Richard Keys Blog

Beauty v Beast

on Tuesday, 19 September 2017. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

It's game on at last between Guardiola and Mourinho and it's going to be fascinating.

For the first time in recent memory we've genuinely got two teams 'joint top'. There's nothing between City and United. Nothing - and were the league to end today we'd have a play-off for the title. Can you imagine that? Wow. What a game that would be. Let's hope both can stay the course and that others can get involved.

From what we've seen so far Chelsea will be around. I still have a sneaky feeling that Arsenal will do better than most people think, but I don't see too many more challenging - certainly not Everton! My goodness, what a start they've made. My pre-season prediction that they'd go well is looking as good as my call that Leicester would go down the season they won the title!!!

So let's concentrate on the top two for a while. What exactly is it that wins titles? The P Lge has to be harder to win than any other league in the world, so you need staying power for a start. You need to be able to dig in and nick results when the wind is blowing hard on a wet, miserable night at Stoke!

For sure, a giant share of luck is required. You need big decisions to go your way at the right time - but that's generally a given for the big teams. 

You need to keep players fit, so this is where the 'sports science' dept comes in. I also think that you've got to know what you're priority is - and target it. If that means dropping out of the domestic cup competitions, then so be it. For Mourinho they served their purpose last season and I can't see United going after them again this time.

It's a given that top players are required - with a mentality to get over the line. This is where it gets interesting for me.

City have been fantastic so far. I've really enjoyed watching them. Aguero is on fire. So is his mate Jesus. At last, Guardiola seems to have found what he's been looking for. And I think he's realised he's got to respect our league a whole lot more than he did last season. He came expecting to win it at the first attempt and got a nasty surprise. Now though, City are a delight. They look slick. Everybody is happy on the ball. And there's no changing the belief that they can 'play' the best off the park.

Mourinho has said that winning the title his year would be his greatest achievement to date. He's due. He always wins the title - whatever country he's in - second season! He's built a typically Mourinho team - big, powerful and able to dig in to get a result. I mentioned, at the weekend, that nine of their 16 goals have come in the last 10 minutes. That says their prepared to 'win' the game - individual battles too - before cutting loose.

So, what 'philosophy' will ultimately prove to be the right one? In Spain, Guardiola's Barca generally swept everybody aside - until Mourinho turned up in Madrid! In his second season it was 'power' that got Real over the line.

It was 'power' that delivered Mancini's first title at City. It was 'power' that lay at the heart of all Fergie's great sides, although they could be thoroughly entertaining when the time was right. 

It's always been 'power' at Chelsea. And Wenger's title winning teams had that above anything else - Vieira and Petit - Adams, Bould, Keown.

Dalglish's Blackburn blew teams away and so did Leicester when they won it.

The only team I can remember trying to win the P Lge title with a 'softer' approach were Keegan's 'entertainers'. Oh how I wish Kevin's wonderful brand of football had been rewarded with a title, but the year they led by 12 pts, they were eventually blown away by United.

It would appear we've got the same fascinating showdown in beliefs again. What ultimately wins a title - beauty or the beast? I think we're going to find out this season. I also believe it's going to be quite a ride.

What a mis-judged storm

on Monday, 11 September 2017. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

What a load of fuss over something that was so obvious. Sadio Mane had to go off. And let me say straight away - that is not an 'anti-Liverpool' verdict. It's a simple fact and Jon Moss should be applauded for the decision he made - and the calm manner in which he made it. I've said it already a couple of times and I will again, I think our officials are having a really good season so far, although I'm sure Mike Jones' guv'nors will want a quiet word, because Matt Ritchie should also have seen red!

A couple of things on the Mane sending off which my beINSPORTS colleague Andy Gray mentioned on Saturday. Mane definitely knows Ederson is coming for that ball - that's why his foot is so high, and why he's trying to nick it over him. And here's a thought, what if the situation had been the other way round and Ederson had flattened Mane? Exactly. There would've been calls for the keeper to have been arrested for assault!

Very simply, Mane's challenge met all the criteria for red. The law states clearly that a tackle or a challenge that endangers the safety of an opponent, or uses excessive force or brutality, must be sanctioned as serious foul play. I've really no idea how anybody can argue that Mane was unlucky.  One last word on the incident - if Liverpool were convinced they'd been hard done by they would've appealed. They haven't because they would lose.

But it's what happened after the sending off that stunned me. Liverpool fell apart. They were better than Arsenal at Anfield a fortnight ago, but only just. They went onto concede four goals in a total capitulation, yet there was no screaming from the rooftops his week about their attitude. Some of the criticism that followed that Arsenal performance was a disgrace. Look - it was poor and I said so myself, but when it gets as personal as it did - because Arsene Wenger is an easy target and not a 'pundits' favourite, it's totally wrong.

As good as Liverpool were on that day - and I said in my last blog that it was difficult to judge them in some ways because Arsenal were so poor, the same can be said of City this week. They ripped Liverpool apart with some scintillating football - as good as I've seen under Guardiola - but they were certainly helped by a totally inept opposition. Incidentally, Liverpool can't hide behind the sending off. As my old mate Jan Fjortoft correctly pointed out on Twitter, Freiburg got a man sent off after 29 minutes against Dortmund at the weekend, but still got a goalless draw. And how many times have we seen 10 men win a game like that?

As I write I notice that Frank de Boer has lost his job at Palace - no surprise there, but is their miserable start all down to de Boer? No, of course it's not. I like Steve Parrish a lot, but the Palace owner has got to take his share of the blame. He wanted to take his team in a different direction and that's why Palace went for de Boer. He was only doing what had been asked of him - trying to 'soften' them, but he had no chance. He needed time to achieve that and as we know, there isn't much of that in the modern game. De Boer also needed a whole set of different players and patience from a Palace crowd that like their football raw. None of it was possible and Parrish must've known that when he made the appointment. The bottom line is this - wrong man at the wrong club.

Slaven Bilic is likely to be next - but I'm not convinced he'll be too bothered. He's recently sounded like a man trying to get the sack. You don't ever take owners on and expect to win that battle. As Parrish has just shown, the power lies in the Boardroom. A manager is simply a hired hand.

The Toon got a well deserved result at Swansea. What a terrific captains performance that was from Jamaal Lascelles. What I liked most about it was the way he celebrated on the whistle showing just pure joy and pride. It's not often we see that on a football pitch these days. 

I'll close with a few words about Sean Dyche. What a terrific and hugely underrated guy this is. He's worked miracles at Burnley and is a rare beneficiary of a commodity I've already mentioned doesn't exist much - time.

It would've been easy Burnley to sack him after their first unsuccessful season in the P Lge, but they knew the quality of the guy they'd employed and backed him. Dyche got Burnley back again, settled and now, as they showed at Chelsea on the opening day, they can compete with the best.

Dyche keeps it simple. He knows what he's got and gets the best out of it. He made a profit in the last transfer window whilst making his team stronger. Burnley have got themselves a terrific new training ground and a future as a result of careful planning and knowing what they're good at. Mr Parrish take note!

I love big Sean. He's a cracking guy and deserves a whole lot more recognition than he gets. Could he do it elsewhere - at a bigger club? Sadly he'll probably never get the chance, but of course he could. It's a myth that continental coaches have a secret manual that our guys have never seen and that's why they get all the top jobs. Sadly I don't see things changing any time soon, but the more guys like Dyche make an impact the more helpful it is for British coaches. Keep making a storm big man!

It's time to back Wenger

on Monday, 28 August 2017. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

It was nearly everything and more that every pundit and headline writer was screaming at us this weekend. Arsenal were awful at Anfield. Best headline incidentally - my vote goes to the Daily Mail - 'Kop 4 Keystone Kops 0'. Brilliant!

So now a lot of the immediate hysterical reaction has subsided what are we to make of arguably the most inept performance I've seen from a top 6 side in PL history? There's no hiding from it - it was rank. I watched wondering whether those in Arsenal shirts had downed tools and were beginning the process of playing Wenger out of office. We've seen many examples of it in recent seasons - and there's precedent at Arsenal when the players at the time saw off Bruce Rioch.

Let's not pretend, Arsenal have a massive problem and it's all of their own making, but I don't want to be too critical. Here's why. In an era when we criticise almost everybody involved in the game for a lack of loyalty and respect, Arsene Wenger is unique. He loves Arsenal. It was put to me at the weekend, from a very respectable Arsenal source, that the Frenchman is 'caught up in a love affair' with the club. Well I don't have a problem with that. Good on him, but isn't it often the case that many of us lose sight of reality in that situation?

Wenger changed Arsenal. I'd go so far as to say he did the same across the English game. He's a gentleman and fascinating to listen to, but was he right to stay on last summer?

I never had a doubt that he would. I don't accept the theory that there's 'ten million reasons a year' why he would. Wenger is rich beyond his wildest expectation and had he walked away he'd probably be earning more somewhere else. No. He simply loves Arsenal.

The bigger question is 'should he have been given the chance to stay?' That's another matter altogether. But who was going to tell him it was time to go? And was it?

Football is not a perfect science. There are so many factors that can bite you just when everything seems to be going so well.

Those who believe in 'loyalty' should back Wenger's stance on Sanchez. I don't. I'd sell. The truth is Sanchez left Arsenal three months ago. He's a distraction in the dressing room in exactly the same way as the uncertainty surrounding Wenger was last season. Get rid of Sanchez. Take Aguero in exchange if you can - if not, take City's money. I still believe they will, but this should've been done so much earlier in the summer.

What chance Wenger will re-think and walk? For me, none. Not only is he a proud man, a man in love, he's also a stubborn man. So Arsenal fans and their Board got to back him. What choice is there? Exactly. None.

Liverpool were ruthless, but as John Barnes said on beINSports, it's really hard to judge a performance like that when the opposition were so poor. He went on to say 'let's judge them against West Brom'. I know what he means - teams that sit in and make life really difficult. Even so, I thought Licerpool were terrific and the win allowed Jurgen Klopp to escape further scrutiny as to why he left Simon Mignolet out. Did he rest him? No chance. I hear Simon was a naughty boy and stayed up late  Saturday night for some reason!

I've been very complimentary about our officials so far this season. I think they've done really well. Of course, they're never going to get everything right but there hasn't been too many howlers - until the weekend. Mike Dean - why didn't you just blow your whistle once you'd gone beyond the allotted five minutes that you'd added at Bournemouth? All the trouble that followed was Dean's fault. He looked intimidated by Pep Guardiola on the touchline and he definitely was by City on the pitch in those dying minutes. As for Asmir Begovic calling for an inquiry into why the big teams always get the big decisions - forget it Asmir. It's an historical thing and it won't change now. But was it a foul by Lys Mousset on Otamendi on the half way line? Was it hell. The winning goal came from it. Bournemouth were hard done by. But once again City did what was asked of them.

A special mention for Tony Pulis. Here's a guy that's been beaten as black and blue as the Baggies kit down the years! What a start Tony. Fantastic. I was equally pleased for Mark Hughes and his 'Tafia'. Hughes has also been the target of much unwarranted criticism this season.

I predicted a struggle for Palace. In fact, regulars will know I had them down as one of my bottom 3 before a ball was kicked. This is no reflection on Frank de Boer, quite obviously a talented coach, but he and Palace are not a fit. I believe the Palace hierarchy are beginning to think the same.

Well done The Toon. It was a much needed win v West Ham. I said on Twitter Saturday afternoon I thought West Ham were 'unlucky'. Let me explain with more than 140 characters. Not 'unlucky' because they got beaten, but having correctly seen Arnautovic sent off last week they had good reason to complain that Mitrovic should've gone for his challenge on Lanzini. Judge for yourselves.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCABepAxMpU&feature=youtu.be

Naughty. And the difference between that and what Arnautovic did? The score was 2-0 when Mitrovic scored a goal he shouldn't have been on the pitch to get and I'm not suggesting him being sent off would've affected the outcome, but we want consistency.

So the window 'slams shut' Thursday! Why does it always 'slam' shut? Why can't it just close? I expect hundreds of millions to change hands yet. Will all the deals get done that we were told might? No, they won't, but it doesn't mean to say they haven't been discussed. Had Real Madrid got Mbappe then United would've got Bale. They still might, but it's less and less likely.

Do Barca get Coutinho? Well if they don't now, chances are they will going forward. They got Suarez didn't they?  Do City get Sanchez? Watch this space. In the meantime, it's time for Arsenal fans to lick their wounds and stand by their man. It's time to back Wenger, whatever he decides to do. Read that last line carefully.

Watch this space....

on Monday, 21 August 2017. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

Business as usual then - at Chelsea, Arsenal Manchester United, Liverpool - and Spurs - at Wembley.

The crisis at Chelsea certainly didn't last long. Conte made his point last week - dressed in his tracksuit as though he was simply 'the boy' on the touchline. This week it was collar and tie again, almost as though somebody had whispered quietly in his ear about not taking the mickey out of the owner. Conte's team were terrific - they went to Wembley with a plan and executed it brilliantly.

They were a totally different team to the one that Burnley took apart on the opening day.

So two games in Spurs have a better away record than they do home - just as we predicted! Of course it's far too early to draw any kind of conclusion from that statistic, only that it highlights what we said was likely to be the case - and that is that teams will love going to play them at Wembley. Conte said as much after Chelsea's win. Having said that, I thought Spurs played well and as Ray WIlkins would say 'were a tad unlucky'!

United were awesome. They are as good as I've seen wearing United red since Fergie retired. They're big - remember what I told you about Mourinho believing you've got to have at least five players over 6'2" if you're going to win the league? Well he has now - but they're not just lumps, they can play. They dug in, did a job on Swansea and when it felt right, put their foot on the gas and took them apart. Here's a little stat to keep an eye on - United have hit four goals eight times under Mourinho but have yet to manage five. Chelsea scored four 11 times under Mourinho before they finally managed five. Thank you Bill Edgar.

Before the season started we posed the question here 'how long before Arsenal fans start calling for Wenger to go'? Unless something dramatically changes - and I mean dramatically - it won't be long now. That performance at Stoke could've come from any of the last ten seasons. Would Sanchez have made much of a difference? Yes, I believe he would, but what kind of Sanchez are Arsenal going to be playing if he doesn't get his move to City? Like Coutinho, who Liverpool will insist they won't sell, they'll have the player in a physical sense, but not mentally. My view is the deal with City eventually gets done. If they come back with £70-£75m for a player in the last year of his contract The Gunners would be mad not to take it. A here's a thought - it was fairly obvious at the back end of last season that Guardiola doesn't really fancy Aguero, so why don't Arsenal suggest a swap? That way everybody is happy surely?

Liverpool laboured against Palace didn't they? Would Coutinho have made much of a difference? Look, top players always do, but I've seen many performances from Klopp's team just like that when the Brazilian has played. I don't believe Liverpool are strong enough to challenge for the title and having only added Mohamed Salah in the summer, they're way short. This is not an 'anti' Liverpool view, it's simply an honest view.

It was back down to earth for Burnley. Say what you like, Tony Pulis is an operator. I was delighted for Mark Hughes as well. I was listening to Stoke get a terrible hammering on the radio last week, unfairly I thought, so I was delighted to see Hughes team play as well as they did, especially Jese. What can they lose by taking him on loan? There's a whole lot more to gain that's for sure.

Everybody in and around Huddersfield must be feeling a little dizzy right now! It's been a great start - but a word of warning - Hull came out of the traps just like this last season and we all know what happened to them. 

Have you looked at the top of the championship? If not, please do. I loved this quote from the Ipswich Town boss this weekend, referring to himself and Neil Warnock 'two old farts that know fuck all about the game hey? I'll have to get my iPad out now."  Brilliant Mick and remember next time someone calls you a dinosaur, those creatures ruled the planet for 300 million years!

Finally, to address an issue I keep getting asked about - Bale to United. Transfers aren't a perfect science - but whilst the window remains open that deal has still got a chance and so have the others that there's been so much speculation about. I believe we're going to see some really big money spent before the end of August, but exactly where is difficult to be certain about. Just watch this space.....

What a start.....

on Monday, 14 August 2017. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

What a start. What a cracking weekend. The next 37 rounds probably won't be as good, but let's celebrate as good an opening weekend as I can remember.

We're very lucky in our part of the world because we see ALL the games 'live' ALL the time on beINSports.  Before I talk about the games let me compliment our officials. To a man I thought they were terrific. Craig Pawson had a really good day at Stamford Bridge, although I did think the second yellow for Fabragas should've been red. It was a shocking challenge. But Craig made big calls all day.

Antony Taylor and his team got all the big calls correct at Watford. What a good decision they made on the pen - no panic, Taylor waited, gave himself thinking time, obviously spoke with his assistant, they were spot on. Bearing in mind the direction that the ball travelled after Gomes' challenge it would've been easy to get that one wrong. So who needs VAR? Oh, there was another cock up with the system - this time in Belgium. Please, let's think long and hard before we rush headlong into this.

https://twitter.com/HLNinEngeland/status/896977847151206400

So to the football. I thought United were terrific. Of all the contenders they looked the most likely, although City did a really professional job at Brighton. They weren't 'pretty' but they were effective and there's nothing wrong with that.

At Old Trafford Lukaku looked worth every penny of his fee - but how good was Matic? I saw a line Monday that he was worth 6 points - 3 at Old Trafford and the 3 that Chelsea lost at The Bridge. I agree. What were Chelsea thinking when they sold him to United?

I was disappointed in the Hammers. I said in my last blog that I liked their summer transfer business and I still do - so give Bilic a bit of time eh before we jump all over him? That he's favourite, with Conte, to get the sack first astounds me.

What was his game at The Bridge? I don't care what he says - Conte's team selection was designed to make a point. And I thought the way he dressed was too. By wearing that tracksuit I think he was saying to the hierarchy 'Ok. I'm just the boy in charge of the team. I'll dress like it and behave like it'. I smiled when I saw Mourinho in a shirt and tie - he doesn't miss the chance to make a point either does he?!? Burnley, by the way, were fantastic at Chelsea.

I was delighted for Wayne Rooney. It's no secret that I'm a huge fan. The guy has been phenomenal these past 13 years and as I've said before - I believe there's plenty left in the tank. It wasn't a 'fluid' Everton performance, but, like City, they too were effective. They'll get better.

Eighteen times Liverpool have now conceded from corners during Jurgen Klopp's time in charge at Anfield - the latest two examples came at Watford. Andy Gray has always said - and he did again on beINSports this weekend - he believes Liverpool are always dangerous with the ball - but too easy to punish when they haven't got it. It's a recurring problem and they won't win anything whilst it is. One big plus - the new kit. I love the 'Shankly' red.

I've no idea how they've managed to get into such a mess over Coutinho. They can't possibly not have known that he was on Barcelona's shopping list - so why the public surprise now? The bottom line is they've 'lost' him. If they stick to the stubborn line that he's not going anywhere they keep the individual - but not the player. He'll switch off and the chances are he'll stink the place out. He wants to leave and might never get another chance to join the Catalans. If they don't get him now they'll look elsewhere for Neymar's replacement and Coutinho's chance will have gone. He knows that. If I was Klopp I'd drive him to the airport myself and bank the money. Never mind the tough talk - it's all posturing anyway.

Spurs looked good - but I expect that on the road. It'll be interesting to watch them first time out at Wembley.

I wasn't overly keen on the Friday night start to the season - but what a game. I wonder how many Arsenal fans had got their 'Wenger out' banners unfurled when Leicester were 3-2 up? It was a huge win for the Arsenal manager.

Huddersfield were terrific - but in truth had nothing to beat. Palace were awful. They've gambled on a change of style and Frank de Boer has been charged with delivering it. I still think it's a huge gamble and the Selhurst faithful won't have it if they're continually as bad as they were Saturday.

Brighton knew they had a job and a half on before they lost to City. They made two individual errors and were punished. You can't do that at P Lge level.

We got 31 goals in total and some confident officiating. As a neutral I really enjoyed it. What a start......

We're off.....

on Tuesday, 08 August 2017. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

It was 1992, about September time, and I was following Ron Atkinson out of a studio. We'd just been recording another edition of the Footballers' Football Show. He was bubbling about the new Premier League era and still excited about football in general.

I say 'still' because as we walked I looked at him and thought 'Wow - even after all these years he's revved up by it all'. I went on to think 'will I retain an enthusiasm like that?' 

I'd known Ron since my time in Manchester. He's a great guy - deeply loyal, great fun and simply football mad. What he isn't, by the way, is a racist.

The reason I was having all those thoughts was because we'd just landed the Premier League contract at Sky and although I too was hugely excited by everything that was happening around me, I was wondering how long I'd retain an appetite for it all. I've got the answer now - so far, 26 years!

As we start again, what should we expect? Well, as Leicester proved, predicting is a mugs game. The year they won the title I had them down for relegation! Maybe it's time to get my own back - they will definitely NOT win the title this year and I'm 100 per cent certain of that!

So who will? With time yet for all the contenders to spend again, it's hard at this stage to make either bold or accurate predictions, but I'll share with you the way I'm thinking right now.

With Gareth Bale United win the title. Without him they are strong contenders, who could muscle their way back to the top, but they're not nailed on. It's a shame to be talking about a United team 'muscling' their way to success, but that's what they are now - big and strong. Mourinho once said you can't win a title with less than five players over 6'2" because you're always vulnerable at set-pieces. Well he's fixed that little problem hasn't he?

I fancied them strongly last season but the decay was worse than even I had been telling United punters - not that any of them ever listened. I repeat, Fergie got out at exactly the right time - and he knew it. He won the title in his last season, but the rot had already started. I said they needed eight to be competitive the following season and they've since spent £587m - I rest my case. Oh, David Moyes is with us on beINSports this weekend - I'll try and persuade him to tell us what his United would've looked like had they landed all his targets - it's fascinating.

So it's United for me - with Bale. If not, Guardiola just HAS to win it or he will have failed in English football. Never mind that he argues City are 10 years behind their rivals - that's nonsense. If it's not, they'll never catch up because the 'rivals' will always keep pulling away.

Last season was a shambles at City. I'm sure Guardiola arrived expecting to walk it, especially after the way they started, but it was never going to happen. He didn't have Xavi, Iniesta or Messi nor the fairly simple task of finishing above Madrid to win a title. He didn't have Robben, Lewandowski or Muller nor the relatively simple task of finishing above Dortmund to win in Germany. England isn't like that Pep. Having spent what he has this summer Guardiola HAS to win it. He just HAS to, but I'm not sure he will.

I might be alone in this, but I fancy Arsenal to go well. How long will it be though before we're all asking 'was Wenger right to stay?'  If he loses his opener the answer is '90 minutes'! I'm not sure there's a title bid in them, but top 4 is realistic.

My 4th placed finishers will surprise you - I'm going for Everton - not with a lot of conviction, but hope. I like Ronald Koeman and I think Everton's business this summer has been fantastic. If they get Sigurdsson they'll be a match for anyone. There's plenty left in Rooney's tank and they're a nice mixture of young and old.

Which means I've got Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs outside the Champions League places! Before you start abusing me on Twitter, let me explain.

I enjoyed watching Spurs last season more than any other team, but without any significant signings they've gone backwards. You can't stand still. There's still time, but Ross Barkley wouldn't be a significant signing for me. I don't know what he does, but I do know that he doesn't score enough goals, doesn't break play up, doesn't win tackles and he gives the ball away too often and too easily.

The other big problem Spurs have is trying to win a title at Wembley. I just can't see it. A bit like West Ham found at their new home last season, every team going to Wembley will love it. They'll all raise their game and frustrate Spurs, who might just be more successful on the road, but it's 'home' form, or a lack of it, that will cost them for me.

Chelsea are short in numbers and they haven't got the luxury of just playing league games this time around. Conte knows it as well. I wouldn't be surprised to see him concentrate on the Champions League because the continentals still see that as a more prestigious competition than winning a domestic title. I don't think they've got enough to go well in both competitions.

Jurgen Klopp has simply GOT to win a trophy. Nothing else will do, but it won't be the title. I can't validate it, but I'm told his agent, Mark Kosicke, didn't want to send players to Anfield this summer. If not, why not? What does he know that we don't? I'm afraid if Klopp doesn't deliver this season he should be on his way at the end of it. Having spent £112m he's had both money and time.

As for the strugglers, I'm afraid the season will prove to be too tough for both Huddersfield and Brighton. Neither should worry about that. Both should use Burnley as the benchmark - up, relegated, up again and settle. Don't bankrupt your club going on a mad spending spree.

My third strugglers are Palace - IF de Boer softens them too much. Pardew tried that and look what happened. Palace haven't looked better in this league than they did under Pulis and Allardyce - big and strong and getting the ball forward quickly. It's a style of play in their DNA - remember Wright and Bright beating defenders up in Steve Coppell's teams? Oh - Steve will be with us week two on beINSports. He's great fun.

I repeat what I said when I started these few words - predicting isn't an exact science or I'd put a lot of money on the above and become very rich. I know I'll have upset s few of you - but they're just a few thoughts to throw around in the pub. Let me know what you think - but whatever else you do - enjoy your season. We're off......

PL loans distort the competition

on Wednesday, 26 July 2017. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

Having burst back into life yesterday I didn't intend to be making my fingers sore again today - but sometimes 140 characters on Twitter just aren't enough.

I've made mention previously how I believe that PL clubs distort the competition when they loan players to each other. Right now, Chelsea have five out and the chances are there'll be more before we kick off again. It's wrong. And here's why.....

Each and every one of those players can play for the team they're with AGAINST Chelsea's title rivals - but they can't play against Chelsea. It remains to be seen if they have any effect on the race by scoring big goals - stopping them - or indeed bossing games that frustrate a point or two from the other contenders. They might - they equally might not - but they're going to have more of an impact against them than they would sitting in Chelsea's bench.

Of course I know the value of sending players out on loan - but it doesn't have to be to the PL. The truth is that too many clubs nowadays run squads that are top heavy and ways of keeping the guys happy - or furthering their education - don't exist like they once did.

Let me give you another example of what I'm saying. We know Mourinho doesn't fancy Anthony Martial. He's not going to be in Utd's starting line up very often this season. There are two options - sell - but the chances are Utd won't make back the ridiculous money they paid for him - or loan him out.

We also know how Mourinho's mind works. Let's say he does a deal to send him to Newcastle. What a sensation he'd be there playing in front of those fans. I'd back him to get 20 goals plus for the Toon. How many of those might be against Arsenal, City, Chelsea.....you get my drift. He's going to have more of an impact against Mourinho's closest rivals in somebody else's jersey than he will sitting watching at Old Trafford. You can argue it's an unlikely example - but it's not. What about City - where do they send Nasri? Arsenal - Walcott let's say? Wilshere was out on loan last season. Liverpool have got capacity to let one or two out. It's just wrong.

If you've got a top heavy squad - sell some. Back your judgement. No PL club needs to be borrowing players. They can all afford to commit.

While we're at it - I DO NOT follow any PL team. I don't either like or dislike Utd - but I do admire them. I worked in that City for two great years and got to know both clubs well. The same goes for Liverpool, where I had four very happy years. I worked all round London and made many friends. I'm a football fan - I pass comment on what I see because you guys ask me to. Occasionally I can share what I hear and I don't make things up. I'm a Coventry City (I know!) so be sure that I have no allegiance to one PL team or another. I'm lucky that I've been as close to football and football people for as long as I have and I still enjoy what I do.

Why do I mention that? Well, it's a forlorn hope I know, but how about we drop all the personal insults going forward? If you follow on Twitter I imagine it's because you don't want to miss anything - if it's simply to behave like an errant third form brat - go elsewhere. I'm not interested in your nonsense.

Oh, for the record, the five Chelsea players on loan are Izzy Brown at Brighton - a striker. Zouma at Stoke - defender. Abraham at Swansea - a striker. Palmer at Huddersfield - creative m/f & occasional front man.  Loftus-Cheek at Palace - he too gets goals from m/f. Get my point now?

Just sayin'

on Tuesday, 25 July 2017. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

So much has happened since we last shared a few words together. I thought we'd best catch up with some of it or my next blog is going to have to be a monster!

I noticed a line that the Premier League is 25 years old. 25! It's incredible. It's formation brought about a sizemic change the likes of which football had never previously seen - a real revolution. It's largely been evolution ever since - mostly under the brilliant leadership of Richard Scudamore. If there has ever been a brighter, smarter sports administrator than Richard I can't think of him/her.

Every TV deal that's agreed the doom mongers tell us 'that's it, the bubble will burst soon'. No sign of it though is there?

So the spending goes on and there's no sign of it relenting either. So far, City have spent £133m on three full-backs alone! Is it sustainable? According to Scudamore it is 'The most important thing is player costs as a percentage of turnover,' he says. Adding 'We're down in the early 60 per cents and we were much higher 10 years ago. Sixty per cent of turnover spent of player costs is actually very manageable.' Fair point. Interesting as well. So the truth is the transfer market hasn't 'gone mad' at all.

I repeat, there's a lot more spending to come before the window 'slams shut' (Why does the window always 'slam shut' Jim? Why can't it just close?) but who's done the best business so far? Let's use the old boxing adage 'pound for pound' as our barometer. So forget the big money spent - let's have a look round for the bargains.

Here's my top 4, in reverse order.

 

  1. Chicharito. He's a proven goal scorer and at just 29 there's plenty yet to come from him. He's just what West Ham have needed for a good while now. If he delivers as I expect he'll become as popular in the East End as the likes of McAvennie, Robson and even Cottee. He's a class act.

 

  1. Andy Robertson. Having said the Hammers have needed someone like Chicharito for a good time, Liverpool have been desperate for a left back since Brendan Rodgers tried to sign Ryan Bertrand. The then 'transfer committee' at Anfield killed the deal because Bertrand didn't fit their 'profile'. Rodgers ended up with Moreno, who he didn't want because he couldn't defend. That's why Rodgers always played a 3 at the back. Milner did brilliantly as a left-back last season, but what a difference it's going to make to Liverpool now having a naturally left footed player in that position - who can also defend. A 23-year-old current international for £8m - its real value for money.

 

  1. Joe Hart. IF the real Joe Hart turns up West Ham have got a steal. Hart is prone to mistakes, especially on his left side, but what keeper doesn't make mistakes? In my book he's still better than anything, and I mean anything, that City have tried to replace him with. I mentioned before that it wasn't just his ability that Guardiola was judging when he threw him out, he thought Hart was too big a character in the City dressing room. West Ham can use that to their advantage.

Before I mention my best value for money - so far - just one thing about West Ham's business this summer. For the first time since Big Sam brought in Nolan and Carroll, the manager seems to have been making the decisions about how to spend the money.

One of the 'evolutions' in the P Lge these past 25 years had been the 'transfer committee' - the Director of Football - the Sporting Director - the 'busy' owner who wants to buy players and then decide who plays. West Ham have been in the latter category for a long time now. I've never understood their transfer policy. With the occasional exception, they've continually signed 28-year-old duds for £8-£12m on 3-year-deals, which have always been allowed to run down, leaving the player to walk away for nothing. Ok, the initial outlay wasn't much, but it is when there's no sell on value. Bilic appears to have changed that philosophy this summer. Good on him.

 

  1. Wayne Rooney. Brilliant Everton. Brilliant. I like a whole lot Everton's business so far - and I know they're not done yet. I smiled when I saw Jamie Carragher (or whoever it is that operates his Twitter account) trolling Everton fans to this effect 'quite a day when Everton sign 5 players and not one of them would get in Liverpool's first team'. What? The keeper would walk in. So would Michael Keane. So would Rooney (so too would Gylfi Sigurdsson, who I believe they'll eventually land).

Rooney is a terrific leader. He's determined to prove he hasn't gone back to Goodison to retire. He's only 31. He hasn't played for 12 months so there's plenty left in the tank. I wouldn't be surprised to see him back in an England squad at some stage this season. Nor would I be surprised to see Everton finish in a Champions League place.

In closing - just one last thing. On the day Rooney re-signed I read that it was the most exciting day at Goodison since Gary Lineker signed back in the 80's. That got me thinking - because in my view the two most influential signings Everton ever made were Peter Reid and Andy Gray - Evertonians know the rest of the history.

In '85 Everton won the title with Gray, Sharp and Heath scoring 41 league goals between them. Gray left at the end of that season.

In '86 Lineker scored 30 league goals - and 10 more in other competitions. Everton won nothing. Lineker went to Barcelona.

In '87 Everton won the title again with Sharp, Heath, Sheedy and Steven scoring 48 goals between them.

As the great man Links might put it 'just sayin'.

It's a funny old game....

on Monday, 29 May 2017. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

It was Jimmy Greaves who coined the phrase 'it's a funny old game'. A bit like a few other football cliches - 'sick as a parrot' - which Phil Thompson is to blame for - it's over worked and had its time. But, every now and again it best sums up certain situations.

So, after a miserable season, ruined by the uncertainty over Arsene Wenger's future, this dignified man wins the FA Cup for a record 7th time. His team didn't just win it, they won it with all the qualities that have so often been missing from their game - oh, and a huge slice of luck, which every successful team needs.

Let's deal with the luck. Alexis Sanchez handled that ball. Fact. There is no other conclusion to come to. Quite simply Anthony Taylor didn't see it. If he had - he would've given Chelsea a free-kick. Here's what Gary Cahill had to say about the incident. 'It was incredible. I spoke to him (the ref) at half time and he was adamant he kneed the ball through'. Case close. Taylor didn't see it.

And Ramsey HAS to be offside as Sanchez scores. Thibaut Courtois this time 'Ramsey is clearly bothering me. If he's not there I can run out and get the ball before Alexis does. But because he's standing there, I stop, thinking he's going to collect it and shoot. As does the defence. He clearly interrupts the game for me and is taking part in active play'. Correct. It Ramsey continues to leave the box as he was initially doing, he's fine, but the moment he turns to try and play the ball he's offside because he becomes active. He's affecting the play. Case closed.

Having said that, the last word on that incident has to go to Cahill. 'To be honest, Arsenal were better than us. We can't hide behind the first goal'. I love the big guy. He was my player of the season. He was awesome all year long and this isn't the first time I've found myself complimenting his honesty. He's a natural and fine successor to John Terry as Chelsea's leader.

How sickening was it to hear Antonio Conte trying to defend Victor Moses though? No Antonio, he wasn't 'tired'. He cheated and rightly got what he deserved. On this one - well done Antony Taylor. I've had this argument with Ruud Gullit many times - where is the boundary between 'good play' and 'cheating'. In Italy - as Ruud would say 'the land of theatre, opera and drama' what Moses tried to get away with is seen as 'good play'. They don't understand our dislike of incidents like that. More than anything, that explains Conte's reticence to criticise Moses, but the more he works in our league the more ridiculous he'll realise his post match reaction was. Gullit, by the way, deplores what Moses tried and I like to think it's because he's been around English football a lot longer than Conte. Having said that, had the ref given a pen and Chelsea had scored, how many of their supporters would've been condemning Moses? For them it would've been in the 'good play' category! We're all the same.

Oh, I'm in complete agreement with Tony Cascarino this morning. Never mind man of the match, Per Mertesacker should be named as a Arsenal's player of the year. He was awesome. If the win transformed Arsenal's season - and it did - then Mertesacker had more influence on that season in that 90 minutes than anybody else. Case closed.

For Wenger I was absolutely delighted. He's unique for many reasons, but largely because he's been transformed down the years from somebody that didn't see anything into the most articulate and honest manager working in England. Ask him a question - he'll answer it. You might not agree, or like the answer, but he'll tell you what he thinks. He's so refreshing to listen to, not hiding behind a different language and talking absolute bollocks like so many more of them do. No, like all of them do. I'm tired of post match interviews with foreign coaches because they offer nothing, tell you nothing, arrogantly look down their noses at reporters with a sniffy air of contempt or laugh inanely. Must do better guys, or don't bother.

So what next for Wenger? My mate John Cross has never wavered from the view that he stays. I conducted a less than scientific Twitter poll Monday that was entirely inconclusive!  My feeling is that Arsenal fans have turned their anger away from Wenger towards 'Silent' Stan and I understand why. The scrap behind the scenes that cost Arsenal David Dein's clever countenance, won't go away. Kroenke won't sell his majority shareholding - ok - but why not try and work WITH Alisher Usmanov instead of against him? Can you imagine what a force Arsenal would be then?

I still think Sanchez is Man City bound this summer and that will be a blow. Arsenal will need big money to replace him. They need big money to be one of the top 4 again and they need to do that before they can mount a title challenge again. It's back to the future guys.  

Two last things - I don't buy into this ridiculous theory that Chelsea were tired. They played less games than any other side in the top 6 this season. Tired? How come?

And I'm sure you're all still scratching your heads wondering why I blamed Thommo for that daft cliche 'sick as a parrot'. Ask him. He'll tell you they were words he muttered after that European Cup defeat inflicted by Forest - 2-0 at the City Ground and the 0-0 at Anfield. I stopped him in the tunnel for an interview afterwards - he was in bits and it was just about all he said. 'Sick as a parrot'? I didn't get it then and I still don't - but ask him - I'm sure he'll remember! It's a funny old game......

Nearly done.....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

VAR will not take us to utopia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Dull. Deadly dull.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Making a Joey out of Barton.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cherish the game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about plan B Pep?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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