It might be something of a ripe old cliché, but they simply don’t make footballers like they used to anymore. But although the current breed of Premier League footballer may lack the charm and affability of players from yesteryear, even then, few can claim to have had quite the career of ex-Aston Villa frontman turned Sky Sports pundit, Alan McInally.
In an era these days were some players can’t move above the Watford Gap without feeling homesick, ‘Big Mac’ went from serving an apprenticeship fitting airframes in Prestwick, to lifting silverware in the Olympiastadion with Bayern Munich.
Now plying his trade as one of the much loved members of the Soccer Saturday panel on Sky Sports every Saturday, Football FanCast’s Sam Antrobus caught up with the ex-Scotland international at the launch of EA Sports’ Fifa 13, to chat all things Villa, playing abroad and sinking a few beers at Oktoberfest.
Can could you possibly tell us a bit about today’s event and what you’re doing up in Manchester today?
I’m here for the launch of Fifa 13 this evening, where they’ve got a few celebs and players in to play the game and play against each other. I’m actually on the game myself this year – they’ve obviously got a commentator and a co-commentator, but within the game, they’ll be a part which will interrupt the game you’re currently playing to put you through to another fixture, where they’ll be me to tell you what’s happened.
So for example, if you’re second in your division and you need a victory to win the league but your rivals are playing at the same time, it will be me giving you updates about what’s happening and who’s scored etc. It’s a great idea by EA Sports to be honest and it seems to be pretty well received, so that’s why I’m here and I’m going to be interviewing a few of the boys this evening.
How’s it been going so far?
I can say without fear of getting things right and wrong, I’ve been beaten by a 10 year old, an 11 year old and a 12 year old.
Are you not much of a Fifa player yourself then Alan?
No I love it, it’s really, really good. I’m just hopeless at it, that’s all. I played my neighbours nephew the other day and some of the things he was doing, I didn’t actually realize that was a part of the game. If you’re a gamer at all and you want to play a football game, then there is absolutely no question you’ve got to have Fifa, because it’s superb and I’m saying that genuinely.
From virtual football to real football now, what’s been your take on your old club Aston Villa’s difficult start to the season?
Well it wasn’t the greatest of starts obviously, but after that point at Newcastle you were thinking that’s a brilliant result, because Newcastle so far have obviously been beating everybody and you wouldn’t expect a lot of teams to come away with something.
Then you think Paul Lambert’s finally got a little bit of luck, a rub of the green and that the penny’s finally started to drop with a few of the players. He introduced a couple of the new, younger players in Westwood that he got in from Crewe and Benteke aswell who managed to grab a goal and ok, everything seemed on the up.
So the Southampton game must have felt like a real kick in the teeth?
I said at the time after the Newcastle game, you can’t be too euphoric yet, it’s very early in the season and still a work in progress that Paul is striving to create. They needed to give Southampton a bit of respect, because they’re still a Premier League team and of course, they went there and lost the game. The biggest problem was in the way they lost the game in the manner that they conceded four goals and that was the biggest disappointment.
But listen, they’ll be loads of highs and lows at Aston Villa this season. I think Paul Lambert is absolutely the right appointment to be given the managers job at Villa and I don’t think there is any problem, but it’s a tough job. Aston Villa is not a club where you can say; “I’ll get three or four games where it doesn’t really matter what happens.” I don’t think that’s the case at a team like Villa and its down to him to turn it around and turn it around quickly.
You say Paul Lambert is absolutely the right appointment, but do you think fans at Villa Park will remain patient with him?
Well it’s a toughie isn’t it? Because lets face it everything nowadays is “I want it now and I wanted it 20 minutes ago.” That’s what kind of society we’re like and football’s no different to be honest with you. They want a solution, they want a fix and they want to be watching winning football.
I think they’re going to have to be patient though and that’s why I’m saying that they will be highs and low during the season. Newcastle away was a high. Swansea at home was a definite high so early in the season considering Swansea had started so well.
But of course, there was a bit of a low at Southampton and it’s down to the players to dust themselves off and get of with it.
The other thing of course is, he hasn’t had a massive amount of money to spend.
Will he already be looking to the January window then?
Well I think you’ve got to give him a bit of time till at least the transfer window has reopened and he can obviously then say to coaches and pinpoint players he wants to bring into the football club. Give him the time to do exactly that and then judge him at the end of the season and I think that’s only fair and right.
I don’t think for a minute that Paul won’t already be thinking, “right, I think that’s part of the team I need to be strengthening,” and he’ll try and do so when he has the opportunity.
Any chance they might be going down?
I don’t think they’ll be candidates for relegation or anything but I just think the whole situation at Aston Villa is maybe going to take certainly a couple of years to sort.
What about Darren Bent this season? He obviously struggled with injury last season, but after opening his account during the weekend, how do you think he’s going to get on this season?
Well hopefully all right. Darren Bent needs somebody to share the load with him because really, Villa have relied on Darren far too much and hopefully Benteke can share that load. But there has got to be more coming from the middle of the park as well. Stephen Ireland came with a big reputation from Manchester City and I think he’s got to, along with some of the senior players, be chipping in with a few aswell.
On a slightly different note, as someone who played abroad in Germany with Bayern Munich, why do you think British players currently seem so reluctant to ply their trade in another country?
Well I think there is a couple of easy answers there in that firstly, the money is very good in the Premier League. You don’t necessarily have to go abroad to get it.
And the other scenario is that there are a lot of players that have actually come to this country and players now have the opportunity to play with foreign players that they might not have the opportunity maybe when I was playing.
It wasn’t till I went abroad that I had the opportunity to play with foreign players. You don’t necessarily have to go abroad now to make your game better or learn a different style etc. because those people are coming to our shores and then you have the opportunity to play with them in this country.
What about your time in Bayern Munich, what do you think that did for your career?
Oh it was massive. I had a big decision to make when I left Aston Villa at the time. Apart from Chris Waddle at Marseille, I was about the only other player doing it – at the time there wasn’t really people going abroad like that.
I mean, when you go and speak to Franz Beckenbauer and Uli Hoeness – Jupp Heynckes was the coach at the time – and they say to you that you’ll love Munich, we want you to be a Munich player and we want to win the European cup, it’s very difficult to say to them: “No it’s ok, I’ll stay at Aston Villa.”
Maybe I should have done another year at Villa and probably won the title but to be honest, the time was just right for me to go abroad.
What were the differences both as a player and as a person?
I was an absolute eye opener, in terms of preparation, the way they trained, the preparation factor – right down to the medicine factor. In Germany at that time in 1988, they were doing stuff then, that all the teams are doing now- they were absolutely miles ahead.
For me as a footballer, learning was a great thing for me to go but also learning a new language was fantastic you know, I can speak German now. I would have never previously contemplated the prospect of going abroad, learning another language and integrating myself into a new society. Plus, I have the added advantage that I can go to Oktoberfest every year and order myself a couple of beers. That’s always a plus.
Any plans to sink a few beers in Germany soon then?
I haven’t been to Germany since the Champions League final but the Oktoberfest is still on, so I’m trying to convince the boys at Sky to let me do a Champions League Bayern home game, so with a bit of luck, I’ll get the call!
Count Football FanCast in on that one. Finally, as you’re launching the new Fifa 13, who do you reckon would win a tournament out of you and all the Soccer Saturday boys?
I’d probably have to say me for the simple reason I’ve been practicing in case I might be asked to play tonight. But trust me, anyone could beat me at Fifa, I’ve been put in my place many a time! But let’s just say Jeff Stelling because nobody ever says Jeff can win at anything. So ill put him forward and put him under a bit of pressure incase anyone says he has to play it.
Alan McInally presented the #FIFA13CelebCup trophy. EA SPORTS FIFA 13 is out now on all formats including PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360 and iOS.