TSG had the honor once again of speaking with the absolutely wonderful and INCREDIBLY knowledgeable Rebecca Lowe. She had just finished doing her show for ESPN UK and we caught her while she was in a “football mind.”
We touched on some of the topics we discussed in our first interview and discussed the future of English football.
Here is an excerpt of what we talked about.
TSG: A rather large topic a couple of weeks ago was the whole Rooney saga. Do you think it was a carefully spun ploy or was it more of a desperate move by United and Ferguson to keep Rooney happy?
Rebecca Lowe: It’s so difficult to really know. I think, if you’re going to be skeptical and cynical and look at it with those eyes, you could say, similar to Cristiano Ronaldo and Sir Alex Ferguson, they made a pact which said, “Give me one year and then you can go.” I wonder if giving Rooney a whopping five-year contract might lead to them getting a huge sum for him next summer and allowing him to go then. I don’t think that’s beyond the realm of possibility at all.
I think it was a very strange episode. I don’t think that Rooney was handled very well in terms of his PR. I don’t think the statements he put out were very wise. There are United fans who will not forgive as easily as Rooney is hoping they will. There are still rumors that there are players who haven’t forgiven him.
I’ve talked to Man United players and they have assured me (and I suppose they would) that what is done is done and it was all over the top and newspaper driven and everything is fine. Whether or not that is true, I don’t know. I know that a lot of fans are not happy and it will be very interesting to see when he comes back to play for United. Lets put it this way: I’m not sure he will see out his 5 year deal.
TSG: Do these very public contract negotiations and demands for money create a jealously among the players which effect their relationships?
RL: I obviously don’t know that for sure, but I think if you put yourself in that position, and if you’re in a normal office or in any normal job and that was going on, AND then you learnt that that person (who by the way was not playing very well) was being
rewarded with a whopping great contract, having just come out and said he doesn’t really fancy the club nor does he want to stay anymore, I don’t see how you can get over that so quickly. In a way, I think it has opened the doors for other players to ask for more money. Like John O’Shea who reportedly might be getting a new contract around 100,000 pounds a week. I think it’s going push a lot of players and their agents forward to push for more money from United. I don’t know, I’m not in that dressing room, but there are stories that come out and say that the players are not happy, BUT they have assured me that it is all forgotten. Time will tell what happens and maybe some day someone will write a book which will tell us the truth.
TSG: I wonder if this sets a bad precedent for United because everyone is going to ask for more and at some point they are going to have to say no.
RL: Yes indeed. John O’ Shea is a versatility [utility] player, and appears to be on the verge of getting a four-year contract of something like 100 or 120 a week which is surprising. That and the knowledge that Rooney is getting a quarter of million a week will give the other players and their agents a bargaining tool to use, and United cannot afford it, end of story.
They just can’t afford it which is why, if they have done the deal with Rooney in order to get a massive sum for him next summer, they might not have realized what it is going to do to the rest of the players in terms of coming forward. United just don’t have the money to give those sort of wages. They’re are not Man City.
TSG: Gareth Bale has been playing very well since last spring, but his recent performances against Inter Milan have propelled him into the realm of the best, and is garnering interest from the top clubs. Is he for real or is this just a flash in the pan?
RL: I think this is for real, no doubt this is for real. You just can’t do what he did against Inter Milan and not be for real. It’s not just what he did against Inter, but at the end of last season, I think they played Chelsea and won and he scored or set up a goal, but he was just magnificent and Harry Redknapp came out afterwards and said what more can you say about this kid. He has been so consistent and Inter Milan was him showing that he can play against the very best.
He had a bad run of injuries and I don’t think he had a great belief as a youngster, and didn’t keep on the right track at times in terms of his confidence because his injuries were so bad. He also had bad luck because when you start off playing 24 games without your team winning it effects you. Finally, they may have been up 5-nil or 4-nil against Burnely or someone, and Redknapp said, right, it’s safe to put Bale on and we are going to win this game [and they did].
Psychology is a massive part of football and according to all reports and to Harry Redknapp himself, the losing streak was playing on his [Bale’s] mind massively, and it is a great thing for the media to grab hold on to. I was using it, my colleagues were using it, as it was an interesting fact. Gareth Bale would listen to it and he didn’t need to listen to it, and that game freed him up. The things that set him apart. One is his engine. The guy runs about 20 miles a game and he never tires and in the 95th minute he’s running just as hard and as quick as he is in the first.
Not only does he have amazing stamina, but he is very quick. He was best friends with Theo Walcott growing up in Southampton and apparently Walcott is a little bit quicker but not that much. He’s quite speedy but it’s his finishing that sets him apart. It’s outstanding.
Secondly, he is living his life off the field correctly. He doesn’t drink, he doesn’t go out clubbing and he doesn’t get himself on the front pages of newspapers. He’s a very down-to-earth guy and I’ve been lucky enough to interview him, and he’s incredibly polite and humble, and so far has kept himself on the straight and narrow. As we’ve seen from Andy Carroll at Newcastle at the moment, it doesn’t help when you’re on the front pages of the newspapers.
Gareth Bale has enough good people around him like Harry Redknapp and his parents which makes me think he’ll carry on like this and go on from strength to strength. I think he’s one of the most exciting players that has come out of the Premier League in the last five years.
TSG: When Spurs came out here for their pre-season tour, I went down to San Jose to check them out and it was finishing that stuck out the most to me. He started off as left back but now has a more prominent midfield role.
RL: Yeah. Up until the end of last season he was been playing at left back and they realized he was getting forward so much. He’s not a bad defender, but he is a much better attacker and Redknapp saw that he was being wasted back there, and that is why he’s playing in the left of midfield which absolutely works as he is dictating games. I think it helps that he is playing alongside players at Tottenham that maybe in the past few years haven’t had the quality that they have now. Rafael Van de Vaart who is of the same level. To be playing alongside someone with that sort of football brain is only going to breed more success, and the more good players Bale plays with, the better he will get himself.
TSG: Stuart Holden, Clint Dempsey and Maurice Edu are all playing well for their respective clubs, whether it be in the EPL or SPL. They’re getting on the score sheet, setting up goals and in Holden’s case doing a good job of controlling the midfield. Is the English public surprised that the U.S. outfield players can have an impact on their clubs?
RL: No. Less and less surprise as the years go by to be honest. We can’t deny that the World Cup was a disaster for England against America. I think leading into that World Cup a lot of the general public in this country probably saw the USA as a country that doesn’t really play football, so that will probably be an easy victory. But it didn’t work out that way and I think that made quite a few people sit up and take note. Obviously you got the fans of the clubs where the likes of Clint Dempsey and Stuart Holden are who know them.
Dempsey has been a regular for a long time and is doing even better now (after coming off some injury problems) and really coming into form by scoring a couple of goals last weekend. Certainly within the game people say that American players can be as good as anyone else, but with the fans it is now beginning to get there.
It really doesn’t help that American goalkeepers have been so prominent because I think that was the general perception: that Americans just have good goalkeepers. But now, especially with Landon Donovan, when he was at Everton it pushed that whole situation forward because he made a serious impact on the Premier league; he was really good and then of course came the World Cup.
He probably is recognized much more in Liverpool than he is in LA, and I think it’s a shame he cannot make it a permanent deal because he was great for the Premier league. Not only was he so good and he proved a lot of people wrong, because they thought since he came from the Galaxy he wasn’t going to be very good in the Premier League, but he was and he did it brilliantly. As you know, media and sports personalities in America are so excellent in front of camera and so at ease because they have to do it so much and his interviews were such a joy to watch. It’s a great shame he hasn’t been able to come over here. I think on whole people are starting to notice and respect the U.S. outfield players.
TSG: People here were very happy with how the USMNT played and were clearly disappointed when they exited the World Cup. They fell in love with the heart and passion with which their team played. We kept expecting the same verve and bite from the English squad, but they were lacking. Was there a general malaise in the camp? Did the players not buy into Fabio Capello’s plan? We never got a full explanation describing why England did so poorly.
RL: It was a very, very bizarre summer for English football fans. No one could understand then and no one really understands what happened, even now. No player has yet offered an explanation of what happened. I think it was a combination of the little things that weren’t quite well thought out. Their base was tucked away up in Rustenberg and the players were bored. Rightly or wrongly, as a footballer in South Africa having everything at your fingertips, whether or not you should be bored is irrelevant, because they were and that led to less energy. I’m not sure if Capello saw eye to eye with the players every day. As an international manager you get your squad for a couple of days every other month and from what I’ve heard, his manner and his way didn’t sit well with them for more than two or three days.
Another reason is that in this country the pressure is so great. I spoke to Ashley Cole about this a few weeks ago and I said to him, “What was it?” And he didn’t really know why, but he did say that he thinks that the England players fear the shirt. They actually feel the pressure. At their clubs there is pressure, but it is a different kind of pressure.
England fans and media are so desperate to win the World Cup. We are so desperate for some footballing success and the press builds them up and builds them up a year before a major competition, and everyone is so desperate for them to win and that just yanks up the pressure. The media are quite tough in this country, and there are a lot of forthright, firm views and the players read it. They definitely read it and the fear of failure almost overwhelms them. Wayne Rooney is a separate case. I don’t think Wayne Rooney cares about pressure. I don’t think it gets to him. I think he knew what was going to come out of the papers not long after World Cup and his life was going to take a very, very sharp turn to essentially a mess really, and he was going to have to deal with that and that definitely weighed on his mind.
TSG: There doesn’t seem to be a general healthy support for the English National Team from the press as they tend to nit pick at everything about the team, whereas in other countries the press is a lot more “calm.” Does that make sense?
RL: Absolutely. There is no middle ground in this country when it comes to football. It’s a matter of extremes. You are either brilliant or you are off it, but that’s just the way this country is and that is the way football is unfortunately.
TSG: The USMNT’s success comes from their strong team ethic and game, but they don’t possess any world-class players. On a club level, the English team possess players who do play at the highest level, who win the EPL, Champions League, etc., but they all have strong foreign players around them. Are English players being “found out” a little bit in that at club level they are brilliant, but does it have to do with their surroundings rather than their skill?
RL: It’s interesting. When England came back from the World Cup I started thinking, “the Premier league is not the best league in the world is it,” because the players are making little impact at the World Cup, yet they win the Champions League and Premier league. It’s an interesting point. I don’t think that they are being found out, but I don’t think they’re as good as we think they are and I don’t think the level of English football is as good as we think it is.
Man United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea are not filled with English players, whereas a lot of foreign clubs are like Barcelona being a case in point. They have a core which does very well for Spain.
I think in this country we have to decide: do we want a successful National Team or do we want a great Premier League? If we want a successful National Team then we have to limit the amount of foreigners in the league. It is preventing a bigger pool of players coming through and we’ve got to concentrate on the National Team if that is what we want.
No one is going to make that decision because the Premier League and the FA that decides the National Team are two totally different organizations and there is no one above them to make that decision, and the Premier League has a lot more money and therefore have a lot more power.
TSG: There seems to be a decent crop of future England players coming up: Jack Wilshire, Adam Johnson, Andy Carrol, Agbonlahor, Young, etc. Do you there is a new generation coming up that can measure up?
RL: Not really. I’m quite pessimistic about that. I don’t think they’re that good. Jack Wilshire is excellent and I think Adam Johnson is very good, but how could we possibly know how good they are when we thought that Lampard, Gerrard, Rooney and Ashley Cole were world beaters? And as you rightly say, they can play at the top level of football, but they can’t bring it at the World Cup and I don’t know if we can say that the young players coming through will be any better, and I don’t really have a great deal of confidence.
TSG: Well, there were so many teams at the World Cup that might not have possessed superstars, but they could play their positions and play together as a system. Is that a direction that England need to take?
RL: Yes, definitely. We need to be a team. That was exactly what we are, a collection of 11 individuals as opposed to a team, and that is what Capello failed to create. I think the buck stops with him a fair amount, because he should have to shoulder the blame in the manner of which he went about things, like putting on Emile Heskey when you need two goals. [I rolled my eyes and I suspect Rebecca did the same when she said this.]
TSG: I think Fabio Capello should take the majority of the blame, because even though thought the players were better than they were, they were certainly not bad players and it is Capello’s job to find a way for them to play together.
RL: I think he needs to shoulder a lot of the blame and is quite fortunate to be in the same job. I think over the next year or so the call for Harry Redknapp to be the next England manager will grow and grow because the press love him in this country and partly because he’s been so successful at Spurs.
He definitely built a team, a real team ethic at Tottenham. The problem with that is that he’s quite outspoken, and I don’t know if the FA will go for it. Redknapp is someone who can create a team and take off that expectation that is being pushed on the English national team. Adam Johnson and Theo Walcott need the freedom to go out there and make their mistakes and play without fear, whereas now the moment they put on an England shirt and they make a mistake they get booed.
TSG: Early in your career you were a reporter for the Women’s World Cup. Do you still pay attention to that?
RL: It’s difficult as I’m not nearly as caught up with it as I was at the time, and naturally you have other things that fill your day, but I keep an eye on it because of the World Cup. What happened with America? Did they get through?
TSG: They’re playing Costa Rica this evening and if they win they will be in a playoff with Italy, I believe. They should easily win against Costa Rica though.
RL: Yeah, they should. There is the World Cup next summer and if America do get there they will be one of the favorites along with China and Germany and England who are there as well which is great. I certainly keep an eye on it, but it’s very difficult to be abreast of all the divisions in the international and domestic games is quite difficult.
TSG: You’ve worked for the BBC, Setenta and now ESPN. How is it working for them? Is their a different attitude being a U.S.-based company?
RL: Not really. On the show tonight there is nothing American about the show or innately different from anything I’ve done in my entire career. You are aware though, always of being part this huge group which brings about quite a lot of excitement, quite a lot of confidence to the company.
I think it has an excellent reputation in England already, partly because a lot of people go to America and see ESPN over there, and partly because they’ve done a good job over the past year and a half of covering the Premier League.
It’s different from the BBC because the BBC is a lot more…I must pick my words carefully here [TSG chuckles]…It’s a lot more traditional and it’s funded by the taxpayers, so they have to make sure they are appealing to a wide range of people, whereas ESPN being an international company can target certain groups and can go for it and have a very forward thinking attitude, break new ground and take some risks.
It’s quite like Setenta in that way as they can be innovative, but working for ESPN you definitely know that you’re working for a worldwide company from everything from getting e-mails in Spanish and God knows what they are saying.
TSG: During the World Cup people in the States loved the production and commentary and all in all thought ESPN did a great job of presenting the tournament.
RL: Yes. ESPN were very clever about the World Cup because they didn’t quite know enough about it, but they identified where the opportunity was and got the right people on board and that’s the right way to go about it.
TSG: Back to the EPL. It’s a bit of topsy turvy season with traditional sides like Liverpool and United struggling a bit and the promoted sides doing so well. Is this just early doors or will everything come back to normal come May?
RL: Yeah. I think it will return pretty much back to normal come May. I do think it’s one of the most interesting Premier League seasons so far and I really cannot pick a winner. I went for Chelsea in the beginning of the season and I was happy with my choice in the first few weeks, but a team loses one game and then you start thinking “Oh, maybe they might not win the league.”
I think the Premier League is a better product now than it has ever been because it is so unpredictable. With the newly promoted sides I can see any of those, well maybe not Blackpool, but certainly West Brom and Newcastle, finishing in the top half and that is really unheard of as a whole.
Most often promoted sides would go back down again and the fact that these sides haven’t, I don’t really know the reason why, but there is carefully a closing of the gap between the top and the bottom teams and it makes for much better division. I mean no one wants predictability. I don’t think United will win it. I think Chelsea will win it, but I’m not convinced in saying that.
TSG: Do you want to talk about Crystal Palace at all? [Rebecca Lowe is a Palace supporter and at the time of speaking were last in the Championship.]
RL: [sternly] Let us definitely skip over that one.
TSG: You’re the one in “the know.” Any rumors that you can tell us?
RL: Oh God! I’m rubbish at finding things like that out cause I’m not a tabloid journalist and they know everything! Well, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw Mourinho over next summer to take over Man City. I wouldn’t be surprised at all.
TSG: Well I would love it if the Special One came back to the Premiership as he was so much fun. Thank you so much for taking the time and hopefully we will get to talk again soon.
RL: Take care and have a good day.