In our exclusive interview, the former Manchester City defender looks back on his time at the club and discusses this season's title race.
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After being called up to England’s most recent squad, do you think Cole Palmer made the right decision leaving City for Chelsea?
Quite possibly. It’s a shame he’s left City because he’s a very good player, but the opportunities probably weren’t going to be there for him over a full season. He’s almost made himself Chelsea’s main man already. He’s done superbly – he would say himself that it wasn’t an easy decision, but it was the right one for him.
Can Cole Palmer make the England Euro 2024 squad?
I think so if you go on current form. He’s probably ahead of some of the other England players who started against Malta now. So as long as he keeps playing games and keeps improving Chelsea, I don’t see why he wouldn’t be involved with England at the Euros.
You were at City when the current owners first came into the club in 2008, and saw their first major signing Robinho join the club. What was that time at the club like?
The day the club was bought suddenly the biggest footballers in the world were being linked to us straight away. I just thought ‘this can’t be real’ – I don’t think many people really understood what was going on and the club got knocked back by some big names. They kept going and got Robinho in the final few hours of the window. To see him coming into the training ground, we were like ‘Jesus… this is a new level’. Instantly everyone started thinking City could win the league. They were saying this could be very strong. As a player it was amazing watching the direction of the club change like that.
Did you believe they would go on and have the success that they have had?
It was very difficult to envisage it. The previous owners wanted to spend money, but it didn’t materialise. But in the first transfer window we bid for everyone! We got the superstar in with Robinho, but then it was about being organised. The way the club started to build; you could see it was a professional thing. Now, the success doesn’t seem a great surprise because of the way they worked at it.
How good is Pep Guardiola, what are his outstanding attributes?
I just love the fact that they have so many world class players, and they’re all happy. Pep keeps the high-profile group extremely happy and you never hear anything else. He keeps them on the edge too. But for all his tactical attributes, the managerial aspect – helping to develop them as players – is crucial too.
Foden and Stones are key for England, how good are they and how key are they for both England and City?
Foden just needs the trust of his manager. He needs to be allowed to do what he does for the City. I’ve never seen a player with a better first touch, the way he glides up and down the pitch is just magnificent. He is one of the best players in football and needs to start every game for England, he can make a difference and just needs to be allowed the freedom to make a difference the way he wants to.
John Stones is equally as important. There aren’t many better leaders at the back in world football at the moment. He’s immense for City and England really miss him when he’s not there. He’s had a couple of injuries but hopefully he’ll get over them and we can see the best of him.
After a loss to Arsenal and drawing to Chelsea in their last 5 games, do you believe City are still favourites for the title?
I think so. It seems to get harder every time they win it, it seems to get a little bit more difficult to keep that edge there. The others are trying to catch them. De Bruyne’s injury and the sale of Gündoğan and Riyad Mahrez, were all big losses. But they’ve dealt with it. Can they continue to? But they always get better as the season goes on, and that comes down to the manager and his preparation. He keeps them on their toes. They’re playing well but it will be a lot closer this time – though there’s no reason to see why they won’t be there again.
Spurs, Arsenal, and Liverpool have all started strongly, who do you think are going to be City’s biggest challengers this year?
City and Liverpool will be up there. I’m still not sure about Arsenal and if they can compete in all the different competitions. Is their squad big enough? People have already spoken about their lack of a centre forward. They’ve created their own problems in the goalkeeping department, which now seems to be a big issue. Tottenham have shown they’re just not strong enough with a few injuries. I’m more inclined to go with Liverpool.