Richard Lenton: Q&A
Hi Richard, it's going to get really busy for you soon we hear. What do you think it'll be like covering the 2014 FIFA World Cup on SingTel Mio TV?
It’ll be the first time I’ve hosted World Cup football so I couldn’t be more excited. I genuinely can’t wait. My first experience of watching any kind of football was as a wide-eyed seven-year-old in 1982, when I’d sit on my grandma’s knee with a can of pop and a bag of sweets watching Brazil. I was absolutely mesmerized by Zico, Eder, Socrates et al. A crying shame they didn’t win it. I’ve watched every World Cup since, but that’s still the best team I’ve ever seen.
You'll be backed up by the likes of presenters Andy Penders and Jamie Yeo, as well as experts Steve Kean, Paul Parker, Gerry Armstrong and Alistair Edwards. What can we expect from such a stellar cast in June?
An incredible depth of knowledge and range of opinions on the punditry side for sure, and I’m looking forward to welcoming Jamie and Andy onto the hosting team. I’ve met Gerry socially and he knows all about emerging footballing talents from every corner of the globe – if a young eskimo started showing some promise in the deepest, darkest part of the Arctic circle, he’d know about him. I know Parks very well from having worked with him over the last three years, and I’m looking forward to working with all the other new faces.
So much to look forward to, and we've only just finished watching you cover an exciting year of English Premier League football. How did this year's campaign stand up to previous seasons and what was your most enjoyable moment?
It’s been the most exciting season on record for me, if you take everything into account. Four genuine title contenders and 11 teams still immersed in the relegation fight with just a couple of weeks of the campaign remaining. Brilliant. Shame the last day was a bit of a damp squib, but you can’t have everything! I don’t follow a Premier League team but I’ve really enjoyed Liverpool’s renaissance, and the match with Manchester City in April had everything. What an advert for the EPL.
I've been told you're something of a football neutral, that you don't really support any one club team. Is that true and why?
I started life as a Doncaster Rovers supporter, but made an economic decision to switch to Scunthorpe United when I was 11 – my best mate’s dad was chief executive so I got in for free. I then left that area and realized I had absolutely zero affinity to Scunthorpe, but couldn’t go back to supporting Doncaster after my earlier betrayal, so I became a football fan without portfolio. Very sad, but it means I can just enjoy the EPL without losing any sleep over it, unlike many fans here!
Your hometown club is Brighton and Hove Albion though. What do you think of their rumoured link to recently sacked Tottenham manager Tim Sherwood. Is he the right man for the job?
Brighton is a club geared up for success and it’s a real shame that Gus Poyet wasn’t allowed to see it through. The new stadium is amazing and there’s a real desire in the city to see the club become a Premier League side. I’m not sure about Sherwood. The Championship is a tough division to get out of and he’s got pretty much no experience of that level. Has he learnt enough about management from just a few months as the hired hand at Spurs? He seemed to be obsessed with funny, controversial soundbites and getting his mates in the press to write nice things about him.
Louis Van Gaal is a man who's secured his short-term future though. What do you make of the new Manchester United manager?
When David Moyes was axed, I immediately thought that Jurgen Klopp would get the job – a bright young manager who may have taken Borussia Dortmund as far as he can. However, I can see why they’ve gone for a safe pair of hands in Van Gaal. His incredible success with Ajax was quite some time ago, but the players he brought through at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, and managing to guide AZ Alkmaar to the Dutch League title a few seasons ago demonstrates that he’s still a top class coach. He’s got unwavering self-belief as well, so I’m sure he’ll put the old swagger back into United.
Ryan Giggs - studious apprentice and manager-in-waiting or potential stumbling block and unwanted hindrance for Van Gaal?
No-one knows how that particular relationship will work out. Your number two is your ‘good guy’ if you like, a link between the players and the manager. In theory, knowing the players as well as he does should be a good thing given the amount of respect he’s afforded in the United camp. However, the two men still need to bond on a personal level, and Van Gaal needs to be able to respect Giggs’s abilities as a coach and as a number two or he could end up being marginalized by the new man. His playing abilities were unquestionable, but whether he can cut it in his new role remains to be seen.”
Back to Brazil this June though, which group should fans be watching closely in your opinion?
There are a few so called groups of death, but I’ve always had a massive soft spot for Ghana, so it’ll be interesting to see how they get on against Germany, Portugal and USA in Group G. I coached football in Ghana back in 2002 and I couldn’t believe how good the kids were. Frightening. At the time I was playing a decent standard of football back in the UK, but I couldn’t get near them. And these lads were 14! It’s about time all that promise bore fruit at a major tournament, so hopefully they’ll ruffle a few feathers and somehow sneak into the knockout stages.
Who will you be cheering on in this edition of the World Cup? England? Or will it be an Asian team?
Obviously I’d like England to do well, but for me I just want to see Roy Hodgson pick a side that will have a go. Hopefully he’ll follow the Liverpool blueprint with Gerrard, Henderson and Lallana (or Barkley) in midfield with Sturridge, Sterling and Rooney up top. Another team I’d love to see do well is Japan. Their whole coaching system was revolutionized 30+ years ago and they are technically outstanding. I still play in the Cosmo League and ESPZEN Midweek League here in Singapore, and the Japanese sides are fantastic, and it all dates back to that coaching revolution years ago. The national team should really be challenging for major honours.
Which team are you tipping to make it all the way to the end?
The South American sides have to be favourites when you consider that no European team has won on that continent. I’d be surprised if neither Argentina or Brazil make the final.
Care to make any predictions as to which players we'll be talking about next month? Is there someone you think will take the competition by storm?
It would be great to see a Sterling or a Lallana or a Barkley become a real breakout star, but my man to watch is James Rodriguez of Colombia. We cover French football on Mio TV, and every time I watch him in action for Monaco I’m impressed. He could have a big tournament.
And finally, what are the chances of Singapore making a major international football tournament anytime soon?
I would genuinely love to see it. The vast majority of people will tell you that it won’t happen any time soon, but who’s to say there’s not a golden generation waiting in the wings here in Singapore?
Richard Lenton will be hosting SingTel Mio TV's World Cup coverage this June, don't forget to tune in then!