Richard Keys Blog

Nearly done.....

on Tuesday, 16 May 2017. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

It's hard to believe we're just about to complete our 4th Premier League season working with the mighty beINSports. It's incredible. When Andy and I first arrived in Qatar - 2022 seemed a lifetime away - this coming weekend the first WC stadium opens for the Emir Cup Final. The country is unrecognisable from the one I first saw in 2008 and now we're racing towards what I believe will be the best 'finals' ever. I know it doesn't suit a lot of you to read that, but my friends here in the Middle East are going to put on a spectacular festival.

Anyway, back to business - we're nearly there, another Premier League season is all but over.

Let's start at the top - well done Chelsea. If you finish top you deserve all the accolades that come your way. In short, you're there because you've been the best. Chelsea have been a champions mix of both entertainment and power. Brilliant. You'll get no arguments from me about their return to the summit.

I'm disappointed for Spurs. They're the team I enjoyed watching this season more than any other, but sadly a poor January cost them. My fear for this group (modern day phraseology!) is that they might never get any closer. I'm with Tim Sherwood - I just can't see them winning a title out of Wembley. Walker is leaving this summer, Eriksen could just as easily go as well and if he does - then what?

Why do I believe he might leave? Well, because it would follow a long standing 'Daniel Levy' transfer pattern. Historically he's always sold a player for the best price - that means at the top of their game and at the right age. He's had Ross Barkley ear-marked as a replacement for some time now, but after a recent meeting with Barkley's representatives in London I'm told Spurs aren't as convinced as they were. Watch this space..... 

I don't see any other 'short term' departures - but another season from now I think there'll definitely be significant movement.

City flopped - badly. I said in August that the Premier League would provide Guardiola's first 'genuine' test as a coach - it did and he failed. He's been honest enough to admit as much - so will he adapt to 'us' - or continue to try and change our league by sticking rigidly to his beliefs?

Jurgen Klopp looks like he's got Liverpool back in the Champions League - now he needs players that can complete in it. In my view, Liverpool are nowhere near strong enough to mount a serious challenge in that competition. Oh, and holding onto Coutinho would be the best piece of business they could do this summer.

I don't see any change at Arsenal - but even if there is - I just want someone to make a decision. The 'will he stay/will he go?' Arsene Wenger saga is tedious.

It's difficult to judge Mourinho yet. United were my tip for the title this year but like City, they've come up well short. Yes, Mourinho has delivered a trophy and he might yet double up, but unless he starts making United fun to watch again he's not going to last very long at Old Trafford - trophies or not. He has GOT to inject excitement back into his red 'machine'. Ok, they also went on that terrific unbeaten run, that took them from 6th to......6th, but my goodness they were hard to watch. It's Manchester United, but not as their fans know it and they won't stand for it.

Koeman has done a good job at Everton. I think they're in for a busy summer though.

I'm sorry David Moyes had such a miserable season. Of course he has to take responsibility for what happened, but it's been in the making for five seasons now. I know what he's said about being on a 4-year contract, but I don't think he'll stay.

Perhaps there's a job there for Nigel Pearson - or perhaps we'll see him at Middlesbrough? We'll definitely see Marco Silva again, he did really well at Hull, but they never looked like recovering from the pre-season shambles.

I was delighted Paul Clement and Big Sam struck a blow for British coaching. Now let's see if Sam can finish above West Ham - he'd like that! 

I'm sure there'll be change at The Hammers. Slavisa Jokanovic is well thought of there, but don't rule out Silva.

What can you say about Burnley and Bournemouth other than 'fantastic'. Sean Dyche and Eddie Howe have pulled off miracles, but if Howe spends again this summer it needs to be more wisely than he did last year. He's got away with a massive mis-spent splurge because he kept his team up.

Tony Pulis couldn't have done any more, but Mark Hughes certainly could. 'Stoke 9th', have underachieved.

 

Just a few thoughts before the last day, let me know yours. 

VAR will not take us to utopia

on Monday, 01 May 2017. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

Let's start with a few positives from the weekend - and I agree, there weren't too many! I repeat what I've previously tweeted - I love watching Spurs right now. There isn't a more attractive team in the Premier League. I sat with Graeme Souness this weekend (Graeme was with us on BeINSports) and he said 'this is the best Spurs team I've seen'. I couldn't agree more.  I hope they win the title but let me quickly add that I really don't CARE who does. The best 'team' will. It always does. And despite the vicious abuse I get on Twitter - it's not going to affect my life whichever team does. Honestly - I don't care - as usual, I will applaud whoever does.

The only reason I say that I hope Spurs win it is because I think Tim Sherwood might be right. Tim told us on beINSports that he doesn't believe Spurs can win the title playing at Wembley. His argument is that it's not a fortress like White Hart Lane. If Spurs' European experiences are anything to go by this season he's got a point hasn't he? And if they take time adjusting to their new stadium this squad might not be together long enough to win it. That would be a shame.

Anyway, Chelsea were top class weren't they? The win at Goodison was a real statement. They're not 'easy on the eye' like Spurs, but they're 'efficient' and very, very good. A small observation - never mind Kante or Hazard as Player of the Year - what about Gary Cahill? He's been enormous - at both ends - this season. He's adapted to the new system - he's succeeded John Terry in every respect - he fronts up, win, lose or draw - he's a warrior. He won't win the award of course, because Fleet Street tends to go for popular or obvious - unless they're voting for Scott Parker - in the year West Ham went down! Well - apart from Crossy, they all support The Hammers, so perhaps no surprise there!

Now to the unsavoury. Marcus Rashford - sorry, the dive was poor. The kid should be banned now for the rest of the season. We HAVE to stop that kind of thing happening. Oh, and you can put Leroy Sane on the list as well. Both players 'conned' the officials. I don't blame Neil Swarbrick for buying Rashford's dive, his angle wasn't great, but Kevin Friend has NO excuses - he was looking directly at the incident.

Before I get into responding to all of you that have been screaming at me for VAR - watch this. Oh for the day's of integrity and honesty.

https://twitter.com/plholics/status/856802240560058368

Brilliant eh? You would NEVER have caught one of Cloughie's players taking a dive. He wouldn't allow it. So why do we now? What would be wrong with Mourinho pulling Rashford into his office today and TELLING him - 'never again'? Cloughie was also right about football coverage - it's how we set out to cover it at Sky - informative and educational - not dictatorial and constantly looking for trouble. Cherish the game - it looks after us all very well - I've said this before - accentuate the positive.  Oh, I thought a very young John Motson stood his ground very well, didn't you?

And so to VAR - let me repeat something else I've often said 'be careful what you wish for'. Watch this mess from Australia this past weekend - then I'll carry on.

http://www.beinsports.com/en/a-league/video/video-referee-used-in-a-league-semi-final/527029

What a shambles - and they even ended up with the wrong decision - it should've been disallowed for offside - in 'moving to the ball' the centre-forward made himself 'active'. Simple - offside.  

What about the fuss that followed - from both teams? And they even kicked off in between the goal and calling for VAR - what would've happened in that period of time had someone snapped a player in total frustration? Would the red card have been rescinded? What about the injured player? No - VAR is taking us down a road I don't want to go. It is NOT going to be the utopia many argue it will be.

I was against goal-line technology NOT because it might not be useful, but because the price for its 'usefulness' was too great. I always said it would lead to our game being dominated by video refs. Of course there will be occasions when VAR clears up an incident - Rashford's dive this weekend for example - but the price for implementing it is too high for me. It's going to cause chaos and change football forever - but NOT for the better.

 

Implement changes elsewhere - drum home messages of fair play to young cheats - and if they don't listen - hammer them hard. I would much prefer that to the muddied thinking on VAR and 'jobs for the boys' - retired refs who've got better and better the longer they've been retired! 

Dull. Deadly dull.

on Friday, 28 April 2017. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

That has to be the worst Manchester derby in living memory. There could be one I've missed but I don't think so. And I've been watching them a long time now - all the way back to City's famous 5-1 on the ice. It was just awful wasn't it?

So who or what was the blame? Well, I don't entirely blame Mourinho, but if he's still setting his team up to get results like that this same time next year then I do think some serious questions will be asked about the direction he's taking the Manchester United in. I'm holding back on any judgement because he might yet deliver a fantastic season for United fans. There's already one trophy in the cabinet - a great chance of another - and 4th or better is a really good possibility now.

I'm not making excuses for him because I hate to see a game played as it was last night - especially by Manchester United. Parking the bus like that goes against every natural instinct of United fans, but if the outcome this season is as I've suggested above - everything will be forgiven.

I can't make any excuses for Fellaini though. What sort of fool is he? I light heatedly suggested on Twitter, as he walked off, that United should be charged with bringing the game into disrepute every time they play him! Look - let's get this straight,  he's obviously a good player. He's an international footballer for goodness sake and I'm sure there are many teams he would do a competent job for - but United? Not for me. He is the embodiment of everything that's wrong with them on nights like that.

As for City, well - what can you say? At the beginning of the season I wrote that I believed that this was going to be Guardiola's first REAL test as a coach. It has been hasn't it? And he's failed the audition. For the first time, without a team to bully the opposition with the very best players in both Spain and Germany, he's come up short. It could yet get worse - what if they don't finish in the top 4?

I don't buy the excuse 'he needs time'. He's had time. He's had at least three transfer windows to get the personnel to the club that he wanted. How do I come to that conclusion? Well, do you remember me telling you half way through the season before last that he was going to City? I should add, to much derision. He was wasn't he? And there hasn't been a player brought in during that time that he hasn't had something to say about. 

Conte hasn't had any time. He's top of the league, with a squad nowhere near as good as Guardiola's. Let's not forget the job the Spaniard was brought in to do - win the Champions League. Win it? They might not even qualify for it.

I'm not doubting that Guardiola is a class act, but he sure underestimated our league. I've always had the impression that he arrived intending to teach us all how football should be played. I find him tetchy and 'superior' in tv interviews. When he's asked a question he turns his nose up and sniffily mutters a sarcastic reply. There really is no need.

I'm certain that he'll get all the time he wants at City. The 'project' HAS to succeed. So much time, energy and money has been invested in it. Just as he did in Germany, where he turned a deeply Bavarian football club into a Spanish outpost (and didn't make any friends by doing so) he's changing everything at City. So far there have been 60 - yes 60 - different appointments made around the club. It beggars belief - 60. I'm also told that Spanish is the primary choice of language now. Really? I hope not, but I'm told that's the case.

If the 'project' fails there's an awful lot of 'undoing' to be done - and it's going to be a very costly exercise to do it.

I genuinely hope he succeeds, but if he's going to then Guardiola will have to adapt to 'us'. The Premier League sure isn't going to adapt to him.

 

Making a Joey out of Barton.

on Thursday, 27 April 2017. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

Two football stories broke on Wednesday - one had me shrug my shoulders with an air of nonchalance - the other had me spitting mad.

I was in no way surprised to hear that another raid had been had been organised on football clubs' offices, this time by HM Revenue and Customs pursuing a criminal investigation into tax fraud. It was around a decade ago that City of London police staged similar raids, but they were looking into the murky world of bungs. Do you remember? There was an early morning raid on Harry Redknapp's home. The Pompey owner, Milan Mandaric, was arrested so were Birmingham's owner and MD, David Sullivan and Karen Brady and the offices of Newcastle were raided as well as those of Pompey and Rangers. The outcome of investigations led to nothing. Will it be any different this time? HMRC had better come up with something to justify the frenzied activity of the week.

I'm not 'hoping' this goes away. Quite the contrary. Yes, football contributes hugely to HMRC coffers - billions in fact - and far in excess of many multi nationals that work the system to their benefit, but if the game mirrors society, then there is much the game could do to clean up its act.

Are we to believe that George Graham is the only manager ever to have taken a bung? To date he's the only man convicted of having done so - largely as a result of tax investigations. Of course he's not, but as long as the game continues to excite us, create its enormous wealth and sells as it does around the world, no-one is going to be too bothered.

Here's a true story. When Keys and Gray were on the radio I identified a guest I really wanted to talk to. We didn't know each other too well so lunch was organised. As the drinks flowed this is what he said to me 'I knew when I got into football I'd eventually go to jail, but I wanted to know why! I arranged a meeting with some of football's top brass to ask questions and find out'. He was making light of a serious subject. Coming from industry he just couldn't believe some of the things he was seeing pass across his desk. In London he was told 'it works - let's go and have lunch'.

So the big guys look after themselves whilst the little guys get hammered. So to the story that got me spitting mad. What on earth were the FA thinking when they ended Joey Barton's career on Wednesday? Barton gets an 18 month ban after he admitted an FA misconduct charge relating to betting on matches. His reaction 'I accept that I broke the rules governing professional footballers, but I do feel the penalty is heavier than it might be for other less controversial players'. He's got a point hasn't he?

Again, I'd pose the question, 'is he the only one'? Anyone close to football has heard toe curling stories of individuals AND teams (including the manager) placing bets on themselves.

Barton is a complicated character, but fascinating at the same time. He's fought demons that have threatened to destroy him - learning how to control them, but the bottom line is - by his own admission - he's an addict. He lives with alcoholism and wakes every day to conquer it again, but 'addicts' need outlets. Addiction is an illness - in any form. Alcoholics don't 'want' to drink - they 'have' to. Alcohol is their oxygen. If you control one addiction, the chances are another will grip you. Barton got caught up in gambling. He's not alone. Yes, we must all abide by the rules, but a self confessed addict banned for 18 months by an industry where 10 of the 20 Premier League clubs have shirts sponsored by betting companies? All 20 have official betting partners - even the FA has an official betting partner. Come on, we can't have it both ways. On the one hand we're promoting an activity that ruins lives and on the other cracking down on 'easy' targets when they do exactly what the advertising is supposed to do - promote the business and turn vulnerable people to gambling.

Barton was wrong, but he didn't do anything that means his livelihood should be taken away from him. He, like many others, needs help, not punishment. Mind you, it's easier for the game to make a Joey out of Barton than shine a light where it might really find something to put right. Let's see what HMRC find now that they've decided to have a look. 

Cherish the game

on Wednesday, 12 April 2017. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

'I'll give them six months'. That was Sir Alex Ferguson's verdict on Sky Sports chances of success after being awarded the first contract to cover 'live' Premier League football back in 1992.

Six months? We knew why he said it but we were determined to prove him wrong. I think we did that - but it wasn't without a fight - often with both hands tied behind our backs! It certainly didn't help when Fergie refused to talk to us from about the October of the first season - and then subsequently banned us from speaking to any of his players. Our crime? We pointed cameras at him as he flew into a frenzy on the touchline at QPR when a decision went against United! Whether the ban - as United went on to win their first league title in 26 years - was to help him make his case that we would fail we'll never know!

To succeed we needed to show off our national game in all its glory - and many different colours. We were also selling subscriptions - without which we couldn't afford to pay the huge amounts of money back into football that funded it. In that sense nothing has changed. We needed football. Football needed us. Our aim was the same - to make a success of it all.

I think everybody achieved that. Radio flourished - 5-live was born. TalkSPORT followed soon after. Newspapers created weekend pull outs and gave more column inches to football than ever before. Footballers started earning more money than they'd ever dreamt of. Young men became multi-millionaires in the blink of an eye. We respected what they did and they respected what we did. We all benefitted.

Andy Gray invented a new way of analysing football. He helped educate a generation. There had never been anything like Monday Night Football before. The show itself was the brainchild of our Executive Producer. Andy Melvin. Its purpose was to 'analyse' football. Simple.

We weren't into getting players banned for misdemeanours on the pitch - and my goodness there were many times we could've done - no, we wanted to give football a place to show itself off - so, we 'analysed' football. Simple.

Many times I'd ask Andy - I still do on beINSports - to explain where, let's say United, had got it wrong. He would always start his reply 'Well Richard, who am I to tell Sir Alex Ferguson what happened out there? He knows more about his team and plans today than me, but.....' You see - respect. Sadly there isn't too much of that about these days.

I've lost count of the number of times Andy has said 'look, nobody goes onto a football pitch with the intention of playing badly'. It happens. Of course it does. It happens for many different reasons - footballers are human beings, not robots. Those that have played should be more aware of that than anybody else.

That's why I find it so sad that today's young 'analysts' want to consistently criticise everything they see. It seems that tv execs these days want to encourage everybody to say something more ridiculous than the last man. Why? It doesn't put numbers on the viewing figures. UK audiences are down 19% this season. So why?

All today's young 'analysts' had bad games - some many many more than others - but they seem to have forgotten that. Analyse the game - stop name calling if someone is having a bad time on the pitch.

Which brings me to my point. I was really disappointed to see Jamie Carragher call Arsenal's players 'cowards' after the game at Palace. 'Cowards'? There was a time in British history that kind of insult would bring men to arms at dawn in a pistol fight for honour. No. I'm sorry, those players could be accused of many things on the other night - but cowardice? No. No. No.

I sometimes wonder how today's 'analysts' - few of whom have ever had the courage to coach themselves (is that cowardice?) would've reacted if we'd described their performances in the same way? Before you all start screaming again - what is cowardice in football? Is it failing to win the title year on year? Is it walking away from your country because you can't get a game? Is it messing up a penalty shoot out because you don't know the rules? No, of course not, it's none of those things, but you see how easy it is to get personal?

My advice to today's analysts - stick with talking about the football. Have an empathy with a player or players that are short on confidence and struggling to find their game. Respect our wonderful product. Remember what it was like when you played. We all still need each other. Cherish our wonderful sport. Yes, if required criticise, but make it constructive. We're turning people off with a constant string of vitriol. Love football and it will love you back - keeping some of us working and all of us fascinated. 

What about plan B Pep?

on Thursday, 16 March 2017. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

Well the hysteria of the original tie is long since forgotten eh? Not by me. I remember well all the headlines lauding Pep Guardiola and Manchester City. At last - Guardiola had found the formula. This is how football should be played. What an exhibition. City swept Monaco aside.  Nothing could stop Guardiola now. Er - yes it could. And yes it has.

I agree, the 5-3 at The Etihad was a fantastic exhibition, but that's all it was. It wasn't really a step towards the quarter finals. For me, it was the very reason why City wouldn't make the quarter-finals. You can't play football like that against the big boys and hope to succeed. It was suicide.

I admire Guardiola and his record tells us he one of the very best. One of..... Everybody that knows him tells me he's a nice guy. That he's fastidious in his work. That he BELIEVES in what he does. All fine - but I've said it before - how often is a man's greatest strength also his greatest weakness? Guardiola won't change - but in order to succeed at City he's going to have to.

He doesn't have the best three players in the world in his team anymore - as he did at Barcelona. He doesn't have the best two wide men and the best centre-forward and goalkeeper in the world anymore - as he did at Bayern. Other than Aguero, who he doesn't want, he hasn't got anything like the best in any position anymore. What he appears to me to have is 'plan A' and only 'plan A'. He wants to play - all the time - with a belief that if the opposition get three - City will get five. Oh, wait a minute..... 

There is NO 'right way' to play football. Leicester proved that last season. They played 'their way' and had success with it. They played 'realistic' football - based on the personnel they had. They're doing it again and frightening teams to death. Zidane said this week that they all want to avoid them. I'm not surprised - check back and you'll find that I said last season that I thought they would've blown away both City and Madrid in that semi-final. Don't rule them out this season.

John Stones came in for a lot of stick again after the game in Monaco. Oh how he must wish he'd gone to Chelsea to learn how to become a defender. He'll never learn that skill at City. They say he's new Rio Ferdinand. No he's not. Yes, Rio could 'play', but first and foremost he could defend. He could do what it said on the tin. He played in front of terrific goalkeepers, who could do that job - keep goal - and behind top class mid-field players, who knew how to protect him. He could step out of his position knowing  somebody would fill it. Stones can't do that. He's like everybody else in the City back line - frightened to death of what's behind him - and in front of him. I've got a lot of sympathy for him - but only to a point. If he really wants to become top class he's got to recognise this himself and demand more. I would question whether he wants it enough. He simply hasn't got any better since he went to City. Nor will he unless something gives.

So City crash and burn in The CL  again. I wonder if they'd have won this trophy by now had they stuck with the man who found a cure to 'City-itis' - Roberto Mancini?

As an aside - I noticed a line this week suggesting that Real Madrid have told David de Gea that it's 'make your mind up' time or they'll look elsewhere. Where will they look? I told you that at least three months ago - they'll look to Thibaut Courtois. He'd make the move in an instant. What then? I told you at least three months ago - Joe Hart to Chelsea - and the London club would make a massive profit on the deal. Guardiola has savaged the price City will get for Hart because everybody knows that he doesn't want him. Hart will be next summer's transfer bargain. It's not a done deal yet - it all depends on de Gea, but the clock is ticking. Let's wait and see if I've got another one right!

I'm told Madrid don't often move for a player that's spent time with Atletico, which is a major stumbling block on any deal for Aguero, but we live in changing times! 

Inexplainable and scandalous

on Wednesday, 08 March 2017. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

'Inexplainable and scandalous' said Arsene Wenger after Arsenal's latest humiliation. Lay aside the slight English mistake - that was the least of the horrors to come out of the Emirates last night (Tuesday) - just what was Wenger referring to?

If he meant the pre-match demonstrations calling for him to go then I agree. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Look - I fully support the right of the paying public to have their say - I do about how SISU are destroying my club Coventry - but there is something unedifying about Arsenal supporters getting involved in protests. It just doesn't sit well with me. This is 'The Arsenal' - a club with long standing traditions for doing things 'right'. The Arsenal are a classy outfit and I can't remember any other time in their history when I've seen such a thing. And let's not forget they're protesting about Arsene Wenger- somebody for whom I have the utmost respect. The guy is also a class act and he will for some time be Arsenal's most successful ever manager. He's a legend. Whether I believe it's time for him to go is another matter - I'll get round to that.

Back to the 'inexplainable and scandalous'. Was Wenger referring to Arsenal's performance on the night? If he was - he was right again. It was a shocker. It hasn't been good in recently and, I say again, I completely understand the frustration that surrounds The Emirates.

Actually we know exactly what Wenger was referring to. He was slating the Greek ref, Tasos Sidiropoulos, who first awarded Bayern a pen, booked Koscielny and then decided to send him off on the advice of his assistant behind the goal. We can argue all day about whether we thought it was a pen, or whether the new 'double jeopardy' rules applied, once the ref had given the pen, he was right to send Koscielny off on the basis that a 'clear goal scoring opportunity' had been denied. Crucially, he was also well within his rights to change his mind. And get used to it Arsene - we're going to see plenty more of this going forward.

Let me explain. The ref can 'correct a mistake' as long as play hasn't re-started. Let me ask Arsenal fans if they remember benefitting in such a way in Sept 2004 when Mark Halsey awarded Fulham a pen in a game at Craven Cottage? Arsenal's players hounded Halsey and got him to change his mind after consulting with his lino. A drop ball re-started the game and Arsenal went on to extend their unbeaten run to 45 games. The Fulham boss, Chris Coleman, described Halsey's performance as 'crap' incidentally!!  Sorry Mark!

Wenger is also an advocate of video refs. Last night's incident is exactly the sort of situation we're going to see in the FA Cup next season when VAR's are introduced. You can't have it both ways Arsene. It's one thing or the other.

What Wenger should really be concentrating on is not the deflection of that incident, but what he's going to do next. I remember after their last  Cup writing this blog and saying I hoped he quit then. He's a giant, who's done so much for the English game, as well as Arsenal, that I wanted him to be able to walk away with his head up. I remember saying that he deserved to go on his terms and not be hounded out. Well it's too late now.

I'm told that the Arsenal Board have given Wenger until the end of March to make his mind up about staying. He definitely wants to and he's stubborn enough to, but it would be a mistake - just as it was when he clung on after Wembley.

The Chief Exec, Ivan Gazidis, is determined that whatever Wenger's decision there will be big changes at the club next season. I don't know what that means, but it's not before time. Of course, Wenger is right when he says there are 'no guarantees' that his successor will have the formula to get The Gunners firing again, but I believe it's in everybody's interests now that change comes. The atmosphere at The Emirates is poisonous these days and it's not going to get any better.

If Wenger  announced that he'd decided to go everything would change. Every game at The Emirates would become a celebration and a party marking what he's achieved. You know, it might even be that it could propel Arsenal back into the top four. Sadly I don't think he will - even more sadly I think the chances are Wenger will want to fight on. It's a pity his team don't show the same spirit.

 

Oh, one last thing, is there any difference between what we're seeing in the dressing room at Arsenal to that which we saw at Leicester? No. Nor me!! All in all it's 'inexplainable and scandalous'. 

Stop the bleating. He had to go.

on Friday, 24 February 2017. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

Come on. Enough. Stop the bleating please. Dilly ding. Dilly dong - Ranieri has gone - and not before time. Leicester are in crisis and he's to blame. If he's not - why did he get all the credit for winning the title last season? The re-moaners can't have it both ways. 

I last blogged on this very subject about two weeks ago. The surprise to me is that Leicester gave Ranieri the time they did this season and allowed things to fall apart so dramatically. 

Here are one or two facts surrounding a charismatic man who charmed us all the way to the most extra-ordinary title win of all time. 

I said in my last blog that the real architect of last season's triumph was Nigel Pearson. He was - him, Steve Walsh, who recruited the talent, and Craig Shakespeare, who coached the team. Fact, as Rafa might say. 

Pearson guided Leicester back from oblivion to the big time. All right, they initially struggled to adjust to life in the Premier League, but what a finish they had to that first season back - seven wins from the last nine - and the greatest escape of all time was complete. It was Pearson that had every right to be 'disappointed' about the decision to sack him - and a lot more than Ranieri. 

The players didn't want Ranieri as his successor. Fact. It was with that information that I predicted they'd go down the following season - believe it or not, having spent a lifetime on the fringes of the game listening to what's happening within it, I have gathered useful information. It's my job. Where I can I share it with you in these blogs. 

They players were never comfortable with Ranieri. Fact. If a strong dressing room can down tools and see a manager sacked - Mancini, Moyes, Mourinho and now Ranieri - then it most almost surely follow that it can galvanise itself into producing success? How many times have we all heard Graeme Souness tell us that the most successful Liverpool teams didn't need a coach? He would add 'if there was a problem at half time me, Kenny and Jocky (Alan Hansen) would sort it out'. I've heard that line a million times! Fact

Now that's not to dilute entirely the impact Bob Paisley had at Anfield, nor that which Ranieri had at Leicester. Ranieri played the Press brilliantly last season, shielding his players from the pressures of what they were doing. He made us laugh and ultimately he astounded us by helping to deliver that title. Fair play to him - it was stunning. We'll never see the likes of it again. 

But there were always doubts and cracks in the dressing room. The same doubts emerged last summer although although we'll never hear it publicly. That was the time for everybody to part company. Everybody would've been remembered as 'winners'. Fact. 

The dressing room always wanted either Walsh or Shakespeare to succeed Pearson. Now Shakespeare is in charge temporarily. Believe me, if the players can 'play him in' they will. And I wouldn't entirely rule out Pearson coming back, although when that idea was muted at the beginning of last week, the hierarchy at Leicester were insistent Ranieri was staying. Something changed and it changed quickly. 

I'm grateful to those of you who take time out to share your thoughts on Twitter so let me address a few of them. 

One of the biggest criticisms of me supporting Leicester's decision was that I'd made my feelings plain about strong dressing rooms before. Yes, I have. And yes, I was disgusted at how City's dressing room played Mancini out - even going so far as to toss a Cup Final off. United's players saw off Moyes. We know very well now who ran Mourinho out of the Bridge. So what's the difference? I'll tell you. 

At City the owners should've backed Mancini. They were at the beginning of a project and could easily have replaced the dissenters and not been affected by the turmoil. It was easier to get rid of Mancini though, with the knowledge that it would eventually be easier to sack his replacement to make room for Guardiola, which was always going to happen. I've addressed this previously. 

Moyes was 'guaranteed' two years to sort out a fading Manchester United. Forget they'd won the title the previous season - it was all over for most of that team and Fergie knew it. It's why he left then. Moyes was categorically told that missing out on Champions League football for a couple of seasons, while he addressed the re build, wouldn't affect his position. Again, the hierarchy crumbled under player power, when they were in a much stronger position to back their manager than Leicester are. The same applied at Chelsea. 

Leicester are different. They'll never challenge for another title. They're in free fall and right now everything says they're going down. Something HAD to be done. Time is their enemy. There simply isn't any. Now, this change doesn't guarantee they'll survive, but it was a guarantee they were going down without it. 

Enough please of the sentimental nonsense that 'Ranieri deserves better'. Why? That 'Ranieri deserved a crack at the Champions League'. Why? That 'football has lost its soul'. Utter nonsense. In any other walk of life a leader failing as badly as Ranieri was would've been shown the door weeks ago. 

Look - last season was wonderful. We all enjoyed it, but you can't run a football club on memories or sentiment. Ranieri will go down, rightly, as Leicester's most successful manager ever. He was out of work and going nowhere when Leicester gave him the gilt edged chance that they did. He was coming off the back of a complete shambles with Greece. It worked out well for both club and individual, who leaves with a vastly enhanced cv and a nice few quid. But it's over. Done. Fact. It was a business decision and the right decision, no matter what the romantics tell you. 

Here's why Leicester are struggling.

on Monday, 13 February 2017. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

I've read an awful lot on why Leicester are struggling this season. Apparently it's because they 'over celebrated' last season's title success. Nonsense.

Others believe it's because N'golo Kante was sold. Nonsense. His absence hasn't stopped them from progressing to the last 16 of the Champions League, although there is no doubt that he's been missed. He's a terrific little player. Any team would miss his non-stop running and uncanny ability to break up opposition play.

So it must be that the boys have downed tools? Nonsense. No they haven't.  Ranieri has 'tinkered' too much then? Nonsense. Is it that he's fallen out with too many people?  Nonsense.

Here's what I believe the problem is. They are simply not very good. What we're seeing now is just about what they are. They're two points better off than they were when they went on that fantastic run of seven wins in nine games to save themselves under Nigel Pearson, the real architect of last season's success.

And before you Leicester City fans start screaming 'Sky Blue Scum bag' let me explain myself.

After battling to safety under Pearson  - and it was without doubt the greatest escape of all time - no-one, absolutely no-one could foresee what was going to happen the following season. 

Pearson was sacked that summer wasn't he? I expressed serious doubts about Ranieri's appointment, going so far as to predict they'd  go down without Pearson's big presence and organisational skills.

Quite the opposite happened. Again, Leicester gave us something that will never - ever - be done again. We all smiled as Ranieri shoved the words of people like me back down our throats. Leicester winning the Premier League title was arguably the greatest sporting achievement of all time. It was brilliant. It was breathtaking. And it was so re-freshing. But it was a one-off. It will never be done again. Oh, It wouldn't have been done had Arsenal had some bollocks. They should've won it and Arsene Wenger knows it. They'll never have a better chance again while he's there.

Leicester found all the stars aligned just at the right time and they capitalised. Brilliant. I say again, it was a wonderful achievement, but here's why it can't be done again.

The 'big six' have have got their act together - that's a major factor. Normal service at the top has been resumed this season and the six of them are only going to get stronger - especially if they can force through a re-distribution of the overseas tv money. Trust me, if they can - and I think they can - they will.

So that's one issue, but the main one from Leicester's point of view is that for some reason and somehow a group of 'ordinary' players all performed in an 'extra-ordinary' way. They all produced outstanding 11/10 performances on a weekly basis. As the season went on, belief grew and the impossible became probable before they eventually got it over the line.

There's a reason only Kante left the club. The rest, with perhaps one exception, aren't good enough to play for top clubs. They're at Leicester for that reason. Those that started careers at the bigger clubs weren't good enough to stay, so a collection of really good pro's all found themselves in the same place - at the right time - and something very special happened.

Morgan and Huth are the wrong side of 30 and won't ever again have a season like they did last time out. Everybody has worked Vardy out. Drinkwater is no more than 'solid' and he's missing his mate. Mahrez is a shadow of himself. Schmeichel is a great lad but again, would he get into any of the top 6 sides? The rest are good players - no more.

I do think that there is perhaps a little unrest in the dressing room caused by the fact that some of last season's stars are now earning money beyond their wildest dreams, whilst others have been left behind. That's a factor, but the bottom line is this - Leicester are neither as bad as their league position and form, but they were certainly never as good as last season's title win suggested.

Make no mistake - they're in big trouble. Unless something changes, and quickly, I reckon I'll have been a season out - they're going down. 

Waking giants......

on Thursday, 02 February 2017. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

You know, I'm fairly certain I can hear the sound of waking giants all the way from Leeds and Newcastle, here in Qatar. Wonderful isn't it? Two of our most famous clubs, two 'proper' football clubs as Graeme Souness might say, at last - stirring.

Regulars know that Rafa the Gafa isn't my favourite. I've said many times that I believe he only manages for himself - for his own cv. Proof had to be the time he took on the Chelsea job (as revealed by yours truly and denied even by his closest confidantes!) after everything he'd previously said about the club and its fans. He'd take over at United if the price was right. I've argued often about the out-dated concept of 'loyalty', but some things you don't do.

That said - can I also repeat what I wrote when Benitez stayed at Newcastle last summer? I was both a little surprised, but also delighted for Newcastle fans, because whatever else, Benitez was the right man in the right place at the right time. He gave Geordies hope again and, so far, he's delivered.

Newcastle is a monster of a football club. I love it and I love everything about that football mad City, although I've always said that it's about

350 miles too far north of London for me! The Toon's rightful place isn't just in the Premier League, it's mixing it with the big boys at the top.

The trouble is, it's owned by a very ambitious man, who knows plenty about how to squeeze every last drop of sweat out of his workers, but not much about football.

For too long Mike Ashley and his small group of 'yes' men have run the club into the ground. Do you remember a gentleman called Tony Jimenez? The world eventually found out what a few already knew when he hitched his wagon to The Toon.

Tony turned up announcing that he was an 'expert' in player recruitment.

He was appointed vice-president in charge of that department. At an early Board meeting he made a presentation saying that he was going to start signing a steady flow of South American talent, nurture it, then sell the players on for good profit. It was Arthur Cox who asked 'how are you going to get them here Tony?' The reply was 'fly them in'. You couldn't make it up! What Cox meant, of course, was 'how do you intend to get them permits to come here and work?'  Tony and Mike hadn't thought about that!

Brilliant! That was plan A dead in the water. 

Ashley and his current error prone MD Lee Charnley, have always meddled and Newcastle fans have had little or nothing to celebrate during Ashley's ownership. But then came Rafa - and a suggestion of success at last for one simple reason - Benitez demanded full control of football matters at St James' Park.

Newcastle were flying under the new regime. We hadn't heard anything from Charnley or Ashley- until last night (Weds, after the 2-2 v QPR). For the first time Benitez aired public disappointment about an unsuccessful transfer window and carefully told us how he felt let down. I got the feeling he was warning us that the wheels might be about to come off. He obviously feels he needs more than he's got to get automatic promotion. I hope he's wrong - but when will the people that own and run that club learn? Back Benitez and he'll get you back.

At Leeds Garry Monk is doing a fantastic job - having set out similar rules - 'I'm in charge'.  Monk has brought a calm to Leeds that the modern day basket case version of a once mighty club had long since forgotten.

It's wonderful to see. Leeds should also be mixing it with the big boys at the top end of the Premier League. Why aren't they? For exactly the same reasons that Newcastle aren't - and I'm not just blaming mad Massimo for that - Ken Bates has to take his fair share of the blame. Far from being a saviour when he bought the club, Bates fell out with everybody as usual and all but killed it off, just as he previously had Chelsea. Let's never forget that when Roman Abramovich walked through the doors at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea were literally hours from going bust after years of Bully Bates stewardship. Leeds fans know I'm right about his time at Elland Road.

I wouldn't rule out Leeds getting up automatically. If they do it's Newcastle that could miss out - and Benitez knows it. As for Monk, he's a fine young British coach who was badly treated at Swansea. It's good to see him recovering his reputation.

I fancy Brighton to win the Championship and I'd be delighted for the Bloom brothers if they do. These two guys are 'football' people and they've delivered on everything they said they would. They've got a terrific manager in Chris Hughton (as Newcastle fans know only too well!) and I hope it's their turn after last season's near miss. The Blooms let Chris get on with his job.

So the lesson here is 'let football men do what they do best'. Businessmen should stick to what they know.  Would Mike Ashley let Rafa walk into Sports Direct and run it?  Of course not. History tells us every time Ashley, or more recently Charnley, get busy at Newcastle things go wrong.

I hope Benitez keeps them on course, but I fear he's trying to tell us he's not sure he can.

 

Grandstand II? Why not?

on Wednesday, 01 February 2017. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

I know. I know. I keep promising a more regular flow of blogs - then I go and get distracted! I'm sorry.

At the end of a bruising week I'm sitting in the garden enjoying reading the arguments for tue return of a sporting icon - Grandstand. I'm talking about the excellent Gabby Logan's idea that it's time this giant was brought back to life. As someone who worked on it (albeit a bit part) and later was hell bent on destroying it - why not? I'll explain the above in just a moment.

What a wonderful way it was to spend a wet, winter afternoon - in front of the fire watching Grandstand (that was when we could afford the coal!) The racing was never my favourite, so after Sam Leitch had presented Football Focus I'd often go over to ITV for an hour or so to see what Richard Davies (Dickie in later years!) had to offer. Log rolling from Canada would fill time - for those working on World of Sport - and those of us at home! When the wrestling came on I went back. Funny - it was only the commentator Kent Walton who didn't know the bouts were timed so as not to run into ITV's results service!

Life was a lot simpler. I was from the generation that caught the back end of Eamonn Andrews fronting Grandstand. The brilliant David Coleman followed. Wily 'Arry Carpenter would often help out. Say what you like about Frank Bough, but what a class act he was once he sat in the chair. There followed the genius that was Des Lynam and the unflappable Steve Rider. I was delighted when they gave Sue Barker a go. How Sky went onto regret allowing Sue to cover Wimbledon for the BBC while contracted to 'us'. We knew she was a class act. We made her. The Beeb discovered how good she was that summer. She never came back. Good decision Sue!

Can you imagine what a thrill it was when I was asked to go and help out on Football Focus - by now presented by my mate Bob Wilson? I didn't do much - just checked stats and Bob's scripts - but I felt like I'd been given the key to the sweet shop. Bough really did have legs - seriously, what a fantastic operator he was. Alan Hart and Jonathan Martin were Editing at different times. 'Editor' at the BBC is the commercial tv version of Producer. Producer is their version of Director. Brian Venner was doing that job, ably assisted by his PA Penny Wood. Venner was followed by Martin Hopkins. Editing Football Focus was MIke Murphy, a brilliant brain, who was later to become Grandstand's youngest Editor at just 26. Mike and Bob took me under their wing and became life long friends. So did Brian when he set up the UK's first independent production company TSL Sports. We covered the Tour de France together for C4. 

I feel a bit like Ronnie Corbett now - I've strayed miles from where I wanted to be!

When I got to Sky, the BBC were sailing serenely on - not a bit concerned about the 'new kid on the block'. We owed Jonathan Martin, who was happy to see us spend on 'live' sport, never imagining that we would swallow them whole. Like a lot of others - Fergie was one of them - he thought we'd last six months!

We were Wimbledon - no-one liked us - but we didn't care. We were nibbling away all round the fringes of the 'establishment' when David Hill, our pugnacious Head of Sport, decided it was time to take onGrandstand. Soccer Saturday was born - but not as we know it now.

It's first Producer was Mark Schofield - his wife Barbara Slater is now Head of Sport at the BBC. Mark was uneasy about this move. He'd worked on Grandstand and thought we were wrong to take them on. 'Bollocks', I told him. 'We have to take them on. And kill them'.

Mark's formula always puzzled me. Paul Dempsey, another fine operator, was its first host. His guests were Mssrs Best, Marsh, McLintock and often Law.

They'd sit and discuss the week's events before he'd send them off behind a screen to watch the afternoon's games - and join Paul every now and again - on the phone! 'Why?' I remember asking him. 'Leave the guys where we can see them. No-one is fooled by your pretending they're at the game! I've seen George in the studio at 2.55 and I'm supposed to believe he's at Old Trafford at 3.05?'  It was nonsense.

It was a throw back to Mark's time at the BBC. Remember Denis Lowe and others sitting in vision to report on games they'd only seen 45 mins of before traveling back to the studio to do a 'piece in vision' during the results sequence?  Mark couldn't let this formula go.

When he left I offered his successor Andrew Hornett the same idea. Initially he looked at me blankly - but he went on to base his whole career around it. It worked! It worked brilliantly - so well that it eventually killed Grandstand stone dead. Jeff Stelling and his boys have become part of tv folk law with it. It's a fantastic product and the one everybody wants to copy now - that is unless you're a beINSports viewer!  We just show the goals all afternoon - and 3 live games. It works much better! 

But perhaps Gabby is right. Perhaps 'back to the future' is the way forward. As pleased as I was, at the time, when the BBC announced it was all over for Grandstand, it was a pity. That theme tune. The camera that turned straight towards you and had sport in four different lenses. The teleprinter. Coleman - who genuinely knew his stuff - pouring over the results. No-one was whispering facts and figures in Coleman's ear.  He was Brilliant.

Gabby, of course, played her part in helping Sky take on Grandstand and the BBC. I organised her first big break. As she planned to meet our then Deputy Head of Sport, Mark Sharman, she called and asked me what she should wear. I told her 'Smart. Dress to impress'. Her reply made me chuckle at the time 'I know' she said 'sex sells, leave it with me'.

Remembering that line I was never quite sure how she squared that view with the documentary she fronted, in later years, for the BBC - a programme about sexism in sport. As Greavesie would say 'funny old game isn't it'? Fiction and facts are often miles apart, but dressed up as the same.

Maybe I'm looking back with a fictitious view of Grandstand? I don't think so though. It was a giant. Fact. Let's have it back Barbara!

 

If you want loyalty - buy a dog.

on Sunday, 15 January 2017. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

'He's on a fantastic contract, the highest paid player in the club's history. He signed it. Now he wants a move and feels Everton are a big club, so there's nothing we can do. West Ham are a big club in our eyes, but he feels otherwise'. Harry Redknapp Manager West Ham - March 1997.

The players' response to the stinging criticism above was this 'I had to do this. As all players know, if anyone gets the chance of a big club, he must take it'.  Slaven Bilic, West Ham - March 1997.

I'd like to take the credit for digging out the above explosive quotes, but I've lifted them from David Hills fantastic column 'Said and Done' in The Observer. I should say 'aptly named column', because all the fuss over Dimitri Payet's behaviour this past week now is!  Forget the moral posturing Slaven, there's nowhere to hide now.

Look - I like Bilic. I think he's a good guy and with Payet's enormous help he delivered a fantastic season for the Hammers last time out, but the 'love in' between Payet and his army of adoring fans at the Taxpayers Stadium was never going to last.

Time and again last season the question was asked 'how come he's 28 and only just surfaced on the big stage'. Now we know.

No-one at West Ham should be surprised by his behaviour. He threw a hissy fit just like this in order to leave Marseille for Upton Park! Have  we all forgotten so quickly Marseille issuing a robust statement to condemn the 'reckless demands' made and the ultimatum issued Payet and his agent expressing 'surprise that negotiations with another club had been opened' - without their permission?

Come on. Let's get real. Transfers are a dirty business - if you want a player you do everything you can to turn his head - which is exactly what West Ham did to get Payet. To a lesser extent - aren't they doing that right now to unsettle Jermaine Defoe? Sunderland haven't publicly said as much - yet - but privately they know that's exactly what's happening.

Let's also not forget that Payet was once on PSG's radar, back in 2011. He was playing for St Etienne at the time. In order to force the move through Payet stopped training saying 'my decision is taken. I think only of Paris'. On deadline day he actually drove to the French capital expecting a deal to be done, but it stalled. Payet went back to St. Etienne.

This only has one ending - Payet leaves, either now or in the summer. I'd get shot now. He's a wrong 'un and they never change. If West Ham don't sell he'll stink the place out between now and next summer. And never mind 'holding out' for £35m - they're not going to get it. Take the money back you spent 'David's' - and be happy for the good times he gave you. Don't be greedy - because it'll be a costly exercise in many other ways the longer you try to hold onto him.

As for the fans indignation and the ridiculous cries of 'where's the loyalty?' - let me repeat, there isn't any. Loyalty with an employer ends on a monthly basis when your salary is put in the bank. Seriously, how many of us have ever turned down an employment opportunity to better ourselves and our money out of 'loyalty' to our current employer. Come on, the whole idea is daft. Footballers are no different.

The above also applies to Diego Costa. Sell Chelsea. Cut your losses. We're talking here about a player central to the coup that led to Mourinho's sacking last season. He downed tools. Have we forgotten that as well?

Chelsea will survive his departure. There's every chance they'll flourish. I've long wanted to see Hazard (another mutineer mind you) play through the middle. I think he'd be sensational there.

Players are commodities. They know that too. They play because they can and because - at the very top end of the game - it makes them rich. They don't care about 'loyalty'. As I've said many times before - as a colleague of mine used to say - 'if you want loyalty, buy a dog'. 

 

Half Way. Happy?

on Monday, 02 January 2017. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

So we've reached the half way stage. Are we all happy? Is the season delivering exactly what you expected?

Regulars will know I got caught with a couple predictions last season! In my defence no-one saw what was about to unfold at Leicester, but yes, I had said they would go down! Wrong. Badly wrong! I also thought West Ham would struggle, but Slaven Bilic delivered a wonderful season for Hammers' fans. I was pleased for him. He's a nice guy.

Let's be honest, neither Leicester nor West Ham are as good as their season suggested last time out. I think what we're seeing this time is much nearer the mark - so I was only 12 months out. That's my excuse anyway!

This year I went for Swansea, Hull and Watford to go down. No one likes being right about predicting an unhappy season for a club, but two out of three looks very likely to go. I expected Sunderland to struggle, but it's been tougher for them than I thought it might be. I still think they've got enough to sqeak clear again, but they're trying their best to make a mess of it. I still think there's a really good chance Watford will fall into trouble. You can't keep beating the 'system' as they do. Eventually it catches up with you.

That's why I thought Swansea would struggle as well. Huw Jenkins got a little bit too clever for his own good there. Yes, he did a brilliant job backing the right people to propel the club from where he found it all the way to Wembley and the Premier League, but that's the point, he 'backed' the 'right people'. I think Mr Jenkins started believing too much in all the good publicity he was getting and somehow convinced himself he was the reason for Swansea's success. He wasn't - and a couple of dreadful appointments have caught him out.

Let's get this clear - I like Bob Bradley. He's another of the good guys, but what chance did he really have? You're in a relegation battle, because your previous appointment was poor, and you compound that mistake with another. Brilliant. Oh, and why are you having to make so many managerial appointments? The answer to that is because you forced the best guy for the job out of the door by meddling with his backroom appointments. Garry Monk isn't doing too badly at Leeds is he?

I said in a tweet recently - when are the people that make these decisions going to take responsibility for them? It was the same at Villa last season. Who thought Remi Garde was a good idea?

Swansea are on the cusp of doing it again. I wish Paul Clement all the luck in the world - he's going to need it. My choice would've been Chris Coleman. He's got the experience required for a fight like the one Swansea are in. He's an X Premier League manager, coming off the back of a wonderful Euro's with Wales. He's played for the club, and he's a Swansea boy. What more do you need?

The big 6 have re-taken their rightful positions at the top, but not yet in the order I expected. I thought United would win the title, but they're too far off now, although as Leicester proved, anything is possible!  The irony of United's recent good form

is that it's largely down to half a dozen players that Mourinho had written off after deciding he didn't want them!  I can also tell you that he'd said to one of them recently 'I made a mistake buying you in the summer. You can leave in January'. He's changed his mind now! I'll let you work out who the player was.

Conti has done a fantastic job at Chelsea. Simply brilliant. They've got to be favourites to win it now.

What a job Klopp is doing as well. If there's a team to stop Chelsea then it has to be Liverpool. Again, I didn't expect to see so much improvement so soon.

Arsenal are simply doing what Arsenal do - no more - no less. Spurs are interesting. They're finding some of last season's sparkle now - particularly Kane and Dele. They won't win it, but they're heading for another top 4 finish.

As we enter the New Year it's City that have got the problems - 5th, and that's after spending £100m+ in the summer.

Guardiola is finding out exactly what I thought he would - that without Messi, Xavi and Iniesta - without Muller, Robben and Levandowski, the 'project' isn't quite as easy as it was at Barca and Bayern.

Remember all the rubbish four games in? I read one piece suggesting 'Pep has sorted City out in a month'. What absolute nonsense

Look, Guardiola is a class act and he's had stunning success in his career so far, but he's had some

good fortune along the way as well. Barca weren't bad when he inherited them were they? Rijkaard had turned them into winners again. And he wasn't going to struggle at Bayern was he?  

The gig at City is different. I understood why he wanted Joe Hart out. Hart was a big influence in the dressing room and there's only room for one boss. A showdown with Messi led to his ultimate departure from Barca. That was a battle he couldn't win. He took Hart on and won before a ball was kicked.

Ok, so change the keeper, but not for one that simply isn't up to the job. City won't win the top prizes with Bravo in goal. At some point Guardiola is going to have to swallow his pride and accept that. He's also going to have to get 'street-wise' in our league. He can't dominate it as he did in his two previous jobs with the best players and little or no opposition. Our league is demanding. It's brutal. It doesn't forgive. It's for battlers. Conti and Klopp worked that out very early on. If it's not, why has Arsenal's 'beautiful' football only delivered a top 4 finish for a decade?

There will be days that City look fantastic. They'll pass teams to death and score goals, just like Barca and Bayern did, but they won't 'dig' results out and in the end that will cost them.

I said when Guardiola took over that he had a strong dressing room to sort out. Hart's departure helped, but Kompany and Yaya are still there and I think the rest are beginning to have reservations. The answer is another major spend combined with a compromise on his beliefs. But, is Guardiola for compromising? It all makes you realise what a brilliant job Mancini did doesn't it? They say the 'first' trophy is always the hardest to win. Mancini did that - and left a squad good enough to go on winning. Given time he would've cracked the Champions League as well. The clue to that is in what Guardiola said recently 'it's tough in a competition when you don't have a history'. City know that competition a lot better now than when Mancini was in charge.

One New Year's prediction - Aguero to Madrid in the summer and Sanchez to City as his replacement. Let's see......!

Transparency and accuracy?

on Monday, 19 December 2016. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

Shoma Doi. Make a note of his name. He went down in history this past week. Any idea how or why?  Let me help you.

Shoma Doi of the Kashima Antlers.  On the face of it he didn't do too much special, he simply scored a penalty for his team on Wednesday December 14 2016 at the FIFA Club World Cup.  What made it special is that his was the first penalty to be awarded by a Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in the Suita City football stadium, Osaka.

Everybody involved in the tournament was quite pleased with themselves. Gianni Infantino was of the opinion that the historic decision ushered in a new era of 'transparency and accuracy' for football.

Dutch official Danny Makkelie, who took charge of the Hawk-eye technology for two games at the tournament, said 'it's been fantastic to go live at a FIFA tournament after a lot of practice over the last year'. Makkelie was referring to his time working as a VAR in the Dutch Cup, where they've been experimenting over the past 12 months. We've discussed all this dozens of times on beINSports Keys & Gray.

FIFA's Head of Refereeing, Massimo Busacca, added 'The main point of the technology is that no-one loses because of a refereeing mistake'. Really? Ask the Kashima Antlers about that. I think they'd vehemently disagree after their experience in the final of the CWC v Real Madrid. I'll come back to that.

So a lot of self congratulation - but let me add a few facts that might get you thinking. Do you know how long it took between the offence that was spotted by the VAR in the Antlers match and Doi's kick to score it? The answer is five and a half minutes! Play carried on for two and a half minutes  before the ref, Hungarian Viktor Kassai stopped to consult his VAR - took advice, wondered over to a replay machine situated on the side of the pitch, looked again at something neither he nor his assistant originally thought was a pen, and then awarded the kick. The rest of the time was taken up by fierce protests from the opposition, Atletico Nacional. The score at the time, incidentally, was 0-0 and 33 minutes had been played. It was a farce. An absolute farce.

Here's are my next issues - in the two and a half minutes that the game carried on while the VAR studied what he 'thought' he'd seen - what if Nacional had scored? What if they had been awarded a penalty? What if a player had committed an offence that might have seen him sent off? What happens to the five and a half minutes that were wasted? Do the opposition get them back? And what if Kassai had decided he didn't agree with the VAR, after all, the decision  was a matter of 'opinion' not 'fact'?

I can answer a few of those questions. Busacca says 'if a goal were scored before there is a play that needs to be revised, the goal would be annulled'. Really? This is nonsense. We're heading into a chaotic mess that hasn't bee. Properly thought through.

VAR was also used in Real's semi-final, when a goal from Ronaldo was given - correctly on this occasion because he wasn't offside - but the delay was again unacceptable and it completely diluted the celebrations of his 500th club goal.

It was used on one other occasion - in the final. Here's what happened. This time Zambian official Janny Sikazwe was in charge. Late on in normal time, with the score 2-2, Sergio Ramos clipped an opposition player in mid-field. Ramos was already in the book and despite an indifferent protest in his defence, he expected to walk as Sikazwe went for his cards again. A long delay followed as Sikazwe appeared to be in touch with his VAR - then nothing. Ramos scuttled away as the Kashima players protested furiously. The strong belief is Sikazwe was told to leave Ramos alone. The match went to extra-time and Madrid won! What a surprise!!

I have to be honest and say I hate the idea of our game being taken over in this way. The above example is one of how it's wide open to abuse. Doi's pen was arguable and signalled chaos. Look - on matters of 'fact' maybe, but even then I'm not convinced.

Here's the most recent example I can give you as to why I'm not. Was City's equaliser v Arsenal off-side? Even with the technology we can't all agree. For me it was. For a lot of others watching it wasn't.

How about Sterling s winner? The moment Silva makes an attempt to play that ball the new interpretation says he's off. If he wasn't then why was John Stones' goal v Soton disallowed? Aguero made a dart across the near post - tried to head a ball that he was nowhere near, and the flag went up. Stones was 'on'. So why wasn't Silva off? Again, no-one could agree, even with multiple replays available. In an argument like this whose 'opinion' do we rely on?

I was against goal line technology, not because it couldn't be useful, but I said when it was introduced that it would be the thin end of the wedge. I knew this impending mess would be forced upon us.

Our game is different to Rugby, Cricket, NFL and others where technology is already used. Those games have natural breaks, during which decisions can be discussed. I hate the idea of football going the same way.

 

Infantino says we need 'transparency and accuracy'. We need transparency all right, but we need that at FIFA! As for accuracy, yes - we should always be looking to improve standards, but if we sanitise our game completely what will we have left? What will there be to discuss? Not that I believe VAR will deliver. I actually think we'll end up arguing about even more! Maybe that's the strongest argument for adopting it! But it's not for me. You have been warned. 

Bravo Claudio

on Monday, 05 December 2016. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

I wonder when Pep Guardiola is gong to realise he made a dreadful mistake when he signed Claudio Bravo? We know Guardiola is a stubborn man. We know also that he has an unshakable belief in what he does, but he dropped a b*****k when he signed Bravo. He simply isn't good enough to keep goal for a team with City's ambitions.

You see, that's the key for me - 'keep goal'. Isn't that a 'goalkeepers' primary function? I can't remember another keeper ever because being signed because 'he's good with his feet'. I haven't seen much evidence that Bravo is, but that's another matter.

What I have seen is one blunder after another. I've seen an 'ordinary' goalkeeper not as good as the man he replaced.

I know I've previously said that it was no surprise to me that Guardiola wanted Joe Hart out. So did Mancini and I don't believe Pellegrini was ever that convinced Hart either.

He was a big presence in the dressing room and that's why I believe Guardiola had made his mind up to move him out even before he got to the club. He'd had that problem before, with Messi, and he wasn't about to let it happen again.

But to replace him with Bravo? I just don't understand.

Bravo announced himself to City fans by gift wrapping a present for Ibra in the derby. He's gone on to make one error after another and if we're honest, he was hopeless again at the weekend. What exactly was he trying to do as Willian scored Chelsea's 2nd?

In stark contrast I watched David de Gea rescue a point for United at Goodison - at least that's how it turned out. At 1-0 down he pulled off a stunning save from Kevin Mirallas - ironically with his feet! Baines pen meant United had to settle for a point, so that save became even more important.

For two seasons now de Gea has been United's best player. He 'saves' them time and again. Is he as good as Bravo with his feet? I've no idea, but I don't believe United have suffered too much if he isn't.

Do you remember Brian Clough signing Peter Shilton when he was at Forest and immediately announcing that the England keeper would be worth 10 points a season to them?  He was.

I can't remember a team ever winning anything without a top keeper. Schemeichel - did he play 'because he was good with his feet'? His son isn't bad either. Cech. Seaman. Flowers. Courtois. Van de Sar. Lehmann. These are a selection of top keepers. What do they have in common?   Of course, they all won P Lge title medals.

If a defence doesn't feel confident about the man behind them they're going to make mistakes. They're going to constantly feel on edge.

I've mentioned before that Guardiola is proud of the defensive records he had at both at Barca and Bayern. When he won his third Spanish title with Barca his team conceded just 21 goals in 38 matches - a rate of 0.55 goals per game. At Bayern he set a club and Bundesliga record 17 goals in 34 games. Of course he did - Neuer is a magnificent keeper, which helped - but if you've got the football for as long as Bayern and Barca always had it - against largely ordinary opposition - you won't concede goals. That's not rocket science is it? Our Premier Leagie is different. There are no easy games and there are more challengers for the big prizes.

Guardiola is a Cruyff disciple. He too believed in a 'keeper being able to 'play'. Jan Jongbloed could do that, but he couldn't keep goal. As a player Cruyff held tremendous sway in the Dutch dressing room and always insisted on Jongbloed playing during that glorious era for the Dutch in the 70's.  I'm not saying he lost them big games on his own, but he didn't 'win' many of them.

Bravo Claudio for having a go, but I don't believe City will look secure again until they change the keeper.

Well done Alan Pardew - what a relief for Palace fans that their team at last won at the weekend. I was pleased doe David Moyes and Sunderland as well. They're on a tidy run now.

Keep your eyes on Watford. I'm not convinced they can sustain their early season good fortune. There's always one team that drops like a stone. They're my pick this season.

As for West Ham - well - I'm not getting as much stick from Hammers' fans as I did a year ago. Maybe I was just one season out when I said they should 'be careful what they wished for' post Big Sam?

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