Jermaine Pennant “AI should replace VAR officials after Liverpool blunder”

October 3, 2023
22 Minute Read

Jermaine Pennant: I had a smile on my face when I found out I was fighting Matt Hancock, Arsenal should sign Mitoma, AI should replace VAR officials after Liverpool blunder, Saliba as good as prime Van Dijk

Speaking to Lucky Block bitcoin sportsbook, ex-Arsenal, Liverpool and Big Brother star Jermaine Pennant opens up on his stint on SAS: Who Dares Wins and gives his opinions on the VAR controversy that has dominated headlines over the past few days. He also gives his insights on the Premier League title and top-four race and suggests who can offer support for Buyako Saka at Arsenal.

Q. What was it like punching Matt Hancock?

JP – “I had a slight smile when his number was called out! My first thought was ‘’you can’t lose this’’, and my second was ”the nation is spurring you on”. We’re not fighters and we both know it wasn’t going to be a good boxing match, but I just focused on not losing – and that’s what happened!”

Q. Would you rather have lost to Matt Hancock, or watch Liverpool lose 7-0 to Everton?

JP – “I’d rather watch Liverpool lose 7-0 to Everton than lose to Matt Hancock. I can get over the former, but I could never live down the latter. It would have followed me for the rest of my life!”

Q. Did you both talk about your fight after it happened?

JP – “Not really! It was just a task we both had to do. We didn’t talk about the fight, but it was a little bit awkward standing next to him after. Once we got back to the barracks, we spoke about it a little bit, but it’s what we signed up for. We both had to defend ourselves!” We didn’t like it, but we were both ready for it.

Q. Hancock is very unpopular in the UK after breaking lockdown rules. Did he talk about breaking the rules?

JP – “Surprisingly, he didn’t talk about breaking lockdown rules on the show. He mostly talked about his mistake of getting caught with another woman and falling in love, but he didn’t really talk about the decisions he made during lockdown or him not abiding by rules. I thought he could’ve come out and apologized for the millions of people who couldn’t see loved ones during that time. I thought he could’ve gone into the mirror room and apologised, but instead, he talked just about his affair.”

Q. Do you think Matt Hancock has a legitimate chance at improving his public image? Are his attempts at improving it genuine?

JP – “I think Matt Hancock is trying to do as many good shows as he can to try and improve his persona. It, however, does not matter what he does. Him going on SAS or I’m a Celeb is not going to change peoples’ opinions of him to the thousands who lost loved ones. The only thing that would do that is a sincere apology. He can go on every show, and it’ll make no difference.”

Q. How much of a genuine person did you see when it comes to Hancock?

JP – “Some of us felt like Hancock wasn’t opening up fully, and that he was there as part of a game. There were no heart-to-hearts or anything like that. We were all too focused on the show. I don’t think any of us really felt like we knew Matt Hancock.”

Q. Who in football would you most like to fight in a scenario like that, from your playing days?

JP – “I wouldn’t say I’d like to fight any players as I don’t have any bad blood there. Managers, though, are a different story! I’d say Mark Hughes. He terminated my two-year contract at Stoke after two months. This was after I’d scored a great free-kick against West Ham and didn’t play for the next three games. I didn’t understand it! Hughes played a defender on the right wing instead of me. I don’t think we say eye-to-eye as Hughes had some preconceived notions of me. I could fight anyone in that situation, it’d be Mark Hughes – we’d slug it out.”

Q. Maybe you’ll get your wish next year!

JP – “A fight between Hughes and I would be an SAS Special!”

Q. Did you make any other friends on the show?

JP – “I made great friends with Teddy Soares, he’s a really nice guy. Montana Brown was great, too. I had them either side of me in the barracks and I could chat to them both. I grew closest with those two.”

How similar is SAS training to football?

Q. Did you lean on skills you picked up during your football days and transfer them to the show? It seems both practices rely on discipline, focus, and camaraderie.

JP – “I’d say there was a bit of crossover between the show and football. I played many games where it was tempting to not run back and help my left back out, but I always ended up finding that little extra bit. It was the same on the show as there were times I had to dig deep and push through. We played a game of rugby in the mud, too, and that was where my football skills really came out! Instead of chasing the ball, I stayed on the wing and waited for the ball to come. Then I was off! I stayed wide, like I’m used to! That episode is out this Sunday, and it’ll be a good one.”

Q. Are there any other shows you’d love to take part in? Why?

JP – “I’d say Strictly Come Dancing and I’m a Celeb come to mind! I quite enjoy dancing and I’ll always shake a leg on stage when the chance comes! My partner watches the show religiously, so I’d like to try it out. I’m A Celebrity speaks for itself – though I’d struggle to eat the food in the Bushtucker trials!”

Q. Would eating that food, insects, and such, be harder than the SAS program?

JP. “Definitely! I’m used to physicality and endurance, but eating leeches and bugs would be even tougher than the toughest SAS drills I did.”

Q. I can’t imagine that cuisine would be popular in a players’ canteen! Arsene Wenger was known for bringing over exotic cuisine, and it’s a good thing he left those off the list.

JP: “You’re not wrong! I don’t think importing food like that would’ve made Arsene very popular.”

VAR debacle and football reaction

Q. Let’s move on to football – was that VAR decision in the Liverpool game the biggest howler you’ve ever seen from officials? What needs to be done?

JP: “It was the worst call I’ve seen, without a shadow of a doubt. Some VAR calls are contentious and it’s understandable a mistake could be made, but this one is as clear and obvious as it gets. It makes me question the role of officials. If the referee gets something wrong, the assistants have to be there to double-check and step in. Imagine a co-pilot not getting involved in a flight! That’s how mind-boggling it is. The referee has assistants, and they have to assist – the clue is in the name!”

Q. What do you think needs to be done?

JP: “This decision could potentially cost Liverpool severely. If they end up losing out on the title by a single point, as has happened twice already, then this decision could cost the players a trophy and the club millions of pounds. I don’t want people to lose jobs, but the clubs need to take action. It was a massive blunder.”

Q. Rodri’s handball against Everton back in the 21/22 season wasn’t caught, and Liverpool ended up a point behind them at the end of the season. Could this be as big?

JP: “It could be, depending on the table. VAR was introduced for incidents like this. I don’t know what training the officials go through, but perhaps it needs to be examined. Maybe they need to look at AI! There would be no more human errors, that’s for sure. We’ve had 14 apologies from refs this season and it’s barely October! That is crazy! I don’t know why they said no to AI, perhaps it was money. Something needs to be done.”

Q. Some fans are even calling for the game to be replayed. What do you think of that?

JP: “I’d have to agree with the calls for a replay as a Liverpool fan! Either that, or they chalk the goal on. It happens in F1 and other sports. There was no reason to chalk the goal off and there’s no way to prove it wasn’t a goal- so give the goal. Liverpool could’ve gone on to score more goals after that, you never know.”

Q. Liverpool finished the game with nine men and defended valiantly, undone only by an own goal. Does the spirit in the Liverpool squad bode well for their title chances?

JP: “Liverpool were unbelievable, even with nine men. Spurs couldn’t break them down and I felt confident watching Liverpool defend. My anxiety was through the roof, though, don’t get me wrong! The own-goal was heartbreaking, especially for Matip. As good as Liverpool were, I’d still say their Achilles heel is their defence. They need a better centre-back. Konate is injured and is out quite a bit, so I’d like to see them sign another one.”

Q. Which centre-back would you like to see at Liverpool? Most would say Ruben Dias, but that looks unlikely!

JP: “Ruben Dias would be great, but I can’t see him leaving City anytime soon. There aren’t many top, top centre-backs available. I think Liverpool may need to raid RB Leipzig again! They always seem to get their recruitment right.”

Q. Up next for Liverpool is Union Saint-Gilloise and then Brighton. What are you predicting for those two games?

JP: “I think the Union Saint-Gilloise game is a good chance to rotate the squad. We have enough there to give some players a rest and get the job done – so I’m expecting a win there. The Brighton game will be hard, but this is a totally new Liverpool side with one of Brighton’s former stars in. Brighton are leaking goals at the moment, but they’re still great going forward. I’m expecting a tough game, but I’m not expecting Brighton to win as easily as they did the last time they played Liverpool. It’ll be tight.”

Q. Brighton play very high-risk, high-reward football. How do you think you’d have done in this side?

JP: “Brighton’s style would allow me not to track back, which would be nice! Any formation Brighton play in would suit me as I’m not expected to cover so much ground and I’d have license to go forward, just as Mitoma does. Explosive players want to be in a team where they can express themselves. They don’t need to put in tackles or intercept play as much as other teams do.”

Q. Manchester City lost this weekend – do Liverpool have enough to go toe-to-toe with them this season?

JP: “I think a lot of people are hoping that Liverpool push City all the way. City have lost big players like Gundogan, Mahrez, and Laporte, and they can’t be a stronger side after that. Any team would struggle without so many of their stars. City are strong, of course, but with the sales they’ve made and the absences of De Bruyne and Rodri, now would be the time to play City. Not that there’s ever a good time!”

Q. City have set their standards so high, that a single defeat looks like a crisis! Especially considering they lost to Newcastle in the cup, too.

JP: “Manchester City have set such a high bar, that any dip below it is noticed. They’re still top of the league!”

Q. What did you make of Arsenal’s game against Bournemouth?

JP: “I was impressed with Arsenal’s 4-0 victory. They may be a much better side than Bournemouth, but these kinds of games used to be banana skins for them. To go there, control the game, and win 4-0 shows how far they’ve come.

“It was a really good performance. Bournemouth is never easy as it’s a small ground and a compact place, but Arsenal showed that the cream always rises to the top.”

Q. Can Arsenal hit the same heights they did last season?

JP: “I can’t think of a reason suggesting Arsenal can’t match, or even improve, their performances from last season. They’ve strengthened their squad with the likes of Declan Rice and David Raya, so they should be able to emulate their form from last year. Other teams have strengthened as well, however, and the teams who were poor last season look a lot better. Spurs were nowhere to be seen last year but now they look like a different side, Liverpool look as if they’re getting themselves together. Chelsea are being Chelsea, and they look no different. Newcastle look good, too, and they’ll all be chasing City.”

Q. Kai Havertz has got himself on the scoresheet, do you think he can kick on now?

JP: “Confidence goes a long way in football. Only time will tell if Havertz will kick on, but I’m still not convinced. I can’t see his goal making a lot of difference as it’s not like Havertz had an amazing game. He just happened to take a penalty against a side who were 3-0 down. I don’t think Arsenal fans should read too much into it, but hopefully, he can kick on.”

Q. If you were the Arsenal manager, how would you utilise Havertz?

JP: “I wouldn’t – he’d be on the bench! Havertz wouldn’t start for me and I’d have to ask him where he plays! If he says as a striker, or a 10, or an 8, I’d stick him there and let him express himself.”

Q. Theo Walcott had the same problem at Arsenal – nobody was sure whether he was a striker or a winger. Do you see any parallels between Havertz and Walcott? Did you play with any players who were unsure of their best position?

JP: “Theo had pace, so you could play him anywhere in the forward line and get away with it. You can’t do that with Havertz as he’s not quick or massively skillful. When I think of players I played with who were unsure of their best position, I’d say Dirk Kuyt comes to mind.

“I used to ask him if he was a winger or a striker! He couldn’t do what I did and put in crosses for Crouchy or Fernando and I used to be annoyed when the team sheet would arrive and he’d be on the right! I swear he played as a striker for Feyenoord!”

Q. How frustrating is it for a player to not have confidence in where they play?

JP: “It’s difficult as so much of football hinges on confidence. If players aren’t well-drilled in where they play, then it’s hard to launch a career. It can also make the team worse as it can put them out of sync.”

Q. With Kevin De Bruyne injured, is Martin Odegaard now the best midfielder in the league? How about the world?

JP: “I think so, but you’d also have to consider Bruno Fernandes as the best midfielder in the league apart from De Bruyne. However, I would say that Odegaard is more of a miss for Arsenal than Fernandes is for Man United. He’s just fantastic. I remember hearing about him years ago when I played Championship Manager! It didn’t work for him at Real Madrid, but you can’t blame him for that as Madrid have so many world-class midfielders.

“What a signing he’s been for Arsenal. Odegaard is the captain and he leads by example by always putting in top performances. That’s what you want in a captain.”

Q. Odegaard is a lot younger than people think – it feels like he’s been around forever!

JP: “Exactly, and his mindset is elite. It didn’t work for Odegaard at Real Madrid, but he didn’t let that define him. So many players would’ve been ruined by that experience.”

Q. Up next after that is Lens and Manchester City. What are you predicting for those two games?

JP: “Both games will be tough. I’d say that Arsenal have too much for Lens as the French league isn’t strong. They’ll win that comfortably. The Man City game is different, though, as you can never bet against them. City are the favourites regardless of the opposition, so I’d say they’ll beat Arsenal. I’m going for 2-1 City. Stranger things have happened, though! Wolves did it, so why can’t Arsenal?”

Q. How much of a chance does Rodri’s suspension give Arsenal?

JP: “Rodri is a key figure and he’s proved that over the last few years. He protects the back four, plays clever passes, and pops up with the odd important goal. He’s the perfect number six.”

Q. We’ve seen number sixes, such as Rodri, increase in price over recent seasons. How much would Gilberto Silva go for in today’s market?

JP: “Gilberto Silva’s worth would be in the hundreds of millions. We saw Rice go for over £100 million, and there’s no reason why Silva wouldn’t. He’d be a superstar now. He never seemed to get out of second gear, but he’d always be an enforcer. Gilberto was the nicest guy off the field, but on it, he’d put in some mean tackles! Him, Thierry, and Patrick would be the three nailed-on starters in that side.”

Q. Did Gilberto Silva’s departure not get the attention it deserved?

JP: “Gilberto was an unsung hero and people turned a blind eye to what he did. It made sense, though, as you also had Thierry Henry producing unbelievable performances week after week, with Robert Pires, Freddie Ljungberg, and Dennis Bergkamp all being magicians in their own way. It’s easy to overlook Gilberto, but die-hard Arsenal fans will never forget him. He was the invisible wall and any team would take him in his prime.”

Q. You previously said you’d like to see Ivan Toney sign for Arsenal. But if that doesn’t happen, who else would you like to see?

JP: “I’ve said a few times that Toney would be a great signing for Arsenal. He’d be a newer, better Ian Wright! It would be a walk in the park for him and he’d boost Arsenal. If that doesn’t happen, though, then keep in mind that there’s a lot of noise coming out of Napoli regarding Osimhen. If he came to Arsenal, then you have to start to talk about them being massive contenders to City.

“I’d say the only thing Arsenal are lacking is firepower, and Osihmen definitely provides that. As I look at some of the top teams right now, I’d rank Arsenal’s attack fourth-best. City have Haaland, Liverpool have their front-five, and even Newcastle look potent. Arsenal look unconvincing as you can’t hang your hat on Martinelli and Saka getting 20 goals a season each. Osihmen has all of the attributes Arsenal need.”

Q. You mentioned Bukayo Saka. Do you think Arsenal rely on him too much? Is Arteta risking playing him too often? We all saw what playing so often did to Michael Owen.

JP: “Saka’s record is unreal – he’s missed one game in about 80! I’d say you take a risk every time you step on the field, and there is a limit before you overdo it. When you’re playing league games on Saturday and Champions League games on Wednesday, then you’re aching for at least two days.

“Every muscle will ache, even for modern players. They may have unbelievable facilities, but they’re still human and they’re still going to be sore. Saka is young and there’s a chance of him developing small injuries that quickly become serious. I think it may be time Arsenal explore that possibility. He’s had a few nasty landings, but he’s been lucky so far. If you run your star man down, then they’ll be in trouble. Mo Salah is 31 and his body is conditioned now, but he gets brought off quite a lot and he misses the odd game – unlike Saka. Arteta has to be careful in how he manages him.”

Q. If Arteta does choose to rest Saka a bit more, who would you want to come in as a replacement?

JP: “I know Mitoma plays on the left, but I’m sure they could make him work on the right. I’d love to see him in the side if they get the right price. He could play on either wing, and he’d light up the Emirates.”

Q. What would be the right price for Mitoma?

JP: “You’ve got to be looking at a £60 million starting bid!”

Q. I think Brighton would quickly ask for the other half!

JP: “Probably!”

Q. Does anyone else come to mind?

JP: “Mitoma is the only one as Arsenal already have good backups, like Trossard.”

Q. Jarod Bowen? He’s having a good season.

JP: “Bowen would be a good one. I was excited to see him linked with Liverpool. Bowen or Mitoma would do a great job. Two solid replacements.”

Q. Is this the best transfer window Liverpool have had under Klopp? Every signing has hit the ground running.

JP: “I think this is up there with Klopp’s greatest transfer windows. He’s got everything down to a tee. Dominik Szoboszlai has had an unbelievable start, Mac Allister is a quality signing, even though I’d like to see him play a bit further forward.
“Endo will be solid once he settles, and Ryan Gravenberch looks exciting, too. Liverpool needed fresh legs and new energy, and now they’ve got it. For the first time in years, it doesn’t look like Liverpool’s midfield will be overrun. They’re solid, confident, and chipping in with goals themselves. This midfield has already scored more goals than the one last season! I don’t think Henderson scored once, and I think Fab only got two. This midfield has already bettered that.”

Q. How can Liverpool improve their squad in the January transfer window?

JP: “I’d like to see Liverpool sign a proper enforcer in January. For me, that player would be Manu Kone. I think he would be a great number six and encourage Mac Allister to move further forward. Kone would be the icing on the cake, and so would Khéphren Thuram – I’ve always been a huge fan of his. He may not play as a 6, but you could make it work. If we can get them in January, then we’re looking at a boss midfield!”

Q. Would that midfield be good enough to win the Champions League?

JP: “Definitely! Having Kone and Thuram in there would elevate Liverpool’s midfield to being up there with the very best. Add in the forward five, and the likes of Virgil, Trent, and Alisson in the back, and that’s an unbelievable side. The only weakness I can see, and people may think I’m mad for saying this, is Andy Robertson. I’d like to see Liverpool move for a better left-back in January. He’s been a great servant for Liverpool, but I think he’s moving to the end of his career now. I think another attacking left-back will be needed.”

Q. Who would that left-back be?

JP: “Left-backs aren’t my forte, to be honest! I would have been happy with Joao Cancelo as he can play on the right or left. I was disappointed Liverpool didn’t move for him, but I’m sure their recruitment team have other irons in the fire.”

Q. Top left-backs are somewhat of a rarity!

JP: “They are. There used to be loads of them with the likes of Ashley Cole and Leighton Baines, but that’s not the case anymore.”

Q. Let’s talk about Eddie Nketiah – is he good enough for Arsenal?

JP: “I think Nketiah is good enough for Arsenal, but not as a starter in the big games. I think he should’ve stayed away from the number 14 shirt as those are some big boots to fill. He’s good enough for Arsenal, but not as their leading man.”

Q. Is William Saliba the best centre-back in the Premier League? If not, who is?

JP: “At the moment, yes, Saliba is the best centre-back in the Premier League. It’s hard to argue against that case. Look at how Arsenal fared with him last season and compare that to the games where he was missing – it was night and day. Arsenal were on course to win the league when he was fit, and they ended up finishing five points behind City once he got injured. When you watch Saliba, he reminds me of a Rolls Royce – smooth on the ball, never panics, and he never gets beaten. He’s playing like prime Van Dijk at the moment. You never expect anyone to go past him.”

Q. Do you think Saliba can go on to become one of Arsenal’s best defenders ever?

JP: “Saliba can be an all-time Arsenal great, but he needs trophies. If you look at players like Tony Adams, Martin Keown, and Sol Campbell, you’ll notice that they had the trophies to match their performances. If Saliba wins a trophy, then he can put himself in their bracket.”

Q. Maybe Saliba will help Arsenal land that elusive league trophy this season?

JP: “We’ll wait and see, but Arsenal certainly have the players to go all the way.”

Q. Speaking of which, what does your predicted top-four look like? Who’s in, and who misses out?

JP: “I’ve changed my mind since the start of the season as I’d have gone for Man City, Liverpool, Arsenal, and Newcastle in the top four, but now I’d switch out Newcastle for Tottenham. Spurs have been great so far this season and I’d leave out Manchester United, too. Chelsea speak for themselves.”

Q. Why did you choose to leave out Man United? They can go on a run as they did last season.

JP: “Manchester United snuck into the top four due to the poor form of the teams around them. Spurs and Liverpool were so bad and it opened up the gates for the other teams. This season is different now, though, and these teams have gotten better. Man United have gotten worse! They have a lot to sort out, and even if they do go on a run, I can see the other teams going on better ones.”

Q. Who are you predicting will win the Premier League?

JP: “I’m going to be boring and go with City to win the Premier League this season.”

Q. What will it take to stop City’s dominance?

JP: “I’d say the main component of City’s dominance ending is the exit of their key players. This happens to every winning team. The spine of the team ages and moves on, and the rebuild begins. We saw that with the title-winning Liverpool side and once De Bruyne gets older, Dias leaves, and Rodri leaves, then the cracks will show. The departure of Pep will be tough for them, too.”

Q. Will City struggle as United have once Pep Guardiola leaves? United haven’t been the same since Ferguson left.

JP: City will struggle once Pep leaves. City’s playstyle is entirely down to Guardiola, and whoever replaces him will have their own tactics and philosophy. We’ve seen teams try and emulate City’s tactics, but there’s more to it than that. Pep’s ideas are so intricate and the new manager will come in and do it their way. It’s very possible that Pep’s replacement is nowhere near as effective. Once Pep is out the door, then the effects will ripple throughout Manchester City.”

Q. Final question – would you rather play for Klopp, Guardiola, or Arteta?

JP: “I’d have to go for Klopp as the manager I’d most like to play for out of the three. I think Jurgen would get the best out of me as he puts his arms around his players and looks after them. He tells them when they’re not playing and always explains why. That’s the kind of manager I needed in my career.

“I played with some managers who’d drop me with no explanation, but the level of man-management I see from Klopp would have been great. There’s a reason why his players perform so well for him. Even when they come off, they always have a smile on their face and give Klopp a high-five or a hug. That does wonders for players’ morale and confidence. Klopp knows how to handle every single one of his players. There’d be a lot of tracking back, but let’s not go into that! I suppose that’s just how modern football is, though. You still get a lot of freedom.”

Tom Middleton

Tom is a crypto gambling expert with more than a decade of experience in the industry and Master’s Degree in Journalism. He has written thoroughly researched guides and reviews for several major publications.

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