Gareth Bale was last season’s PFA Player of the Year, labelled “the No 1 player in the world” by England manager Fabio Capello and sparked a summer transfer rush for young British players. No pressure then…
This summer has seen a trend towards buying young British players. Is that a positive change?
Yeah I think so. If you look at Italy and Spain, there are always young players coming through. Even when the older guys are still strong, the younger ones come through. It seems like British clubs are starting to realise that bringing through or buying home-grown talent is the best way to go because they are the ones who best know the way English football is played.
Do you think a big price tag puts a lot of pressure on a young player?
I wouldn’t say pressure, to be honest. Obviously to move from a lower league club to a big Premier League club and suddenly play with big-name players is going to be a bit difficult and a bit nerve-wracking. The more young players get to play and train with top players, the better they get and the more chance they have of reaching their potential.
It must have been tough for you when you didn’t manage to feature in a winning team for Spurs for 24 games?
I wouldn’t say so. When I first started, I started off really well. I scored three goals in four games and was playing really well. I was unlucky to get an injury which kept me out for ages. It was difficult to get back from that mentally and physically. We changed managers and it was all a bit difficult, but I stuck it out, worked hard, trained hard and turned things around.
One of the highlights of last season was your hat-trick against Inter Milan. What was going through your mind when you were down to 10 men and 4-0 down?
‘Please don’t let it be eight!’ [laughs] We definitely thought the worst was going to happen. We were scared they might go and score another four or five.
Your feat was even turned into an artistic hand-drawn animation by Richard Swarbrick.
Yeah, I saw that video. It wasn’t like I was aiming to score the second I got the ball in my own half. I knew they would be high up the field, pushing up because they had eleven men against ten, so I thought there would be a lot of room in behind the defence and there was a chance I could kind of hurt them.
You were voted PFA Player of the Year last season by your fellow professionals. Who did you vote for?
I voted for [Carlos] Tevez. He had an excellent season. I would think that award was probably a close one.
What are your personal aims for this season?
I just want to improve as a player. I’m still learning and I only turned 22 recently. I’m hoping to improve on last season. That’s the main thing: to keep playing well and keep improving.
Is it true you weren’t allowed to use your favourite left foot in school games to give the other kids a chance?
Yeah, I wasn’t allowed to use my left foot (laughs). I needed the help with my right foot anyway. It used to maybe annoy me a little bit, but it probably helped me a bit in the long term.
You’re teetotal. Is that for health and fitness reasons?
I just don’t like drink, to be honest. It’s not the fact that I choose not to drink alcohol. I just don’t like the taste of it. I’ve obviously tasted it, but I just don’t like it so it doesn’t do anything for me to be honest. In a way, it probably helps me though.
So how do you like to spend a night off?
I just like chilling indoors, watching DVDs, playing on the computer or maybe going out for a meal with the family. We’re always on the go with training and travelling so when you get a night off, you want to relax.
Is it important for footballers to be role models?
Yeah, definitely. You only have to look at the little kids out there who love the likes of (Lionel) Messi and (Cristiano) Ronaldo and you do have a responsibility to behave well. Every human being will make mistakes, but that’s life and people learn from it.
Is it true Spurs manager Harry Redknapp once told you off for messing around with your hair?
Yeah, a bit! He had a little bit of a go when I was about 18 or 19, but that was just to get me focused on my football and it worked.
Are you friends with any players at rival clubs?
Yeah, I’m good friends with Theo (Walcott) at Arsenal. We used to share a room together at Southampton so we’re good friends and talk a lot. I speak to Nathan Dyer quite a lot. He’s with Swansea now, who just got promoted, so being a Cardiff man I give him a lot of stick. I keep in touch with as many people as I can.
Looking to the end of the season, would you like to play in the Great Britain Olympic team?
Yeah, definitely. For Wales, we know it’s not going to be easy to qualify for big tournaments as we haven’t qualified for a World Cup since 1958. It is something which I would definitely want to be involved in if it was possible. That would be a great experience. Though I’d love to play in a World Cup with Wales too.
Would it bother you if most of the team were English?
I don’t think it would bother me. We’re all British. We obviously don’t know what all the FA’s would decide but you obviously want your best XI on the pitch. If it means one or two or three from a country, then it doesn’t matter.
Do Tottenham start the season feeling like they can challenge for the title?
Yeah, definitely. We’ve probably got one of the strongest squads in the league. If you look at the team that we put out, it’s a team that can win games against anybody. Even on the bench, we have got a lot of great players who are unlucky not to get in the team. So we definitely have a chance this season. I think it was difficult playing in Europe and the Premier League last season, but we’re used to that now. The players are older, a bit more experienced and we definitely feel we can try to push our way up there.
Most supporters suffer football withdrawal symptoms during the summer months. Is it the same for players or do you enjoy a hard-earned rest?
It’s nice to have a rest after a long season and ten months of playing football. It is hard, with two games a week and training every day and you can be away from family and friends for long periods. So it is nice to have a break, but I think towards the end of the summer, it’s good to get back in training. You know there is a lot of running and hard work to do, of course! But it’s great to get back into training and hopefully start the season well.
Do you keep an eye on all the transfer gossip?
I prefer to keep away from football in general during the summer, to be honest - unless there is a World Cup on, in which case I’ll watch it. For me personally, I prefer to play other sports or just relax on holiday and do different things for a few months. I play a lot of golf and a fair bit of tennis.
How did you spoil yourself when you first started earning Premier League pay packets?
I needed a place to live (laughs). I had to get a place to live and get a roof over my head after moving from Southampton. I bought myself a car to get into training and other things I really needed rather than spoiling myself.
You’ve signed a contract until 2015. Do you feel a lot of loyalty to Tottenham?
Yeah, I think when you are at a club that is going places, with a good young squad then there is no reason why you wouldn’t want to stay. I’m enjoying my football. We haven’t got any Champions League football this season which is always disappointing, but we have a great chance of getting in next season and that is what we will try to do.
Will it be hard to watch the Champions League on TV?
Definitely. Everybody at the club wants to be in the Champions League. We had a taste of it last year and it was an amazing story for the club to even reach where we did (the quarter-finals). To play the likes of Inter Milan and beat them and to play AC Milan and beat them and then Real Madrid, we were playing some of the best clubs in some of the best stadiums in the history of football. It’s a great experience to be a part of and I’m sure myself and everybody else will be pushing hard to get back there.
Do you keep an eye on your Fantasy Football points during the season?
I don’t look at it myself, but I get told by fans how I’m doing. I get told to not get booked and to make assists. My sister is like that, to be honest. She always tells me not to get booked, or you get deducted points. I only got booked once last season because of her! People tell me how I’m doing and tell me to get more points.
There is a lot of competition for places at Spurs. What else are you all competitive at?
A bit of everything! We played a lot of table tennis in South Africa (on Tottenham’s pre-season tour). But we’re like that with everything we play. We play a lot of golf and the lads all want to win and are always getting into each other. We’re a close, very close squad, we all get on and all the lads enjoy a bit of banter. Whatever we do, even if it is shooting or small games in training, everybody wants to win and if you don’t... you will suffer (laughs).
Where do you rank?
I’m up there, to be fair. Both in table tennis and golf. JJ (Jermaine Jenas) is decent at golf and a few of the other boys are up there. We have a good bit of banter.
Are you any good in the kitchen?
No, I can’t cook. I’m not the best in the kitchen, but I get somebody in to cook for me. It’s important if you can’t cook to get the right food in after training, to recover and to prepare for games.
How about your DIY and laundry skills?
No, I’m not so good at that. My parents are down quite a bit or my girlfriend helps me out.
Who did you admire growing up?
When I was younger I always used to like Ryan Giggs. He was Welsh and played on the left side, like me, so I watched him a lot growing up.
Which of the proposed changes to the game, like goal line technology and winter breaks, would you most like to see?
I’m not sure about goal line technology. It depends what side you’re on! It would be more accurate but then you wouldn’t have that debate and people talking about it so you would lose that side of the game. But a winter break is definitely working in Spain and Italy and the pitches in England can be hard work in the winter so a winter break is a good idea for the future.
Finally, what do you want to achieve with Spurs in the years to come?
We want to qualify for the Champions League. That’s our minimum target. I think we can achieve that. Beyond that, we want to start challenging for the title and being consistently in the top four. I’m confident we can do it.
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