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Football: Exclusive bet365 interview with Markus Babbel

Markus Babbel is an international football legend, best known as a defender for Bayern Munich, Liverpool and the German National team.

Having won the Bundesliga, UEFA Cup, UEFA Super Cup, FA Cup, League Cup and the UEFA European Championships during his illustrious playing career, bet365 sat down with him to discuss Mohammed Salah’s contract situation, Timo Werner’s struggles at Chelsea and who he’s backing for the Champions League final.

Two of your former clubs, Liverpool and Bayern Munich are still able to win the Champions League this season. Who do you think has a better chance to take home the trophy?

Difficult to say, both clubs have the potential to win it. Man City, Real Madrid and these other clubs can also win the title, but I would say Man City and Liverpool are the favourites. Their squads are unbelievable. Bayern Munich have excellent players, but I think their squad is not big enough.

In the Champions League though, anything is possible in the knockout format of one to two games. I believe with Liverpool, the squad is bigger, they have more quality in there than Bayern Munich but if everyone from the first team is fit, it could go either way.

What are your thoughts on the Salah contract situation?

It's difficult to say from the outside. I know he's a brilliant player for Liverpool. For me it’s a question of what he wants to do. Is he still happy at Liverpool or does he want to see something different?

Not many clubs can afford him, Liverpool have said this is what you want, and this is what we can pay so now I hope they can agree terms. Mo Salah is the perfect player for Liverpool Football Club and I'm not sure he would perform like he does for a Barcelona, Real Madrid or another team out there.

The club is perfectly placed for Mo and allows him to be the outstanding player he is. I really hope he does sign a new contract; it’ll be very sad if he leaves. I hope he's smart enough to see that the club is perfect for my style of football, the people here love me, the city loves me, the club loves me. Would more money make him happier? I don't think so.

The only reason he could have, is if he wants to live in a new country and experience a new league. He's been in Switzerland, Italy, England he may want to live a different lifestyle, culture and language - I could accept that, but not if just about the money.

After two years in Australia, what have you made of their World Cup qualifying struggles? Could you see it coming when in charge of Western Sydney?

I still follow them; it was a brilliant time - one of the best times in my career. Not just for myself but for my family too. It was fantastic, I worked with brilliant people and the club is fantastic.

I'm a bit surprised with the national team - they have quality, they have many talented players there and was surprised they didn't go through. They still have the chance and I'm very optimistic. It would be fantastic if they can make it. I have my fingers crossed.

What have you made of Liverpool's resurgence since the New Year? Can you see them winning the Champions League again?

They have the quality for it, you see how strong they are with strength in depth. They have 16-18 really good players which is a huge advantage. If someone got injured half a year ago, it was a problem - now it's not an issue.

The new players have settled in brilliantly. Konate was struggling at first and now he's looking very comfortable. Diaz too, another a new player, I can't believe how well he's doing! You'd think he'd been playing for Liverpool for ten years.

Of course, Liverpool have the quality so my dream is either Liverpool or Bayern Munich lifting the Champions League at the end of this season.

Some criticism for Ibrahima Konate has been raised. What have you made of his first season in England? Could he have done better?

All the players that leave Leipzig, they have massive problems in the first year. Keita went to Liverpool, Konate, Upamecano to Bayern Munich, Sabitzer - they have problems adjusting to how a massive club works.

I think it could be a confidence issue - at Liverpool you have massive players like Van Dijk, Matip, but you have to say, 'look, this is my position'. Their mindset perhaps isn't strong enough to deal with that task.

Konate is in better form, but Upamecano and Sabitzer are still adjusting. The most important thing is being strong mentally. They are top players, but their mindset is not 100% right. The pressure is different at these huge clubs and players need to get used to fighting for their position.

It's that mentality that you have to learn and it’s not easy for anyone.

You worked with Roberto Firmino and Jannick Vestergaard for a short while with Hoffenheim, can you understand the success Firmino has had with Liverpool since then?

I'm not at all surprised by his success, he's more German than Brazilian! He's an exceptionally hard-working player, very focused at training. If you go from a club like Hoffenheim to Liverpool, you're not 100% whether it will work, but from the talent and how he wants to work, he was the perfect transfer for Liverpool.

He adapted so quickly to the Premier League and Liverpool. I'm not at all surprised by his achievements.

You faced Manuel Akanji as Luzern coach before he left for Borussia Dortmund. What did you make of him as a defensive talent in Switzerland? Can you understand the talk of him interesting Manchester United? Can you see him succeeding with such a move?

He's a great talent, big, strong, good technique. In the air he can improve, but in every single game I've seen, he's not concentrating enough. If he can learn to improve that, he will become an outstanding centre back.

I saw him playing for Borussia Dortmund in the Super Cup against Munich, he was by far the best man on the pitch, but one mistake: goal for Bayern Munich and they lost the game.

This is where he has to improve. You need to be focused for 90+ minutes, as a centre back, one mistake is costly. Just like goal keepers, you need to be focused for 90 minutes every game.

Clubs like Manchester United will typically play every 3 or 4 days, so keeping concentration with that schedule is a must. He has fantastic potential though.

Can you see Liverpool making an approach to Sign Bukayo Saka or Martinelli should Salah depart?

It's difficult to say what Klopp's plans are but what I like from Liverpool is they are not buying players like other teams. They have their academy and go looking in there for new starters. This is what I love about the club, they always ask what they have in their academy before looking to sign from another team.

If Mo leaves, they're not under so much pressure because they have Diaz now, Jota too. Of course, you'd lose a fantastic player if Salah went, but you're not so under pressure that you need to fix it in one or two weeks. They have the luxury of spending the time to find the right player.

It's unbelievable really when you think that every player they've brought in has worked out, this is the most difficult thing for a club to do: finding the right players for the style of how the club wants to play, from the budget to the philosophy of the club.

Since Jurgen Klopp has joined, they've done an amazing job with recruitment. Not only that, but Klopp is making the existing players even better too. The transformation in Matip from four years ago to now is unbelievable. Him and Van Dijk are sensational. Trent and Robertson too, unbelievable how much they've improved.

It’s fantastic to watch and is why Liverpool as a club are so loved. Man City, they spend so much money. Buy the best player for this position, buy the best player for that position. It’s the same with PSG, there's no philosophy in that.

Liverpool though still has the philosophy of bringing through academy players and finding the best players for their style of football. Of course, they still spend money, but it’s spent so well and efficiently.

Timo Werner, what can he do to discover his best form for Chelsea?

Chelsea's a difficult place - even Lukaku isn't playing! It's strange as both players are fantastic. Timo is a goal scorer, and he needs 100% belief from the coach in his style of football.

He's not the best technical footballer in the team. Havertz, Mount, Ziyech are very elegant, and they understand the game. Timo's a bit different - he's a hard-working player, fantastic character, but he's not as skilful as the others. If he doesn't feel the 100% support from the coach you can see it in his game.

He has lost that luck. I saw him against the Netherlands and in the second half if a player played the ball across the goal, he would have smashed the ball in the empty net, but he did not see him and there was no goal.
He earns so much money at Chelsea, it's very difficult to see him leave, because normally in a World Cup year he would have to move so he's playing more regularly, but he's on so much money, he's never going to earn that somewhere else, no chance.

It's a difficult one really, I don't know what's going to happen with these sanctions. Ultimately, he's a good player, works hard and a great character but he's not playing enough. There's something wrong. I'm not sure the style of football Chelsea's playing suits him. Its strange football they're playing at the minute.

What do you make of Tuchel's season so far?

He started unbelievably well, winning the Champions League and was unlucky against Liverpool in the League Cup. With a bit more luck they could have won it with the chances they had, but otherwise their style of football is very unattractive for me.

Liverpool and Man City work to keep the ball and Chelsea, with the quality they have, they sit deep and just defend and counterattack. I'm not sure, Tuchel is a fantastic coach, did a great job at Paris and Dortmund but sometimes I wish he would play a little bit more football and be more dominant.

He does this against the smaller teams, but I want to see this against Liverpool and Man City. In these games, it’s very deep, in front of the penalty box with 10 players and for me they are too good for this.

Can Liverpool win the Quadruple?

They can yes, especially with the depth in that squad. They have 16-18 fantastic players, and the rest of the squad are good. They have quality for it, but will need a bit of luck too, no injuries or unexpected mishaps. Teams like Bayern Munich, Man City, Real Madrid will make it difficult.

How close were you to joining Manchester United?

Very close. At this time, it was a record fee, nobody had ever been signed for that fee before. It was 40 million German Marks at the time, I was talking to United, but my agent said to me, 'listen Markus there is something wrong.'

'They are willing to pay this much on your transfer fee, but your salary is ok, nothing more. With this money on the transfer fee, they should be paying a lot higher wages.'

I said, ‘OK I don't have to leave if it's not right, I'm happy to stay at Bayern Munich’, it’s a fantastic club and afterwards with hindsight, I'm so happy it didn't happen. They wanted to sign me as a centre back, but I wasn't the best at centre back!

In Germany I always played with three at the back, so it was a different game for me: three versus two centre backs. The right side was the perfect position for me in that United back four, but they had Gary Neville, one of the greatest right backs at the time. I'm so glad I listened to my agent and waited to go to Liverpool.

How good do you think Trent is defensively?

He's so important for attacking play. If you push forwards, then of course you'll encounter issues. I feel he's running 20 miles per game which I worry about, but this is the style of Liverpool. His strengths are going forwards and he'd be a different player if you told him to stay more at the back. His game is to create chances, open up lines of attack, create assists, score goals, this is why Liverpool are so fantastic to watch: the whole team wants to attack and score.

Not many clubs are doing this and it's the reason why I love watching this style of play. I hate watching defensive games, where teams are waiting for mistakes to score. Of course, he can improve, but he's still young and I prefer what he's doing now.

Luis Diaz, what have you made of him?

It's not normal what he's doing. From Portugal from the Premier League - of course Porto is a massive club with many quality players there - but the league is not as good as the Premier League.

From the first day, you'd think he'd been playing for the team for 10 years. I've not seen a player adapt this well from joining during a winter break ever before. He's had no pre-season, just performed from day one.

Champions League final 1999, what are your memories from that game? You played with Blackburn stars Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke too, did you ever talk about it?

No, we never talked about it, I was happy the referee was whistling. I can only say I'm angry with myself because for me the Champions League was the biggest trophy that I could have won. It was more than a World Cup or European Championship.

My dream was always to win the Champions League so the two days before the final, I wasn't the same person. I was so nervous, under pressure but not from my teammates or manager - I brought this on myself. I couldn't enjoy the game and on the pitch, I was just thinking don't make a mistake.

Afterwards, I thought what I was doing, I should have relaxed and if I had have been more relaxed, we'd have won the game. I was under so much pressure; I couldn't enjoy it. It was the biggest disappointment of my career.

Who was your best ever teammate, talent wise?

The best I ever played with and against was Lothar Matthäus. He was a different level. I've never seen this before or after. He was 35 or 36 when I first met him, and he was different class. So smart, so technical, he could read the game. I've never seen anything like it. By far the best I've ever played with.

I played with and against many players, but Lothar was by far the best.

At just 19, the ceiling for Jamal Musiala appears to be limitless. Just how far do you think he can go? And how important will he be for Germany at the World Cup?

He's a massive talent, unbelievable what he can do with the ball. He wants to learn and improve but the problem is he's not playing regularly. Even Naglesmann has said he's not playing enough. It's always difficult to find a spot for him at Bayern Munich with the talent they have in that team, but he can make the difference in matches. He understands the game.

I really cross my fingers for him that he plays more regularly for Bayern Munich and the German National team.

Could Gnabry return to Arsenal given his contract situation at Bayern Munich?

I hope not, I hope he stays with Bayern Munich because at the minute all the German media are talking about Lewandowski, Muller and Neuer, but they never say Gnabry is also at risk with his contract running out in 2023.

If you have to sign four players like this, that's massive baggage for Bayern. The Pandemic caused huge havoc for them with the stadium being closed which will hit their finances. I'm really scared he won't sign a new contract.

I love the kind of winger he is. He's not only producing chances and assists, but he scores goals too. Not many wingers score goals, he's scoring between 10 and 15 goals per season as a winger. I don't know why he doesn't have a higher standing with the club and the media because for me he's fantastic.

Bayern were previously coached by Erik ten Hag, who worked under Pep Guardiola. He’s obviously done very well at Ajax too. How do you think he would do at Manchester United if he were to go there – he is currently the favourite with the bookmakers?

If Manchester United want him, they'll get him. He's been in Amsterdam for years now. A fantastic club, big club, but the Dutch league isn't the strongest in European football. You can win the league, maybe do the double but that's about it.

If you have the chance to join a club like Manchester United, you need to do it. But it depends on what he wants. Of course, there are big problems at Manchester United, many players unhappy, unlikely to qualify for the Champions League so it's not going to be easy.

Now, if he can choose four, five or six players in the next transfer window, he'll do it. But if not, then why would he leave his perfect life in Amsterdam?

Where were you when you found out about Gerard Houllier's tragic passing, and how did it impact you? What was he like to work under? And how would you compare his management style with Jurgen Klopp?

Of course, I was very shocked, he was a very important coach for Liverpool. He changed the club. It wasn't so professional before him; players went out for drinks all the time, and he brought professional standards back.

He was a tough guy, very straight talking. He wasn't like Klopp who goes round hugging players, but he was so important in creating the new training ground. The old Melwood wasn't very professional, and he changed that completely.

Jurgen Klopp is a different type of person to Gerard but they both want the same thing. Maximum success and doing everything in their power to achieve success for the club.

If you could have a dream transfer window for Liverpool, who would you want to sign and why?

It’s incredibly difficult to say because there aren't many players out there who would improve them. Harmony is so important and signing big names in from the outside will disrupt that balance and could harm the team spirit.
I think this is where it wrong with Manchester United. They signed Ronaldo and now it's no longer a team. Ronaldo is doing what he thinks is the best for him and the others are all in little groups.

Liverpool is close together, so bringing someone else in can split that group up. For this reason, its why Jurgen Klopp is a master of transfer windows because he brings in players who fit the style and philosophy.

Do you think Klopp could leave after his contract runs out?

If he leaves Liverpool, then he's retiring. After Liverpool where do you go? You can't go to Bayern, you can't join another English club, the only thing I can imagine is the German national team.

If Hansi Flick isn't successful then maybe he has a go with the National team, but he's so full of fire I can't see him leaving anytime soon. So much energy, he's so happy with his boys, I can't believe he'll finish when his contract expires.

What about Pep? He's in the same situation - could he go too when his contract runs out?

I wouldn't be surprised if he went to Newcastle, he's a fantastic coach, one of the best ever, but he's not as emotionally invested as Klopp. As long as he has money to spend building a team he could go anywhere.

Harry Maguire has been booed by both Manchester United and England fans, what do you make of that?

I'm surprised to be honest. He played a fantastic World Cup in 2018, so then Manchester United spent a lot of money on him and he played well in his first two seasons, and now I don't why every pundit is so harsh on him!

Of course, he's not in the best form at the minute, but everyone is going in on him at the moment and it’s not fair and it’s not okay. He's giving 100% for England and 100% for Manchester United.

If he's not good enough, it’s not his fault. He's trying his best. I don't know what's happened at Manchester United, Roy Keane is smashing him on TV all the time, for me it's not alright. He's not in the best form but he's a human and there's a person there.

The whole stadium booing is not right.

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