Steve McManaman: I wasn’t surprised by Oisin Murphy’s Champion Jockey Victory

Stradivaius was beaten again at the weekend, and McManaman discusses what he thinks should happen to the star stayer next.
Stradivaius was beaten again at the weekend, and McManaman discusses what he thinks should happen to the star stayer next.

The flat racing season has come to an end with Oisin Murphy being named Champion Jockey, despite a late fightback from William Buick. In his latest column, Steve McManaman discusses the competition amongst the biggest names in flat racing, the surprise Torquator Tasso victory in the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe and why he would prefer to own Shishkin over any other National hunt horse in training.

Earlier this month we saw a shock victor in the prestigious Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe.

I initially backed Hurricane Lane for victory because the ground on the day was very soft but I don’t think too many would have picked Torquator Tasso at 80/1! Before the race everybody was talking about Tarnawa, Hurricane Lane and Adayar. They all ran a decent race, as well as Snowfall, but the eventual winner took everybody by surprise.

Stradiviarius’ owner Bjorn Nielsen is rumoured to be considering retirement options after his defeat in the Long Distance Cup and the welfare of the horse is the most important thing to take into account. 

His owner seems brilliant and lets him run his races. Stradivarius ran well at the weekend in the Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup at Ascot, coming third and only losing out by a couple of lengths to Trueshan and Tashkhan. He was pushed out on a couple of occasions and boxed in at times. Considering it was a long distance two-miler, it was a very complicated, messy race.

Stradivarius still looks like a really good horse and the only reason why he may have to be retired is due to his age. If he was a 4-year-old then he would keep on racing. Trueshan seems to be the next superstar on the block and Stradivarius was only a short distance behind him, so he’s still showing good form. It’s up to John and Thady Gosden whether now is the best time to retire Stradivarius, but he’s undoubtedly been an absolute superstar of a horse.

It’s great to see some of Liverpool’s current crop of stars taking huge strides in the horse racing world with Mr McCann.

They’ve had a magnificent first season. I’ve texted James Milner on a couple of occasions to congratulate them. Of course, Mr McCann is named after Liverpool’s press officer Matt McCann, so I’ve also been in touch with him a couple of times regarding the horse. 

They bought the horse through my former teammate Michael Owen and they won the British EBF Novice Stakes at Haydock in July despite being a 22/1 shot. They were also victorious at the backend of September at Epsom and now will compete in the Derby next year, so it’s fairytale stuff isn’t it? They’ve done incredibly well considering this is their first foray in horse racing. The horse is probably worth ten times what they paid for it, which is another lovely little perk. 

If I had to pick any National Hunt horse in training to own then it would have to be Shishkin.

Out of all the British National Hunt horses in training then Shishkin has to be the most promising. He’s won all his races, he’s won twice at the Cheltenham Festival and he looks like a very strong horse. He won’t be beaten in a long time so he’d certainly be the one I’d choose in England because he looks like he can go to Cheltenham every year and win every single time. Shishkin looks like he will step up next year and take part in the Queen Mother Champion Chase and in the future he could even end up being a Gold Cup horse.

Onto the football, Sadio Mané became only the third African player to score 100 Premier League goals. He has been an exceptional signing for my former club.

He’s been a superstar. He now has 100 Premier League goals and when you compare that to all the other great forwards to have graced the league then he’s bound to rank very highly. That front-three have been brilliant under Jurgen Klopp’s leadership. They’ve won the Premier League, the Champions League and they all contributed with goals against Watford at the weekend. The fact that Mane is four shy of the 104 goals scored by the very best African goalscorers to have played in the Premier League, Didier Drogba and Mohamed Salah, says everything about his quality. It’s a wonderful achievement and he’s been a wonderful signing for Liverpool.

Raphinha’s agent Deco may have come out and stated that Liverpool are interested in the player, but I think he will stay at Leeds this season.

He will stay at Leeds. He won’t leave halfway through the season and Leeds certainly won’t want to sell him at the midway stage in the campaign. I also don’t think Liverpool will have the funds to sign him halfway through the season. The only way something like that could happen would be if Liverpool suffered a huge amount of injuries, which is something you don’t want to happen to any football club. 

He’s a really good player and he’s been scoring recently for Brazil, but I expect him to see out the season with Leeds.

Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembélé’s contract expires this summer and a reunion with Jurgen Klopp is on the cards. It could be a very smart signing by Liverpool. 

If they could get him on a free contract and get the deal sorted then I don’t think there’s any problem with that. His wage demands would have to come under the structure of what Liverpool would like to pay but due to the fact he would be a free signing and the player knows Jurgen Klopp personally, then it could be a smart piece of business. 

He’s a very talented boy but his attitude has been questioned a lot during his time at Barcelona. He’s had a lot of injuries and he’s injured again at the moment, so his games ratio has not been good at all and that’s another thing a prospective buyer has to take into account. Nowadays when a club signs a player, they look into every single aspect of the player and not just what he does on the pitch. Liverpool will do their due diligence on him and whether they take that punt or not is another thing. However, a really talented player available on a free transfer is certainly worth a risk.

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João Félix is still struggling in La Liga. Atlético Madrid don’t play to his strengths but Liverpool may well do.

João Félix is one of European football’s most talked about prospects, but he’s found it difficult to find his best form in Spain. I think that goes without saying that the style of football Liverpool play would suit him better than his current club Atlético Madrid’s. It’s an easy one. Atlético Madrid don’t play to his strengths and Liverpool may do. But after spending £113million, Atlético Madrid would want a lot of money back off him. His age is no problem at all, but he hasn’t played a lot of football and he hasn’t played a lot of good football lately. His move to Atlético Madrid hasn’t been a huge success, albeit they’ve won the league during his time there. Luis Suárez, Antoine Griezmann and Ángel Correa all now play in front of him. It’s a decision he himself has to make. Sometimes you play in teams where you do fit in, sometimes you play in teams where you don’t. The prime example is Fernando Torres. He fitted in at Liverpool no problem. Then he went to Chelsea, they played a different style of football, and he didn’t fit in. It’s the same with João Félix. He’s gone to Atlético and their style of football doesn’t play to his strengths. Maybe a move to another team who may be a bit more attractive, play entertaining football, may be the way forward for him. Remember, he’s only a young lad and he’s got plenty of time.

Liverpool can still demand such a high figure for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain if he wants to return to Arsenal.

I think Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is easily worth the money. He did have that bad injury for Liverpool a couple of years ago against Roma and he was out for a long time. But sometimes that happens. Since then he’s been fit and well. He came on against Watford and played.

If he wants to leave and play first team football that’s entirely up to him. The question is, is he worth that kind of money? And the answer is yes, without a doubt.

It seems like a hell of a lot of money, but it’s not a lot when you look around and see the figures being paid by some other football teams.

Real Madrid need a centre-half and Chelsea’s Antonio Rüdiger is better than anyone they’ve got now.

He’s certainly better than what Real Madrid have now! Real Madrid are going to be linked to everybody as they haven’t really bought anybody for a while and we know they offered €200million for Kylian Mbappé. The world and his wife will be trying to get to Real Madrid next summer. It’s just whether you take the punt as a player at the moment. They are a big team in transition. In a couple of years when the stadium’s finished it’s going to be the most glamorous place in the world. That goes without saying.

If the deal is done to bring in Kylian Mbappé in January then it will be the start of the Real Madrid renaissance. Erling Haaland, Paul Pogba, they’re being linked with all these names, but they certainly need a centre-half.

Rüdiger’s form is excellent but he plays in a three for Chelsea at the moment, so he’s a little bit more protected there with two others behind him. But he’s having a wonderful season, he’s better than what Real Madrid have got at the moment, and he would make Real Madrid a better team.

Chelsea don’t need to bring back Eden Hazard.

He wouldn’t even be guaranteed a place in Chelsea’s current starting eleven. He’s a couple of years older than when he left Chelsea and his form has dipped. That final year at Chelsea was outstanding, but owing to injury he hasn’t hit those heights again. I wouldn’t have thought he’d be the type of player Chelsea would be going for now. They’ve got Hakim Ziyech, Kai Havertz, Timo Werner and now Romelu Lukaku. They don’t need him.

Whether Raheem Sterling “would be open” to leaving Manchester City for more game time or not, he wouldn’t be short of options.

It all depends on what Pep Guardiola does with him. There was talk of a falling out between the two last year, but then Sterling played in the Champions League final, and had a great tournament for England at EURO 2020. But this season he hasn’t played as much as he wants. I think it's a decision he has to make at the end of the season.

I can’t see him coming back to Liverpool after him leaving the club the way he did. There’s talk of him going to play abroad for Barcelona or Real Madrid, but, again, it’s a hard time to play for the likes of them. Manchester City are way better than the pair of them. They’re the best around at the moment. It’s a hard decision but certainly he’d have loads and loads of suitors no problem. He’s a super player and his character and how people think of him hasn’t diminished because he hasn’t been playing football for Manchester City. That hasn’t affected him at all, everyone knows he’s a wonderful player.

If I was in charge of newly flush Newcastle United, I would be very, very careful.

Newcastle just have to be very careful. Everybody in the world knows that. Every agent will be trying to push their players into Newcastle. Gareth Bale would be very interesting, of course he would, as he’s got a year left on his contract and he’s a super player. The only thing is whether he wants to come back to this country as he loves life in Madrid. Eden Hazard is now on the wrong side of 30. And you have to be very careful with Isco and Luka Jovic. I don’t think Isco is a Premier League player, he just lacks that little bit of pace. Marquee signings to me are the likes of Kylian Mbappé and Erling Haaland. You’ve got to be careful that you don’t pay older players lots of money and then they don’t turn up.

If my old mate Steven Gerrard is approached to succeed Steve Bruce as the manager of Newcastle United it would be very hard for Steven to turn down.

If what we’re being led to believe, that Newcastle United are going to be turned into the next Manchester City with all this money and power and glamour, it could be an absolutely brilliant opportunity to take that job. I think it’s an amazing opportunity if these new owners say, ‘we’d like you to take this job as our manager and we’ve got £500million to spend.’ If that was Steven - and I know his principal job will be to manage Liverpool in the end - it would be an incredible opportunity and one that would be very difficult to turn down. If these owners want to invest and turn this club into one of the best in England, in Europe, how could you say no?

Someone has to be Newcastle United’s first signing...why not Philippe Coutinho?

Though he scored against Valencia and he’s sort of back in favour, I would imagine Barcelona would like to get his wages off their books. Barcelona need all the help they can get at this moment in time!

We know how good Philippe Coutinho is. And someone has to be the first signing for Newcastle. But when they’re negotiating with these players they have to make sure that they sell them this project. They have to make it an attractive offer.

Right now, Newcastle are second bottom of the league. They’ve got to do something to try and attract these glamorous players. They’re in the bottom three and they can't buy anyone until January. You have to get your own house in order before you start buying players. You don’t want to be panicking. 

If they want to bring in a really good player, it’s not how much money they’re going to give them, it’s what you’re going to build for the future: ‘What are your plans?’ ‘How are you going to make it better?’ ‘How are you going to turn it into this global superstar side?’ If they can answer all this, then Newcastle United could be a very attractive proposition for players.

And finally, the issue regarding South American players returning to action late from international duty needs to be resolved

Everybody needs to sit down and discuss this ongoing issue. On a broader scale we’ve been talking about the World Cup every two years and in principle some of FIFA’s ideas are correct in regards to them wanting to cut down the amount of travel North and South American players have to endure, but there seems to be too much football over the course of an international break. All governing bodies need to sit down and come to a common goal which entitles everyone to play football at the same time and affords players a rest too. 

We don’t need the Nations League and another trophy in the summer. Players need a break every other summer. They don’t need more football. Just because there’s a gap, that doesn’t mean you need to fill it with stuff. There are more non-European players playing in the Premier League now than there ever has been so their travel arrangements have to be taken care of and they need to be entitled to time off.

Some players may have to get back to England to play a 12:30 pm kick-off on a Saturday and it’s not fair on these players who travel the furthest distances. The biggest teams are the most affected by this as they could be playing in the Champions League on a Tuesday night, so they may have to play a league game on a Saturday and not a Sunday. 

Player welfare has to be considered along with the teams that are being affected the most by the abundance of international fixtures.

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