Patrick Barclay Interview: Arsenal, The World Cup & The Pain Of Jordi Cruyff

We caught up exclusively with the football writer to talk Herbert Chapman, the pains of interviewing Jordi Cruyff and why Germany might win it in Brazil...
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Patrick Barclay Interview: Arsenal's Chapman, The World Cup & The Pain Of Jordi Cruyff

The legendary Patrick Barclay is one of Britain’s top football writers in the game, a regular guest on the Sky Sports programme Sunday Supplement and now Patrick, who now writes for The Evening Standard, has just written a book on legendary Arsenal man Herbert Chapman, entitled: ‘The Life & Times of Herbert Chapman’.

You have just written perhaps the definitive book on the man who shaped English football, Herbert Chapman – what makes him so relevant to the game today?

He designed management. He made it different from management in other countries. He created the job that Arsene Wenger does, and Sir Alex Ferguson did. He paved the way for Busby, Shankly, Stein, Nicholson, Graham and the incomparable Clough.

How does Arsene Wenger compare to Herbert Chapman?

Quite closely, even though his philosophy was probably closer to Mourinho’s – Chapman had less regard for beauty than Wenger. But in most other aspects. Chapman, like Wenger, was a whole-club man. Chapman, like Wenger, would have supervised the design of a new training ground. Chapman believed in bringing through young players. He had ideas about the game beyond his own club. He liked to use the media. And he charmed the nation as well as his own club’s supporters. They had a lot in common.

You have written books on major figures in British football such as Sir Alex Ferguson & Jose Mourinho, and now Herbert Chapman – do you have any plans to write one on Arsene Wenger?

I’d love to do that. But no one has asked me.

I read that you have reported at eight World Cups – what was your favourite and why?

I’ve enjoyed them all so far. Really enjoyed them, revelled in them. Even the last one in South Africa, where it was a bit chilly for my liking. But Germany takes some beating. The people, the trains, even the roads, are all excellent. So I’ll go for 2006.

What do you think of England’s chances in Brazil?

Better than people think, especially if Roy Hodgson is able to drill them for three weeks before the tournament and they do what they’re told. Can they actually win it? They have as good a chance as Greece had of winning the European Championship in 2004. No more – but no less. Squad cohesion will be essential. That, and an infusion of youth, could give England advantages to which they are not accustomed.

Which young England players excite you?

Barkley, Townsend, Welbeck, Sterling, Shaw.

Who is the best England player you’ve ever seen?

Bobby Moore.

Who will win the World Cup in Brazil?

Germany, if you twist my arm.


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I read a piece about you where you spoke to Carlos Alberto who talked you through the immortal fourth Brazilian goal in the 1970 World Cup final – apart from that what has been your most memorable interview?

You’re right that Carlos Alberto was the most memorable. To talk through that goal with the man who scored it was priceless. I really enjoyed Messrs Henry and Bergkamp when they were players. Henry because he explained to me the difference between creativity and imagination on a playing field - you don’t often talk semantics with a footballer. Bergkamp because of his reason for not joining Ajax when he was very young – they were ‘’a club for people with fur coats and very small dogs’’.

And the least?

Tal Ben Haim. When he was at Chelsea. It was like listening to a robot. After he’d gone I just wiped the drone from the computer. A complete waste of time. Didn’t think much of Samuel Eto’o either. As soon as he told me everything he had done came from God, I should have known I’d been granted a one-on-one with the wrong man. Oh, and Jordi Cruyff. He brusquely told me to talk to his agent and I had to ask him, perhaps a little too sneeringly, why on earth he needed one. The number of pillocks you meet in this job, however, is very low. For every Cruyff Jnr, there’s a Gerard Houllier, a Roy Hodgson or a Gary McAllister, a Vieira, Gerrard or Lampard, with hundreds of other interesting and eloquent people to spare.

Which Premier League players have impressed you this season?

Dozens. Make me pick out a few and I’ll say Steven Pienaar, the unsung hero of Everton, and his team-mates Phil Jagielka, Sylvain Distin, Ross Barkley and (perhaps above all) Seamus Coleman; Adnan Januzaj of Man United; Aaron Ramsey, obviously; Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo at City; Luke Shaw at Southampton; Mile Jedinak at Palace; Eden Hazard at Chelsea; Philippe Coutinho as well as Suarez at Liverpool. It’s been a great season so far.

What do you think of Brendan Rogers managerial abilities?

First class. He’ll take Liverpool back to the Champions League.

What did you think of Spurs appointment of Tim Sherwood?

Odd. I guess he’s keeping the seat warm for someone, like Louis van Gaal, who’s available next season.

Is David Moyes the right man to fill Sir Alex Ferguson’s boots?

Yes, I think so.

Do you think the Premier League is Manchester City’s to lose?

They have more quality than anyone else.

Who will win the Champions League this year?

Chelsea, with about 20 per cent possession in their concluding matches. Maybe beating Real Madrid in the final. I hate forecasting – because basically it’s boring to point out the elephant in the room, which is that Bayern are the best team in Europe and should end the season two-time champions.

Ronaldo or Messi – and how do they compare to Maradona in your opinion?

Maradona remains the best I ever saw in the flesh. Messi could not have done what he did in an era of brutal defending – and thank God he’s not asked to. As for Ronaldo, Sepp Blatter got it right. Unlike Messi, he’s a ‘’commander’’ as well as entertainer and the best attacking header of a ball you’ll ever see. I’m dodging the question, I know. All I can say is that Messi’s the player I love to watch most and, if I had the choice between watching him every week or Maradona at his peak, I’d say Messi only because I’d have the chance to watch Xavi and Iniesta as well.

Thanks for your time Patrick, very much appreciated. One last thing - Arsenal fans cult pie shop Piebury Corner have promised you a free pie the next time you’re at Arsenal – will you take them up on the offer?!

You bet! I’m looking forward to that. Nothing fancy, though. And definitely not curried – why do people mix up culinary ideas these days? Steak and kidney would be nice. It’s very kind of Piebury Corner – lead me there.

The Life & Times of Herbert Chapman by Patrick Barclay is out now (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

Apart from being a regular contributor to Sabotage, Layth has written for When Saturday Comes, World Soccer Magazine, Four-Four-Two, The Gooner, The London Evening Standard, The Sunday People, In Bed With Maradona, The Football Pink and The Inside Left.

Follow Layth on Twitter, @laythy29