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Saturday 21 October 2017

'Robbie would have been perfect fit for have been Liverpool'

McAteer worried by fall-out from Neymar deal and lack of Irish players reaching the very top

Burnley signed Dubliner Robbie Brady last January
Burnley signed Dubliner Robbie Brady last January
Jason McAteer, pictured during the week at the offices of Independent News & Media

When Jason McAteer was sent out to make his full debut for his boyhood club Liverpool, against Manchester United way back in 1995, it was a battle between third and fourth in the Premier League table.

Two decades on, as he looks ahead to a Premier League season which begins tonight, the former Ireland international fears that, outside of Seamus Coleman, it will be a long, long wait for the next time that a player from this country plays for a side in the top six of the Premier League.

That's partly down to the fact that Liverpool missed out, in McAteer's book at least, by not making a move for Robbie Brady when he was available for transfer earlier this year.

The big teams of the Premier League have been bereft of an Irish influence for some time.

Want to know the last time an Irish footballer appeared in the Premier League for Manchester United? Back in December 2011, Darron Gibson's final game. For Tottenham it was January 2011 (Robbie Keane), for Manchester City it's May 2010 (Greg Cunningham), Liverpool was Robbie Keane again (January 2009), the last Irish player to line out for Chelsea was Damien Duff, in May 2006, while the Irish link to Arsenal in the league was way, way back in May 2000 (Brian McGovern).

"John O'Shea and Shay Given are the last of my generation in terms of the Premier League and this new generation have found it more difficult in that league," McAteer told The Herald, while in Dublin to promote Cadbury's sponsorship of the Premier League.

"Robbie Brady is good enough, I would love to see Robbie at Liverpool. They missed out by not picking him up, it didn't happen and, bar Robbie Brady and Seamus Coleman, there isn't right now an Ireland player who could play in the top six.

"I felt Robbie Brady had enough potential to play for Liverpool, his career could have stepped on as - no disrespect to his current club - with better players at a bigger club he could have handled it, Robbie is a great player and as a leftie he would have given Liverpool a bit of balance. I think Liverpool missed a trick by not signing Robbie, he can play left back and going forward he is better than Andrew Robertson, they could have done with him last season when James Milner played left-back.

"In my day, British managers tended to look to British and Irish players but now, so many of the Premier League managers have come in from abroad, they look far and wide for players.

"The Premier League has the pick of all the talent, it takes the top players from Spain and France, those players come through at their Spanish club at a younger age, are in the first team over there, maybe playing Champions League football at 18 or 19, so no wonder they are coming on," added McAteer, impressed with one side at a recent tournament and their young players' readiness for this level.

"I saw Germany at the Confederations Cup this summer, it was more or less their U23 team - and they were outstanding.

"It's the next breed they have coming through as their players are in the first team at club level much younger, they have that experience, so the likes of Southampton and Burnley can go to France, pick up one of those players for £10m, or £20m and put them into their first team, instead of bringing the players in from their own academies and those clubs are not scouting in Ireland or Scotland any more." Now 46, McAteer has a few different interests in the game, working occasionally as an ambassador for Liverpool FC.

"It's an eye-opener to see how things are done, private planes and all of that, you are well looked-after," he says.

He says he's excited by the season to come, which should be an open title race, yet like most people over the age of 21, the money swishing through the game now in a post-Neymar era has him worried.

Ridiculous

"PSG have spent ridiculous amounts of money and I don't think that's sustainable, it's a knock-on effect. This Neymar deal is making £40m players become £80m players, as Jose Mourinho said. Wages move up, agents' fees move up, it's unsustainable," says McAteer.

"Still, I don't think it will ever get to a player earning a million a week, you see in China, already they have started cost-cutting and I can't see that happening. It's detrimental to the game."

Despite his status as a former pro, he feels it in his wallet. "I have to go and buy tickets now," says McAteer.

"If I wanted to go watch Liverpool on my own I could probably find a spare ticket but if I want to bring one of the kids, I buy the tickets, if I take my eldest and two of his mates I am buying four tickets.

"The last time I bought a ticket it was £53, I bought two for a friend to go and see Liverpool-Crystal Palace, £106 for two people to get in, before you buy a match programme or a pie, not even a glamour game, it's become ridiculous.

"And Liverpool are probably one of the cheapest, compared to the London clubs."

McAteer has seen a lot of his former club in pre-season but early optimism for the Reds has been dimmed.

"If you'd asked me when I was in Hong Kong with them, I'd have tipped them for the title," says McAteer,

"They were on the verge of signing van Dijk, Keita was almost done, there was no sign of Coutinho leaving and Salah had hit the ground running, I'd have said they were favourites to be pushing for the title. But now, with the chance of them losing Coutinho and with van Dijk not done and the Keita deal off, Lallana injured... I am still optimistic but not as much."

"No one knows what will happen with Coutinho, everyone has a price so it's a case where if the asking price is met, he will leave, and that's going to be tough for Liverpool as the close of the window is getting closer and it's hard to replace him. It's going to be a drawn-out process."

On which team will win the Premier League, McAteer added: "Man City, you don't know what they will be like at the back as four of the back five have changed, they are great going forward but they need a settled defence and I don't know if that will happen.

"Chelsea are just a minute away from a bust-up, they look like a team where it could blow up at any minute.

"(Jose) Mourinho has made some good signings and I think United will go hard, they could be the ones to beat," he added.

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