A former PFA player of the year and treble winner with Manchester United, few players can match Teddy Sheringham’s trophy haul. Speaking exclusively to CardsChat, the England football legend and poker enthusiast gives his mid-season verdict as the festive fixtures reach full flow.
Keep reading for Sheringham’s in-depth, and unvarnished, look at the state of football around the UK.
How good a job has José Mourinho done in a year in charge of Spurs?
You’ve caught me at a good time, haven’t you, asking me how has José done. Top of the league. What more can you say? I wouldn’t say it’s the most exciting football you’ve ever watched but he’s been doing it for years. You only have to look back in my time and Arsenal with George Graham. They weren’t fantastic at football, but they used to grind out their 1-0 wins and bore the arse off of people. I wouldn’t say Tottenham are boring the arse off of people at the moment, but they’re certainly playing in a certain manner and everything’s fitting into plans at the moment for José. Teams are coming on to Tottenham and they’re hitting them on the break and they’re scoring goals at the moment. So, from my point of view, long may that continue and I’m sure everyone’s happy inside the Tottenham camp.
Do you think Tottenham are genuine title contenders then?
It’s very early in the season to be talking about Tottenham as title contenders. When you’re at places like Manchester United, you don’t even think about the title until the end of February. And here we are December, you know, very, very early days, but it’s a fantastic start and we’ll see where that takes them.
What would you say would be more important this season for Tottenham; breaking their trophy drought or making sure they qualify for the Champions League?
The money people at Tottenham would say getting into the Champions League is the priority this season but for the Tottenham supporters, it’s all about winning trophies. You’ve got to start winning something now – eventually. I sat with three Gooners in our little camp the other day, watching the Arsenal vs Tottenham game, and all they could say was, “Yeah, they’re doing alright at the moment, but where’s their silverware?” That’s all they kept saying. I understand that. Arsenal have picked up their FA cups over the last five or six, seven years, which is amazing, the way I see it. They keep winning trophies and it’s what Tottenham need to do.
Do Tottenham need to strengthen in January to really have a chance to win a trophy this season?
I said recently that Gareth Bale is probably as good a signing – apart from signing Lionel Messi, who’s like the best player in the world, for them to get Gareth Bale in the last window was just amazing for me. I know he hasn’t come in and done anything so exciting yet, but just to have him there. Hopefully, he’s getting better and better fitness-wise and getting used to the Premier League again. To have him as backup is amazing. To have any more, to sign anyone else, where would you go? I think José is getting the best out of his players at the moment, and long may that continue, that’s all you can ask as a manager. So, you’re top of the league, why would you look at any other places or positions or players to come in when everybody’s performing so well?
Do you think there’s a danger for Mauricio Pochettino that the longer he’s out of management, the harder he’ll find it to get back in?
I’m almost certain Pochettino has been offered jobs already. He’s probably waiting for the right one. I think he’s got that reputation now where he can pick and choose which job he wants. I certainly thought he was a fantastic manager, so I don’t think it’ll be long before he gets back in.
Do you think Harry Kane will finish his career at Tottenham?
If Harry Kane became available or if he wanted to leave Tottenham, he could go anywhere he wanted in the world. I think every club in the world would want him as their number nine. I think he’s that good. I think he’s the best number nine in the world. So, Tottenham need to keep hold of him, Tottenham need to win things to do that. If they don’t, who knows where he could end up?
Would you bet on Harry Kane to break Alan Shearer’s Premier League scoring record?
Without a doubt Harry Kane is set to break Alan Shearer’s Premier League scoring record. It’s just odds on. He’s still a young man. He’s had a few injuries along the way but he’s not had anything like what Shearer’s had over the years. So, he’s odds on, there’s no way he doesn’t break his record.
Dele Alli seems to have a bit of an up and down relationship with José. What do you think of Dele’s long-term future at the club?
When you’re a young lad, everyone has little dips in form and you come back – when you’re a top player, you come back with your form after that. Del Alli is having a dip now that’s lasting a bit too long for my liking. He needs to – whether it be at Tottenham or wherever he’s going to go or whatever he’s going to do, he needs to get back to basics and concentrate on his football, because you only get one career. You look back on it and think ‘what a waste’ at the end of it if you don’t make the most of it. He needs to get his head screwed on about being a top footballer and what made him a top footballer before, and how he’s going to do that again to become a top footballer again.
What do you make of Son’s impact at Tottenham and what he’s doing at the moment?
Son is unbelievable. What an outstanding talent. He’s got an unbelievable understanding with Kane as well. He’s full of confidence, which is everything for a footballer. He thinks he can score from everywhere, even when he picks the ball up deep in his own half. It’s exciting times for Tottenham. He’s an unbelievable player and seems great around the club as well. Enthusiasm shines whenever he gets out in the pitch. I love him.
Does Harry Kane and Son remind you of yourself and Klinsmann, back in the day?
I always remember Klinsmann coming in, and you half expected him to come in with his medals around his neck and swanning around. Nothing could be further from the truth. He came in, his enthusiasm shone through, he was like a 17-year-old on trial. He was just phenomenal to train alongside and then when we actually got him out on the pitch to see the way he performed, week in, week out, was just amazing. A shining light and a great example to all professionals.
Following United’s exit in the Champions League, do you feel Ole is under any pressure?
It’s a result that does put more pressure on him, there’s been rumours circulating about Pochettino supposedly waiting in the wings and he could have certainly done without failing to qualify for the knockout stages. The pressure will grow again if they falter in the league in the coming weeks. Ole is a lovely lad and I don’t want that to happen and very much hope he keeps the job.
What do you think is a successful season for United in the league this season? Where would they be looking to finish?
When you play for Man United, you understand what the situation is. You listen to Roy Keane and that’s what it’s all about – United to win things. Not to come in the Champions League spots, not to get second, not a bold runner up. You’re there to win things, you are in the biggest club in the country, in Europe, maybe even the world, so you’re expected to win things. Ole knows that, he’s been around that feeling, that way of life and he knows that anything but success and winning trophies is a failure.
What did you make of Pogba’s agent Mino Raiola’s comments a few days ago and how do you assess his importance to this Man United team?
Pogba could do without his agent making these comments – he seems to pop up and put spanners in the works every time. It’s not great, every 3-4 months this seems to happen with comments from his agent or Pogba himself. When you’re a manager you could do without it, you think you’ve sorted it, got Pogba playing well again and then this comes out just ahead of a big fixture where they needed a result. It’s constant from the player and the agent to the extent where overall I think they should let him leave.
With the fixture congestion as it is, do you think United’s Treble in 1999 will ever be repeated by an English club?
In every decade there’s always a team that dominates, isn’t there? There’s always someone that comes out of the pack, that you get a good manager and then a dominant team around him that go on for five or six years. Obviously, they don’t win everything every year, but City were doing it a few years ago. Liverpool look like the dominant force now – if they hadn’t had their injuries, I think they would have probably been clear in the league again now and looking dominant. They’ve had so many injuries at the start the season and still at the top of the table, so that shows you how good they are and how good their manager is. However, you’re talking about cup competitions where one little slip and you’re out of it, so you’ve got to have the rub of the green like we did in ’99, but you’ve got to have that desire as well and the willingness to keep going when times aren’t so great. With luck it could happen.
And you played in a famous four, so yourself, Ole, Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke. If you think about today’s formations, can you keep four strikers happy in the modern game?
It seems that United are keeping their strikers happy at the moment. Obviously, we were out and out strikers, but you’ve got Cavani, Ighalo, Rashford, Martial, Greenwood – that’s five and they all seem to be happy. I know they’re not all playing centre forward, but they are centre forwards – with young lads, you can put young centre forwards out on the wing. I think we all started out on the wing when you’re trying to get into your football club for the first time. It’s whoever nails down that main centre forward role. You might have to change the system to accommodate two at any particular time, but at the moment, the way I see it, three of them are playing with Rashford, Martial or Rashford, Cavani and Greenwood, all along the front. So, Ole’s keeping them happy.
You joined United at 31 as well, how impressed have you been with Cavani’s impact, like someone who has made that move at that stage in your career?
I didn’t have any doubts whatsoever that Cavani would have the credentials to play for United and be a centre forward for United. Top striker, been around the world. As long as he stays fit and he’s healthy enough in himself, no problems at all. He’ll score goals. He’s a proven goal scorer, and I think he’ll do even better than a lot of people expected.
Harry Maguire has had a difficult start to the season – both for club and country. As Manchester United captain, the armband weighs heavy. How do you see his long-term future at United coming up?
When I look at Harry Maguire I look at the long-term impact. I think he’s an outstanding player. I think he’s a very, very good character. Obviously, he’s had his problems at the start of the season, but when you’re a top player, you learn how to deal with it, you hang in there, and you crack on and you keep going. And you get good people around you and, hopefully, you come through it together. It looks like Ole has stuck by him, the way he should, because he’s a top player and a top man.
In your day it was Man United could have their pick of players. Now, you’ve got Klopp promising trophies at Liverpool, Spurs in their new stadium, Man City have Guardiola. Have Man United still got the pulling power that they used to have?
Without a doubt Man United still have the pulling power when it comes to attracting new signings. Obviously, Ole needs to prove himself in winning things, which breeds confidence, which breeds other top players wanting to come to you rather than going elsewhere. Pep’s done that over at City and Klopp’s doing that Liverpool. Frank, obviously, wants to be doing it at Chelsea, José at Tottenham. Everybody seems to be wanting to do it, which makes it very, very tough. It’s hard to win stuff in England, not everybody can win. Ole needs to prove himself – get winning trophies and then that breeds – other top players come in there as well.
West Ham have had a really solid start to the season. What do you make of this improved league performance you’re seeing?
If you’d have asked me five weeks ago about West Ham, you probably would have said they’ve got a chance of going down this season. I think they only had one point from their first few games or whatever and everyone was talking about them going down. They’ve had a good run. They’ve had a fantastic – probably six, seven, eight games, and they’ve put themselves in a great position. But they need to continue doing that. I like what Moyes is doing there, he’s brought a bit of stability, but things change very, very quickly in football. They have done for the good. Let’s hope it stays on that way, otherwise you’ll be talking in different terms in another six weeks.
Is David Moyes the man who can deliver on the owner’s ambitions?
For West Ham it needs to be all about stability. I mean, there’s a lot of talk about, should they still be at Upton Park and whatnot. It ain’t gonna happen is it? So, let’s get the stability. They’ve got their new home. Let’s get someone in that the West Ham fans can associate with, and I think David Moyes is one to be like that. He’s homegrown, very down to earth. It’s what West Ham people like and he’s doing alright. He’s got an assortment of different types of player, he’s done very well to keep of Declan Rice. I think he’s his main man at the moment and he has that English mentality. He looks like he’s taken over from Mark Noble a bit – not running the place, but he understands what it takes to be a leader, what it takes to win football matches. And he’s organising nicely around the place and he’s got a lot of foreign lads that you’ve got to help acclimatise and explain how the game is in England. Things are looking good at the moment, so long may that continue.
Will Declan Rice stay long-long-term and become a Hammers legend like Mark Noble? Or do you think that the offers will still come, in spite of a new contract?
Declan Rice is a top player and when you’ve got top players in your football club, you sometimes have to fight people off to keep hold of them. If he’s happy and he’s enjoying his football, then why would you want to move? I think that at this moment in time they’re fifth in the table, things are looking good, he’s enjoying his football. So why would he want to leave?
Is this England team truly in a position to challenge the Europe’s best?
I would say that England are in a very similar position to what we were in Euro ’96 and without a doubt, the fans are going to get behind England. I think we weren’t expected to win. I don’t think England are expected to win now as well. But once the tournament gets going and the atmosphere changes, and it generates to a higher level, hopefully you get through the first stages. People become more optimistic and the bandwagon rolls. I think, with home advantage, without a doubt, we’ve got a chance of winning it. I really like what Gareth’s doing, I like the way he’s getting that close unity, like a club feel to it. I’m optimistic for him.
You talked about Euro ’96, what are your abiding memories of playing for England on home soil? Would you pass on any advice to the lads preparing for that this summer?
I only look back on Euro ‘96 with the fondest memories. It was just great times, playing for your country in a major tournament on home soil with all the fans behind you. It was amazing. I can’t speak highly enough about it. Just go out there and enjoy it and just make sure you focus, put everything into that three or four weeks, or however long it is. Make sure you are focused to come out. You could become legends, boys. I really hope the team do, because it’ll change them for the rest of their lives. We were so close, but how many people have said that over the years? So close ain’t good enough. You’ve got to go that one step further.
Did you always see management potential with Gareth Southgate?
Gareth Southgate isn’t your typical footballer, is he? He’s very articulate, very ‘studious’ – if that’s the right word. Thoughtful, very straight, a very honest man. I liked him a lot, I like him a lot. He’s a lovely lad to be around. You could always see that he was going to be going into management, he had that way about him and I think he’s doing a great job.
From all your many England caps from Euro ’96 and abroad, is there any one individual you look back as being the toughest you’ve faced?
The Italian centre half – Cannavaro – was the toughest I came up against playing for England. He wasn’t the biggest, not the quickest, not the strongest, but what a competitor. Read the game very well. Outstanding player.
You made your England debut at the age of 27. You talk about this team being quite a young squad, is there a player you look at in the Premier League that you think could follow a similar path to you, breaking in to the squad their late 20’s?
I don’t think anyone can break into the England set up as late as I did nowadays. As soon as you come on the scene now, if you’ve got any promise whatsoever, you’re involved in the England squad. It’s amazing how it happens really. It’s probably because there’s not so many English players around. I mean, there used to be probably eight to ten top English players in every club. Now there’s probably only two or three in each club, on average. So, if you’ve got anything about you now, you’re not far off the England squad.
Harry Kane’s game has evolved for club and country. People are starting to see similarities with you and Alan Shearer as he can play both roles. If you were Gareth, who would you be putting him up front with to start the first game of the Euros?
Gareth plays a different system nowadays – you’re not really looking for two players to play up front together. If you were to go back to the old school, I really like Danny Ings. If you put him in and around Kane, off him, put Kane as your number nine up front, put him up top and he can drop off, but his main role would be the nine role. And you get Danny Ings around him that would be your ten, but could swap places with him to be the nine. Ings is a great goal scorer, great awareness around him. I think he could come to the fore in the next couple of months and he’s my outside chance to be playing for England in the Euros.
You famously played at the very top level in the Premier League into your 40’s. Is there a player today that you think can replicate that?
Every now and again, there’s a player that comes out of the pack that goes on for longer than you should really expect them to, as a footballer. I think if you had to look at someone that’s fit and healthy and has desire, someone like James Milner might go on for the longevity of maybe going into his 40’s. He’s 34 now so he’s still a long way off, especially when you think about putting yourself through those pre-seasons every year and getting the knocks that you do. But he’s not playing as much as what he would probably like at the moment, so that sometimes make you play a little bit longer. But he’s a fit boy and can play in a lot of different positions which helps.
Do you see Roy Keane going back into management anytime soon?
Footballing mentality would probably say that Roy Keane needs another job. I think if you would ask him, honestly, what he wants, he wants to prove himself as a top manager. And I’ve got to be honest, I think he’s got what it takes to be a top manager. He has that desire, he demands the highest standards when people are around him at the football ground, whether it be a player or a manager, and I think he could do a good job. He’s very single-minded, speaks his mind probably a little bit too much at times to be a manager, but if he could tone that down a little bit, then who knows?