Steve McManaman: Baaeed has the potential to be a superstar

William Haggas saddled Baaeed to an emphatic win in the Lockinge at Newbury
William Haggas saddled Baaeed to an emphatic win in the Lockinge at Newbury

The Epsom Derby takes centre stage in June with Desert Crown and Stone Age currently the two frontrunners for the race according to the bookmakers. Returning with his column, Steve McManaman discusses his thoughts on the upcoming Classic, his desire to attend the Royal Meeting and why Baaeed has the potential to be a superstar. 

It’s too early to call a winner of the Epsom Classic in early June. 

“Desert Crown won very well at York. He was very impressive and I can fully understand why he’s the favourite for the Epsom Classic. Some of the Aidan O’Brien’s Chester winners, including Changingoftheguard, were quite impressive too, but Desert Crown and Stone Age’s chances have been boosted by the news that Luxembourg is unlikely to compete. 

“The Epsom Derby is such a unique race. But at this moment in time I don’t have a standout opinion on who I believe is going to win it, despite Desert Crown’s form being excellent. I’d wait and see until everything’s declared before suggesting a potential victor.”

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One day I hope to attend the Royal Meeting. 

“I’ve never actually attended the Royal Meeting and I don’t know why I haven’t. I always watch it and I’d love to attend. Likewise, I’d love to go to Epsom on Derby day. If I have a preference on which type of racing I’d rather attend then it’s always been the jumps, because I’ve owned jump horses and I know many of the jump jockeys. Despite my love of jump racing, I’ve equally adored the flat and the Classics. I’d love to go but for whatever reason I’ve not been able to previously. I’ve either been on holiday, at the World Cup or somewhere that has got in the way of me being able to. Maybe it’s something I can do in the future.”

Baaeed has the potential to be an absolute superstar.

“You couldn’t not be impressed by Baaeed in the Lockinge Stakes over the weekend at Newbury. He ran very well considering it was his first runout of the year. He was exceptional as a two-year-old last year, but he could be a superstar and I say that in the strongest terms. He’s won seven from seven, including the Lockinge as I previously mentioned, and in that race he won very easily. The 1000 and 2000 Guineas horses have been very impressive too, with Cachet being narrowly beaten at Longchamp. He looks great and it’s brilliant for George Boughey to get a Classic so early on in his career. Charlie Appleby’s horses also seem to be absolutely flying too. Aidan O’Brien’s have dominated the big classics and they’ve always been favourites and been there or thereabouts. I think the Godolphin horses are as strong as they’ve ever been and they seem to be challenging for a lot of the classics and a lot of them are at the forefront of a lot of the big races.”

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The quantity of racing in the UK is having an impact on smaller race meetings.

“There probably is too much racing in the UK but in England we certainly have the appetite for it. If you look at a Saturday and you look down the racing cards, there must be six or seven meetings in the UK alone. I believe there may be too many races but as long as the fields are big and one doesn’t detract from the other then that’s okay. You get the lesser meetings like Market Rasen or Lingfield which will have really good prize money available but it’ll be up against bigger race meetings and I think it detracts from it. As long as there’s racing on most days for people to watch then that would suffice, but we don’t need seven or eight meetings on a certain day. We just have to be careful that we don’t have too much of it and allow it to not take anything away from the smaller meetings.”

Big meetings have to give something back to the fans of the sport. 

“I certainly think that the bigger race meetings are too expensive for the average family to attend. To get to Cheltenham or Aintree when you're having to travel, can be very expensive. We’ve had two years of COVID and I heard everyone was up in arms at Cheltenham this year regarding the price of a pint of Guinness and the price of food and I do believe the organisers should look out for those in attendance after everything that’s gone on. I still think it’s possible to have an affordable day out at a meeting such as Bangor for example, or even a Haydock to a certain extent. The Cheltenham Festival gets 80,000 people every single day, so they need to give something back to the public. They can’t just continue to take, take, take and then suddenly expand from three days to four days and then four days to five days. There has to be a responsibility from someone to say, ‘I know we’re popular and we’re sold out everyday, but let’s give something back’. Capitalism rules in these places and people want to make money after losing revenue in the past.”

Onto football, I can’t see Aston Villa doing Liverpool a favour in the title race on the final day of the season.

“I can’t see Manchester City slipping up against Aston Villa. I’ve believed for the last six weeks that Manchester City will win the Premier League.  Liverpool have obviously got really close to them, but when it comes down to it, I have always thought Manchester City will win the title.

 As much as there’s a romantic storyline for Liverpool fans with Steven Gerrard and Philippe Coutinho going to the Etihad and giving Liverpool a hand, I believe that City are just too good to not win at home on the final day. 

“Manchester City have too many title winners in that team to let it slip. The pressure was on them against West Ham on Sunday, but they got back into the game and arguably should have won it. They missed a penalty and they had a number of chances to win the game. People are only talking about them coping with pressure because they lost to Real Madrid, otherwise you wouldn’t be talking about pressure at all because the number of trophies they’ve won over the last four or five years has suggested that they can handle the pressure. I think they’ll beat Aston Villa quite comfortably.”

This Liverpool team has the potential to be the greatest side in the history of the English game.

“If Liverpool were to win the quadruple then they would be considered the greatest side in the history of the English game, without a shadow of a doubt. To be honest, if they were to win the treble then they should still be considered as one of the greatest sides this country has ever seen. Even if they don’t win the league, the fact that they would have accumulated 90 points if they win every remaining game, and finish a point behind Manchester City whilst winning the other three trophies available to them, then they’ve played in every single game physically possible and that’s a remarkable achievement. When you look at the trebles won previously by Manchester United and Liverpool in the past and you analyse all the numbers then I believe this will be the best season ever.” 

Real Madrid have shown their quality in the Champions League this season, but I expect Liverpool to be victorious in the final. 

"Liverpool will be the favourites and I do believe that they will win. Real Madrid are away from the Bernabéu and the Bernabéu is a special place. That’s where they’ve got the results against Chelsea, Manchester City and PSG to a certain extent. I’ve been proven wrong many times. I believed Chelsea would be too young and aggressive for Real Madrid and I believed Manchester City would be the same, so the fact I’m backing Liverpool isn’t a shock as I believed the English sides were the strongest all year. It was such a surprise to me to see City lose in the fashion they did. They should have been way clear. 

“Real Madrid in this competition are a special team. They’ve been in ten of the previous twelve semi-finals, so that proves that they’re consistently good in this tournament. Yes, they’ve got a huge amount of experience at this stage but so have Liverpool. If everybody’s fit and well then you’ve got to say that Liverpool are the stronger eleven and that’s why I think they’re the favourites.”

I don’t believe Real Madrid closing in on the signing of Kylian Mbappé will give their side a boost going into the Champions League final.

“I don’t think the news will give the team a boost going into the final as everybody in Madrid would have known it’s been done for a long time, it’s just a matter of it being announced. Real Madrid have won their league, PSG have won theirs, both leagues are effectively over now and this transfer is a good PR story before the Champions League final. If you had spoken to anyone in Madrid over the last three or four months they would have told you that the Mbappé deal was done. I don’t know if it’s been signed in front of anybody, but everybody in Spain believed this move was going to happen, so for that reason I don’t think the news is going to have any effect on the team going into the final on May 28th.”

My former teammate and BT Sport colleague Michael Owen claimed that Virgil van Dijk is the greatest defender in the history of the game, but I believe it’s too difficult a decision to call.

“It was a big statement from Michael and we were speaking about it the night before the second leg in Villarreal whilst we were altogether in the hotel. I think it’s a hard claim to make generationally. To put Virgil ahead of [Franco] Baresi or the defenders of the great Milan team including [Paolo] Maldini, [Alessandro] Nesta or [Alessandro] Costacurta is very difficult. Ciro Ferrara at Juventus is another. Those were great defenders so it’s hard to claim that Virgil is better than they ever were but Virgil is also a brilliant defender and never looks like he’s in trouble. He looks as if he cruises through games but he’s got a slight injury at the moment so Liverpool need him back. However, it’s really hard to say that he’s the best of all time. I don’t want to claim he’s better than Paolo Maldini as Paolo Maldini has won everything twenty times over and has been one of the greatest defenders ever. You’d have to reserve judgement for a number of years and see what Virgil wins. At this moment in time, he’s certainly the best centre-back in England.”

Jürgen Klopp’s contract extension is great news for Liverpool and the club’s fans.

“It’s a great piece of business by the club as there was always that cloud on the horizon that Jürgen was going to do two more years and leave. It’s a great deal for the club and the fans to have Jürgen around until 2026. I can’t say the deal guarantees success, but it guarantees Liverpool staying at the top. Jürgen and Pep Guardiola are ruling the roost at the moment and Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham are a long way off Liverpool and Manchester City and they all may take a number of years to get to their level. Both Liverpool and Manchester City should dominate in the Premier League and in Europe for the next couple of years. City have already laid a marker down by bringing in Erling Haaland. He could be a potential superstar and Liverpool will have to go again at the end of the season and I believe they will. Fringe players will leave, money will be generated and then they may invest in one or two more really good players who can come in and bolster that squad. They’re both in a really good position to stay at the top for a very long time.”

I can’t see Sadio Mané making a move to Bayern Munich this summer. 

“For me personally, I’m not worried about this move coming to fruition. Teams should be interested in the likes of Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah because they’re playing really well and you’re talking about players who could be up for the Ballon d’Or come the end of the year, so I expect there to be interest from other clubs. I think getting Sadio Mané out of Liverpool this summer is nigh on impossible unless they pay a lot of money, so I’m not too worried to be honest. I’d be interested to see if Robert Lewandowski is allowed to go as Bayern Munich notoriously have never been open to the prospect of him leaving and he still has a year to go on his contract, so Bayern may decide to keep him until his contract is up. Every year Robert Lewandowski is threatening to leave Bayern Munich and they never let him leave. We will wait and see whether they let him go this year at 33 years of age and whether they’re looking to bring Sadio Mané in as his replacement for an absolute fortune. I think it will be very difficult.”

Aurélien Tchouaméni should be the type of player that Liverpool are looking at.

“I do believe Liverpool will be looking to make a move for a player in that area, but whether they fancy Aurélien Tchouaméni now is another thing. Maybe they have their eyes set on somebody else further down the line. However, Tchouaméni is a young midfielder and they should be looking at players like him, but £60 million is a lot of money. Liverpool will be looking at that area sooner rather than later considering the age of Jordan Henderson and James Milner and they will be looking to get rid of some of the fringe players and bring in players who can immediately challenge for a starting berth. Liverpool do have an abundance of midfielders and considering the success they’ve had this season, it highlights that the squad may only need a little bit of tinkering in the summer but whether Tchouaméni is a player to come in is something I don’t know.”

I don’t believe Liverpool should be making a move for Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah.

“I don’t think he’s good enough for Liverpool to be honest. I like Eddie Nketiah but he’s not going to dismantle any of that Liverpool front five and the club has an academy full of centre forwards, so I can’t see this move happening. 

“Mikel Arteta has selected him a lot recently, but it wasn’t too long ago that he didn’t seem interested in him. He just has to work hard and keep improving. [Alexandre] Lacazette may leave on a free transfer this summer, so there could be space for him to continue with Arsenal, but he needs to see whether his manager is planning on bringing in two or three forwards. If he’s happy there though and he’s playing there then he should stay at Arsenal.”

Manchester City would have stayed at the top regardless of whether they signed Erling Haaland or not.

“I think Manchester City would have still been successful and at the top regardless of whether they bought Erling Haaland or not. However, if age wasn’t a factor then Harry Kane would have been better suited as he played in the Premier League for a number of years now and he’s a proven goalscorer in the league. I do however believe that Erling Haaland could come in and score as many goals as he wants next season as long as he stays fit. He could be absolutely prolific as we’ve already seen at Borussia Dortmund and at Red Bull Salzburg. He should continue to be prolific at Manchester City as they’re a great team with better players and he’s going to have chances put on a plate for him. If he stays fit and well he’ll be top goalscorer in the Premier League next season. 

“I think other Premier League sides will go daft in the transfer window, not because Manchester City have signed Erling Haaland, but because I think they would have gone daft regardless in order to catch up. Manchester United are going to have to invest and bring in a number of players and so will Arsenal if they miss out on the Champions League, which looks like the case after their defeat to Newcastle on Monday evening. Tottenham will have to provide Antonio Conte with the money to have a go because he’s done incredibly well already and it looks like he’s going to get them into the Champions League, so money will come with that. He’s only got an 18-month contract which absolutely beggars belief really when you want a manager to do well and have a plan, so I presume Antonio will stay and sign a new contract if he’s happy and he has the assurances to grow this side. These teams on the periphery will have to do something to catch Manchester City and Liverpool, especially when City have secured one of the greatest forwards around for his age. These teams are going to have to bring in five or six players to try and catch both these great sides.” 

Raheem Sterling should stay at Manchester City in my opinion.

“I can’t see Raheem going to Arsenal if they’re not in the Champions League and personally I believe he should stay at Manchester City. He’s brilliant at Manchester City, even though admittedly Pep Guardiola likes to chop and change. He should have a conversation with his manager to see where his future lies. Only three of a possible five or six Manchester City forwards can play every week, plus they’ve just acquired Erling Haaland, so players will miss out from time to time. As long as those players are happy though and they know they’re going to play a certain part and win trophies every single year, then that’s the most important thing. I don’t know Raheem’s personal situation, or whether he’s happy or unhappy, but if I was him then I’d stay because he’s a really important player.”

Jack Grealish doesn’t have to improve much to be a success at Manchester City.

“He was the main man at Aston Villa and everyone's first objective was to give him the ball, so he always knew he was going to receive the ball and play on the counter attack, but it’s completely different at Manchester City. They’ve got six forwards who are often rotated, so sometimes you’re coming on to try and change a game and that can be difficult when teams are sitting back and you have to do everything to try and break them down. I don’t think he’s necessarily performed badly, I just believe he needs to practice on his finishing. I remember when they played away at Watford in December and he should have scored a couple. If he would have taken those chances then he would have been Man of the Match. He was great when he came on in the second leg against Real Madrid, but he missed a chance that was cleared off the line, so if that went in he would have been the hero. I don’t think he has too much to work on going into his second season. I watched him against West Ham and I thought he was exceptional. It could be a case of first year syndrome when you don’t get to play as much as you wanted to, you’re playing with better players so you’re no longer the shining light as he was at Aston Villa, so I just think he needs to settle in and work hard. He will be fine as I think he’s an exceptional player.”

Frenkie de Jong’s relationship with Erik ten Hag could see him end up at Manchester United this summer, but I’d stay at Barcelona if I was him. 

“Manchester United could potentially sign Frenkie de Jong as I don’t think he’s had the greatest time at Barcelona. I know that Barcelona have just got themselves back into the Champions League for next season and they are building something there, but he does have a relationship with Erik ten Hag, so maybe it’s a case of him not feeling the love in Barcelona. Playing for Barcelona on the rise or Manchester United on the rise is a completely different thing when one’s playing in the Champions League and the other one isn’t. For him to go to Manchester United then I think they’d have to pay him more than he’s earning at Barcelona, which I think will be a really hard thing to do considering that he went to Barcelona for a huge amount of money. You’d rather stay at Barcelona in the Champions League with Xavi trying to change things around. Players like [Andreas] Christensen and [Robert] Lewandowski potentially coming in makes that a more exciting challenge in my opinion.”

And finally, I don’t think Cristiano Ronaldo will leave Manchester United this summer.

“I think Cristiano will stay. He’s 37 so I don’t believe he has to go and uproot again. He’s still had a good season, scoring plenty of goals and Manchester United are already going to lose a lot of players as it is. Erik ten Hag has got a very difficult job on his hands. He’s got to get a grip of the dressing room, sort it out, try and get some leaders in there and keep everybody happy. I don’t think getting rid of Cristiano when he’s got a year left on his contract is necessary, as you may as well have him round the place considering the amount of goals he scores and the experience he has. He could be a good influence for all the young players around the camp. Ten Hag has got a hard job to get Manchester United back to where they were because naturally he’s going to lose four or five players due to their contracts expiring, so they’ll need replacing. He’s got a huge rebuilding job ahead of him. Hopefully Manchester United give him a lot of time, remain patient and allow Erik to get them back on the right path and challenging again. It will not be a quick fix.”

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