Robbie Savage: “When those players pull on an England shirt it weighs heavy”

The no-nonsense pundit and former Premier League star spoke exclusively to loaded

Robbie Savage outside the William Hill Pub.

Robbie Savage might be a Welshman, but he makes no secret about the fact he’s rooting for England at the World Cup.

Something of a cult figure in his Premier League heyday with Leicester City, Blackburn, Birmingham, and Derby, Savage was also part of Manchester United’s famous Class of ’92 before his career took a different path.

Now a pundit of some repute for both the BBC and BT Sport, Savage, speaking at the launch of the William Hill Arms Pub, gave loaded his verdict on the World Cup so far, England’s chances and VAR.

loaded: What have you made of the World Cup so far?

Robbie: It really exploded into life with Cristiano Ronaldo. Everyone was waiting for something big to happen and that game between Spain vs Portugal was it.  Credit also to Mexico for their performance against Germany and Peru, even though they lost to Denmark, played some really expansive, entertaining, football. I’ve been really impressed with the quality. I just wish Wales were there.

loaded: Do you reckon Wales would have fared okay against some of this lot?

Robbie: When you’ve got Gareth Bale in your team you would always have a chance. Everyone saw how good he was in the Champions League final. Especially with the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen around them, but they’re not there and that’s that, unfortunately. 

loaded: Can England win the World Cup?

Robbie: People say the tournament is wide open, but England have only won three tournament games in their last 12. They need to improve that. We saw a lot of those Tottenham players perform in the Champions League against Real Madrid, they need to take that into this World Cup. England have all the quality they need but can they win it? I’m not so sure.  I don’t think Germany will win the World Cup either. I look at France or Brazil. Nobody has been convincing so far though.

Robbie Savage outside the William Hill Pub.

loaded: Is there more pressure on the England players than other national sides?

England players do feel more pressure. Everything they do is news on the front and back pages here. But I just don’t think they have been good enough. The expectations have been high because the Premier League is the best league in the world, but when those players pull on an England shirt it weighs heavy. You look at Wales at the Euros and how they performed. They didn’t have as much quality as England either.

With some teams being unconvincing so far, this World Cup is an opportunity for Gareth Southgate and England to change that. Given how some of the others performed in those opening games, England fans might start to think they have a chance.

loaded: England players have made a habit of losing their rag at key moments in the past. How did you deal with provocation as a player?

You have provocation on a daily basis whether you play in the Premier League or not. But it’s important not to make rash decisions. It’s happened to England before and it’s cost them. But there’s more of a togetherness about this team.

Listen, in the heat of battle, it’s those big moments that dictate how you are as a person and a character. Do I blame someone for doing something rash in the heat of the moment? No. I’ve done things I’ve regretted but you can’t explain, at that moment, what happens inside of you.

England fans might be worried about someone like Dele Alli in that respect but you wouldn’t want to take that edge out of his game, just like you wouldn’t with David Beckham or Wayne Rooney. There are moments in big games where stuff happens, and I’m not going to sit here and say they shouldn’t do it because that would be hypocritical.

loaded: And how did you provoke a reaction in your playing days?

There were times when I wasn’t having a good game and I would go out and maybe make a challenge or get a yellow card early on to get myself or the crowd going. I’m not advising anyone to do that here though, because it only takes a couple of yellow cards for you to get suspended.

Robbie Savage outside the William Hill Pub.

loaded: How does Gareth Southgate get the best out of this team?

It’s important Gareth uses his squad effectively. I’m not a fan of resting players. We already saw how that can backfire at Euro 2016 with England against Slovakia. They need to play their strongest team and avoid needless yellow cards for stuff like kicking the ball away or taking your shirt off.

loaded: And what do you think of VAR so far?

The decisions with VAR have, so far, been good. The penalty calls can still be subjective though. But as long as it’s communicated effectively in the stadiums and they get to the correct decision which, the majority of times they have, I think it’s good. It just needs to be quick and correct.

Robbie Savage was speaking at the William Hill Arms, the pub which will offer fans the ultimate England watching experience including expert analysis, plus free food and drink.

For your chance to win exclusive access to England’s remaining group games, with Sam Allardyce making a guest appearance, head to William Hill’s Twitter or Facebook pages.

William Hill has over 200 markets available on every World Cup match #ThisIsMore #itscominghome 

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