Waking giants...

Published: Thursday, 02 February 2017

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.

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Grandstand II? Why not?

Published: Wednesday, 01 February 2017

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!

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If you want loyalty - buy a dog.

Published: Sunday, 15 January 2017

'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.

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HalfWay. Happy?

Published: Monday, 02 January 2017

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.

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Transparency and accuracy?

Published: Monday, 19 December 2016

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.

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Bravo Claudio

Published: Monday, 05 December 2016

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.

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Smile Jose

Published: Monday, 28 November 2016

Would the real Jose Mourinho please stand up - and smile? Charm us. again. Captivate audiences again. Convince us again. Make us believe again.

I just don't understand what's happened to Mourinho. He's got the job he always coveted. What a wonderful job it is too. Ok, he's not off to the start he wanted, but there really is no need for the tantrums. There's no need either for the miserable face - or the constant smiling and moaning.

United aren't the 'unluckiest' team in the PL as Mourinho would have us believe. They're simply not very good right now - and that's his fault. I think United fans have been more than patient with him so far.  And why not? We're only 13 games into the season. Turning a juggernaut around takes time. The horrible truth for United fans is that your team has been in decline now for 5 years - yes, that process started when Fergie was in charge and he did nothing about it. Well, nothing? Not quite - he signed Robin van Persie, a 29 year old, on whom there was no return beyond his first season, when single handedly he won an 'ordinary' United the title. Fergie knew that - he got out - and still the fall and fall goes on.

None of the above is new. I've said it many times. One of the big problems at United is the sense of expectation. Because a generation of fans have known nothing but success they 'expect' nothing but success. I'm sorry, it doesn't work like that, but I did genuinely think Mourinho and Manchester United were perfect for each other. I actually thought they'd win the title this year. I couldn't see a reason why not.

They spent big, Mourinho got most of what he wanted, and I thought the fact that he knew our league would give him an edge over Conte/Koop and co. I would add I thought he was two top strikers short and I still believe he is. I got shouted down on that one by United fans, but was I wrong?

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Spurs - 'the nearly' men

Published: Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Now this admission might make me unique. Some might think the sun has finally got to me - but I really quite like Daniel Levy! And I think he's done a terrific job at Spurs - but....!  

He's been a constant and 'steady' figure at White Hart Lane now since 2001. Well, when I say steady, perhaps not quite as steady as some would've liked, but he's never shirked a decision. He hasn't always been right - but he hasn't wasted much time in correcting things once he's realised a mistake. 

He's not a man that seeks publicity. He's very private, which is why I felt privileged to have spent an afternoon in his company a few years back. The owner, Joe Lewis was also there. It was around the time both had realised good old 'Arry had to go before he inflicted much more damage on the club. 

We talked about that and a whole lot more - including Levy's plans for the new stadium that they're finally building. He's astute. And clever. He gets things done. Incidentally, how right was he about the Olympic Stadium? He wanted to knock it down and start again. He knew it was the only sensible solution to all the problems that West Ham have created for themselves by trying to do things on the cheap. 

Anyway, through much tumult he's put Spurs back in amongst the big boys. Now here's the 'but' I referred to earlier - having done that unless Spurs push on again they won't just be standing still - they'll be going backwards and wasting a wonderful chance to be C Lge regulars - maybe even regular title contenders - perhaps even regular title winners. 

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Gareth Southgate? I'm not holding my breath.

Published: Monday, 21 November 2016

Apologies that I've been so quiet lately and thank you for inspiring me to get going again. I had no idea how popular these musings had become! I'm flattered.

So Gareth Southgate passes the interview process to become England manager.  He was one of one in the running. I wish him well, but was there really nobody else? If not, why not? What a farce. Greg Clark, Dan Ashworth, Martin 'I'm not a football man' Glenn, Howard Wilkinson and Graeme Le Saux really had their work cut out didn't they?

I can hear them now 'Right gentlemen, let's get down to business. First item on the agenda is the new England manager. Let's make this an exhaustive and thorough process. We've got to get it right this time. How many candidates do we have?'  'Er, just the one Mr Chairman'. Honestly, if it wasn't so serious it would be funny.

I like Gareth, but he wouldn't be my choice. I'd have done everything in my power to persuade Glenn Hoddle to take it. At the very least, he should've been considered - interviewed maybe? Now there's a thought!

Southgate is a nice guy, and that's going to be his problem. He's 'mini' Hodgson, he'll play to the gallery too much. Roy didn't start like that, but he sure as hell finished like it, making decisions that the Press boys were screaming for.

Southgate dropped Rooney for his second game in charge v Slovenia, after he'd just skippered England to a 2-0 win v Malta. Why? Worse, he paraded him in front of a baying media to explain the decision. Why? He had him apologise for having a few drinks last weekend - with other England staff - whilst 12 players went on the missing list. Why? I'll tell you, because he was playing to the crowd. For me, it showed weakness, not strength. Back your man Gareth. What happens now we know that Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana were in a strip club in Bournemouth?

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Death by a thousand cuts

Published: Monday, 31 October 2016

It was Niall Quinn that said it - 'its like watching a death by a thousand cuts'. You could feel his pain. Quinny is one of the good guys. He's a Sunderland man through and through. Not only was he a fantastic - and as it turned out, irreplaceable centre-forward for the club - he went on to both buy it and then run it.

He came as close as anybody to restoring a grand old club to its rightful place in amongst the big boys. Well, when I say he did, both he and Steve Bruce did. They delivered Sunderland's only top ten finish since Peter Reid kept finishing seventh. That was quite a useful habit!

Quinny's managerial career wasn't quite as successful. His one game in charge ended in embarrassment when the Super Sky Blues tanned their arses at High field Road - ironically managed by Peter Reid! I'm half joking - it wasn't a s bad as I'm making out - but it was a defeat - and a rare enjoyable win for us!

Bruce filled the Stadium of Light and delivered for Quinn, by now Chairman, like no one else has done since.

And so back to the slow death that Quinny described after watching Sunderland being taken apart by Arsenal. It's sad to see them in such a mess. It's been a dreadful start for David Moyes, who now has the unenviable record of having delivered the worst ever P Lge start to any club's season. Cast your minds back a season and Sunderland won their tenth game of that campaign, beating Newcastle. That result gave them six points from their opening ten games and Big Sam went on to do what Big Sam does - he got performances from a team well beyond their capabilities. And, of course, he kept them up. Now Sunderland have just two points. They're going down. And not before time.

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