Matt Holland in conversation with WION Photograph:( Twitter )
Welsh football coach and pundit, Matt Holland, in a conversation with WION's Sports Editor, Digvijay Singh Deo, spoke about a lot of things ranging from the resumption of football leagues, players safety and fitness, the money riding on major European leagues, future of football transfer market and much more...
Welsh football coach and pundit, Matt Holland, in a conversation with WION's Sports Editor, Digvijay Singh Deo, spoke about a lot of things ranging from the resumption of football leagues, players safety and fitness, the money riding on major European leagues, future of transfer market and much more...
Digvijay Singh Deo: Matt, how are things over in Thailand? Not too many cases over there in comparison with India where we have seen an explosion in the last one week.
Matt Holland: Yes the situation is stable from the information that is being given to us. The most positive thing is that there haven't been as many fatalities as we have seen in other countries. The Thai community has been very disciplined during this crisis and people have helped each other out. There is no official lockdown in the country but there is a curfew at night. Shopping malls, stadiums obviously remain shut.
DSD: So how is a football professional like you adjusting to this life indoors. Have you reinvented yourself as a coach?
Matt Holland: Yes, I'd say so. I have gone through a bit of transition in my life. There has been a lot of reflection over the last few months since I was at my last club in Thailand. I went home to the UK during the off-season. I have had a project that has been in the pipeline for the last few years, so I have started that during the last six weeks. It is a formal consultancy programme and I have already got clients from the US, UK and India. I'm just trying to help the players and coaches get to the next level in football.
DSD: Lots of positive talk coming in from England about the resumption of the Premier League with the government also indicated that it could boost morale. Question is will it be a wise step?
Matt Holland: That's a very difficult question. It's ironic that those people who keep questioning how much footballers earn, those same people in the government want the sport to resume so that it can lift the spirits of the nation. In terms of the health and safety concerns of footballers, the authorities will have to be very cautious in whatever step they take, because nothing can endanger the lives of the players and people involved in the game.
DSD: A lot of players including Sergio Aguero have come out and indicated that they are not keen to play. Is it fair to prioritise revenues ahead of safety?
Matt Holland: Yes, it is natural for these players to be worried about not just their own health, but also of their families. I remember I was petrified for the health of my young child when the virus first broke out. Most of the footballers have young children and it's natural for the players to worry about their safety.
DSD: Doctors have written to the premier league saying it is not going to be safe. Should there be a return unless there is a 100 per cent guarantee that players will be safe?
Matt Holland: If teams return to training, there could be as many as 60 to 100 people at the centres. This includes the coaching staff and various club employees, so it's not just the players we have to worry about. The doctors are obviously raising valid concerns and their points must be heard as medical professionals. I just think at this point no one really has answers as to when it will be completely safe to resume the football season.
DSD: It is pretty obvious isn't it matty that ultimately the clubs want the season to continue, it's simply about the money. There is a 750 million pound shortfall in television rights and clubs are already bleeding with no revenue.
Matt Holland: Yes there is a lot of money at stake not just for the premier league clubs, but also the lower league sides. The transfer fees of players have skyrocketed in the last few years, that just gives us an idea of how much money elite European clubs have. I think if the coronavirus crisis hadn't happened, we would have seen a world record transfer take place. This might have involved Kylian Mbappe or one of the Liverpool front three. No one would have questioned the amount if Mbappe had been bought for 200 million euros. So that's the kind of money there is in the game at the moment. The finances have definitely taken a hit and 750 million pounds is a lot to lose, but I think clubs will still be able to cope with the crisis.
DSD: The transfer fees of players are going to fall drastically now aren't they, but even then the question is will the clubs have enough money to purchase top players?
Matt Holland: It is unlikely that we see a lot of transfer activity this summer. The fees of the players will drop, but I think the nature of player contracts will also change. I feel bad for the lower league clubs because I know a lot of them are struggling financially. They have had to use the UK government's job retention scheme. I think all of us have to take a positive attitude towards changes in the global game. There are going to be major changes to the sport in the post-COVID-19 world and we have to embrace that. Many teams might come through stronger after the crisis and the sport will benefit from these experiences.
DSD: UEFA wants leagues to finish on the pitch but has admitted that where not possible, use points per game to decide the league positions. It is pretty simple in the Premier League and it will be a great travesty if Liverpool don't get awarded the title.
Matt Holland: I think with the lead Liverpool have got, they are going to be crowned champions regardless of the way the season ends.
DSD: The problem comes below doesn't it? In the race for European spots as well as relegation.8 points separate teams in the places 15-20. Every one will say no we were on course to beat the drop and ultimately all clubs are selfish and want to stay in the league with the huge money on offer.
Matt Holland: I think I was listening to a radio interview when an expert said that if some clubs were offered 60 or 70 million pounds to get relegated, they would probably take it. So money is very important for these clubs. Let's not forget that there are still nine to ten matches each team has left, and there could be some crucial proverbial 'six-pointers' down at the bottom. So there's still a lot to play for. A couple of games can change the look of the table. There have been so many seasons in the premier league when the relegation places haven't been decided till the final day. Each team around the bottom of the table will still believe that they have a chance of staying up and will back themselves till the final day. Remaining in the premier league doesn't just affect the club and the finances, but also individual players. It has a long-term effect on players' careers, their contracts and their reputation. There is also a lot on the line for the coach, who will be desperate to avoid relegation because that affects his chances of getting a top job.
DSD: See right now there is an unprecedented situation in world sport. You have played over 75 per cent of the matches. If you stop now, is it unfair on teams who have struggled through the season?
Matt Holland: Yes, I think that is something we can take into consideration. We are done with three-quarters of the season and it is a valid point that certain teams haven't done well so far and that's why they are struggling. However these teams will back themselves to turn things around, they will argue that this break has been a welcome one for them and the team morale has improved. Sometimes a break does help a team in re-calibrating and re-fuelling. It is virtually impossible to prove those teams right or wrong in the current situation. A team like Norwich, who have played free-flowing attacking football throughout the season, but will probably go down because of their defensive naivety, they might benefit when the season resumes because other teams might not be as willing to as physical because of the dangers of the virus.
DSD: Should the league just end it right here and do a relegation playoff say in mid-June involving teams 15-20. The thing is one game could turn the table upside down and what if there is then another virus enforced break?
Matt Holland: I think the playoff format should definitely be considered for relegation and promotion spots. We see a different version of a playoff-format play out all around the world, we have it in Australia, USA and even in the Indian super league. I don't think any format should be ruled out at this point in time. It will be impossible to reach a solution which satisfies everyone in this scenario. Some teams will definitely feel hard done by, but that is bound to happen.
DSD: Let's look at Germany and examples of why it is unsafe. Bundesliga announced plans to restart but then three players of cologne tested positive. Its a bit like Russian roulette at the moment isn't it.
Matt Holland: Right now, no leagues are active, but if Germany starts the Bundesliga, which I think will happen anytime in the coming days, then we will see a domino effect across Europe. If the Bundesliga is able to function in a smooth manner, then that will set a precedent for the other top leagues. Here in Asia, South Korea is about to start its football league. But it could prove to be very dangerous and it's a huge gamble. Health and safety must be the top priority for governments. But if it is possible to hold football matches, then I think countries should make the effort to start competitions again. There are people who don't depend on the sport, but we sports lovers are used to action every week. It is part of our daily lives and can form part of family-bonding activities. We look forward to sporting events all week, sport is a cornerstone for spending quality time with friends and family.
DSD: Spain has detailed protocols for training to resume, individual sessions then group sessions with finally a team training session. How long will it take for players to return to peak fitness? And correspondingly how much time will it take then to get match fit.we are looking at what mid-June or late June.
Matt Holland: The fitness levels of the players will be different because of the varying level of facilities available at players' homes. To take the example of India, a player like Sunil Chhetri will be able to maintain a decent level of fitness because he will probably have some training equipment at home, but other players might not be as fortunate as him so their fitness will suffer. Going back to European football, I think if there's one person who should not get a pay cut is the fitness and conditioning coach. The fitness coach's job becomes even more important during this lockdown period. I have seen the kind of fitness programs the clubs have incorporated and I don't think it is enough to maintain the fitness levels of footballers. In my opinion, a whole pre-season will be needed for players to be match-fit. I would say around 4 weeks will be required for players to be mentally and physically ready for high-level competition.
DSD: If European football resumes in the next month or so, then do you expect players to undergo tests every two to three days.
Matt Holland: I think the question we have to ask ourselves is are people, who have continued to go to the office in the last few weeks, being tested every two or three days? The answer is no. Then I don't see any reason for footballers to be tested that regularly. Of course, I am not a medical professional so I'm just giving my opinion on the matter. I hope the clubs are able to figure out a way which allows a minimal number of people to be inside the training complex at a particular point of time. For example, the kitchen staff at the club can be asked to stay at home. An environment needs to be created where players and coaches are coming into the complex, completing their sessions and then going straight back home.
DSD: What are the lessons that the world of football can learn from this episode .has coronavirus burst the artificial bubble of football, is it time for us to reflect on the inflated footballing ecosystem.
Matt Holland: Ultimately I think this is a time to embrace the 'new normal' in the world of football. There isn't going to be a light-switch effect, this crisis is going to have long-lasting repercussions. I think the 'new normal' is already here and we have to adapt to it. When we come out of this crisis, we still have to be cautious and be aware of the dangers of transmitting the virus. I think the money is there in football because it is the most popular sport in the world and people can't get enough of it. I hope the top clubs do enough to help out the masses during this crisis. There might not be a revolutionary change in the way football clubs function after this, but clubs should fulfil a basic sense of social responsibility. I certainly think it is a time for reflection for the football world and maybe the introduction of some more financial regulations that will make the sport more sustainable.