With Conte arriving at Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa doing some tasty January transfer business and Rangers losing Steven Gerrard to the aforementioned Villa, Ian Wilkerson caught up with former Scotland right-back Alan Hutton.
Initial thoughts on Conte at Spurs – can he end their trophy drought?
My initial thoughts are that the league form has been decent.
He’s organised them a lot better, but as we’ve seen in the last three games against Chelsea and Morecambe that there’s still a lot to do.
There’s a lot of work because it’s ultimately the same team that Nuno (Espirito Santo) had, so he’s yet to really stamp his authority on it.
It’s a progression that’s going to take time and I think he knows that himself from some of the interviews he’s given.
Conte uses wing-backs in his 3-4-3 formation but the service to the forwards and crossing into the box has been an issue for Spurs in recent games. How important do you think improving those qualities under the Tottenham boss is?
It’s definitely an area they need to improve, I think when you play when wingbacks they provide the width and the ammunition to the forward players.
If you look at the players he’s used, Reguilon is the one moving forward who will nail down that left-hand side with Sessegnon as back up and trying to push him all the way.
On the right-hand side is where they have the problem, Emerson Royal is someone who I’m still yet to be convinced by.
Defensively he’s still wanting and going forward I don’t think he offers enough.
It’s the same with Doherty, if I’m being honest, I expected him to do better.
Playing in a back four didn’t really suit him, but with Conte coming in I thought it would have a new lease of life because he’s used to that formation with Wolves.
It’s just not quite worked for him, and he looks like someone who’s low on confidence and that area is pivotal to the way Conte likes to play.
He’s going to need reinforcements there, definitely in the right-wing back area.
Being a former Spurs defender yourself, what improvements have you seen in the Tottenham defence since Antonio Conte’s arrival?
If we can forget about the goals in the first leg against Chelsea, then there’s an improvement.
I think he has done better overall, one thing I’ve read and seen a lot of fans talking about is the fact that they’ve missed Eric Dier.
I don’t think many would have said that before, but it was evident in that first game against Chelsea.
With him in the middle he’s a leader, he’s more organised and when he’s not there, I don’t think they’re as good defensively.
Previous games they’ve looked shaky with Sanchez in the middle and Tanganga to the right.
He’s probably going to need to bring in reinforcements for the defensive line, but it has slightly improved.
When you look at the clean sheets from Nuno to Conte, it is slightly better.
But I still think Conte will want his own players to come in.
Moving forward, if they’re going to challenge for those top spots in the future, then they need to bring in a better class of player.
Do you think improvements to the likes of Eric Dier and Ben Davies are enough for Tottenham or do you think they need to bring a fresh face into the back line and if so, what kind of player should they look at?
I think they’re the two who get pass marks for me, Sanchez did have an upturn in form, but I do believe he isn’t as strong as the other two.
Davies on the left has been good and Dier is an organiser who they missed in that first game against Chelsea.
But he was in the tunnel still trying to help his teammates, so he is that leader of the backline.
I do think that they need fresh talent to come in, especially the type of player that Antonio Conte wants there.
If they want to challenge the likes of Liverpool and Man City, then they have to bring in that elite player if they want to do that.
Just sticking with Eric Dier, he gets a lot of stick from fans, does he still have a future at the top level and with England at international level?
I think the criticism can be a little unfair on him, when he first came inc, we spoke about him as a defensive midfielder.
For me personally, I don’t think he had the legs for that, I think a back three suits him a lot better when he has bodies around him.
He can then just be that central figure, so the back three suits him a lot better.
Of course, he could be back in that England squad if he plays to a high standard under Antonio Conte and Spurs are challenging.
It all will depend on how Gareth Southgate wants to play, in a back three, yes, but in a back four, I think he might struggle.
Will Spurs commit financially to meet the demands of Conte?
They definitely have to do for me.
I think that would have been one of the biggest sticking points when trying to bring Antonio Conte into the club.
We know he’s a serial winner, we know he’ll want to go and challenge the top teams and he’ll want to stamp his own authority on this team.
To do that, he needs to be backed by Daniel Levy.
In the past, it’s been difficult for them to spend lots of money, and I believe Daniel Levy has been quite shrewd in what he’s done.
But I think it would have been a main part of Conte coming to Tottenham because he would have been told he would get the backing in the transfer window.
How important is the next North London Derby, will that tell us who finishes higher than the other and more importantly getting top four?
I think it’s a massive game for Tottenham, if you look at Arsenal there’s been steady progress under Arteta.
You can see where they’re going and what the plan is, they have a lot of youthful players mixed with experience.
I think Tottenham are just at the start of their journey which is why I think it’s a bigger game for Tottenham.
Especially after recent results, so I think Tottenham will want to go and put on a good performance.
As far as the top four is concerned, it might have an impact on it, but I think there’s such a gap between fourth place and the top three, that fourth spot is there for anyone to go and take it.
The likes of West Ham are in there as well, it’s a spot for ‘the best of the rest’, so we’ll have to wait and see how it plans out.
I still think Tottenham need a lot to come in through the door and help them push on.
I just get the feeling it’s a bigger game for Tottenham after recent performances.
What do the signings of Phillipe Coutinho and Lucas Digne say about Aston Villa?
I think it shows you how ambitious they are in taking the club forward.
The owners have always spoke about wanting Aston Villa to play European football, they’ve said that from day one.
This is a sign of the type of player and the calibre of player that they’re able to bring through the door.
A lot of that is down to Steven Gerrard being in charge, if Dean Smith was there then would they get these players in? I’m not so sure.
The most exciting thing for me is that these guys fit into the way that Steven Gerrard wants to play.
The formation he likes to play with attacking fullbacks, two number 10s where Coutinho could slot in coming off the left.
I think it just shows the direction that they’re moving in, that they want to be challenging for European places.
Obviously, it won’t happen right now, I think the immediate future is to be as high as possible and in the top 10, but I think the future is looking bright for them.
Are you optimistic Steven Gerrard will build a team capable of challenging for the top 7 in the future?
I think he’s capable of achieving that, I think he was very ambitious as a player, and I think he’s the same as a manager.
He went up to Rangers with relatively no experience and he really did turn it around.
He’s got that aura about him, that when he walks into the room, everyone listens to him.
Everybody I’ve spoken to says he’s very intense in training and on a matchday, he wants 110% from his players.
He’s now back in the Premier League where he wants to be and he’s carrying on from where he left off.
He’s been the exact same way since moving to Aston Villa and he feels he can bring a lot to that team.
With his pulling power as we’ve seen with Coutinho and Digne coming in, players want to play under him.
There are midfielders like Jacob Ramsay who was a good play under Dean Smith, he’s already become a better player playing under Steven Gerrard and what a mentor to have if you’re Ramsay.
He’s getting the best out of them, he knows short term they have to climb up the table, but the long term, he’s very ambitious, so he’ll want to take that club as high as possible.
Everton have just signed Nathan Patterson from Rangers. As a fellow right back, what do you think of Nathan as a player and will he improve an Everton who have been struggling?
I think he has all the attributes to be a very good modern-day fullback.
He has energy up and down the pitch, a decent final ball and he’s a good one on one defender.
We need to remember that he’s only 20 years of age, so he’s going to get better and he’s going to improve and by doing that he’s going to have to play games.
For whatever reason, Rangers decided he wasn’t going to push Tavernier out and that’s their choice.
But to make the move into the Premier League where you’re going to test yourself against a higher calibre player, I think that’s where you become better.
Of course, there’s a big job on his hands to push Seamus Coleman out, who’s Everton’s captain, but I think he can do it.
He’s been tested at European level, he has caps for Scotland now, so he wants to keep that place and to do that he needs to be playing football.
Hopefully he can do that at Everton.
How did you find switching from Scottish to English football? How do you think Nathan will get on down south and is he ready for the Premier League?
I think he is ready; I think sometimes people forget the pressure you’re under at Rangers to perform week in and week out.
To be able to do that at 20 years old in European competitions with 50,000 people screaming at you, he’s handled it really well.
He’s got a old head on young shoulders, so I’m sure he’ll do himself justice.
He’s only young, so he is going to improve and playing under Rafa Benetiz, who is defensively minded, will help him move forward in that transition.
I think he will do well at Everton, it’s just about him playing now.
Nathan was sold for a Rangers record fee of £12m. You were transferred to Spurs for a similar sum back in 2008. As a player, do you feel any added pressure to perform because of your fee? Will it weigh on Nathan at all?
I don’t think so, I think it shows the progression in Scottish young talent.
Years ago, that never happened, but we’re seeing it more and more now and I think it’s a fair figure.
Obviously, there’s a lot of potential there and he needs to fulfil that, but I don’t think it’ll weight him down.
It didn’t for me personally when I left because you’re that young that you don’t think about it.
You’re just desperate to play football, so I didn’t think about the off-field stuff, I just got on with the job in hand.
He seems to be a very level-headed young man, so I think he’ll be able to put it all to one side and concentrate on what he needs to do.
How much will playing in the Premier League on a weekly basis help Nathan when he comes to play international football for Scotland?
The right-hand side has always been a problem for Scotland, O’Donnell has done well when he played, but I think Nathan Paterson has the opportunity to make that spot his own for the next ten years.
It’s all down to him and whether he wants it enough, but to do that he needs to be playing football week in, week out for Everton.
If he does that, he’ll be coming up against some top-quality opposition in the Premier League, so defensively he’ll only get better.
Steve Clarke has said if you want to play in the starting XI, then you need to be playing at your club.
That will be his main focus and he’ll only become better by testing himself regularly in the Premier League.
That’s where all footballers want to play, but on the international scene he’s got the opportunity to play there for as long as he wants.
Van Bronckhorst labelled Patterson a ‘back up’ and got £12m for him, what would it take to part with Glen Kamara or Alfredo Morelos?
They’re two stars for Rangers, Kamara, Aribo and Morelos, these sorts of guys are players they don’t want to part way with.
Rangers ideally want to bring in as much money as possible, I know they were looking at £20 million at one stage to let Morelos go.
He had a drop in form which may have brought the price tag down, but any selling club will be looking to make as much money as possible.
If that happens, the question is whether it can be reinvested.
I didn’t really know how to take Van Bronckhorst’s comments about Paterson, I thought it was a bit harsh.
For me as a fan’s opinions, I thought Paterson would take over that role from Tavernier.
I know he’s the captain, but I thought Paterson had that ability to take it on and really go on and improve.
I think it was harsh to call him a backup player and were happy for him to depart for the fee they got.
It does leave a bit of a sour taste in your mouth.
Can Rangers win league with squad they have given Celtic’s business? Or do they need more players?
I don’t think you can ever stand still; you have to always look forward and try to bring in players that could make you better.
Celtic have brought in some players who are a little bit unknown, but Ange Postecoglou knows these players, so we’ll have to see how they perform.
Rangers obviously have some issues with Paterson going there’s no cover at right back and the Connor Goldson situation not signing a contract.
There are areas within that squad that Van Bronchhorst will want to strengthen, possibly in this window if not then the summer.
I genuinely believe that they still have enough to retain the title this year.
What should happen with Connor Goldson? Cash in now and push for John Souttar?
I think as a football club they have to look to bring someone in, whoever that may be.
They’ve offered him a contract that’s been on the table for a long time now and he’s decided not to take it for whatever reason.
He might be holding off to see if he can get the best deal possible to come back down south, but that’s up to him.
The balls in his court, but as a football club, Rangers need to look at what is best for them.
If they could bring somebody in now, then perfect because that situation eases up a little bit since there’s no pressure to keep him on board.
I just think that Rangers gave him that opportunity to come up and shine in Scotland and it’s a bit annoying to think he’s running down his contract to see if he can get a better offer.
If I’m Rangers, I’m looking to bring someone in this window.
Is there a Rangers future for John Lundstram?
I thought he was going to come and hit the ground running, I was really looking forward to him coming to Ibrox.
I kept a close eye on him at Sheffield United where he did really well in the first season in the Premier League.
I think Steven Gerrard asked him to do a slightly different role of getting on the ball deep which he wasn’t quite used to.
He’s not started many games under Van Bronchhorst which has been difficult for him.
But I think it’s down to him showing what he can do in training and in games because it hasn’t been enough so far.
I want to try and see him get on the ball, score goals and make things happen.
Hopefully he can prove in the second half of the season that he’s capable of doing that and then he will have a future at Rangers.
It’s up to him to go and prove himself.
You helped Rangers beat Bundesliga rivals Stuttgart in the Champions League group stages in your final season at Ibrox. What are your memories of that occasion? Your old club play Borussia Dortmund in the Europa League next month. How do you think they will fare?
The crowd will have to play a massive part as they usually do on a European night from my experience.
The main thing will be staying in the tie, if they go and get beat 2 or 3-0, it’s going to be very difficult.
If they can keep the likes of Haaland quiet, get through the first leg and take it back to Ibrox then I know what it can be like on European nights under the lights with the fans there.
With a full stadium it feels like a cauldron and a massive atmosphere, so they’ll have to get behind the team to try and push them forward.
There’s a gulf in class, there’s no doubt in that, but stranger things have happened on European nights.
They need to stay in the tie and bring it back to Ibrox and hopefully they’ll have an opportunity.
You helped Scotland to beat Ukraine 3-1 in a Euro 2008 qualifier at Hampden in 2007. Ukraine reached the Euro 2020 quarter-finals in the summer. But can the current national team beat them in their Qatar 2022 play-off semi-final in March and then reach the finals the way they are playing at the moment?
You have to be positive as a Scottish person, getting to our first tournament since 1998, although we only got one point, confidence will still be high.
I think we’ve won our last six games with five clean sheets, so we’re in good form going into this game.
We know it’ll be a tricky tie, they got to the quarterfinals before being beaten by England, but I don’t think there’s any reason to fear them.
We’re at Hampden, we’re at home and there’s always a good atmosphere there, so they’ll go into that game with high hopes of getting a result.
I think especially after making it to the Euros, I don’t see why not.
We have to be careful because Ukraine can be dangerous, but there’s no reason we should fear them.
It would be amazing to qualify for a World Cup, the only downside to it is since I’ve retired, they would have got to the Euros and a World Cup.
I tried for ten years and didn’t get anywhere near it, so it’s a little bit of bittersweet.
But watching them at the Euros was amazing and if they could get to the World Cup then what an achievement.
These guys would go down as legends, they’re already heroes, but they could have that legend status and it would be fantastic to watch them play in a World Cup and hopefully we’ll get to do that.
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