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bet365 exclusive interview with Wes Brown

Former Manchester United and England defender sat down with Matt Gibbs at bet365 to discuss United's progress this season and England's chances in Qatar...

Wes, as a former Manchester United defender, how impressed have you been with Harry Maguire's performances in Qatar? How important is it for the club too?

He managed to get a few games under the manager coming to the end of the first half of the season before the World Cup, he would have been very disappointed that he’s not been playing very much at Manchester United, but he’s come into the England squad, and he’s not put a foot wrong. 

He’s been sharp, considering how many games he’s played he’s been absolutely excellent. 

You can see the confidence coming back, so it’s really good for him and hopefully, when he gets back to United he’s challenging again, because if you’re playing well, it’s hard to keep players out, regardless. I just wish him all the best for the rest of this tournament.

Is that what Erik ten Hag would have liked to see, that return to a really commanding presence? 

Yes, I think especially as a centre-back, you need to be consistent. Whereas with strikers, and midfielders, you can have a few games here or there, but with centre-backs, you get punished. You can see it all coming back for Harry.

It’s good for the England team as well, it’s not just good for the United team. People were saying ‘should he go?’ Of course, he should. The manager likes him and he’s repaying that with his solid performances.

Have you been surprised by how good he’s been?

No, regardless he always plays well for England anyway. He started off and did the basics right and he’s grown into the games. He has completely dominated if I’m honest. 

He’s proven to everyone that he’s more than capable of playing for England and that’s good for us.

Football is a cruel, cruel game. If you have a few bad games, you’ll get stick from all angles, it doesn’t matter who you are, but Harry cost a lot of money so people expect certain things. Everybody is human, and you go through bad patches and at Manchester United that happened a little bit. 

It doesn’t make you a bad player, it doesn’t make you rubbish. He’s just got to find a way to get through that because as ex-players, we’ve all been through tough spells. 

I think this World Cup has helped him tremendously, however, he’s dealing with that. Hopefully, the confidence just keeps building now because he’s had a tough, tough year or two.

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At Old Trafford, the partnership between Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane is quite set. Do you think that Erik ten Hag will be tempted to recall him?

I don’t know who he’s going to start with when we all come back from the World Cup, but yes it would have been difficult for Harry, I can tell you that. 

You have to get on with it, get your head down and battle on until you get your opportunity. If Harry can do that when he gets back to United and make it difficult for the manager, there’s no reason he can’t be back in, because he’s played a few of the last games and he’s done well. 

He’s brought in Martinez and Varane as his first two picks, so by Harry getting in he’s got to play well, it’s as simple as that. Doing that only helps the team anyway. We have to wait on that one because we don’t really know what is going to happen in the next week or two with injuries.

Are you satisfied with how things ended prior to the World Cup break?

I was happy with that Garnacho goal at the end! I don’t think many United supporters thought we’d be doing as well as we are, but the players that he’s brought in, you can see real confidence coming back and the ability to take the ball and move forward. People are running off each other now, whereas the last few seasons, it’s been a bit stale.

Not much was happening. People were waiting for a wonder goal from one person or a wonder run. But now there’s more of a team and it’s definitely showing. It shows where we are in the league. It’s not the finished article but you can see at times, we’ve been really, really good. 

With the run of fixtures following the World Cup, is it a chance for Manchester United to make a statement in the second half of the season?

Yes, if you look at it on paper. But we know it never works like that. 

Hopefully we come back and with those three upcoming games, they’re all winnable games, it’s as simple as that. If we can get nine points, even seven, it’s a good start and you’d be putting a lot of pressure on the other teams. 

It’s a very tense season I can tell you that, but I just feel with how we finished it and the players that we have like Garnacho, I think we’ve got enough to be in the mix.

Is that challenging for the top four in your eyes?

I said that from the beginning weirdly, which I got absolutely abused for by the way. You know, this season is long, and anything can happen, but I do watch the lads sometimes running, and training. Like I said, you can see this confidence coming back and the playing. They’re playing free and fearless and that’s something that we’ve missed at Old Trafford. 

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There’s been talk about how the manager’s worked with Jadon Sancho off the field, is it important we see more of an impact from him in the second half of the season?

He was a little bit like this last season and then in the back end of the season he was probably one of our best players. But yes, he’s obviously not played for a while and you’ve obviously got Garnacho coming on so there’s a lot of competition and players go through phases like this. It is good that the manager’s involved in resolving the situation and helping, because football players are human beings as well.

It might be something on the pitch, it might be something off the pitch, but ultimately the team will be there and try and help in any way. If the manager is doing that, I think it’s brilliant. 

I was young once and you need that support around you, especially when it’s going tough because you know you don’t play well every single game or every season and it looks like he needs a pick me up, a confidence boost - a little bit like Marcus Rashford last season. You’ve got to put things back in the right order and that’s what he’s done and he’s done it perfectly.

With the World Cup going on, are there any players that have caught your eye as potential January transfers?

There are quite a few. [Cody] Gakpo. I’ve seen him live as well, big strong lad, with great feet. It’s a tough one because all the obvious players are all at big clubs, but [Gakpo] is someone you could look at, you know he’s young, and he could easily fit into the managers plans, the way he plays. 

There’s a space to be filled. I’m pretty sure the manager will be looking, but I think in January it’s just hard. You know you can pick people up but is it the guy you really wanted? That’s where you need to be careful, I think.

Marcus Rashford has been in great form at the World Cup. Does that influence the transfer market activity?

It's hard signing people in January anyway to be honest, but we do need to replace Cristiano Ronaldo. Can we hold out until the summer? What if someone gets injured? This is where problems can arise. 

I think the management will be looking at the squad and who can step up. There'll be players the manager has in his mind to replace Ronaldo as all it takes is a couple of injuries up front and all of a sudden there goes your attack and goals.

Manchester United had a good summer transfer window, where else would you like to see the club strengthen over the next couple of windows? 

The midfield is feeling good now. Casemiro, Bruno Fernandes, Christain Eriksen, Fred and Scott McTominay too. I do feel the right-back position could be looked at. We don't know what's happening with Aaron Wan-Bissaka - an injury to his position and we could have to play others out of position to cover. 

Listen, managers will always be looking to boost their squads. We'll just have to see how it goes. 

Of course, England are through to the round of 16 at the World Cup, and Marcus Rashford has been one of the standouts hasn't he?

He has. He's had a very tough year. I think he's even shared some of it himself. There's been things (not in a bad way) distracting him from what he does and that's playing football. Over the summer he's trained really hard, managed to deal with the whole situation, got his head down and got back to playing football. He now looks even stronger than he used to be. He's been doing the business for United since the beginning of this season.

If you're Gareth Southgate, how do you pick a front three or front four now? 

To even ask this shows it's a good thing we have going for us. Me personally, I'd start with Marcus Rashford and Phil Foden again. That's no disrespect to Bukayo Saka or Raheem Sterling as at any point you can bring them on and they'll change the game, just like Jack Grealish can too.

The options are incredible, but you have to look at who's doing the business right now. You know others can come in and change the game, so for me I'd stick with Rashford and Foden for as long as they keep the form up. If things change and they're not playing well, you bring them off and start the others. 

These are the best attacking options we've had for a long time. Especially the way they get at people with the speed and the control they have.

Fan expectations will have increased again. Could we be in danger of getting carried away?

You have to, otherwise what's the point? You won't enjoy it yourself if you don't! I said it was going to be 3-0 against Wales. You have the confidence in this group of players. The second half, the manager's had a word and the players have stepped it up.

We have the ability to go a long way, we've got more experience after the Euros, so the lads, as long as they focus right, can definitely beat pretty much any team on the day. Obviously, they can't get complacent and take their foot off the gas, everyone has to play at their best every single game.

If we don't, we'll come up against someone like France who'll dictate and, with the experience they have, make it very difficult for us. What I would say though, is those top teams won't want to play England. 

What do you think would represent a good tournament for England in Qatar?

On any given day we’re capable of beating any team and that’s true for these. Luckily, a lot of our players have the experience as well. We know France has the experience too but with the Euros, we have a touch more. 

A lot of those players are still there, and I feel that, on any given day if we do everything right, we can pretty much beat anyone. 

That is just the truth, that is how I feel, but we sometimes let ourselves down by not being confident as a team and letting maybe a France or someone get on top of us a little bit. It’s not even the quarter or semis, I’m not going to get over excited, but the players are there.

We have a lot of choices going forward and different players we can bring on to try and open up defences. If we can keep it tight at the back that’s key for me because I think we will score goals.

There has been suggestions Gareth Southgate will leave after Qatar. What do you make of that?

If he wins it, what a fantastic way to go? I think he's done tremendous work and got us to where we are now. I don't think anyone can say he hasn't done a good job regardless. It's up to Gareth to decide, but I wish him the best for everything he's done. I hope he stays.

Finally, whats your World Cup Final prediction, Wes?

I expect us to beat Senegal. Then I expect France to win their game, for me that's the crunch game. 

If we get Brazil in the final, I think we'll beat them, even though we know they're strong, England can do it. It's the France game that's key.

Let's just get past Senegal first.

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