Just before the weekend, we were lucky enough to be granted an audience with Chelsea legend Tony Cascarino.

Tony played at the top level for a host of teams including Aston Villa, Celtic, Chelsea and Marseilles, also played in two World Cups for the Republic of Ireland. Since retiring from football, he has gained a deserved reputation as an excellent football analyst writing for the Times newspaper. He has also shown himself to be a skilled poker player and took a break from an event he was hosting in Nottingham to speak to me.

My opening salvo was to ask about Antonio Conte and whether he would definitely be at Chelsea at the start of the season. Tony was confident that he will be. He clearly admires Conte for the way he demands high levels of commitment to the club from himself and expects the same from his players. His passion for the game is remarkable and he is no respecter of egos or reputations. If a player does not buy into this, he moves them out as Diego Costa has discovered. Even John Terry, who famously fell out with Rafa Benitez, realised that if he challenged Conte he would not even make the bench. Conte clearly has a zero tolerance approach to anyone who does not demonstrate their loyalty to the team and the manager. Tony sees similarities between Conte’s management style and that of Sir Alex Ferguson and he admires that!

I then explored Tony’s view on the possible replacements for Diego Costa. He clearly thinks that Romelu Lukaku is not the answer, which may surprise some but will come as welcome news to most Everton fans! Tony does not believe that Lukaku has the quality that Chelsea need. Robert Lewandowski would be an ideal signing in his opinion, as would Harry Kane, but the problem is getting their clubs to sell! Chelsea are probably going to have to break the transfer record to buy strikers of that calibre. Conte does not seem to be the type of manager who would take a gamble on youth, therefore Kylian Mbappe of Monaco, despite performing well in the Champions League, would not be on his radar. Conte looks to bring in a more experienced type of player who he can trust.

So perhaps a forward like Alvaro Morata of Real Madrid may be the answer, or even his teammate  Karim Benzema, who clearly has the ability to come into the side and lead the line. Tony expressed his concern that there are potentially some significant changes to the Chelsea team pending. Costa is leaving, maybe Nemanja Matic and perhaps Eden Hazard as well. Chelsea have the funds to compete in this market but prices are hugely inflated as shown by Mohamed Salah joining Liverpool for 34 million. By the same logic, Mbappe of Monaco would go for 100 million!

As Tony had mentioned Real Madrid being interested in Eden Hazard, I asked for his thoughts on Hazard being used in part exchange to bring Cristiano Ronaldo himself to Stamford Bridge. Tony could not really see this happening as he felt that Ronaldo had never expressed any previous interest in joining Chelsea and that he still had unfinished business at Real Madrid in terms of setting new personal records.

Next, I raised the possibility of Chelsea being interested in Antoine Griezmann, especially if Costa returns to Atletico Madrid. Tony did not seem convinced by this suggestion. He thought that Conte, throughout his career, has a shown a preference for a physical type of forward who provides an aerial threat, and Griezmann does not fit this profile. To emphasise the point he reminded me that Conte had chosen to pick Graziano Pelle from Southampton to lead the line in the last Euros.

We both agreed that Conte is operating in a very specialised and limited market. With some possible outgoings from Chelsea this summer, Chelsea will have the funds to go for the best forwards in what is a very limited market.

I reinforced the point that with Chelsea competing on four fronts next season, Conte will need to bring in additional top class players to all areas of the squad. I then jokingly suggested that the type of striker being described by Tony was possibly very similar in description to himself! Tony laughed off this suggestion but did point out that when he played, strikers tended to operate in pairs whereas now the modern forward operates alone up front. He stressed to me that the demands on this type of player are incredible these days. They have to be able to run non-stop, hold the ball up and have outstanding ability in the air.

We then progressed to discussing some possible signings in midfield. Tony concurred that Sanchez from Arsenal would be a brilliant addition to the team and suggested that Chelsea, Cesc Fabregas apart, lacked some creativity in this area last season. He mentioned Tiemoue Bakayako from Monaco as a potential purchase but he emphasised the point that despite winning the League last season, Chelsea will still need to bring in substantial reinforcements if they are to compete in all competitions.

I then asked Tony for his views regarding Riyad Mahrez from Leicester City and whether he would be a suitable fit for the team. Tony saw him as nothing more than a squad player who would not really complement the style that Chelsea play with Hazard and Pedro on the flanks. Tony suggested that Chelsea may be looking for another wing back or full back, so I dropped Kyle Walker into the conversation. Tony emphatically did not see him as a Chelsea player!

I managed to crowbar in one last question – would he have liked to have played for Conte? The answer was obvious – yes! However, Tony wasn’t sure that he would get into a Conte team! He did remind me though of how brilliantly Conte had transformed a team of disillusioned and disaffected players from the previous season into a title winning side.

Then, it was over, after a really stimulating and informative fifteen-minute discussion about Chelsea, Tony was being called away to his hosting duties at the club. I was very impressed by Tony’s knowledge and understanding of what Conte wants and how Chelsea work. He is a very engaging and articulate speaker who contradicts in every sense the negative stereotype of the ex-professional footballer.

I was really grateful to Tony for engaging with me through this enjoyable and insightful interview, and to paraphrase something John Lennon once famously said: “Thank you and I hope I’ve passed the audition!”

Tony Cascarino was speaking at the £1,000,000 guaranteed PartyPoker Grand Prix UK, Nottingham. 

Close