Graham's Blog

Alex McLeish Live Part One: Barca, Bayern and Barnum & Bailey

IT was a great privilege to have Alex McLeish, a real hero of mine, as the guest for the second ever live Big Interview, which we recorded at the Aye Write book festival in Glasgow.

It was also my good fortune for the event to fall the day after Barcelona pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in football history – wiping out a 4-0 first-leg defeat by winning 6-1 at the Camp Nou in a truly incredible Champions League match.

I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to ask Alex to give his take on that game for the first part of this podcast and uncover what it is that allows the best players to win, and keep winning.


Alex then took us back to his formative years as a footballer; the constructive criticism from his father, playing games constantly at a local field and, later, training with his Aberdeen team-mates in the car park opposite Pittodrie.

The Dons, of course, feature heavily in this interview and Alex talks about the success he enjoyed at the club, including how they got the better of Bayern Munich. He also relives a few of the blazing rows that Sir Alex Ferguson used to give his players.


The Big Interview on… Cruyff

JOHAN Cruyff is the single most important man in the history of professional football; as a player, coach, director of football, thinker, philosopher, nobody come else comes close.

His influence spans generations and is responsible for the era-defining football which I have been watching at the Camp Nou over the past decade.

We have dedicated our latest clip show to the memory of this football icon, with David Moyes and Charlie Nicholas both featuring in a little section we call ‘the mystery of Cruyff’s shirt’.

That detective story is set in the 1982 European Cup and a tie between Celtic and Ajax, after which David and Charlie each think they have the great Cruyff’s jersey. But who really got their hands on the prized shirt?

And there is Jody Morris, who we spoke to on the day that Cruyff passed away. It was an emotional 24 hours, Jody giving an eloquent account of how the Dutchman had influenced his football philosophy.


Peter Crouch: Van Basten, Littbarski And Other Tricks Of The Trade

PETER Crouch has sold the football world a dummy. At just over two metres tall, the Stoke City striker looks every inch the typical target man; a giant, awkward figure, a footballer custom built for aerial challenges and set plays. But the tallest outfield player in the Premier League is not short on technique. Indeed, his touch, his awareness, his skill with a ball at his feet are the reasons why I find it such a joy to watch the big man in action.

We begin this Big Interview by discussing a column written by Pep Guardiola in 2006, in which he paid tribute to both Crouch’s work ethic and his ability on the ball. Then, with a change of direction reminiscent of the Catalan in his pomp, Crouch explains how his exemplary technique was first honed – as an aspiring football player learning skills under the Coerver Method. That is a concept of coaching devised by and named after the Dutch UEFA Cup-winning manager Wiel Coerver.

“I went to Coerver as a kid – everyone had a ball and it was all about technique,” Peter says in the podcast. “When I first started going there was 10 years old and it was massive for the development of my career. The English way of playing at that time didn’t involve an awful lot of thought about how you play.”

A tenet of the Coerver Method is to teach young players an array of skills synonymous with the true greats. During those sessions, Peter was taught tricks named after such stellar names as Marco Van Basten, Pierre Littbarski and Diego Maradona. His homework was to go home and perfect those skills ahead of the next training session, refining his touch and technique simultaneously.

I have highlighted the tricks which Peter learned from the Coerver Method below, and also take a look at the players who made them famous:

The Van Basten


“The Van Basten was basically a step over,” explains Peter, who was signed up to sessions by his father after he heard about the Coerver Method.

It seems inevitable that Marco Van Basten would serve as an example to youngsters during training, if not necessarily for his step overs. The Dutchman is now celebrated more for his wonderful volley in the 1988 European Championship final, the second goal of a victory over the Soviet Union.

Coincidentally, Peter can claim volleys as his specialist subject, too. Just listen to the podcast.

The Littbarski


“The Littbarski was when you put your foot on the ball, dropped a shoulder and moved to the other side,” says Peter.

Pierre Littbarski was a World Cup winner with West Germany and a popular player in his homeland throughout his career. He captivated fans with his close control and capacity to evade opponents, often by feigning to go one way before taking off in another – the technique which Peter practised as a youngster.

The Maradona

(L-R) Argentina's Diego Maradona takes on England's Terry Butcher and Kenny Sansom.

“The Maradona was when you stood on the ball and turned… the kids probably have a new name for it these days,” Peter explains in the podcast.

Wee Diego could play a bit. The skill which was named after the Argentine magician would have been synonymous with him at the time, but it is now perhaps better known as the “Zidane”. That is rather fitting really, since the pair had successful spells in Italy and Spain during their careers, while winning a World Cup each as well. They are also both remembered for moments of controversy on the world stage…

The Big Interview presents… The Hall of Legends

YOU will all have your opinions on how our guests would rank in terms of footballing ability in their prime. I happen to think that we have talked to some who are hall of famers in any company but, occasionally, a name will come up which causes them to draw breath.

This collection is dedicated to the moments when we got to talk about one of the all-time greats, sometimes with someone who had a unique angle from which to examine those special talents.

Lionel Messi is discussed by Gary Neville, a man whose job it is to find new ways to describe what it is that this genius does, while Graeme Souness and Peter Beardsley also talk about the little Argentine. Below is a video of the very warm-up routine that enchanted Peter and which he talks about in this clip show.

Paul Clement worked closely with Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid and provides an insight into the work ethic of the Portuguese, while Harry Redknapp recalls how Gareth Bale was transformed into an international superstar.

Darren Fletcher then talks about Wayne Rooney, while Kevin Bridges and Charlie Nicholas discuss two Celtic greats, Henrik Larsson and Danny McGrain, respectively. Joe Jordan also remembers the impact John Charles had on Italian football.


Chris Sutton: How The League Was Won

CHRIS Sutton is miles away. We have been recording this Big Interview in one of the executive boxes at an empty Carrow Road but Chris has allowed his mind to wander to Anfield, the memory of one day in May 1995 playing out on the pitch below him. His contribution on the afternoon Blackburn Rovers won the Premier League title has been preserved in a number of flickering YouTube videos but this replay is a private screening.

Blackburn lost on the final day of that historic season – Jamie Redknapp whipped a free-kick past Tim Flowers in injury time to seal a 2-1 win for Liverpool – and yet walked off the pitch as championship winners, with title rivals Manchester United frustrated by West Ham.

The matches had been played simultaneously and news of the stalemate at Upton Park would reach the Blackburn fans before their side’s match on Merseyside was over. Their gleeful cries broadcast the club’s success on to the pitch, with the Blackburn players turning to embrace one another even before the final whistle sounded. It was the final act of one of the most incredible campaigns in the history of England’s top flight.

In this podcast, Chris takes us behind the scenes of that season to more fully explain just how the league was won in 1994/95. He covers his £5 million move to Ewood Park and how it came about, and recalls significant matches against Everton and United. He also discusses his infamous decision to dive into a car while on a night out, as well as the subsequent reactions of his father, Mike, and manager Kenny Dalglish.

But as Chris breaks down that campaign, he reveals three key elements which won Blackburn their first title of the Premier League era. He acknowledges the character of that special team and how it was exemplified by captain Tim Sherwood; he discusses the steady leadership of Dalglish; and, of course, Chris talks about his formidable – and often misunderstood – partnership with Alan Shearer.

Chris arrived from Norwich City for a record English transfer fee and, after an unremarkable pre-season, came to form a strike pairing with Shearer which would become known simply as SAS. They contributed 49 goals between them as Blackburn chased down the title – Shearer finished as the league’s top scorer, finding the net 34 times – but they were not such a dynamic duo off the pitch.

14/05/95 FA Premiership Liverpool v Blackburn Rovers Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton hold aloft the Premiership Cup Credit: Offside Sports Photography / Mark Leech

“There was always a perception, throughout the time that I played with Alan, that we didn’t get on. Well, we did,” Chris says Part Two of this Big Interview. “We just didn’t go to the pub for meals and I think people made far too much of that as an issue. People go to work in an office every day and are more friendly with some colleagues than others, aren’t they? That was the case at Blackburn, but everybody got on.

“Alan wasn’t afraid of missing – and he didn’t miss very often – a lot like Henrik Larsson. Their mentalities were both very similar. I was ruthless but, when I played alongside Alan at Blackburn and then Henrik at Celtic, I knew that they wanted to be number one. They wanted to finish as the top goalscorer – and I don’t think that bothered me to the same extent that it bothered them. Maybe that was a weakness in my character.”

It did not diminish his contribution to a successful season 22 years ago, when he provided to be the ideal foil for Shearer. The video below shows just how effective their partnership was:

Watch closely and you will also notice Sherwood getting in on the act, hair swept back and driving his team forward from midfield. He was one of a number of strong personalities in that Blackburn dressing room but, as captain, perhaps best personified the side which would become league champions.

“What I liked about Tim was that he would tell you the truth,” Chris says in this podcast. “All the players respected him; he wasn’t a loud mouth but when Tim Sherwood spoke, you listened. He demanded more and that was a big, big part of why we won the league. Like a lot of the players in that dressing room, Tim epitomised what Blackburn were about at that time.”

And yet the club might still have come up short had it not been for Dalglish. Indeed, Blackburn had gone clear at the top of the league, only to falter later in the season – a dip in form which allowed United to press the Ewood Park side all the way to the final minutes of the campaign.

As their lead eroded, Dalglish stood firm. He backed his players in the press and Chris remembers a figure who was always calm and confident in front of his team, a signal that his faith in them was absolute. Their spirits were also lifted by the Scot’s repartee with his compatriot and Old Trafford counterpart, Sir Alex Ferguson.

Undated: Portrait of Blackburn Rovers Manager Kenny Dalglish during a match. Mandatory Credit: Shaun Botterill/Allsport

“Throughout that title-winning season he had that war of words with Ferguson. Some of their spats… it was tit for tat and they were both so brilliant in how they handled it,” Chris recalls.

“And Kenny was absolutely a leader. We nearly blew up when we went ahead in the league and we couldn’t have wished for a better figurehead at that time. When I looked at him, he was immovable, solid. We were crumbling and his team talks didn’t change; his confidence in us was always there.”