Who was the toughest opponent you ever faced?
There's been a few over the years. Obviously teams more than players as such because of my position. Man United would be up there with the teams they have had over the years, the likes of Ronaldo, Rooney and van Nistelrooy up front. They also had so much quality in midfield with Scholes, Keane, Becks and all of those types of players. The Arsenal ‘Invincibles’ team was pretty special too.
Who was the best captain that you played under?
I was lucky enough to play under Roy Keane, Alan Shearer and then Vieira at City. They were all brilliant captains. In terms of longevity, it would have to be Shearer. I played with him at Blackburn and again at Newcastle, so I got to know him better than the other guys. The only thing that we didn’t do was win something together at Newcastle, which wasn’t through the want of trying, we just weren't good enough at the time to get our hands on some silverware.
Did you have a favourite manager and if so, who was it and why?
I would say Kenny Dalglish. He brought me to Blackburn from Celtic and then signed me again at Newcastle where he made me the number one goalie at 21, which is very young for a keeper in the Premier League. He gave me the belief and confidence that I deserved to play on the biggest stage, so I owe him a lot.
Who was the best player you played with?
That is a tough one because I was lucky enough to play with lot of great players (laughs). I’ve mentioned the likes of Shearer, Keane and Vieira already, who were legends in the game. At Manchester City I played with some special players like Vincent Kompany, David Silva and Carlos Tevez. On the international stage, guys like Robbie Keane and Damian Duff were absolutely brilliant. It's always very hard to say who was the best because I was lucky enough to play with some great players over the years.
Biggest joker in the dressing room at club or international level?
I’ve played with a few of them (laughs). Fabian Delph was one of them, which may surprise a few people. He was always winding people up and messing around in the dressing room. He got his hands on my wash bag once and totally messed it up. It was an unprovoked attack.
Anyway, a few months later I got him back by sticking a dead fish under one of the seats in his car. He didn’t find it for three days, so you can imagine what the smell was like in there!
It was probably when Ireland qualified for the World Cup of thinking back in Japan and Korea in 2002.
We played in a play-off match against Iran. It was incredibly hostile and the atmosphere was incredible. When the ref blew the final whistle, the realisation that we would be going to the World Cup, what a feeling.
Growing up in Ireland, supporting Ireland, they were special memories as a fan. When everything sunk in, that was a highlight. To achieve that was really special and we knew how much it meant to the people back home.
Not getting to the 2010 finals after qualifying with France was a tough one to take (France famously knocked out Ireland with a controversial goal). It is water under the bridge now, people often ask me if I blame Henry, but it was such a blatant handball that the officials should have stopped it.
I missed out on a couple of FA Cup finals playing for Newcastle.
You were recognised as one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League era, representing some of the biggest clubs in the league. Before you made the move to City, were there any other offers for you - did you come close to joining any other huge clubs?
It’s mad, but at the time I was quite old school and I didn’t have an agent, my solicitor looked after me. So I never really had one and because he wasn’t an agent, he would never really look for me to push for a move to a different club and he didn’t move in those circles so he wouldn’t have those conversations. To be fair, I was really settled at Newcastle and the only reason I left was because Manchester City were a club that were going places and Newcastle, under the ownership of Mike Ashley were stagnating. There wasn’t any ambition and we were selling our best players, so it felt like the right time to leave.
There could very well have been interest in signing me, but the board at Newcastle never told me about any bids or any clubs that wanted me. There were rumours of Arsenal interest at one point, it could have just been paper talk, but that didn’t materialise either.
I was really happy at Newcastle though. They are a massive club with a great fan base and a fantastic stadium.
Newcastle, City, Villa - these are all huge clubs. Which fans did you enjoy playing in front of the most?
The atmosphere at St. James’ Park, and we’re seeing this at the moment because of how brilliantly Eddie Howe is doing at the club, is absolutely incredible and the Newcastle fans are incredible. Newcastle is a one-club city and it means so much to the people up there.
They call it the Cathedral on the Hill. Fans walk from the pubs and the bars and the restaurants to the stadium, not many stadiums are right in the middle of a city, standing proud, but St. James’ Park is. The fans are very very special up there.
When the place is rocking, nobody wants to play there. It is a very tough place to go and seeing the atmosphere at the ground now reminds me of when I was there experiencing Champions League football, which provided special nights for those fans. Hopefully we will see even more of that at Newcastle in the future.
On Newcastle United
Another impressive victory on the road sees Newcastle climb to third. The result never looked in doubt. How impressed were you by the performance?
The turn around from when Eddie has come in has been fantastic. He got off to a bit of a slow start and the results were not brilliant to begin with, so people had their doubts about him. Eddie and his staff were working really hard with the players behind-the-scenes and they recruited some excellent players in the January window, which was key. The players they signed were the right type of characters for the dressing room and the football club.
A year ago Newcastle were near the bottom of the league, so it's a remarkable story to see them up in third at the moment.
Obviously, the new owners have invested in the team. They haven’t gone crazy like they could have done, they brought in the right people. I think it is a ‘Roy of the Rovers’ type of story and if they can keep going, it will be a phenomenal season.
To your point, Newcastle haven’t gone out and spent crazy money. I think Eddie Howe’s coaching ability is getting a little bit lost in the fog that surrounds the Newcastle ownership. Do you think Howe deserves more credit for his coaching ability and the impact he has had on the club?
Where do you start describing the job that Eddie has done at Newcastle? He has been phenomenal for the club. He started slowly, but he was always open about the process and the players have bought into his methods completely. Yes they have spent money and they have some brilliant players through the spine of the team.
Pope has been brilliant. Trippier has been brilliant. I think we all knew about his ability, but watching him play week in, week out, you realise how much of a leader he is. Guimares has been terrific. Dan Burn, a local lad, he brings that Geordie spirit. It seems like every signing has added something.
You also have to think about the impact that he has had on the players he inherited. He has shown not just Newcastle, but the Premier League how good the likes of Miguel Almiron and Fabian Schar are. Credit to him and his staff for doing that.
What do you make of some of the criticisms about the club and its finances?
A couple of reporters have claimed that Newcastle are buying success, but I think that is really unfair on Eddie. Newcastle have the best defensive record in the league and they are scoring loads of goals. He has got the balance of the team spot on.
In many ways, when you have guys like Klopp coming out and saying there isn’t a glass ceiling at the club and Guardiola labelling the team ‘contenders’. I think you know Newcastle are doing something right when they generate these types of comments from figures like Pep and Klopp.
Klopp is a fantastic manager and has been an excellent character in the Premier League. He hasn’t been frightened to spend a few quid himself - £75 million on van Dijk, £70 million on the keeper and £85 million on Darwin in the summer. Clubs are looking over their shoulder and will be thinking that Newcastle’s development is happening a little bit quicker than they thought it would. Man United, Tottenham and Chelsea will be thinking about their own Champions League qualification, so credit to Eddie Howe for ruffling a few feathers. Hopefully the can continue that for the remainder of the season.
How happy are you to see the fans at St. James’ Park happy again after such a difficult period under Mike Ashley?
The transformation has been incredible, both on and off the pitch. I attended the first match after the takeover and there was a real carnival atmosphere there, the clouds were lifted. Now the hope is back with the fans and that is all they have ever wanted in Newcastle; an ambitious team that they can support who make them proud and are moving in the right direction.
Things were stale up there. The ambition under Ashley was about survival, and that is not the Newcastle that I joined all those years ago. That is not the Newcastle the fans want. They want Newcastle to face up to every opponent at home. That is the Newcastle that the fans deserve.
I’d love to know what you're made of Nick Pope’s performances this season.
Nick has slipped under the radar a little bit. I don’t think people realised how important that signing was. If you look at the job he is doing for the team, he has been incredible.
When you join a big club like Newcastle, it is so important to get off to a good start and settle in quickly. The fans have really taken to him and it looks like he can do no wrong at the moment.
He is only thirty and will be coming into his prime years as a keeper over the next few seasons. It was fantastic business for the club.
On Newcastle In The League Cup
Newcastle play Palace at home on Wednesday. Do you think the League Cup is a trophy that your old club should be looking to win this season?
I think Newcastle should absolutely look to win the League Cup. When Mourinho came to this country, he placed a great emphasis on winning that. It has been so long since Newcastle last won a trophy, the cups would be a great way to kick start that winning culture and feeling within the club.
Of course, Palace won’t be an easy opponent to face, but I’m sure Eddie will be reminding his players how much it would mean to the fans and the city to win a trophy. The League Cup could have a snowballing effect on the club and it will certainly make future challenges easier for Eddie and the team.
On Manchester City
A last gasp victory for your old club courtesy of an Erling Haaland penalty. Did we learn anything new about City after the game?
I was impressed by the character of the team. The way that they approached the second half, with ten men, they really took the game to Fulham. Fulham had a couple of half chances on the break, but it was all City.
It was a performance that showed why they are the champions of England. Sometimes people can leave The Etihad early because City blow teams away regularly, but nobody left early on Saturday because they wanted to push their team over the line.
On the pitch, the mindset of the players, you could see how much the victory meant to everyone at the club. It was their most important victory because it was a backs to-the-wall performance. Even Haaland mentioned that he felt the pressure taking the kick, so it just shows you how important that goal and result was for the club.
De Bruyne was instrumental in the victory. He was relentless and kept driving his team on in the second half to get the winner.
Do you expect your old club to retain their title come the end of the season?
I do. It’s Arsenal’s at the minute, but I expect City to retain their title. They have to play Arsenal a couple of times, which will be massive games when they come around.
Most of the players in the City team are champions and have the experience of winning the league, which will help them. They’ve added Haaland and Alvarez, who looks like the real deal too. I think they’ll win the league and I think they’ll run the Champions League close.
Are there any teams that you would fear City facing - or do you agree with the bookies and make them strong favourites?
Liverpool on their day can be a very dangerous team to face. We’ve seen some brilliant performances from them in the Champions League over the last few seasons. PSG with the front three they have, they look like they are clicking and could be ready to deliver something special.
They will need a little bit of luck, even if they are one of the best teams in world football. Look at Real Madrid last year. You could say that they should have been beaten by both City and Chelsea, maybe even Liverpool in the final. Maybe City need a little bit of luck come the semi-final or final.
On Aston Villa
Where do you think it went wrong with Gerrard at Villa?
It’s hard to say one thing. A few of his big players from the summer got injured early which would have disrupted things and there were the well publicised issues around the captaincy. I don’t understand why that was such a big story. People speculate about the harmony within the dressing room, but we will never know what happened there. Football is about results and I think Steven Gerrard would admit in the cold light of day that they weren't good enough.
They had a brilliant result yesterday against Manchester United under Unai Emery.
Over the course of 12 months, the the results didn't improve. The owners at Villa are very ambitious and probably expected a better return on their investment. It looks like the Fulham defeat was the final straw.
Steven will have learned a lot from this experience. He will come back from this.
Were you surprised to see Unai Emery appointed as the new Villa manager?
I was because 12 months ago he turned down the opportunity to manage Newcastle when they came knocking for him. I don’t know what happened there, maybe it didn't suit him at the time. I don't know what changed personally for him over the last 12 months.
I think the Premier League is the place where the best manager want to compete and perhaps he wanted to come back and show everyone how much of a good manager he is after his Arsenal experience.
He got off to a brilliant start, beating Manchester United. He would have only had a couple of sessions with the squad, so he’ll bee delighted with the performance.
He would have had assurances from the owners that he'll be backed when the January window opens. I’m sure he will want to bring in three or four of his own players and help strengthen the squad.
It's a good appointment because he has a wealth of experience. It isn’t much of a gamble.
Villa are an ambitious club, a massive club. What do you think Emery should be looking to achieve?
That's down to the recruitment. I wonder if they will change the recruitment strategy and look to bring in somebody to work alongside Emery or if they will keep the same set-up. He signed a long-term contract and he will need to be backed to recruit the players he wants over the next few transfer windows.
He knows the market really well. He will be thinking about players and if you look at what he has achieved at a continental level, you have to say that he had some incredible results with smaller clubs in the Europa League, with a lot of that success built on recruitment.
There are so many teams competing in the Premier League at the moment. I’m sure that Villa would love to be in the mix for the top four over the next few seasons, but I can’t see them squeezing in there.
Villa really are a massive club. They are a ‘Sleeping Giant’ and if Emery can get them competing, then it bodes well for the Premier League because a strong Villa can only be a good thing. I think Emery is a great appointment.
On The Premier League
Who do you think have been the league’s top performing keepers so far this season?
It’s hard not to mention Pope because of the job he has done. Ederson and Alisson are the two wonderful keepers.
Liverpool have dipped this season, but the one player that hasn’t is Alisson. He has been absolutely brilliant for Liverpool this season and will go into the World Cup as his country’s number one, at the expense of Ederson. As a keeper you need to control the controllables and I think that Alisson has really done that. If anything, he has probably been Liverpool’s stand out player in a really difficult period for the club. Psychologically, he deserves major credit because he would have been shipping more goals than he is used to but it has nothing to do with his own performances.
The battle for the top four looks like it will be highly contested, with Newcastle, Tottenham and United chasing the spots at the moment. Liverpool and Chelsea are a little further back - do you expect these teams to be battling it out at the end of the season and who do you think is currently the team that is the most at risk from missing out on the top four.
You would think that Liverpool are the team most at risk from missing out, but I wouldn’t rule them out. OK they are the furthest back, but look at the result yesterday where they went to Tottenham and won quite easily. They will need to go on a really long run to get back in the mix, but we’ve seen them do it before.
Tottenham will be there or thereabouts with Conte in charge. Graham Potter has had a couple of poor results and will be feeling the pressure.
United looked like they turned a corner and then lost to Villa. There are so many clubs vying for these two positions, because City and Arsenal will definitely be in there.
Will it come too soon for Newcastle? Possibly, but they are in a great position at the moment. It’s too early to tell yet and we have the World Cup, which could have a massive impact on certain teams. If some big players get injured, that could change the outlook of everything.
Will Arsenal go out and sign 2-3 players because they think they have the chance of a lifetime to win the league? A lot will happen between now and the end of the season.
What did you make of the Henderson incident at the weekend? Did you think it was a penalty?
Watching it in real time it looked like he clipped him, but after looking at the replays, I didn’t think it was conclusive. Maybe the glove brushed the players thigh. When a player is touched in the box, nine times out of ten they will go to ground. I think Steve Cooper was disappointed after the game because his team probably had a few penalty shouts that they didn’t get, but if the Henderson incident is given, then I understand his frustrations.
I feel for Henderson and Forest. When you’re at the bottom, things do tend to go against you. The one thing I would say about them is that they are really having a go. They signed a lot of players because they want to establish themselves in the league, they are not interested in taking the money and going down to the Championship.
Some referees will say that is a nailed on penalty, while others will debate it. It is all about interpretation and that is the word that is being used to justify some of these VAR decisions at the moment.
On England’s World Cup squad
You’re Gareth Southgate, which Goalkeepers are you naming in your England squad?
I think the three goalkeepers pick themselves. He will take Pickford, Pope and Ramsdale. Henderson will be pushing hard, but I think these players have been performing at a high level over the last few years.
I think Pickford will be the number one because Southgate shows loyalty to his players and he has never let him down. You have to praise the performances of Pope and Ramsdale.
I really like Ramsdale and think he has been wonderful for Arsenal since going there. He’s stepped up to the plate and shown his personality. He has shown what a brilliant keeper he is and he is very comfortable on the ball. He looks like a proper keeper.
Kieron Trippier and Nick Pope look nailed on to be included in Gareth Southgate’s England team. Do you think Callum Wilson should be on the plane too?
I really do. I think Wilson could be a great back-up to Harry Kane, who will rightly lead the line and be the main man for his country. Wilson is in great form at the moment and his confidence will be sky high. I think he deserves a place in the squad. Touch wood the injuries are behind him and he looks like he could be in peak condition. He has scored some big goals for Newcastle, so he’ll be feeling good. I would definitely put him on the plane.
Could Dan Burn be a bit of a wildcard option for the England squad?
Possibly. He’s been brilliant for Newcastle hasn’t he? You just wonder if he’s coming into the mix a bit late to find himself on the plane. He would prefer to play at centre back, but this season, he has proven for Newcastle that he can be a rampaging left back when he wants to be one. He’s great on the ball and is very much a modern footballer because he can play in a number of roles. If he is giving Southgate something to think about, then you have to give him credit for that.
How likely are Newcastle to finish in the top four and is Eddie Howe the man to take them to Premier League glory in the near future?
Why can’t he win the title with the club? When he first got the job, people were saying that he would be a short term option. I think many people expected him to steady the ship for a season or two because Newcastle were in big trouble when he went in there, but he’s done that and more.
I think the board will be thinking that they have the right guy in charge and that he should lead the club on this journey for a number of years. Newcastle need to take things step by step. If Newcastle can finish in the Champions League places this season it would be a phenomenal achievement and the next step on from that would be to challenge for the Premier League title.
The owners probably didn’t expect to be challenging for the top four so quickly. I think they would have considered a top half finish a step in the right direction. Somebody asked me at the start of the season if Newcastle could finish in the top four. At the time, I thought it was too soon and it still might be, but as every game goes by and the results keep coming it is hard not to get carried away because they are playing so well and the city is rocking again. They need to keep the momentum going and see where they end up.
It will be interesting to see what happens in January. Will they bring in a couple more to help push them towards the top of the table? I think it is a real opportunity for them to do that. If Eddie wants a little bit more quality in certain areas of the team and they can do that, the owners will do it.
How possible is it for Manchester City superstar Erling Haaland to break Alan Shearer’s Premier League goalscoring record?
We obviously knew all about Haaland’s record before he came to the Premier League, and I think people dismissed the fact that he would keep scoring at the rate he has done in Germany in England. To do what he has done in his first few months in the Premier League is unbelievable. The records that he has already broken in the Premier League tell you that he is the real deal. I’ve been going to a lot of the City games this season because I live in Manchester and when he came off the bench on Saturday, you could feel the anticipation for him from the crowd. In 20 minutes he had one disallowed and three or four chances before he scored the last minute penalty.
The opposition were worried about him. He has that fear factor about him and he is hungry for goals. People say he doesn’t get involved in the build-up, but he doesn’t need to; he just needs to be in the right place at the right time.
He is an absolute superstar and I think he will break every record in the Premier League not just Shearer’s. I think he could be the missing pieces of the puzzle for the Champions League too.
How do you compare him to your former Newcastle team-mate Shearer?
They are both so clinical. When a chance presents itself to these guys, a calmness comes over them and you know that they will score. They were born to score goals.
Both players have the killer instinct. Their movement is incredible and they put themselves into areas where they have the best possible chance of scoring a goal. They were both born to score goals.
Can Arsenal beat Manchester City to the Premier League title this season? What does Mikel Arteta have to do to overcome former mentor Pep Guardiola?
I hope not (laughs). Arsenal are top of the league at the moment and I think people think that it is a foregone conclusion that City will climb above them at some stage. I think that Arteta has done a phenomenal job at Arsenal and you also need to praise the ownership at the club for sticking by him. Twelve months ago he was under a lot of pressure, he had the Aubameyang issues to resolve. I think the club has given him complete control and he has shown himself to be a fantastic leader and manager. He obviously learned from Pep, the best in the world, and now Arsenal and Arteta are getting their rewards. There is a real togetherness on and off the pitch between the players and the fans, they are right behind their team and The Emirates has turned into a fortress for them.
You can’t rule Arsenal out. They are definitely in for the title now. Signing Jesus and Zinchenko was a brilliant move from Arteta, and I think Pep did him a favour on the transfer fees for both of them. Two Premier League winners coming into the team, that would have helped this young Arsenal side too.