Re-set the clock. It’s the only sensible thing to do

Published: Monday, 16 March 2020

Let’s get this clear straight away. Liverpool have been magnificent at times this season. They’ve blown teams away. They looked invincible. It looked as though they’d set a new points record in the PL. I think we can all agree?

Mind you, Sheffield United have been fantastic. Who’d have thought they could achieve what they have? Well - actually, me! Read my early season predictions blog. If Sheffield United win their game in hand they go 5th - above United. Fifth could be good enough for CL football this season.

Wolves haven’t done badly either.

Leeds and West Brom have had eventful seasons, but they’re not up yet. Both can still he caught. So how can we promote them? It would be outrageous if those chasing play-off places were to miss out on the chance to get up.  Bristol City, Millwall, Cardiff are all jockeying. So are Blackburn and Swansea. It’s one of the joys of Championship football that very little is ever settled until the last day of the season. Oh - and the football is pure. No VA-bloodyR spoiling matches.

Barnsley are bottom. They’re not down but they could go - so too could at least seven other teams.

In League One Coventry are top. They’ll come up surely? After years of misery their fans (me included) deserve something to shout about. But we don’t know do we? Are you getting my point? We just don’t know.

Liverpool were going to be ‘invincible’. They were going to retain the CL. They were going to do a league and cup double. Were..... Not now they’re not.

Of course it looks as though they’re going to win the title. But they haven’t won it. Who knows? Their form in recent games has been sobering for their fans. They’ve been poor. Very very poor. Have Klopp’s infamous demands of his players caught up with them again - as they have in previous seasons? Has last seasons fantastic chase of City left them empty? We don’t know. And we might never know. Apologies, by the way, If your team plays lower down - but who cares about that? Liverpool fans appear not to. I left you out of the argument to make that very point. Never mind that Barrow might be back in the EFL next season - and maybe Harrogate for the first time, where father is chairman and son the manager.

The sensible thing to sort all these things out is to ‘play on’ when we can. It’s everybody’s preferred choice. But how exactly do we do that?

Postponing the season was a no-brainer. How that fool Boris Johnson couldn’t see that I have no idea. Perhaps ‘soccer’ isn’t on his radar - just ‘rugger’- and sending children to school to play it during a pandemic. God help us.

But let’s be realistic - the chances of finishing this season are receding by the day. My old mate, Javier Tebas, who runs the Spanish League, has this morning called for the season to be cancelled. For once, I agree with this over promoted egotist. Cancel - now. Re-set the clocks. Go back to last August and start again with everything as it was. That includes the same teams in the CL, UEL - all of them. That will suit the big boys clamouring for a closed shop of CL clubs anyway.

How can we realistically start again in - say, a couple of weeks? Six weeks perhaps? No - two months. Perhaps a week? See the problem? It’s one thing all agreeing to stop playing at the same time but teams won’t all be ready to start playing again at the same time. What about those isolating players now? Some will show symptoms days/weeks from now. They won’t be ready to play with those who’ve recovered earlier. So teams are nothing like the same as those that stopped playing? Where’s the integrity in that?

And the further we push the season back the nearer we get to the deadline when 70 or more PL players are out of contract. Why would they play on with their current clubs? What about injuries? Who would look after a player out of contract, denied a big move by an injury in the last few days of his time with his current employer? So some are weakened in other ways. Where’s the integrity in that?

I read of plans to re-start the European competitions with mini-leagues to sort out a winner. It’s meaningless. It’s not how the competitions work.

All of the above applies to England only. What about Scotland? Should Celtic be ‘given’ a title they haven’t won? Of course they shouldn’t and as manager of Rangers Steven Gerrard should be making that very point. Or is he more concerned about Liverpool? It makes you wonder doesn’t it?

No. Liverpool can not be handed a title they haven’t won. Nor can Celtic. Nor can Barcelona or Juventus. It’s tough - if like my team you’ve worked hard all season to put yourself in a position to achieve something - but it’s only fair on the majority. I’m sorry Liverpool - if you take a title you haven’t won it will forever be tainted. It will always be the ‘title you didn’t win’. And the same goes for Celtic - Barca Juve.....

Let’s hope things settle down, but please, whilst there are many many more important things to worry about, let’s stop the fanciful nonsense. Liverpool have NOT won the title.

Liverpool have won their battle - now it’s war.

Published: Monday, 09 March 2020

The wait is over. Thirty years. None of us that remember watching the great Liverpool teams that Shankly, Paisley and Dalglish built - and Kenny built his own team whatever his critics would have you believe - would ever have imagined that it would be 30 years between the last title and this one.

Jurgen Klopp rightly joins the above Hall of Fame. He’s eclipsed Benitez. The true test of how good a team - or coach is - is delivering a title. The odd Cup success is enjoyable, but it’s no more than that. Porto? Coventry? Wimbledon? As Graeme Souness has often to me ‘everybody can get lucky once’.

If Coronavirus allows - Liverpool will be celebrating, with a packed Anfield, just three matches from now. But then what? Well, that’s when the trouble starts. I believe Liverpool will have to go to war to hold onto their prized assets.

Not the Henderson’s (my player of the year), Robertson’s or Milner’s, but Salah? Mane? Van Dijk? That’s different.

I remember arguing with many a good judge about Ronaldo’s decision to leave Manchester United. There weren’t many that understood why he wanted to leave what was undoubtedly the best club in the world at that time. For me it was simple. He got a call from Real Madrid. If you’re a top pro - if you want to test yourself - if you want to become a legend in the most special jersey of them all - then you can’t resist.

I got to thinking this weekend about who will be on the summer round-a-bout - and why.

Don’t believe what they tell you about Mane and Salah not having much time for each other. It’s worse than that. They deeply dislike each other. Both would be a whole lot happier playing in a team without the other. So - how does that happen? Do Liverpool sell one and keep the other? In an ideal world - yes. But I’ve got a feeling both could be on their way out. Here’s why.....

I fancy that Barca will test Liverpool’s resolve to hang onto Mane. Never mind all the contractural clauses that were written into the Coutinho deal - if Mane has his head turned by the prospect of playing in the Camp Nou - he’s off. A football career is short - and the chances to play for the big two don’t come round too often. And what else could he achieve at Liverpool?

Salah will be thinking the same if Real come calling. I think the smart money has to be on a move to The Bernabeau - but hold on. There are others on the round-a-bout.

Mbappe must be Real’s first choice. He’s currently showing all the signs of a player sowing the seeds of unrest. He wants out at Paris. Anyone disagree? We know where the power lies these days - always with the player.

But Paris have also got Neymar playing up again. They’ve done brilliantly to hang onto him this long - but what has he actually contributed since making it plain last summer that he wanted to go back to Barca? As the late Paul Daniels might say ‘not a lot’.

So - Mbappe engineers a move. Neymar goes too - that means Paris are in the market for a big one. They’ve got to be. My guess is Mo Salah is that big one. Culturally it’s a perfect fit. In my part of the world Salah is a superstar - never mind what they think about him in Liverpool. You’ve got to live where I do to understand the awe in which they hold him here. 

So - that’s Salah to Paris. Mane to Barca with Neymar. As an aside I wonder what Senor Javier Tebas will make of that. Remember him? Well, you can’t forget him really. He’s CE of La Liga, who’s constantly wining about what clubs outside Spain spend. It was him that refused to allow Barca to cash the cheque they got from Paris for Neymar. Strange because I’m sure that what his big two spend this summer won’t bother him too much.

Anyway - if I’m right - that’s Mbappe, Neymar, Mane and Salah on the move. Bale is on the round-a-bout as well. He’ll definitely leave Madrid this summer. But to where? United at last? Spurs? Real will have to help with the wages somehow. It makes no sense for them to keep paying him £650,000/week for so little return. I would add that there’s no reason for Bale to walk away from his deal - Real offered it so they should honour it.

Will van Dijk fancy a move? He’ll certainly be sounded out.

Enjoy the win Liverpool. It’s well deserved and it’s been far too long, but the trouble is about to start.

It’s only two seasons since the football world predicted a decade of dominance from Man City. Only Andy Gray thought differently. He was right. So what chance a decade of Liverpool success? Not much if I’m right. I await with interest the first shots in the upcoming war.

My 2 PL legends

Published: Tuesday, 03 March 2020

Before I get round to the main subject - have you seen the top of League One? How about that? Coventry City are top of a league, post Christmas, for the first time since 1967. Sadly I’m old enough to remember the last time!! 

What a job Mark Robins has done at Coventry - despite the owners - not because of them. I don’t want to get into that debate again - I simply wanted to thank Mark and his team for giving all of us Coventry fans something to smile about again.

It’s such a pity that we’re not playing at the Ricoh. It can’t be easy for the guys turning out in front of just 6/8 thousand fans at St. Andrews. I’m not going to get into that debate either - I’m simply going to pretend I’m 10 years old again - as I was in 1967 - and keep looking at the table - as I did back then! Sad isn’t it? But joyous at the same time! All that football I’ve watched. All those big games I’ve been privileged to have been at but I’m still a fan at heart and it’s such a good feeling to see my team back on top. And on top of anything - I just don’t care after what we’ve been through. Thanks again Mark - and keep it going.

And so - the PL have at last decided to have a Hall of Fame and the first two to be honoured will shortly be inaugurated.

I say ‘at last’ because this is something I’ve advocated for such a long time. It’s an idea I put to Richard Scudamore so many years ago that I can’t remember his reason for not doing it.

I also went to see him with a group of friends - that included Alan Curbishley - to put the idea of a red carpet event called ‘The Footies’ to him. It would’ve been brilliant - an event just like The Oscars, but it would’ve been simply football. Perhaps that’s why the PL didn’t want to do it - because someone knew this was up their sleeve?

I think it’s a great idea but I also understand that there are many who think it’s also sad, because football didn’t start in 1992. I get that. Of course, we at Sky we’re responsible for re-starting the clock when the PL was born. It’s something that Andy argues about often. He was party to the decision to ‘start again’ if you like, but now he realises that his career was all but rubbed out when we did that.

As we know, the top PL goalscorer is Alan Shearer, who has to be under consideration as one of the first nominees. He got 260 goals. But, how about the 23 he got at Southampton? Nobody ever mentions those? We know why - because he got them before football was invented - in 1992! It’s wrong. I know it is, but when we started it seemed the right thing to do - start with a clean slate because the PL was a new project.

I remember referring to ‘previous meetings’ when we were at games. It seems daft now talking about United v Liverpool and, for example, saying ‘they’ve met on 6 previous occasions....’ Mad. But that’s how we did it.

Oh, one other little piece of history that Shearer has been robbed of - when he got a hat-trick for Saints against Arsenal at age 17 years and 240 days he became the youngest player to score three in a top division match - breaking Jimmy Greaves’ 30-year-old record. I feel your pain Alan!

Shearer is a PL giant. So like Andy Gray it’s spooky. He’s one of my contenders for the first two official PL ‘legends’.

You’ve got to think about all the usual suspects. Bergkamp (but he once got Paul Williams sent off, so black mark 😂). Zola was amazing. He didn’t get to Chelsea until he was 29 but went on to become a fans choice as their best ever.

Henry was fantastic, but one little known fact that always bothers me about him is this - he played in 13 different finals during his career and didn’t score in one of them. Big players settle big games. I know a few of his playing colleagues always felt he was happy in ‘comfortable’ surroundings.

There’s Giggs. A wonderful footballer. Keane - a warrior, but not as good as Robson for me. His ‘assault’ on Alf-Inge Haland is impossible for forget.

There’s Lampard and Gerrard - two of the best of their generation. How about Tony Adams and John Terry? Peter Schmeichel and David Seaman? Two wonderful goalkeepers.

I agree with Andy that when you’re looking for candidates for this kind of award ‘longevity’ has to be a factor. That would play in Giggs. It certainly does my first nomination - Paul Scholes - simply the best footballer the PL has ever seen.

Scholes was a player that Guardiola, Zidane, Ferguson Socrates, Davids, Xavi, Fabregas, Lippi, Capello, Keane, Giggs, Gerrard, Blanc, Beckham, Brazilian Ronaldo, Bergkamp, who called him ‘the master’, all say was the best they’d ever seen. There’s many more that agree.

He was magnificent. Never mind this nonsense that ‘he couldn’t tackle’. He knew exactly what he was doing every time he ‘mis-judged’ one. I’ll tell you this, despite Van Persie’s goals, Fergie would never have won his last title had Scholes not come out of retirement for those last few months of 2013.

So - longevity and an unquantifiable talent gets Scholes my first vote. Eric Cantona gets my second.

Why? Impact. I can’t think of another player who turned up and had the impact that Cantona had on all of us -not just United. He was an entertainer in every respect. He loved his stage at Old Trafford. He was born to play in those surroundings. He triggered the ‘glory’ years for Fergie. Do you remember him scoring against Sunderland with that sublime chip and then turning 360 degrees, with his collar turned up of course, to take the applause. Brilliant. Genius. Entertainer. Confusing. Unique. All of those things and more. He captured that whole period for me. He made football exciting. You were happy to pay to watch him. He had that extra little bit of something that made him irrepressible. And - most importantly - he settled big games - time and time again. When he was on a pitch you didn’t what was going to happen - but you knew when it did it would be special. That was a quality George Best had. Players like that make football look so easy.

So if it’s not to be Dion Dublin and Darren Huckerby from my beloved Super Sky Blues, my two for the first to be inaugurated into the PL Hall of Fame are Scholes and Cantona. I’m sorry that they’re both from United, but we’ve all got to agree they are two from the most dominant team in PL history, so perhaps that’s not so much of a surprise? Discuss......

Why is our refereeing so bad?

Published: Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Apologies first that we’re a day late with this week's blog. I spent the entire afternoon yesterday (Monday) with a long time friend that I hadn’t seen enough of in recent years.

So here we go. I’m depressed that talking about referees has become so common for all of us. Why on earth has this happened? How is it that referees have elevated themselves into a position where we’re talking about them more than we do the greatest game on the planet? It’s outrageous. I remember well the days when we’d congratulate an official on his performance because we hadn’t noticed him.

I’ve had an extra day to think about this. My conclusion is that they are now so bad that it’s impossible to ignore them. Honestly, I hate saying that, but after another shambles, both on the pitch and in the VAR bunker last weekend, how can anyone disagree?

I give you Mr David Coote. Here’s a man who recently failed a FIFA fitness test - along with Andy Madley. Granted - they both have subsequently passed - but, what does it say about the way we handle refs in the PL if they’re not fit enough to gain FIFA credentials?

Worse - last weekend Coote didn’t even have to run about. All he had to do was look at tv monitors (replay after replay) and come to the conclusion - like everybody else watching real time - that Tottenham’s Giovanni Lo Celso should’ve been sent off at Chelsea. No ifs. No buts. No maybes. Off. His challenge was clearly a red card offence. It was a career ending stamp. It was violent conduct. How hard can it be? What did Coote think he saw? ‘There was nowhere else for his foot to come down’ we were originally told. Please - I’m still laughing. Never mind trying to get onto the FIFA list - this man should never work again. He’s a danger. As Frank Lampard said - ‘it’s not good enough for the PGMOL to admit they were wrong’. Who made that decision anyway? Why don’t they tell us? And why was it made? Was it simply because the social media caught fire? My guess is Mike Riley was once again hanging about in the VAR bunker - as he is most weeks - wanting to make the final decision on everything, when he realised the gravity of the mistake.

Lampard was angry because he’d stood in the same place the previous Monday and watched Harry Maguire almost castrate Michy Batshuayi. That should’ve been red. The VAR bunker decided there was no case to answer. Really? How? I wonder what patsy-in-chief Peter Walton would’ve made of the challenge had he been working? Was it? Wasn’t it? ‘Hold on - I’ll wait until somebody tells me’. Honestly. Its pathetic. I’ve mentioned it here before - I was a huge fan of Dermot Gallagher’s - but not anymore. His credibility is shot as well. So too the other PGMOL apologist Chris Foy. Walton’s indecision was final at Chelsea. Why are these guys employed?

Let’s not forget how bad it got for Coote as he went onto make a mess of the game at Leicester. Why was he allowed anywhere near it after what happened at Chelsea?

If you think I’m being harsh - I’m sorry. These guys wanted VAR, promising to take us to a utopian land where they would get everything correct. They haven’t. They won’t. All it’s done is underline how bad our general standard of refereeing is - and who do we have to blame for that? You got it - the aforementioned Mike Riley.

Riley was a weak ref. Average at best. I’ll never forget him desperately trying to get Ashley Cole to give him his name in a match at Spurs one night. ‘Turn round Ash. Show me your shirt’ you could see Riley saying. Cole didn’t. Cole wouldn’t. Why for goodness sake? Riley knew his name, yet here he was trying to assert his authority but making himself look daft into the bargain

Riley got his job because he is a ‘yes’ man. Richard Scudamore appointed him to succeed the excellent Keith Hackett, largely because Riley would do as he was told. Scudamore was tired of trying to get refs to do his bidding. He failed with Philip Don, so he went. Hackett was never going to be told what to do. So, of course, he went.

Look at Riley’s record. He’s responsible for this VAR farce - stubbornly refusing to let referees use pitchside monitors. It’s Riley that’s given the PL two interpretations of handball - one for forwards, so they can find another reason to disallow goals, and another for defenders. This only happens in our league.

It’s Riley that refuses to use VAR to see if a keeper has moved from line in a penalty situation. We leave it to the ‘on-field’ officials. There’s something of an irony in that eh? And this only happens in the PL.

It was Riley that allowed the excellent Mark Clattenburg (a World Cup final ref) to cut short his career in England because he was so frustrated by the PGMOL leadership. So too Howard Webb, another World Cup final ref. Because of Clattenhurg’s ‘retirement’ we didn’t have one official at the last World Cup. It’s embarrassing.

Philip Don lost his job because Scudamore - and the clubs- were unhappy about the number of yellow cards flying around during his era. He didn’t do much else wrong - but he went. So how does Riley hang on?

This is a man that Scudamore was warned he shouldn’t employ. There’s a reference in Mark Halsey’s book ‘Added Time’ to a conversation Halsey had with Scudamore when the former PL chief admitted Riley was the wrong man - but he went ahead of employed him anyway.

As much as anything, it was this revelation that led to Halsey being black-balled by the PL and the PGMOL.

It annoyed both organisations deeply when they read a different passage in the book about Halsey being told to change his mind on the infamous clash at Stoke between Ryan Shawcross and Stephen Nzonzi. Stoke and Blackburn fans remember it well. Halsey didn’t see anything wrong with it, but was told by Riley at a subsequent refs meeting, that he should’ve shown red. Riley added that Halsey would be getting a call from the FA to ask if he would ‘change his mind’ if he saw the challenge again. Halsey said ‘no’,  Wrong answer. The ref added that he wasn’t very happy about being bullied over the incident either. I’m not telling tales here. It’s all in Halsey’s book. Read it for yourselves. It was Halsey being typically honest.

The book caused Halsey all sorts of problems. Despite originally being given permission by the PGMOL to write it, they subsequently withheld his exit package - a 5-figure sum - when he retired. The money would’ve allowed Halsey and his wife Michelle, who’ve both been cancer victims, to live the rest of their lives in relative comfort. We might never know who cost Halsey his job at BT Sport, but I’ve got a good idea. They now employ Peter Walton!

I mention Halsey because what happened to him is a modern day football scandal - made worse when you consider that Scudamore walked away from his very well rewarded job with a £5m pay off.

Halsey and Hackett are now the go to men if you want a no holds barred, straight forward, honest opinion about refereeing. Both should be involved in the VAR bunker. It’s a waste that they’re not. The same goes for Roger East and Lee Probert. Both retired last season and were told they were not good enough to operate VAR. But David Coote is? And I’m not singling Coote out because he had a shocker last week - I am genuinely concerned about the direction our refereeing is heading in whilst good men sit idle. These guys should be encouraged to become VAR specialists. Let the match day refs do their jobs - ‘assisted’ by VAR - which is how it works everywhere else in the world.

I’m keeping some gun powder dry because I’m assured change to VAR is coming - it will have to or the PL are going to lose their IFAB licence to operate it - but it will count for nothing if Riley isn’t removed from his post.

And if you enjoy both listening to and reading Mark Halsey - who was punished for his honesty - join me in my crusade to right a dreadful wrong. Let him and the PGMOL know what you think. They HAVE to pay him his exit package even if they don’t take him back into the fold.

And by the way Mike - you’d be amazed at how many of your current refs are constantly in touch with me about their frustrations. Why? Because I air them.

Sent from my iPhone

I had to - my thoughts on City’s ban

Published: Monday, 17 February 2020

Where to start? That’s the problem. There are so many different aspects to the Manchester City case.

What I know for sure is that I don’t want to see sanctions from the PL that would lead to City’s on-field achievements being expunged from the record books. I’m not Guardiola’s biggest fan - I think that came across pretty clearly in my most recent blog on the Spaniard - sorry, the Catalonian - but what his Manchester City have given us has been nothing short of breathtaking at times. Only United fans have failed to enjoy watching them and that’s understandable. You know my view - Guardiola has failed in both Munich and Manchester (so far) to deliver the one trophy he was employed to win, but the football has been joyous at The Etihad (can we still call it that?).

I know this isn’t a very strong argument - and there are many that will offer the alternative view - that they couldn’t have done it without the financial skulduggery that was going on - I get that, but none of it is the fault of the players employed to deliver the dreams. They did their bit with flair, brilliance and honesty. Although I’m not convinced Guardiola can argue the same mitigation. No - let the records and the trophies stand. City’s fans parted with their money believing in what they were being sold.

Are UEFA right to go after City? Yes. One hundred per cent. You can argue all day long about the merits of FFP, but it’s a waste of time doing so. City signed up to the rules. They knew what they were doing. No-one held a gun to Begiristain or Soriano’s heads Far smarter brains than mine will eventually decide - but right now it would appear that the management at City knew exactly what they were doing and wilfully decided to find a way to circumvent the rules. They got caught, so now they have to face the consequences.

Regular beINSPORTS watchers will know this is a story Andy and I have been talking about on K&G for many many months. What always surprised me was how little the rest of the UK press wanted to do with ‘Footie-leaks’. Time and again I spoke to friends back in the UK and asked ‘Why the silence?’ It seemed only Rob Harris, the excellent AP reporter, was prepared to ‘follow the money’. When he questioned Guardiola about these matters after the Cup Final last May it was as though he broke the code of ‘love Guardiola’. His line of questioning was frowned upon by the rest of the room. You could feel the dis-satisfaction. He was right though  And he was right to go after the story. I hope you’ve had a good week Rob.

Anyway - K&G. Almost weekly we’d speak to reporters at Der Spiegel. Some of the things they told us were mind blowing - but where were they getting the info from? Someone mentioned the name Rui Pinto to me. I went on line and dug about. He wasn’t a secret, but no-one was talking about him outside of Germany. And it was evident he’d seriously pissed off people in Portugal, his country of birth.

I don’t want to get too deeply into the story - it’s all available on-line - but it bothers me that as UEFA congratulate themselves on a job well done - the source of all their information is languishing in a Portuguese jail facing 90 separate counts of hacking, sabotage and fraud. He failed as recently as Thursday - 24 hours before City were nailed - with an appeal.

Amongst the allegations is the serious matter that he tried to extort a ‘generous donation’ out of Sporting Club of Portugal of between 500,000 and one million euros. If they paid - Pinto and his company,Doyen, would ‘lose’ some of the documents that would embarrass Sporting. We don’t know. It’s a charge unproven. What we do know is that City wouldn’t have been in the dock without Pinto’s information.

Here was the problem the British press had with the story. It’s City’s main line of defence as well. Can we use ‘stolen’ information to convict wrong-doers? I don’t know the answer - but my feeling is that it’s no bad thing if we use information- however it comes to light - to hold arrogance and rule-breakers to account.

City’s problems have delighted many - not least La Liga’s President Javier Tebas. But - again, I’d like to know where the line is when you’re ‘bending’ rules. Is it ok for Real Madrid to sell a square metre of their training ground to the govt for millions? It turned out it wasn’t and Real had to buy the land back - for a euro. That must’ve hurt!

Is it ok for the Spanish govt to treat Real and Barcelona as ‘special cases’ offering huge tax advantages to both clubs? It’s not really is it? If I was Senor Tebas I’d pipe down. It’s always been the case - don’t shine the torch to brightly into the corners of the room. Do we think everybody in Italy plays by the rules?

We won’t know the outcome of City’s appeal for some time yet - and here we go again - but, what if? Jonathan Wilson’s column in The Guardian today (Monday) makes for a fascinating read. What if - FIFA jump on this and manipulate it to their own end? What if City feel they don’t need UEFA? What if FIFA can offer riches enough to fill the void of a European ban with their own creative ideas and tournaments? What if....?

I don’t believe that route is one many other would follow, but football hasn’t stopped evolving since 1992, when the PL was set up. It remains the model that the rest of football would like to smash. So, what if.....?

West Ham - a car crash.

Published: Monday, 03 February 2020

‘Is it not even vaguely puzzling that Karen Brady is held up as a paragon of business virtue yet she runs a car crash of a football club?’ Not my words, but a tweet posted last week by the brilliant Ollie Holt.

Well? He’s correct isn’t he? Ollie has often written about Ms Brady. He’s not a fan. Check his work out online. Another article headlined ‘The Comical Ali World of Karen Brady’ will leap out at you. It’s another masterful piece. Unlike the majority of today’s sports writers Ollie isn’t a West Ham fan, so you’ll get a whole lot more sense and honesty out of him.

I hereby have to declare a mild conflict of interest. I don’t like Ms Brady either. We used to get on quite well but (under instruction) she had too much to say about my departure from Sky. Most of her views were inaccurate but she went onto abuse me with the most vile and inaccurate slurs. Her behaviour was scandalous. I’ve never responded and I’m not going to now. I’m saving it.

Ms Brady once claimed that her toughest battle in football was fighting sexism. Nonsense. Who cares about the sexuality of a Chief Executive, Chair, club owner or Board member? If she/he is good at what she/he does - fine. But - if they’re not they should expect criticism whether they are male or female. Or whatever other gender they maybe.

I called Ms Brady out on the shambles surrounding Avram Grant’s sacking. She f****d it up. Do you remember? One minute he was waving goodbye knowing full well he’d lost his job - the next he was back at work with West Ham denying they were sacking him. But they were. They were replacing him with Martin O’Neill. I’ve talked about this before - Graeme Souness and Big Sam had also been spoken to. How do I know? Because they both asked me my advice about taking it. What none of us knew then was that O’Neill had been offered it - Souness and Allardyce were insurance policies, who subsequently both said ‘no’ - but Ms Brady’s problem was that O’Neill changed his mind and decided not to take it. So - what else could she do but tell Grant to carry on? It was a shambles and had her Dad, Terry Brady, made such a pigs ear of the situation I’d have called him out too.

I’ve made myself very unpopular with West Ham fans down the years - but only by telling the truth. The trio that run your club have let you all down. It’s a mess. How David Gold has got the brass neck to ‘like’ a tweet referring to West Ham fans as ‘morons’ I don’t know. Hang your head in shame David and remember that you too are a West Ham fan.

Here’s my take. West Ham is a wonderful football club with glorious traditions trashed in the modern era. My first footballing hero was Bobby Moore. He must be turning in his grave. Having said that, I also believe that a lot of Hammers fans have an unrealistic view of what their club can achieve - perhaps fuelled by the current owners.

West Ham are NOT going to play Champions League football any time soon. Certainly not by buying fading 28-year-old Frenchmen for £8m on three-year contracts that are never renewed. And not by spunking £100m in panic on feint-hearts who don’t give a damn about the club. Who buys these players Mr Sullivan? And Manuel Pellegrini? Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

No. West Ham should hope to finish in the top half and enjoy the occasional Cup run - just like it always was. Big Sam knew that. Big Sam delivered half of that equation. Given time he would’ve had a go at a Cup as well.

I genuinely hope West Ham don’t go down again - largely for David Moyes sake. David, of course, master-minded the last great escape before being fired. Oh well.....

A couple of other things. Newcastle fans should hope that the group wanting to buy their club can pull things together by mid-February. They’re still at the table. And it’s not the Saudi’s. I was pleased when Steve Bruce cooled that nonsense. Well - it’s not the Saudi’s right now although it is fair to say they they’ve been ‘sniffing’ around.

Remember the ‘experts’ talking about an era of Manchester City domination a couple of years ago? It was Andy Gray that poured scorn on that. How right he was. I read today that some now believe City need a reboot and are seven players short. Will Guardiola be around to under-take that task next season? I’m not convinced.

I’m not getting into the VR mess at Spurs. I think you’ve all sussed the PGMOL out now. I’m told change is coming. It’s coming largely because the PL have been told they’ll lose their licence to operate VAR if it doesn’t. They have GOT to adopt IFAB protocol. It’s that simple. In making these up coming changes can I once again suggest that Mike Riley, the head of the PGMOL, be one of them? He has got to go if football in England is ever to recover from the arrogant mess that Riley inflicted on us. Only then will the healing process really start. I can’t wait to read my Twitter responses. Enjoy.....😂😂.

Klopp is correct. And give the Ch Exec’s job to Red Nev.

Published: Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Jurgen Klopp is one hundred per cent correct. He needs a break. His team need a break. And how can the FA argue any differently?

For years the FA have wanted a mid-season break and I’ve been a big supporter of the idea. It’s a must for modern day footballers. I’ve never quite understood the argument that it will help the England team because there aren’t too many Englishmen playing at the very top end of English football! Surely it’s more likely to help every other nation in the world - most of whom are represented in the PL now? Anyway, we’re miles behind the rest of Europe in handling the needs of the modern day player. Let’s be specific - the top end footballer.

We ask too much of them. At the last count I think there were 119 suffering injuries as a result of the madness of the Christmas and New Year schedule. Kane, Vardy and Rashford are amongst the high profile casualties.

I’m not suggesting the crazy holiday schedule was entirely to blame but it was certainly a factor. The real problem is the constant expectation of these young men. When do they ever properly rest? I don’t care how fit they are. How good the quality of care is. What their dietary care is. What the maintenance is - eventually the constant demands will take a toll on even the best.

We HAVE to find a way to make room for a complete break and not the mish mash that we’re stuck with this season - 10 on one week - 10 the next - unless there are Cup replays. What a nonsense.

The only answer isn’t popular with the smaller clubs, but it’s got to happen. We’ve got to drop Cup replays. And we should go straight to pens at 90 minutes. Who really wants an extra 30?

If you think this undermines the integrity of the competition let me tell you - you’re wrong. However much we try to convince ourselves differently the FA Cup no longer matters to the majority. If you want to win the PL you’re not interested. If you’re chasing a European place you’re not interested. If you’re trying to avoid relegation from the PL you’re not interested. If you’re trying to get up from the Championship you’re not interested. If you’re trying to stay in the Championship you’re not interested. So that’s just about every team in the top two divisions. And it will be won by one of the top six - again.

if you want to encourage the odd ‘upset’ make sure the PL teams all play away from home in Round 3.

The glory days of a Hereford beating Newcastle - a Wrexham beating Arsenal - a Leatherhead beating Leicester - they’re gone. It won’t happen anymore. So adjust. Change. Oh - and drop one of the Lesgue Cup semi-final legs. All that would make a difference.

And so to the mess at Old Trafford, which is something I’d promised myself to move on from, but I’ve got one last thing to say on the subject.

Mr Ed has got to go. How long have I been saying that for? And how long ago did I suggest that Gary Neville was positioning himself for the job? 

He didn’t exactly say that he wanted it last week, but he took a first very public step towards getting it when he called for Woodward to be sacked He’s right. Woodward’s position is untenable. You can’t keep making the costly mistakes that he has and not eventually have to answer for them.

Woodward has presided over a period of constant demise at United. He’s spent a billion chasing players while appointing and sacking three managers already. Solskjaer will be the fourth. This can’t go on.

Neville is the answer. He does big business deals. He’s got advice for almost everybody in their chosen profession. He’s United to the core. He knows what players want. And his coaching days are over. As he discovered for himself at Valencia - he’s not a coach nor is he ever going to be.

But he is a leader. Anyone that can take a squad of England players to the brink of refusing to play for their country must have extra-ordinary powers of persuasion.

Woodward’s time was up before the terrible decision to appoint Solskjaer full-time. Of course what’s happening there is Ole’s fault. He’s making the decisions about playing style and buying and selling - but the decision to put him in was madness and Woodward needs to be called to account. Ask yourself this - the same question I’ve posed often - when United appointed Solskjaer which other PL team would’ve done that? The answer is not one. None. No-one. So what made Woodward think it was a good idea?

He’s good at deals but hopeless when it comes to understanding football. Neville knows both and he wouldn’t be the only X-pro from United now operating on the business side. Look at the job Edwin van der Sar is credited with doing at Ajax.

United fans shouldn’t be making vile threats to ‘kill’ Woodward. They should be demonstrating to get him out - and get Red Nev in.

Predictions? Who’d be so daft....?

Published: Tuesday, 21 January 2020

If I could get all my predictions right you wouldn’t be reading this now. I’d have done the lottery when I lived in the UK and f****d off a long time ago.

Predicting is a dangerous business. I’ve been haunted by mine that Everton might finish about Liverpool two/three seasons back. Liverpool fans have never let me forget it. What they don’t seem to remember though is that I predicted a title win for their team last season - and went again this time round. Well done me!

The reason for the ‘Everton’ tweet was simple. My mate Steve Walsh was doing some of the buying there at the time and I wanted to show support. He was caught up in a three-way tussle for power and not getting his way on a lot so I weighed in on his behalf. Sadly it’s all gone horribly wrong at Goodison, but at the time there wasn’t a lot between The Toffees and Liverpool. Would I like to see Everton chasing prizes and European football again? Of course I would. The mess they’re in after such big spending is a travesty. How different it might have been had Bill Kenwright not been chasing vanity signings and Koeman hadn’t been buying players that weren’t good enough through his own agent . What we do know is that if they’d trusted Walsh and had a more co-ordinated transfer policy they’d have been more effective in the market.

Anyway. That’s one that went spectacularly wrong. It hasn’t stopped me offering support to mates mind you and nor will it. I was happy to nudge United along encouraging them to get the Harry Maguire deal done on behalf of a mate. And I’m delighted that I stuck my neck out and gave Steve Bruce my unequivocal support. I’m still waiting for the Toon bullies that disagreed to admit they were wrong but I’m not holding my breath!

And so to a couple of other predictions that I made pre-season. I said Norwich would struggle. I had them down to finish bottom. There’s a fair way to go in this season yet - but where are they?

I had Bournemouth down as one of my three to be relegated. This wasn’t a simple rash guess - it was based on the way they finished last season. From the start of last January they won only three games of 18 played. Relegation form - but they got away with it because the early part of the season went well. Now they’ve lost 10 of their last 12 and haven’t scored in their last four. As I mentioned last week - all that after a £234m spend in the four and a half years that they’ve been in the PL. They're in free fall. Jeff Mostyn has a bid decision to make. I’d make a change before it’s too late. Eddie Howe needs a new challenge. Bournemouth need a lift. Call for Big Sam before the window closes. He’s good - but he’ll need more than they’ve got down there to get them out of trouble.

So, that’s two correct right now - but, of course, there’s plenty of time for both clubs to get out.

My third call for the drop was between Brighton and Crystal Palace. I did add the rider that Palace would be ok if they held onto Zaha. I was making these predictions before the August window closed. He’s so important to them, as he showed at City. In one explosive moment he changes games. There aren’t that many payers that can do that. Villa’s Jack Grealish is another. There’s a confidence about him now. An arrogance. That’s good because he knows he can deliver. I’m sure he’ll leave at the end of the season, and I still believe Villa will have enough to stay up. Both can move on productively if that happens.

Palace have got enough now even if Zaha leaves in this window - but what about Brighton? Nobody at The Amex should be anything other than concerned about the rest of their season. Again - as I pointed out last week - they’re still two points and one place worse off than they were a year ago. They had the fight of their lives to stay up then.  It’ll be Interesting to see if Graham Potter is still splitting centre-backs and trying to play out when it gets a bit tight from March onwards.

I’m pleased with my call re-Sheffield United as well. Not for a minute did I think they’d struggle.

I’m also interested to see a few more people agreeing with me that Jurgen Klopp has had a dramatically bigger influence on his club than Guardiola has had at City. If you’re not a regular let me explain. So far Guardiola has won nothing at City that the two previous managers hadn’t. Klopp has ended 30 years of hurt at Anfield. He’s also won a CL, which Guardiola has still failed to do without Messi. Here’s another prediction - you’ll hear more about this elsewhere going forward!

I said VAR would be a nightmare. That it wouldn’t add anything to our game. Anyone care to disagree? We’re edging towards the correct use of the system now - only because IFAB and FIFA have warned the PL about the way we use it - but it’s still far from workable. Ask yourself - how many times should a match day ref have gone to a monitor this weekend to check his own decisions? We’ll get there - but Mike Riley will be dragged kicking and screaming towards acceptance. When he has been he should quit - or be fired if he won’t walk.

One change I would be happy to see - and I predict isn’t far off from being adopted - independent time keepers. It’s a MUST. How can Michael Oliver take 3’10” to adjust equipment during the first half of Watford’s game and then add on only two minutes? This happens week after week with VAR as well. We’re being short changed. What’s wrong with somebody else taking this task from the ref?

So there we have it. As my old boss at tv-AM, the genius Aussie Bruce Gyngell, used to say ‘no-one else will give you credit for what you do - so make sure you do yourself’. Good on ya Bruce!!

The Right Way...?

Published: Monday, 13 January 2020

I exchanged messages with a PL manager last week. We were discussing the smoke and mirrors which the modern game exists behind. It ended with him saying ‘there’s so much fake news these days’. He’s right, but it’s how it is now. Football has evolved. The media has changed. It’s life - nothing is forever - it’s how it should be, but it is still quite hard to get your head round sometimes.

Here’s an example. I read today (Monday) that ‘Inter Milan have made Christian Eriksson’s agent an offer....’. Amazing. Clubs used to make each other offers - then agents were involved in the process! Not anymore, as Mourinho might say. 

Everybody has an opinion that can be expressed now. Again, nothing wrong with that. It should never be the case that the man/woman that shouts the loudest should be lauded and regarded as the only person fit to pass a judgement. Noise doesn’t equate to quality.

When Andy and I started working at TalkSPORT I was told ‘we want to hear what you think’. That flew in the face of everything I’d been doing previously. But it was liberating. I enjoyed it. I’ve continued to grow opinions ever since - I like shaping this blog, returning to a form of journalism and communication that remains king, despite all the changes - the written word.

But I’m always conscious that no matter what I believe I will bow to experience. I didn’t play. Andy did. I’ve always been grateful that I can turn to him and ask - ‘what’s it like to win the title? What’s it like to score the winning goal in a cup final? What’s it like to score in a European final - in fact, every final you played in?’ I can also ask ‘what’s it like to be relegated?’ 😂😂.

My point is that no matter what we believe - and I repeat - of course we can all have an opinion, only when you’ve been there and done it can you express a view with the confidence of experience.

When I started out journalists would report on the match they’d watched  - a young pup like me would provide the ‘quotes’ after scuffling about in and around the tunnel after games. The ‘desk’ would weave the report and quotes together. Simple stuff. Factual stuff.

Now journalists are experts in everything. I read a piece in The Mirror last week which explained the genius behind Arsenal’s win over Manchester United. I read that ‘Arteta’s tactics - pointedly similar to Guardiola’s possession-centric, high pressing aesthetic at Manchester City - were too complex for the United players to get to grips with’. Really? What exactly does that mean? Are Arsenal’s ‘group’ all members of Mensa? Are United so thick as a collective that they don’t know how to do their boots up? I read about ‘inverted right-backs’ and ‘flat threes in the middle’. I won’t bore you with the rest of it. I was bamboozled reading it so no wonder United couldn’t play against it. I did wonder what happened to this cutting edge science in Arsenal’s 1-1 draws against Bournemouth and Palace and in the defeat to Chelsea before I text Andy and asked him to try and give me some idea of what it all meant.

Seriously. What nonsense, but it’s how it’s gone. There’s no reason at all as to why the author shouldn’t express his view, but he must accept that he’s also open to analysis.

The article’s conclusion was that Arteta tries to play football ‘the right way’. What exactly is that? At Bournemouth, playing ‘the right way’ has seen Eddie Howe’s team lose nine of their last 11. They’re in big trouble four and a half years after breaking financial fair play regulations to get into the PL - and after spending £234m in their time in the big league.

Graham Potter’s brave new world at Brighton saw him rewarded with a contract extension after half a dozen games. What a relief it was to see Brighton shrug off the suffocating cloak that Chris Hughton had imposed. Potter plays football ‘the right way’. Just one thing - at this same stage last season Brighton were two points better off and one place higher - although they had scored a goal less. They’ve conceded exactly the same number of goals. Smoke and mirrors. And why the contract extension? I’ll tell you why - so that Dan Ashworth could justify the decision he made to get rid of Hughton. #fakenews.

Times change, but let’s not get too carried away with the belief that football was invented by Pep Guardiola and the way he enjoys watching the game played is the only way that it should be. There is no ‘right way’. There are ‘different ways’ thank goodness. There always has been. There always will be.

What has evolved is how we absorb it. How we’re fed it. But let’s not take that too seriously either. Only my late Mum stopped watching TV-am and Sky Sports when I left their employment. Nobody switched off 5-live because Pougers wasn’t presenting Sports Report last weekend. Change is necessary and can’t be stopped. We should do all we can to encourage today’s Vloggers/Bloggers/writers - but remember that you can’t buy experience and someone that’s done it - been there as it were - will always have a more valid opinion than the rest of us amateurs.

VAR shambles is now a full blown crisis

Published: Monday, 30 December 2019

Well you can’t say I didn’t warn you. And what was simply a shambles has become a full blown crisis. Mike Riley and his team of half trained amateurs are reducing the best league in the world to a laughing stock. VAR is not working. It hasn’t brought anything positive to the game. It won’t. It can’t.

Riley continues to puff his chest out trying to convince us all that VAR has been an unprecedented success. That only four wrong calls have been made all season. Forgive me - every time I mention that ridiculous claim I fall about laughing. Hold on.....I’ll be back.

Ok. That’s better. Four mistakes? Please. There’s very nearly four in every game.

What is the point of VAR - or VR as I call it? It is VR. We have ‘video refs’. They make all the big calls in the Stockley Park bunker. It’s nonsense.

This is something else I’ve been banging on about - to the point of almost total boredom. Now, it seems, the penny has dropped. I messaged four different PL managers this weekend who all agreed that I’d been correct on this all along. Then Nuno Espirito Santo said exactly the same thing. And Klopp. Stop it. It’s ridiculous. Still we’re the only league in the world operating like this. Why? So Riley can have full control of all the decisions making? And on that basis he should take full responsibility for the mess and quit. I’ve said this before as well. He simply has to go. Only then will we have a chance of sorting this mess out.

I call his VR watchers ‘amateurs‘ because that’s exactly what they are. I’ve spent 35 years watching football on tv - working with the best ever - Andy Gray. He’s still the best. He was the first talking about 25 frames/second therefore proving that the technology can’t be accurate. Which frame do we use to check off-side? The one when the ball is on the foot? The one as it leaves? You become used to watching the game differently when you’ve been at it as long as we have. Every time the PGMOL trot out some nonsense to justify a decision we can prove them wrong. I wouldn’t expect to be given a whistle and to ref a game. That’s for experts. Leave watching tv pictures to experts. You can’t ref a game from screens.

What about these daft lines they put on to ‘prove’ players are off-side? They’re not accurate. They can’t be. The technology isn’t that good - even the PGMOL accept that there’s got to be a ‘margin of error’ and yet they fail to factor that in when trying to find a reason to disallow another goal because an arm pit, a toe or a long nose is offside. That’s not why VAR was brought in. It was to correct things that were obviously wrong - like Willy Boly’s handball goal at Molineux last season. Like Henry’s in the WC qualifier against Ireland. Things that hadn’t been seen in real time. When Gianni Infantino tried to tell me Maradona’s goal would’ve been ruled out by VAR my response was - ‘it should’ve been anyway. The only two people in the stadium that didn’t see it were the lino and the ref. Or perhaps they did see it and ignored it?’ He didn’t like that, but it’s true. Ask any England player on the pitch that day if that’s how they felt and I’m sure they’ll tell you ‘yes’.

We’ve now seen 31 goals ruled out by the ‘anti-goals Police’ this season - 21 of them for ‘offside’. It’s complete madness. Scoring goals is what teams work at doing. Goals are what we pay to see. We should be looking for reasons to give them. There are some ‘pundits’ that remain convinced we need VAR and believe it’s working. ‘The lines prove players are offside. And what’s the alternative?’ Simple. Do as MLS does - use the naked eye. If a player is obviously offside we shouldn’t need VAR - but it’s not going away now - so use the naked eye. Give the forward back the age old view that he/she should have the advantage of ‘doubt’.

We at #beINSPORTS have led the way on VAR discussions - from our original warnings that it would add nothing to the game - right through this weekend when a fully blown crisis evolved.

Where is Richard Masters, the ‘by default’ new MD of the PL? He hasn’t muttered a word. Is he too scared? Is he not able to because his predecessor Richard Scudamore, who once talked of ‘big titted broads and gash’, is still hanging about protecting his man Riley? Not a word. The silence is deafening.

All over the world people are asking ‘what’s happening in the PL?’ What was once the ‘greatest’ league in the world has been reduced to laughing stock. Is that what we want? Really?

We can’t even celebrate goals anymore. How sad that it was Klopp that admitted he doesn’t bother. This can’t be right.

The decision makers are too proud to admit they got it wrong, so VAR - or our version VR - will stay. But they’ve got to sort this mess out. Oh - if you think I’m a smart arse because I called it - don’t listen to me - read Mssrs Halsey and Hackett. They’re the only two calling it as it is because they’re not on the PGMOL payroll. The rest are all paid patsies. They do as they’re told.

I can’t believe I’ve spent all this time venting - so how about we talk about the football?

Welcome back David Moyes, although how West Ham have got the bare faced cheek to invite him back I don’t know. They dumped all over him 18 months ago. Dig the blog out that I wrote then and check out the abuse West Ham fans poured all over me. I’m not going to say it - but......

What a job Nigel Pearson is doing. I’ll repeat last week’s prediction - he’ll get Watford out. Those falling into danger would appear to be Bournemouth, where Eddie Howe has so far got away with blowing a fortune for no return - but, of course, he plays the game the ‘right way’, so that’s ok. No. Pearson does. He wins games.

Brighton also play the ‘right way’ now. But be careful down there. I want Villa out of the drop zone. They’re a ‘proper’ club and the league needs them. Norwich will go. I’ve said that all along.

Anyway - have a great New Year. My resolution? To keep calling for Mike Riley to go. Join me. We want our game back.