Steve McManaman: Don't forget about Al Boum Photo

Al Boum Photo is the reigning Cheltenham Gold Cup holder.
Al Boum Photo is the reigning Cheltenham Gold Cup holder.

In the latest edition of his exclusive column on the site, Steve McManaman takes a look at the Cheltenham Gold Cup picture after a hectic festive period, before giving his views on everything going on in the world of football…

So much has happened in racing in the last couple of weeks, and we’ll start with the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day.

I thought Clan Des Obeaux was incredibly impressive in winning the race, but I just don’t know how impressive that form will turn out to be in terms of the Cheltenham Gold Cup picture. 

The race rather fell apart behind him - Cyrname just looked as though he didn’t stay, while a bad mistake knocked the wind out of Lostintranslation - so the race didn’t pan out to be the greatest King George we’ll ever see, regardless of Clan Des Obeaux winning it as well as he did. 

I don’t want to knock Clan Des Obeaux too much though because it was an incredible training achievement by Paul Nicholls, but the fact that he’s still not favourite for the big day, shows that people still have a few reservations about him. Lostintranslation is still only a baby in the realms of three-mile chasers, and a wind operation should help, but all the best form I’ve seen so far has been over in Ireland. My eyes keep being drawn over there, and it wouldn’t surprise me if there were lots of Irish-trained winners at Cheltenham this year. 

Speaking of which, we also saw the Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas, which perhaps had a slightly surprising 1-2 in the form of Delta Work and Monalee.

I don’t think that either of them are quite good enough for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and even though both ran really well that day, the field all finished in a bit of a bunch. 

The Gold Cup is such a unique race - three and a quarter miles at Cheltenham is the equivalent of three and a half miles anywhere else because of the way the races are run and the steep hill coming home - and although we’ve had average winners in the past, the good horses normally come to the fore by March. For instance, I’d put Clan Des Obeaux’s form ahead of what Delta Work and Monalee showed at Leopardstown, but you get the feeling that some horses are still building up to their peak, such as Kemboy.

There have been so many problems with his ownership, but the peak of the mountain is Cheltenham and maybe the delay has been good for him, as it’s meant that Willie Mullins has been able to pull him from the limelight and introduce him slowly. 

Meanwhile, it’s strange to say, but last year’s Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo is almost the forgotten horse.

There are trendier horses out there, to the point that if you went out and asked the public ‘who won last year’s Gold Cup’, you’d probably hear answers like Might Bite or Native River, but he made a pleasing return at Tramore with the minimum of fuss, and the master trainer Willie Mullins will have him ready for the big one. 

In the footballing world, all eyes were on the FA Cup over the weekend, and it was definitely an opportunity missed for Everton in the Merseyside Derby…

When the starting line-ups were announced on Sunday and we saw the names on the team sheet, the Everton players must have looked at it, Carlo Ancelotti and Duncan Ferguson must have looked at it and thought ‘Wow, this is it today’. They had to think that.

For them not to go through and to lose, it must be really hard for them. It’s hard to lose any derby game, but to lose to a so-called second string side, because the side predominantly was academy players,  it must have been incredibly galling for the players.

It must be awful for the fans too, the stick they’re going to get when they’re going round the city and in the local papers, it’s a really hard defeat to take.

The fact that they were on top in the first half and then in the second half they looked like they couldn’t get a kick, that was the really upsetting part for them, because that shouldn’t happen really with first team footballers.

On the other hand, the future looks bright for Liverpool with their youngsters. 

I’m slightly biased as I work at the academy, and I have done for a number of years now, so I know all the kids very, very well. They’re all friends of mine, I’ve worked with them for a number of years and they’re people that we’ve tried to help out.

Harvey Elliott is 16 and they bought him from Fulham, so that’s a different matter. He was thrust into a derby match in the FA Cup, in a severely weakened team in comparison to the first team, and he acquitted himself really well. 

Neco Williams at right back, his trajectory of progression has really pleased me because from two years ago to now, his improvement has been absolutely incredible.

The lads at the academy, Alex Inglethorpe, Barry Lewtas the under-18 manager, Neil Critchley the under-23 manager, they’ve worked wonders with him to help his progression. 

Curtis Jones is an incredibly talented player. He’s a scouser, he wants to play, he’s got that little bit of arrogance about him because he knows his ability is incredible, so they’ve all got a great chance.

The only thing is, breaking into the team which is the best team in the world at the minute is going to be very, very hard.

However, it shows you that these kids are very, very talented, they can mix it with the best and most importantly, if they keep working hard they can really seriously improve to become better players.

The current crop of senior players are playing out of their skin, though, particularly Jordan Henderson.

He’s gone to another level since Jurgen has taken over. He’s played in numerous positions and at one stage against the likes of Chelsea and Tottenham, he was getting down the right flank and putting crosses in, slightly like Kevin De Bruyne.

Now I’m not saying he is Kevin De Bruyne, but the way he starts on the right and whips crosses in, he’s adding things to his game all the time and that speaks absolute volumes for him. 

Going down in the realms of Liverpool captains, if he wins the Premier League and he wins the Champions League and he’s the first Liverpool captain to win the Club World Cup, then he will go down as one of the club’s very best captains won’t he? 

I know Phil Thompson has won the European Cup, as well as Graeme Souness, Emlyn Hughes and Steven Gerrard, so Jordan’s up there already as he’s one of the few captains who’s won the European Cup.

He’s also won the Club World Cup, so if he goes and wins the Premier league and Liverpool are setting the recordings the way they are, then maybe he will go down as one of the less standout captains unlike Phil Thompson and Steven Gerrard because they’re scousers.

He’s quite quiet and unassuming, but he certainly deserves his place amongst the best considering what he’s doing now.

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Over in Manchester, I don’t think agree with Robin van Persie’s comments that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was ‘too nice’ in his post-match press conference after the defeat at Arsenal…

I think working in the television now, we moan when managers are miserable after games or they don’t give any answers or whether they’re curt or angry.

I actually like Ole and I do believe that he has the authority he needs. As far as I’m concerned nowadays, when you’re playing for Manchester United then you’re professional in yourself and you don’t need to be necessarily told off by managers.

You know when you’re playing well, you know if you’re preparing correctly, you know if you’re keeping your body in the right shape and as a professional footballer you should be managing yourself not relying on the manager.  

I do believe that Ole has got a ruthlessness about him, and that he can tell the players off and if he can’t and some of the players are too big then he has to get rid of them. It’s as simple as that.

January could prove to be a crucial month, though, as they need players all over the place and right down the spine of the team.

They certainly need another forward and they need a couple of players in midfield but they’ve looked a bit lethargic. 

If Rashford’s not playing or Martial’s not playing, then you can’t expect Mason Greenwood, who’s a young kid, to play upfront for Manchester United for 30-40 games and score the amount of goals they need, because he doesn’t play like a centre-forward.

They just need experienced bodies to see them over. Of course they want to invest in youth, which we all like seeing them doing and which we want them to do, but they have to qualify for the Champions League first and then they can start attracting the proper players. 

Finally, it will be interesting to see how the situations with Christian Eriksen and Paul Pogba pan out, and whether my old club Real Madrid show an interest in either of them.

With what Pogba has shown in England, I know Real Madrid have gone cold on him but I know that Zinedine Zidane likes him. However I don’t think that signing him is a necessity now for Real Madrid. 

Firstly, he hasn’t really played this season and secondly there’s a load of baggage around him which Real Madrid probably don’t need at this minute in time.

Real Madrid have to do some in-house clearing themselves.

Eriksen on the other hand is going to be available on a free contract at the end of the season, so you’re getting an experience player as a bargain. 

If he wants to stay in this country then Manchester United would be a natural fit for him, but if he wants to go to Italy or Spain then certainly somebody will take him because if he wants to go to Spain he can sign a contract now and go at the end of the season.

It all depends on his personal opinion. Whether he’s good enough to play for Real Madrid is a different matter, because the midfield they’ve got are in good form at the moment.

I saw against Getafe that they were back to the midfield three of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric and of course Valverde is also there who’s playing really well, so they’ve got a number of players in that area already.

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