Cheltenham Insights Why I Don't Expect To See Tornado Flyer In The Gold Cup

We’re now two months away from the Cheltenham Festival and we’re beginning to get a decent idea of which horses are set to take the festival by storm. Returning with his monthly column, Steve McManaman discusses why he doesn’t expect to see King George winner Tornado Flyer competing in this year’s Gold Cup, why he believes Honeysuckle will be victorious in the Champion Hurdle and why it’s too early to rank Shishkin amongst Nicky Henderson’s former star two-mile horses. 

The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is looking really exciting at the moment, but for me it’s a toss of a coin out of Constitution Hill and Jonbon regarding who is the best horse over two-miles. 

If I was forced to choose, I would have to go with Jonbon as he seems to have more natural talent. I’ve mentioned before in my column how I love the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle because there are so many question marks. I saw Dysart Dynamo win the Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle on Sunday and he won by 19 lengths! You just never know what you’re getting from the horses over in Ireland either, so it really could be a great way to begin the Cheltenham Festival.

Despite a great victory in the King George, I don’t expect to see Tornado Flyer at the Gold Cup. 

Sadly I don’t think he will feature in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, as I believe he was just a shock winner. I don’t want to begrudge his victory in the King George. It was a great victory and he ran really well, but I don’t know how much of a stayer he is and, as I’ve said before, the King George is a different race to the Gold Cup. They all went out quickly in the King George and Tornado Flyer hunted behind them all, before overtaking them late on. Paul Nicholls wasn’t happy how Saint Calvados ran into the lead and set Clan Des Obeaux alight. Tornado Flyer is a good horse, of course he is, but unfortunately I don’t believe he will be good enough for the Gold Cup.

I expect Honeysuckle to be victorious in the Champion Hurdle. 

Honeysuckle has not been beaten and at this moment in time we haven't seen any flaws. She did really well on her seasonal reappearance, even though Henry de Bromhead’s horses were not flying at the time. If I see another horse out there that makes me go ‘wow’ and can prove that they’re a credible threat to Honeysuckle, then I could change my mind. She’s going to be coming up against a lot of the same horses she’s faced previously, so those competing with her are going to have to drastically improve (or Honeysuckle is going to have to run a poor race) for anybody else to stand a chance of victory. She just looks so dominant at the moment.

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We will have to wait before we can rank Shishkin amongst Nicky Henderson’s former star two-milers…

We just have to wait and see before we can rank Shishkin amongst Altior and Sprinter Sacre, both of which were stars for Nicky Henderson over two miles. We have to see Shishkin up against really credible opposition before we can start ranking him. He’s a horse that certainly needs a bit of pushing and shoving to get him into gear. He can really ramp it up, so by the latter part of the races he’s absolutely flying and just goes further and further away. It’ll be interesting to see if Energumene and Shishkin meet before Cheltenham, which is a possibility in the Clarence House Chase. That will be a test of how good Shishkin really is as Energumene is a really good horse that leads from the front and jumps really well. He’s rarely beaten and he can put horses under pressure. Shishkin will be favourite for the race, don’t get me wrong, but if those two face off in the Clarence House then we will be able to witness how good Shishkin is at jumping under pressure. The jumping will have to be spot on.

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On the football, Bukayo Saka would be an amazing signing for Liverpool but I can’t possibly see Arsenal selling a key player to a domestic rival.

I can’t envision that move happening. He’s one of Arsenal’s star men. I’ve seen a lot of Arsenal this season and Buyako excites me more than any other player in their side. Would I love Liverpool to get him? Definitely. He brings you something different. He attacks down the right, takes people on and gets to the byline. A bit different to Mo Salah, who likes to cut inside, Saka is more of a winger but a winger that likes to chip in with goals and Liverpool do need a winger like him. However, there’s no way on earth that Arsenal will let him go unless it’s a case of his contract running out. He’s such a young lad but still a leading figure in that Arsenal side and he’s improving every single year, so there would be riots if Arsenal let him join Liverpool. 

Jarrod Bowen continues to be linked with my former club Liverpool but he’s adored by everybody at West Ham.

He’s been great. They bought him from Hull City for £20 million, which seemed a lot at the time, but he’s been great and continued to improve. West Ham would be mad to get rid of him because they’re starting to build something themselves and he’s probably now worth double or maybe triple what they paid for him. 

Declan Rice may be considered the superstar at West Ham but I’d be very surprised if they let Jarrod Bowen go. They may let Declan Rice leave first considering everything he’s done for the club and he will probably go for £100 million. Jarrod’s playing great, he’s scoring plenty of goals and he’s adored there. As we’ve seen on numerous occasions, the grass isn’t always greener. However, sooner rather than later, Liverpool will have to start looking to the future. Sadio Mané’s 29, Mohamed Salah’s 29, Roberto Firmino’s 30, so there will need to be a period of rejuvenation, replenishing and a turning over of this current squad. 

Long-term Liverpool target Youri Tielemans’ head could be swayed by Leicester City’s current midtable position. 

It’s been reported that Youri Tielemans has been reluctant to sign a new contract at Leicester and Brendan Rodgers has even stated that Youri is exploring all options. If Leicester City are midtable then that may begin to sway his mind.  

Whether he’ll go to Liverpool is another question and it will be interesting to see what Liverpool do, as Jurgen Klopp may want to refresh his midfield. They have James Milner, for example, who’s coming to the end of his career, so you’re always going to be looking at ways to improve the squad. If they’re going to finish a distant second to Manchester City in the league, then they’ll have to go again next season and that’ll include improving the squad. Tielemans may be beginning to start wondering what’s out there as he’s not a Leicester boy born and bred. He will cost a lot of money, that’s the only thing. When you buy from a fellow Premier League side then the price is going to be significantly higher. Liverpool’s success at going out and finding lesser known players means that they may not go for somebody who’s on the tip of everybody’s tongue.

Jude Bellingham could take his game to another level if he came to the Premier League.

I do believe Jude Bellingham would improve if he came to the Premier League. Definitely. If he played for Liverpool he would improve. Borussia Dortmund are doing well but Liverpool is a step up and I think he would improve because of the calibre of the players there. From what I read about him, his personality and the way he trains, all sounds positive. It would be great if Liverpool did get him. Manchester City seem pretty set in that area of the pitch with Rodri, Ä°lkay GündoÄŸan, Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva and this summer they’ll probably go for a centre-forward instead of a midfielder such as Jude. He would definitely suit Liverpool and Liverpool would definitely need him because when you’re signing youngsters, it’s with the view to keeping them for the next six, seven or eight years. Jude certainly fits that category.

Last month I said that Manchester United would be the team that needed him or someone like Declan Rice or Kalvin Phillips most but it would be amazing if he went to Liverpool. It may be a case of Erling Haaland being sold by Borussia Dortmund this summer and Jude to follow a year later, but you never know. I think we all know that at some point Jude will return to this country.

If Mohamed Salah wanted to leave and Liverpool were willing to let him go, someone would be able to afford him.  

We know PSG are going to lose Kylian Mbappé. We think Borussia Dortmund could lose Haaland. It’s dependent on how they leave and for how much - in terms of Mbappé it’s whether he will go on a free or with a fee. PSG are going to be able to afford Salah, I don’t think there’s any problem about that. 

There’s going to be so many different moves with the World Cup coming up. Someone will be able to afford Salah - they’d make it work - because of his numbers and how good he is. But Liverpool can’t ask for too much money when he’s only got a year left on his contract. 

But I personally think, knowing Liverpool and him, that discussions have been going very well and I think he’ll stay at Liverpool. I really do.

Is Franck Kessié value for money? Absolutely. Has he got the quality to go right into Liverpool’s first team? I think you’d have to wait and see.

Kessié’s done alright in Serie A. Milan have been doing very well. But I saw him a couple of times against Liverpool in the Champions League and to be honest I wasn’t that impressed. Liverpool went over to Milan and made lots of changes to their team, with a lot of youth in their side, over in the San Siro. Liverpool didn’t need to win. AC Milan were desperate to win. And Liverpool won comfortably. I was disappointed with a lot of the Milan team, including Sandro Tonali, Fikayo Tomori and Kessié. I don’t know whether it was just a one-off game and it doesn’t surprise me that there is interest in Kessié because he’s available on a free at the end of the season. It makes sense to bring people in on free transfers because you’re not really risking a lot. You sign him to a contract and then he’s got a value of X amount straight away.

Real Madrid need to strengthen in that area. I fully understand why people are interested in a midfielder currently in a Serie A team, fighting for the title, who’s on a free contract.

Robert Firmino is unsellable. 

Liverpool don’t want to lose him and he’s still under contract. Would he be able to play in La Liga? Yes. Firmino’s style of play and the way he plays would suit a big team like Barcelona down to the ground, without a shadow of a doubt. But I would be amazed if something like that happened. Barcelona have just about got Ferran Torres onto their books and there’s no way they can get players of Firmino’s ilk at the moment. They may do next year, when they’re commercially back operating and the fans start to come back, and they’re improving. But a lot rests on Barcelona getting into the Champions League next year. If they finish out of the top four, it’s going to be nigh-on impossible for them to attract that type of player and pay that type of money.

Erling Haaland will move wherever he wants to move.

It all depends on what Haaland himself wants. The money is immaterial. He’s either going to get a fortune, or a fortune and a little bit more. It’s what he actually wants. Manchester City are a better team at this moment in time than Real Madrid. I think that goes without saying. Haaland’s dad has played for Manchester City and knows the area and what it’s like to live in the city. Haaland’s getting a lot of advice from him, he’s a great person to ask. It’s just whether he or his agent falls in love, speaking to Real Madrid president Fiorentino Pérez, about the project Real Madrid are hoping to have in the future. Real Madrid have just won the Spanish Super Cup, and there’s a good chance that they’ll win La Liga. They’ve got a new stadium on the horizon, there’s a good chance they’ll get Kylian Mbappé. So then you’re talking about not just signing for a football team. Real Madrid are probably the most glamorous football club in the world.

But it’s what you think as a footballer. Haaland seems as if he’s very serious. His dad is very serious. Would he go into Manchester City’s team, score 30 goals, probably win the Premier League? Absolutely. There’s a great chance of him doing that. City would be favourites for the Champions League if he signs for them as well.

If he went to Real Madrid, that mightn’t be the case. It would be a different, exciting project. He’d be treated like a king. It’s a different atmosphere. Plus the weather’s better! People stay with Madrid for a very long time. They want to live there, they get ensconced in the local lifestyle and they absolutely adore it. I think it’s just looking at the bigger picture. But what it comes down to is a personal choice. It’s an exciting opportunity either way. Who knows which way he’ll go?

I just hope whatever decision Gareth Bale chooses, he’s happy with.

I know Gareth has had his injury worries and he’s struggling now as well - I don’t think he’s played since November - but I think it would be very sad for him to retire because he’s a wonderful player. He’s too good to retire.

Gareth’s very private. He doesn’t give much away. I stopped playing when I was 33 because my achilles was really sore and I didn’t tell anybody. I was really struggling at the time and I knew that I wasn’t the player that I was. I knew I was slowing down. And if Gareth feels like that I can totally understand.

The last time we saw him running was at Tottenham, scoring a couple of goals at Leicester on the final day of the season. If you think he can do that just six months ago, he’s really too good to stop. But it all depends on him and how he feels getting up in the morning, whether he’s OK and still has the appetite. Obviously he’s been an incredible football player and what he’s won is amazing. I know he loves Madrid. I just hope whatever decision he chooses, he’s happy with.

PSG? Real Madrid? It doesn’t matter. Kylian Mbappé’s mind is already made up.

PSG will be trying to keep Kylian Mbappé up until the last minute. As long as he’s a PSG player, they’ll try and try and try. He may sign a new contract and have a €20m release clause instead of a €200m one. I would doubt it very much if he signs a new contract then three months later signs for Real Madrid for €200m!

However, I think his mind’s made up. And I think his mind was made up as soon as PSG brought Lionel Messi through the door. Kylian Mbappé wanted to be the King of PSG and he’s probably gone backwards now that they’ve brought Leo in. Regardless, when you look at what’s happening on the pitch, Kylian Mbappé is their star man. He’s fit all the time and they can rely on him to score goals. He’s the most important player in the squad. I just feel that he’s got to the end of the road with PSG.

He may be linked to Liverpool but Eduardo Camavinga should remain a Real Madrid player.

It goes without saying that he should stay at Real Madrid and fight for his place. He’s only a young kid. I was watching him when he scored on his debut and spoke to him in the hotel after. He’s learning how to live in Madrid and he’s still got family in and around him while he settles.

Nobody’s got any God-given right to get into the team, especially when you’ve got Luka Modrić, Toni Kroos and Casemiro right in front of you. But that midfield area needs to be strengthened with Real Madrid. They bought Vinicius Jr, Rodrygo and Reinier as 18-year-olds. They spent a lot of money on them as they believed in their promise. I think Camavinga was the same. They spoke about Camavinga when he was 16 when Zinedine Zidane was manager. They spoke about him when he was 17. And then they bought him when he was 18. It was for relatively cheap money for what he was valued at previously. I would be very surprised if they let him go, unless they’ve seen him on the training ground and they don’t think he’s going to be a player. 

Rafael Benítez at Everton was never going to work. 

I was baffled by it. The majority of people thought that it wasn’t going to work and that the appointment was very strange. I don’t understand why he said yes or why Everton went there. I know what type of man Rafa is, but when he took the job he must have known there was no money to spend. We all knew that due to Financial Fair Play. We knew he was coming into the job with one arm tied behind his back because of his previous jobs. I thought it was an incredibly strange appointment from Everton’s point of view, but I don’t like being right. I know Rafa and I don’t like a man losing his job after six months. I’ve got a lot of friends who are Evertonians and for them you wanted it to work out.

Cheltenham Festival 2022
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