⚽ Stephen Warnock Exclusive Interview

Updated: 96 Football

Stephen Warnock delves into Liverpool's strategy for handling injuries to key players Jota and Nunez, the potential impact of Gakpo, and offers insights on Bradley's promising start. He discusses Liverpool's title chances, possible Klopp successors, and reflects on personal career moments including a thwarted return to Liverpool. Warnock also evaluates Aston Villa's season ambitions, Leeds United's promotion prospects, and touches on managerial inquiries around Blackburn, Derby, and Bolton. Additionally, he assesses Bradford City's recent form, debates England's future under Southgate, and highlights young talent like Kobbie Mainoo.

⚽ Stephen Warnock Exclusive Interview
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Editor-In-Chief with 20 years experience covering the betting angles to breaking news stories. Daily slots player, Portsmouth fan and League Snooker Player

Stephen Warnock, born in 1981, is a former English footballer known for his versatility as a left-back. With a career spanning 16 years, he played for multiple clubs and England internationally.

Early Life

Stephen Warnock was born on December 12, 1981, in Ormskirk, England. He showed promise in football from a young age and joined the Liverpool Academy to pursue his career in professional football.

Career

Club Career

Warnock began his professional career with Liverpool, making his first-team debut in 2002. Despite limited opportunities at Liverpool, his potential was evident, leading him on a loan spell to Coventry City and Bradford City to gain more first-team experience. 

In 2007, he secured a move to Blackburn Rovers, where he established himself as a dependable left-back, earning praise for his defensive capabilities and versatility. His performance at Blackburn caught the attention of Aston Villa, and he signed for them in 2009.

Warnock's career continued with several clubs across English football, including spells at Bolton Wanderers, Leeds United, Derby County, Wigan Athletic, and Burton Albion, demonstrating his adaptability and experience in the game.

International Career

Stephen Warnock's performance at the club level led to his debut for the England national team in 2008. He earned two caps for England and was selected for the 2010 FIFA World Cup squad, marking the pinnacle of his international career.

Legacy

Stephen Warnock retired in 2018, leaving behind a respected legacy as a reliable and dedicated left-back. Post-retirement, he transitioned into football punditry, offering insights based on his comprehensive experience in the game. His journey through numerous clubs and brief but memorable international experiences exemplifies his contribution to English football.

Interview February 2024

Stephen Warnock Questions and Transcription

Liverpool

Diogo Jota and Darwin Nunez have both picked up injuries recently; how will Liverpool replace what they bring, who do you think will have to step up to the plate? 

Diogo Jota has been incredible since coming in for Mohamed Salah when he hasn’t been available due to AFCON, his goals and creativity have been vitally important for Liverpool. I think that Klopp has got the forward three of Jota, Darwin Nunez and Luis Diaz performing at such a high level. Before Salah went to AFCON, Liverpool’s attack was very heavily reliant on Salah. However, when it has mattered over these past few weeks they have stepped up and Liverpool have had three forwards in great form. 

Unfortunately, they’ve lost two to injury, but hopefully, Salah is on the other side of this injury and comes straight back into the team. He plays on that right-hand side, and then Cody Gakpo will play through the middle with Diaz on the left-hand side. I think that forward line pretty much names itself. The biggest concern will be Diogo Jota because Klopp has said he going to be out for a couple of months. We're still not sure about Darwin Nunez and the extent of how long he's going to be out. However, I wouldn't expect that to be too long because it seemed to only be precautionary to take him off on Saturday. 

Should Liverpool expect a little bit more productivity from Gakpo?

When you come into the forward line at Liverpool, you're ultimately judged on either how many goals you score or assists that you produce, as you should be. However, I think the big thing for me with Gapko is finding his best position. He can play anywhere across the front three. He can play in midfield and I feel like that's almost his role, he’s a squad player. He cost 30 million pounds, which is relatively cheap in today's game, and he's good at filling in across various positions.

Gakpo has spells where he looks unplayable at times. But, there are other times when he just looks a little bit lost and maybe that is because he hasn't got a place that's cemented in the team. However, I think what he's done so far is what Jurgen Klopp wanted him to do, which is filling gaps in the team as and when needed.

Another injury problem for Liverpool is Trent Alexander-Arnold being sidelined. What do you think to Connor Bradley’s start in the famous red shirt? His story is fairly similar to your own. 

I think Connor Bradley has been brilliant. To be honest, I wasn't sure whether he'd be ready to play in the Premier League, I know he did exceptionally well at Bolton last season. He has had a similar path to me, where you go and play first-team football, but the way he has progressed and stepped up to the plate in the Premier League is impressive, especially in a team that is competing for the title. That's a completely different level to what he’ll be used to but he has coped really well. There is always a level of scrutiny on every performance from the media, but everyone is talking positively about him. The passing of his dad was just horrible news to hear, and he's dealt with that from a professional standpoint really well. He came back and played against Brentford at the weekend, and I think he's been superb both on and off the field.

The question mark for me was whether he would be able to compete physically in the Premier League, and I still think he needs to bulk up. However, that's just part and parcel of the process of maturing and becoming a better player. 

If you compare him to Trent Alexander-Arnold when he broke through, he was quite skinny. However, now he's matured, more muscular, much stronger, and ready for the rigours of the Premier League, I think that will be a natural progression for Connor, but defensively, he has been superb. Especially against Arsenal when dealing with Martinelli, he was just superb in 1v1 situations and there are not many people who deal with him as well as that. 

He’s great going forward as well, but he's a completely different player to Trent and he brings a different dynamic down that right-hand side. He doesn't go inside as much as Trent, which makes Liverpool more balanced when he plays at right back. 

After Man City’s draw with Chelsea, the league is back in Liverpool's hands. Can they win the title this season or will injuries cost them?

I think injuries will be the key to this title race. You look at Man City's squad and the injuries that they've had this season, you look at Haaland, De Bruyne, but when they come back, then you have Kovacic, Gvardiol, and Grealish injured. However, the squad depth that they've got is quite incredible. Looking at Liverpool’s injury list, I'd say they've arguably got six or seven players out who will be in the starting lineup, so it’ll be a big ask to continue performing consistently until the end of the season to win the league. 

If Liverpool were to win the league this year, it would be the club's biggest accomplishment because of the injuries that they've had. It'd be a phenomenal year to win the league and defy the odds but there is stiff competition up there with them. Both Arsenal and Man City are well and truly in the mix. 

They've both had a few injuries, but nothing of note like Liverpool have had. I don't think many people foresaw Liverpool doing what they've done this season after the troubles they had last year. The league is now back in their hands, but there are a lot of games to be played. European football comes back into the mix which always adds more complications and distractions. It’s going to be interesting because all three of these squads are going to be well and truly tested from now until the end of the season.

You played with Xabi Alonso at Liverpool. Do you think he’d be a good replacement for Jurgen Klopp? Could you see at the time he’d make a good manager one day - and do you think anyone else is worth a mention for the top job?

I think from Liverpool's point of view, and the owners FSG, they'll have always been looking at the long-term solution to Klopp leaving and his potential successors. They'll have been keeping tabs on other managers pretty much from when Klopp started, making sure that they were ready for the day that either leaves or goes through a bad patch. That’s football, anything can happen so you have to think that way as a football club. Xabi Alonso will have only come onto their radar in the past year or so and there may have been someone else in the back of their mind that they were thinking he could be the replacement for Klopp. 

The manager I imagine is the leading candidate is Roberto De Zerbi, because of the way he came into the Premier League and due to his success with Brighton. He's done an incredible job and almost works within the resources that Klopp has had to work with as well. I think he would be an ideal fit for the club. 

However, Xabi has gone into Bayer Leverkusen, taken them from struggling near the bottom of the table last season into a European place, and then what he's doing this year is quite incredible. I think the big thing with Xabi is that he's taken the best bits of every manager he’s worked with, he has a very different style to what Liverpool has now. It's more similar to Manchester City’s style. Alonso worked under Guardiola as a player, with him as his manager. So it’s not surprising he picked up things from him, he must have taken a lot away from those training sessions and then adapted these ideas into his own style of management. 

He doesn't play a conventional back four like Guardiola does, he plays a three at the back and likes to use his wing-backs a lot, so it's a different style. However, Xabi knows Liverpool inside out which is definitely an advantage for him if he does take the role. From my time playing with him at Liverpool, you always could tell he was two or three steps ahead of people on the pitch. I just knew tactically, he was astute, he understood the game, he studied it. 

When you're a player, you don't look at your teammates and think “he'd be a good manager”, but when I look back in hindsight now, I think he understood the game extremely well and as they all say, he was a student of the game. He used to study it relentlessly while playing, and I think he’ll be studying just the same now as a coach. 

You nearly rejoined Liverpool in 2011 when Kenny Dalglish was in charge. Why didn’t the move happen? How did you feel when it did not materialise?

I was devastated when the move back to Liverpool didn't happen. I wanted to go back. I wasn't in the team at Villa, I came into training one day and got pulled to one side by Gary McAllister. He told me Kenny Dalglish had been on the phone and he wanted me back at Liverpool, I was happy with this and it was all done on Villa’s end, I wanted to play football. Gary told me to just get myself up there and enjoy my football again. However, I'd had a bit of a fallout with Gerard Houllier at Villa and he seemed to get his back up about me returning to Liverpool. He clearly wasn’t happy about it for whatever reason and suddenly wanted a bigger loan fee for me to move there. Liverpool just said that they weren't willing to pay that number. 

I think there was also an element of my agent at the time that didn't give Liverpool certain information as well. I was more than willing to take a wage cut to go back there to make the move happen. I just wanted to play my football again at all costs, get on to the pitch at Liverpool and enjoy it. I think it was mainly a mixture of Villa playing hardball and also my agent at the time probably being a little bit greedy and not helping me out as well.

Aston Villa

Villa are having a great season so far, what would be a successful season for them now? Will they make the top four? Should they expect to win the Conference League?

Villa’s squad is going to be tested to the absolute maximum for the rest of this season. Three ACL injuries to important players already is just so unfortunate. How they've dealt with that has been quite brilliant and I’m impressed they have kept themselves in the mix for the top four. They've stayed in and around those top teams consistently, and they are playing some of the best football I've ever seen from a Villa side. 

I was fortunate enough to go to America to cover the summer series event last year and I got to spend time with all the teams and their managers. I sat down with Unai Emery, watched them train and I thought to myself, “this guy is just streets ahead of other managers.” 

The levels of detail that goes into his training sessions, the way that he sets his team up, and the way he delivers the sessions. I think Emery is the reason they'll stay in the mix for the top four, they should be aiming for Champions League qualification, because of the type of manager they have. It’s going to be a shootout between Villa, Spurs and Manchester United for the final Champions League places. However, this season it could work out that the fifth-place team may qualify. 

I think if Villa get into the Champions League this year, it'll be huge for them, to break into that top four or five positions and showcase what they can do on the biggest stage. Credit to Unai Emery for making this possible, he’s absolutely phenomenal.  People don't realise the level of detail that a manager can bring to a team and how much they can improve them, Emery has done exactly that and improved the club tenfold. 

What signings do they need to make in the summer to ensure they keep competing in the league or what could potentially be the Champions League next year?

Villa will need to sign a striker. They need to sign someone capable of competing with Ollie Watkins, not to take his place, but to push him to make him a better player and competition will ultimately do that. They'll need depth but credit to them, they're still competing despite losing four centre-backs, and they've still got great defenders in the starting XI. 

I think they do have depth, but they do need more in midfield, definitely a creative midfielder. They need players who can help them close the gap between them and the stereotypical top teams and then keep them there. You need players that can win games, players that can change the game in a heartbeat and these types of players are expensive.

However, if they can bring Champions League football to Villa Park and they have Unai Emery as the manager, players will come to the club as Aston Villa are steeped in great history. They've won the European Cup, so players will know the history of the club and if they don't, they'll learn about it quickly and understand how much of a big club Villa are. The owners seem to be very ambitious as well, so I think they'll attract a lot of good players if they get in the Champions League.

Villa have two great left-backs Luca Digne and Alex Moreno - who do you think is better and is it a great conundrum for Emery to have?

I think it's a great problem for Emery to have, I think both players have great attributes depending on the type of winger they're going up against. I think Moreno is brilliant, he was so good against Manchester United a couple of weeks ago, it looked like he was just getting his batteries replaced every five minutes. The energy that he brings down that left-hand side, overlapping runs, I think he's naturally more athletic than Digne and wants to get in behind. I think Digne is a player who likes to come into the game and then provide crosses into the box. He doesn't necessarily want to get to the touchline. It’s difficult to say who's better in 1v1 situations, but I would say Moreno is the better defender out of the two.

I think having worked with Unai Emery before and after being brought to the club by him again, I think Moreno would be his number one choice.

Leeds United

Leeds have been in great form lately, and they are finally into the automatic promotion spots, how good a job is Daniel Farke doing? And what has been the key to their good string of results lately? 

Daniel Farke has done an incredible job so far, he's been in this position before with Norwich and he understands what success in this league requires and how to operate within the Championship. It is the old cliche, but you've got to take every game as it comes, you have got to be ready for the latter stages of the season because players will get tired. The games come thick and fast, and I think it's how you manage the squad that ultimately determines your success but that is what Farke is very good at. 

He is a great man-manager. I think he showcased that to the Leeds fans at the start of the season because it was a difficult time for him to take over. There were plenty of big situations to take care of and decisions to make with certain transfer sagas going on, and I think he demonstrated an impressive side to his managing abilities. 

I think looking at Leeds’ squad, they should be up where they are in the table, but this is much easier to say than achieve in the Championship. They've got loads of quality in the squad such as Willy Gnonto, Patrick Bamford, Joel Pirou, Crysencio Summerville and Dan James. You look at that group of players and think they should be causing problems to any defensive line in the Championship, as they have been doing. 

Rutter has also been building great form as well throughout the season. He's a player where I think a lot of people have been surprised by his ability and questioning why didn't he play that much in the Premier League. His link-up play is exceptional, he can take people on in 1v1 situations and his goal return has been decent this season. When you consider these players and look at the squad depth they have for rotation, while bringing on quality players fresh from the bench, that will have a massive impact on Leeds’ success come the end of the season.

Would you say Leeds have underachieved if they don’t achieve promotion? Can they still win the league, especially if they beat Leicester on Friday night?

If they can pull Leicester a little bit closer on Friday night, they'll start to believe they can win the league and close the gap on them. There will also be doubts starting to creep into the Leicester camp if Leeds get three points on Friday, and that's what you've got to do as players, you have to put them under pressure. Leeds will have certainly underachieved if they don’t get promoted because they'll have been expecting within the club to bounce straight back into the Premier League. However, how many teams have we seen try that and fail? It's not as easy as people make it out to be. It's a tough, enduring league. It's so physically difficult, week in, week out; two or three games in a week can be gruelling.

There can be an element of the players feeling a little bit sorry for themselves when they get relegated, and it's how quickly they can get over it and bounce back. I think that was the difference in bringing Daniel Farke in, he changed that mentality as quickly as he could, it did take a while but they got there in the end and it wasn’t too late in the season. We are now seeing the best of Leeds United and they'll be bitterly disappointed if they don't go up this season.

What do you think they will need to do differently this time around if they return to the Premier League?

The difficult thing when you get promoted from any league is that you don't want to lose a few games heavily early on and lose the team spirit within the camp. However, you also don't want to start making massive changes to the squad and bringing in too many players at one time. They will need to invest in some Premier League quality, they’ll need a couple of game-changers who can score goals or create opportunities within the Premier League. 

When they last came up into the Premier League, the one player who ultimately kept them up by delivering most weeks was Raphina, he was the player they relied on to carry the ball up the pitch. He could create opportunities and they had someone who other teams feared and had to plan for, that's what you've got to get within the Premier League.

However, they will have to be smart and make sure that they do their homework on players coming into the team as well so that they don't upset the apple cart. You've got to make sure that you've got quality within that changing room but you can’t have any disrupting the team spirit. It would be sensible to sprinkle in three or four players to the current squad, but I think eight or nine players could be too many, and then build on it year after year. I think too many changes at once can be detrimental and cost teams relegation. 

It has been confirmed that Leeds have sold Sinisterra to Bournemouth following a successful loan spell, will Leeds regret letting him go?

I think they'll be happy to get the money in. I think if they had wanted him back, they'd have held off allowing the transfer and just waited to see what happened at the end of the year. They obviously felt with the way the move played out as well at the beginning of the season that they didn't want him and they were happy to let him go. If people don't want to be at the football club, then what's the point of them being there? That's something that only the manager will know, and Daniel Farke was clearly happy without him at Leeds and believes in his squad. 


Blackburn

John Eustace has recently taken charge of your old club Blackburn Rovers, they’ve had a mixed set of results so far, what do you think about the appointment? 

I think it's an interesting appointment, John Eustace is my old teammate at Derby, I know him well. He is someone who will be very organised, and very diligent on looking at the opposition. I think he's got a point to prove, after Birmingham, leaving them in sixth position in the league and he did a great job there. However, there's more going on behind the scenes at Blackburn, similarly to Birmingham, and he'll realise that very quickly when he gets into the job. It’s not only managing a football team at Blackburn, it's managing the situation off the pitch as well, and trying to make sure that himself and the players are happy with everything that's going on behind the scenes.

It's two jobs that I wouldn't wish upon anyone, because of what's going on behind the scenes at the club. I don't envy John, because it certainly won’t be easy for him, but he made some interesting signings in January. He brought in a few senior players but he lost Adam Wharton in midfield to Crystal Palace. Blackburn got a big fee for him which is important for the club. However, when you lose someone of that quality as soon as you take over, it's going to have a huge impact on his plans for the team and it's how he responds to that which is important, but he won't panic because he's got a calm head on his shoulders. 

Blackburn are hanging just above the relegation scrap at the bottom of the Championship, do you expect them to be down there fighting towards the end of the season or do you think they’ll be well clear of it?

The big thing for John and Blackburn will be surviving to make sure that they're in the Championship next season. Then they will hope that the situation will have been resolved with the ownership off the field. If he can get into the top half, that's a bonus and he will have done a fantastic job. From May, he can either build on this season or he can decide in the summer the next steps for him in his career. He might have gone into the job now and thought it was not what was sold to him and leave. However, I will say that John won’t shirk the challenge that he has in front of him. If he can get a full pre-season under his belt with his ideas, his team, and who he wants in the squad, then he could look at next season in a completely different light.

Derby County

Derby are having a great season and they are right on the heels of Portsmouth, what does it mean to you as an ex-player and to the club to see them doing well again after a rough few years? 

When I was at Derby it was just starting to become a little bit of a mess off the pitch with finances, which they have endured now for four or five years which resulted in relegation from the Championship into League One. However, they did make a very shrewd appointment in Paul Warne; he knows League One and understands it, which is so important at that level. 

I think Derby would have hoped to have got out of the league last season, but they've gone into the market and they've recruited players, in both the summer and January, who understand how to get out of the league and have played at higher levels.

Derby’s quality should be enough to keep them up into the automatic promotion places come the end of the season, and get them back into the Championship, because they're a huge club. They're a magnificently supportive football club and I'd love to see them get out of there and test themselves in the Championship again after the tough times that they've had.

Bolton Wanderers

Bolton are having a great season so far and they are well in contention for promotion, do you think they deserve to get out of League One, are they too big a club for that league?

They are a big club, they probably don't get the crowds they used to but I remember Bolton causing everyone problems in the Premier League. I played against them multiple times and found it difficult. The important thing for Bolton is that they have three games in hand. Three wins in those games can take them above Derby and level on points with Portsmouth. 

This just demonstrates what a great job Ian Evatt is doing there. He's brought senior players into the fold and their experiences are helping them consistently win games. Ian understands that they can have an influence not only on the pitch but off the pitch as well and it’s working well for them. It’s a hugely competitive season in League One, with Portsmouth, Derby and Bolton at the head of it, three big teams within that league and they'll all be desperate for promotion.

Bradford City

Bradford have picked up three great results in their last three games and are slowly climbing the table, what do you think has been the key to their turnaround in form?

I think Graham Alexander is a fantastic appointment. He is someone who knows League Two and understands how difficult the league can be. It's sad to see Bradford where they are, in no man's land, not challenging for promotion but not in trouble of going down. They're not pushing as they should be for promotion, but what you can do in League Two is you can go on a late run until the end of the season and catapult yourselves into the playoff positions; once you’re there, you just never know what's going to happen. 

I think with his appointment back in November, it's taken a little bit of time to get his message across to get the team to understand what he needs from them. Their recent form is great, three wins on the spin is impressive in any league and Graham will be trying to continue that into this hectic period now coming into the latter stages of the season. Valley Parade can become a very difficult place for teams to visit if they keep this run going and get the crowds in. They should be aiming to pick up a lot of their points at home and make sure that they're difficult to play against there, that’s how they will move up the table. 

England

The Euros are coming up this summer and there has been talk of this being Southgate’s final tournament. Who do you think the ideal replacement for Southgate would be? Would Klopp be on the list?

You hear so many things about Gareth Southgate that he might be staying even after the Euros, or the FA might try and convince him to. However, I think England need a change. I think Gareth is a great front-of-house for England, and I think he does a magnificent job with the press. Tactically, I think he falls short, but that's no shame because I think what he's brought back to the nation is a belief in the team. I think he's done an exceptional job of building positivity and faith in the national team. 

I don't think Klopp will be in the mix for the job. I don't think it suits his management style to be able to only see a team once every couple of months for 10 days or two weeks and implement his style. I think he needs to work at it consistently every day to get the best out of any team he manages. I’m not sure it would suit his personality either, I might be completely wrong, but only Klopp will know that. 

I think there'll be a lot of people interested in the role. Mourinho is out of a job at the moment. I’m sure he might put his name in the hat, I know he did an interview not so long ago saying that he was approached for the England as well as the Portugal job and turned them both down. However, this might be a better time for him, so he might want to pop at it, but whether the FA still feel he's the man, we'll have to wait and see as he is vastly different from Southgate.

There will be plenty of candidates, there'll be other people interested in the job that haven’t even been rumoured yet. I think the obvious names will be Eddie Howe and Graham Potter, both being English and had success domestically in England. There are no standout candidates at the moment, and I think that’s quite concerning. 

England have some great young talent coming through as well as some experienced players such as Jordan Henderson. Do you think Southgate should give somebody like Kobbie Mainoo a chance and some experience over him? 

I think it is because of his experience that Southgate seems to value Jordan Henderson. Everyone will question whether he is good enough to be there but I think he is good enough, he's still a quality player. His move to Ajax will have helped his case for selection, being at a big club, although people will question the league’s competitiveness. Playing for Ajax will undoubtedly keep him sharp, it'll keep him fresh. However, I think that despite the experience that he brings to the changing room, having won things, I don’t think he will play much in the tournament if he’s selected, but I’m sure he understands his role within the team now.

That's something that comes with maturity and Gareth will value having another voice around the camp that he knows he can trust, and that is vitally important. We're now in February, there are still four months left of football to play this season and having watched Mainoo the other day against Luton, he's getting better and better. He's an exceptional footballer. He could be the surprise name you see on the plane. Would it be at the expense of Henderson? Quite possibly. It might be at the expense of someone else, depending on form, but I'm a huge admirer of Mainoo. I think he's an outstanding footballer. I think he plays with maturity way beyond his years and the quality on the ball is quite brilliant. 

I'd love to see him at the Euros. Players like him make me wish that you were able to take a handful of young players to these huge international tournaments, just to expose them to the experience and give them an understanding of what goes on at major tournaments. 

I think this would help prepare them for the expectations of the fans, the pressure from the press and the outside influences. When they do get to the time where they are involved properly for the first time, it's a little bit easier for them to understand and realise what's going to happen when they do start playing for England, that way they could focus more on the football. There is no doubt in my mind that Kobbie Mainoo is a future England player.

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