Q&A: Ex-Liverpool star Phil Babb on club’s upcoming trip to Hong Kong
Fans are in for a treat at Asia Trophy says former Reds defender
“I don’t even know what day it is,” jokes former Liverpool defender Phil Babb as he sits down for an interview at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Hong Kong’s Wan Chai. He’s been in town for 10 days or so, first taking part in the HKFC Citi Soccer Sevens Masters tournament, then helping to promote the Reds’ participation in the Premier League Asia Trophy next month. He sat down with the SCMP to answer some questions about Liverpool’s upcoming trip to Hong Kong – and what Juergen Klopp needs to do to go a step further in the Premier League last season.
Fans and players will really be looking forward to this won’t they?
“LFC World came out in March for a little bit of engagement with the fans and the reception was phenomenal. I think the fans will be really excited because you’re only three weeks away from the start of the Premier League so the team will certainly be getting a lot stronger, a lot fitter and you’re looking to bring your strongest squad over as well, so I’m sure the fans will be really ramped up.
“It’ll be a good test – you’re playing quite difficult Premier League teams, we know what West Brom offer, Leicester are previous champions and Palace, although their results toward the end of the season weren’t the best they’ve got a great young, strong, attack-minded squad now. It’s going to be really good competitive.
A bit different to your day?
Our pre-season tours were Norway basically or Scandinavia, and again fantastic support there from the Norwegians and Danish, but no, you never really travelled further afield. But now because the Premier League is such a global product clubs really have to go out and reach out to the fans and give them something back and that’s what we’re doing.
Do players accept all the travel as just part of the modern game?
I think the modern-day player does understand that this is reality now. If you think of the impact that they all have – their own image rights, social media, etc, etc – they’re all brands in their own right. And the club have to go out and give back to the fans. Liverpool being one of the biggest clubs in the world, our fans are wide-reaching and its good that we come out to these places. Players are players – point them in one direction, wind them up and they tend to walk in that direction.
Does it still take you aback, the level of fandom out here?
One hundred per cent – I’ve been lucky enough to come out to Asia following the team as a former player, playing in Masters games over here and the turnouts have been absolutely phenomenal. The enthusiasm, the passion. I’ve been to some places and people save up for so long to go and watch their teams, maybe only see them live once, but now the clubs are coming out to far-flung reaches of the globe to engage with their fans. It’s giving something back and the clubs know they have to do it and get fans up close and personal with the players.
Looking beyond, what does Klopp have to do to get the team over the line next season?
Every manager’s talking about getting to that next level and it’s no surprise. It’s a normal fixture, the summer transfer window, there’s always going to be wheelings and dealings and Liverpool won’t be any different when they get into the market. I don’t know what the manager’s going to do, only he and his backroom staff do. But if you want to compete, you’re in the Champions League now, you’ve got more games, more fixtures, you’re going to have to add to the squad and that’s what they’ll do.
Any particular position you feel needs strengthening or a player you’d love to see in a Liverpool top?
Apart from Messi?! It’s a difficult one. Liverpool were challenging for the title up until Christmas, January really and injuries and loss of players scuppered it. Getting back into the Champions League is fantastic for the club. Now we can kind of take a deep breath. What the manager does and where he’s going to strengthen I don’t know. We’ve got good players in that squad, if you do strengthen you’re trying to find better players and that’s crucial. There’s no point in finding players that are just going to be squad players, you want top, top talent. But with Champions League football, a fantastic manager – we’re in a position to attract good players.