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'Just pray' | Richard Dunne on marking some of football's best attackers

Former Manchester City defender Richard Dunne spoke about the most difficult midfielders he playe...


'Just pray' | Richard Dunne on marking some of football's best attackers

Former Manchester City defender Richard Dunne spoke about the most difficult midfielders he played against and his relationship with Gérard Houllier on Off The Ball on Tuesday.

Dunne had played against some of the best midfielders and forwards in the world, including Thierry Henry, Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen.

He suggested that each opponent had their own unique skills which made them difficult to defend against.

Teddy Sheringham would try and drag you into midfield knowing full well that it’s not him who the ball is intended for,” Dunne said.

“It is [intended for] the people running in behind.

“You start to think, ‘well I’ll drop off and I’ll cover that space in behind,’ and he gets the ball and turns and he’s running at you.

“So, it’s different aspects and there are times when you look and think that the centre forward isn’t that quick so you can play a higher line.”

Players like Michael Owen, on the other hand, had their own challenges to mark, according to Dunne.

“When you look at Michael Owen you say ‘well, he is quick,’ so you can’t play on the halfway line and drop off 10 or 15 yards,” Dunne said.

“Michael Owen, probably when he was younger, he wasn’t the one who could turn and create chances, he was the one behind them.

“I think as he got older and wasn’t as quick with all of his injuries he started to drop into that role.

“Someone like Thierry Henry, who had both of them, could drop in, twist and turn and run at you or run in behind; people like that are a nightmare.”

Henry had both speed and a creative flair to him that made him exceptionally difficult to mark as a defender.

When asked how to handle marking someone like Thierry Henry, Dunne simply said, “just pray.”

“We played at Maine Road against him and the whole things was just keep them outside.

“There was literally a foot between me, him and the end line of the pitch.

“It was like we got him in a decent position, just keep him here, but he just kicked it, went off the pitch, ran around me and just ran straight through.

“There are certain players that are just too quick.”

Robbie Fowler, Liverpool. Robbie Fowler, Liverpool. Adam Davy/EMPICS Sport

For Dunne, one of his biggest learning curves when marking skilful players came in one of his first matches.

He suggested that the most difficult players to mark are the ones that did most of their work in the box.

“I remember it was one of the first games I ever played we played Liverpool at Goodison Park,” Dunne said.

“I remember marking Robbie Fowler and as the ball went down the wing I had him and he was literally stood in front of me looking out to the wing, the two of us.

“As the winger put his foot down to go, I sort of adjusted my body to look and open up my body, and as I opened up Robbie Fowler was at the back of the posts.

“The ball came over my head and he headed it and it hit the crossbar.”

Dunne realised then that there was still a big gap between senior football and the football he had played coming through.

“That was five or six minutes into your first Merseyside derby, and I thought, ‘wow, I’ve got loads to learn’,” Dunne said.

“I thought if he crosses it here it’s easy because I’m miles bigger than him, I’m stronger than him, it will be easy.

“By the time the ball had come over in that split second he had already got three or four yards on me and nearly scored.”

Gerard Houllier, Aston Villa manager. Gerard Houllier, Aston Villa manager. Steve Drew/EMPICS Sport

Why Dunne doesn’t like Houllier

One of the more well-known aspects of Dunne’s career was his friction with Gérard Houllier when the French manager was at Aston Villa.

He suggested that it was simply a clash of personalities that saw the two not get along.

“It was just a difficult period at the club, and he had different ideas,” Dunne said.

“Probably it was wrong on my behalf because you have preconceived ideas of people who come in and what they are and what they may be listening to other people.

“You sort of close off and that could have been a factor.”

Houllier’s reaction to the Thierry Henry handball in 2009 did not help their relationship though.

According to Dunne, Houllier constantly brought up the incident and suggested that that was the reason Dunne didn’t like the French manager.

“It was just part of another reason to not like him I suppose for me,” Dunne said.

“It was something that he did, it was something that he brought up in discussions when we were at [Aston] Villa as a reason for me not liking him.

“It was childish stuff really.”

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Read more about

Gerard Houllier Michael Owen Richard Dunne Robbie Fowler Teddy Sheringham Thierry Henry