Mark Schwarzer talks Aaron Ramsdale, why Henry was toughest player he faced, says Shearer ‘conned’ 90% of refs and reveals classy Mourinho moment
Mark Schwarzer made more than 500 Premier League appearances with a string of clubs including Middlesbrough, Fulham, Chelsea and Leicester.
In the second part of an exclusive interview with Ladbrokes, the former Australia goalkeeper talked about facing Thierry Henry, Alan Shearer, the troubles at Leicester, Jose Mourinho and Fulham’s run to the Europa League final in 2010, but he started by discussing the merits of Aaron Ramsdale’s England prospects ahead of the launch of Sunday’s 5-A-Side bet on Leicester v West Ham.
You can read the first part of the interview by clicking on the link.
Aaron Ramsdale will be pushing for a starting place at the World Cup
It’s an interesting conundrum Gareth Southgate will face later on this year when it comes to who starts in goal for England at the World Cup. We know he’s put a lot of trust in Jordan Pickford, and he’s never let his country down whenever he’s played. But we do remember that when Gareth first took over, he spoke about the importance of club form, and that he wouldn’t be picking anyone just on reputation. That’s been diluted quite a bit over the years, and if history is going to repeat itself, he’s going to stick with Pickford. But for me, if things continue as they are between now and the end of this season, and Aaron Ramsdale continues to play as well as he has done, I think he has to get opportunities to start for England.
He’s done an incredible job since joining Arsenal. He’s surprised a lot of people, myself included. You can look at his previous clubs, and while they gave him that all-important opportunity, you can say he was never really settled in a good enough team where he could regularly show what he could do at a high level.
But he’s come in and replaced a Germany international at Arsenal within the space of three games. Bernd Leno is a seasoned pro, and a very good goalkeeper, so you have to take your hat off to Ramsdale. He must have heard a lot of the talk on social media around his price tag and all of that sort of thing, and what that shows you is that the young lad has an incredible amount of self-will and determination. He’s got a great mindset as well, clearly – to be able to use that criticism and take those question marks surrounding him and turn them into encouragement, and ammunition to prove people wrong.
If anybody has an incredible amount of talent, and they’re at a team like Sheffield United who are being hammered every week – when I say hammered I mean under so much pressure – you’re going to shine – you’re going to stand out. But what he’s done now is take that to a whole different level. He’s gone to Arsenal and if anything, he’s improved dramatically since his move in the summer. He’s calmed down a bit, he’s got a platform to work on and he’s got a good balance between being involved, because Arsenal still have their defensive issues and also showing us his ability with the ball at his feet. We didn’t really see that at Bournemouth or Sheffield United.
For me, he’s a hybrid version of Jordan Pickford and Nick Pope, he’s got the best of both of their games – he’s improving his all-round game all the time, and for me that’s the most impressive thing about him.
Thierry Henry concerned me most as a goalkeeper
I would never say I feared an opponent. I was never scared to play against anyone. You just knew, though, that with certain players, it was an enormous challenge.
In the case of Thierry Henry, for example, as a goalkeeper, you were actually most concerned about him the further away from your goal he was. It was when he was running away from goal, into his own half, receiving the ball and using the space he’d created to turn and run. What used to happen was that when Arsenal were breaking, he’d drop in to get the ball, and then more often than not defenders just wouldn’t go with him. If anything, they’d keep dropping off. And then all of a sudden there’s all of this space for Henry to run into. Once he had that space and that opportunity to gain momentum, he was pretty much unstoppable. I remember thinking, so often when he’d make that run, ‘oh sh*t’. That’s what I’d be thinking. ‘Oh sh*t, someone’s got to foul him, someone’s got to bring him down.’
The problem was, he was just so good, it didn’t matter what you tried to do as a defender. You back off, and he’s running at you with momentum and there’s no stopping him. You follow him and he brushes you off and runs into the space you’ve left. He was that good, a big guy, strong, a classical player. I felt like I was watching ballet sometimes when I saw him on the pitch. He was just so smooth, elegant, quick, insane. It was insane how good a player he was.
Alan Shearer would give away so many fouls in today’s game – referees were conned by him 90% of the time!
Playing in the Premier League for as long as I did meant I came up against so many top, top strikers. I always think back to the likes of Thierry Henry and Didier Drogba in particular, but Alan Shearer obviously springs to mind as well. He wasn’t anywhere near as elegant or as classy as those two, but you just knew he was always going to cause you problems. He had so much strength and was so clever with it.
The amount of times he should have given fouls away. In today’s game, he’d be giving away so many fouls as I don’t think that style would work as well now. I remember so many occasions watching him, where balls would get knocked up to him and just at the right moment he’d nudge the defender and win the ball. He did it so often, and referees were conned 90% of the time by it, because his timing was so good. Full credit to him. I’d have loved to have played with him because he was just unbelievable.
Foxes in crisis and Rodgers must take some of the blame
Leicester look like they’re in a bit of a crisis at the moment. Brendan Rodgers has come out and been very, very critical of their performance in the FA Cup against Nottingham Forest, which is fair enough. I know he’s been linked with a couple of big jobs over the last year or so, however the way his team has been playing and their position in the table would suggest it’s only speculation.
The team’s performances have been poor and it’s not just the players’ doing – the manager has to take responsibility too. All is not well at Leicester right now….so we’ll have to see what happens over the remainder of the season.
I won back-to-back Premier League titles with two different clubs, but I didn’t deserve medals
I was the first player in the Premier League era to win back-to-back titles with two different clubs (Chelsea 2014/15 and Leicester 2015/16) but I didn’t think I deserved a medal on either occasion. I was in such a privileged position with Leicester, a second-row seat behind the coaches for 37 games in that season. It was incredible to be inside that inner sanctum, to be able to see it all unfold from a team perspective with Leicester. It was an incredible journey, but I never thought for one moment that I should get a medal. I would have actually turned it down, I wouldn’t have wanted it.
As for my time at Chelsea, again I know I wouldn’t have deserved recognition for what that team achieved in 2014/15, but there’s one classy moment from Jose Mourinho which sticks in my mind. I moved to Leicester at the halfway point of the season, by which point Chelsea had already reached the semi-finals of the League Cup. For the small role I played in things, Jose and the club invited me to the game when they reached the final – obviously they went on to win the trophy, and a replica cup was made for myself – despite me not being a part of the club anymore. I’ve got a lot of respect for Chelsea and Jose and that’s just one of the reasons why.
I wasn’t at Jamie Vardy’s house the night we won the league. We all got invited, but I just didn’t really feel a part of it. Like I said, I knew I was involved and I was so, so happy for that team and to have played a small role was an honour, but I wasn’t really a part of it all.
I was also travelling back and forth a lot to my family down south, so that night was an opportunity for me to be at home as we were doing major renovations on our house. The season was very full-on and we weren’t in action so I had to put that time to my family, and in the end I’m glad I watched it with my wife and kids. It was an incredible game, and it makes me happy even to this day to see all the footage of the boys going absolutely crazy at Vardy’s house.
And rightfully so. Why wouldn’t you go crazy? This is Leicester City we’re talking about. Put it into context. The year before, we ‘should’ have been relegated. The run we went on at the back end of the previous season was just as impressive. If you look at the run we went on across that 18-month period, we lost four games. That’s remarkable for any team.
Roy Hodgson spat his dummy out during Europa League run – “Forget this tournament, I hate it anyway!”
The problem with getting to finals like in 2010, when you’re an outsider like Fulham – and I’ve done it a couple of times in my career, once with Middlesbrough as well – it takes on a different meaning in itself. The whole journey and the cut-throat feeling attached to those one-off, or two-legged games, is hard to describe. And then you get to the final and it’s all or nothing.
The danger when you’re an underdog is that you get so excited about getting all the way to the final, that you don’t play out the match itself as well as you perhaps could have done. It’s a one-off game, and sometimes that can be underplayed.
Listen, you only play as well as the opposition will allow you at times, and that’s always going to be the case when you come up against a better side. In the first half of that final against Atletico Madrid, there was certainly a sense of nervousness and anxiety. We were coming up against seasoned campaigners who knew what it was all about, whereas we were within ourselves, and I think we felt a little bit like rabbits in headlights. But then we grew into the game. I thought we were really unlucky with the way in which we conceded the goals – both goals were so unlucky for us – the first one in particular. It was just ridiculous.
But then we get ourselves back in the game, although we were still not firing on all cylinders as far as I was concerned. But we felt that we’d done enough to take the game to penalties, and at that point you just start thinking about how that’s going to pan out. It’s very much luck of the draw territory at that stage, but then we go and concede another really unfortunate goal which came from nothing.
For us, I think a lot of the fans were just completely overjoyed and couldn’t believe we were in a final. But once you’re there, you want to go and win it. You’re left with this really difficult challenge, because you know you’ve achieved something special, but there’s still work to be done. You don’t want to have any regrets in those games, but unfortunately when you lose you can’t help but look back at moments in the match and things you could have done differently.
It’s one of those results where – as much as it hurts in the moment, and still does when you talk about them even to this day – you appreciate it was an insane journey you were a part of. It was insane that a club like Fulham, and a club like Middlesbrough when I played for them, could do that with that group of players, all at that stage of our careers. Some of the teams we beat along the way, in particular with Fulham, you know, on paper we had no right to beat them. But that goes to show you, with the right mentality and team spirit, you can overcome anything.
Let’s not forget with Fulham, we lost away at Roma in our penultimate group game which meant they were going to finish top. That meant we needed to go to Basel and get a result because it was between us and them for second place. Basel hadn’t lost a European game in over two years, and we had to go there and win. We ended up winning that game 3-2. It was a freezing cold night. There were all sorts of things we had to contend with, but we won the game. That was an incredible night, but it’s one that no one really talks about, because everyone thinks about what we did later on in the competition. But none of it would have happened had it not been for that night in Basel.
When you look back at it there were so many key moments along the way, and that result in our final group game was certainly one of them. After the defeat in Rome, Roy [Hodgson] spat his dummy out. “Forget this tournament; I hate it anyway. I’ve been to a final once before and lost it, there’s no point in doing that again.”
Obviously, that was just his immediate anger and frustration at the result; we had two players sent off in that game. And, to be fair, I used Roy’s comments later on. I said to myself ‘I’ve also been to a final before and lost it… would you not give everything to get another chance? The opportunity is there to go and put things right’. I wouldn’t have changed anything about that journey – that unbelievable journey – except, of course, that final result.