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Freebets.com Interview Exclusive: Ian Harte


What are your current impressions on the Ireland team and Stephen Kenny as Manager? 

To be honest, when he initially took overcoming from League of Ireland, I wasn’t too impressed, I just thought the signing lacked ambition, but recent results have been a lot better.  

Of course, there’s going to be a transition of younger players integrating into the squad so we’re going to have to be patient and give them time. A bit like when Mick McCarthy took over and there were young players like me. You have to break in and establish yourself, but hopefully he can turn things around.  

What are your thoughts on Leeds United this season? 

They’ve struggled this season. I was delighted to see their last two results that gives them the vital wins they need, moving them away from the relegation zone.  

In terms of how they’ve played it’s been very gung-ho, open football and under Jesse he’s come in and sorted out a structure within the defence where they’re no longer running all over the shop which has worked well for the last two games.  

What was it like playing with and under Roy Keane? 

Roy was one of the best ever players I played with. Captain, legend, leader, especially with the Ireland team. As a manager, when he was the manager of Sunderland he naturally had to change. I didn’t play too much at Sunderland which was disappointing but as a player he’s one of the best I’ve ever shared a pitch with.  

Any memorable moments / funny stories from Roy over the years? 

The game against Holland where we won the game and Jason McAteer scored. Within the first five minutes Roy came in and nailed Overmars. And he was constantly saying, ‘give me the ball, give me the ball’, even though there were two players around him, he still wanted the ball. He drove the team forward and was vitally important in us getting the win. 

I love seeing him on TV at the moment, him and Micah complement each other so well, it’s brilliant and so refreshing to see on the television. I love his honesty. 

Trent Alexander-Arnold has emerged as a quasi-playmaker in the full-back position for Liverpool, while Joao Cancelo has thrived as an inverted full-back for Man City. The above follows similar examples set by the likes of Marcelo at Real Madrid and Dani Alves at Barcelona. What have you made of the evolution of the full-back role? 

I think you have to get up and down the pitch, more so than ever before. Overlaps, underlaps, you have to be mobile. Over the last 10 years everything’s changed: diet, facilities, training methods – it’s changing year by year.  

Trent is unbelievable with his delivery into the box, Andy Robertson at Liverpool too. In terms of whose best in left back role, Andy Robertson is the best in the world at the current moment. I know he’s been injured recently, but Alphonso Davies at Bayern Munich is unbelievable as well – he’s rapid but Andy Robertson is the best. Being a former Left Back I always look at that position in games and the journey he’s had to get to where he is today is all credit to him.  

Were Leeds United right to sack Bielsa or should they have given him more time? 

You’re always going to get mixed opinions, but I was at the game when they got beaten 4-0 by Tottenham and something needed to happen dramatically, otherwise the team will have gotten relegated.  

Playing the style of football, which was refreshing last season for the Premier League, you always have that second season where teams work you out and they were just leaking too many goals. Jesse has been a good appointment. It looks like he gets on well with the players, he’s trying to implement his own style but sadly yes, Bielsa had to go given the run they were on. What he’s done for Leeds though will always be remembered. 

Leeds Utd

As an agent how have the players you work with react to the new management at Leeds? 

I think Marcelo controlled a hell of a lot of what went on at the club, I think the shackles have come off a bit and the lads are able to relax a little bit more, smile a bit more. Of course, on the training pitch you need to be serious, but you have to be able to enjoy it and play with a smile on your face.  

Do you think Leeds will avoid the drop?  

Yeah, I think so, Coops is back, Bamford went off injured, but you have Kalvin coming back. Leeds have massively missed Kalvin and Liam Cooper – they’re the spine of the team and once they’ve bedded back in, we should only see improvement from then onwards. 

Who do you see as the next big name in Football? 

There’s plenty coming through, but their development depends on how hungry they are. For me you’re looking at Bellingham who was at Birmingham. Haaland – he’s nowhere near his peak yet and I can’t wait until he does because he will be one of all the greats, I just don’t want him going to City, I want him at Leeds! 

You were at Leeds when Rio Ferdinand and Alan Smith left for Man United – how did the team react to that? 

It was more so the fans, I never really understood the hatred from some fans. Of course, you have Yorkshire and Lancashire, but Rio was only there for a season. Joined for 18 million and then moved to Man United for 30.  

Smithy was there from the academy so that one was harder to take. He came through with us. But in football now there’s no loyalty, they went on and won lots of trophies and medals and that’s the nature of it now. It’s a business at the end of the day so matter who you are, if the right offer comes in the club will sell you.  

You played alongside Haaland’s dad; will he sign for a Premier League club this summer? 

I’d hope he comes to the Premier League over a team in Spain. Don’t get me wrong I used to love watching Real Madrid and Barcelona playing, I used to play over there myself, but I don’t think Spanish football is the same as what it used to be. The Premier League is vitally important for top players and the Premier League would be delighted to have someone like Haaland playing in it. 

I speak to Alfe, and they know already where he’s going. They’re biting their tongues at the moment before they release where he’s going. 

Man United players have been spotted partying after being knocked out the UCL. What do you think about this?  

Manchester United have had problems going on for the past 4 or 5 years. I think Pogba is a good player, but they should have sold him at least 2 seasons ago. When you’ve got bad eggs within the team, it creates a disease, and you can clearly see it.  

This season and last season, their identity is non-existent. Man United were always known for having a solid defence, but they’re leaking so many goals. The midfield as well is poor. There are no leaders in that team and it’s vitally important that whatever manager they bring in, he’s the one picking the players to come in.  

Personally, I don’t think fans care too much – all that matters are the results. It’s all about getting points on the board and the difference between qualifying and not qualifying for European Championships and World Cups. Of course, you want to be playing nice football alongside it, but for the fans, they’ll just want results.  

Do you think the current Ireland team and the young players that have come through in the past 12 months are capable of qualifying for the next Euros? 

I really hope so, but I think it’s a bit too early. You look at players like Adam Idah, a good few games last year, he’s in the Premier League, still a bit raw but he’s got pace and one you hope goes on and does special thing in green shorts.  

You look at players I played with: Roy Keane, Damien Duff, Jason McAteer, Robbie Keane, within that team we had leaders on the pitch. In the current squad we have a lot of younger lads and no leaders, so we just need to get behind them all and be supportive.  

Any other players that stand out in that squad / ones to watch?  

Jamie McGrath as well. Coming from playing up in Scotland through to Wigan, he’s done really well and raised his game wearing the green shorts. Him and Adam for me are the two to watch.  

You were part of an Ireland team that competed against the likes of Germany and Holland, among others. Do you think Ireland are likely to see a team like that in the next 5-10 years? 

I really, really hope so. We all want Ireland to go on and succeed, for the younger fans, they support teams in the Premier League and Irish players playing for those big clubs, but it’s always nice to support a successful national side. Given the talent coming through, I think it’s definitely possible.  

Almost 20 years on, what are your thoughts on the last-16 loss to Spain? 

If I’m being honest, people say if I had scored the penalty! Spain was an unbelievable team, but personally speaking we should have won that game. If we’d had Roy Keane in the team, I have no doubt we’d have got through.  

What did you make of Roy Keane’s exit at the time? 

When Roy went home, it was sad to see him go. He was our captain, our leader. We were young lads who looked up to him, but he went home, it was devastating for us as we could have definitely gone further with a presence like him in the team.  

Do you think Roy Keane would have what it takes to be a future Ireland manager, having already worked with Martin O’Neill as assistant manager? 

I hope he doesn’t because I love watching him on TV as a pundit! If the right opportunity comes up, I think he’d definitely take it, but he’s so entertaining and honest on the TV I’d miss him if he went back into management.  

One of the stories of recent years in English football has been the rebirth of Leeds Utd, what have you made of their road back to the Premier League? 

I just think that since Cellino, Radrizzani has come in and the structure within the club that’s been established is amazing. What he’s done – the training facilities, the money invested into the stadium, the playing squad. Between himself, Angus Kinnear and Victor, it was so important they brought in Marcelo Bielsa. What he got out of League one players to then go onto to play in the Premier League was nothing short of remarkable.  

We’ll have to watch this space if Andrea Radrizzani decides to fully sell after giving a bit to the owners of the San Francisco 49ers.  

What have you made of Damien Duff as manager of Shelbourne? How well do you think he will get on in the role? 

To be honest, I’d have never thought someone like Damien Duff would become a manager. A bit like Woodgate and Harry Kewell. I have to admit I’ve not been following his performances but wish him all the best at it. 

How would you sum up the issues Leeds United have had at left-back over the last few years and the men who have filled the role? 

I like Alioski who left at the end of last season, I think Leeds should have done everything in their power to keep him. They brought in Firpo from Barcelona, but he’s not a patch on Alioski: energy, desire, hunger to get up and down the pitch. These players come from Barcelona and Real Madrid, but they’ve never actually played for the clubs. I just think they should have kept Alioski, he was brilliant, and all the players loved him.  

Would you like to see Leeds recruit in that position again this summer? 

I would, but you can’t then have a 17-million-pound player sitting on the bench. But that’s been a weak link this season and why Dallas has played a hell of a lot of games in that position, but I think they need a natural left back if I’m being honest.  

Where else do you see Leeds strengthening when the transfer window opens? 

They’re going to have to sell a few players to fund new moves into the club. Who those players will be, I have no idea. They’re going to have to sell at least 2 to 3 to make new moves happen. 

Is Dan James a potential player who they could sell? 

Let’s be honest, if he didn’t have the pace, he wouldn’t play in the Premier League. He doesn’t have the knowledge or the know-how. It’s just head down and run. He’s got unbelievable pace, but like Adama Traore, he needs to learn to slow his legs down to get the cross in. The majority of games I’ve seen, they end up going over and across the crossbar. Signing him from United for 25 million when they had him for 4 million – he’s done ok, he’s got raw pace but I’m not a massive fan.  

How would you assess Leeds’ season and what are your predictions for Leeds for the remainder of the campaign? 

I think it’s been up and down. They’ve lost key players for large parts of the season. Bamford, Phillips, Cooper – 3 massive players and any team losing those is going to struggle. But I think now until the end of the season they will get results and enough of them to ensure they’re playing Premier League football next season.  

What rule would you change in Football and why? 

VAR. It’s killing the game. It’s so inconsistent, I look at when Man City played Everton. I’m not an Everton fan but it was a blatant penalty. If that happened and it was an Everton player in his own box who handled the ball, Man City would have got a penalty. A bit like the Newcastle game, where Chelsea the defender literally hauled him back, it was a penalty all day long, but the referee’s and VAR said nothing.  

It’s killing the teams down at the bottom. That point for Everton could be the difference between Premier League football and Championship football. All they get is a sorry from the referee. It’s not good enough, the repercussions of that, the team could lose well over £100 million if they get relegated.  

It’s now at the point where these decisions need to be addressed or VAR needs taking away. It happens every single week. 

Where do you think VAR is done? It’s in London, that’s why it takes so long. It takes the fun out of the game. Harry Kane scores a goal, he celebrates it – oh look it’s gone to VAR they’re having a look and 4/5 minutes later after scrutinising whether his little finger or toe is offside, they say it is a goal – it’s killing the fans. I’d get rid of it.  

Not only that, but those players that go down in the box trying to cheat the referee, they need booking for simulation. The whole thing is too inconsistent for me. 

Marius Hrebenciuc

Marius Hrebenciuc

Marius Hrebenciuc is the webmaster for Freebets.com. He is also a football enthusiast, an avid watcher of the European leagues.

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