Teddy Sheringham on baby-sitting Gazza, prima donna footballers and that goal
ESQ: I’ve always been curious — as someone who has played for several clubs (seven), who do you support?
TS: I don’t really support anyone anymore. I supported West Ham as a kid, and then went and played for Millwall as a youngster, then went to Tottenham and Manchester United. I still check the results for all my clubs, but I can’t say I support any specific one.
ESQ: What do you miss most about playing?
TS: That buzz of being out on a pitch. There is such an adrenaline high from playing in front of huge crowds and scoring goals. I miss the adulation — it’s one heck of a buzz!
ESQ: I bet you don’t miss the stick from fans in an away game…
TS: It’s funny, by rights you should get plenty of stick from fans when you’re away from home, but football fans demand results and so if you’re having a tough time of it, even your own fans can give you plenty of grief. In my career I got plenty of abuse from every group of supporters that I played for! When I was at Millwall and Nottingham Forest as a youngster, people would get on my back for not scoring enough goals. The same happened early in my Tottenham career, but it helps you harden yourself. As a young lad, you think that all you have to do is score a couple of goals and you’ve made it. But while I ended up getting to the top of the game [playing for England and winning the Champions League] I had to learn tough lessons along the way. It’s not about you scoring goals, it’s about sacrificing yourself for the better of the team.
ESQ: Is that something that you look to pass on now as a coach?
TS: Absolutely. You always look to give back to the next generation of players. I was taught it, and management is about passing on that knowledge. When you’re 20 years old you think you know everything, but the truth is you don’t.
ESQ: How are players different today?
TS: So much has changed. Everybody wants instant gratification these days. Trying to get into the England squad when I was growing up meant that you had to perform to a solid standard for three years; now a player plays three good games for his club and he is celebrated as the future of the national team. Show me 30 good games, or 130 good games, and then you should be deserving of an England shirt.
ESQ: In your era the younger players used to shine the boots of the first team players…
TS: Absolutely. When I was at Millwall, all the youngsters would have to muck in and earn their place in the squad. It was a real learning process. Today that doesn’t really exist, because clubs don’t want young players doing things like that. Personally I think it is a reality check. You can score a couple of goals on the Saturday, but on Thursday you’re cleaning the boots of first team. It teaches you to aim higher.
ESQ: Who were your favourite strike partner to play with?
TS: Alan Shearer and Jurgen Klinsmann. When Klinsmann came to Tottenham in 1994 he had just won the World Cup with Germany; he could swanned around like a prima donna, but instead had an infectious, enthusiastic temperament. He was like an excitable teenager and I have a lot of respect for that mindset. He was absolute quality. As for Shearer, he was the main man for England, and in my mind the rest of us strikers were all competing for the one spot next to him. I tried to adapt my game to complement his style so that the gaffer would pick me ahead of everyone else.
ESQ: What is it like to play at a major international tournament?
TS: The environment is different from club football. The tournaments can go on for a month, and instead of your family you’re surrounded by your fellow players. You don’t have any home comforts, and you’re living out of a hotel room, away from the press and the public. But it is great being part of all the hype. We would gather round and watch the other games together. These days, the manager has quite a hard job trying to get the players to take their head out of their phones and watch the games together and talk about them.
ESQ: Who was the worst teammate to room with?
TS: Although we didn’t share a room, the most difficult teammate was Gazza [Paul Gascoigne]. He was so hyperactive that you had to look after him 24 hours a day. We used to take turns looking after him because he would wear people out! After a two-hour nap, he’ll be back awake and wanting to play again. It was hard graft.
ESQ: Which goal are you most proud of?
TS: I didn’t really score great goals, ones that people talk about as being great goals…
ESQ: Well, I can name at least one: the last-minute equaliser in the 1999 Champions League final [video below]
TS: Well, yeah, that is the one that people always want to talk about, but it wasn’t a great goal. It was important, but not great.
ESQ: Would you rather score 10 tap-ins or one screamer into the top corner from 30 yards?
TS: Ten tap-ins. When I was younger I would always try to curl the ball into the top corner or chip the ’keeper and my manager at the time, George Graham, used to hammer me about it. He would hammer me so hard that the other players would say, “He really hates you”. At the time I never used to understand why he was singling me out, but I later realised he was trying to make me a better striker, someone who would score four tap-ins rather than one great goal. It doesn’t matter how good a goal is, it is still only worth one.
ESQ: How did you take your penalties?
TS: I would either open my body and side-foot it into the bottom corner, or whip it across the keeper. They say you should never change your mind, but sometimes your instincts take over. You can plan to put it in one corner, but at the last second put it in the other. When you score it’s great, but if you miss you get so angry with yourself! I was never one of those players who steps up and wait for the keeper to dive before kicking it. That’s a bit too clever for my liking.
ESQ: The big narrative of this year’s English Premier League was the battle of the master tacticians: Conte, Klopp, Guardiola and Mourinho. Do you think football has become too tactical?
TS: I think the influx of new managers with their systems and ideas is a big factor, but I also believe that you can get too tactical. There is still plenty to be said about the way you motivate a team, and sometimes it can ultimately come down having better players. You can have all the tactics in the world, but if you’re playing against a Lionel Messi, who can dribble past your entire defence, then there isn’t a lot you can do. But I like the fact that the Premier League is able to attract top-level managers; it will only help the game.
ESQ: You mentioned Lionel Messi. Is he your number one?
TS: People always have this conversation of who is the best player in the world, Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, and for me it’s Messi. It is ridiculous the things that he can do. He’s the best of all time for me. I didn’t really see Pele play, and Diego Maradona was special, but in my opinion Messi is even better. And, perhaps, has his head screwed on a bit better.