In our exclusive interview, the former Premier League goalkeeper reacts to the Tottenham v Liverpool VAR controversy and reflects on the season so far.
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How would you reflect on Tottenham’s 2-1 win over Liverpool at the weekend?
I thought the referee ruined a really entertaining game.
For me, the sending off on Curtis Jones was not a sending off. It looked horrible, but you also have to have some common sense on how the foot got in that position. He actually went to toe poke the ball and rolled over it. I’m not saying it didn’t hurt Bissouma, but I don’t think it was a red card.
If you freeze-framed it and sent it to 100 refs, they would all say red card, but when you look at how it occurred, it just isn’t. Jones couldn’t even believe he’d got a yellow card, you could see from his reaction.
I thought the game was really entertaining at 11 v 11. Liverpool were the better side and creating more chances at that point, but Spurs were still in it. I actually thought even with 10 men, Liverpool were still shading it, to be honest.
That’s a reflection of what Jurgen Klopp has done to restructure the team, and they’re firing on all cylinders. They’re desperately unlucky that they didn’t get a point out of it, but they will be absolutely delighted with how they’ve started off the season, and they should be.
The major talking point from the game was VAR incorrectly ruling out Luis Diaz’s goal, how do you think they got that decision so wrong?
Refereeing is a difficult thing. They’re human beings and they’re gonna make mistakes. My criticism is not personal. It was a shame that it happened, but referees have so much pressure on them. It’s not an easy job.
I would say, if you’re sitting with four others in the VAR room, it should be far easier to get the call right. So, you do have to wonder what the conversations were in that room for that to happen.
What needs to be done to improve the officiating in England?
In England, more so than any other country, there’s always been a level of common sense associated with refereeing decisions. For years it was the league that allowed the most physical play.
I think they’re now getting directives to be a little bit more consistent across the board, but there’s still an element of Premier League referees wanting to use common sense.
You look at the tackle on Bissouma, that’s given a red card, but then Matt Turner’s tackle against Brentford isn’t even given as a penalty, probably because it was a goalkeeper and it was in the box. There’s this fine line between common sense and what they’re being directed to do.
I’ve always enjoyed the refereeing in England more so than anywhere else in the world, I really have. But it’s not an easy job.
Do you think VAR has improved or worsened the game?
I think it’s improved the game. I like VAR.
One of the big concerns at first was everybody thinking that it would pause the game too much, and it doesn’t. If you think about Brentford’s goal yesterday, it actually brought a bit of excitement, waiting to see if it was a goal or not.
I think overall it’s a good thing. The frustrating part is when there’s individuals sitting in a room that have no emotion towards the game, no outside influence, and they’re still getting decisions wrong. That’s what frustrates people the most.
Ange Postecoglou has quickly become a fan favourite at Tottenham, how impressed have you been with him?
He’s made a tremendous impact.
Daniel Levy gave an interview recently at the fan forum, saying that he got the Mourinho and Conte hires wrong. Mourinho and Conte have been two of the best managers in world football, but they didn’t fit Tottenham. Postecoglou fits Tottenham. He fits the way they want to see football being played. So, I thought that was very honest.
They way they’re playing, to go from where they were last year, losing Harry Kane — Liverpool and Man City are the two best teams in in the Premier League right now, but Tottenham are already not far behind that.
It’s been a tremendous start under Postecoglou.
James Maddison has had a positive start to the season, how well do you think he has settled in at Spurs?
I think we all know that he’s a good player. What I’ve liked the most from him is that he already looks like a leader of the team. That’s not something that’s easy to do when you walk into a new changing room, but he already looks like one of the leaders in that team.
When you’re bringing in a player in such an influential position, that’s exactly what you want.
What have you made of Yves Bissouma’s performances this season? Why do you think he struggled under Conte?
That’s a great question on why it didn’t work with Conte because Conte is a more defensive manager, and Bissouma has that defensive steel.
I thought he was tremendous at Brighton before they bought him, so that one baffles me a little bit, but we’re now seeing why Tottenham bought him from Brighton in the first place. I have a feeling we’re now going to see him even blossom into an even bigger player under Postecoglou.
He and Maddison have been the two that have impressed me the most, along with Micky Van de Ven.
Guglielmo Vicario has also made an impressive start at Spurs, what are your thoughts on what you’ve seen from him?
He’s had a really good start to the season. To get a North London Derby under his belt and play well in it is going to be great for his confidence.
But when it comes down to goalkeepers, we need a larger sample size. Goalkeeping is hard, particularly in the Premier League, so we’ll have to wait until he’s played 15, 20 games – more tough away matches, games when the weather turns – to make more of a judgement.
But so far, so good. Life at Spurs has started really well for him.
Where do you think Tottenham need to strengthen to continue to their improvement under Postecoglou?
I think they still need a couple more goals from someone else up front. If they can start getting that out of Richarlison then they already have it in the squad. But when you get to the Christmas period and the FA Cup starts, and you have a lot of tricky games with regards to recovery, sometimes you won’t be at your very best and you just need a goalscorer.
When you look back at the great teams of the past, they all had a player like that to drag them through those tough matches. Son is scoring, which is great for them, but I think they need someone else up front.
Then, if you’re thinking about squad depth and rotation, possibly another centre-back. Van de Ven and Romero are performing really well, but if an injury happens, you’re going to need someone who is almost as good.
Liverpool have made a strong start to the season, do you see them as title contenders?
Yes. I said so before the season started and I’ll say it again, Liverpool are title contenders this season.
Where would you rank Mohamed Salah among the great Premier League players?
He’s definitely up there. I think that some people might not put him up there because of his time at Chelsea, but that was a different time in his career. He went away and then came back, and he’s been superb.
To be thought of as a Premier League great, you have to have longevity. You have to be doing it all the time. But you also have to be one of the players who forces opponents to adapt against you because of how great you are, and he ticks all those boxes.
You can’t just go into a game against Liverpool and think you’re going to able to deal with him. You have to take special notice to what his qualities are.
Could you see Salah leaving for Saudi Arabia at some point?
I wouldn’t rule anything like that out. You have to keep in mind that all players at all clubs age out at some stage, and age doesn’t matter as much in Saudi Arabia at this moment in time.
There will come a time for him to go, and Jurgen Klopp and the staff will know when that is, so will the board with regards to the finances attached to it as well.
So, I would not be surprised to see that happening in the future at all.
What have you made of the signing of Dominik Szoboszlai?
He looks really good. Sometimes, you have to reserve judgement until they play because the game’s so fast, especially when you play in the central areas in the Premier League, and he’s adapted really well.
His range of passing is tremendous, and his technique on striking the ball, crossing the ball, his weight of pass, is very impressive.
What I like to see from midfielders, especially when they come into the Premier League, is how they deal with the overall pace of the game and also the aggression that some of the other teams have, and he’s adapted to both.