Jermaine Pennant: There may be a place for Pierre-Emerick at Everton?

1. Mo Salah, is yet to sign a new deal for Liverpool, do you think he should stay, and what do Liverpool need to do in order to keep him?

JP: Short answer is; he should stay. Looking at Salah when he plays, he’s really enjoying his football and he’s playing his best football of his life. So I don’t see why he would want to leave. And Liverpool are in a good place, or situation, for competing for the top trophies, and a lot of that is thanks to Mo.

At the end of the day, they’re one of the best teams in Europe, so why would you want to leave? Saying that, if you’re not getting paid what you’re worth, then obviously you want to secure your future. So, Liverpool should offer whatever it takes really, as close as possible to what he’s asking for, what he’s demanding. Over the past four years his numbers have been absolutely astonishing, and when a player’s doing that, you want to keep him at the club at all costs, because who’s going to be a replacement?

He deserves to be amongst the highest paid players in the world. And you’ve got to fork it out to keep progressing, and competing, and for that you need the best players. Take Man City, their top players are on a huge amount of wages, but there’s a reason for it, because they are the best in the world, so you’ve got to pay for the goods – even if it’s top dollars.

It would be absolutely ludicrous, and I think the fans would turn quickly, if they let a player of Mo Salah’s caliber, go, just because they wasn’t prepared to increase his wages, which is truly deserved. He’s been loyal, and he’s a great advocate for the club. And I’m sure in shirt sales, they could gain some of that salary back anyway, so it would be ludicrous. I think it’s just a cat and mouse situation at the minute, who’s going to break? It’s business. You always want to go in as low as possible, but I think Jurgen will be key when it comes to pushing the board, so I feel that it end, once all agreed, all parties will be happy and that’s what it boils down to. But, Liverpool should really get this sorted sooner rather than later to avoid wasting anyone’s time.

2. Do you think Liverpool should sell Origi before the end of this transfer window, as in next week or should they hold on to him?

JP: I think they should hold on to him, because you never know what’s around the corner with injuries, and he has been a good, a great squad player. He’s classed as a Liverpool hero for his triumphs in his Champion’s League against Barcelona and the last minute goal against Wolves recently. He is a head worker and he chips in, and he does his part for the club. He’s obviously not a starter, but as a player, you want to play football, so I can see and appreciate his frustration, now he wants to get out there and play.

It’s probably a little bit selfish to try and keep him and stop him to playing regularly but I do think he’s a great squad player, and if he’s happy in that role, then, great, I would say keep him till the end of the season just in case Mo, Diego, Firmino or someone does get an injury and is out for a few months or so.

3. The Virgil van Dijk incident makes mockery of ‘lucky’ Liverpool claims after VAR controversy yet again – what are your thoughts on VAR?

JP: It’s mixed emotions at the minute. If they get it right, it will be good. The offside rule, with the little armpit hair, the millimetres, or fraction, that’s the thing that really annoys me. And I feel that the people who are judging VAR, they should be actual referees. There’s little point having people in the back looking at VAR who actually don’t know much about the game itself, and never been close to refereeing a game. They need referees refereeing VAR.

Then I think it’ll probably be a bit better. And they need to tight up on the rules, it’s not VAR making the rules, it’s VAR looking at decisions that implicate the rules. So, if a goalkeeper charged into an attacking player, regardless who’s got control of the ball, the rules state a foul. So, I am for it, but it just needs to be refined. It needs tweaking to a certain degree for it to really take its full potential.

At the minute its swings and roundabouts, some decisions go for you, some don’t. But I think overall, I’m quite happy with VAR overall.

4. Should Liverpool go all out for Jude Bellingham this summer?

JP: Absolutely. He’s an incredible fantastic young talent; he reminds me of a young Steven Gerard. For a young kid like that, he’s built well, he’s not scared of a challenge, he can get up the pitch, he can score, he can assist, he can also do the defensive side of it. So, he’s got that Steven Gerard mould. I really think Klopp would get so much out of him, and nurture him, and progress his career like he has done with the players that he’s got now.

Liverpool would be a great fit for Jude; as a club they really look after their players and develop them. Take Mo Salah for example. Liverpool snapped him up for not much money and turned him into a world class player, and it’s the same with Mane, so I think it will be a great addition to the squad. And I think in that midfield, he will give that little bit extra, because creativity wise, Liverpool’s midfield is more defensive minded, but that works for the front line, and that obviously helps the defensive side as well, but someone like Jude Bellingham may be the key to create that super squad. So yes – they should really do all they can to get him.

5. Brighton and Hive Albion midfielder Yves Bissouma has been linked to a number of clubs including Liverpool – do you think he’d be an asset to the club?

JP: Most definitely and even more so as Jordan Henderson is edging towards the parts of his career and to have someone like Bissouma in the midfield would add something to that midfield.

Bissouma is great on the ball, similar to Jordan, nice passing, and gets around the pitch easily. And not only that, his defensive side of it is great too. So, if you’re looking at like for like, a replacement, I think that would perfect for Jordan Henderson.

And for Brighton, who seem like a business venture club, I’m sure they’d listen to should the right offer be put forward.

And yes, Aston Villa and Newcastle are also known to be interested but looking at the three clubs, I know which one I’d prefer.

6. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has apparently offered himself to Barcelona. If you were Aubameyang right now, what would you do in his situation?

JP: If I was Pierre, the thing I would be looking at is to getting first team football. He’s obviously not required at Arsenal, he’s not really playing and I think that’s clear now. Having been stripped of the captaincy – it’s next to impossible to get back in. However, he’s a good player, he’s a great striker, and I’m sure he’ll want to be going to play in the big competitions. Like I say, he’s not getting any younger, so for his career, he needs to find a club that’s willing to take him. A good club, good level, and I feel Saudi Arabia would be going backwards. No disrespect to Saudi Arabia, I think that will be a kind of league you’ll go to towards the end of your career, where I think Pierre is 29, 30, so very much in his prime. Therefore, he needs to go to one of the top teams in Europe to prolong his career, to kickstart his career from this mishap at Arsenal. And if it’s not the top half in the premier league, it could be mid-tier or even some of the bigger clubs in Europe. Italy, Spain, for sure, you’ve got to try and find a way in there.

However, although Pierre is a great footballer, something really bad obviously happened at Arsenal – serious enough to strip his of captaincy – and this may work as a deterrent for some clubs. But…there will be some teams out there, such as Everton, who require a big name striker to help them. So, that can play in his favour, because he’s a big name, and he can score goals. So, it might not be a top, top tier team, but middle tier, and he shouldn’t find a problem there, regardless of what’s gone on at Arsenal, if he comes out saying, “I just wanna play, I just want to prove, I want to get back into things,” they should take him.

7. Arsenal look set to miss out on signing Dusan Vlahovic. Why do you think he didn’t want to go there?

JP: Nothing is finalised yet so until it’s all agreed, there’s still a glimmer of hope…but most likely he’ll stay in Italy; and I can see why as it’s difficult, when you play somewhere your whole career and then another Italian giant comes in like Juventus, actually huge, it’s hard to then turn that down, to go, “I’m going to lift up and go to England,” where his English might not be great, it’s a totally different culture, to starting all again.

So, signing for Juventus, there’s a lot of pros. And his family, they may want to stay in Italy, so there’s a lot of things that can play in that decision making of signing for Juventus. And also, in typical Arsenal style, they’re simply not up for spending enough money to secure these great strikers, and players, which is a real shame. And now with Aubameyang off the books, they’re actually without a proper striker altogether. They’ve got a lot of very talented very young players but they’re lacking a star striker; and Lacazette is not going to get you 15, 20 goals a season. So I can see why the Arsenal fans are a bit disappointed in what’s happening just now.

But also, Vlahovic’s fan base is in Italy – that’s where he’s made a name for himself, hence his price tag.

8. What do Arsenal need to do between now and at the end of the season to secure a top four finish?

JP: They need a good striker. I watched them against Liverpool in the semi final, and they could have been two-nil up before the half time, but they didn’t have that cutting edge. They had chances, but they need an out and out striker who’s going to get them goals. Because the youngsters are all gelling well, they have got great young players, and Arteta’s got them working well, but they’re just missing that cutting edge, that ruthlessness in front of goal. Like I said previously, their top goals scorer is Emile Smith Rowe. And he’s not even a striker, so it just goes to show they need someone who is going to get them 15, 20 goals a season to really keep them in the league, in the top four. And time is ticking!

Erling Haaland at Dortmund, he’d be a great signing for Arsenal but you’ve got big teams after him including Man City, Man United, and Chelsea, and I wonder if Arsenal can, or will, match them in wages; but a player like that would literally kick on Arsenal, and take them to the next level.

9. There’s bene rumours that Man United may be interested in Roberto Mancini, who previously led Man City to their title in 2012 – how do thunk this would go down?

JP: I think it’s been that long, and Pep Guardiola has done such a fantastic job, that few would even care. Perhaps there’ll be a few boos, but Pep’s been at the realm for so long, he’s done so well, took them into a new team, a new direction, a total different era of football, so I don’t think they’re going to really look back at Mancini, and think…”how dare you go to Man United”..more like…”alright…good luck over there!”

But as a manager, I think he could work well for Man United; and he’s got the experience in Manchester, he’s got the experience in the league, and he’s done well in the league, so I think it would be a good signing. At the end of the day, it can’t be much worse than what they’ve had!

10. The picture of the PL relegation battle is looking tighter than ever this season; Everton are three points above drop zone and have won just one league game since October, taking just six in the last 14 games. Do you think the Toffees may go down?

JP: I don’t think they’ll go down. Not at all – they’re too big of a club, and there’re teams around them that are more likely to go down than them. You’ve got Norwich, who are fighting for their lives, as are Watford and Burnley. And although Brentford and Leeds have both had ok runs recently, I believe they’re more likely to go down than Everton. As are Newcastle.

Yes they lost against Newcastle last night but it’s important to remember that not only have Everton got a number of new players, they’ve also got a new manager, and they all need time to bed-in and get use to each other; these things don’t happen over night. What’s important to look at, at this stage, is the fact that Everton had a successful transfer window and the balance of signings have been very good. A lot of the new players are Premier League players which means that they know what’s expected in terms of performance and intensity, and this will work in Everton’s favour.

And then to have not only Lampard, but also Ashley Cole, will work as a great motivator for this team and already, you can see that the players are giving 110% every time they step out there, so I think they’ll end up mid-table for now, which is what they need for this season; to then aim higher after the summer break.

11. There are a number linked to the manager role at Everton – with Vitor Pereira and Frank Lampard looking like the forerunners – who do you think would be the better fit at this difficult point in the season?

JP: It’s a tough one because Pereira, you look at his last three teams, they’ve been in China, one has been Fenerbahce, so they’re not big, great teams. And then you’ve got Lampard, has he had the experience of fighting a relegation battle…the answer is no. And Wayne Rooney has been mentioned too, which wouldn’t be right at all. Yes he’s got the name and he’s a fantastic player but he doesn’t know enough about managing a team heading towards relegation.

You’re going to need someone with great experience … Like a Moyes; Moyes would have been perfect for this job, if he was available. He took over West Ham when they were in a situation to Everton, and now look where they are! So, it’s a tough one. They need to really choose this next manager correct to tick all the boxes, otherwise they could find themselves in some serious trouble.

12. What’s the one piece of advice you would give to yourself 20 years ago and one thing that you would have done differently?

JP: I would have told myself, if I could look back and say, “Wow, I’ve experienced this. Jermaine, you need to be patient. Don’t get frustrated so easy,” because when I was younger, when I got frustrated, I would lose my way. And obviously led to mistakes, so I would say, “First of all, be patient. Your chance will come, and with each day, coaches, managers are looking at you and seeing how you react to certain situations. So, be patient.” Second one would be, “Stay professional. Because that’s key in your career, being a professional. Training hard. Always trying to have a smile on your face. I’d try not to fall out with managers, because that will come back to haunt you.” Because I could have had many moves if I was on side with managers. Managers move round from club to club, players don’t, so a lot of managers took certain players when they signed for new teams. So, “Stay professional, and your career will definitely last longer.”

13. One game you wish you could relive from your career?

JP: It would probably be the Champion’s League final: Liverpool v AC Milan, Athens, 2007. That was probably the highlight of my career, obviously, reaching the Champion’s League final, but unfortunately we lost this one two-one, so I would love to do it all again. It was such a great game and I played really well got man of the match. So, it was a very bittersweet moment. But it’s the nature of the game.

14. What are your thoughts on Liverpool becoming the first PL club to appoint a mental health therapist to deal with an increase in online abuse faced by young players?

JP: I feel it’s a fantastic thing what Liverpool are doing. It’s great and I think other clubs should follow suit – it should be made mandatory. I think every club should have it. The reason being is you don’t know what your players are dealing with at home.

Because when you come to training, it’s a different environment, and sometimes you forget about your troubles and a lot of these players come from broken homes and when they come to training, obviously, they’re away from that environment, and they’re a different person, and sometimes they may be scared to share what’s really going on behind closed doors. So, it would be good to have a professional in that field that a player can go and talk to.

And when you’ve got these young kids who are from broken homes and all of a sudden have came into a lot of money. How should they handle that?

But also, as a player, regardless of age, you don’t want to go to your manager, or to one of the coaches, and talk about personal stuff, you want to be professional, and you want to just show them how great you are. And many players may be worried that the manager would judge them or all of a sudden you’ll be look at, or treated, differently, or you may be dropped. And that’s why you don’t really confide in coaches.

So someone independent who’s going to keep it confidential, would be absolutely great. But it’s not just for the youngsters, someone may have marriage problems or something else, but to have a professional person who can listen and without the fear of being judge, that’s fantastic and really something that the football industry is in desperate need of; and also, it’d allow players to let down their guard to just be them.

And for Liverpool to get this ball rolling is huge and I feel that other clubs now have to follow suit…as what would be your excuse or reason not to? You would just look like an absolute rubbish club that don’t care about your players.

I look forward to see this grow and established amongst football clubs across the country.

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