Tony Cottee Talks: Everton, Leicester, West Ham & Englands World Cup chances
We sat down with former West Ham, Leicester and Everton marksman Tony Cottee this week, where he discussed why he thinks all three of his former clubs have got off to a slow start this season as well as England’s World Cup chances. Read the full exclusive interview here…
Dating back to the start of April, it’s been 2 wins in 14 games for West Ham. What do you think Moyes can do to turn things around and do you believe he still can?
It’s been a slow start to the season and I don’t see alarm bells ringing but it is a cause for concern. I’m a West Ham fan, I go to the games and follow them. The problem Moyes has got is that they have overachieved and when you do that it puts pressure on because fans expect it to happen again.
To finish 6th and 7th and get to a Europa League semi-final is a great achievement, two great years and now a slow start. So straight away there’s pressure on the manager and there’s also been a lot of changes at the club. I’m not surprised, let’s put it that way. But in my opinion, Moyes is the right man for the job.
Do you think the disappointment of falling short last year in the Europa League is hanging over the club and the fans?
It’s called a hangover, isn’t it? (Laughs) Yeah, they must have been so disappointed. If I was part of that dressing room and you go out to a decent Frankfurt team, but no more than that – the results in the Champions League have proved that. West Ham really should have beaten them and those opportunities don’t come often.
We had a similar one in 1985/86 where we finished 3rd and it was a great season but we didn’t win the league which we should have done and the team last year was the same. So yeah, there will be a hangover but if anything it should inspire the players to want more of that. They are in the conference league now and they have to make it work. They juggled European football last season so there’s no excuse.
They all had that experience last year and the new players coming in are all international footballers they know how to do it. It’s a bit of a hangover but it’s a new season and they need to get on with it. The manager will be scratching his head and wondering how he can make it better. Sometimes the international break can be a nightmare when teams are on a roll, but in West Ham’s case, this is a blessing without a doubt.
The Europa Conference League games so far haven’t been good football but the results have been good. He’s been using it to bed in the new players, is it time he put the new players in the Premier League games?
The one thing I can be critical of is the signing of players when the season has started, and that’s not a criticism of West Ham but I can’t see how players are allowed to move around once the season is underway. Getting players in during pre-season is always difficult because they arrive and a lot of these players fall out with the clubs, often playing in the U23’s or not at all, which means their fitness levels are down.
So when they arrive at West Ham, they have no chance in the first few games because their fitness isn’t there. As a result of that, the manager can’t pick the players he wants. He might know what his best team is but they are not fit.
And if you play them when that’s the case people write them off. It’s a catch twenty-two but it comes down to the timing of getting players in. To be fair to Tottenham, they have been criticised over the years for doing business last minute, but they did a lot of their business early in the window, and as a result of that the players are bedded in and guess what? They’ve had a great start to the season, so it’s not rocket science.
So you don’t think there’s any worry around Moyes’ future?
There shouldn’t be but this is the modern game, look at poor old Brendan Rodgers, he nearly got in the Champions League, he’s won the FA cup with Leicester and he loses six games and he’s in huge trouble. West Ham haven’t lost six games on the trot but it’s been a very slow start.
But you mentioned the Conference League, 2 great results, 2 victories. What would you want to do, play great football and lose 4-3and everyone comes away and says ‘what a great game but we lost’ you know? It’s a results business in football.
So as good as the results have been in that competition, in the Premier League they haven’t been good enough. It’s only 7 games though and what Moyes has achieved over the last few years, he has earned the time to get it right and bed in the new players. They did it 4 years ago at West Ham they brought in a lot of new faces and unsurprisingly it caused upset in the dressing room. But Moyes deserves time in my opinion.
Moyes has relied on his captain Declan Rice and he hasn’t got the guidance of Mark Noble anymore. How big a loss do you think that has been so far?
Absolutely massive, when I played in the 80’s and 90’s the captain was the captain on the pitch and didn’t have to do much else. They would liaise with the manager of course but your job was on the field.
Nowadays, you’ve got jobs off the field, sorting new players out making sure they are ok, community work, charity work and then go on the pitch and lead. Mark was doing that for 20 years and he’s now not there, so it was always going to have an impact on the dressing room. But they have got a wonderful replacement in Declan, we all know how good he is. Maybe he is feeling more responsibility on his shoulders, but he did it last year.
By his high standards, he’s had a relatively slow start to the season, I’m sure he’d be the first to admit it. You can’t explain it sometimes as a player though, you can have a brilliant pre-season but then be awful for the first few games in the league. It works the other way as well, you just don’t know, sometimes it takes a while to get going. There is no doubting the quality of Declan as captain but, yes of course we have missed Mark Noble.
Jarrod Bowen has also been in poor form and fans were surprised he’s made the England squad this time around. Can you explain why he might have dropped off so much?
No again, I just think it’s fair to say that individually and as a team, West Ham have not reached the heights they did last year. You can’t put your finger on it, Jarrod is a wonderful player, I followed his career from Hull and arriving at West Ham I knew he’d be a success, he’s a lovely lad as well, as is Declan.
They’ve just had a tough start and it happens sometimes. I think you need football people around the board to tell them what’s going on and as with most clubs, there’s no connection between the board and the football side of things. There’s no one on West Ham’s board who knows too much about football so no one is advising the board on what they need to do. What they should be saying is to stick with David Moyes, he’s a wonderful manager with a great track record.
If you look at what he did with Everton there were ups and downs, it wasn’t all top four finishes, they nearly went down a couple of times in those 11 years. So you have got to live with the ups and downs in football and nowadays we are far too quick to say, ‘let’s get a new manager in’ when you lose a few games. Then you get someone in and they need to ‘firefight’ a bit like David Moyes did.
They are far too quick to press the button at the moment. But the next five games, aside from Liverpool away, are all games where West Ham should pick up a lot of points and all of a sudden they are back in a better position, then you can look to push on.
Where do you think the alarm bells are ringing loudest in the short term and long term for Everton, West Ham and Leicester?
Short term it has to be Leicester, to have six defeats, the manner of them, the number of goals that have been conceded. It will be very interesting to see what they do over the next 10 days. None of us know what’s going on behind the scenes.
But it’s difficult, what do the fans want, the dreaded vote of confidence, because we all know where that leads – or do you want the silence which is happening now. Are they looking at Brendan’s future and, if so, who are they looking to bring in? I’m a big fan of his, a great guy and what he’s achieved has been fantastic.
But 6 losses in 7, alarm bells are ringing. In the long term, I think Everton purely for the years of underachievement. They haven’t won a cup for 27 years which is probably the longest they have gone in their history.
They have the move to the new stadium coming up so they have to settle in there, which is not easy, we’ve seen that with Arsenal, Tottenham and West Ham, any club. It can be very difficult. Long term I worry about Everton, short-term Leicester and somewhere in the middle, you’ve got problems at West Ham.
Everton’s first win of the season came against West Ham, but Frank Lampard has got a massive job there. He hasn’t got the backing previous managers have had, do you think that can be a long-term project with Lampard?
I hope so. I’m very supportive of English managers and obviously Frank’s an ex-teammate of mine at my old club, so I have a big interest in how he does. I was really pleased they stayed up because if a club like Everton gets relegated under an English manager everyone starts saying ‘English managers aren’t very good’ and we seemed to have turned the tide around, especially with Graham Potter at Chelsea now, so I want to see them do well. It’s a very difficult job at a club with huge expectations and a lot of money wasted over the last few years which has diminished this season’s budget.
But the one thing Everton have got to do is get a goalscorer in. Obviously, they’ve got Neal Maupay who I really like but he can’t do it all on his own and losing Richarlison was a huge blow. Calvert-Lewin needs to get himself fit as soon as possible. Defensively they have steadied the ship with some good signings and they have a good mix in midfield now, Gordon has been fantastic.
But I just would worry about where the goals are coming from, hopefully, with Maupay scoring against West Ham, he will go on a run and they will push up the league.
As a former Fox, how do you reflect on Leicester’s start?
It’s not been good, I’ve been closely involved with the club over the last 3 years working with the media department. I do the commentary and the review shows and it’s been so enjoyable, because of the positive performances.
What they have achieved in the last six years has been phenomenal, to win the league, nearly qualify for the Champions League 2 years running and to win the FA cup and community shield, it’s been fantastic. Having said all that, I’m not silly, we all know it’s been a difficult start. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where it’s all gone wrong but I think when you get in a position where you don’t really invest in the club and sell, in my opinion, two of their better players in Schmeichel and Fofana and many rumours about Maddison and Tielemans etc. It’s worrying times as a Leicester fan and the results are not good enough. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next 10 days.
What do you think of Brendan Rogers, do you think he has enough credit in the bank to be given time?
With what he’s achieved he has credit in the bank, there’s no doubt about that. He’s been fantastic and I’m a big fan of him as a person and what he’s done at the club. There’s no doubt in his ability as a coach and a manager but, there’s also no doubt in the facts, and he will be the first to tell you, it’s a results business.
I can try and defend Brendan and stick up for him, but you can’t ignore the facts. If you’ve lost 6 games in a row and probably more importantly, the manner of the defeats, 4 at Arsenal, 6 at Spurs, 5 at Brighton, that can’t carry on because quite simply, you will get relegated.
The owners will be worried about that, as most clubs will be at the start of the season except the top 3 or 4. Personally, I would like to see Brendan stay but I also expect that it hasn’t been good enough.
Do you think Moyes deserves more time at West Ham?
They shouldn’t pull the trigger, they have had a difficult start but they haven’t lost 6 on the bounce and conceded lots of goals. They played at Everton and should have got a draw, so there’s not too much missing, results haven’t been good. Moyes knows, the same as Brendan, that you are judged on your results, but you have to put things in perspective. Leicester have lost 6 on the trott heavily, but West Ham have lost 1 in 6 or 7 and they have been in many of the games, they were unlucky against Chelsea. Lost at home to Man City but virtually everyone will do that. But a lot of their games have been tight, they should give him time, particularly with lots of new players coming in, that causes upheaval in the dressing room and with Mark Noble leaving. The break has come at a good time for both clubs to see where they go from here.
Do you fear Leicester are in a relegation battle? And which other teams do you feel are in trouble?
The teams that come up are always in danger, obviously Bournemouth, Forest and Fulham. But they have all made half-decent starts, particularly Bournemouth since Scott Parker left, Fulham have got results and have a goalscorer in Mitrovic who might keep them in the division. My concern for Forest is that they have too many players, to sign 20 is just ridiculous. I don’t understand that, it’s so hard to work out what the best team is. I think they will be in trouble.
With Leicester, unless there is a change, not necessarily the manager, but a change in form, let’s not forget they have a fantastic set of players. They play Forest next and they could get a result then everything changes.
It’s a massive game anyway with the midlands rivalry, I think they might well hang on til then. If they win they could go on a run and pick things up. I wouldn’t say they are relegation candidates at the moment but if this form carries on there’s no question they will go down.
So looking at the England squad, is there anyone who you think is unfortunate to miss out?
James Madison can’t do anymore, he is a great player. I don’t know whether Gareth wants too many flair players in his team, he was very reluctant to play Grealish in the Euros. With what he’s looking for, I don’t think Madison and Anthony Gordon are on the team. Gordon is a good player and he’s young so he will get his chance down the line.
But with Madison, he’s mid 20’s, in terms of goals and assists he’s getting the numbers, he can’t do much more. But the manager is looking for a certain make-up with the squad, so I just think it down to that as opposed to anything personal.
If there was a different manager, do you think he would be in the squad?
Possibly, but everyone has a different opinion. Every coach and manager has different requirements in what they want from their players. One manager likes Kalvin Phillips and other likes Jack Grealish, both fantastic players who can bring different things to the team. You have to get the balance right, you don’t really want 4 right-backs in the team, I don’t quite get that. At the moment, Gareth doesn’t think James can tick those boxes, he’s got Phil Foden, Jack Grealish and I don’t need another. But personally, I’d have liked to have seen him there.
How do you rate England’s Chances at the World Cup?
I haven’t got a clue, I’ve said all along we have the players to win it, without a doubt. We should have won the Euros last year, I think there were mistakes made by Gareth unfortunately. It’s hard to judge at the moment because it’s going to be a unique and crazy World Cup in terms of when it’s being played.
We don’t know who is going to be fit, who will miss out. All I would say is that we have the players to win it, 100%. I think, and I hope, it works in our favour because it’s in the middle of the season. If it had been at the end of the season, you look at our performances in the Nations League, our players were dead on their feet, as you’d expect after a long season.
So you can only hope they will be fit and fresh this time. If Gareth picks the right players in the right positions, we have a great chance.
Do you see anyone challenging Man City for the title this year?
No not at the moment, the signing of Haaland was always going to be a game-changer. The only hope anyone can have of catching them is if they get distracted by the Champions League, they are desperate to win it.
They need to win it with the players they have, especially now with Haaland. If they get distracted with the midweek games, they might lose focus on the League but they have a squad of 30 and 25 are world-class, international footballers.
I can’t see anyone catching them, you’d think Liverpool but they have had a poor start. With Arsenal I’ve been impressed with Arteta, Jesus is a great signing. Have they got the squad to compete? I think they have a good team but not the depth to challenge City. I think Arsenal and Liverpool will be top four, you can take your pick from the rest and then Man City as comfortable winners.
It is rumoured that Steve Cotterill offered you the opportunity to join Cheltenham Town before retirement. How close was the move and why did you turn it down in the end?
It was a strange one, this is going back to 2001 and there was no transfer window at the time. I’d just been player-manager at Barnett. I’d started the season at Leicester in the Premier League, went to Norwich in the Championship and then Barnett in League Two. I had a few clubs from that division come in from me, Cheltenham being one.
But then, Millwall came in who were in League one. I thought it would be quirky to play for clubs in all 4 divisions and I was the last player to do it, not that it’s an achievement. But it’s a little stat that will be there forever. Steve Cotterill spoke to my agent, it was nothing personal, I was keen to move back to London because of family so that’s why it didn’t happen.
What have you made of West Ham’s business in the summer?
It’s hard to judge, I’ve not seen much of the new signings. Scammacca, not seen much of him, Paqueta even though he played for Brazil I’ve not watched him too much. I don’t really follow continental football because I don’t have time. So I need to get to know the players better and the fans are the same.
The youngsters are on FIFA and they seem to know how good these players are on the game but it’s different. I think there were too many signings, 10-12 is too many. Forest signing 20 is crazy. There aren’t many clubs that have signed over 6 players. But it does tell you the squad needed refurbishing, it was already a light squad and 4 players left plus another 2 on loan so numbers were down.
I understand the thinking but it’s a huge turnover of players in the dressing room. And the money they have spent, it’s not as if they have brought in squad players for £5 million each. We are talking £51 million club record for Paqueta which is huge, £30 million for Scammacca, £35 million for Nayef. Big money and that’s why the fans are questioning why they aren’t in the team and a lot of it is down to fitness or injury.
Could you pick a best attacking lineup for West Ham?
I think if Scammacca can learn the role, he would be the number 9, there’s no reason why Antonio couldn’t play on the right, you’ve got Bowen. Then probably Paqueta in behind and that may be the ideal front four.
Then you’ve got Rice and whoever you want to play alongside him. But it’s difficult for the manager, he is trying to get results but you don’t have time in football, that’s the problem. You can’t put Scammacca in and give him 6 games to get up to fitness, even though I know as a forward, you probably need 6 games to find your stride. If you don’t get that, you are never going to see the real player.
At the moment Antonio is still playing centre forward and we’ll have to wait and see. Things happen in football with injuries and suspension which means you have to change things, so that might happen. The bottom line is, they need to figure out the best attacking lineup because they have only scored 3 goals this year which is not good enough.
Where do you think they will finish? Nathan Patterson has made a major impact at Everton this season? What have your impressions of him been? What do you like about him as a player?
It was a strange one, I think they paid £15 million for him and I hadn’t seen him play in Scotland. He didn’t really play when he came in last year. Ben Godfrey was playing right back and I was wondering how good he is, because he wasn’t getting a chance. But he looks like a really good player now Frank has given him a chance. The main thing for Everton was replacing Coleman in that role and hopefully, they have done that now.
What’s the difference between playing right-back for Everton and maybe right-wing-back for Scotland?
The wing-back role is very difficult because you have to be athletic, you have to defend, push into midfield and create chances. So it’s very tough to play there but I see the attributes there from Nathan, he’s aggressive, he wants to tackle and when he gets forward he’s got decent distribution as well. I’m sure he’s one of those lads that any position you ask him to play he’ll do it. Everton traditionally play a back 4, now sometimes they are playing a 5. Maybe with Scotland, he will have a lot more freedom to move forward in their system. He is going to be a big player for Everton and Scotland.
You played up front with Frank McAvennie, Graeme Sharp, Mo Johnston in your career. How much did you enjoy playing with them? What were they like as characters and players?
All 3 of them were fabulous players, my best partnership was obviously with Frank and I’m working with him tonight. We did and still have a great understanding. One of the reasons I went to Everton was to play with Graham Sharp who was a legendary forward for Everton. Perhaps at times we could have done a bit better together and I think we would both say that. I really enjoyed playing with him. Mo was only there for about a year and then he left which was a shame. But some of the Scottish centre forwards over the years have been terrific. It was a privilege to play with them.
Frank McAvennie won five international caps. How many do you think he would have today?
Frank would have got 105 caps today without a doubt, no joke. Kenny Dalglish got 102 which I think is still the record and there’s one really that I see who is in the mould of McAvennie or Andy Gray currently.
Ross Stewart is playing well in the Championship. He is injured just now, but would it be worthwhile Steve Clarke giving him a run-up front when he is fit?
I don’t know much about him so I won’t pretend otherwise but he has a really good goalscoring record. Scotland don’t have an abundance of players so they have to make the most of what they have just like Ireland and Wales do. He’s done really well at Sunderland and just because he’s not in the Premier League, doesn’t mean he can’t play for Scotland. We’ve already spoken about Jarrod Bowen, who was at Hull and he’s made the step up no problem. Ross could have a big future if he’s given the chance.
Why do you think there are so few Scottish strikers around now? What can Scotland do to rectify this problem?
It depends who they are playing to be honest, with international football, the games come into categories. If Scotland are playing Brazil or Argentina or England, the so-called bigger nations then they have to cut their cloth accordingly. That might mean playing one up front and packing the midfield and trying to nick a goal. If they are playing the Faroe Islands then of course they should go two up top.
My philosophy on football has never changed, I know we have gone through different times and I’ve played in different times but I honestly believe that you should always play two up top. You can play whatever system you want behind that, 3 or a 5.
There’s so many options but playing it against one of the top teams is risky. It’s a bit like Leicester who are bottom at the moment playing 2 up front against Man City and they lose the midfield, so it makes sense to pack the middle and play 1 in that scenario. But Scotland have a good manager in Steve Clarke and they have to learn how to play his systems.