Steve McManaman: Why Baaeed was my horse of the Flat season

William Haggas has had a spectacular season with Baaeed this year.
William Haggas has had a spectacular season with Baaeed this year.

Baaeed’s career is set to come to an end at Ascot next month and returning with his column, Steve McManaman discusses why the William Haggas trained star was his horse of the Flat season. Steve also discusses why Kyprios has been a revelation this year, why it’s too early to predict the victor of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and why there’s no horse in particular he’s looking forward to witnessing in the National Hunt season...

Baaeed is set for retirement next month and in my opinion he was the standout horse of the Flat season. 

“My horse of the flat season is definitely Baaeed. It has to be. He’s not going to go for the Arc now and is going to proceed with the Champion Stakes at Ascot instead, which I believe is the correct decision. He was brilliant at York and it was arguably his best run. He doesn’t have to go up the extra two furlongs for the Arc, so he’s going to stay here in England for his final race. William Haggas has looked after him very well and he’s certainly been the standout performer in my opinion.”

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Kyprios has been a revelation this year. 

“He’s been one of Aidan O’Brien’s best performers in recent times. Considering that he’s only a four-year old, he’s had an outstanding season. He always looks like he’s just doing enough, even in Ireland last week when he won in the Comer Group International Irish St. Leger. I expect him to improve a bit more next year after gaining more experience, but I don’t know what the plan is for Kyprios and whether he’s even expected to run next year because the owners are different to the other owners that Aidan is associated with. Kyprios can be anything he wants to be in the staying distances.” 

It’s too early to predict a winner for next month's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

“I don’t have a favourite just yet because it’s very early and we’re still awaiting the news on who’s going to be running officially. Going into the race, Alpinista’s form is excellent. I think you just have to wait. You don’t know what the weather’s going to be like or if the ground’s going to come up heavy or not. We had a freak winner last year, so I’d rather wait until nearer the date before tipping a winner. Having said that, Alpinista is a huge horse that’s ran really well this year and if she is confirmed to compete then she’d have a good chance of victory, but we have to wait and see.”

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The National Hunt season is upon us, but there’s no horse in particular that I’m looking forward to watching.

“I love my jumps racing. The fact that Willie Mullins has taken a lot of the Gigginstown horses back means that they’ll be very interesting to follow. However, there’s no horses in particular that I’m looking forward to seeing at this moment in time. Some of the winners last year were fantastic and you hope that this year we’re able to see some outstanding horses. It will be intriguing to see if horses such as Honeysuckle can perform again and it will be interesting to see if she comes up against Constitution Hill again. The Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, A Plus Tard, was also outstanding, so it will be interesting to see if he can keep his form up in the new campaign. The manner in which he won the Gold Cup this year means he’s certainly going to be the favourite to win it next year.”

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Onto the football, Liverpool’s recent fixture proposals will hopefully not kill the momentum they picked up from their victory against Ajax.

“I do prefer it when Liverpool have two fixtures a week as I believe it benefits the way they play. I think they’re better at playing matches than training if that makes sense. They would have coped with facing Wolves and then Chelsea, but having said that, they’ve got many well documented injuries at present. The next time they play, they’ll have men back and that should benefit them in the long run. Players like Jordan Henderson and Ibrahima Konaté are yet to return and the squad has been majorly hindered by injuries. This enforced break will give Thiago an extra ten days to get himself fit. As long as they don’t do too much at the training ground, then they’ll be able to get their fitness levels back up. In that sense, the break should benefit them.” 

Liverpool fans need to be realistic about how much money Jürgen Klopp and the club can spend on players. 

“I do believe the owners would back Jürgen Klopp. Fans have to be realistic and realise that Liverpool can’t spend silly money on a player. Liverpool couldn’t afford Erling Haaland. Liverpool couldn’t afford Kylian Mbappé when we all thought that Real Madrid were going to get him. They spent £64 million on Darwin Núñez, they spent £5 million on Fábio Carvalho and they spent £4 million on Calvin Ramsay. They have spent money and I believe Jürgen Klopp will be given money if the right player becomes available. They need a midfielder but I don’t believe the midfielder they wanted was available and I think we all know who that was. He may be available next year. We need to be realistic about targets and you can’t just buy anyone and throw them into the team. 

“Liverpool eventually need a number of midfielders. Jordan Henderson is getting older and James Milner is 36-years old. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keïta are available on a free transfer at the end of the season, whilst Thiago has had his injury problems. That midfield will need brushing up, that’s for sure.”

Aurélien Tchouaméni is a real talent, but I don’t believe Liverpool will regret missing out on his signature.

“I don’t think they’ve missed out because I don’t believe they could have got him in the first place. No club can buy anyone they want when Real Madrid come to town. Real Madrid have done very well financially throughout Covid as they’ve been selling players for good money and not buying in excess. They’ve got liquid assets at the moment of around £400-£500 million to go and buy players with. You can’t buy players if another team comes in and offers way more. 

“I don’t think Liverpool have necessarily missed out on Tchouaméni. I’ve seen him a lot already this season and he’s moved into Casemiro’s vacated position seamlessly. He fits really well into Real Madrid’s team, but whether he would have fitted into Liverpool’s side, a team with a completely different style, is another thing altogether.”

I was shocked to see Real Madrid’s Federico Valverde being linked with a move to Liverpool. 

“I don't believe a move to Liverpool will come to fruition. He’s indispensable to Real Madrid. He would suit Liverpool’s style of play because his running ability is excellent, he’s hard working and he closes people down. He can also score and create goals. He could have easily fitted into the Premier League as he’s only young, but now that Casemiro has gone and Toni Kroos and Luka Modric are getting older, then I believe the likes of Valverde, [Aurélien] Tchouaméni and [Eduardo] Camavinga are going to become indispensable for Real Madrid. Real Madrid will be in the hunt for more quality midfielders next summer, which could be a blow for a couple of Premier League sides.”

Jude Bellingham is heavily linked with Liverpool but I think the move’s dependent on whether he wants to come back to England.

“A lot of it will be down to personal preference. If he continues his trajectory then he will be good enough for whichever club that gets him. Secondly, It’s dependent on whether he wants to come back to England. He’s a Birmingham boy,  so I don’t know whether he’s got a particular fondness for certain clubs or players. He’d fit in any team. If it comes down to a bidding war then I think that’s a reason why Liverpool may miss out. We just have to wait and see what his value is next summer. £130 million is ridiculous money for a young player.

“He’s certainly the type of player that Liverpool would be interested in and most teams for that matter. No doubt there’s been lots of teams who’ve been in conversation with his agent. They’ll already be whittling down the ideal club for Jude. The most important thing for Jude is that he has a good season. Prospective buyers will be looking closely at how he plays this year, so he will have to impress. Hopefully he can have an impressive World Cup with England as that will greatly benefit his future.”

When Liverpool move to sign a new midfielder, I doubt Brighton’s Moisés Caicedo will be high on their list of targets. 

“Moisés Caicedo has performed well for Brighton this season, but whether Liverpool will be interested in him is another thing altogether. If they’re in the hunt for more midfielders, then I believe Caicedo will be on their list, but certainly not at the top of it.”

Douglas Luiz and Youri Tielemans are both good Premier League players, but I don’t believe they’re good enough for Liverpool.

“I’m not convinced it will be a smart bit of business by Liverpool to move for Douglas Luiz, regardless of whether his contract is expiring or not. I think he’s a good player, but I believe he needs to be quicker in a lot of the things he does to suit the style of football that Liverpool play. You want to sign players that can get in Liverpool’s starting eleven and not just players who want to come and sit in a squad. 

“Youri Tielemans’ contract is also set to expire at the same time, but if you’re to play for the best teams in Europe, it’s hard to find the right players that will improve your side. I don’t want to be disparaging towards either of these two players because they’re good Premier League players. Are they good enough to get in the starting line-up of one of the world’s best teams? I just don’t think so at the moment.”

A number of Liverpool players have come in for criticism this season, but you can’t pin their issues on one player in particular.

“You can’t blame just one player. I think it’s easy to say Liverpool have struggled in certain games and a number of their big players have struggled at times. Everybody has been incredibly effusive to Liverpool over the last few years. There are always people that go overboard in their criticism of various players, but I just think you have to take it. 

“The performance against Napoli wasn’t very good and the performance against Manchester United wasn’t good either. Their display against Fulham at the beginning of the season wasn’t that great too, so you just have to take it on the chin and prove people wrong. That’s what football is all about. They’ve had lots of praise, and rightly so, over the last few years, so when the top teams perform badly, people tend to go overboard in their criticism and you just have to take it and show them what you can do in the next game. 

“I thought they played well against Ajax. I do think there’s something missing up top but I thought they played well and deserved to win, but you just have to move on and the next game, play well again, and then the next game, play well again and get back on form and get the consistency that they’ve had the last few years back.”

On a more positive note, Harvey Elliot, Fábio Carvalho and Luis Díaz have been Liverpool’s standout players this season.

“It’s difficult to choose who the standout player has been for Liverpool this season. Harvey Elliott has done well. Even young Fábio Carvalho has done really well when he's come on and played little cameo roles. He got injured against Everton but there hasn’t been a host of players to pick from because of their injury problems. I think Luis Díaz has probably been their brightest spark certainly up top and then the defence and the midfielders have chopped and changed so much, everybody seems to have played. It’s been difficult for a number of them to gain a level of consistency”

I believe the signing of Arthur Melo is a smart move by a club in the midst of an injury crisis.

“I think it was a safe signing. I think they needed another body, just in case they got any more injuries. I think that's all it was. He’s a very experienced player and the teams he's played for suggests he can play a high calibre of football. You can see that he has the ability to keep the ball very well. I don’t think he will sign for Liverpool in the long-term, but you can see why they brought him in. I've got no problems with it, bringing him in for me, it was a no-brainer as they needed bodies in there. He’s had a couple of weeks on the training ground and he’ll have another couple of weeks training before the next game for Liverpool. He needs to get his fitness levels up and get to the level of intensity that Liverpool play at. I think it'll be fine because they’re now starting to get bodies back, so they might not use him as much as they probably thought they wanted to.” 

If Erling Haaland can continue banging in the goals this season, Manchester City’s chances of winning the Champions League will be better than ever. 

“14 goals in 10 games is outstanding. If he keeps that up then of course it will improve their chances of winning the Champions League. I’ve said it before, anybody who makes a team that’s already brilliant, a little bit better, is going to make that team something special. He’s started the season really well and you just hope he stays fit and keeps on pleasing everybody. Even if you’re a neutral, it’s great to see. Someone who can come in and just score goals, especially the type of goals he’s scoring, is absolutely brilliant to see. It’s not a surprise either. I think we were all expecting him to come and score goals and that’s what’s happening.”

Jack Grealish put in a wonderful performance against Wolves at the weekend and I believe the criticism he faces is harsh.

“I do believe Jack Grealish being English, his character and his price tag, are all contributing factors behind the criticism he receives. If Manchester City purchased him for £10 million, then he wouldn’t get this much criticism. He gets this criticism because of everything I’ve just mentioned. He’s a wonderful player and he just needs time to fit into a very strong Manchester City team. He knows he needs to improve and score more goals. It’s his second season at Manchester City and he’ll probably get even better this year. That’s what people do and you have to give people the time to adjust when they move to a massive club.”

I’m not surprised that Manchester City are linked with Bukayo Saka, however, any move for the player would be very difficult in my opinion. 

“I don’t know if Manchester City will be able to sign Bukayo Saka. The relationship between the two clubs seems strong due to the fact that Manchester City let Arsenal sign Oleksandr Zinchenko and Gabriel Jesus. He’s a young and very talented English player. I’d be very surprised if they could get him to be honest. He’s an excellent player and he’s got experience in the Premier League so he could probably fit in their team right away. If Manchester City lose Bernando Silva next summer, then that’d be a big blow but I think Pep Guardiola would let him go if he really wanted to leave because of his services for the club.” 

I see no issue with a Premier League All-Star game.

“The All-Star game is fine as an idea. If it can generate a load of money and be given to the right people, then I don’t think that’s a problem if you had it in the pre-season. I think the only problem is where can you find time for it in the schedule. If it’s in pre-season then I think something like that would be fine if it could generate a lot of money. 

“As for the four-team relegation tournament idea, you can’t touch that. That’s part of our nature in England. You can’t have a playoff game for relegation and you can’t finish fourth from bottom and then get relegated. It just doesn’t make any sense at all. The danger of relegation is something that makes the Premier League special. 

“The All-Star game would be a nothing match. The players wouldn’t go round kicking each other. It’d probably just be a testimonial type of match. I don’t mind people coming out with ideas because FIFA and UEFA change our game every two years anyway with different laws that get brought in and we all have to adapt to it, so an odd idea that can generate money for people is probably worth discussion. I think it was just the fact that he said it on stage in America, with an American audience and that’s what got everybody flustered. 

“As you know, the Community Shield has lacked its intensity in the last 10 years or so. When it was the charity shield at Wembley, it used to be a very good game. Let’s be honest, it’s not now. It's just another friendly for the start of the season. Of course, you get a trophy and it’s nice to win that trophy, but over the last however many years, the two teams that have played, never had their strongest XI out, so it just shows what that game now means to people. A lot of teams travel all over the world playing their pre-season games, so if you could fit an All-star game in and give the teams compensation for it, because the players may get injured from it and that’s another thing that could concern clubs and players alike. You get all mad games at the start of the season that we don’t agree with, so as long as you can fit it in and everyone is compensated and money is generated for grassroots football or an alternative, then I’ve got no real problem with that. I just think it’s a bit of a nothing game to be very honest.”

I don’t believe Casemiro will be a flop at Manchester United.

“I wouldn’t have thought so, unless Manchester United played a completely different way to what he has played. I can see why he hasn’t played a lot so far. He’s just come into the club, he doesn’t speak English, he’s trying to adapt, he’s probably trying to get his fitness levels up and Manchester United have been winning games. For those reasons, I can see why he hasn't been used as often because sometimes when you win a game, you keep the same team, and that’s what they’ve done. I personally believe he will adapt well to the Premier League and I think he’ll make their starting XI stronger when he’s fit and well.”

And finally, I really hope Raphaël Varane can stay fit this season and show the Premier League what he’s made of.

“On his day, he would be one of the best centre-backs in the Premier League. Last season he experienced a lot of injuries and struggled to remain fit for a long period. He had a good pre-season, but then he was injured again at the start of this season, so you just hope these players stay fit. Being an ex-player who had many injuries, you just want these players to stay fit and play for a while and then you’ll see the best of them. That goes for all of the players, not just Raphaël Varane. He’s a great player with a great level of experience and you don’t win all the trophies he’s won just by being lucky. He’s a great individual and I think he’ll be fine. He just needs to stay as fit as he can.”

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