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Ray Wilkins Exclusive Interview: Chelsea can beat Manchester United
Football.co.uk's Joe Strange catches up with former Chelsea, Manchester United and England midfielder Ray Wilkins at the launch of Lucozade's new title sponsorship of Powerleague to find out what he really thinks about the development of young players in this country, this week's Champions League quarter-final second-leg at Old Trafford and recent criticism of his commentary style.
Can Powerleague football and other five-a-side formats help English football?
For me, football is all about technique. I talk about football all the time now I'm doing my punditry bit and always come back to it. In order to play in small, confined areas you've got to have good technique and a great touch to be able to play. The surfaces (at Powerleague centres) are first class and that gives kids an opportunity to not worry about the ball bobbling all over the place and instead feel comfortable to use the ball. It definitely helps.
Can playing small-sided football help us develop a new style of football in this country, similar to that in Spain?
I think when you look at Spain and you look at Italy then you just have to look at the climate for a start. Over here in England the first thing we have to do is to run to get bloody warm! They don't in Spain, they can go straight out and play with the football. Our kids have to warm up, the Spanish obviously do too but they can grab a ball straight away. When I had the pleasure of playing in Milan, every morning we'd play with a ball each, 20 minutes every morning on individual technique. You can't do that in England as the first thing you've got to do is get warm and you can't do that standing still.
Do you think we’re seeing a change in the type of players graduating through Premier League academies these days? Smaller, more mobile players like Jack Wilshere and Josh McEachran?
I think that's a fair comment. You named two young men there and they're both very fortunate because they’ve been brought up playing up on great surfaces. Josh has been at Chelsea since he was eight and the playing surfaces at Cobham are like a bowling green. Similar to what we've got here (Powerleague), the pitches are wonderful and the players don't need to worry about the ball. You look at Wilshere and he's outstanding, an outstanding football player.
Out of Chelsea's youngsters, who do you see breaking into the first-team next year?
I think Josh (McEachran) is the one from a midfield perspective that I used to watch a hell of a lot. When I went back to Chelsea about two-and-a-half years ago they were playing in this little tournament and Josh cut inside someone and played a pass inside the opposition full-back. I turned back to one of our guys and said: "That's Liam Brady". That was the biggest compliment I could've given him as Brady was a wonderful football player and what he did was just Brady-esque.
Do you think Roman Abramovich will focus on developing youth players rather than spending millions of pounds each year?
I think that's been their plan for the last X amount of years. Now you're just seeing all that hard work come to fruition with the likes of McEachran, Bruma, Kakuta and Borini's knocking in a few goals at Swansea. I think it's important that these young guys go out (on loan). If you look at that great Manchester United side with all the young men they'd developed coming through at one period, nearly all of them went out on loan. The guys they'll be playing with have to fight to earn a living so they're not playing friendly football anymore. You have a responsibility, you've got to perform to help others get their bonus. You have to be a winner. If you're not going to be in and around the first team then you need to get out and play some competitive football because otherwise you just don't develop. You need to know what it is to get out there and win when winning means three points.
Do you think Daniel Sturridge will return to Chelsea a better player?
I watched him last week against Birmingham and Foster made three or four unbelievable saves. He hit the target every time and he's already scored something like four in six. Danny will come back much better off after this experience and hopefully he can put that into a blue shirt. It's difficult for those young men and there's so much expectation at Chelsea which never makes it easy. They do find some relief when they go out and perform and score goals if they're a forward player.
How do you see Carlo Ancelotti's future at the club?
I've got no idea what Carlo's got planned. I think he's got another year left and I think he'd like to see that out. He enjoys London and I would anticipate he'll stay. That's if Mr Abramovich wants him to stay. I see no reason why he should go. To win the double in your first year in a foreign country is a remarkable achievement and he's done exceptionally well. He's a good bloke and the players are behind him and as a manager that's what you're looking to get.
How would you assess Chelsea's performance against Manchester United?
I always thought it would be a bit cagey and I think that's what we got. I felt that Carlo would go with three in midfield but he went 4-4-2 obviously. Manchester United, in my opinion deserved to win but it's not over. Chelsea went there last season and won 2-1 in a league match which basically won them the title so it's not over by a long way. I think we'll get a proper game at Old Trafford.
Do you think Ancelotti will change anything in terms of his tactics and starting line-up in the return leg?
He may go with the one up top but I thought he would yesterday so it's a bit difficult to gauge what he will do. You can bet your bottom dollar that they'll give it a real good go.
Frank Lampard said that the players don't talk about 2008 and the Champions League final defeat. Is that what is driving Chelsea now?
It is the only thing that is eluding them at the moment. They can't seem to get hold of it (the trophy). It is something that they are desperate to win. Obviously won the Double last year. They would want to pick it up. You have got to say that they are in the better half of the draw. Whoever wins this tie out of Chelsea and Manchester United - and I am not saying that they will walk past Schalke - would want to be on this side of the draw. The winner of this tie has a great opportunity to play here (Wembley) in May.
What would be your ideal attack? Torres with Drogba? Drogba and Anelka?
I would probably play Drogba up top on his own. With two up there with him, whether that is Malouda or Zhirkov and one other on the other side. And get hold of that middle of the pitch. I felt that's where they didn't have the game - the middle of the pitch against United. That's why I thought they may go with the three, to take the game away from United. But that wasn't the case.
Are you enjoying the commentary work?
Yes. I'm enjoying the commentary work. It's not the same but it is as close as you can be, you know to be able to give an opinion. And that's all it is, an opinion. We have all got them. It's not for me to say that anyone else is wrong (with their own opinions) but I do enjoy it. It's fun. It's not the same as getting up every morning and having a giggle with the lads. It is a lot of night work.
What about criticism? You were criticised by Piers Morgan - how do you react?
It's the same as playing isn't it? People will like you and some people won't. It's as simple as that. You just get on with it. So Piers Morgan gave me some grief? That's quite good actually. I'd thought he has got bigger fish to fry than (worrying about) me. I'm quite pleased with that.
Are you looking to go back into coaching?
Not at the moment. I am enjoying what I am doing at the moment. I haven't had any enquiries but who knows what is round the corner.
With the PFA Awards forthcoming, who are your players of the season thus far?
I think (Edwin) Van der Sar has got to be up there. I think he has done exceptionally well. Gareth Bale has had unbelievable highs this year and, bless him he has picked up a few injuries of late. But he would have certainly come into the equation, I would have thought, had it not been for the injuries. Also Scott Parker - he has been outstanding for West Ham in a season which has been extremely difficult. So, from that aspect, you would have to him up there, too. Modric. I am a great Modric lover. I think he has been outstanding. But certainly Bale would come into it.
Ray Wilkins was launching Lucozade's new title sponsorship of Powerleague. To celebrate, Lucozade are offering 1000 people the chance to play 5-a-side for free. To sign up go to www.powerleague.co.uk/powerhour
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