MO has a right to tell his story

Published: Thursday, 05 September 2019

What a strange world we live in. I thought I’d mention that in case you hadn’t noticed!!

Mo has stirred a few things up with his book hasn’t he? Michael Owen that is.

My initial reaction to Day 1 of his autobiography ‘Reboot’ was ‘why?’ On reflection I decided ‘why not?’

He’s spent a decade being pilloried for his ‘disloyalty’ to Newcastle - for his refusal to throw his lot in with Alan Shearer’s attempts to keep the Geordies in the PL during Shearer’s ill-feted time in charge at St James’.

I’ve regarded Alan as a mate for a long time now. I’ve defended him stoutly - not least against my governors at Sky who wanted to stop using him when he worked for us -because he was ‘dull’. As a player - I argued - he had to be careful and couldn’t go round battering everybody. I’m proud to say those that supported him won the argument and he’s gone on to become a very good observer of football. I still hate the description ‘pundit’.

So naturally I’ve tended to side with him when arguments have raged on boozy nights - and never more so than on gloriously warm evenings in Qatar. I’ve never really known Michael.

We loved winding Alan up when Michael burst onto the England scene - in the same circumstances that he describes Wayne Rooney did when he was a senior pro! Alan hated Michael stealing ‘his’ headlines. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s happened all through the generations.

It also happens in our business. As journalists we’re always looking to steal a march on the opposition - who’re probably employing our ‘mate’. We all enjoy getting one over in the opposition. That explains why The Mail have hammered Michael this week - because they didn’t get the serialisation rights. But they’ve loved every minute of being able to hunt about for a line to discredit Michael. It’s always been that way. I had it. I worked for Murdoch - so when they time came to get stuck in on me and Andy - the whole Press world went after us. Because they were looking to tuck us up - so did the Murdoch Press. That’s when you know you’ve got no chance!

Only one person was to blame for Alan failing at Newcastle - and that’s Alan. (Iain Dowie’s didn’t help - but Alan bizarrely appointed him) And he knows it. I too have heard all the stories about Michael not being prepared to put his body on the line at the end of that season. We all have. But ask yourself - would you? Aside from the fact that Michael was injured - he had no contract offer. Imagine if he’d picked up another one like the injury that he got playing for England during his time at Newcastle. What then?

So Michael is right to put the record straight and we should allow him the courtesy of doing so.

Alan also knows that at one stage he was on his way to Liverpool. Just like Steven Gerrard was joining Chelsea at one time. This nonsense about loyalty makes me laugh.

‘Loyalty’ is generally for bang ordinary players that won’t ever get a chance to move - or for those that have got everything they want - a salary that rewards their talent and medals. Alan once told me ‘medals don’t buy shoppin’’. Well I can’t imagine Ryan Giggs has ever struggled to fill his shopping basket!

I had murders with a gobby modern day analyst when I backed Raheem Sterling’s decision to leave Liverpool. I was right. He went to mix with better players and has become one of the top 5 in the world. Never mind ‘we gave him his chance’. It’s the same with Bobby Duncan. Good luck to the lad. If he’s prepared to back his own ability - let him go. We didn’t notice Jadon Sancho slip out of the back door - but what a good decision he made to go and play in Germany.

It’s a ridiculous old fashioned argument that these lads should ‘keep their feet’ on the ground - ‘serve time’ and earn buttons. Nonsense. In any walk of life you want as much as you can get for your work. Why not?

It won’t be long before we see the first £1m/week footballer. Again - why not? American owners know the value of talent. Look at the money they pay NFL stars. No-one complains when Rod Stewart pulls in a £1m for a concert. Or when Lewis Hamilton earns £1m every time he parks his backside in an F1 car. It’s coming - wether Les Reed likes it or not. No Les - the reason the U21’a failed recently was largely because you and Aidy Boothroyd got it wrong.

I didn’t think I’d ever find myself agreeing with much that Roy Keane has to say - but he too has a right to his opinion. He’s been pilloried for suggesting that Alex Ferguson isn’t a nice man and that he could’ve done more to protect him towards the end of his career at Old Trafford. Agreed Roy - Fergie is an acquired taste - but he also happens to be the most successful manager the game has ever known. That wouldn’t have been possible if he hadn’t made decisions for ‘himself’. I’m sure I could find a dozen or so footballers that would say the same thing about you. When you’re at the top of the pyramid you have to be selfish - but you’d also better be good to justify being so.

Perhaps that’s why things didn’t work

out for Shearer at Newcastle. I’ve told the story before of Ray Wilkins telling me he’d ‘suffocate’ those lads at the time. Ray saw it early. Ray was right. Alan’s reputation didn’t inspire them - it frightened them.

It’s a great shame that Shearer wasn’t afforded the chance to put things right the following season. I don’t know why he wasn’t, but I’ll guess it was something to do with money. I remember telling Alan at the time ‘tell Ashley you’ll do it for nothing - you’ve had enough money out of the club down the years. Tell him to reward you at the end of the season’. My thinking was that Alan could so something that nobody else had ever done and make himself a real hero. Show some loyalty. Oh no - wait a minute......

So how many BAME candidates have been interviewed?

Published: Tuesday, 20 August 2019

It was in June this year that the EFL grandly announced that they’d be adopting the Rooney Rule - you know the one - the regulation in the NFL, where teams are required to interview ethnic minority candidates for head coaching jobs.

The EFL’s is a variation of it. At their annual meeting they all agreed a voluntary 18-month trial in a bid to help more BAME candidates break into first team posts.

Since then - Darren Moore has found work at Doncaster. But there were 18 other appointments in the EFL last summer - and the only other BAME coach to be appointed was Sabri Lamouchi at Forest. Is that enough? Is two BAME coaches progress?

It’s commendable that the EFL took the decision that it did. The lack of BAME coaches in our game was something that Andy and I were constantly talking about when we were on the radio. I have to say - not too many people were interested in the subject back then.

But what I’d really like to know is this - so there were 19 appointments in total before the season kicked off - how many BAME candidates were interviewed for those jobs? I don’t want to know who - I’d just like to know the number.

You see it’s one thing talking a good game - but it’s quite another taking action. I honestly don’t know - but I’ll bet the majority of those clubs appointing a new manager didn’t even bother to interview a BAME candidate.

In the PL did Newcastle before appointing Steve Bruce? Did United before appointing Solskjaer? Chelsea? Brighton? Let’s go further back - did Villa? Southampton? Everton? I’ll guarantee you - no, they didn’t.

So how are we ever to overcome this problem? A problem that manifests itself now all the way through our game - a problem that society still hasn’t dealt with as we’ve seen time and again already this season.

So Paul Pogba had a penalty saved (and it was that - saying he ‘missed’ gives the keeper no credit at all). So did Tammy Abraham. So what? Neither intended to. Neither wanted to. They just did. It’s football. It happens. Does it mean that hundreds of mindless scum bags on Twitter and the various other social media outlets should abuse them in the way they have? Of course not.

The people that do are not right in the head. They’re cowards - sick people - hiding behind anonymous accounts. I know. They abuse me on other subjects - personal matters that they know absolutely nothing about, only nonsense that they’ve been fed - often by the same sloppy journalists and newspapers that want to operate on both sides of the line.

I liked Harry Maguire’s tweet, suggesting that the likes of Twitter could do more to ensure only genuine accounts can be registered. It’s a great idea to have people give up passport details or a drivers licence before they can open an account. Why not? ‘Ah, that’s an invasion of privacy’ I can hear some of you say. Really? If so - it’s a price worth paying.

But banning these idiots isn’t the only solution - we’re simply forcing the problem underground if we do that. No - we’ve got to educate. We’ve got to make an effort to change the way people think. Only action from the very top is going to do that. So let’s not simply talk the good talk. Let’s talk and then walk. Let’s do something positive. So - EFL - how many BAME candidates were interviewed for managerial vacancies last summer. Can the PL answer that question too? Please?

As for the football - I think the game at Chelsea all but summed up my early season predictions for both. Chelsea are short - short of ‘men’ and ‘leaders’. Leicester, I believe, will surprise a few - and in James Maddison they’ve got quite a player. He’s a Cov Kid so I’ve watched his progress closely. Gareth - get him into your mid-field now and build around him. He’s Glenn Hoddle in disguise.

I loved the way he jumped in to protect Wilfred Ndidi in that excruciating post match tv interview. Poor Ndidi - ‘well, you dropped a real bollock today - just one last thing - head up - and can you give this to James? He was Man of the Match’. Wow.

It’s good to see Arsenal have started well. Again - I did say - there wasn’t a lot wrong there.

It hasn’t been the start Steve Bruce wanted - but what makes two defeats a crisis? It was November 3 last season before Newcastle won a league game. In 2014 and 2015 it took them until October 18. Crisis? What crisis? I’ll bet Bruce has three points on the board some time before November 3.

Thoughts are with everybody at Bury this week. Please god may their problems be solved. This might be naive - but is there any reason why the Manchester giants couldn’t donate a few quid to get them out of trouble? Look at the money United wasted on Alexis Sanchez - £8m a goal. Something like that would help.

My fear is if Bury go - it’ll start a mini trend and others will follow. We can’t afford to let that happen.

With domestic tv rights worth less in the last round of of negotiations EFL clubs have had their share of the money cut again. Come on guys - this isn’t fair. We need leadership from the big boys on all kinds of things - and we haven’t got it right now.

VAR - as clear as mud

Published: Monday, 12 August 2019

I promised myself during the summer that I wouldn’t get involved this season in the various VAR controversies and, as far as I can, I intend for that to be the case. Regulars know my feelings about it - and they’re not going to change. Those that have created this mess now need to get on and sort it out.

But - I’ve got to say this. Under no circumstances can we allow the game in our country to be refereed from ‘the office’. It is absolutely ridiculous that match defining decisions are being decided by studio technicians and - in effect - a 5th official. It also flies in the face of IFAB (The International Football Association Board) regulations that clearly state that VAR should be nothing more than ‘an aid to the match referee’. ‘An aid’. What’s hard to understand about that?

In every other country now using VAR the match referee will consult a pitch side monitor to make the final call on - in effect - matters of opinion. I don’t like VAR - I don’t want it - but I accept that we’ve got it - so let’s use it properly.

It is beyond comprehension that our officials have been told not to use the monitor - that decisions will be made for them from the VAR bunker. It’s unacceptable.

What a mug Andre Marriner must feel - having awarded Wolves a perfectly good goal at the weekend - only for Jon Moss - in his office- to rule it out 98 seconds later. It’s madness. Ok - Moss believed he’d seen an offence. Tell Marriner - let him go to the monitor to see if he agrees. If he does - fine. But the match day ref HAS to have the final say. It just isn’t good enough for those calls to be made any other way. It flies in the face of protocol. It’s wrong. There’s no other way to put it. UEFA or FIFA - whichever of those ruling bodies it falls to - should be on the phone to Mike Riley today and insist he instruct our officials to follow the same protocol as every other league and competition in the world.

This arrogance - always believing that ‘we’ - the English - know best is why we are so deeply disliked around the world. I have nothing more to say about VAR other than the B-A-R needs to be raised. And quick.

As for the football - it was business as usual for City. I couldn’t believe the ease with which they blew West Ham away. I honestly expected more from the Hammers.

Liverpool won at a canter didn’t they? For 45 minutes they were fantastic. At their best they’re a joy to watch.

Villa had a good go at Spurs before finally succumbing. And I’m so relieved that we won’t be talking about August being an unlucky month for Harry Kane! He’s scored in August already!!

I thought there were some really positive signs for United. Quite literally, they looked like their old selves in a proper United kit. I hated those black shorts. Solskjaer will be cautious about what he saw, but it was enormously encouraging.

Arsenal didn’t have to do a lot. Most pleasing for Unai Emery will be the clean sheet I imagine. There wasn’t much of a threat, but they were solid and with Aubameyang around you’ve always got a chance.

It’s not really fair to make too many judgements on one weekend, but it’s Chelsea that should be most concerned.

I desperately want Frank Lampard to do well, but he’s got a bigger job on than I’d first thought.

Chelsea were neat and tidy - no more. They didn’t really lay a glove on United. They were ‘nice’. I don’t believe anyone is expecting them to finish in the top 4, but I’m not sure if they’re even going to make top 6. To me they looked like an ordinary mid-table team.

Lampard’s biggest problem has to be that there nothing he can do about it. He’s going to have to work with what he’s got. In too many areas they looked lightweight - not least up top. Again, let’s not to too quick to judge Tammy Abraham, but he simply doesn’t look like a Chelsea player. Not a Chelsea player from the ‘power’ years. And has anyone seen sight of Roman Abramovic? I honestly think he’s given up on them and if that’s the case then it’s all over at The Bridge - unless Abramovich can find an equally rich buyer to hand the club onto. As for that new stadium - forget it. It won’t happen.

If they do fall away - who’s going to fill the gap? I still fancy Leicester, despite an ordinary day out on Sunday. There’s no reason now why West Ham shouldn’t be thinking that way - and after another big summer spend Everton should as well - but they also look light at the top end.

Last word to Brendan Rodgers ‘some weeks VAR will work for you - others it won’t’. Really? Why do we need it then? Isn’t that what we used to say about refereeing decisions?

You know - time was we used to judge a good ref on how little we’d noticed him. Somehow the officials have now elevated themselves into the most important people at a match. Damn - and I said I wouldn’t mention VAR again. 😂😂

It should be Liverpool’s title

Published: Friday, 09 August 2019

First question. Which idiot decided it was a good idea to shut the PL transfer window before any other European League. You couldn’t make it up. Why? It’s madness. I’ve heard the argument that it ‘cleans up’ the process so all our teams start knowing what they’ve got to work with. But it doesn’t.

The other big leagues in Europe don’t shut their windows until early September so it’s still possible for them to come and raid our top talent.   Are Spurs sure Christian Erikssen will be with them in September? What about Wilf Zaha? Already his advisors are saying that they’ll try and push through a move to Spain - where I think he’d be a real success - simply to spite Steve Parrish. What if Real
or Barca now make a big money move for - say - Marcus Rashford? Where does that leave United?

It’s ok saying ‘well, they don’t have to sell’, but really you do. The promise of big money from big moves unsettles players. I don’t care that Palace are happy they’ve still got Wilf on the books. On paper they have - but where’s his head? What about his attitude now he’s been denied what he claims the Chairman promised him - a move if the right money was offered? Palace have lost him anyway. His head is elsewhere now. He’s angry. He might not be the real Wilf Zaha ever again at Selhurst Park. He wants out - simple.

The solution is that UEFA should come up with a common window that suits all. And it’s pointless English clubs ‘showing the way’. The rest of Europe is laughing at us. They don’t care. Any advantage they can take they will.

Anyway - here we go. Who’s finishing where - and who’s done the best business?  

A couple of years ago I said that no-one would ever spend a better £8m than Liverpool had on Andrew Robertson. Inevitably I was asked if I’d lost my mind. Eight million on a left back from relegated Hull? I wasn’t wrong though was I? What a player.

My best value in this window? It’s a 3-way split. Arsenal have pulled off a massive coup in getting David Luiz out of Chelsea. I know he’s not the best ‘defender’ in the world - but he’s a lot lot better than he’s ever been given credit for. He’s a ‘man’. He’s a leader. He’s exactly what they need - someone  to knock players heads together. Someone to step forward in a crisis. A voice to be heard when things aren’t going well.  

He’s a modern day defender. Never mind that Harry Maguire ‘breaks the lines’. My goodness, Luiz has been doing that for years. And if there’s a centre-back playing that knocks a better diagonal ball that he does I haven’t seen him. Emery knows all this. They had time at PSG together, where Paris loved him for his leadership qualities. It’s great business. Have a look at what he’s won. You don’t do that by being ordinary.

I said after that miserable Europa League performance that I didn’t think there was much wrong at Arsenal - which of course drew the usual slew of abuse. But I stand by that. A leader and centre back was required. Done. A good left back was also required. Done. Kieran Tierney is another really good piece of business. For me it’s nip and tuck between him and Robertson - and the same goes for a couple of Scotland managers, who’ve had the dilemma of choosing one or the other. Right now Robertson is better - but give Tierney a season in the PL and you watch.

Second on my list of ‘top buys’ is Fabian Delph. What a steal. Ten million for someone with his kind of experience? It’s robbery. He’s Everton’s James Milner. Again - like Luiz and Milner - a top pro. He’s got a great attitude to playing and winning. Like the other two - he’s got vast experience. Like the other two he can play in a variety of positions. And although he’s 29 - in terms of ‘game
miles’ he’s nowhere near that. A terrific buy.

Third is Che Adams. Southampton have got a steal. If this kid progresses as he should he’ll be a superstar. I watched a lot of him last season and boy - can he finish. He’s a handful. He gets all types of goals. I can’t believe that more didn’t go in. He’s just what Everton need. And Newcastle. Perhaps Leicester. Why didn’t one of the big boys have a nibble? Perhaps they did and perhaps Adams has smartly realised that he needs games to progress. He’ll get them at Southampton where he’ll also get a bag full of goals.

Now the dangerous business of predictions! Ask City and Liverpool fans if they would’ve swapped trophies last season and the answer is ‘yes’. I’m working largely on that basis now. I predicted Liverpool to win the league adding ‘if they don’t win it this season they never will’. I retract that. I said it because I genuinely thought it was their best chance ever. They did great business in the January bringing in Van Dijk and I love watching them play their ‘Rock and Roll’ football. Give me that over a possession based game all day long.

My only reservation for them now is that they might end up playing too many games. It remains to be seen how seriously being involved with the World Club Championship affects them.

So. 1 Liverpool. 2. City. Whatever Guardiola says I don’t believe that he doesn’t desperately want to get his hands on the CL. He still hasn’t won it - or got anywhere near winning it without Messi. That statistic must annoy him. And he’s now got a team every hit as good as that Barcelona team he coached - Messi aside.

3. It’s got to be Spurs. But please, shut up Poch. You’re becoming new Rafa. Stop complaining. If you don’t want to be there - leave. Put a cheeky fiver on Mourinho taking over if that happened!

4. Arsenal. This will surprise a few, but I repeat, I really didn’t think there was a lot wrong last season. They finished really well - the Europa League final aside. And I don’t believe there’s a team better equipped at the top end than they are. There’s goals everywhere.

5. Chelsea. Frank has got it all on but I wish him all the luck in the world. It’s great to see a Brit involved with one of our big clubs again.

6. United. I just can’t see where they’ve improved enough to be any better than last season. And losing  Lukaku without replacing him is reckless. Maguire is good - but is he really much better than anything they have? Not for me. Yes - he ‘breaks lines’ - but then what does he do? Too often he stops and passes sideways or back. Is he as good as Van Dijk? No chance. I don’t think he’s even as as as Laporte. It’s a very expensive £85/90m for me.

One to watch? I think Leicester will go well. They’ve got some good players. They’ll upset a few. I know we chuckle a bit at ‘Brenton’ - and his ‘Brentonisms’ - but Rodgers is a very good coach. He deserves another crack at the PL.

This will surprise their fans - but I think West Ham will go well too.

A lot of people expect Wolves to be mixing it at the top again. I’m not sure. ‘Second season syndrome’ is dangerous - especially when there’s the distraction of Europe.

Watford proved me wrong last season. I love Troy Deeney. With him
around you’ve always got a chance.

I like a lot of Everton’s business but I just don’t think there’s enough goals in them.  Zaha would’ve been something completely different.

This is where it gets really hard. The bottom four!

Norwich have to finish bottom. They’ve spent just over a million. That’s nowhere near enough. They’ll surprise a few at home - but I fear they’re going to take a few beatings. If Farke is still there at Christmas I’ll be surprised but sacking him won’t make a difference. In fact, it would be very unfair after what he’s achieved.

Then it’s two from three. Without Zaha I think Palace will struggle. They desperately need him. I’m a big fan. I know you’re thinking ‘but they’ve got him’. Have they? Or should they have cashed in early and done business to replace him?

I fear for Brighton. It’s great to see tue likes of Graham Potter getting a chance, but if he makes them too easy to beat they’ll struggle.

Time might just catch up with Bournemouth. They went off like a steam train early last season - but look at their form from late November. I like Eddie Howe a lot, but perhaps both he and Bournemouth need a different challenge?

Sheffield United and Villa won’t find it easy - but they’ve both done good business. Chris Wilder and Dean Smith are good guys - good coaches too. Enjoy it lads. 

Newcastle will do ok. Believe me. What a breath of fresh air Steve Bruce will be. He’ll get them playing - and they’ve got the players to do that - unlike Brighton, who can’t afford to. It was so refreshing to hear Bruce talk about winning a trophy. He knows they can’t complete in the top 6. Those days have gone - unless you’re owned by a Nation State or a billionaire. But Newcastle CAN win a trophy if the coach cares enough about silverware and not his bonus for grinding out a top 10 finish.

VAR - let’s not go there. Suffice to say it will cause more arguments than it settles.

And all these new kits? I’ll pass judgement as we go on #beINSPORTS - but I like the majority. In brief - it’s great to see United back in a ‘proper’ strip. I hated the black shorts. And Arsenal’s is pure class. Enjoy your season...

Why Steve Bruce was right to take Newcastle

Published: Thursday, 18 July 2019
My goodness. There are some angry people in the world. Not just angry - plain rude as well. Experts in everything  who actually know nothing about the subject they’re mouthing  off about. I refer to my private life. I will not dignify the scandalous bullying and character assassination by commenting beyond saying I am a father and husband that gave everything and more to his family. Not once did I come up short. Ever.
Now. Let’s get round to the original reason for breaking my summer holiday promise that I wouldn’t blog again until the season started - Steve Bruce. Good on you Brucey. It takes a ‘man’ to step into the chaos and abuse you’re now getting - simply for fulfilling a lifetimes ambition. After previously saying ‘no’ - he’s now got the job he grew up dreaming of. Just like Bobby Robson. Do you all remember when Bob took it - at a time when Newcastle were owned by another vilified owner - the late Freddy Shepherd? Remember him? Poor fella. He got pelters for doing his best at St James’ Park. Some people have got very short memories eh? I remember saying when Mike Ashley ripped the club from beneath his hospital bed that some time soon Newcastle fans would look back on the ‘Shepherd Years’ with affection. Guess what? Yep. I got hammered then as well.
Bruce is the right man for the job now. He knows the club. He knows what the supporters want. They want to be entertained and have fun when they watch their team play. Oh for Keegan’s wonderful entertainers.
I’m not suggesting that there aren’t issues at Newcastle. Of course there are - but back a man like Mike Ashley into a corner and you’re only making things worse. Benitez did that - and played poker with a poor hand.
None of us wants to be beaten up Ashley constantly is. I’m equally sure he meant it a couple of years ago when he said he wasn’t going anywhere until Newcastle won something. Fingers crossed if you’re a Newcastle fan - Brucey might just make that happen!
‘Sell it’ Geordie fans scream. That club has been for sale for 5 years. The question is ‘why won’t it sell’? Is it because it’s toxic? I refer again to the late Freddy Shepherd. He couldn’t escape brutal criticism - even when he went deeply into personal debt to fund the club. Nor could Sir John Hall. And he gave the Geordies their club back - and Keegan. I ask you - what’s the ‘up’ side to owning Newcastle? I’m sorry - but it’s true.
Bruce is apparently a ‘dinosaur’. Funny that. We used to call a guy like him ‘experienced’. All his life he’s been working toward this. There have been highs and lows in his career.  On the upside - 4 promotions with bang ordinary teams. He gave Wigan their highest ever PL finish. He was the last man to finish in the top 10 with Sunderland, before being sacked because he couldn’t deny his heart really lay at St James’. He’s managed in a mad house at Hull. He laid the foundations for Villa to go up last season - and that’s in no way a slight on Dean Smith. Dean did a fantastic job to get it over the line. No, Bruce has a vast library of experiences to call on in a situation like this.
He was apparently little more than 11th choice for the job. Nonsense. That story came from China via a Spanish football ‘expert’. A British broadcaster ran with it - newspapers repeated it. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Sloppy lazy journalism. When I started in this line of work my first editor told me ‘check - check it again. And then check it again’. No-one could’ve checked that fairy tale.
I’ve tweeted on the subject of Benitez. I’ve blogged. I’ve said he deserved great credit for staying and getting them back after relegation - but he did have the biggest budget in the C’ship and being able to sign 18 players helped. 18 players for £102m. Fact Rafa. Chris Hughton did the same job on relatively buttons.
Which brings me to Alan Shearer’s comments saying he told Bruce not to take it. Why? They spent most of the summer together. Alan knew how it was all unfolding. Why not back his mate publicly and get Geordies on his side? I know Alan has issues with Ashley. The owner was wrong to turn Shearer’s bar into the ‘No 9’ bar. Alan is a legend at St James’ - but he forgive Ashley for turfing him out after he took them down. I remember the time well. I remember my little mate Ray Wilkins telling me after Chelsea had played them - in Alan’s first game I think - ‘Keysie, he’ll suffocate them. It won’t work’. How right was he? I must say Alan’s strange choice of assistant didn’t help. Iain Dowie didn’t do him any favours - certainly not the night I sat with him having dinner in Newcastle and he told me ‘it’s not my team yet’. ‘Yet’? Ffs. I’ll never forget that. Not quite the No2 you want covering your backside eh?
At the start of the following season Alan was in turmoil because he couldn’t nail the job. It was obviously a money issue. I called and said ‘Do it for nothing. You don’t need the money. Tell Ashley to pay you at the end of the season when you’ve got them up. You’ll cement your legendary status in concrete. He can’t turn an offer like that down’. Chris Hughton got the job. Come on Al. Give Brucey your public backing. At the end of the day - it’s Newcastle. It’s not Ashley.
Ashley will eventually leave. There been at least two bidders in the data room all summer - but still no resolution. Let’s hope for all our sakes there is soon, but if Newcastle fans want an example of bad owners look at Bolton. At Coventry. At Bury. At Blackpool. I could go on.
Newcastle are a PL team. Of course they could go down - but I don’t believe they will. If Bruce has got a deal like his predecessors then his bonuses will click in if he finishes 10th or better. Is that why Rafa always tossed off the Cup competitions? Steve Bruce is a proud Geordie. Managing Newcastle won’t mean as much to anyone else working in the game. My message to him would be ‘Good luck - and now go and win something’. Brucey knows better than anyone that it’s time someone did that at St James’ Park.

Our top 2 are also Europe’s best

Published: Monday, 03 June 2019

So now we know. The top 2 clubs in England are also the best in Europe. And by some distance.

The only debate left is which of the two of them is No.1? I don’t have an answer to that. There’s a strong case for both.

What City did this season was sensational. Never before had a team won all three domestic trophies - and but for a VAR mistake in the 2nd leg of their CL 1/4 final against Spurs - who knows - they could’ve gone on and made it four.

That’s why we always judge a team by what it does in the league. It’s a much fairer way to assess - across a ‘marathon’ and not a short Cup ‘sprint’. Winning a Cup competition often involves a huge chunk of luck - good fortune that United had in Paris for example. That Spurs had in Amsterdam. That Liverpool had against Barcelona. To win a title takes consistency across the best part of nine months and 38 games. But Liverpool had that this season too. How can you lose just one league game - pick up 97 points and yet still not win the title? Because City were one point better - that’s all. How often do we talk about tiny margins in football?

Over the last third, time and again Liverpool asked a question of City. Every time they responded. It was an incredible run-in. City still had enough left in the tank to go and spank Watford - only to see Liverpool top that and win in Madrid. The two of them - incredible teams.

Every time Klopp’s response was ‘I’ll see you - and raise you’.

I know winning the title is the benchmark - I’ve just said that - but do you know what - I’ve got a sneaky feeling Guardiola would’ve given it up to win the CL. And for sure Klopp would swap.

Why do I say that? Because Guardiola knows that he’s consistently failed in Europe since leaving Barcelona. Or to put that another way - he’s failed to win the CL without Messi. That irritates him.

We don’t know how long he’ll stay at City. It wouldn’t surprise me if next season was his last. Unlike the time I knew he’d take the job and said so 18 months before he did - I have no knowledge to support that thought. It’s just a hunch. If I’m right - he’ll definitely want to win it next season and if he does - what else is there to achieve at City?

I know any kind of Liverpool success is hard to swallow for the neutrals. I get it. It’s not because we don’t like Klopp or we don’t admire his team - we do. I’d rather watch them play their ‘rock and roll’ football any day of the week than City’s ‘precision’ game. So it’s a question for their supporters - why is there this deep dislike of Liverpool? It’s a wonderful club, with a fabulous history.

Let me put it like this. I remember an era when every opposition ‘keeper would be roundly applauded at The Kop End. I watched a YouTube video recently in which Don Revie was gushing in his praise of Anfield in general. This was after a Monday night goalless draw at Liverpool - a result that secured his Leeds team the title, Billy Bremner and his mates edged towards The Kop on the final whistle - to be greeted with the raucous cry of ‘Champions....Champions’. Liverpool finished that season second. Class. Absolute class. I couldn’t see that kind of thing happening today. It’s a shame. I’ve been a victim of modern day Liverpool fans’ vicious trolling - and doubtless I will be again for having the temerity to point this out.

Anyway, let alone the rest of the PL, what can Europe’s best now do to stop the English dominance? Let’s not forget that the Europe League final was also fought out between two English teams.

My guess is that they will get their way with a re-vamped CL. It’s the Juve Chairman Andrea Agnelli who’s proposing a ‘pyramidal Pan European League System’ that includes promotion and relegation - the latter only for the few. The big boys would be protected. They’ll win this battle with UEFA.

And how long before these games are being played on a Friday night all over the world? ‘Globalisation’ is coming. Believe me. We’ll be watching Real v United in New York as City play against Juve in Beijing. It’ll be Milan v Bayern in Doha. PSG v Liverpool in Delhi. Trust me - it’s coming. American owners of PL clubs will see the sense in this. So too the Chinese. And City’s Arab masters.

There’s no more TV money for PL clubs under the current structure. Playing in front of your ‘fans’ all round the world is a very good way of expanding the market. And charge what - £9.99 let’s say - pay per view? Imagine the revenues then, with the competition in the hands of one broadcaster. It’s a giant leap from Richard Scudamore’s 39th game, but every big league has got a version of that now - except the PL. Looking back, how right was Scudamore?

It won’t happen at the next round of negotiations - but a format like this, or similar, won’t be far away. In my view - it’ll happen certainly within the next decade. Before you dismiss the idea entirely, never underestimate the modern day football club owner. None of them is in it to make losses. And who would’ve ever thought we’d see our game refereed by tv technicians in slow-mo? That’s what we’ll be watching next season.

The Greatest Title Race....?

Published: Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Was it really The Greatest Title Race in history? I’m not sure. 1967 wasn’t bad with Coventry and Wolves going nip and tuck to get out of the old Second Division!! I jest - of course!

My verdict on what we’ve just witnessed? Fascinating. Engaging. Invigorating. Dramatic. Breathtaking. Fill in the gap with your own thoughts...............! I loved every minute of it.

The best? I’m still not sure. But I am certain of this - both teams deserve huge credit. When it got serious neither blinked. I kept waiting for someone to slip but neither did. As good as City were recovering from their dramatic CL exit - so were Liverpool in going toe to toe with them. And Jurgen Klopp has returned The Reds to the top table of European football. Once again we can describe them as one of the ‘super-powers’. City have had a seat at the same table for a while now - but what they did this season was confirm that the balance of power has now truly shifted in Manchester. Next season their big game won’t be the derby - it’ll be against Liverpool - just as it used to be for United.

On the basis of what we saw this season the top two are light years ahead of United at the moment. And before you start the abuse about my obsession with United - let me point out that for 25 years they’ve been the benchmark - so it’s only natural to draw those comparisons.

It’ll be tough on Liverpool if their season ends without a trophy, but I’ve got to admit a soft spot for Spurs in the upcoming CL Final. Daniel Levy has taken so much stick down the years for his stewardship of that club, but he’s delivered hasn’t he? So has Poch.

Of course, it’s not inconceivable that both Euro trophies could end up in North London. Wouldn’t that be quite something? It’s not as dramatic as in Manchester - but Spurs have now tilted the power balance away from Arsenal.

It’s got to be said that Mauricio Sarri had a really good season. Two Cup Finals and a top 4 finish. Did we really think that was possible last August? But his real test will come if UEFA are able to enforce the transfer embargo.

I’m confused by all that. It’s something we’ve discussed a lot on Keys&Gray on #beINSPORTS this year. How can football’s authorities react to information revealed by hacking whilst the founder of Football Leaks sits in jail in Portugal awaiting trial for doing just that? Rui Pinto, a Portuguese citizen, dribbled embarrassing info on Benfica Sporting Lisbon and Porto into the public domain and its for those ‘crimes’ that he’ll go on trial. He’s alleged to have been behind many more leaks - not least allegations of third party ownership at Twente. We should be grateful to him. Meanwhile UEFA uses hundreds of leaked emails to prosecute some of the biggest clubs in the world for alleged irregularities. We can’t have it both ways.

Back to United. I smiled today when I read the Solskjaer is going to be handed a £125m war chest to re-build at Old Trafford. Really? That won’t but you one top player these days. Nothing short of the best part of another billion will be enough. And Solskjaer shouldn’t be the man spending it. He’s the wrong man, as I argued here days after he was confirmed in the job. What nonsense we heard from the ‘circle of Ferguson’ about him being ‘at the wheel’. The right man is at Tottenham. I ask again - which other PL club would’ve appointed the X-manager of Molde to their hot seat? None of them would. Simply none. It was madness. Ed Woodward should step aside now and let somebody else appoint Solskjear’s successor whilst getting on with re-structuring the club. Right now United won’t finish in the top 6 next season.

I’m hugely disappointed that Brighton sacked Chris Hughton. I like the Bloom brothers. The club is lucky to be in the ownership of a ‘fan’ - Tony Bloom. It’s rare these days. But come on Tony - what didn’t Chris do this season that suggested you’d progressed again? He was a whisker from an FA Cup Final. He delivered that experience and kept you up. What else can a club of Brighton’s stature expect? I’m bemused, but I’ll retain an affection for the club! I know this as well though - somebody is going to get a really good man when they appoint Hughton.

I got two of the bottom 3 right. I was wrong about Watford. They’ve had another fantastic year - whatever happens next Saturday at Wembley.

Marco Silva didn’t better Big Sam’s finish, but Everton ended the season well. It’s to be hoped they push on again next time round.

Wolves were terrific. It was a pleasure watching them.

Well done West Ham - although I’m not sure finishing three places better then they did last season justified a £100m spend.

Eddie Howe and Bournemouth have big decisions to make. If they hadn’t had such a bright start they’d have been in real trouble. Has Howe taken them as far as he can? Perhaps it’s time for both to look elsewhere?

Ralf Hassenhutl did his job. And did it very well. And what about Dychey? Brilliant again. No nonsense. No frills. He ground out a comfortable finish after the flirtation with Europe had got Burnley into terrible trouble. There’s a lesson there for the smaller clubs.

I’m finishing by returning to my original question. Was it the best title race in history? It was good. It was very very good. But the best? I would say ‘one of...’

Why is van Dijk PoY?

Published: Monday, 29 April 2019

In April 1860 the Pony Express, in operation for only 18 months, set a new record of travelling the 1800 miles from St. Joseph Missouri, to Sacramento California, in just 10 days. This was ground-breaking stuff.

I got to wondering this week if the PFA still collect votes for their Player of the Year nominations the same way? I couldn’t think of another sensible reason why - in the age of the interweb thingy and many other modern communication methods - they announce their man/woman two weeks before the end of the season.

The PFA say they need time to ‘collect the votes’. Are they serious? Time to collect votes....? I’m writing this blog - and you’ll be reading it less than 10 seconds after I publish. Time to collect votes....? This is hilarious. The night the season ends everybody with a vote should hit a button with their decision. Technology would give us a decision almost immediately. What kind of world do the PFA live in? Have they even got phones and electrickery at their HQ?

Virgil van Dijk has had a fabulous season - but we don’t know yet if he’ll be topping it off with one, two or no medals at all. What if Raheem Sterling steers City over the line with two hat-tricks on the next two weekends? And I have to say, as good as Van Dijk has been so has Aymeric Laporte at the heart of City’s defence. I don’t understand how the PFA can make their awards before the season has ended. And as for Paul Pogba in the PL team of the year? Most United fans wouldn’t even have him in their team. It’s nonsense. Absolute nonsense. If the PFA really are undergoing ‘root and branch’ change - then this is one area that they need to sort out before next season.

In the same spirit I tweeted my Manager of the Year over the weekend. I wondered what reaction I’d get. It’s too early to decide of course, but I do genuinely think Chris Wilder has to be a contender. What a job he’s done at Bramall Lane. And not just there. He took Northampton out of League 2 with 100 points plus. He got The Blades out of League 1 touching that same number. And now he’s landed PL football - on a budget of nearly nothing.

Daniel Farke deserves a special mention. He’s done a brilliant job at Norwich. And for going from zero to hero Marcelo Bielsa should always have a special place in the history of our game - no matter what happens to Leeds now. What a fantastic gesture he made at the weekend. There was no need to do it. Leeds hadn’t done anything wrong. There’s nothing in the laws of the game says you have to put the ball out if a player is injured. Nothing. But watching I felt the reputation of Bielsa’a club was on the line in that fractious 60 seconds. His decision was honourable - but I have to ask - if Leeds had been just two points behind Sheffield United would Bielsa have made the same decision? It could’ve been a £100m call and I’m not sure the money-men at Leeds would’ve been too happy about that! Anyway - let’s just revel in one of the game’s greatest acts of sportsmanship - ever.

So back to the Manager of the Year. It would be impossible to deny Guardiola that accolade if he ends up with three trophies. Impossible to deny Klopp if he won the League and maybe CL. But right now we just don’t know do we?

What if Neil Warnock keeps Cardiff up? It’s unlikely I know - but it would be an extra-ordinary achievement.

Every time I mention Sol Campbell I get hammered. Why? What a wonderful job he’s done at Macclesfield. It’s not yet complete - and if he gets over the line it will adversely affect Notts County - a fine club - but Campbell has nearly completed his great escape act.

The Cowley brothers have to get a mention. Lincoln have been on fire. Justin Edinburgh has got every Londoners second favourite club - Leyton Orient - back in the league. And have a look at who finished second in the National League - Solihull Moors - managed by Tim Flowers. It’s incredible what Tim
has done there. They were bottom
of that league when he took over. They and Orient resisted big spending Salford. And we like it when the big boys get a bloody nose don’t we?

I’ve got to give Mark Robins a mention. In an absolute madhouse of an atmosphere, he’s twice taken Coventry to Wembley in recent seasons - got promoted from League 2 and missed out on a League 1 play-off place by a whisker.

I’m so happy about these ‘British’ achievements. Not because I don’t like foreign coaches. That allegation is churlish, but sits with a whole lot more ill-informed nonsense that the keyboard cowards chuck in my direction. I revel in these successes because there HAS to be a place for our boys further up the pyramid. We all need targets. We all need reward. There’s no such thing as a secret foreign coaching manual. Our guys are good and we should back them.

What about Sean Dyche? His Burnley were on 12 pts after 19 games at Christmas. No wonder he was laughing as Guardiola put on his fourth centre-back at Turf Moor and was screaming for City to get the ball in the corners. Perhaps he’s learned something from our boys? 😂😂.

Meanwhile Rafa has performed his pre-season prediction that he would ‘need a miracle’ to keep Newcastle up. Now he wants another £400m to compete with the teams that challenge for 10th-7th. Teams like Bournemouth, Southampton, Watford, Burnley, Swansea, Stoke, Palace, West Ham and West Brom - to name but a few - all of whom have finished 10th or better in recent seasons.

Alan Pardew had The Toon 5th, admittedly playing what was described as ‘turgid football’ by the Newcastle Chronicle - before a 16th place finish the following season (alongside a Europa League challenge) and a 10th place finish the season after that. And I’m pretty sure Mike Ashley owned the club back then as well!  Ah well - back in the saddle....

What next at Old Trafford?

Published: Monday, 22 April 2019

Where on earth do Manchester United go now? £744m pounds spent - and four managers appointed - since Sir Alex Ferguson quit and they’re light years behind the top two in English football. And that puts them at least the same distance - perhaps a little bit more - behind some of Europe’s elite clubs, as we saw in both Paris and Barcelona. Never mind that they got past Paris (with an incorrect VAR decision) they were played off the park by them for 180 minutes - and Barca did the same whilst in cruise control.

The win in Paris only served to ramp up the hysteria surrounding Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Ed Woodward must be thinking ‘Why? Why? Why did I listen to them again?’ As we’ve discussed here - it was the wrong decision.

I watched Liverpool scrambling about post-Dalglish. Graeme Souness tried to change things and move from the ‘Boot Room’ culture. It didn’t suit a lot of people then. He tried too hard and moved too quickly. I was a critic - but he was right. He couldn’t take people with him and was sacked. Liverpool turned to Roy Evans - another disciple of the ‘Boot Room’. Outcome - more wastes years. Eventually they changed direction and Gerard Houllier - the man behind the Clairefontaine Academy in France, laid the foundations for Rafa’s success.

Do you know, had United stuck with David Moyes post Fergie his contract still wouldn’t have expired! Imagine what he could’ve done with £744m - stability and backing.

I was one of those that said early that he wasn’t going to succeed - largely because he couldn’t steer the club his own way. The shadow of Fergie was too long and too fresh. Out he went - for Ryan Giggs.

Van Gaal’s football didn’t suit. Out he went. Mourinho couldn’t take it his way. Out he went. Again, I have to admit that I lost patience with his whining - but was he right? Was finishing 2nd with this group one of his greatest achievements? On the basis of what we witnessed yesterday I’d say definitely. Mourinho was smart. He saw the writing on the wall and worked his way out. Talking to him about what happened since was illuminating. He saw all this.

How often has it been said that ‘a man’s greatest strength can also be his greatest weakness’? The same applies in many walks of life. So too at football clubs.

Perhaps Ibra is right. Perhaps United have to get over Ferguson - the circle of Ferguson - and carve a new era. Why do United pay Fergie £3m a year? For advice like he’s just given? Solskjaer was his idea. The appointment was welcomed by almost all his disciples. They’re a lot quieter now.

As for selling this current lot - who to? Who will buy? Wages are huge. Reputations are in tatters. Can they afford to change Managers again? Woodward can’t. He’ll have to go if he tries that. Cue Gary Neville for the top job. That would be a popular appointment with United punters, but it still wouldn’t cut the ties with Fergie.

I’ve had plenty of stick down the years for my views on his departure. I said when he left United were eight players short. I’ll repeat again that van Persie’s goals papered over all sorts of cracks.

It’s only fools that don’t learn the lessons of history. How long did United try to hang onto Sir Matt Busby’s legacy? How long did Liverpool believe the only way was the ‘Boot Room’? It’s happening all over again. Question - what other PL club would’ve appointed Solskjaer? Question 2 - what top European side would’ve appointed Solskjaer? Good luck Ole - you’re going to need it.

On another matter - how bad is the standard of refereeing in the PL now? I’ve mentioned this often enough recently as well. I’ll never understand the thinking with appointments either. Why has Martin Atkinson been given City or Liverpool in six of his last nine games? Is there an argument that when that happens an individual gets overly familiar with players? Cardiff will certainly think so.

In Cup ties we continue to be the only

country in the world ignoring IFAB protocol by not offering the ref a pitchside monitor to check decisions.i repeat - this is wrong. A match ref must have responsibility for the final decision. This is what IFAB regulations state ‘the referee is the only person that can make the final decision; the VAR has the same status as other match officials and can only assist the referee’. That’s pretty clear to me. So why are our match refs being told the decisions they should make from a bunker just outside Heathrow - by officials not as competent as they are? Mike Riley, the man in charge of dubious appointments and falling standards, has got to change this. I’m hearing that if he doesn’t then UEFA and FIFA will not be using our refs in major competitions next season - thereby denying them the chance to officiate properly - and arguably - get better at what they do. Right now this would affect Antony Taylor and Michael Oliver.

And what about the future Mike? Nine of our elite refs are 46 and over! Roger East is 54!! Come on. This can’t be right. Riley has had his time - and someone else should be given a chance now.

‘Best League in the world - with the worst officials’.

Published: Monday, 01 April 2019

Neil Warnock is right. There’s something I didn’t think I’d ever write. 😂. I jest. I like him, although I understand that he’s not everybody’s favourite. How I wish he’d gone to Coventry when we were still a Championship club. They decided he was too expensive - but as I told them - not as expensive as life in the lower leagues is going to be.

Anyway, he’s right. We’ve got the best league in the world, with the worst officials. How did Eddie Smart get it so wrong at Cardiff? I sit 3500 miles from PL games now - and I saw that Azpilicueta was off-side from here in Qatar. It’s the most basic requirement of an Assistant - to call off-side correctly. When the ball is in front of you - and so is the play - it’s not hard. It really isn’t.

‘VAR will sort everything out’, I can hear you say. No. It won’t. And I’ll come back to that.

Granted, it would’ve been useful on Sunday - but for something as basic as that call, we shouldn’t need VAR. It was shoddy work on Smart’s behalf. And I’ve no problem in naming him. That information is available to everybody. He fucked up. Simple.

But he’ll move onto the next job - while Warnock and his team now scramble for their very futures in the PL. And it’s no good arguing that the second goal buried them - as we all know, the chances are Chelsea wouldn’t have got the second if they hadn't got their tales up.

I haven’t got the time to mention all the big calls that have been incorrect this season. It’s far too many, but Mike Riley, the head of the PGMOL, will come out with the same nonsense that he always does come the end of the season - trying to convince us that they’ve got 97/98% of the decisions they’ve made this season correct. I’m told he stands up at LMA meetings and delivers the same nonsense. It’s laughable. And managers laugh!

Officials should get the majority of the decisions they make correct. Most are easy for experts. It’s the percentage of the ‘big’ decisions that matter. And they get nowhere near enough of those correct.

Riley was appointed - and subsequently protected - by Richard Scudamore - the ‘slowly’ retiring boss of the PL. While Scudamore was in position, Riley was as safe as houses. But Scudamore has gone now - so somebody has got to call Riley to account - sooner rather than later.

Here’s one very good reason why VAR won’t help us next season - because the planning is a shambles.

Tell me - why is it - that contrary to IFAB protocol - our refs won’t be allowed to check decisions at a pitch side monitor? I’ve been banging on about this all season because there haven’t been pitchside monitors used in either of the Cup competitions that have been trialling VAR. No other league on the world operates like this. If we’re to introduce VAR then the match ref MUST have the final decision. If not - the true ref is sitting in front of a bank of monitors in West London making decisions in slow motion. Again, I’m told that at a recent refs meeting Martin Atkinson was furious that his decision to show Victor Lindelof red (in the Fa Cup toe at Wolves) was overturned by Chris Kavanagh, a ref he considers junior to himself. And he’s right - Kavanagh has only been on the elite list two seasons. Atkinson didn’t get the chance to look at his decision again. He was simply told from VAR HQ that he was wrong! Its incredible. If he had - Atkinson has said he would’ve correctly stood by his original decision. Incidentally, I still don’t know why it was referred to VAR. Did Atkinson make a ‘clear and obvious’ error? No. It’s madness, but it gets worse.

Because there aren’t enough refs on that elite list, Championship refs will be making decisions in the VAR bunker. That’s right - refs not deemed good enough for the PL - but good enough, it seems, to analyse decisions of better officials than themselves and have the final say on them. THIS CAN NOT BE RIGHT.

I don’t like VAR. Football is not a game that it sits well with. Where are the natural breaks that occur in cricket, rugby or tennis? There aren’t any. And when it’s been used has it cleared confusion or created it? In the WC Final they managed to get every big decision wrong. In the recent CL game in Paris, again involving United, they again got it wrong. Why was the decision ever referred anyway? Are we talking about that handball being a matter of fact - or opinion? That’s right - it was a matter of opinion. The same at Atkinson’s decision to send off Lindelof. Matters of fact become a matter of opinion in the blink of an eye - and NEVER should a game be reffed in slow-mo.  

I know it’s coming. But if it’s coming we HAVE to be better at the implementation. And officials like Eddie Smart have to be better than they are now.

I do have sympathy for officials. None of them sets out to make mistakes - but there are too many of them. I’m actually arguing on their behalf. If any of them were allowed to comment, trust me, they’d tell you I’m right. Mike Riley has strangled the life out of them with mechanical demands and crushing punishments. They’re scared. And that will be the case to a far greater degree next year when decisions will be made in the ‘office’ - not on the field of play.

Riley was a weak ref. He was never cut out to be a leader. He shouldn’t be a leader. With Scudamore gone Riley should go now too before things get even worse.

It was negligent in the extreme that Riley lost both Howard Webb - a WC final ref and Mark Clattenburg - a CL and Euro Championship ref. Ask yourself why they left. Ask yourself why we didn’t have any officials at the last WC. The answer is that our officials aren’t good enough. And the man to blame for that is Mike Riley. As Neil Warnock said ‘it’s the best league in the world, with the worst officials’.