TSG had the occasion a little more than a week ago to speak with a fellow reporter across the pond, ESPN’s Rebecca Lowe.
Lowe is formerly of both Setanta Sport and the BBC, but now co-hosts ESPN’s Premiere League show. She’s an ardent Crystal Palace supporter and childhood acquaintance of Peter Crouch, who she says was known more for carrying a tennis racket around before playing soccer…or making ladies swoon.
Here’s an excerpt of what we spoke about.
TSG: If you ask American fans and they look at the England team, they see a little bit of infighting, challenges at goalie position per usual, and questions in the holding midfielder role.
What’s your take?
Rebecca Lowe: I think the interesting questions for England are in the midfield. We’ve got the Gareth Barry issue who some would say that his name is the second one on the team sheet after Wayne Rooney. He’s an unsung hero, you just don’t notice him…..possibly that means…some people say that makes a great player, especially in midfield.
He works hard and does the hard work. And he’s very very good at it.
However with the injury, his exact place on the team is still up in the air.
I think Fabio Capello desperately will try and get Gareth Barry playing in the World Cup.
As for the team, I think the general feeling amongst the team is good.
I’m a little worried that it’s been such a good build up.
I think sometimes with World Cups…sometimes a couple of defeats in the warm-up games or a couple of difficult things going on in camp can sometimes pull the squad together.
And although we had the John Terry saga, that’s kind of blown over and I thought it would.
And now everything seems to be fairly peaceful. I just wonder whether that’s a good thing.
Sometimes some infighting and some scandal; a seige mentality, perhaps, is good to pull a team together.
I don’t want them to travel to Africa thinking it’s a breeze.
TSG: That’s truly spoken like the English media!
I’m going to follow up on Gareth Barry for a second. There is no question he’s a good player, but there are some questions about whether he can play the cover defense that’s needed in the holding midfielder role and then help link the offense.
If you ask me, that’s a place where the States can attack the Lions the most. Thoughts?
RL: Well, that’s really interesting. So interesting to hear another point of view on the England team from outside. I don’t get to hear from other football writers in other countries all too often.
I would agree with you.
I think Gareth Barry is a top class player but he hasn’t had a ton of international experience.
Even if he does play, I don’t think you’re wrong. I wouldn’t say he’s world class.
I think he’s a good solid player, but I take the point, but that’s not greatest area of strength for England.
Michael Carrick’s a patchy player and I don’t have a lot of confidence in him and that’s who else we have.
I take on board what you’re thinking about Barry and I concede it. I wish we had Owen Hargreaves of course.
TSG: Always holding out hope for Hargreaves, like the Yanks were for Charlie Davies earlier this year.
How are the English viewing the Americans right now with a little more than 10 days left? What’s the general tenor towards the game on June 12th?
RL: I think there is a difference between the people in the game and the fans.
I think the general England soccer fans are taking it quite lightly because the United States don’t have a great pedigree in international football.
And they haven’t produced stars that tend to play on Champion’s League-winning teams, for example.
The one man who slightly has changed everyone is Landon Donovan with his successful stint at Everton.
He was fantastic and really started to make people stand up and take notice of the Americans.
Whereas the other players in the Premier League have been up to the standard, but none of have really been stars.
I though Landon Donovan was a star when he came over here. I think the fans are taking it more lightly than the people in the game.
I don’t think Fabio Capello is taking the American team lightly.
I think the progression the American team has made over the past ten years has been very rapid.
And those in the game know they are a dangerous, dangerous team that shouldn’t be underestimated. I don’t think the press and the team are underestimated.
TSG: You keyed on Landon Donovan, there seems to be an identity crisis around another player, Clint Dempsey. He has the skill but sometimes the charisma doesn’t show. However, when I talk to English media they bring him more maybe than the States. Talk about Clint Dempsey.
RL: Well I think with Clint Dempsey…It doesn’t surprise me he doesn’t have a huge profile in America.
He doesn’t come across as a star player, he comes across more as a “team” player. What I mean by that–he’s been a permanent fixture in the Premier League of course for Fulham–and they play more of a team game.
This season he’s slightly risen above what he’s done before.
Fullham’s had a fantastic year, but they’re not full of one-off stars. They are not a team like Liverpool that has Gerrard and Torres and then pretty much a bunch of standard players.
Clint has always scored about 10 goals a season. Which says to me he hasn’t shot out in front and said, “I’m the star.”
However, this season because Hodgson and Zamora have done such a great job. the team has been lifted so Clint has gone with that.
I’m not saying he’s a changed player or a star, but his profile has risen. But same with Bobby Zamora. If you asked anyone this time last year, no one would have said Bobby Zamora would have twenty goals or be in a Europa League final.
Clint Dempsey’s perceived as a good standard Premiere League player, but nothing more.
TSG: Okay interesting, so more on Donovan.
RL: When Landon Donovan came over here, he was a success for a number of reasons. His assists were fantastic; he was creative.
His corners were just brilliant. His set pieces were unbelievable. He scored goals. He was passionate.
His interviews–a whole different conversation here Matthew–the way he did interviews for our soccer shows won hearts.
In America, sports stars and television go together “like bread and butter.”
Over here, sports stars don’t want to talk on television.
He on the other hand was fantastic and charmed a lot of people. As a result more people watched him and his performances then backed it up.
After only having been here for four or five months, he would not be able to walk down the street in Liverpool and not be accosted massively for interviews or autographs.
But in America, most wouldn’t bat an eye lash if he was coming down the street.
He certainly made everyone starting thinking about the United States, especially coming over here right after the World Cup draw.
Here comes Landon now and runs rings around our defenders and people are like he’s a bit not so bad.
He possibly put England more on their guard.
TSG: Wow, serious affirmation there. Okay Jozy Altidore?
RL: I would say a player that England is particularly concerned about Jozy Altidore.
He played for Hull and Hull were woeful so that’s part of it, but he certainly hasn’t proven himself.
I would think he’s someone most look at say “Oh look he played for Hull,” but not “Oh gosh, he’s good.”
The perception of Altidore is no where near the perception of Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey.
TSG: And Tim Howard? Is he looked at as World Class there or Robert Green is better?
RL: Most England fans would have Tim Howard in their England squad, possibly at number one, if not for number two for sure.
He’s certainly regarded as a top quality keeper. A really good keeper.
I personally think he’s better than Robert Green. I might have David James..but if I could have Tim Howard for his number two.
He’s a serious goalkeeper and has been doing it for a long time.
And if came down to a penalty, people would not be surprised if he’d save it. He, Donovan ad Dempsey are seen as top quality.
TSG: Well, the same can’t be said for Jonathan Spector. Who was recently voted the worst player by a fan group for West Ham.
RL: See, I think Jonathan Spector has had a quiet good career here. First at Charlton and now at West Ham. I think he’s done quite well.
He may be viewed as weak link considering who he’s playing, but he’s not bad.
But Jonathan Spector would never make the England squad in a million years either.
TSG: Okay, back to the England team. What exactly is David Beckham’s role?
RL: That’s a very good questions and it’s a little bit muddy right now.
In this country right now, we’re fully obsessed with this World Cup 2010, but we’re also full obsessed with winning the World Cup 2018.
David Beckham turns grown men into “wobbling jennies.”
He’s an unbelievable ambassador for football and England in general. He’s a fantastic player and will be missed on the pitch.
But I think his role will be general staff for the squad.
He’ll probably talk to the press a lot and take the pressure off the team and Fabio Capello.
He’s so England and if he wasn’t there fans would be disappointed because he’s such a legend.
TSG: Great answer because we had no idea what he was doing besides taking the heat of those playing.
Ok, England’s bigger worry Ferdinand’s injury or King’s dicey health issues.
(Note: This interview was taped before Ferdinand’s World Cup-ending injury.)
RL: Good question. God, that’s a tough one.
I actually would not be worried if Ferdinand didn’t pay at the World Cup. Not only has he been injured all year. but when he has played he has not looked like the Rio Ferdinand of the last 10 years, or even 5 years.
When he has played he hasn’t been in form.
I don’t know if you can find your form swiftly and play your heart out when you’ve been injured all year.
Rio Ferdinand used to be one of England’s best defenders, but he’s certainly not anymore.
As for Ledley King, I’m not worried, and I don’t think most are, about his fitness.
Towards the end of the domestic season he played two games a week. It’s not a new thing for him and I think he knows how to manage it.
TSG: Bigger problem or challenge for the Three Lions? Finding who pairs Wayne Rooney or Glen Johnson straying too far up the pitch?
RL: Um, Glen Johnson straying too far off the pitch….which is why I think Capello reached out to Jamie Carragher who I think will see some time at right back. He’s certainly a good option to bring as Johnson is a liability.
In terms of Wayne Rooney up front, I don’t think that’s a major issue because he can do it alone and proved that for Manchester United this year.
There are more pressing issues for and Rooney will carry the top himself if he has to.
TSG: So you’re thinking Rooney as a lone striker? (RL: Yeah.) So no Defoe, Heskey or Crouch?
RL: I think he’s gone off Heskey. I think he might start with Crouch and Rooney, but not side-by-side. Capello might drop one back into the hole.
If he’s going to start with a pairing, I think it will be Crouch who’s excellent.
I don’t think it will be Defoe at all.
TSG: It must be frustrating in terms of the potential of Jermain Defoe up top. He’s lights-out in the Premiership, but he just can’t get it done internationally.
RL: I agree. It’s very frustrating. He’s, like you say, an immense talent domestically, but he’s got a lot to prove for England.
Well, he definitely won’t start, but he might used as a sub to change things around.
I do think whoever starts with Wayne Rooney, it’s not a major problem. Even if it’s Heskey.
TSG: Okay, Rebecca, lets end with a question about you, if you don’t mind….specifically aboout your gender and whether that plays a part in attaining interviews or just doing your job? If you wouldn’t mind lending your perspective….
RL: There is not getting away from the fact that I’m a woman.
TSG: No kidding.
RL: <Laughs>. I think you have to gain respect. Rightly or wrongly everyone’s expects a man immediately in my role, because they’re a man and it’s generally presumed that a man knows what he is talking about when it comes football.
If a man makes a mistake, he makes a mistake. Whereas if a woman makes mistake it’s because she doesn’t know enough about what she is talking about.
So I am always open to a lot of criticism, which makes the job a high pressure one. I I live with the fear of making a mistake that will undo all the good work that I’ve done in the past seven years of my career.
I approach interviews differently than men and I can ask, sometimes, the tougher questions because I can phrase it softer than a man does.
Talking to footballers and, if you’re woman and phrase something in a softer or kinder way, you can get a better answer. Doesn’t always happen but it works sometimes.
I do have certain people who will never respect me, despite interviewing them countless times. I know they don’t have respect for me and that can get frustrating from time to time.
There are good sides and bad sides, but I don’t have to do this job. No one is forcing me to do it, but I do it and I enjoy it.
TSG: Rebecca, thanks for your time. Best of luck to England in the World Cup except on June 12th.
RL: Best of luck to the United States and likewise.