Here is the highly anticipated second half of our World Cup interview with Dietmar Hamann (former Liverpool and Germany midfielder), Scott Minto (Sky Sports Spanish football pundit), Mark Langdon (Racing Post football editor). In this section we discuss Spain, Neymar and the African nations’ chances of World Cup glory.
In case you missed it, here’s Part 1 of our interview: https://tbrfootball.com/exclusive-world-cup-qa-didi-hamann-scott-minto-mark-langdon-part-1/
Out of Messi, Ronaldo, and Neymar, who is under most pressure from their country to really perform and which, if any of them, are going to meet the expectation?
Mark Langdon: I think Neymar is under the most pressure. It’s a Brazilian World Cup, home soil, he has to be under the most pressure. Even though he’s the least talented out of the 3, I think Brazil have to win this tournament. If they don’t win this tournament, it’s a complete failure for them. It’s seen as an obsession and a given that they’ve got to win it. So even though he’s not as good as either of the other two, I think he’d under the most pressure, and I think that’s unfair on someone who’s only had one season in Europe. I just think it’s the way it is when your Brazil’s main player.
Scott Minto: I would actually group Neymar with Messi. I think Ronaldo a lot less because the Portugal side is not as strong and not seen to be possibly winning it. For all the reasons you said about Neymar there Mark, but I also think Messi really wants to be seen as the best player ever. This is perfect for him; he’s at the right age – I think he turns 26 during the World Cup. He’s going to be 30 at the next one, it’s going to be in Russia which will be fine, but this one’s in South America. It’s not home, it’s not Argentina but he’ll have that kind of pressure as well. So I’d actually put Messi up there with Neymar, and Ronaldo not having the same pressure. Hopefully he’ll get fit and perform, but nowhere near as much pressure as the other two.
Didi Hamann: Yeah, I totally agree with Scott. I think it’s on a par between Neymar and Messi, and also Ronaldo took them there single-handedly, so anything for them is a bonus. They’ve got a tough group as well. But yeah, Messi and Neymar, I don’t think there’s much in it.
With Diego Costa choosing to play for Spain instead of Brazil, do you think they’ve missed a trick there?
DH: I think he has, he must be insane! They’ve not got a centre forward, the other guy doesn’t pick a centre forward, I think it’s insane. He came to Spain when he was a young kid didn’t he; 7 or 8 years old?
SM: I don’t know if he was that young, but he did play for Brazil twice in friendlies. I know what you’re saying; that he’s a Brazilian in a Brazil World Cup, and why play for a side that’s quite happy never to play strikers. I remember talking to Ian Wright about this, and he said “Spain are boring, Spain are boring!”. This was on air. You can see that of course, strikers want to play, they want the team built around them, and that’s not what Spain do. However, I think Scolari missed a trick. Don’t forget, they’ve been in friendlies for 2 years because they’re the hosts, so they’ve not been able to clamp him down to be a Brazilian. But they had the chance in the Confederations Cup and he didn’t pick him. I think that Costa came out just last week and said that “Del Bosque called him up, Scolari didn’t”. He’s happy in Spain, he’s happy playing with and against the type of players that he’ll be playing with on a national level. 18 months ago, I thought there was no way he’d get anywhere near the Spanish squad, but he’s improved so much that he deserves to be there. So I personally think that Brazil have missed a trick because with him up there; if he was fit, I think they’d have a better chance than they have at the moment.
What do you think of Torres being called up? Is that a mistake as he always seems to perform at tournaments, so do you think it’s a sensible decision?
DH: The way I see it, he left Llorente and Negredo out, but they may not play with a centre forward for most games in the tournament. You may only need him for one game, and he’s had maybe 5, 6 or 7 games this year where you’ve thought “Wow, he’s back!”. I think the problem with him is that I still think he has some kind of physical problem. Don’t forget that he was poor for the last 18 months at Liverpool before he came to Chelsea. He can always turn it on for one game and in a tournament, you may only need Villa for one or two games and Torres for one. If he turns it on in the quarters or the semis, it may be all that is required. The problem is that he disappears for 3 or 4 weeks, but I think in a one-off game, he can still do it.
SM: I think you’ve got to look at Del Bosque’s mentality as well. Even with Casillas not playing for the last 2 seasons, he’s picked him as the number one goal-keeper. Even if Victor Valdes was fit, Casillas would still be the number one goal-keeper for Spain. A lot of players that perhaps, have not necessarily merited their place in the Spanish squad and the Spanish team, he’s loyal to. I think Torres is one of those, he knows what he gets, and obviously he must be quite good around the camp as well. I know that Pepe Reina is the number three goalkeeper, but however many good goalkeepers they’ve got, he’ll always be in the squad because he’s good for team spirit. So I think there’s an element of that, but in a one-off game, Torres can be as good as anyone.
ML: There’s no point having Llorente or Negredo because Spain just don’t go wide and cross balls in, so there’s no point having that option.
DH: And you’ve got Costa now who provides that option.
ML: I don’t think it was that much of a surprise that he was included, no matter how badly he played for Chelsea. Del Bosque’s loyal, maybe too loyal because Xavi and Iniesta are going to start the World Cup, while you could probably say that Koke should be in ahead of both of them, given the way he’s played. He’d rather trust people that have won him World Cups and won him European Championships, which I think is fair enough really.
SM: I’ve heard he’s actually said off the record that he’d be quite happy if Xavi and Xabi Alonso couldn’t make it for some reason.
ML: It’s hard to drop World Cup winners!
Do you think David de Gea will get his chance with Spain after this tournament with Casillas only playing the cup games for Madrid?
SM: No, I think Casillas will still be there. He’s a Real Madrid legend, he’s a Spanish legend. Casillias has to do something though, he’s hardly played for 18 months. He had the fight with Mourinho and now Mourinho’s gone, and yet Ancelotti went with Diego Lopez. As a top class keeper, you can’t keep on doing that. I’d be really surprised if the two of them are there for much longer.
Do you think he’ll move to the Premier League?
SM: It’s kind of the only place for him to go, isn’t it, after leaving La Liga? You can look at maybe the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich, but that’s about it really.
ML: I think Man City. I’m not sure if Wenger would spend that much on a goal-keeper really. I think City would be the logical one. I think Pellegrini knows him as well. He wasn’t convinced by Joe Hart last season and he dropped him for a little while. I think City would take that option if he was available.
DH: I spoke to Luis Garcia last week, and he’s got a reputation in Spain as everything he touches turns into gold. He makes a mistake in the Champions League final, they get a goal in the last minute and still go on to win. He never loses! They never lose a game through his mistake, and sometimes you’ve got these players who; when you’ve got them in the team, you win. Obviously he’s a fantastic goal-keeper, and I think this that he’s got that reputation. He only played about 10 games this season and he won the Champions League, do you know how hard that is?
How highly do you rate Sergio Ramos?
DH: Yeah, I’ve always liked him. If a defender scores a goal then it’s a bonus, so you can’t rate him on goals scored. He plays full-back, he plays centre-back, I never had a problem. I like him, while Pepe’s a bit of a loose cannon. Spain haven’t conceded a goal for 6 years over 3 tournaments, and you don’t do that with defenders who can’t defend.
Who do you think is going to be the best African team in this tournament and also, when do you think we’ll see the first African side win a World Cup?
DH: Well, I think the teams are not as strong as they were. If you look at Senegal in 2002, they beat France in the first game of the tournament didn’t they? Ivory Coast was a bit unlucky in the last one with Portugal and Brazil. I don’t see any threat of the African teams, I would probably bet that none of them reach the last 16. I think it will get worse before it gets better. When are we going to see an African team win it?…Tough. You don’t know what’s happening in these countries. I spoke to Sven when he was in Ivory Coast, it’s organised chaos at times. The structure of the football, do they bring youth through? They leave the education of their youth players to the European teams. It’s not as structured yet; half the time they don’t even know about certain players when they get to 17 or 18, so I think the structure of the football is a problem.
SM: We expected them to kick on after 1990 didn’t we, with what happened with Cameroon, and I agree with Didi, it’s gone backwards. I’m just looking at our predictions for who we wrote down as to who would qualify for the last 16 and we haven’t got an African team in here. So I think it does show that they’re a long way off winning a World Cup.
ML: I think Ghana are unlucky that they’ve got such a hard draw because they’re probably the ones that have got some good players. You’ve got Gyan up front, and also in midfield you’ve got Kevin Prince Boateng; who I think has had a really good year for Schalke, Asamoah who plays for Juventus. So they’ve got the basis of what you’d want in a team, but their draw is so difficult against Germany and Portugal. If they were in with Argentina and Bosnia, I would have fancied them to have gone through. Maybe they would still be the best option but it will be very tough.
Special thanks to Jack Linley for transcribing the entire interview – an arduous task, to say the least.
Exclusive: Steve Morison raves about Millwall fans, discusses ‘difficult’ Leeds spell
The Welsh international spoke with pride when reflecting on Millwall’s most recent Championship campaign.
Millwall achieved an impressive 8th placed finish during their first season back in the Championship and were ultimately only three points off of a play-off place.
The Lions were one of the surprise packages of the 2017/18 Sky Bet Championship season and Neil Harris deserves a great deal of praise for the results that he has delivered at The Den.
One player who symbolises what the club represents is striker Steve Morison.
The 34-year-old has played over 200 matches for the Lions and will undoubtedly go down as a Millwall legend.
In an exclusive interview with The Boot Room, the Welsh international spoke proudly about the recent campaign, praising the incredible team spirit as the reason behind the club’s success:
“We’ve got an incredibly tight-knit and committed squad of players who work hard both individually and collectively.
“Since he first took charge, the manager has implemented a way of playing which gets the best out of the players he has at his disposal and also, since the back end of last season, we’ve formed a great bond with the supporters.
“Each of those elements are important individually, but when you add them all together then it shouldn’t really be as big as surprise that we have surpassed expectation as it has been made out by some.”
Although Millwall cannot compete with the finances of some of the bigger clubs in the second tier, they boast an ardent fan-base and they have found a set of players who have been successfully able to connect with those in the stands.
In the past, the supporters have been difficult to play in front of and some players have struggled to live up to expectation but that hasn’t been a problem for the current squad. Understandably, Morison was keen to emphasise the tremendous role that the supporters played throughout the campaign.
“They can be a tough crowd to play for when things are going against you but so long as you keep putting everything in to each performance, playing with passion and desire, then they will continue backing you.
“I’ve played at Millwall for a long time now all-in-all and I’m sure they respect my achievements and personality, as I do their honesty and love for the club.”
It is no surprise to hear Morison speak highly of the club’s supporters. After all, he has played more matches for Millwall than he has at any other club he has been with.
This is his third spell at The Den and he is a player that the supporters have formed a genuine connection with.
A no-nonsense centre-forward, who benefits from the atmosphere created by the fans, Morison doesn’t shirk a physical encounter, making him the perfect striker for the current squad.
“This really feels like home for me as a player. The club gave me my big chance when I first moved here, which was a platform to go on to play for my country and in the Premier League.
“Since that first spell I’ve been back twice, firstly on loan which wasn’t so successful for me or the club, and more recently since the gaffer took over.
“The style of play suits me and I suit the style of play, which is why I think my best performances have tended to come in a Millwall shirt.”
This season, Morison has shown no sign of slowing up, playing 44 of the Lions’ Championship matches and becoming one of the mainstays of the team under Neil Harris.
The 34-year-old only scored five times, but he was an important part of Millwall’s success. In addition to his goals, he contributed eight assists and was a handful every time he stepped out onto the pitch.
Over the course of the campaign he moved to within ten of 100 goals for the club.
“Personal records and accolades are always nice to receive but if I’m not scoring and the team is winning then I’m far happier than I would be if it was the other way around.
“I’ve had some great memories of my time at Millwall and hope there is many more to come, including reaching that goal landmark which any player, no matter what club they play for, should be proud of.”
That would be a major landmark to reach and it is likely that he will be given more than a fair opportunity to get the goals required.
Naturally, Morison is right to speak about the team being more important than personal achievement, but there is a good chance that he can enjoy both at The Den.
It would be a great moment for him, as he has enjoyed his best years at the club and to reach 100 goals would be a fair representation of his contribution.
Morison will be remembered fondly by the Millwall supporters, but the current manager in the dugout is already legend at the club.
Neil Harris achieved a lot as a player and has had a similar impact since taking over as the number one at The Den.
His former team-mate speaks positively about his current boss and it is obvious that he sees him as havingd a bright future in management.
“The gaffer is one of those who knows how to get the best out of players both individually and, when all put together, as a team. He is very honest and up front and we regularly have lengthy chats about all sorts of things. He respects the opinions of his players, especially senior ones like myself.
“He knows this club so well – he’s a Millwall legend – but he was right when he said, after his appointment, that he wanted to be judged on his performance as a manager and not as the player he was.
“Since then we’ve been to Wembley twice, winning promotion once, and almost secured a Play-Off spot for a chance to get to the Premier League. Those achievements speak for themselves and ultimately say a lot about his quality as a manager and a person.”
There are times when a manager and club fit like a glove. Harris and Millwall are an example of that.
He played the majority of his career at The Den and is one of the players who, like Morison aims to, scored more than 100 goals for The Lions.
During his playing career, he learnt everything there was to know about the club and it isn’t a shock that it has allowed him to transition seamlessly into management.
Harris started as the boss of the Under-21s and is now emerging as one of the most exciting coaches in the country.
Millwall’s style of play is functional, but it has earned the club good results.
An 8th placed finish is a superb achievement and sees them finish above the likes of Leeds United, Norwich City and Sheffield Wednesday, all of whom were seen as teams that could challenge for promotion this season.
He may now be seen in a similar way to Harris, but Morison hasn’t been at Millwall for his entire career.
The Welsh international tested himself at a higher level with Norwich in the Premier League. Meanwhile, he also played for Leeds United, but failed to make an impact at Elland Road.
It didn’t work out for him in Yorkshire, but he doesn’t want to make excuses for his lack of impact.
“I’ve been fairly honest in my assessment of my time at Leeds in the past. It just didn’t work out anywhere near as well as I’d hoped or the club had hoped for me. It was a difficult time to be a player with the controversy and uncertainty in the background, which does have an impact on performances and results.
“But as an individual I don’t want to make excuses. I didn’t play as well as I would have liked and as I have done since.”
Although it didn’t work out for Morison at Leeds, he won’t finish his career looking back at the spell with regret. Ultimately, it led him back to Millwall and that is where he feels at home.
The atmosphere and playing style allow him to play to a high standard, despite approaching 35 years of age.
Although some would consider Morison to be nearing the end of his time as a player, he isn’t ready to call it a day just yet.
“So long as I feel fit and I’m contributing then I want to play as long as possible. You’re a long time retired as a footballer and I want to prolong my own career as much as is possible.
“I feel that I’ve contributed well again this season and am looking forward to coming back for training again at the end of June to get ready for another campaign. I don’t look too far forward.
“As a club we’ve got to ensure that this season and the success we’ve enjoyed becomes a platform for progression and even bigger and better things in 2018/19. That has to be our aim.”
There is a lot for Morison to achieve before hanging up his boots. The 100 goals will be on his mind, even if it isn’t his main priority. Also, he will want to continue to play a part in the progression of Millwall.
The Lions finished 8th this season and there will be a desire to go one step further and make the play-offs during the 2018/19 campaign. It would be an incredible achievement for the club to reach the top-flight, but the last 12 months show that it shouldn’t be considered impossible.
Morison still has a part to play and it is clear he has the hunger to deliver sustained progression at the club.
Exclusive: Havard Nordtveit – Hoffenheim move, Julian Nagelsmann and facing Liverpool
The Norwegian international discussed his time at Hoffenheim and his experience of English clubs.
This summer West Ham United utility man Havard Nordtveit called time on his career with the Hammers, after just one season.
Signed from Borussia Monchengladbach on a free transfer he suffered from the London outfits’ own struggles, the change of stadium and being asked to play out of position at right-back.
After just 21 games for the Hammers, he headed back to Germany, where he had such success previously.
Now, speaking exclusively to The Boot Room, the Norwegian international has discussed working under an exciting new manager, facing Liverpool in the Champions League and coming through the ranks at Arsenal.
Plenty of teams in Germany would have wanted Nordtveit this summer.
He built a fine reputation in the Bundesliga during his time with Gladbach.
In fact, just hours before his July transfer was announced, he was being linked with Bundesliga rivals Hamburg.
In the end, it was Hoffenheim who snapped up the Norwegian. They had just finished fourth in the Bundesliga and it was a brilliant move for the 27-year-old.
But, as the former Hammer explained from Germany, it has been a topsy-turvy season:
“It went well in the first couple of months. But then my games weren’t as good as I was hoping for,” he admitted. “Then obviously I was not good enough for the team. I have been training hard and lately, it has been back to normal again.
“It’s good to be back in Germany and also I needed half a season to get to know the new coach and the new system. I am looking forward to the rest of the campaign.”
Nordtveit started the season playing in the Hoffenheim back three, but found himself out of the squad entirely from mid-December until last month.
Despite his problems, he did not sulk and simply worked hard to get back into the first-team:
“I am not that person,” proclaimed the Norwegian international. “I have been in that situation before with West Ham and Gladbach. It’s all about giving everything you can instead of moaning.
“You have to be positive,” he continued. “This is a team sport. You have to give your best for the team. If that means you are playing or not you know that you will get the chance in the end.”
This season Hoffenheim and Nordtveit were challenging for the Europa League.
However, at the start of the campaign, the Bundesliga outfit were in Champions League action for the first time in their history.
They took on Premier League side Liverpool in the qualifying rounds, with Nordtveit playing in both games.
Liverpool were not yet working under Mohamed Salah power but still proved far too strong for their German opponents over two legs:
“We knew they were strong. With their attacking forwards they are brutal. We had a very good home game. But in the end, it is a little better a feeling to know we went out of the play-offs against a team that reached the finals,” Nordtveit explained, with a sense of vindication for his club’s exit.
“What Klopp has done with the club is massive and also Salah, at this time, maybe is Europe’s best player.”
Hoffenheim’s entrance to the Champions League was masterminded by their brilliant young coach Julian Nagelsmann. The 30-year-old is just a few years older than the Norwegian but has proven himself a top manager:
“He is fantastic,” said an excited Nordtveit. “He has great experience and his own style of play. It is a lot of tactics for every new player. Also when I came in then there was a lot of new things I had to learn quite quick.
“I am now starting to see that I learn something in myself to get into the rhythm that he wants. He is like a young, bright, football professor.”
He then gave him high praise, by comparing him to his former Gladbach boss Lucien Favre:
“He reminds me a little bit of Lucien Favre. He thinks about football 24/7. Small details, always, which can mean we take the three points.
“If I could compare him with someone it would be Lucien Favre, which is not a bad comparison.”
Nagelsmann’s clear ability has seen him linked with taking over from Arsene Wenger at Arsenal.
The Norwegian came through the ranks at Arsenal, but made it clear that he spent most of his time working with the current Arsenal assistant Steve Bould:
“I spoke with him of course but he was more observing the training. I was more with the reserve team.
“I was more with Steve Bould, the legend. He was quite important for me, a really good guy. I think he was one of the more important guys in Arsenal when I was there.”
Working under the Arsenal legend as a young defender must have been a big learning experience for the Hoffenheim player, who speaks highly of his time at Arsenal:
“I went quite early, about 16,17,” remembered the talented utility man. “It was perhaps the most important choice I did in my career because there I learnt how to do the basics in football.
“I did not play much with the first-team but the experience of training with the first-team and getting to know English football and a really high standard was really important to me.
“From there, when I moved to Germany, I had the perfect base to have an OK career.
“Jack Wilshere was there before he finally broke through to the first-team. We had Wojciech Szczesny now second goalkeeper for Juventus. Many of the players are having big careers.
“For me and a lot of the players we were quite lucky to have this opportunity.”
But Nordtveit still remembers his time fondly. He still follows the club, where good friend Granit Xhaka is also playing.
The Gunners have been unable to put a smile on the face of Nordtveit by picking up the Europa League trophy in Arsene Wenger’s final year.
However, with London outfit set to compete in the competition again next season, under a new manager, the two could well come face-to-face.
That would be an opportunity Hoffenheim’s intrepid Norwegian would relish.
Exclusive: Havard Nordtveit – A difficult West Ham spell under Slaven Bilic
The 27-year-old opened up on his difficult season-long spell at the Olympic Stadium.
In the summer of 2016, Slaven Bilic looked to make improvements to his West Ham United first-team squad as the Hammers looked to press on after an impressive 2015-16 campaign.
One of the players that the Hammers boss decided to bring in was Norwegian international Havard Nordtveit.
West Ham beat off competition from several other clubs to snap up the utility man from German side Borussia Monchengladbach on a free transfer, following the expiry of his contract with the Bundesliga club.
The Norwegian has now spoken to The Boot Room exclusively about his time at West Ham, the Olympic Stadium and the Hammers’ fans.
It would be fair to say that Nordtveit’s season with West Ham may not have gone to plan. He played just 21 times for the club in 2016-17 and never quite achieved the form he had showcased in the Bundesliga with Gladbach.
But, despite his struggles, he insisted he was happy with his time at West Ham:
“It was perfect,” beamed the Norwegian. “I always dreamt to be in the Premier League. When I got the chance to go to England with West Ham it was an easy choice.
“Slaven (Bilic) was quite open that he wanted me. I had some good games and I had some bad games and it was a bit up and down. But all over I am really happy I took that choice. West Ham is a fantastic club.”
Nordtveit simply never seemed to settle at West Ham. The Norwegian was perhaps a victim of his own versatility. With injury problems at right-back for Bilic the utility man was asked to play as a makeshift option on occasions for the Hammers:
“There (at West Ham) I played a little right-back. Slaven said he needed me because we had a lot of injuries. When the manager asked me, of course I tried my best.”
His inexperience in the position showed and it was tough for the Norwegian international, but he knuckled down and did a job for the club in a desperate situation.
In general, last season was a struggle for West Ham. An 11th place finish perhaps sugarcoated a mixed campaign in which they finished just five points ahead of Watford in 17th.
It was the first season West Ham played at the Olympic Stadium, leaving their beloved Boleyn Ground.
It has been a constant source of controversy since, with many West Ham fans unhappy with their new home.
Nordtveit never had the pleasure of playing at Upton Park. However, the importance of the old ground was never lost on the new recruit:
“I never played at Upton Park but what I heard was that the atmosphere there was amazing. What I got to know is that the fans were not that happy to change the stadium after such a long time and being such a traditional club.”
The move has certainly seen West Ham’s management of David Gold, David Sullivan and Karren Brady receive some hefty criticism since.
In March, it boiled over during a defeat to Burnley, when fans invaded the pitch and many hurled abuse and projectiles at the director box.
However, Nordtveit understands why the move went ahead:
“Everything is up to the chiefs at the club and they have a great deal on the Olympic Stadium, I am sure they only want the best for the club. So I think it is hard to say no to that.”
Speaking from Hoffenheim, where he is now back playing in the Bundesliga, the 27-year-old continued:
“I hope West Ham can get the same feeling at the Olympic Stadium as they did at Upton Park.”
The former West Ham man clearly enjoyed his time in London, even if his Premier League dream did not come true with the Hammers.
What is clear is that he understood the frustrations of the West Ham fans in what was an odd and difficult transition season in 2016-17.
For Nordtveit, that may have also been part of the problem regarding his ability to settle at the club.
Now, back in Germany, his career is still on the right track and he appears humbled by the experience of playing for such a traditional club.
The defender, who came through the youth ranks of Arsenal, is now playing regularly in Germany for Hoffenheim, who are chasing the Europa League places in the Bundesliga.
After previous success in Germany with Nurnberg and Gladbach, it seems that German football is what suits the Norwegian international best.
When it comes to a potential return to England, one day, it seems the West Ham experience was the end of his Premier League career:
“After it all, we made the conclusion that I fit better to the Bundesliga than I do the Premier League,” admitted the 27-year-old.
“I have now been in Germany for seven years, maybe more than that. I like it here. I like the stadiums, the atmosphere in the games, the way of play.
“How we’re playing now it is real entertainment.
“I can see in front of me that I spend my last years as a professional football player here in Germany before I go home and put my legs high up on the table.”
But it is not a dig at West Ham, more a reflection on his troubled season with the club.
“I always watch them (West Ham),” Nordtveit admitted. “I hope they can take some points now and get out the danger of going down.”
He will never go down as a West Ham great, but Nordtveit truly appreciated the chance to play for West Ham in his career.
No Hammers fans would begrudge him any success in the future, which looks set to be in Germany until he hangs up his boots.
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