Graham's Blog

Jonny Evans: Like Father, Like Son

IN the latest episode of The Big Interview, we bring you a seasoned Premier League footballer; a champion; a man brought up in Belfast but who came of age after moving to Manchester, winning trophies at home and abroad.

He made his international debut before he had even kicked a ball competitively in England – in a victory over Spain no less – and most recently represented Northern Ireland in the European Championships.

This is The Big Interview with Jonny Evans, and I was speaking to him towards the end of what has been a fantastic season for West Brom, the latest chapter in his success story as a celebrated defender in the Premier League.

In Part One, Jonny describes the events that have led him here – from growing up in Northern Ireland pretending to be Paolo Maldini to trying to make a name for himself as a young player at Manchester United.

He also talks about winning the Championship at Sunderland under Roy Keane and how the Irishman showed that he was still a winner when his team were back in the top flight.

Sunderland's Jonny Evans celebrates after scoring against Hull City during the Coca-Cola Football League Championship match at the Stadium of Light, Sunderland.

Jonny Evans: a top man and a top Big Interview.

Enjoy!

The Big Interview Presents… The Gaffer

THE latest Big Interview clip show is about the gaffer, whoever he may be. Pretty much every single footballer we spoke to during the first season of these podcasts had at least one incredible story about a manager they had played under.

In this podcast you’ll meet motivators, bullies, innovators and comedians. Sometimes, that’s just one guy we’re talking about.

We’re going to start and finish with two people who played under Jose Mourinho – although it is fair to say that Damien Duff and Kevin Bridges don’t have too much else in common on the footballing front.

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In between those two, Chris Waddle tells us what he now sees as the method behind the bullying of Arthur Cox at Newcastle United. Gary McAllister then tells us how Howard Wilkinson transformed Leeds United from a Second Division team into a side capable of winning the English Championship.

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Joe Jordan shows us the revolutionary preparations undertaken by Don Revie; Peter Beardsley rooms with his Fulham manager Kevin Keegan, in a flat above the chairman’s shop; Graeme Souness hears a rare team talk from Joe Fagan and Terry Butcher falls foul of Bobby Robson.

Enjoy!

Craig Gordon: The Goalkeeper Who Saved His Career

HE is the footballer at the top of his game. He was a man who struggled to get to the top of a flight of stairs.

The transition between epithets has taken five years and limitless resilience; Craig Gordon having navigated despairing thoughts and physical setbacks to reach a level of fitness and football which has brought him remarkable success. The goalkeeper was once unable to walk without feeling debilitating pain. He has just helped Celtic to run away with a league title.

When I caught up with him at the club’s Lennoxtown training base to record this Big Interview, Craig revealed just how low he felt after leaving Sunderland in 2012, and what it has taken for him just to play football again, let alone win trophies.

He was released by the Black Cats after suffering a second tear to the patella tendon in his left knee. Having undergone an operation to repair it only five months earlier, a surgeon told Craig that there was little to be gained from going back under the knife.

He would have to tough it out as the tendon healed naturally – a process which could take up to two years.

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That prognosis failed to account for the daily discomfort his injury would cause, with the simple act of moving around the house being accompanied by constant pain in his knee. When Craig went on holiday to New York, he struggled to make it to many of Manhattan’s prime tourist spots.

“When I left Sunderland, I thought that was it for my career. I didn’t see a way back,” Craig says in the podcast. “The pain was so bad I found it difficult to get up and down stairs – I couldn’t take any weight on my knee at all.

“That was daily life; every day it was painful to walk around. I thought: ‘It this what it’s going to be like from now on?’ For a good few months I didn’t do anything at all.”

Such enforced inactivity was in stark contrast to the incredible leaps Craig had made earlier in his career. He won a Scottish Cup with Hearts and established himself as first choice for Scotland, before moving to Sunderland for £9 million – a British record transfer fee for a goalkeeper.

Injury had forced him to take the gloves off, and he decided to fight to save his career. Craig researched different treatments to help aid his recovery and set off for Barcelona and then London to have a series of injections.

“I had four PRP [platelet-rich plasma] injections in Barcelona and had high-volume injections in London,” he says. “That is basically when they blow up the area round about the tendon to squeeze it. That kills the blood vessels which are growing into and causing the pain.

“They all worked to some degree and I began steadily to improve. It took a whole season but I was able to start doing some exercise again.”

The road to recovery took him to Glasgow, where he teamed up first with Rangers. Physio Steven Walker had nursed Norwegian midfielder Thomas Kind Bendiksen, pictured below, through a similar injury and devised a rehab programme to help Craig.

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“We just took it really slowly,” the goalkeeper says. “It took almost a full season until I was back out on the training field, there were a few teething problems, but overall I was managing to get through three sessions a week.

“There were moments when I didn’t think I could take it. There were a few little setbacks, when I thought everything was going okay and then I would do a couple of football sessions and it would get sore again.

“There were definitely times that I didn’t want to go in, that it was too painful and too tough. But my wife [Jennifer] would remind me that I didn’t have anything else to do, that I should get out the house and do it. So I did. I wanted to give it everything.

“On the back of that I managed to get a deal at Celtic – this is my third year here and I have no problem with the knee whatsoever.”

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He feels like his old self again. He plays as though he is even better, winning three straight titles and two League Cups. Craig has also been the subject of two bids from English champions-elect Chelsea.

But the Celtic goalkeeper says that reclaiming his career is a triumph which will not be surpassed. “Getting back from where I was will probably be my greatest achievement,” he says.

The Big Interview Presents… Mavericks Part Three

THIS is the third and final instalment in our mini series on maverick footballers – the guys who have created so many happy memories for all us football fans.

If you’re into Celtic then you will probably never forget some of the special moments Shunsuke Nakamura gave to you. In this clip show, Gordon Strachan talks about all the work behind the scenes which caused that magic.

Similarly, Evertonians adore Duncan Ferguson, and David Moyes explains what the big Number 9 had to offer on his return to Goodison.

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Also, if you are an Ipswich fan of a certain vintage, the name of Kevin Beattie may take your breath away. He is a unique character in English football and Terry Butcher describes how his former team-mate could have been one of the all-time greats on the pitch… and the running track.

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Finally, Tino Asprilla has often been accused of costing Newcastle United the Premier League title under Kevin Keegan. But Peter Beardsley delivers a retort in this podcast.

Enjoy!

Alex McLeish Live Part Three: The Q&A

AT the end of our live Big Interview with Alex McLeish, the former Scotland manager was gracious enough to stick around and answer questions from the audience, and we bring you that Q&A here as a special bonus feature.

Alex tells the story of Alex Ferguson’s attempt to orchestrate a move to bring the defender from Aberdeen to Old Trafford, and how the Manchester United manager had a hand in discouraging bids from other English clubs.

Ferguson was also aware of the importance of fitness and Alex explains how that manifest during his time at Aberdeen, as well as giving his own views on the importance of recruiting experts to help ensure players at the their physical peak.

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And he talks about his decision to step down as Scotland manager and what lies ahead in his career, while also telling one of the greatest anecdotes you’re likely to hear: when Socrates showed Gordon Strachan how a Brazilian takes a drugs test.

Enjoy!