Exclusive | Chris Waddle: ‘If Mbappé played in England they’d call him idle’

Get French Football News sat down with former England international Chris Waddle to talk about his time at Olympique de Marseille, and his expectations for the new season with Roberto De Zerbi at the helm. 

Marseille has a reputation as a city and a football club as a wild and fiery place. How prepared were you for life there? 

I made a few enquiries. I spoke to Glenn Hoddle who was at Monaco. He just said that it was a very very passionate place. They love their football team. They’re absolutely fanatical supporters. I’d been lucky to play at Newcastle and Tottenham who have amazing support. 

I was a little bit shocked when I went to Marseille. They are fanatics, so when I first went I was quite overwhelmed by how passionate they were about the club and how they wanted the club to win every game, home and away. 

The support was amazing. It was a little bit different to what I had expected from my days at Newcastle and Tottenham but you get used to it. I’ve always liked the fanatical support because you can get a buzz off it, and it can either inspire you or make you go inside yourself, and you don’t perform to your ability because you’re nervous and a little bit scared. 

I actually like an audience. Marseille were perfect. 

You joined Marseille at a time when not many English players were leaving the country. Why do you think more players like Jude Bellingham and Harry Kane are now willing to take this step?

I’d say football’s more open now, we see more football. We can get any league on your TV. When I went to France, there was no French football on English TV. You could read about it in magazines… but now every league is accessible. 

They’ve all obviously changed and a lot of money has come into football over the last ten to fifteen years. Some leagues are richer than others – as it’s always been. When I was growing up, Italy took over and got the big players: AC Milan, Inter Milan, and Juventus. They were all massive clubs and that’s where the money was, they could attract the three foreign players. 

Then the Premier League started and England took over, but France had a spell when England were banned from Europe. The French league was very strong at the time. It all goes around, the Bundesliga is big, Italy is big. There are four or five really big leagues now. 

I think the French have – apart from Paris Saint-Germain – come away a bit because teams haven’t got the money compared to an English club, a German club, or a Spanish club. They’re all probably better off than a French club. I’d probably say the French league is fourth or fifth in the rankings of leagues. When I went to Marseille we were having a go at winning the league, Monaco were having a go, Bordeaux were a big club at the time. And the league was attracting a lot of players. 

I’d love to see more English players go abroad. I think you learn a lot. Not just cultures or languages, you learn about how football is different. The French league was completely different to the Premier League at the time. And I still think it is today. You can see it in the European competitions how some teams find it hard to play against teams from other countries, and you think well if it’s the same league or equivalent then Manchester City should win the cup every year, but they don’t. 

It is different. The whole set-up is different from fans to the way teams play, [to the way they] prepare, and their lifestyle. And it’s a great eye-opener. I take my hat off to people like Jude Bellingham and Jadon Sancho. Harry Kane has gone at an age that I went. Looking back yes I enjoyed my time in England, but I would have liked to have left earlier. But when you look back now that’s easier said. 

I think about some of the English players who are not getting games. [It’s] what annoys me, when you’ve got players who are not getting games for the so-called bigger clubs or a Premier League club, and they’re on the bench or they’re not even in the squad, and they keep saying ‘they’ll be a great player.’ Well, go and send them out, go and send them abroad for a year. You learn so much, and it’ll help them develop as it’s a different style of football. 

You’ve previously called playing for Marseille as being like a “fantasy island” – I wondered if you could explain that a bit more. 

As an English player playing back then, although it’s similar to today, it was all run this way and then you have to run that way. You have to do the ugly side of the game, which let’s be honest wasn’t my game, or Glenn Hoddle’s or Gazza’s (Paul Gascoigne) who was a bit of an all-rounder. 

A lot of people in England expect you to dribble and do what you do, or what they expect you to do. But how many times in England do you hear, good player but lazy, doesn’t work hard enough, doesn’t track back, doesn’t tackle, doesn’t head it enough? When you go abroad they look at your positives, they don’t look at your negatives. 

After a month at Marseille, they were telling me to stop running back, to stop doing this and to stop doing that. They said you’re in the team to create. We don’t want you charging around the field chasing people, because then when you get the ball you’re out of breath and can’t do anything. 

So that’s why I said it was like fantasy island. I basically had a role where I could do what I wanted. And in England, Terry Venables gave me that role in my last season at Tottenham. So it was a role that suited me down to the ground. It was like stepping into fantasy island. Apart from Terry Venables, I’d never heard a coach or a manager say play in that area and when we don’t have the ball just find some space so we can get the ball to you when we win it back. 

I always used to say, that England have always had talented footballers but they never got the best out of them because they asked them to do too much. They didn’t build the team or structure [around them]. When Mbappé hasn’t got the ball, you very rarely see him chasing people down or going into sliding tackles. He comes to life when he has the ball. And the team accept that. 

Didier Deschamps, who I played with at Marseille, was a box-to-box midfielder, and he will understand to get the best out of Mbappé, he’s got to let him stay fresh where they can use him on the ball. That’s what used to frustrate a lot of English players. We used to look at players like Platini, Hagi, and Cruyff and think how good they were. But the role they had in their teams was basically when you get the ball just do something with it, make something happen. And in England that was never ever allowed. 

William Saliba has called Marseille a ‘turning point’ in his career. Looking back on your time (1989-1992), do you feel similarly?

I think for the likes of myself and a lot of other players in England we were regarded as good players, but I don’t think the flair players got the respect they deserved. I always thought a lot of people thought we were good players, but as soon as you go abroad you become a hero or legend or whatever you want to call it. The respect is there and people respect what you do

I think with England, we’ve always found faults with everybody. ‘He’s quick but he hasn’t got this and he hasn’t got that.’ Or ‘he can dribble past three guys but he hasn’t got an end product.’ I think a lot of English footballers are more valued, and more thought of abroad than they are in the UK

We’ve had numerous talents from even when I was growing up back in the 70s. The amount of flair that we had, in England and Scotland, unbelievable wingers and unbelievable players. But they never got the credit that they deserved. It’s changing but I still think it goes on today

You look at Khvicha Kvaratskhelia who plays for Georgia. He won the league with Napoli. He’s like the next thing to Maradona to them, but if he was playing in England they’d say ‘ah he’s alright, he’s clever but he’s lazy. He can’t head it. He can’t tackle’ He’s not in the team to do that… look at the positives, look at what he can do

That’s why I say if Glenn Hoddle and I were French we would have got a lot more caps. Platini had said ‘I can’t believe how these guys don’t play for England.’ But it’s fitting in, and [England] always preferred the energy and the power to the flair. And you can still see it now

I got a lot of respect at Marseille. I respected them and they respected me. I came back and played for Sheffield Wednesday – which I loved – and when you come back, all of a sudden you have a bit more respect because of what you’ve done abroad. But you think I’m basically the same player I was at the backend of Newcastle and definitely Tottenham as I was for Marseille

We always look for the bad side; the negatives for players. Instead of looking at what they’re good at. And saying ‘You know what, he’s as good as anybody at dribbling, he’s as good as anybody at passing.’ It’s always, ‘can’t head it, can’t tackle, can’t run.’ 

And you just think what do you expect, if Mbappé played in England they’d say, ‘He’s idle. He’s great when he gets the ball but without the ball he’s terrible.’ And this is England, this is the way we’ve always been. But in France they accept it and they respect it. Maybe one day it’ll happen in England, [smiles] but I don’t know if I’ll be around to see it. 

Marseille have just come off the back of a turbulent season but have landed one of the most highly rated managers in Roberto De Zerbi. What do they need to do to avoid a similar campaign? 

I’m hoping that the chairman and the board have got the license to give him some money. They’ve already sold two players (Vitinha and a fee has been agreed for Samuel Gigot) in the last few weeks, so they’ve already brought in a bit of money. So say he has 40-50 million it won’t be enough to compete against Paris Saint-Germain. 

Lyon finished the season very well, and they’ll be back next year. After that Marseille go into a group of five to six clubs who have got a budget that is decent but it’s not Paris Saint-Germain’s budget. So I think the goal will be can you get us in the Champions League? I’m not saying they’ll win the league. 

Listen knowing Marseille, if it’s not working out they wouldn’t hesitate getting rid of him. Marseille go through managers like we go through sandwiches. I know they paid a compensation fee of five million for him, which means it looks like he’ll get a fair crack at the whip. They obviously identified him as the manager to take the club forward. But you’re only as good as your players, and Marseille have got some nice players… some ageing players, but when you look at some of the squads in France, I wouldn’t say Marseille’s one of the strongest. 

Expectations are always high in the south of France but what should Marseille fans expect from De Zerbi? 

Nice football. A little bit Barcelona-ish. It’ll be keep the ball, passing triangles, move the ball with one-two touch. But he’s got to have his number ten like they do in France. He’s got to have his player or a winger – two at least – who can do something different. You can pass the ball all day, but if you’re not going anywhere [it doesn’t matter]. Every team wants a goal scorer, but they need two creative players. And if those two creative players are on their game, it could be a very exciting season for Marseille. 

Chris Waddle was speaking to BoyleSports about Euro 2024 betting.

GFFN | Nick Hartland

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