Steve McManaman: Why William Buick is my choice for the 2022 Flat Jockeys’ Championship

William Buick is well fancied to be crowned champion jockey.
William Buick is well fancied to be crowned champion jockey.

The last month of racing in the UK has left many fans of the sport in awe. We’ve witnessed a vast amount of high quality racing which has provided many moments of excitement, as well as shocks. Returning with his column, Steve McManaman discusses his thoughts on the Cheltenham Festival, who he believed would have been victorious out of Constitution Hill and Honeysuckle and his choice for the 2022 Flat Jockeys’ Championship...

The Cheltenham Festival was alright, wasn’t it? 

Honeysuckle winning was a great story. She was well-fancied for the Champion Hurdle but she still had to turn up and win, and the fact that she remains unbeaten is impressive. There were a lot of impressive winners. 

The Festival was a huge success, the explosion of people turning up after the last couple of years, going out and enjoying themselves, you could really appreciate it. You could feel it even watching it on the television, that air of emotion about it. I was speaking to some of the former jockeys who were there and they said they felt it was a little bit different, because of what’s happened in the recent past. And then suddenly you get all these wonderful winners. You’re hoping for superstars to be on show and it certainly looked as if we got them. 

We last spoke about Willie Mullins’ winners and that, if he got to six, it’d be fine. And then on the last day to explode and get to ten was extraordinary and shows what a powerhouse he is. I thought there were lots of nice winners to look forward to in the future. 

Constitution Hill was incredible in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle. Facile Vega in the Champion Bumper looks an impressive horse. Sir Gerhard. Flooring Porter. Allaho, again. There’s always talk about these horses before the festivals but it’s great seeing if they deliver.

There was Galopin des Champs losing to Bob Olinger at the last fence! You thought that was the one horse that jumps fences better than Bob Olinger and, like Goshen, goes 20 lengths clear and all he has to do is pop the fence and just jumps it too big! It just brings it all back to life, doesn’t it? They’re already talking up Galopin des Champs being a Gold Cup horse but that doesn’t touch a twig when that runs so it’ll be interesting to see whether they do step it up.

My favourite day of the festival lived up to my expectations.

I always like the Tuesday - that raft of Grade 1 races straight off the bat - and the first bloody winner was Constitution Hill! It was incredible. And then of course you’ve got the Arkle a bit later, which Edwardstone won. Considering the path it’s had all season and the races it’s taken part in, I thought that was a really impressive winner. There was about three or four Irish horses that we all thought could be good, and he saw them off. Of course you chuck in Honeysuckle after that. I always say it’s the quieter day - there really are no ‘quieter’ days anymore at Cheltenham! 

Though Nicky Henderson has pulled Constitution Hill out of the Punchestown Champion Hurdle, if the two had come up against each other, I would still probably have gone for Honeysuckle.

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Only because Honeysuckle’s been there, done that.  

The fact that Constitution Hill is still a five-year-old and seemingly has to grow into its own skin, and has just won by 22 lengths, it could be a bloody machine if he thinks there’s going to be improvement from it next year. But next March, if Honeysuckle’s fit and well, and Constitution Hill is fit and well, that’s the time we’ll see them run against each other, which will be something. It’ll be frightening! 

William Buick is my choice for the 2022 Flat Jockeys’ Championship.

If William Buick wants to win it I’d certainly pick him. He had a good season last year. Oisin Murphy of course isn’t riding, and they’ve started the season really well.

Charlie Appleby’s horses look as if they’re flying at the moment. But I’d probably go with William Buick. The one meeting a day sort of curtails a lot of them travelling all around the country and riding winners, but for sheer quantity and quality of horse, if William Buick wants to win, it’s probably down to him.

Onto the football and I don’t believe Liverpool will win the Quadruple. And that’s OK.

It’s nigh on impossible for Liverpool to win the quadruple. What they’ve done already is impressive, it’s already an incredible season for what they’ve achieved, after everything that’s gone on in the past.

But for the quadruple, it’s impossible. You need so much to go your way. You don’t just need a load of good footballers, because we’ve seen that in the past with Manchester City, you need a lot of luck at times. You need the ball to bounce your way. You need decisions to go your way. So I just think it’s very, very hard to do.

Liverpool aren’t the favourites for the Champions League, Manchester City are, and have been since the start of the season. Manchester City are also favourites for the Premier League. So you just have to take all the quadruple talk with a pinch of salt. It is stupid to say after we’ve got one trophy, we’ve got to the final and let’s go again. The Champions League quarter-final was over by the first leg. You knew they were going to go through - that’s no disrespect to Benfica, just Liverpool weren’t going to lose by two goals at Anfield!

The FA Cup final against Chelsea is going to be really, really difficult, judging by the Carabao Cup final. Chelsea were arguably the better team and they cancelled each other out. You get to penalties and it’s hit and miss. That could easily happen in the FA Cup, and it could go against you. You just enjoy it for the ride at the minute. What the fans are seeing at the moment is incredible. There’s a lot to be thankful for at the moment if you’re a Liverpool fan; a real feel-good factor.

If they win the Premier League or the Champions League and they win the double, then they’ll be very happy with that. They could win the FA Cup as well but it’s a toss of a coin against Chelsea. If you can win one of the big ones, and by big ones I mean the Premier League and Champions League, then if you could do a double like that, then you’d be absolutely ecstatic.

There’s been a lot of talk regarding where Jürgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola rank amongst the Premier League’s greatest managers, but I don’t believe there’s a definitive answer to the question.

It all depends on longevity. It all depends on what you judge it by. Of course, Sir Alex Ferguson was incredibly successful for a long, long time and built three different football teams during his tenure at Manchester United, which takes some doing. It looks as if Jürgen is going to leave Liverpool at the end of his contract and I don’t know what Pep’s going to do, so I don’t believe you can judge one against the other because you can’t win against Sir Alex’s trophy haul can you? It’s like chalk and cheese to talk about them. It’s like saying who’s the best player that’s ever played for your club. You can’t judge Steven Gerrard against Kenny Dalglish, or John Barnes against Virgil Van Dijk. It just doesn’t work.

Erling Haaland looks set to join Manchester City, ending the club's long wait for a striker, and the fact that they’re one of the only clubs able to afford the astronomical deal has helped them see off their competition. 

Like the Robinho deal in 2008, I do believe this would be a huge statement signing for the club, even more so than the record-breaking Jack Grealish signing last summer. Jack’s price tag will be a lot more than what Erling Haaland’s will be of course, but Manchester City have indicated that they have needed a centre-forward for a while and Erling’s young, he’s dynamic and we’ve seen what he can do over the last couple of years. I’m not saying he will be the final piece of the jigsaw but they’re top of the league, they’re in the semi-finals of the Champions League and they’re going to buy one of the best prospects around, so it’s a really big signing for them.

The fact that City can afford the astronomical package to sign him could be behind his decision to join them over a La Liga club. We don’t know for certain, but there are a lot of rumours that the price tag is not going to be just €75 million. We know there’s going to be lots of different add-ons, so with his wages included, the whole deal is going to be a lot of money. There must have been twenty or so clubs interested in him, so the financial demands have surely whittled down the number of clubs that he could have realistically gone to. This surely isn’t a case of just his transfer fee and wages. There are surely many add-ons that have sent the price tag spiralling, so we will have to wait and see if the real figures will ever be revealed.

You can see why many clubs have stepped back from the deal. You’ve heard Jürgen Klopp state that he’s a fan of Erling, but even he’s admitted that Liverpool couldn’t go in for a transfer such as this. If Liverpool are saying things like that then it shows that the figures must be astronomical.

The sought after Darwin Núñez has shown that he has the attributes to play in the Premier League, but there’s still improvement to be made.

I’ve seen a lot of him this season. I think he needs to improve but he’s certainly got all the right attributes. He scored a lovely goal the other evening against Sporting CP in the Derby de Lisboa and he was impressive against Liverpool and, to be honest, it’s probably the most impressive he’s been all season from when I’ve been able to watch. He’s only a young kid from Uruguay, who came from Almería and came with a decent price tag. He looks as if he’s improving and, if he continues to do so, he could be a really good player. He’s 22 years old, he’s big and strong and he scores goals. Having an eye for goal always helps and in this day and age, I believe he will go for more than £40-50 million. Benfica will want more than that because of all the goals he’s scored. I don’t think it’ll be too much of a gamble for somebody if I’m being honest. Arsenal, Newcastle and even Manchester United will need a centre-forward because Edinson Cavani is set to leave at the end of the season and Cristiano Ronaldo is coming towards the end of his career. The price tag isn’t huge, as we’ve recently seen Liverpool pay £40 million for Luis Díaz, another talent from the Primeira Liga. If the overall package for the player is doable, say if that’s around €60 million, then I don’t believe it’s much of a risk for a 22-year-old such as him. He looks like a really hungry kid and he caused Liverpool a lot of problems. 

Villarreal’s Arnaut Danjuma has been heavily linked with Liverpool this season, but in their Champions League semi-final clash, I believe my former side will be more worried by them as a collective rather than individual players. 

I don’t believe Liverpool will be particularly interested in Arnaut Danjuma as they’ve got their forward line sorted. He’s done okay this year. He scored against Bayern Munich in the first-leg of Villarreal’s Champions League quarter-final and he did well. Villarreal are stronger when they’re together rather than focusing on individuals. They haven’t got standout individuals except for maybe Gerard Moreno who’s an excellent player and their top scorer. They have a lot of players such as Juan Foyth, Étienne Capoue and Alberto Moreno, who we all know of but were unable to settle in England. They’re doing amazing things as a whole with Unai Emery, so I wouldn’t necessarily believe that Liverpool will be worrying about an individual player from Villarreal in their semi-final tie, but rather the team as a whole.

Gavi continues to be linked with Liverpool, but I think it’s far too early for the player and my former club to consider that move.

Liverpool don't need Gavi at this moment in time. Maybe they could have an eye on him for the future, but I just think at this moment it won’t happen. He needs to stay at Barcelona and play football. He needs to fill out and get more experience and become a proper La Liga or Premier League player and he needs to play more games. At this moment in time, for that kind of money, when Liverpool have got about seven midfielders anyway, I just can’t see it happening. You need to see him play a lot more games. If you were picking between Jude Bellingham or Gavi you’d pick Jude because of the size of him, the experience he has and the fact that he’s played 100 more games. Gavi is a wonderful talent but I just think he’s far too young at the moment for Liverpool to be even looking at signing him for a fee like that.

If the Ballon d’Or was to hypothetically take place tomorrow, then Karim Benzema would win it. 

Karim Benzema is the current favourite for the Ballon d’Or. Robert Lewandowski has scored more goals for Bayern Munich this season, but it’s the big goals that Benzema has scored this year which would make him the favourite. He scored a hattrick against Paris Saint-Germain, a hattrick against Chelsea and a potential title-winning goal against Sevilla. His quality of goals now definitely makes him the favourite. The fact that he’s got 39 goals in total, taking Madrid on route to the title, as well as the semi-finals of the Champions League, then I think he’s definitely the top candidate for the Ballon d’Or.

If Real Madrid really are interested in Jude Bellingham, then it could be a really exciting place for him to go.

I don’t know whether Bellingham wants to play in England or Spain. If he goes to Real Madrid, it’s an incredible football club and if they bring in Kylian Mbappé and get their new stadium, then  it’s an incredibly exciting place to go to. Real Madrid do need new midfielders, of course they do. They’ve got a warchest to go and buy loads of players if Mbappé comes in on a free. It all depends on what Jude wants to do. It looks like he’s going to stay at Borussia Dortmund for another year as they’re set to lose Erling Haaland. I certainly think Jude is good enough to go and play in England or Spain.

Despite Paul Pogba’s club form, I’m sure there will be suitors for his signature this summer.

Paul Pogba probably did expect more clubs to be in for him, but his form hasn’t been good enough really has it? But someone will take him. I have no idea if clubs have spoken to him and opted out due to financial reasons, I don’t know, but on a free contract and being the player he is and the player he is for France, then there will be suitors. I guess it’s just his financial demands. I presume people have spoken to Mino Raiola and have asked if he’s leaving Manchester United and what he wants. Once you know his wishes then you weigh everything up. Are these wage demands applicable to how he’s been playing football and whether it will upset the team around you?

According to reports, Real Madrid are once again interested in Antonio Rüdiger, and in my opinion, he would go straight into their backline.

I do believe Antonio Rüdiger would start for Real Madrid. The club has Dani Carvajal, Éder Militão, and Nacho, so they definitely need more bodies in there after they lost Sergio Ramos and Raphaël Varane last year. Any team would be happy to take Rüdiger, especially as he’ll be available on a free transfer.

Reece James would be a wonderful signing for Real Madrid, but there’s no chance that Chelsea will be prepared to let him go.

Reece James would be an ideal long-term replacement for Dani Carvajal because he’s brilliant.  Getting him away from Chelsea however will be nearly impossible, but absolutely, he’s a superstar player and he kept Vinícius Júnior quiet when they faced off in the Champions League. He’s a lovely player but I don’t see him leaving Chelsea anytime soon. 

And finally, Erik ten Hag looks set to be named as the next Manchester United manager and I wish him the best of luck in the role.

I don’t think there is anyone else they should have opted for because they’ve done their homework on him. They’ve certainly done their due diligence on every single aspect of the next manager. You can shout names like Zinedine Zidane but they’ll have done their homework on him and found out if he fancies taking the job or whether he even speaks English. They’ve whittled it down to Erik ten Hag and Mauricio Pochettino and there must have been a reason why they didn’t go for Poch. Regarding Ten Hag, he speaks English, he plays good football, he’s a master of the Ajax system, so I think Man Utd are happy with that, so if he does come I wish him the best of luck.

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