Jack Collison tips Chelsea for title, Hammers to stun City and bag top-four spot
Jack Collison: Hammers can seal Champions League spot
In the second part of our exclusive interview with Jack Collison, the former West Ham midfielder talks about who will win the Premier League and where West Ham will finish this season, Aaron Ramsey, Mauricio Pochettino, Declan Rice and His new career as a coach in MLS ahead of the launch of Sunday’s 5-A-Side Bet between Manchester City and the Hammers.
In the first part, the former Wales international, who was forced to retire because of persistent knee injuries at the age of 26, discussed what West Ham means to him which you can read about by clicking on the link.
Chelsea will win the league but West Ham can make top four
I think Chelsea win the Premier League this season. I just think Thomas Tuchel has got that team firing; they’re playing so well – they look compact and the amount of clean sheets they’ve kept is ridiculous. But they’re scoring goals as well.
They’re not just relying on one or two players, everyone seems to be contributing. Marcos Alonso, Reece James and Ben Chilwell are all chipping in. The way that Tuchel’s got them playing, and their strength in depth makes it hard for me to see past them in this year’s title race.
As for the rest of that top four, you’ve obviously got Man City and Liverpool in there, but that final spot is such a difficult one to predict.
There’s no doubt Man United are going to improve under a new manager, and we’re starting to see Tottenham showing signs of turning things around under Antonio Conte so those two will be right up there.
But, dare I say it, West Ham are in the driving seat at the moment. They’re in a great position to go on and cement that fourth spot.
Obviously they’ve got a difficult game at the weekend against Man City, but the team is starting to go into those matches without any real fear.
It’s almost a free hit for them at the Etihad – they’re capable of getting a result. Man City don’t seem as dominant at the moment, as much as I’m a big fan of Pep Guardiola.
It really is a mouth-watering Premier League this season, so I’m going to go Chelsea to win it, City and Liverpool fighting out the next spot, then I’m going to be bold and say West Ham to finish in fourth.
Aaron Ramsey could help West Ham’s Champions League push
I can 100% see Aaron Ramsey coming back to the Premier League. He’s such a great player. I was fortunate enough to come through that Wales under-21 group with him and he was the standout player.
When he’s on song and playing at the top of his game, he’s just a joy to watch. He sees things that other players don’t see. He’s a clever passer, he moves well, and his technical ability is outstanding.
When you give him that freedom and he’s the main player in your team, he really thrives off the pressure. His record for Wales in particular is just phenomenal.
Whenever Wales need a big goal or someone to step up, even though they’ve got Gareth Bale, it’s Ramey who is the one delivering in those key moments.
I think there’ll be a lot of teams in the Premier League itching to get his signature – you never know, West Ham might be a good fit for him in January for that Champions League push in the second half of the season.
I’d love to see him back in the Premier League and to be honest I can imagine he’d be keen on a return. He’s very brave for going out to Italy and representing Juventus – not many British players have made that move. He’s gone out there, he’s done it, he’s had the life experience and he’s tasted success.
He’ll always have those memories to look back on, but as a footballer you want to be playing as much as possible, especially in the latter part of your career.
He’ll still feel as though he’s got a few years left in him yet, but he certainly won’t want to be wasting much more time only playing a bit-part role when he feels he’s still got so much more to offer – and I think a lot of teams will feel like he’d have a lot to offer them.
For him it’s just about finding the right fit, but I don’t see why he wouldn’t want to come back to the Premier League in the near future.
Poch’s pathway from academy to first team is why he’s an obvious choice for the Man United job
Man United have been one of the powerhouses of world football ever since people my age can remember, so it’s been really strange to see them over the last few years in the post-Alex Ferguson era.
They’ve always been up there with the big boys in terms of signings, style of play and the way they conduct themselves but it almost seems as if they’ve lost their way – not just with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but with some of the other managers that have come and gone.
It almost seemed like Ole was a good fit; he came in and did well as an interim, the fans love him and he’s certainly taken the club forward. He’s always a man I’ve watched and wanted to do well because he is such a good person – you can really feel that energy from him.
I think the difficult part for him is that sometimes when you are that nice and friendly, there are question marks around your ability to make big decisions.
We’re not in the changing room so we don’t know, but it’s almost like in order to be a serial winner and an elite coach, you need a bit of a nasty streak in you.
You talk about Fergie and his famous hairdryers, look at Antonio Conte at the weekend for Tottenham – he must have ruined those players at half-time because the way they came out and changed their approach to that game was just incredible.
That sort of thing rubs off on not only the players, but the fans as well – they love to see the likes of Jurgen Klopp, Conte and Diego Simeone on the touchline, kicking every ball.
Solskjaer has built a great foundation for the next person who takes that job, but there’s been a feeling for a few months now that someone else has to come in and take them back to that next level.
The squad they’ve got, particularly going forward, is frightening. Someone has got to come in with that nasty streak to take them back to the top of the Premier League, which is where they belong. It’s where they should be.
It’s always difficult in this day and age to know what’s true and what’s just speculation, but it seems like Mauricio Pochettino is the one who’s going to come in and do it. The way he got Tottenham playing at the peak of their powers under him was phenomenal.
He’s a man who puts a lot of trust in young players and turns them into key members of the team, something he did really well at Tottenham and something which Manchester United will always pride themselves on.
I know from talking to people at Spurs that he created a really great pathway for academy players through to the first team. He made everyone at the club feel a part of things, and that’s a really important thing within any football club. I think he’s an obvious choice to get the United job.
Declan Rice can do everything; that’s why so many clubs are keen on him
You could just tell Declan Rice was an outstanding prospect right from the start of his career; I was lucky enough to be a part of the academy coaching set-up so I saw a lot of him coming through the ranks.
It’s been fantastic to watch. He was just breaking into the first team while I was working as a coach, and when you’re working in that set-up and a player like that comes through, you really are pinning your hopes on him.
Dec just adapted so quickly to the demands of Premier League football; he was just so comfortable in and out of possession. He had a couple of shaky moments early on in his career and he’s had to fight for his place at times, but he’s now just a massive part of everything West Ham do, and do so well.
That’s off the pitch as well as on it; the way the players stick together, the way they want to work for each other, and how much fun they’re having – Dec’s a massive part of that.
He can do everything, and a midfielder like that is very hard to come by in this day and age; that’s why there are so many potential suitors nipping at the heels trying to vie for his signature now.
There’s always going to be speculation surrounding Dec, and it’s a great thing for West Ham to have a player so coveted. His career is going from strength to strength but it’s coming at a time where West Ham are enjoying a lot of success across numbers competitions.
He’s leading the team in Europe, they’re going strong in the league, and I think the main thing for Dec is that he’s now an established and regular starter for England. All of that has come from the job he’s done at West Ham.
I don’t think he should be thinking about moving on just yet. He should be targeting silverware with the club and he’s still so young.
But, of course, if we’re another two years down the line and he doesn’t have any trophies to speak of, then it’s only natural he’s going to be looking for a new challenge – that doesn’t have to happen any time soon though, regardless of the interest and attention he’s getting.
Here’s what West Ham have to do in January…
It’s scary to think how far West Ham can go this season. Being a fan and a part of the club, I’ve been waiting over the last two years for this run to just blow up, but if anything they’re going from strength to strength.
New signings are finally starting to settle; Jarrod Bowen and Said Benrahma have been incredible. To be in the top four in the league, being close to qualifying for the Europa League knockouts and to still be going strong in the League Cup, it’s amazing.
The loss of Angelo Ogbonna is a big one in the heart of defence. It looks like he’s going to be out for the entire season. His are big boots to fill, but you look at the guys who have come in, and Kurt Zouma really has hit the ground running, while Craig Dawson does a job whenever he’s called upon.
They could maybe do with a little bit more cover in that area of the pitch in January; the last thing they’re going to want to do is drop Declan Rice back in there. I also think they could probably do with bring in someone in who can share that burden with Michail Antonio on the goal front.
You do worry a little bit about what happens if he picks up an injury – but I must say David Moyes has managed him well up to this point, picking and choosing when to rest him and it really has paid off.
Early retirement and stepping into coaching
You ask my wife, and she’ll tell you I was a nightmare to live with when I spent time out of the game through injuries, and then when I did get back to playing again after West Ham I was useless. I was trying to play at Peterborough and I knew within two or three games that I wasn’t going to get to where I needed to get to in order to have the career I wanted. Getting to grips with that decision which had ultimately been made for me was a real low point, but luckily that’s when I got into coaching.
I had to retire early because of my injuries, but I’ve always carried that sickening feeling of unfinished business within the game. Not having a full career as a player is the driving force behind me trying to get to the top as a coach, as a manager. For me now, the ultimate goal is being stood in front of 80,000 people trying to set a team up to win a game in a pressure situation.
There’ll always be that horrible feeling of what if? You know, watching Wales in 2016 was brilliant on the one hand because a lot of my friends were playing, but at the same time I was just thinking about how good it must have felt to have been a part of it all, on the pitch, celebrating with the lads. It’s the same with West Ham, when I see them doing so well in the league, making the move from Upton Park to the London Stadium. There’s always that feeling of ‘if I didn’t have a dodgy knee I might still have been hanging on like Nobes [Mark Noble]. There’s always going to be that sickening feeling but I’m not the type of person to feel sorry for myself. I would rather think of myself as one of the lucky ones who got a taste of it all, living out my dream of playing in the Premier League.
I’m really trying to develop my own skills as a manager right now – you need to be authentic, that’s important. You need to be yourself; if you’re trying to fake it, the players will smell it a mile off. I am enthusiastic, I am encouraging and I do think I’m good at building relationships.
For me, I’m on the cusp of building a team to win games, of course that’s what every team should be aspiring towards, but there’s a heavy focus on developing players for the first team at Atlanta United.
The beauty of finding your way as a manager is that it only comes with experience, and I’m grateful to be in a position where I can do exactly that with Atlanta.
I’m lucky to have a wife who is completely clueless when it comes to football; she’s never going to sit down and talk tactics with me after a tough day at the office. She knows me inside out; she knows me well enough to tell from the moment I walk back in the door what sort of mood I’m in after a game. The greatest thing for me is having the kids, because you just can’t beat yourself up about football for too long, or get too carried away; they’re so quick to bring you back down to earth.
I think I’ve got the balance and I think I’m good at recognising moments when to switch off… my wife will probably tell you a different story though! But the most successful coaches I know are workaholics, and I know there have been times where we’re sat down next to each other and I’m catching up on our opposition or watching clips of teams.
I’m in a city where the people are very proud and passionate across all of their sports. Obviously the [Atlanta] Braves won the World Series this year, the Hawks are on a good run of form at the moment; I’ve always been into cross-sport learning. I love to know what other athletes are doing in training, and I just love watching people at the top of their game, whatever that game might be. So to be able to go and watch Trae Young for the Hawks, it’s just incredible. He’s a young kid who’s just so exciting to watch – to see that on a basketball court and to know how it feels on a football pitch, it’s just nice to see.
I’m two years into a job with Atlanta doing something I love, but football moves in funny ways sometimes, and I think that unpredictability is actually something that really grips me. If you’re constantly striving to be the best you can be and to seek knowledge, then you’re more likely to succeed. In my short time with the club I’ve been able to see Frank de Boer work, as well as Gabriel Heinze. I’m now watching how Gonzalo Pineda works – that’s three totally different styles; incredible coaches in their own right, and for me as a young coach learning and developing, I’m probably in the best position I can be.
My main job is to develop the players with the hope that they can go on and deliver for the first team. Ultimately, there’s not massive pressure on me to produce results consistently, because I’m trying to find two or three players who can go and impact the first team. I’m trying to develop a style of play that will get these boys to where they need to be. I’m a competitor and I want to win every week; I’m annoyed if we lose and even more so if we play poorly. But there’s still that development feel about the job, and I suppose the next step for me is getting into an environment where winning is the be all and end all, and seeing how I do from there.
Hammers to stun champions this weekend
We’re watching the best player in the league right now when West Ham meet Manchester City this weekend, and that’s Declan Rice. Defensively, tactically, and the way he drives the team forward, it’s outstanding. How he can inspire the players around him at such a young age, for me he’s the best player in the Premier League at the moment.
But then on the other team you’ve got Phil Foden, who I think is one of the most delightful football players this country has seen for a long, long time. That England team is exciting, but Phil Foden really is at the forefront. I actually think he’s got the capabilities and the powers to go on and become one of the best players in the world.
He’s already won so much at such a young age, it’s great to see him playing such a big part of Pep Guardiola’s teams. Even as much as we know Pep loves to tinker with his line-ups, Phil Foden will always be there or thereabouts in his starting line-ups for the big games.
As far as this weekend’s game is concerned, you’ve got West Ham who are looking to bounce back after a tough result. I’m going to say they do so with style; a statement 2-1 win at the Etihad for the visitors.