Paul Dickov
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Paul Dickov says Leicester are title contenders, asks why Maddison would want to join Arsenal, identifies where Man City need to improve & tells cut-throat tales of being a manager

| 01.08.2021

It’s almost time for the football season’s tradition curtain-raiser, with Leicester City and Manchester City set to meet in the Community Shield on Saturday.

Ahead of the Wembley clash, we caught up with Paul Dickov, who had two spells with both clubs during his playing career.

The ex-Scotland international gave us his thoughts on how the game will go, the title race, how former club Arsenal could struggle and much more…

Community Shield score prediction (Leicester 1-2 Man City)

I see it being quite a close game this weekend between Leicester and Man City, actually. I know a lot of City’s players are just coming back in from the Euros so match fitness is going to be a bit of a problem for them. Leicester will be as energetic as they always are and they’ve had a good record against City in recent years so they’ll fancy their chances.

It’s a tough one for me because I’ve got a lot of time for both clubs, but I just think Man City have that extra bit of quality in their squad to come out of this game on top. I’ll go with a 2-1 win for Pep Guardiola’s side.

There are FIVE teams capable of winning the Premier League this season

Immediately you’d look at last season’s top four and say they’re all capable of winning the league this time out, but I’d actually throw Leicester into the mix as well.

Manchester City are going to be making one, if not two, big signings before the transfer window closes. Man United have added two key players, I think Chelsea will be strong – I don’t think we’ve seen the end of them in this window either. Thomas Tuchel has made them very hard to beat, and then you’ve got Liverpool and the return of Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez to their back four.

I just think Leicester really are on a roll at the moment. Youri Tielemans isn’t just one of their best players, he’s one of the best midfielders in the Premier League. Then you’ve got Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho, the latter was fantastic at the back end of last season. They’ve also added even more competition for places up-front with Patson Daka coming in. He’s electric and he scores goals; couple that with Vardy and Iheanacho and they’re going to be so lethal going forward.

I know a lot about Kelechi from his time at Man City, and I don’t want to say I told you so, but I always said he just needed a run of games in the first-team to show what he can do. For a while when he signed for the club, he was only getting a couple of games here and there. I always knew if Iheanacho got a run of five or six games in any team and that team created chances, he’d get plenty of goals. He had that opportunity last season when Vardy got injured and he absolutely delivered.

Kelechi needs an arm around his shoulder every now and then, and Brendan Rodgers is the right man to do that, but give him games, create chances, and Kelechi will get you goals.

Why would James Maddison leave Leicester for Arsenal?

I’d be very surprised if James Maddison leaves Leicester this summer. He’s such an important part of how Brendan Rodgers likes to play, and when you’ve got the likes of Kelechi Iheanacho, Jamie Vardy and Patson Daka up-front, you need someone like Maddison playing in behind them to create those chances.

James Maddison is key to opening defences up, so it would be a strange move to see him join Arsenal. I might be annoying Arsenal fans here, but you’ve got to say Leicester are ahead of them right now. If you’re James Maddison, you’ve just won the FA Cup, you’ve got European football this year, look at the trajectory of the club, why would you want to leave?

One key area Man City need to strengthen – and Jack Grealish or Harry Kane won’t sort it

I think the obvious position Man City should be looking to strengthen is at left-back. Joao Cancelo is predominantly a right-back, and while I think Oleksandr Zinchenko has been fantastic whenever he’s been called upon, he was signed as an attacking player. Then there’s always the worry with injuries when it comes to Benjamin Mendy. When he’s fit we’ve seen what a fantastic player he is, but since he’s been at the club, unfortunately he’s been riddled with injuries that have kept him out for months.

So that would be the one area of the pitch I’d be looking to strengthen if I was Pep Guardiola. There’s just so much depth in every other area of the pitch – the whole squad is so strong.

Man City’s recruitment team are so clever; there’ll be at least four back-up names if Kane doesn’t sign

More than anything else, what Pep Guardiola has made sure – since coming to the club – that Manchester City don’t just have the best team on the pitch; they have the best squad. That’s the reason why they’ve won three of the last four Premier League titles.

Pep’s always had a great knack of surprising people with signings. If it’s a case of one or the other, obviously with Sergio Aguero leaving in the summer, you’d probably say Manchester City need an out-and-out number nine. But Pep showed last season they can play without a number nine and still score a lot of goals.

Do I see Harry Kane as a Man City player at the end of the transfer window? He’s made no secret that he wants to sign for the club, so I think it’ll ultimately come down to Daniel Levy. He’s shown so many times over the years what a hard taskmaster he is. He’ll have a price on Harry’s head and if no one matches it, then he’ll stay. It puts Harry in such a difficult situation.

The one thing they won’t do – and I know this through experience of working with the club – is pay over the odds for a player. It doesn’t matter who the player is, if the owners and the people overseeing the transfers have a price in mind, they’ll rarely go beyond it. We’ve seen it in recent years with Alexis Sanchez and Virgil van Dijk.

The club’s recruitment process is fantastic and it’s why they’ve been so successful over the last few years. They’ll know today who they’re going to be signing in three or four years’ time. That’s how clever they are, so if their number one target isn’t available, or is costing too much, they’ve got a back-up in mind. Look at Van Dik, for example, the club decided they didn’t want to spend too much on him because they’d already earmarked Ruben Dias for a couple of years down the line. They spotted him at a young age and wanted to get him at the right time.

Manchester City will have eggs in other baskets; it won’t simply be a case of ‘if they don’t get Harry Kane, they won’t go and get anybody else’. They’ll have three, four, five or six different targets beyond Kane to look to.

Arteta will get it right with Arsenal… no European football is a ‘blessing in disguise’

I always said when Mikel got the Arsenal job that he’d need at least three seasons to get it right and put his own stamp on things because of the recruitment process the club had in place for the six or seven years previous. The problems with players like Mesut Ozil and contracts in recent years have been well documented so it was never going to change overnight.

There were a lot of calls from fans for Mikel Arteta to get sacked last season, and I’m just glad the club have stuck with him because he really is a fantastic manager and he will get it right. They’re playing catch-up though, not just on the top four but on the top six now. They need to close that gap as quickly as they can.

Maybe not having European football will be a blessing in disguise for the side; it means they can focus on building momentum again in the league and potentially success in the cup, something which Mikel’s already had.

They’ve got some fantastic players within the squad but you’d have to say it needs strengthening quite severely if they’re going to push back into that top six.

Mikel will want two more signings to come in, but unfortunately I see them finishing outside of the top six with Spurs again

Mentally, I think Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will be desperate for this season to start, because he knows people have been pointing the finger and him and giving him a bit of stick. So, he’ll have his professional pride about him, and he’ll want to get out there and start scoring goals for Arsenal again so he can prove those doubters wrong.

Ben White is a fantastic signing for Arsenal – I’ve seen more than enough of him from his time at Leeds and Brighton to know that he’s a quality player – but I’m sure Mikel would probably want to see at least two more names come in.

Emile Smith-Rowe’s just got his new contract, but it’s a big ask for a youngster to take that number 10 jersey and perform at the top level week in, week out. It’s the same with Bukayo Saka. I know Nicolas Pepe has taken a lot of stick over the years but I’ve liked what I’ve seen from him, certainly at the back end of last season.

There are a lot of positives to take from the Arsenal side, though. That quality in youth is there in abundance, with the likes of Emile Smith-Rowe and Bukayo Saka at the top end of the pitch. And then in defence, Kieran Tierney, for me, is up there with Andy Robertson as the best left-back in the Premier League.

Arsenal’s expectation has to be to get back into the top six, but then I look at the teams that are in there already, and it’s going to be really difficult for them to break into there. It’s got to be their aim – especially with no European football – but unfortunately I can see them and Tottenham just missing out again.

Man United are now title contenders & Ole will thrive under that pressure

I think you’d have to say Man United are now title contenders. For a large part of last season they were right up there with Man City in the title race, but City went on that unbelievable run which just blew everyone away.

This isn’t me talking with my blue-tinted glasses, but I think the gap is still probably too big for United to close this season, but I do think it’ll be closer than it has been in recent years. Bringing in Raphael Varane addresses the concern of who can play at that high level next to Harry Maguire. Then they’ve brought in Jadon Sancho, a prodigy of Man City, he’s a wonderfully talented player.

I still feel they’re lacking something in the middle of the park, perhaps a defensive-minded player and someone with a little bit of creativity. They’ve shown as a team they’ve relied too much on Bruno Fernandes, and you could see at the back end of last season that he was very tired. If he didn’t deliver, United tended to struggle.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer knows he’s under pressure because it comes with the territory of being the manager of a club like Manchester United. But he’ll thrive on that, and he’d much rather be under that pressure knowing he’s got the likes of Varane and Maguire to rely on. He’s been trusted by the board to spend a lot of money on his main targets, and he’ll know there’s an expectation for him to now start winning trophies. But the fact the board have trusted him to spend the sort of money he’s spent, it says a lot about what they think of him.

Out of work managers used to sit in the Directors Box when I was under pressure, telling my chairman what they’d do… I’d never do that

I always told my players as a manager that I wanted them to move on and better themselves. My owners didn’t like it, but I’d always say to my players that I’d do everything I could through my contacts in the game to get them a move. If they’re doing well on the pitch, then ultimately the team are doing well, and if they’re getting big money moves then the club is going to benefit from that money coming in.

I gave James Tarkowski his debut at Oldham as a 17-year-old, and to see him eventually get into the England squad was a particularly proud moment for me. I remember him as this young little spotty kid at Oldham cleaning football boots, so to now see him in the Premier League is fantastic.

It’s fantastic as a manager when you have stories like that, especially lower down in the leagues, when you get these players in and give them that opportunity. Dale Stephens is another one, and I gave Sam Johnstone his Championship debut at Doncaster. The one thing that stands out about all of the players I’ve mentioned is their attitude. They worked so hard to get to where they are today and they fully deserve to be international and Premier League players.

I’ll never say never when it comes to career moves but I’ve probably been out of the game for a little bit too long now to go and take over at another club. Really you want to hit the ground running as soon as you’re out of a job and find yourself another club as soon as possible. Is there still a part of me that would do it again? 100 per cent there is.

For people on the outside looking in, I spent over two years at both Oldham and Doncaster and they were tough jobs. There were a lot of things going on behind the scenes that people don’t know about and I felt as though I handled it well. Both clubs were probably in the lower half of the division in terms of budget allocations but we still managed to have cup runs and produce players. I genuinely felt like I did a good job.

It’s such a cut-throat industry though, being a football manager. If you were under a bit of pressure and you lost a game on a Tuesday, say, you could guarantee there’d be four or five out of work managers sitting in the Directors Box, next to my chairman, telling my chairman what they’d do if they were in charge. I won’t name names but it actually got quite funny after a while because me and my coaching staff would play a game on Fridays where we’d guess which managers would be turning up in the box the next day, and nine times out of ten we’d be right.

I wouldn’t do that, personally. If I was out of work and planned on going to a game, I’d call the manager up beforehand and let them know why I was coming along. I’d never ever go straight to a manager’s chairman – especially a manager that I knew quite well. I’d always go about it the right way – that being said a lot of people have got work out of doing it.

My kids used to ask me if they could support someone else because Man City were rubbish… I was playing for them!

I’ve got a massive soft spot for Arsenal – as I have for Leicester City. I genuinely believe I wouldn’t have turned out to be the player I was without that experience of training every with the likes of Dennis Bergkamp, Ian Wright, Martin Keown, Tony Adams, Steve Bould.

I’ll always look out for Arsenal in the league, similarly I will with Leicester. They’re two clubs which are massively close to my heart and I’ll always want them to do well, but I’ve got to say I’m a Manchester City fan.

My kids were all junior Blues when they were born and they’ve grown up as Manchester City fans, which was difficult for them at the time because Man United were winning everything. They used to come home from school and ask me if they could support somebody else because Man City were rubbish… I was playing in the team!

Over two spells I had nearly 10 years with the club, I’m now an ambassador there as well. To see where they’ve gone from when I was playing is unbelievable. I’m delighted for them.

I’ve watched a lot of Arsenal over the years because of my connection with the club, and I’ve seen plenty of Mikel Arteta from his time at Manchester City because of the work I was doing with the club. First and foremost he’s a fantastic coach and I know the players at City loved him. He’s shown already that he won’t suffer fools gladly.

On almost bursting Arsenal’s Invincible bubble

The final game of the 2003-04 season really was a surreal atmosphere. I was playing for Leicester at the time and we’d already been relegated, so the pressure was pretty much off us. But, of course, we had to go to Highbury in a season where Arsenal had gone 37 games unbeaten. They were going for that Invincibles tag.

Regardless of who I was playing against in my career, I was always going to give it my all. It didn’t matter that I used to play for Arsenal, or that they were looking to celebrate something historic. I always liked the idea of spoiling a party as the underdogs. It was a massive motivator for me.

The last thing we wanted to see on that day – knowing we were relegated -was another bunch of players celebrating around us.

I loved it when I scored the opener in that game. It was a rare one as well because I never really got many headers in my career, but I was delighted. I nearly fell into the North Stand when I scored though, right into the Arsenal fans. That wouldn’t have gone down well, because I know loads of fans were thinking ‘please don’t let it be Dickov that stops us going unbeaten’.

Ultimately in the end they went on to win the game 2-1, but it probably could’ve been three or four. They were such a fantastic team.

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Alex Apati

Alex has been with the Ladbrokes PR team since 2017 having previously worked for the news department. From sparring with Peter Fury to talking interviews on the Duke and Duchess' baby names, he's covered a range of sports and novelty events.

A frustrated West Brom fan who is no stranger to an oche, Alex is originally from Dudley, although he's worked hard to rid himself of the Black Country twang.