Interview: Former Chelsea and Celtic midfielder Craig Burley

Craig Burley
© PA Photos
Sports Mole talks to former Chelsea and Celtic midfielder Craig Burley ahead of the new Premier League season.

Craig Burley has played in the top flight of both English and Scottish football.

Having also featured at a World Cup for Scotland, there is very little the former midfielder has not experienced within the game.

With the new Premier League season underway, Sports Mole spoke with the 40-year-old to hear his views on the Scottish national team, Rangers and the months ahead for his former club Chelsea.

With World Cup qualification on the horizon and a 3-1 win over Australia under their belt, what do you make of the current Scottish national team?
"It will be very, very difficult for Scotland to qualify. I'd like to say it's a transitional period but it has been in transition for quite a while now. For us we are in a monstrously tough group. Serbia, Croatia and Belgium are all very good sides – they're not maybe top notch, but they are better than we are. Wales are probably on a par with us now. It's unlike us to win a friendly and I include when I was playing, we never used to win any friendlies. I think it is a difficult time to be Scotland manager and Craig Levein is finding that, although they got the victory last night."

How pleasing was it to see Jordan Rhodes opening his goalscoring account at international level against Australia? Should he now be a regular feature?
"It was nice to see somebody like young Jordan Rhodes. Craig Levein will do it how he wants to do it but I think it has come to the time where if these lads are good enough, and I'm talking about Rhodes mainly, get them in, even in competitive games. Get the younger ones in, the likes of Rhodes, who might get you a goal because we don't create many chances. I think Hodgson missed out on that sort of thing during the Euros. England were never going to win the Euros. He should have got the youngsters in and prepared them for the next tournament. I'd like to see Levein do that."

Scotland skipper Darren Fletcher made his return from illness earlier this week. How highly do you rate the Manchester United midfielder?
"I'm a massive fan of this lad. I think he's such a down-to-earth boy. He carries himself magnificently well and he is a great trainer. He was ridiculed at Man United when he first broke through by supporters. Three or four years later they were begging for him to be playing when he was suspended for the Champions League final. He was going to be the first name on the team sheet. He's been through it so I'm absolutely delighted because the words coming out of United at one point was worrying. He gets a bit of stick playing for Scotland. Some of these people who don't know better say he doesn't play as well for Scotland, but he's not playing with Ryan Giggs and all these guys! Without him we are not as good a side. It's brilliant news, for him mainly. I hope it's going to be a long term progression for him."

Obviously the biggest talking point in Scotland this summer has been the demotion of Rangers. Did you agree with the verdict?
"I never felt it was the right decision. I know people say that if it was a lesser club, they would have gone straight down, no questions asked. But Celtic and Rangers are the cash cows of Scottish football. Morals don't pay the bills. At the end of the day the survival of quite a few clubs was hanging in the balance. If both broadcasters had walked away, trust me there would have been a lot of clubs teetering on the brink now. That being said, we've all accepted it now and everybody has moved on. It became so boring in the end because it trailed on and on. It's not ideal from a competitive point of view."

Some are now saying that players from Rangers should not be selected for Scotland because they are playing at such a low level. Can Craig Levein afford to drop players like Lee Wallace?
"If they're good enough they're fine. They are not Scottish Third Division players. You're selecting a player who is unfortunately playing at that level at the moment and there's a massive difference. We're not in a position where we can pick and choose. Levein has got to pick whoever he thinks is right. If these guys are better than some playing elsewhere then so be it."

Your former club Chelsea lost Didier Drogba this summer. Can Fernando Torres fill the void?
"Didier Drogba used to infuriate me with all that rolling about. I hated it! But you can't deny that when it really mattered in the big games he scored the goals against the run of play. You ask 50,000 fans 'is Torres going to get you those goals?' Maybe a small percentage will say yes, but that is the problem for Di Matteo and Torres – all the pressure is heaped on his shoulders. He did nothing at the Euros or towards the end of the season to convince me that he was back to how he was. He got better, but that wouldn't have been difficult at one point because he seemed to be so low in confidence. Chelsea fans have backed him massively and very rarely give him stick. Now he has got to deliver. I'd look at it from Di Matteo's point of view. If we've got a tight game against say United or Liverpool, is he going to deliver more often than not? He's done nothing in his time at Chelsea or his last period at Liverpool to suggest he will."

Van Persie was available - should the club not have pursued him?
"If he's good enough to go to Man United, he's more than good enough to come to Chelsea. Maybe Abramovich doesn't like him, because he tends to sign the players, doesn't he? If you've got ambitions and you are a top club in England and Van Persie becomes available, why wouldn't you go for him? Unless they did and he said he wanted to move to Manchester, I don't know. But certainly they should be looking at players of his ilk."

Nevertheless, Roberto Di Matteo has brought in a number of creative players this summer. Will it be enough to take the title back to Stamford Bridge?
"I don't think so. I can't see it. The two Manchester clubs look like the teams to beat again. I think Arsenal have got a chance if they can be more consistent and it depends how Podolski and Giroud get on. Chelsea have signed all these playmakers that will all want to play. How's he going to shuffle them all around? What does he do if they are creating chances and Torres is scuffing them? They'll be floating around that top four, but I don't think they've done enough in the summer to bridge the gap if I'm being honest. There is also the sideshow of is Di Matteo a stop gap, which I think he is."

Keeping the seat warm for Pep Guardiola perhaps?
"Coming from the west of Scotland we love a conspiracy theory! If they have the same amount of luck that they had in the last three months of last season, they'll scoop all the awards. It was unbelievable, but that can't continue. Backs-to-the-walls stuff will only get you so far. I think even Robbie might know that Guardiola is the main target."

Craig Burley was speaking ahead of ESPN's live coverage of the Barclays Premier League this season. For details visit espn.co.uk/tv.

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