Alan Hutton Interview: Rangers, Villa, Tottenham, Scotland & Much More
We sat down with former Rangers, Tottenham and Aston Villa right-back Alan Hutton this week, where he gave us his thoughts on all his former clubs’ current situations as well as reflecting on some of the highlights during his career…
Steven Gerrard has gone from Villa and now there’s calls for Giovanni van Bronckhorst (GVB) to get the sack from Rangers, what’s your take on the situation?
It’s crazy at the moment, who would want to be a manager when you think you are getting 5 to 8 games to do something? I feel for Gerrard, but it’s a results business and if you are not getting them it’s the manager who is culpable.
Were you surprised by the call for GVB to be sacked? He’s only lost one domestic game this season.
I think Europe isn’t helping, we can’t hide from the fact that they have no points, 16 goals conceded and only 1 scored. That pressure is then building, especially after how good Europe was last season, albeit there’s a massive step up in class this year.
But in the league, I don’t think they have been at their free-flowing best but he deserves more time. I understand when you’re the Rangers manager, you have to win games and trophies but I would like to see him given more time. He’s been under pressure for his recruitment and other things but you need to allow time for those players to bed in.
*Since his sacking by Aston Villa Steven Gerrard has become the firm favourite to be next Rangers manager if GVB does get the boot with the majority of bookmakers rating him up at 4/1.
When the fans turn at Ibrox, how hard is it to come back from that?
I’ve been at Rangers through tough periods and at Aston Villa as well. You can hear the atmosphere around the ground changing and you have to be a big personality to deal with that. The way Geo turns it around is through performances on the pitch and he will need all these players to step us.
At this moment in time, there are too many that aren’t doing enough. He can only take the team so far, he sets them out but it’s up to them when they cross the line to perform. They have to look at themselves.
Do you think he knows his best 11?
They spent a lot of money in the summer to find a solution to the right forward area and left centre-back, but fans want to see results and I think they are questioning if he knows his best team. But you have to factor in injuries as well. It looks like some of the new signings are struggling with the pressure that comes with playing for Rangers and winning every game.
Is Napoli the team you want to be playing at this moment in time?
It’s probably a game he doesn’t want now, they haven’t been beaten in the League, never mind the Champions League, so to go there is going to be tough. A massive performance is needed just to stay in the game, never mind win. Geo will know and he might even go five at the back.
The fans will want to see the energy that we saw last season, we all felt positive going into the games. Doesn’t matter who they were playing, even as the underdogs they felt they could get something. I don’t feel that this year and I can’t put my finger on why. They need a positive result against Napoli, even if it’s just the manner in which they play the game.
Recruitment seems to be looked at a lot for Rangers, which positions do they need to strengthen?
Right-wing is still a problem, look since Aribo left, he did a really good job even though it wasn’t his natural position. He could see a pass, make something happen. We have missed that creativity. The number of players that have played there this season; Scott Wright, Sakala, Hadji has been injured so that’s a problem. Is that an area where he is going to strengthen even though he has all these options?
So there’s a question mark there. But for me they need a creative player in the middle, I know Lawrence is injured so he can help in that regard. That is something that they need when playing a side that is defensive at Ibrox, someone to break things down. I don’t feel they have the imagination there at this moment in time.
The team looks the same as it did 3/4 years ago, is it time for a refresh?
I think teams do come to the end of their cycle sometimes and it does need reinvestment, there’s no doubt. They tried in the summer but it was always going to take more time. I feel for the players who have come in, especially Yilmaz who they paid a lot of money for and he’s not played a lot, he needs time to settle in. Unfortunately, you don’t get this sort of time at Rangers and Celtic. There are areas that need freshening up and that’s no slight on the players that are here, they have done a good job, but it needs reinvestment.
Is there a particular profile of player or any particular players you have seen that you think would be a good fit?
I think they need pace and athleticism to replace the players that left like Aribo. When you look at the team it’s like ‘OK Kent, go and try to do something.’ He’s underperformed this season and he has the pace to go by someone. You need more of that, Matondo came in on the other side to add that x-factor but it’s not worked yet.
The profile should be creative players, someone who can break down defences. Leaders as well, especially with Gouldson out, are there that many leaders in the dressing room? I think they need pace and confidence because it seems a little bit safe at the moment.
On Alfredo Morelos, do the club and player need a clean break from the situation?
The worry is the longer it goes on, they could lose two top assets for nothing in Morelos and Kent. I would like to see it sorted out with both players, when they are on their game, they are starters and make the team much better. I think it needs sorting before January and if they don’t sign before then, you have to look to move them on in that window to get the money that can be reinvested.
Leon King is being spoken about very highly, what are your thoughts on his performances?
I actually know him quite well through a mutual friend and we played golf together a few times in the summer. Just by talking to him, you could tell he was ready, he was just waiting for his opportunity. He’s very commanding for someone so young and he always plays the ball forward.
He has the ability to grow into a fantastic player and it’s no surprise that there has been speculation from teams down south. If you are playing for Rangers at 18 and looking good, even European sides will come calling. Personally, I’d like to see him stay and play more games which is what he needs.
Is the challenge after the World Cup where senior players regain fitness? Does he stay in the team?
Yeah there’s always going to be competition at a club like Rangers but he needs to look at this moment in time, what can he do to affect the manager’s thinking? Yeah, all those players are coming back, but if he keeps performing, he will prove he is ready to play at this level.
Do Rangers need cover for Tavenier?
I think they need backup, he’s been an unbelievable servant to the club, but he needs competition. His numbers are incredible for a full back but you need competition and rest from time to time. Hopefully, Devine will be the guy to take over eventually but he needs to prove that. His bar is very high so when he’s out of form it’s really noticeable.
What is success for Rangers this season?
They are only 4 points off Celtic so they are still in there. The main challenge is to win the league and that will never change. They have to win a trophy at the least because it’s not acceptable to go through a season as a Rangers player and not get any silverware. I still think they are in the race, Celtic have been playing really well, demonstrating a high standard of football. Rangers haven’t but they are still there.
*Bet365 have Rangers priced up at 11/4 to win the division – celtic are the favourites at 1/4.
Do you think Gerrard should have been given more time?
I do feel for him, obviously, it’s a club I love and want to do well, but it’s a results business. I do think things have gone against him, his star signing getting injured, and Michael Beale leaving to go to QPR but I would want to see him be given more time, up until the world cup to see if he can turn it around. But the ambition of the club is through the roof so that pressure was always going to be there.
Do you think in hindsight it was a mistake to take the captaincy off Mings and give it to Mcginn before the start of the season?
It’s a problem that you don’t need at the start of a season and that could bring friction in the dressing room. I spoke to John and he said there wasn’t any but it can be difficult to be the captain one minute and then have it taken away from you and you are not even playing. It’s a hassle you don’t need so he might look back and think he could have handled it differently.
Does his situation moving from Rangers where he was winning every week to struggling at Villa highlight the gulf between top SFPL teams and the Premier League?
There’s no hiding from the fact there is a massive gulf and it’s there for all to see. Gerrard did well with Rangers. He had a system with the inverted wingers in a 433 and he tried that with Villa when he first went down, but he quickly found out that when you play top teams, they open you up and that didn’t happen to Rangers often. He went through a period of changing personnel and formation but nothing was working for him.
Where would Rangers and Celtic finish if they played in the Premier League?
If they were in the Premier League I would love to say they would be up there battling for Europe but in reality, they would be in a battle to stay up. I think with time they would have the finances to change that, but their first year down there would be a struggle.
You arrived at Tottenham just after Gareth Bale, is it true that Harry Redknapp was open to selling him in those early days?
Gareth Bale had a difficult situation, he had all the talent in the world but just needed an arm round him from what I could see. I think it was January and Assou-Ekotto was playing left back, Bale’s position at the time, and he got a call-up for the AFCON. Bale had to then step in and play, but prior to that there was a rumour he was going to Nottingham Forest, not sure if it was a loan or permanent but that says to me that Harry didn’t fancy him. But once he came into the side he used the opportunity to show his talent and the rest is history.
Are there any other former teammates of yours that you expected to reach the heights of Bale but never quite made it?
There were some fantastic players at Villa during my time there, Fabian Delph, Gabby Agbonlahor. With Gabby, there was talk he was going to Liverpool at one stage in his career but it never quite worked. He was a guy who had all the ability, pace, power, could score a goal but didn’t quite move on. You can say the same thing for a lot of players, you are never a bad player if you make it in the Premier League, it’s where you go from there.
At Tottenham, there were the likes of Aaron Lennon, Tom Huddlestone, and Jermaine Jenas who really struggled with injury. Huddlestone was an unbelievable player, the talent that boy had was incredible. For him not to go on to a higher level shocked me a little bit. This was a guy who technically left and right-footed were the exact same. Aaron Lennon as well with his pace, I thought he would go on to a bigger team. It can be a crossroads where you stick or twist sometimes and they decide to stay.
Do you think Grealish is worth £100 million and should he start for England at the World Cup?
I feel for him, it’s a lot of money. Is anybody worth that? Some of the money at this moment in time is absolutely crazy. That’s what they valued him at because in his contract that was the release clause and Man City were willing to meet it. Villa probably thought they wouldn’t pay that much, it’s a lot of money. He’s an outstanding player though and I still think we haven’t seen the best of him at Man City. We are starting to see it, he’s getting used to the way Pep wants him to play, if he continues then he can make a difference in that England side and I think he should start.
Do you expect to see him back at Villa later on in his career?
It would be nice, he has unfinished business but he’s still got lots of football ahead of him. I don’t think he’d want to come back in later years and not contribute though. He will want to give some good years of his football career back to Villa. It will be interesting to see, we’ll have to wait and find out how this Man City thing plays out, but it would be a great send-off for him towards the end.
Would you rather see Scotland qualify for the 2026 World Cup or see England get smashed 5-0 in the Qatar final?
Can I have both? (laughs). I’d have to say Scotland qualifying because it would be incredible. Obviously, we saw them at the Euros last time and that’s something I never got close to in my career which is a regret of mine. To see them get the World Cup would be amazing. The England thing would be funny as well but I’ll stick with Scotland.
Have Rangers’ problems in Europe this year been more down to recruitment off the pitch, the tactics on the pitch, or simply the gulf in class between Rangers and their Champions League opponents?
I think it’s a little bit of everything. Last season in the Europa League he sometimes went to a back five which worked a treat. He’s tried it this year and it’s not worked. There’s a massive step up to the Champions League and I believe they are a weaker team than last year. With the likes of Aribo going, Bassey going. The team hasn’t stepped up.
Given you played the same position as James Tavernier, watching him, does he look fit? Giovanni van Bronckhorst says he is but a lot of fans believe he isn’t and he’s been struggling this season?
I have heard reports that he’s been carrying a niggle but he’s the type of guy that wants to play every game. When you’ve had the stats he has over the last few years the expectation is that he will do that all the time, but it’s very difficult for a fullback to get anywhere close to those numbers. His bar is very high but he does look a little bit off it. Other than Devine, there’s no backup, so he needs to continue playing.
Some EPL clubs – including Manchester United and Newcastle – have been linked with interest in King. How big a temptation is that for a young player, even if they are a Rangers fan like King? But are there also risks in heading down south too early?
It’s very early, he’s in the first team and he’s only 18. He’s got all the attributes to be a top player and it’s about his development now, he needs to stay in the Rangers team and focus on that, it will be the best way forward. He’s playing in front of 50,000 fans under pressure so that will make him a better player. If you go down south, it’s a huge draw but will you get lost a little? Will you play enough? It’s a tough decision but I hope he stays.
What were the secrets behind Dean Smith’s management style when he helped Aston Villa to promotion in 2019?
He was a through-and-through Villa fan, he knew what was expected of him and what the fans wanted. His man management was up there with the best I’ve seen. His door was always open, he’d have a laugh with you but also knew how to get serious. As good as he was, towards the end his relationship with certain players hampered him, because he got on so well with them, he maybe thought that he couldn’t drop them. Overall though, great experience with him as a manager.
Would you back Smith to get Norwich promoted again?
They go up and down a lot of times. It is very difficult, he is that guy who can go in and steady the ship. He knows he’s under pressure to get them back this season. If he does, can he keep them there? That’s been their biggest problem. He knows how to do it and I really hope he does.
The bookies have Norwich priced up at 11/8 for promotion and there’s a Betvictor free bet of bet £10 get £30 for new customers who fancy a punt on it.
What made Tammy Abraham so good when he was at Villa in 2018-19?
Confidence, it was a good time for him to come on loan to a big club and showcase what he can do. He knew what he needed to do, practised when training was over and by doing that he made others around him better. It doesn’t surprise me at all that he’s gone on to big things and is shining at Roma.
What is it like playing in front of a pumped-up Villa Park when the crowd are on side?
You’ve seen me jump in the crowd at the Holt End (laughs). Obviously, I had some difficult times a Villa being out of the team but I forced my way back and I think they knew that I gave everything and I got that respect back. When that Holt End was rocking it was some place to play football. It will forever be in my memory.
Who would you like to see replace Steven Gerrard as manager?
You see the big names like Pochettino linked, not sure if they could get him but it shows how ambitious the club is. They want to get to Europe and to do that you need someone who will come in and progress the club forward quickly. He’s the type of guy that can do that but it’s going to be difficult to get a name like that.
Ryan Fraser played very well for Scotland during the last international break. How important is it that he can break back into Newcastle’s team for the Scotland setup and how will the national team benefit from Fraser being at a club that is on the up post-takeover?
It’s going to be tough, they are flying at this moment, there’s a lot of competition for places. They will keep ramping that up in terms of bringing in talent as well. He has got all the attributes to do that, especially with his pace, everyone is desperate for that. That’s why he does well for Scotland because we have never really had an electric winger historically.
As a former Black Cat, how impressed have you been with Sunderland since their return to the Championship?
Great club, loved my time there. One of the things I did notice was the Stadium is full again and when that happens it’s an unbelievable atmosphere. It’s like a sleeping giant with the training ground and the Stadium. It was difficult with Alex Neil leaving and Tony Mowbrays coming in and the expectations will be to get promoted. I know it was a tough result at the weekend but I still think they have a good chance of making the playoffs.
Ross Stewart’s form, pre-injury, must have been pleasing from a Scotland point of view as well?
It’s brilliant to see him doing well. The question mark was he scored a barrel load in League One can he do it in the Championship, yes he can. He started so well and was very unlucky to get injured. He needs to get back to playing and then think about Scotland. You’ve got Dykes and Adams have done well, but they still miss the out-and-out goalscorer that you can rely on to make it to tournaments. So there’s a great opportunity for him when he’s fit and if he plays to this high level he’s got a good chance.