The former Spurs and Chelsea legend, England’s third highest goalscorer of all time, tells FourFourTwo.com's Jonathan Gilbert why England need Peter Crouch, how Sir Alf Ramsey and Fabio Capello are similar and why Tottenham will finish in the top four next season...
Jimmy, you were one of the best strikers of your time. What do you think about Emile Heskey, much criticised for his lack of an eye for goal, starting for England at the World Cup? Everybody seems concerned by this. I wouldn’t start with Heskey. Look, goalscoring is all about statistics. You’ve got situations where you can say so-and-so got 36 goals for England, and took 100 games to do it, and someone else scored 36 goals for England in 37 games. To me, that means that the guy who should be in the team is the guy who statistically has scored more goals per game.
You’d prefer to see either Peter Crouch or Jermain Defoe alongside Wayne Rooney then? Absolutely, Peter Crouch in my mind has to be pretty much number one on the team sheet given his goalscoring record. I don’t understand why there is even speculation over that. For me, he goes straight in the side.
In both the ’62 and ’66 World Cups you played alongside proven goalscorers in attack – Gerry Hitchens and Roger Hunt respectively – but do you not agree that even though Heskey doesn’t get the goals, he allows England’s best player, Rooney, to really perform? No, I don’t buy that. Do you really play one man just to make another player play? Not for me you don’t. It’s the player’s responsibility to play well whoever he plays with, not to have someone to make him play well.
How about Joe Cole or Steven Gerrard behind Rooney? I think Joe Cole should be in the side as well to be honest. But I’d let Rooney do what he likes. I would say: “Look, when we’re in the opponents’ half, you do what you like son. I don’t want to see you back in our half. I don’t want you tackling the winger and everyone clapping you, ‘cos that’s not your job. Your job is up there, but you go where you want.”
Geoff Hurst has said that you were the Rooney of the ’66 team… [Laughs] For God’s sake, I’m better looking than Rooney!
He went on to say that although you were unfortunately injured, England had a good enough squad to go on and win the tournament. If Rooney gets injured, do we still have good enough players to win in South Africa? No. But, having said that, you never know. You could have said that in ’66 when Geoff Hurst came in, so how do you know? If Rooney got injured and Defoe came in – Defoe’s a good goalscorer – who’s to say that he can’t do it in the World Cup for England? And this is the key to it: it’s a competition this, not a marathon. This is a little bit of a sprint. You’ve only got a few games over a relatively small period of time. We’re not talking about a 38-game Premier League season. You play the players and you hope they take their chance.
My own feeling about Rooney is that he is our outstanding player, there’s no question about that, but I think he’s at his best when you don’t tie him down – when you don’t give him a zone or a responsibility. Give him a free role. Put Crouch up there who can trouble defences with his height and, most crucially, with his goalscoring record and you go with that. For some reason, managers always hate goalscorers, I’ve never understood why [looks up and shakes his head].
Do you think it was the right decision for Theo Walcott not to go to South Africa? I think it was very unfortunate on Walcott that he went the first time, four years ago, when he should never have gone. And this time he was knocking on the door, but I think it was a pretty fair decision in the end.
As a former striker, surely you would prefer to play in an England side with Aaron Lennon, whose ball-playing ability is far superior? Yes, definitely. Walcott’s ability is just his pace – that’s all he’s got. Without being derogatory to the boy, he hasn’t improved over fouryears really. Aaron Lennon – yes.
But this is the problem the manager has got. Where do you go? He’s got 50 million people all telling him what to do and where to go – they’ve all got their opinions – but, in the end, he’s the only one who can decide. He might well say: “Heskey’s my man.” He’s the manager, that’s it.
Ledley King was fantastic last season for Spurs whilst Rio Ferdinand played only sporadically for Manchester United. Would you have had King in the starting 11 even if Ferdinand hadn’t injured himself? In all honesty I think that Rio was – well not fortunate to go as he’s obviously a good enough player to go – but I think that making him England captain was questionable.
Who would you have made captain then? Or do you feel that John Terry’s punishment was unjust? I don’t really feel that John Terry should have been relinquished of the captaincy. We’re talking about a situation which happens on a day-to-day basis and, again, it was media-driven. I don’t think it was a big enough sin for Terry to lose the captaincy. With respect to Ledley King, there’s only one issue: Is he good enough? Yes. Can he play six or seven matches on the trot? Probably not. There’s your problem: he’s got a problem.
John Terry called King a Rolls-Royce player… [Laughs] I don’t agree with that because a Rolls-Royce don’t break down!
Are there any similarities for you between Sir Alf Ramsey and Fabio Capello? Yes, there are a lot of similarities. They’ve the same sort of approach to things. Capello knows what he wants and he’s an honest enough guy, like Alf. There’s an enormous amount of similarity between the two. Whether there is a similarity between the players that played in ’66 and those who are going to play in South Africa, we’ll have to wait and see!
It is often reported that the current England players are scared of Capello. Was it the same with Sir Alf? No. I’m pleased that the modern footballer is slightly scared of their manager. But in Alf’s case, no. We were very respectful of him. But I don’t think anyone was afraid of him. In fact, we were all very fond of him.
Would Ramsey ever lose his rag with the players like we saw Capello do with the photographers at England’s training camp in South Africa? That’s another thing that Fabio Capello and Alf have in common. Alf hated the media – he hated the press. And it looks as though Capello does – well done to him! And to be fair, if anyone does wind you up – I’ve been around for a long time and I’ve lived in the public eye for a fair bit, I’ve had a lot of problems – it’s not the journalists, it’s the snappers. Who upsets everybody? It’s the photographers. Ban ‘em! Get rid of them!
Realistically, do you see England making it to the final? Realistically, we are looking at the quarter-finals. We’re a quarter-final side. But, having said that, so are a lot of the other teams. The competition moves into a different aspect: you’ve got the opening rounds – which includes the teams we know are not going to win the World Cup, even though they may have their moments – and then you get to the last eight. You’d expect England to be there along with your Germanys, Italys, Argentinas and your Spains. And then from there, anything can happen.
Moving on to next season, do you think Spurs will struggle to maintain their top four place? No. I think they’ll be in the top four. I think a lot depends on what Harry [Redknapp] has to play with next year in terms of finance.
He’s got one year left on his contract. Do you want to see him stay? Is he the man to keep taking Spurs forward? Yeah, I don’t think that’s a problem – it’s not a problem at all. It’ll be nice if he gets enough money to do what he wants to do. I don’t know who he wants, but he does. And if we can get them in, then he’s the man for me.
What about the other contenders for the top four? Well Liverpool have had a dip and they’ve got to make a comeback. They’ve got problems of their own. Manchester City are a bad side. I don’t see them as a good side. I think they’ve got a long, long way to go. Villa are probably more of a threat, because Martin O’Neill is a very good manager. Personally, I think that a side who will struggle to make it into the top four next season are the Arsenal; wouldn’t that be good!
Manchester City are a bad side? Manchester City are a bad side for the money they’ve paid and the players they’ve got. They finished fifth but more was expected of them. [Carlos] Tévez is a good player, though. I think it’s harsh to say that Spurs will struggle. It’s the other teams I’ve mentioned who will probably not make the top four.
Do you think, then, that Spurs have benefited from being a side which has been built up gradually, rather than having had a sudden influx of millions? Yes, definitely. At Manchester City I like Tévez but I think there are a few who are just there, well, not for Manchester City. Put it like that.
You won the Cup Winners’ Cup in ’63 with Tottenham. How do you think the current side will fare in the Champions League next season? Well, there aren’t many people who would say that Tottenham are gonna win it. And they’d be quite right! But it’s nice to see them in it, on the first rung of the ladder at least.
Is Joe Cole a player you’d like to see at White Hart Lane? I can’t see how he can go there. His wages at Chelsea are pretty phenomenal. I’m very disappointed to find out that he’s turned them down in view of the season that he’s had with all the injuries. I’m disappointed for Chelsea, and for him, that they couldn’t come to some sort of arrangement. Having said that, I don’t see how Tottenham can pay him those sorts of wages, without having to up everybody else’s wages too.
But I rate him, he’s a good player. I’d like to have seen him stay at Chelsea, personally. He’s gonna have to take a hell of a dip if he goes to Tottenham. What’s Tottenham’s top player on, £40,000 a week? [Laughs] More than what I was on anyway!
Do you think that Chelsea will retain the Premier League? You know, if I was to wish Chelsea anything – and I do – because I started my career with the club and I’ve got great affection for them, I wish them the Champions League. I’m not saying they’ll get it, but I’d like to see it happen! Ancelotti is obviously a good manager. With respect to the Premier League, it’s between them and Man United. You can’t look beyond either of those two.
You wouldn’t say one over the other then? No. I mean, with a few games to go last season it was still anybody's.
Finally Jimmy, it’s been said that Chelsea have an ageing squad. Do you think they need to make many signings in the summer? Maybe one or two. But then you’ve got Manchester United in the same boat. With Giggsy, Scholesy, Gary Neville and [Edwin] Van der Sar you can’t say that they’re a young side either. But I can’t see anybody getting close to either Manchester United or Chelsea.
Interview: June 2010. Jimmy Greaves was speaking at the launch of Burger King's 'Whopper Legend' competition.