Ahead of a busy time in the Premier League and with semi-finals to play in both Europe Leauge and the Conference Leauge, we caught up with West Ham legend and former Leicester, Everton and England ace, Tony Cottee. We discussed the important games in Europe, where he thinks West Ham and Everton will finish this season and what West Ham should do with Declan Rice and how to strengthen West Ham moving forward. 

West Ham takes on Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League? What do you think of the Hammers’ chances and how do you see David Moyes setting his team up?

Well, obviously I would like West Ham to go through being a West Ham fan. I have really enjoyed the European tour that they’ve had this year. I flew out to Sevilla for the game. In my opinion, Sevilla was the best team left in that competition. So for West Ham to beat Sevilla was a major achievement.

Then went to Lyon as a fan, and of course, everyone expected West Ham to get knocked out. That went 3:0 in Lyon, and now we are up against Frankfurt. I think it is going to be a really tough game. If you look at what they are doing in the league, they are mid-table in the Bundesliga, it has not been a particularly good season, but if you look at their performances in Europe, I think they’ve done really well. And obviously beating Barcelona in the last round was a fantastic achievement.

So, there is no way West Ham will underestimate Frankfurt. David Moyes is a fantastic manager. Lots of experience in Europe with Everton and with Manchester United. I think he will set up his team to try and take the game to Frankfurt, cause it’s important. In the home game, you have to try and take the game to the opposition. But I think West Ham has to be careful not to get caught out, obviously struggling with defenders at the moment. So, even more so, they have to be aware. But I’m hoping that all the main class  West Ham has had this season have been (Michail) Antonio, (Jarod) Bowen, and Declan Rice, I think they are the main presence. As long as those players are in the plan I think we’ve got a great chance of getting a good result.

What do you think we’re going to see from the Frankfurt side? 

What I do expect, is a very well organised team. German teams by definition are physically strong, they are well organised, and they are well drilled. They are not gonna come to West Ham and let two free goals within the first ten minutes. They are not gonna do that, they will be very well organised and I’m expecting a tough game. And do you know what, everyone keeps saying “we gotta win, we gotta win” for the first leg. I don’t agree with that. I think with Europe, I think it’s changed as well with the away goals being taken out, it has also changed the dynamic of the two-legged games. So if you draw a game, if you draw 1-1, it’s not a sort of disaster like in previous times. Because obviously if Frankfurt had an away goal then you were thinking we gotta score two goals on top of things. But if you draw nil-nil, one-one, two-two, or win the game, any of those results I’ll be pleased. As long as you don’t lose the game, cause if you lose the game it makes it really difficult for the second leg.

Do you think West Ham can go all the way and win the Europa League? Are they favourites? And if they get past Frankfurt, who would you rather face? RB Leipzig or Rangers?

I think if you look at the four teams that are left in the tournament, and you look at respected leagues and their positions, you would have to say that West Ham and Leipzig are the two favourites to go through. As I already mentioned, Frankfurt have not been brilliant in the Bundesliga. Rangers have done fantastically well this year, they have done really well in Europe. But the Scottish league is not as strong obviously as the Premier League or the Bundesliga. But I’ve still got a feeling it will be West Ham-Rangers in the final. I don’t know why I’ve just got that feeling.

But if you talk purely on form, and players, and their positions in the leagues, yeah of course West Ham and Leipzig. I would probably favour West Ham, purely because they’ve already beaten Sevilla, and that would be one of the reasons you put West Ham as favourites. But I know that Leipzig are a decent team, the Champions League experience and all that. So, whoever West Ham play, whether it’s Leipzig or Rangers, it will be a very tough game.

What do you have to say about David Moyes’ career arc and how much would it mean to win the Europa League?

It would mean the world to David. I’ve got nothing but admiration for David Moyes. I like him as a person. But when I’m lucky enough to get into the training ground, he is always very friendly. He invites you into his office, and you sit and have a cup of tea and a ten-minute chat. There have been previous West Ham managers that don’t even know your name, so I like David Moyes as a person. He is a real football man. Obviously, at one of my old clubs, Everton, he did a fantastic job there. In eleven years, brought them Champions League football. Continually been in the top ten of the Premier League. So he deserved the chance at Manchester United. As we know it didn’t work out.

I look at what happened at Manchester United since Sir Alex Ferguson has left over the last nine years. And there is not one manager who has really achieved anything. Because you are following an absolute legend. I think they didn’t give David Moyes enough time, nine months is nowhere near long enough to do what you need to do in a football club. So I think he was a little bit unlucky.

I think coming to West Ham was a perfect match, because West Ham and Everton, two of my old clubs obviously, are very very similar clubs. Very much family-based, community clubs. Huge passionate support, but very much under-achieving clubs. And I think what David does and what he’s good at is he goes into a football club, he gets the players organised, he gets a good team spirit going which you need in football. And everyone knows what they are doing, and everyone is going in the right direction. I felt he was really truly poorly treated with the first spell at West Ham. I sort of understood the reasons for getting a world-class manager and all that rubbish, and you got (Manuel) Pellegrini and it was awful.

But he was very unfairly treated in his first spell, and when he came back for the second spell, I was one of the few people who were saying, look we have appointed the right man here. This is the right person for the job, and I am so pleased for him. The last two years have been incredible. The performances in the Premier League, as you would have known, and everyone else who is watching this, follow my stand to be up there, pushing for a Champions League place. And the success of the Europa League has been wonderful.

Let’s put it this way, if you would have said five years ago that we are gonna put the name ‘West Ham’ and either the words ‘Champions League’, and maybe ‘playing Barcelona’ in the same sentence. If you would have said that to any West Ham fans, or any fan around the world, they’d go there is no way that West Ham will be anywhere near the Champions League, and there is no way they will ever get to play Barcelona. I know they are not playing Barcelona, they are playing Frankfurt, I get it, but the point I’m making is that it shows you the progress that David Moyes has made over the last two years.

It’s been an incredible achievement, and I just hope he can take the club to the final. Let’s not forget there is so much from West Ham riding on this because if you get to the final, win the final, as we know you qualify for the Champions League, which will be for the first time in the club’s history. An incredible achievement. And also, not only would that be a great experience for the fans, but it would also give them the opportunity to maybe try and keep Declan Rice in the football club. We all know how good (Rice) Declan really is looked at by every single famous football club in the world, but we all want him to stay at West Ham. And perhaps the only way to keep him is to be in the Champions League.

 

Where do you see West Ham finishing this season? Do you think they could pip Man Utd and finish sixth? Or they can go even higher?

Well, I think the Champions League qualification would have been really good this year. As we all know Liverpool and Manchester City are going for the League. Chelsea has been in the third position for a long time now and doesn’t look like getting cold, especially after beating West Ham on the weekend. And, I’ve found it really exciting, because you’ve had Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester United, West Ham, all flirting with that fourth position. I don’t think West Ham will get that fourth position, I think that is gonna be well beyond them. There are only four games left for the club.

 

In terms of getting the sixth position, I think that’s what they’ve gotta aim for because you still wanna do well in the Europa League. Obviously, the aim for the club now is to qualify for Europe every year. So they need to try and protect their position. They haven’t got any centre rights for the weekend. I think we might well see Declan Rice drop back to centre-right which he is more than capable of doing. Mark Noble would then come into the team, and West Ham is going to give Arsenal a game, there is no doubt about that.

It is always very difficult, for a team and a club like West Ham to play Arsenal who obviously aren’t playing mid-week, and of course, they are going to play them on Sunday when they are fresh. And let’s be honest, Arsenal has got some really good young talented players. So it is going to be a tough game for West Ham. But I think they will look at that game on Friday morning as opposed to what we are doing right now, we are speculating about what West Ham may or may not do against Arsenal. David Moyes will only think about that on Friday.

West Ham has to try and concentrate on finishing at least in the seventh position. If you finish in the seventh position, it guarantees you a place in the Conference League next year. And for a club like West Ham, it is still building. For a club like Manchester United, do they wanna be in the Conference League? No of course not. Tottenham didn’t wanna be in it this year, they’ve been in the Champions League final. But for a team like West Ham, for a team like Wolves, for a team like Leicester, I think it is progress and that is something you are aiming for.

 

Do you think Declan Rice will be the most sought-after Premier League talent in the summer? What transfer fee can you see West Ham letting him go for?

Declan (Rice) has been one of the few English players that have improved his game this season. And we all know England got to the final of the Euro last year and lost to Italy. What normally happens and what has happened, to most of the players that have been involved with England you can think of players like (Harry) Maguire, (Jordan) Pickford, (Jack) Grealish, countless players that have either been injured or lost of form. But Declan has been the complete opposite, he’s gone from strength to strength, he has pretty much played every game for West Ham. He has been unbelievable. Without Declan, there is no way that West Ham would have been in the position to be in Europe.

In terms of going forward, I want him to stay, the fans want him to stay, the club, the manager, and everyone want him to stay. If they get to Champions League I think he might do. But if West Ham were to get knocked out against Frankfurt or don’t win the final, there will be lots of clubs. I think if you honestly ask him the question, I think he would probably prefer to go to Chelsea.

Declan was at Chelsea as a youngster, left there at the age of fourteen to sign for West Ham. His best friend is Mason Mount, so there are lots of reasons for him to go to Chelsea. I think Manchester United obviously need a massive overhaul. You then look at Manchester City, they’ve got all the money in the world. Fernandinho is 36 years of age. So they need a replacement. Declan would be ideal for them. And then you perhaps look at Liverpool. Liverpool has some incredible talent defensively, attacking-wise, it’s just that midfield. Do they need a holding midfielder? They probably do. So you have got all the top English teams, that’s without Arsenal, Spurs and Newcastle. They’ve got lots of money and they would all want Declan. And then you look at Real Madrid, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, all the top European clubs. All the European clubs would want Declan. He will be much sought after.

Personally, I think he might get priced out of the market. Cause if you look at what happened with Harry Kane, 150 million was asked, they are quoting the same price for Declan (Rice). Although Declan doesn’t score the goals that Harry Kane does, in many other leagues, he is probably worth as much as Harry. Will anyone pay 150 million? I am not so sure, especially with what is going on in the world in the last couple of years. In a way, I hope they don’t cause I want him to stay at West Ham. It is going to be very interesting, and as things develop in the next two or three weeks we know what he is doing.

Where do you think West Ham needs to strengthen in the summer?

I think first and foremost West Ham should have signed players in the January window. That would have helped what’s going on. The main priority for West Ham in terms of this summer transfer window is to sign a centre-forward. They’ve had two years without a centre-forward.

Michail Antonio is a fabulous player. I love watching him play but he is a converted right-back who became a centre-forward. He’s not a natural centre-forward, so I think the first thing they need to do is sign a centre-forward. They probably need to sign a centre-half and a goalkeeper. I think they’ve already done a deal to sign a goalkeeper, which will be announced soon. English goalkeeper, I think that’s gonna be coming soon.

Then you look at the midfield. They probably need four or five players coming into the squad. They’ve got quite a few players out of contract. What do you do with players like (Andriy) Yarmolenko, Alex Král and (Nikola) Vlasic who’s been very disappointing this year? These players haven’t quite progressed as they should have done at West Ham.

There’s a big job on their hands. Manchester United struggles at the top and it is another club that needs a massive overhaul. West Ham needs to sign players like (Jesse) Lingard, like Michael Keane. Players like that, good English players, coming and buying into what David Moyes got going on and want to be a part of the squad and that good team spirit they’ve got there. So it’s a big summer for the club.

But you can’t look too far ahead at the moment as a manager. Because there’s so much going on still. You still got the Premier League, you got the Europa League. And I think, once we get to the end of May, take a big sigh of relief. Have a nice week or two of holiday and then really get to work.

West Ham, without a doubt, probably needs five or six new players into the squad. And also five or six players leaving so that’s a surplus of requirements. It’s exciting times at the football club. 

Do you think Everton will be relegated?

There was a really really good West Ham team in 2003 that got relegated with lads like (Paolo) Di Canio, Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, and many more good players that got relegated. They should never have been relegated.

We then saw a really good Newcastle team get relegated. Even an Aston Villa team that got relegated. So there have been some big clubs getting relegated. It proves what we all know, that the Premier League is the most competitive league in the world. They say it is the best, I don’t always agree it is the best technically. But in terms of entertainment, goals, and unpredictability, I think the Premier League is on a different level.

For a club like Everton, I had six and a bit fantastic years at that football club. I was involved in 1994, and in the last game of the season, we had to beat Wimbledon to stay in the Premier League. And we just about managed it. And it happened in the late 90s before David Moyes took over. They had two lucky escapes, and then David Moyes settled things down at the club. Pushing for Europe, Champions League etc.

But since (David) Moyes left you’ve gotta say that their choice of managers, and in particular their choice of players that they have signed. They’ve spent an awful lot of money. They’ve spent so much money, yet they are in the bottom three of the Premier League. It would be an absolute catastrophe for Everton to get relegated, without a doubt. It would be a nightmare of nightmares. They’ve got a massive wage bill, they’re just about to move to a new stadium in two years’ time. They are trying to prepare for that. It would be awful, and I would hate it as an ex Everton player.

But you’ve got to earn the right to be in the Premier League. And you have to get results. The performance was improved against Liverpool. A tough game but they were always gonna lose the Liverpool game. And Everton has got some really tough games coming up. Their only saving grace if you’d like, is that Norwich and Watford are done, we already know those two are already gonna go. And then you look at it, can Everton catch either Burnley or Leeds? 

Leeds has got some tough games, I think they’ve got City, Arsenal, and Chelsea next three games. So Leeds is not gonna get too many points. And Burnley will always fight. They will fight to stay in the Premier League. So Everton has got to try and get some results, I think they’ve got Chelsea at home on Sunday. That is a really tough game for Everton. But maybe you can argue that it is a good time to play Chelsea. Chelsea hasn’t been brilliant recently. So if they could beat Chelsea, it is a great story isn’t it? So hopefully they will get the chance to beat them, and if they do, they will have a real chance of staying up. But I’m just really sad, and I feel for the fans, cause as I said earlier, they are a really passionate group of fans and they deserve better. But you’ve gotta earn the right to be in the mid-table in the Premier League and not in the bottom three.

Should they have gone for a manager with more experience in the ‘relegation battle’, rather than Frank Lampard?

They had Sam Allyrdice before, but the fans didn’t like him, they didn’t like his style of football. They were always moaning about him. I suppose you could have gotten what you would call a ‘firefighter,’ someone who’s a specialist at getting the club to stay in the Premier League.

Sam would have been the obvious choice. But it would have been a terrible decision, especially following the appointment of Rafa Benitez, which, I said at the time, was absolute madness.

He couldn’t win, Rafa, even if he won the cup, or qualified for Europe, he’s still a Liverpool man, and he couldn’t win. And of course, if you’re gonna have a bad time, which he did, 12 or 13 games with poor results, you’re gonna get sacked. It was always a crazy appointment.

Frank is an ex-teammate of mine, I think he was the right appointment out of all that was available. There was a list of a few people, a couple of people I didn’t particularly know. At least Frank knew how to manage in the Premier League, the Championship, etc. So, he had that experience.


What he didn’t have was the experience of being involved in a team that was fighting relegation. And that’s probably the one worry about it. He, as a player– fantastic player, played for Chelsea, but now he’s gonna be in a relegation fight. Not too much experience there, but I really hope he keeps the club in the Premier League. As a proud Englishman, I like to see the likes of Steven Gerard and Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney, and John Terry are going to management. But only time will tell whether Frank was the right appointment or not.

Do you see Leicester getting the better of Jose Mourinho’s AS Roma in the Conference League?

Leicester at home on Thursday night in the first leg is a tough game. And you know what José Mourinho is going to do. We know what the Italian mentality is.

They will come to the King Power Stadium and they will be very very defensive. They will be time-wasting. They will probably be doing what Everton did at Liverpool. The way they came and try to waste as much time as possible and try to get out of the ground as quickly as possible. I think it will be a little bit of a stalemate in this first leg.

Leicester has been very unfortunate this year. They’ve had so many injuries. At one stage they had their whole back four missing. 

They’ve got Jonny Evans back now, they’ve got Fofana, they’ve got (Timothy) Castagne back, they’ve got James Justin back. All those players who have been injured. So they are just finally starting to get their preferred back four in place, which will give them a real good chance to get through.

I think they deserve credit as well, because they got knocked out of the Europa League, went into the Conference League and instead of losing the next game, they won the games, and they have now gotten into position. I don’t think Leicester have ever been in a European semi-final before. It’s a massive night for the club. I wish the world to the club that’s very close to my heart. And I think it will be a tough game for them.

But I think with the second leg, and Jamie Vardy will have a little bit more fitness, he’ll play in that second leg at least, if not in the first leg. I think they are a wonderful team Leicester. It’s a big if, but if they can get a one-nil victory in the first leg, then I think that will really work in their favour. Because they will go out to Rome and Roma will have to come at Leicester, and Leicester can pick them off.

And I think that applies to both teams, West Ham against Frankfurt and Leicester against Roma. Just get a small victory to take away and both teams are very good on their counterattacks, and I think they can explore that and get through to the final. 

I am really hoping that I can watch both West Ham and Leicester in the finals.

Do you think Leicester should look to appoint a new manager for the next season? Some have called Brendan Rodgers the definition of a ‘bottle job’. Do you think there’s some truth to that statement?

I think that’s very harsh to accuse Brandan of anything. I think he has been a success without a doubt. He won the FA Cup last year. I don’t like that sort of accusation. But Leicester had two seasons running when they had to win a game to get into the Champions League in the last game of the season and ended up in fifth instead of fourth.

You have to put things into perspective. Twenty years ago, Leicester would play in League One or Championship football, not going anywhere. They didn’t get promoted, they’ve gone through a few managers, and eventually got (Claudio) Ranieri and won the Premier League. They won the FA Cup, they won the Community Shield, and they are in the semi-final of the Conference League. It’s a massive achievement for the football club. And I like Brandan Rodgers, another manager, who when you see him, asks you to come in have a cup of tea, come in sit down, he likes talking football, like David Moyes. They don’t dismiss you.

They’ve got fantastic ownership of Leicester City Football Club. Fantastic chairmen and owners, and they will not press the panic button on Brandan Rodgers, he will be given as long as he can. And I think next season we’ll see Leicester competing for the top four again and if they win the Conference League they will be in Europa League, which will be a great achievement, as well.

Who’s your pick for the PFA Young Player of the Year award? 

(Bukayo) Saka from Arsenal has been fantastic, Emile Smith Rowe has been another fantastic player. Personally, I love Phill Foden, I don’t know what the qualifications are. There has always been a sort of dubiousness about the age, and the qualifications for the young player of the year. I think it’s on 21, or 23 at a certain time.

I like the Arsenal boys, I love Phill Foden, I think he has been absolutely outstanding this year. And watching him play against Real Madrid, I keep saying he could be England’s best player for the next seven or eight years. He is that good a talent. But if he is eligible, if he is young enough, then I will vote for Phil Foden.