Jan Mølby: Football has become a little more predictable

Nigel Chin sits down with former Liverpool icon Jan Molby to discuss his Liverpool career, the ongoing World Cup and where football is headed...

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Former AFC Ajax and Liverpool FC midfielder Jan Mølby was in town as part of Furniture and Electronics retailer Courts Singapore's year-long 40th anniversary celebrations, and just as you would expect, FourFourTwo popped down for a chat that somehow turned into an extensive interview.

Once loved dearly by the Anfield support, Mølby scored 62 goals (an astonishing 44 which had come from penalties) for the Reds, including a wonderful strike against Manchester United in 1985.

We'd been told that we would be allowed no more than 10 minutes with the ex-Danish international, but having turned up early to find his earlier interviewer had gone missing, we were happy to jump right in and pick his brain about all things football.

Now a pundit for UK Eurosport, Mølby shared several interesting views on the ongoing World Cup, the highs and lows of his 12-year Liverpool career and the reason why a transfer deal to Barcelona fell through, as well as tipping a Liverpool youngster for a breakout year this upcoming season.

The World Cup is finally underway after a long wait. As a pundit yourself, what has been the most pleasing so far after the first few matches?

I think the one thing that pleased me more than anything is the amount of goals that has been scored. I think we’ve had 15 goals in the first four games. It’s always a worry isn’t it; in big tournaments teams become careful because of the pressure. But we’ve had attacking football, and a lot of goals and I think that’s more pleasing than anything.

On the other hand, there's been a bit of talk about the standard of refereeing, hasn't there?

The problem that FIFA is having and which the people are talking about is corrupt refereeing. I don’t think the referees are corrupt but they have just been useless. They have been. I think the thing with the Brazil game is that you can discuss whether or not it’s a penalty, a possible red card for Neymar, and the Croatia goal that was disallowed. The problem with all this is that they favoured one team didn’t they? It all went for Brazil. It’s a bit unfortunate for the Mexican goals with the offside, so it hasn’t been a great start for the officials but in terms of the football, it has been a good start.

What are your thoughts about the Asian teams in this year’s edition of the World Cup?

I feel that Japan are the strongest out of the four Asian teams. But I do think that the likes of Japan, South Korea, Australia are recognized teams that belong at the World Cup level.  But obviously Australia is not as strong as they used to be, although against Chile they did manage to turn the game around and almost got a point. South Korea has been great in previous editions, and you’ve got Iran who has got a good coach but it’s still early for them to present a strong challenge. So I expect Japan should be the Asia’s strongest chance this year.

Photo: Weixiang Lim

Who are your favourites to lift the World Cup in July then?

Argentina. As I said before about the goals, you need the ability to score, and Argentina has it. There’s Sergio Aguero, Lionel Messi, Higuain, Ezequiel Lavezzi as well. They’ve got a lot of good attacking players and I think that’s got to be important. You all talk about the ability not to concede goals but this is the World Cup and you need to be able to score goals, which Argentina has. Does Brazil have the same ability? Neymar could probably score goals but Fred? I’m not too sure. I'd rather have Argentina’s attackers than any other teams’. Yeah, they might not be defensively as sound, but if we talk about this, take a look Liverpool who has done well this season. Liverpool finished second in the Premier League because of their ability to score goals. And I think football evolves all the time. Now it’s about something else, it’s about the ability to create and score goals. Five years ago football was about possession. Now it has changed again. Now teams are quite happy not to have the ball when they do have the ball. They got to do something isn’t it? Holland is the perfect example of that. They were happy for Spain to have the ball, but when they get the ball they knew exactly what to do.  It’ll been interesting.

Do you agree with the general consensus that Belgium has the ability to shock everyone in Brazil?

I think it’s getting a bit too predictable because everyone is talking about their players.  They play in all the big clubs in Europe, and they have all the talents. But can they get the balance right?  I don’t know and also it’s been awhile since they have been at the World Cup, so I’m not too sure.  I think there will be a lot of teams that will do better than Belgium.

But with so many young talents, won’t you agree that the future is very bright for them?

Belgium will only get better. When you talk about Romelu Lukaku, Christian Benteke, Thibaut Courtois, and Eden Hazard, they are all fantastic young players. They will only get better. But maybe this is just too soon, and also the fact that this World Cup is in South America might not suit them. Maybe the next World Cup that will be in Europe will suit them better.

Enough of the World Cup then. Let’s talk about your Liverpool career. Having spent 12 long years with the Reds, what was your highest and lowest point?

My highest point was my first FA Cup final. Maybe the FA Cup final isn’t big anymore but it used to be when I played it was a big thing. The first one I played was in 1986, when we beat Everton 3-1. As a low, again in the FA Cup in 88’ when we lost to Wimbledon and in 89’ when we lost the league title to Arsenal. These are real highs and lows in football and part of it is because it’s sports. It’s so unpredictable and we don’t know what’s gonna happen next.

You mentioned that the FA Cup is no longer as big as it was. How has the modern game evolved from your time, Jan?

Everything is better. The pitch is better, the balls are better, the coaching is better, the way the players live are better, the players are bigger, stronger and fitter. Is it as entertaining? I don’t know. The romance has gone a little bit. It’s a little bit predictable. That we don’t get in the World Cup now. 20 years ago you can’t wait to see teams from the Africa play in the World Cup because they bring something different. Today, everybody knows all the players, everybody knows everything. It’s become a little more predictable, but I think the better players, are probably better from my time. Hence, we won’t come away from this World Cup with a new world star, because the stars of this World Cup will be Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar. We know it’s going to be Van Persie, we know who the big stars are going to be. Nobody is going to come from nowhere and go ‘bang here’s a new star’, that’s not going happen. No, there won’t be anyone like Karel Porborsky. We are not going to have these things anymore, which are no longer possible.  But I still think that the product is good. The game is what the fans want.The high tempo and high energy. It is what people want because it’s how we live our lives. We don’t like to wait. We want instant gratification.

Photo: Weixiang Lim

And of course, you had a transfer to Barcelona in 1990 all set and done, only for it to fall through at the very last minute. Was it particularly regretful for you to have never represent the Catalan giants?

I don’t know. At the time I was excited about Barcelona because the coach was Johan Cryuff, whom I played with when I was at Ajax. And Johan Cryuff is not like a normal teammate because Johan Cryuff is Johan Cryuff.  He’s almost bigger than the game. Of course I remember playing with Johan Cryuff, but I didn’t think Johan Cryuff remembers playing with Jan Molby.  So in 1990 when he came as a coach and wanted to buy me, that was the big story that Cryuff made. Not Barcelona, but Cryuff. Cryuff remembers me, and Cryuff wants to buy me.  But when I spoke to him he did say ‘we don’t have any money’, he said Barcelona has no money. But he did say ‘I’m Johan Cryuff and when I ask for money to buy you, I’ll get it’ but he didn’t. The Barcelona board told him that they have no money and he had to promote from the Barcelona B team instead and of course the guy who made his debut for Barcelona instead of me in 1990 is Pep Guardiola. I was supposed to have a four year contract, and if you looked at those four years, they won 4 Spanish titles; they won the European cup at Wembley; so maybe that’s a regret. But in the end I played for Liverpool for 12 years, and it was amazing. Liverpool is an equally big club, so I have no real regrets. I think if I played for Coventry City and I had the chance to go to Barcelona but didn’t then it will be a big regret but I was already playing for one of the biggest club in the world with Liverpool.

Liverpool surprised many in the season just past by finishing second, and were unlucky not to win the title. Where do you see them finishing in the upcoming season?

I see them finishing anywhere in the top five.  I think Liverpool can go win the title but I also think they can finish fifth. I think it’ll be a strong challenge again next year with the same four teams this year plus Manchester United. Manchester United has to come back. They have a new coach, who will invest a lot of money into buying players for the team. I think Liverpool can produce similar football that’s exciting, though at times a little bit reckless, but it’s good to watch. As for the defence department, I think Liverpool was prepared to take those chances. At times they were so exposed when defending because they were so keen on attack, attack, and attack. So I expect an entertaining season again. 

What about the new signing Rickie Lambert? Do you feel he will fit in nicely, or will he cause disruption to the rotation already present at Anfield?

No, I think Rickie Lambert will fully understand that he’s third choice striker at Liverpool. It’s Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and then Rickie Lambert. But he will get plenty of games to play, plus he’s a bit different. The strength of Liverpool attacking players at the moment is pace, but Lambert’s strengths are different. It’s his ability to see things and play the right pass at the right time so I think he will fit in ultimately. He is obviously not gonna be the future because he’s already 32 but I like him. I think in an ideal world Brendan Rodgers wants to buy players with good pace, but if he can’t get players with pace then he will want to buy intelligent footballers and Lambert is an intelligent footballer.

Speaking of Lambert being in the thirties, Captain Steven Gerrard is also already in his thirties. But the way he has re-invented himself as a deep lying midfielder, did you see that coming?

No, I never saw Gerrard playing in the role he’s now playing. I always thought Gerrard would be playing further back, but I never expected him to be playing in the role he’s playing now which is a quarter back like Pirlo.  I never thought that he could do that. I thought maybe he could play as a defensive midfielder a bit more like an action man, but he’s really understood the current role and I think it’s down to the manager selling him on it. He sold the role to Gerrard and explained to him that this is how he needs to play and he has enjoyed it. He’s had a super season. And because of that, he can easily play on for two or three more years, which is good news if you are a Liverpool fan.

One last question, Jan. Which young player do you see having a breakthrough season like the one Daniel Sturridge had in Liverpool?

Obviously now everyone knows about all the young players because we can watch them on television all the time, but I think Jordan Ibe is ready. He’s strong, and he’s well suited to play the way Liverpool wants to play. The manager believes in him, athough I don’t think he has as much natural talent as Raheem Sterling. Sterling has slowly proven that he’s going to be a ‘one of a kind’ type of player, but I think Ibe has enough in him to become a major player.  I like his prospects, and I think Brendan Rodgers really likes him.