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Geremi: Zidane would be a big hit at Manchester United

| 26.10.2021

Geremi talks Blues and United

Chelsea top the Premier League ahead of Saturday’s trip to Newcastle and we’ve spoken with their former player Geremi who won the title twice during his four seasons at Stamford Bridge.

The Cameroonian also won the Champions League with Real Madrid and he spoke exclusively to Ladbrokes ahead of its launch of Saturday’s 5-A-Side Bet on Newcastle v Chelsea about his spell with the Blues and Jose Mourinho, plus his time under Sam Allardyce at St James’ Park.

But, Geremi started the interview with his thoughts on Zinedine Zidane and the prospect of him replacing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United.

Geremi tips Zidane for summer United move

I’ll be totally honest with you – and you can ask most players who played with him – it surprised me that Zinedine Zidane got into management. It really did, because when you look at the type of person he is, you just couldn’t imagine him being one of the best managers in the world – honestly. I’m not the only person to say that, I’m sure.

Zidane was the kind of person who was very quiet in the dressing room. That was his personality. He’s the type of person who is very calm and quiet. Of course, he was a big, big player. I always compare him to a calm river. When you look at a calm river, you must remember it’s very deep. And this is Zinedine; he’s a very deep character.

Zinedine Zidane

He’s surprised a lot of people, so well done for that. He brought another style of management to football. He’s not a Jose Mourinho, he’s not a Sir Alex Ferguson, he has his own style.

Could he become Manchester United’s manager? Based on his ability to surprise us already, I would say wait and see. At that level, with the performances that he demands, I don’t think there’s a team in world football that Zinedine couldn’t manage. To manage a big club, you need a person with a big personality. Someone like Zinedine, a former player at the top level, can speak to his players and relate to them. He can speak to them without fear. It would be so easy for younger players in a team to receive a message from someone of Zidane’s stature.

I think he’d be a success at Manchester United. He has a great record and I think it’s a challenge he’d like. The only thing is that he’s the kind of person who’d want to take over a club at the beginning of a season. The Premier League is a new world for him; I don’t think he’d take that risk in the middle of the season. I think he’d wait until the end of the season and construct his own team in pre-season.

Man United can still have say in title race

I’m not the sort of person who will heavily criticise managers, especially club legends and former footballers who have gone on to manage big clubs. Managers can only work with the squads they are given, and they have to be able to control a dressing room. When you manage at a club like Manchester United, there are big players and big egos around the place.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has had a lot of criticism over the last few weeks, from former players even, but if you look at the overall job he has done with Manchester United, I would say he’s actually done well. Last season they reached the Europa League final and were second in the Premier League table. He’s done a great job, for sure.

I don’t like to criticise young managers who have played the game at the top level. I encourage it, because football should belong to footballers.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Man Utd v West Ham betting tips

You have to look at Manchester United’s transfer activity in the summer and say it’s been a success – especially with Cristiano Ronaldo. Bringing him back was a statement, and his impact in those early games was incredible. He will always get you goals and that’s exactly what he’s doing.

Raphael Varane is a serial winner who came from one of the biggest clubs in the world in Real Madrid, so he’s really strengthened the team defensively. Those two, with Jadon Sancho, just need time to settle. They’re three huge signings and I always think when you make such big changes to your starting XI, you can’t make too much of a judgement on results at such an early stage of the season.

At first I was a bit worried about Cristiano Ronaldo’s age, but until now there’s been no doubt he’s a fantastic signing for the club. In fact I still think Manchester United have something to say on this year’s title race.

Mourinho loved provoking Wenger and embraced hated status at Chelsea

Jose Mourinho gelled with our players so easily from the second he arrived at Chelsea. If you think about what the club did in the football world, it’s fair to say we weren’t liked by neutral football fans. Manchester United and Arsenal were the two teams who dominated the Premier League for so many years before Roman Abramovich took over at Chelsea. So because of the way that happened, we knew that other teams weren’t going to like us.

And that’s why the arrival of Mourinho was so perfect for us, because he was exactly the kind of manager that everybody else loved to hate.

We were well aware that we weren’t liked as a football team, and I’m telling you, that was another strategy of Mourinho, to use that to our advantage. When we went to play in big games against, say, Arsenal, in the build-up to the game, Jose Mourinho would come out and make a statement on TV to provoke people, be it other players or managers, in particular Arsene Wenger.

I’ve learned a lot about the game since retiring, and often I’ll think back to experiences under managers like Mourinho, and those tactics are a very, very important part of the game – the psychology behind a manager’s pre-match comments and what they mean to the opposition; they’re so important, and Jose was a master of it.

Mourinho would provoke Arsene Wenger, he would maybe mention the name of one opposition player in particular to make them nervous, and he was always right to do so; it nearly always worked.

How Mourinho reinvented pre-season training and made us enjoy it

Jose Mourinho is one of the biggest and best managers I’ve worked under, because of the way he trained, but also because of the way he handled the dressing room. In big clubs you have big players with big egos, and Mourinho is exactly the type of person who can manage these clubs.

Jose Mourinho, Chelsea

I was very impressed with the way Jose Mourinho trained us, right from day one. I think back to one pre-season where we came back from our holidays, and any player will tell you the worst part of football training is the amount of running we have to do during pre-season. Mourinho acknowledged this very early on, and was clever enough to recognise that all we wanted to do was play with footballs. So he introduced balls into pre-season training earlier than we were used to.

None of us enjoyed running without the ball, and because Mourinho knew that, he built his exercises around running with the ball, and we loved it. Ask any of the players in the club at the time, we loved it, because we were playing with the ball for so long. And before we knew it, at the end of the day, we’d have covered so much ground and improved our fitness so much, but it didn’t feel like punishment – which is what pre-season often reminds you of.

Mourinho would send me home if I was not right in training

Nobody can predict the future, but I think that if the opportunity presented itself to him, Jose Mourinho would come back to England. I don’t think he’d refuse an offer from an English club; he loves England. He knows that people now love him in England.

He’s a good manager – I’m not just talking about his successes on the pitch and the trophies he’s won. There’s so much more behind the scenes that makes a man like Jose Mourinho so special. Some of the things that he used to do were incredible.

If he saw you on the training pitch and noticed that mentally you weren’t in a good place, he would say “OK, I want you to take a few days off. But when you come back, I want YOU to return, because this isn’t you.” He used to joke with me in those moments, he’d say it was like he was talking to my brother. “This is not Geremi… this must be the brother of Geremi. Go and take two days off, but when you come back I want Geremi.”

On the other hand, he’d be very, very tough with players with top quality. He will not forgive you when you have a bad performance. He knows when you’ve not given the best you could give, and he lets you know it. He’d be very angry with us in moments, which is tough for a player, but you have to take it positively. When you have someone shouting at you like that, you have to realise he’s doing it because he knows your ability and he wants you to succeed.

I remember he was very, very strong with the young players at Chelsea. He was aware they still had their whole career ahead of them, and he knew exactly how to handle them. He was such a skilful manager to work under.

Sam Allardyce never used to watch us train until two days before games

Leaving Chelsea and Jose Mourinho for Newcastle and Sam Allardyce was, of course, a completely different style for me to adapt to. I’d say Sam Allardyce is a typical English manager. He was a very, very nice person, but he had a different style to anything I’d ever experienced before in my career.

It was such a surprise for me because the first thing I noticed about him was that he’d never come and watch us train at the start of the week. He wouldn’t come out for our sessions until two or three days before our match. For me, I was coming from Chelsea, having played in Europe, and I’d never seen anything like it. Every day, my managers would be out on the training ground. So it was a surprise for me when I worked with Sam.

Sam Allardyce

He spent those few days in his office and gave everything else to his coaching staff. Then he’d come out on the Thursday or the Friday and he’d bring out that voice of his. When he walked us through the starting line-up, that big voice would come out of him. When he spoke, we listened. I never wanted to know what would happen if I missed something he said to us.

He used to come out with completely different tactics and approaches for different teams. For example, we’d have a certain way to play against Arsenal, and another way for a team like Manchester United. It showed us just how much time and effort he put into his pre-match preparations, and that’s what he was busy doing in his office in those days at the start of the week. It’s funny because I always just used to think he wasn’t working! I thought he was just sitting around, and then you realise that every time we played a different club, we had a strategy to give us the best chance of beating that team.

The Chelsea project was a big draw

When I heard of the interest in me from Chelsea, it was just after Roman Abramovich had taken over the club, and they explained their project to me. The project was very, very interesting to me. I was one of the first players Claudio Ranieri signed, and then there were new players coming all through the summer. When you arrive at a club like that, you need big players to follow. The worry when you bring in so many players at one time is that you don’t end up with a team, rather a group of individuals.

In my experience now, I know that to win you need a strong team unit; not a group of individuals. And that’s why it took us time to win titles. The first year wasn’t exactly special for us because we were still getting to know each other, but in the second and third year, that’s when we really started to challenge for trophies. I’d always prefer to have a solid team of players who get on with each other and look out for each other, with a manager who knows how to handle those big players, rather than a team of individuals. You’ll challenge for so many titles with a good team; you won’t win anything with a group of individuals.

Chelsea won’t fear any club in world football

I’m not surprised Chelsea have been so successful up to this point in the season. It’s not just because I’ve played for them in the past, it has always been my view that Thomas Tuchel has one of the strongest sides in the division this season, simply because of what the club achieved last season. They’re European champions. When you look at what they did last season, how can you not consider them one of the best teams in the league? And on top of that, they’ve gone and brought in Romelu Lukaku.

One downside to Chelsea last season might have been their lack of a killer goalscorer, and they identified that in the summer and brought Lukaku back; someone who knows the division well and someone who is a proven striker. That was an unbelievable piece of business, strengthening an already strong team. When I saw him arrive, I just thought ‘wow’.

They’re such a young squad all-round and they’ve already achieved greatness in Europe. That gives the whole squad so much confidence, so I’m not surprised at all that they have started the season so strong. They won’t fear any club in the world.

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Warren Barner