good thing, not just for Declan but also for the fans.”

“And the other way, of course, is to get into the Champions League.”

“And I think with Declan, what would happen is, you get into the England squad, you’re sitting having a cup of tea, you’re in the chat with all the Manchester City boys, you sit with Chelsea boys, you sit in the Liverpool, Manchester United boys, and they’re all talking about playing in the Champions League, everybody is talking about winning the Premier League or talking about winning cups.”

“And as a footballer, I think, you know, all footballers that are in the Premier League now are very well paid, so It’s not so much about the money from Declans point of view. I think it’s about ambitions for him. And ambition means winning trophies, or playing in the Champions League.”

“And you know, he’s playing for England now. Declan is performing really, really well. I think he’s a potential England captain in the making, I don’t think it will be too long. I think, within the next one to two years, I think we will see Declan Rice as the captain of England. And, you know, that’s how good a player is, but I want to keep him at West and we all want to keep Declan at West Ham.”

“And, of course, when England won the World Cup that we always go on about in 1966, the captain and the gold scorers came from West Ham, so we want to try and keep that so England are ever going to lift the World Cup. Perhaps Declan needs to be the captain.”

If Declan Rice leaves West Ham, where do you think his best opportunities for success lie?

“I think it could be anywhere really. I think he’s that good of a player. I think if you look at Manchester City, where you’ve got Fernandinho , who’s coming to the end of his career, he needs to be replaced. If I look at Manchester United, they’ve got Fred and Matic and Declan is definitely a better player than those two.”

“And then of course, you look at Chelsea and I haven’t even mentioned Liverpool. I mean, I don’t know whether they would be interested, but you know it’s Chelsea for me. If Declan was to decide to leave, I think he’ll go to Chelsea. And the reason for that is he was at Chelsea as a kid. He is best friends with Mason Mount, and he’s grew up with all the young kids at the club.”

“You know, Tammy Abraham, he’s in Italy now, but he grew up with him and Callum Hudson-Odoi, and Reece James. All those young boys that are playing so well for Chelsea, Declan is friends with them. I don’t want him to leave, but if he was leaving, I think most of the West Ham fans wouldn’t be grudging towards the guy going to Chelsea. Because we all know that he was there as a kid.”

Jarrod Bowen has also been playing really well and he has been linked with a transfer to Anfield recently. What do you make of these rumors?

“Listen, I think if you play well in the Premier League, if you perform at the top level, then you should have other clubs looking at you. I think you should take that as a compliment. Let’s put it another way, if no one’s looking at you not playing very well.”

“We don’t want anyone to leave West Ham. I’m particularly thinking of Michail Antonio, Declan Rice. And although Jarrod (Bowen) probably is not in the same level as those two at the moment in terms of the club, you know, we want to keep our best players. And Jarrod has been fantastic. I watched him a lot at Hull when I was doing my work for the TV, and he was by far the best player in the championship when we bought him. And then the following season Benrahma was the best player in the Championship and West Ham bought him. I’ve always felt that in the UK, in the English Premier League and the Championship and even League one, there are some good players that can come from lower leagues and come and play in the top flight. Jamie Vardy has probably been the best example of that.”

MatchDay Images Limited / Alamy Stock Photo

How impressed are you with the level of Michail Antonio have shown this season? Where would you rank him in terms of strikers in the Premier League against the likes of Harry Kane, Romelu Lukaku and so on?

“Yeah, I mean, there’s a few things about Michail. I think firstly he deserves great credit, because when he joined West Ham seven years ago, he actually signed as a fullback. He played right back for West Ham and then he sort of moved to right midfield, and then he played left midfield and then all of a sudden, he was a floating forward and now he’s become the center forward.”

“I admire him, because at the start of the season, he asked if he could wear the number nine shirt, which in West Ham, who is no different to any other club, that if you wear the number nine shirt, technically and visually, if you’re wearing the number nine shirt that means you’re a goal scorer, and you’ve got to perform and score goals. And, you know, I admire him for wanting to take that responsibility on.”

“I’m slightly disappointed that he has chosen to play for Jamaica. Obviously, I fully understand it, with his family’s history, etc. But, you know, I think Michail would definitely be a contender for the England squad and we’re not overly blessed with centre forwards. We’ve got some good ones and Harry Kane is obviously the main man, but then you look at the ones underneath. I suppose when he’s fit, there are the likes of Calvert Lewin. You’ve got Danny ings. I’m sure I’m gonna forget a few of them. When I was in the England squad in the 80s, there were about ten or twelve English strikers that you could pick from, and now you’re probably on about five or six.”

“And with Michail going to Jamaica, we’ve gone from six to five. So I think that’s a slight disappointment.”

“But his performances have been fantastic. I love watching him play. He’s very, very unpredictable. Which must be a defender’s nightmare trying to work out what he’s going to do, because Michail doesn’t know himself. So if you’re the defender you have no chance. But he’s a joy to watch.”

“I’ll be at the game tomorrow. I’m going to West Ham Brighton tomorrow night and I want to see him and Declan, you know the two of my favorite player. With Declan you get your complete game where he very rarely makes mistakes. And with Michail, he makes lots of mistakes, but he also creates and scores goals. They’re certainly the two two key players for West Ham. I think if you look at every club in the Premier League, there’s always going to be two key players at least for each club. And for West Ham, it’s Rice and Antonio.”

What do you think West Ham should do to be able to swoop in and get their hands on Alexandre Laccazette, who has been vocal about his desire to leave Arsenal?

“Well West Ham were linked with Lazacette when he joined Arsenal, so that was about three years ago as well. There were very strong rumors that Lacazette was going to come to West Ham, but I think we signed Sebastian Haller instead. I think you could argue that Arsenal probably had the better deal out of those two. But Lacazette is a good finisher, a good player. I think he’s about 29-30 years old, so you’re going to get maybe a good couple of years out of the him.I’m always a bit wary about West Ham signing players from Arsenal because the over the years it’s it’s not really worked, or the player himself has been coming to the end of glorious careers. Nigel Winterburn and Ian Wright as an example. And then there were other players like Davor Šuker and even Jack Wilshere who struggled at West Ham.”

“Arsenal is a fantastic football club. Yes, I would like to see Lacazette at West Ham. He’s a good finisher, but you have to try and get the Lacazette that we know rather than someone who’s obviously not been able to get into the first team as a regular. I know a couple of times he’s also played as a number 10.”

“But the one thing West Ham really needs is a good backup from Michail Antonio. And a bit like at Tottenham, everyone says ‘oh, why don’t you sign another centre forward for Spurs?’ Well, any centre forward who’s a good player, they’re going to say, ‘Well, why would I want to go to Tottenham? When I am going to sit on the bench because Harry Kane’s gonna play every game.”

“I think West Ham at the moment is very similar, because we all know that if Michail Antonio is fit, then he is going to start the game. So it would be a big challenge. Would Lacazette want to go from the bench at Arsenal to the bench at West End? Probably not. And that’s where the problem would lie. I think.”

Lukasz Fabianski wasn’t looking great in the snow against Manchester City. Do you think he is the right man for the Hammers moving forward?

“It was just difficult conditions, wasn’t it? And I think you’ve got to judge Lukasz for what he’s done over the past. And I think over that period, he’s established himself as number one. He’s been excellent for West Ham.”

“Goalkeepers have bad games, where it doesn’t quite work. It was very, very difficult and unusual conditions. You know, we don’t really get snow in the UK that much nowadays, and certainly not normally in at the end of November. So I’ll make an excuse saying it might have been a bit cold, wasn’t used to it, it was snowing. But one game doesn’t mean that he’s got to be replaced.”

“If West Ham do decide to replace him, they’ve got Alphonse Areola that can come. His performances for Fulham were excellent. So I think they’ve got a ready-made understudy. West Ham have also been linked with Sam Johnstone, who’s blowing up West Brom at the moment.”

“I think Lucas is 36 now, so in goalkeeping terms, he is just coming into the end of his career, so I think it would be something that West Ham will be looking at anyway.”

“He might be replaced at the end of the season or maybe earlier if he plays like he did at Manchester City, so it might be a little bit earlier but we’ll have to wait and see. But overall his performances for West Ham have been very good.”

Jesse Lingard has been linked to Everton and West Ham. Which club would be a better match for him? Or should he move abroad to AC Milan who are also reportedly interested?

“Personally, I’d like to suggest he returned to West Ham because he was fantastic here. That spell from January to May. He was creating goals. He was scoring goals. And West Ham need a replacement centre forward, I think if you signed Jesse Lingard, you potentially got someone who can play, not as an out and out centre forward, like the Jamie Vardy role, but someone who can lead the line. I know Jarrod Bowen has done it a few times for West Ham, but I think Jesse will be much more able to play that centre forward role if Michail Antonio gets injured, so I want to see him come to West Ham.”

“I have no doubt that Jesse will have lots of offers. His contract expires after the end of the season, he’s going on a free transfer or you could probably try to nick him and get him for seven or eight million pounds and buy him in January. That’s what I think will happen.”

“I don’t think there’ll be a lack of interest for Jesse. I think there’ll be lots of clubs for him, he’s a top player and he needs to play football. He can’t keep sitting on a bench, he’s too good to sit on the bench or Manchester United.”

“Of course, you don’t want to leave the club that means a lot to you. But if you’ve got any sort of desire, you have to go and play football, you need to be a regular somewhere.”

“And the thing is, your career goes so quick. You blink and all of a sudden you are 35 years of age and your career is over. You need to be able to look back at 35-36 and say ‘I did the best I could and I wasn’t happy sitting on the bench, getting lots of money but I never played a game, or you made a record substitute appearances for the club.’ To me, that’s not making the most of your career, you have to make a decision and sometimes it’s a painful one. But the correct decision for Jesse Lingard is that he has to leave Manchester United now. If I was him, I would be saying to my agent to give me a club in January. Pay the seven-eight million, whatever it might be. I think he would like to go back to West Ham. I think he would enjoy living in London.”

“He won’t be short of a few suitors. That’s for sure. I think he will move on in January and I hope he does because he needs to play football.”

If West Ham wants to compete with the other big clubs, where are they in most desperate need of reinforcements?

“Well I would say down the spine of the team, which is obviously always the main focus for a successful football club. We’ve already spoken about Fabianski. That would be a position of concern that I would look to address over the next year or so.”

“(Angelo) Ogbonna now got injured and he’s out for the rest of the season, which leaves us a little bit uncovered at centre half. We’ve been linked with James Tarkowski, who’s a good player. He’s in the last year of his contract of Burnley. So I think we might see him arriving at West Ham, which will be good.”

“Some sort of replacement or standby for Declan as well if he gets injured.”

“And then of course, Michail Antonio. We certainly need at least one centre forward or maybe even two centre forwards to come into the club. You know, I was a bit baffled, as an ex-striker, that West Ham went into the season without a centre forward. Michail is a fantastic player, but he’s a converted centre forward. He’s not an actual forward. So you know, yes, they’re hard to get. But I think West Ham have missed a bit of a trick over the last sort of four or five, six months.”

“I think Danny Ings could have signed, went to Aston Villa. Tammy Abraham went to Italy from Chelsea and of course Adam Armstrong went to Southampton. I’m a big fan of Adam Armstrong. In terms of gold scorers, I think he’s up there. He is a really top goal scorer. I think we’ll see him score lots of goals for Southampton. So that’s three players at West Ham could have signed and they haven’t got a centre forward.”

“So the spine of the team, I think is the answer to that one there, you know, and West Ham don’t need to sign 10 players, they need to probably sign three or four players and keep building.”

In part two of our interview with Tony Cottee, he discusses the fortunes of two of his other former clubs, Everton and Leicester City.