Former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand, and the often controversial former Leicester City midfielder Robbie Savage, are in India as part of a charity initiative by Sport Relief, and the British broadcasters BT Sport, who currently employ the two as pundits.
With Premier League going through the most unpredictable of times, and of course with the continuous focus on who occupies the managerial seat at Old Trafford, or rather who should, Hindustan Times spoke to Ferdinand to make sense of the happenings.
Do you think all the criticism of Louis van Gaal, the Manchester United manager is justified?
I think the Man United fans are not happy. It is probably with the way United have been playing. The philosophy of United have been one (sic), and he (van Gaal) has come in and gone with something very different. I think that is why a lot of fans are not happy.
There is a call for Jose Mourinho to succeed van Gaal. But Mourinho’s style of football is opposite to the supposed Man United philosophy. How would he solve the problem?
It is a question to be asked to the board at United. What do they want? If they want someone to come in play the way Man United used to play, or someone to come in and win trophies. If they want trophies, at the moment, Mourinho would probably be the guy. But if they want someone to identify with fans, and the philosophy, the imaginations, how Man United play, and with a hope of winning trophies, then they will have to go a little bit into the unknown, with someone like Ryan Giggs. That is the conundrum they are in. Those are the questions they will have to ask themselves.
Which way would you go, personally?
If I was a player, I would want someone to come in and win the trophies. As a fan, I can understand, they want to win the trophies playing the way, they believe, Man United should play. I understand both the sides.
Isn’t Ryan Giggs too inexperienced for the United job?
Not really. He knows the place. You brought someone in like van Gaal, who got more experience than anyone at the moment, and it is not working. Pep Guardiola did not have any experience when he went to Barcelona. (Zinedine) Zidane has no experience, but he is the head coach at Madrid. Those are two of the biggest clubs in the world.
Do you think Giggs would be a good manager?
I don’t know if he would make a good manager. No one knows, until you try. I think he wants an opportunity; he has been an assistant under Moyes and now van Gaal. If he has got to have a chance anytime, now is that time.
Talking about former Man United players, Gary Neville is not having a good time as Valencia manager…
It’s always going to be difficult for him because he had gone to a country, he doesn’t speak the language of… a different culture. For your first job, it’s a hard ask, a tall order. It is difficult, but he got the guts to go there and change the way they play. He is a determined guy, I have known him for very long. I don’t think I can see him giving up.
Was it too big a move for him?
I think it was risky move. Whether it was too big or not, time will tell. Going from punditry to be a manager is a risk in itself. But to go to another country and do it is an even bigger risk.
Would Phil, who has been at Valencia as an assistant manager, have been a better choice?
No way. Phil is a people man. He wants to be around good people, have fun. Being a (first team) coach, suits him I think. Being a manager, making big decision, which could be hard… Phil is a soft guy. I would say Gary is better at that.
Would you make the shift from punditry to managerial post?
One day, yeah. I like to be, yes. I don’t know. I would enjoy being in the game, in football, to see if I could change thing, to see if I could improve a player. I would enjoy that stuff.
How much time would it take for you to be ready?
It depends on the offer. I could be ready tomorrow. It depends on the offer, where is it, who is it, what are the opportunities. It is something that I would definitely consider.
Steven Gerrard had said recently that he wasted time when younger by not taking the coaching badge. What’s the status with you?
I am doing mine. I could have done a little quicker (before). But I am enjoying going around different clubs, speaking to different manager, speaking to different owners, to see what I like. That experience is good.
Would you go outside England? For the first job?
Yeah, I would. I don’t care what Gary Neville has been doing, and what has happened to him. I am my own man. If it is the right place and the right opportunity, I wouldn’t be afraid.
China has broken the ceiling this transfer window. Arsene Wenger was recently quoted as saying England should be wary of China. Do you think so?
I think, they won’t take the best players from England. They will take the player who hasn’t got ambition, who got no desire to be international players. That is no disrespect to China, but as a matter of fact China is not a powerhouse in football, Chinese league isn’t a great league to play in terms of standard. So, I would look it at a playing perspective.
If I was 25 years old, if I was offered to go and play in India or China, I wouldn’t even have the conversation. Because I would want win big trophies in the biggest leagues in the world, in the biggest tournaments in the world. That was my driving force when I was playing football. The difference now is money. There is a lot of money to be earned for a player by going early to China or somewhere like that. Listen, I understand it, it makes sense for these guys. But professionally, I wouldn’t be able to look myself in the mirror.
Leicester City have surprised everyone this year…
They are very good. They have surprised everyone. But now it is getting serious. They perhaps stepped over the line now. Earlier, they may not have cared that much, everyone was taking it as a joke or a laugh, Oh! it is brilliant, it is brilliant… Now there is a trophy to be won at the end of it. Because it is near, the pressure becomes difficult. Can they deal with that? I think they may be able to deal with it. They have big game against Arsenal coming up, as long as they don’t lose that, they have got a chance.
Their performance against Man City (a 3-1 win), was it an even bigger surprise?
They could have won by six goals. Of course, the way they played. They dismantled City. I think, they are playing without fear, which is a good thing.
As a pundit, an aspiring manager, what do you think is working for Leicester?
They are very organised than everyone else. The other teams aren’t efficient. They have just beaten Liverpool and Manchester City. City look fragmented, they look all over the place, the defence shambolic. Liverpool? The same. No confidence or any type of form. I think Leicester is doing all of the basic things very well. In a league like this, where it is not efficient and the quality is not that great, they are standing out.
So is it a case of Leicester doing well, or others playing poorly?
Yes. In my time, this would never happen. In my team, the teams we were playing against -- Chelsea, Liverpool, City and Arsenal; Leicester wouldn’t have been above them (in the table). But you have to say, well done. They have capitalised on other teams’ weaknesses, and also on inconsistencies. That is a big word. Other teams’ inconsistencies…
Listen, five years ago, and beyond that, Man United or Arsenal or Chelsea would have gone on a 20-game unbeaten run, and win seven or eight, nine games and draw three. There is no team doing that at the moment. These teams are now winning two games, drawing one losing one, winning three and drawing one, losing… There is no consistency. So to get a run going, to get your points up, create the gap between the other teams is not happening. Leicester is just capitalising, but they are it doing well.
Whenever there is a job vacancy, British managers don’t seem to be contenders. Is that worrying?
The owners of the clubs are looking at different things, looking for success. Foreign coaches are more desirable. I don’t know. It is difficult… at the moment it is same managers who are getting the result. It is a merry go around between the same guys.
Sam Allardyce, Alan Pardew, (Mark) Hughes... these guys get some lose some. They are all on that roundabout. Until a new batch (of British managers) come through, from my generation (or maybe I’m a little bit too old) to challenge that, there are no others. Where are the others? Obviously, you have some guys from the lower leagues coming through. But the chairmen of the big clubs don’t see the value in that. They want to get someone tried and tested, someone who can excite the young kids. They don’t play a young player who have come through the ranks, they go for the tried and tested players from abroad. It is the same thing.
Why wouldn’t a chairman see value in a British manager?
I don’t know. If you look at who have won the title in the last few years, who have won those? It is all the foreigners or (Alex) Ferguson. Wenger, whoever the Chelsea manager was, Man City managers… So that’s a trend. Until that trend that gets broken… (Claudio) Ranieri at Leicester, he is not an English manager.
What about Mark Hughes? He seems to be doing well at Stoke City, some even call them ‘Stokelona’.
Have you seen the last couple of games they played? No one is denying that Mark Hughes is a decent manager. But if Man United job comes up, his name wouldn’t get mentioned. For whatever reason.
You did not opt to play in the MLS after the time in Premier League. Was it difficult to retire straightaway?
I was ready to retire. My body was finished. I was not able to physically continue playing. So there is no point if you can’t. I was more than ready when I retired.
Players such as Andrea Pirlo, however, have gone to MLS, even if they may not be physically strong…
It is up to individuals. Everybody has got different needs and desires in their life. Pirlo, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, these guys have gone for a different experience. Where they all think they can play physically. So, good luck to them.