He and former Jamaica international Robbie Earle conceptualised Premier Skills, a programme run by the British Council and the Premier League which focuses on community development through football.
Here for training, Warren Barton, a former England, Newcastle and Wimbledon defender, spoke to HT about the world’s most famous league, Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham and more. Excerpts
Would you say that Cristiano Ronaldo is the best player to have played in the EPL?
It looks like Wayne Rooney could push him all the way this time, but yes, Ronaldo set a line last season with his level of consistency. From the old Liverpool team that had John Barnes to Eric Cantona, Paul Gascoigne, Peter Schmeichel, Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp, the Premiership has had a number of standout players over the years. It has to been seen whether Ronaldo can match them season after season and do it in Europe too. It will also be interesting to see how his body takes it.
As a player, he is quick as Henry and skilful as Cantona so allround, he is a better player than all of them. And the good thing is, he is never disrespectful to football. I think one of the biggest attributes of Sir Alex Ferguson is that he can keep brilliant young players focused. That and a stable family have kept Ronaldo rooted thus far.
Is it good news that the domination of the Big 4 (United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal) is rarely threatened?
Well, Newcastle caught up with them for a while (smiles). Chelsea did break that barrier though it happened because of one man and his billions. But what is healthy about the Premiership is that teams do get beaten. Hull City go and win at Emirates, Stoke go to Liverpool and get a draw. Sometimes, you look at the scores and you aren’t even surprised. Yes, the top four are a benchmark and they are that because of the consistency they produce despite such intense competition.
Beyond the EPL, clubs go into insolvency and even the top 4 have huge debts. How healthy is English football?
My first club (Maidstone United) went bankrupt one year after selling me but the owner went home driving a new car! More recently, Leeds United’s fall too had more to do with bad finance management than English football being unhealthy. Clubs have benefitted from the Premiership experience because they have been able to invest in training grounds or upgrade their stadiums. A good management will invest a chunk of the money got from being in the Premiership in infrastructure and use the rest on buying players.
As for the debts of the big guns, I think they will pay them off. Their Premiership status isn’t threatened, attendances haven’t been hit and neither has shirt revenues or other streams of revenues.
Q: What’s wrong at Newcastle?
As an ex-captain it hurts but it is, a story of bad management. You had a manager (Kevin Keegan) the fans loved, a chairman who enjoyed being in the spotlight. But the backroom boys pushed Kevin into a corner knowing he would walk away. It was a problem they created and as director of football, Dennis Wise has to take some of the blame.