Steve McManaman: Why I can’t wait to watch superstar Envoi Allen at Cheltenham

Steve McManaman fancies Envoi Allen to shine at the Cheltenham Festival.
Steve McManaman fancies Envoi Allen to shine at the Cheltenham Festival.

Back for a special edition of his column ahead of the Cheltenham Festival next week, Steve McManaman discusses his favourite memories of the Festival from down the years, why Envoi Allen is his one to watch and why he thinks victory will be hard for Tiger Roll in the upcoming Cross Country Chase...

The Cheltenham Festival has held great memories for me, both from a fan’s and an owner’s perspective.

From a fan’s standpoint, when you go down to the festival you always have an amazing time and the quality of horse racing is great. I was very good friends with AP McCoy and a couple of the other jockeys, so to see friends of yours winning the biggest races always provides a great buzz for you because you can see them afterwards and celebrate with them.

From a personal perspective, I had a couple of favourites for various races. Seebald, one of the horses I owned, was the favourite for the Arkle when it ran and that came second to the great Moscow Flyer which was both exciting and disappointing at the same time, however that was still a marvel;ous achievement as Moscow Flyer went on to become one of the greatest two-milers around during that era. That was a brilliant occasion for me, but unfortunately at that time I was playing in Spain, so when my best horses were running at Cheltenham it normally coincided with a Champions League fixture that I was playing in, so I would usually miss my own horses running at Cheltenham.

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In my opinion, Envoi Allen is certainly one to watch at this year’s Festival.

Anybody who’s interested in horse racing will know that Envoi Allen is an absolute superstar of a horse. From bumpers to hurdles and now to fences, this will be a big test for him of course in the Marsh Novices' Chase, but you have to be impressed with him. Cheveley Park has a number of wonderful horses, but Envoi Allen is the best one. You can only judge horses by what they do on the field and what they do in races and Envoi has answered everything that he’s been asked of.  

He was a superstar early on in the bumper race and we all know how much Cheveley Park paid for him so you always expected Envoi to be a good horse. The fact that Envoi Allen’s won bumpers, then won over hurdles at Cheltenham and now he’s in his chasing career and currently unbeaten in Ireland, everybody’s just waiting to see what he can do at Cheltenham.

Cheltenham Festival Races

It will be a shame to not see Tiger Roll in the Grand National this year, but he has his work cut out for him in the upcoming Cross Country Chase.

I don’t know whether Tiger Roll will succeed in the Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham as he was beaten so comfortably by Easysland in the same race last year. We have to wait and see just how fit and well he is. As Tiger Roll won’t be competing in the Grand National this year, then this is no longer a prep race for him, so perhaps he can be tuned up right to the maximum and this could be Tiger Roll’s Grand National to a certain extent by winning at Cheltenham. 

He ran in a hurdle race a few weeks ago in Ireland and finished down the field, but that was a nice little prep run for him because he’s used to jumping big fences like in the Grand National. It was always going to be a heavy weight for Tiger Roll in the Grand National this year. He’s won the last two so he was bound to be one of the top weights for the race this year as his records around Aintree have been superb.

He’s a small horse of course and it’s a lot of weight to carry, but he was always going to carry a lot of weight. They knew that beforehand and I think that every trainer who’s entered their horse into the Grand National thinks that the weight their respective horses are carrying is unfair, but it’s just unfortunate for Gigginstown in itself, but he does have a chance at Cheltenham of course as he’s going to be prime to the hill for this. Easysland looks as if he’s going to run and it all depends on how well he is, but he won so impressively last year.

Onto the football, Liverpool will most likely have to win this year’s Champions League to qualify for next season's competition.

You have to believe that Liverpool can still finish in the top four, but their form at the moment suggests that there’s absolutely no chance. There’s five or six teams at the moment in direct competition with Liverpool for a Champions League place and every single one of them isn’t going to struggle, so I think it’s going to be very difficult for them now to achieve that.

After watching their performance against Fulham, the only way they’re going to qualify for the Champions League is by winning the Champions League to be honest. At this moment, Liverpool just have too many teams that they need to falter in order to get ahead of them and their form isn’t good enough presently to challenge them.

Speaking as a Liverpudlian, it wouldn’t be right to want Liverpool to go out and spend £100 million to fix their problems

This current group of players need to get their belief back and need their injured players to return. Every football fan knows exactly why Liverpool are faltering at the moment. They need to get their team back in shape and need the right players playing in their correct positions.

With the pandemic and people losing their jobs it wouldn’t be right for a team like Liverpool to go and spend £100 million on players because their team has struggled. In an ideal world I’d love to see that happen, but with everything that’s going on and knowing the city of Liverpool as I do, I just think it’s wrong to spend that type of money. I think it may just have to be a case of Liverpool sitting and suffering for a while until they get everybody back and get the full benefit of a break in the summer.

Once we come out of this pandemic and we know that we’re getting fans back and some of the fringe players have been sold and some money has been recouped then yes, start spending again. People said they should have gone big last summer and they brought Thiago and Diogo Jota in and everybody was thrilled to bits, but then the squad began to get decimated by injuries.

I believe that Jurgen Klopp will be the head coach of the German National team...but not now.

I think that job will come at the backend of Jurgen’s career. With all respect to International managers, the day to day is generally less impactful than that of a manager working for a club. You travel around watching different matches, but you’re not managing players on a day to day basis and Jurgen Klopp is used to working 18 hour days, every single day at Liverpool like all their staff do.

I think it would be hard for many club managers such as Jurgen to take themselves away from day to day management. Jurgen Klopp would be wanted by Bayern Munich or quite frankly anyone at this moment in time. Any team in the world would have him if he wanted to leave Liverpool, so I don’t necessarily think he would go straight into an international job, but I don’t personally see him leaving Liverpool.

I’m absolutely thrilled to bits for my old teammate Steven Gerrard after he clinched his first league title in management with Rangers.

I rang him on Sunday and I’m so happy for him because his assistant Gary McAllister along with Michael Beale, Tom Culshaw and all the lads who went up to Glasgow with him are individuals I know very well from Liverpool’s academy where I was helping out, as I still do now. I spoke to Alex Inglethorpe, Liverpool’s academy director on Sunday as well and everyone there is thrilled for them too. They’re all great lads and everyone wanted to see them achieve. Steven must be very proud. 

He’s gone to Rangers and lived that life which is incredibly, incredibly intense, more intense probably than a lot of big Premier League teams, and in three years he’s hunted down Celtic, caught them up, and shot right past them. He does really well in Europe, had a great run last year, hasn’t been beaten this year. His record this year shouldn’t be talked down just because people have a disrespect for Scottish football. I think what he’s done this year is absolutely amazing. 

In terms of what he does next in management, it depends on what Steven wants but if Jurgen wants to manage Liverpool for the next ten years and Steven gets an offer to manage, I don’t know, a Tottenham or a Man City, he might feel that’s more palatable than waiting for Liverpool. It’s entirely up to him. But I think his dream job would be to manage Liverpool and he wouldn’t want to spoil that. I think if he did have any offers he would always take that consideration about whether it tarnishes or stops him from getting the Liverpool job.

Those Kylian Mbappe to Liverpool rumours have reemerged over the last couple of weeks...

I personally don’t think it will happen. I think if you look at the numbers, I don’t think Liverpool could do those types of numbers. Maybe in a couple of years. Let’s be honest he would cost too much money. At least £200million. He’d break Neymar’s record as the most expensive player. I presume he would want around £400,000 a week, I personally don’t think you can do it. Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s the most incredible footballer and I’d take him in a heartbeat because he’s that good and he gives you that lift. Liverpool are an incredibly famous team, one of the most well-supported across the world. He’s not going to make you jump sufficiently higher that you think you’re going to get it back on image rights etc. You’d get some back but the numbers won’t add up for Liverpool. I would love to see him in the building. He could leave on a free contract, but then it becomes a free-for-all. As I said I think he’s the most incredible footballer and I’d love to take him but I just don’t think the numbers can add up for Liverpool.

I, like all other Liverpool fans will wish Gini Wijnaldum the best if he is to leave Liverpool this summer but their midfield has a bright future with Curtis Jones. 

He’s been a superstar for Liverpool, not underrated, that’s the wrong word but he keeps himself to himself. His constitution’s excellent, he plays every single game, he’s rock hard, he very rarely gets injured and when he plays he’s brilliant. Goals against Barcelona and things like that he’ll be remembered for, personally for him the fact that he was pivotal in the Champions League and the league I think he’ll be remembered very very highly. I don’t know where he will go if he does want to leave, he could play for Barcelona which is being mooted - a lot of the Dutch players have played for Barcelona in the past and they’ve got a Dutch manager at the minute and if he wants to play there then I wish him all the best and he totally deserves it.

As for Curtis Jones, he has been a superstar. He was always very highly thought of at under-18 level, under-23 level. Even though he’s still only young, he’s settled in and he will only get better the more he plays and the more confident he becomes. I don’t think he’s a natural replacement for Gini Wijnaldum as they’re in different positions, albeit they play in midfield, I don’t think they’re that type of player but Liverpool certainly have enough players in midfield at the moment. In case Gini leaves, it all depends on whether people want to move on because they want more playing time or Liverpool want to bring somebody in. But Curtis has been an absolute superstar. I know him well and I’m thrilled for him that he’s stepped up to the first-team level and quite comfortably.

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Leeds United winger Raphinha has been linked with Liverpool this week and I think he’s an exceptional player.

He’s only just entered the Premier League so the fact that he’s hit the ground running is a big plus. He has a lot of skill and a lot of talent. I don’t want to disrespect Leeds but of course he could play for a big six club. He could easily fit in a team like that. I just think Liverpool need a player who can change the way they play a bit. I was watching Bayern Munich against Borussia Dortmund the other day. They had Leroy Sane on one side, Kingsley Coman on the other side. Then they brought Serge Gnabry on. They’ve got Douglas Costa. So they can change the way they play quite easily by throwing a couple of wingers on and I think that’s what Liverpool look as though they need at the moment. They have Salah, Mane, Firmino, or Jota and the width comes from the left-back or the right-back. I sometimes think that’s a bit unfair, as you can’t expect the left-back or the right-back to get up and down the pitch so many times. So I think someone like Raphinha who can play a bit wide and is someone a bit different to what they’ve got, I think that’s the most important. They need to be able to change their style and how they play and a Raphinha could easily fit into that mould. It’s something that Liverpool have to have a really good think about, The transfer committee really have to put their heads together. But if he leaves, it’ll be for a hell of a lot of money!

For me personally, it’s either Dias or Stones for PFA Player of the Year.

It’s a difficult one really. When you look through the teams. Manchester City have been wonderful but not one player jumps out at you. The central defenders, Ruben Dias and John Stones, have been really good but unfortunately the central defenders don’t get the love that goalscorers get do they? I’d never pick a Man Utd player! Ilkay Gundogan’s done well. Kevin de Bruyne won it last year and it was close with Jordan Henderson but it was a weird season with everything going on. As I said, the two central defenders for Manchester City have been excellent I must say, whether they’ll get it because they don’t score extravagant goals and things like that. I know the PFA usually vote around this time of year. If I had to vote today it would probably be for one of the central defenders at Manchester City.

Cheltenham Festival

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