Take a bow Steve Bruce

Published: Monday, 18 November 2019

I’m ahead of the Christmas rush to hand out awards - and just a little behind the quarter-stage mark in the PL season, but managers and coaches will tell you that the table starts to take shape after 12-games, so here goes.

There’s nothing happening at Liverpool I didn’t expect. I said they’d win the title - with an unbeaten start and more than a little drama already - I’m more convinced than ever that they will. The ‘Devils Club’ Evertonians call them. They believe if there’s any luck going Liverpool get it. If there are big decisions to be made, Liverpool get them. You can argue that they’ve had their fair share of both so far - but I prefer to look at it differently. I believe they’ve been doing what Champions do - finding a way. Always finding a way.

They look powerful, but more than that I detect an unshakable determination. It’s their year and they believe it.

Norwich are finding it tough. No surprise there either. Check my pre-season prediction for them and the other new boys. Villa will be fine and so will The Blades. The bonus is that both are managed by Brits. Isn’t it lovely to see a belief in British coaching returning? I’ve taken some stick on this subject, but I’ve never wavered. There isn’t a secret book that foreign coaches use and our boys are every bit as good as they are. They just needed a chance to prove it and now it’s happening.

Frank Lampard takes my bronze award for what he’s doing at Chelsea. He’s calmed a notorious dressing room. He’s blooded terrific talent and he’s got players believing in what he’s doing. I’m so pleased for him He’s a really good guy and a perfect fit at The Bridge, but he still had a huge job on.

I read a line recently suggesting that Lampard is in danger of getting us all to ‘love’ Chelsea. It’s true!

It’s silver for Brendan Rodgers. Again - check out my pre-season blog. I expected them to do well and break up the established top 6. I had them down to finish 4th and it’s even better than that at the moment.

Granted, they’ve had their fair share of VR decisions, and like Lampard, Rodgers inherited a difficult dressing room. For years I’ve referred to them as ‘Chelsea light’. They’ve seen off a few coaches, but not this time. Rodgers has got them onside. With Spurs and Arsenal both struggling don’t rule out Leicester making the top 4. Perhaps there’s even another title challenge in them?

Don’t mention Rodgers name to the green half of Glasgow, where he did a fantastic job, before controversially leaving and taking over at Leicester, although he really had no choice but to take the job when he did. Other coaches were circling and had their made their interest known - including RAFA Benitez.

I remember sharing a car back to his hotel from our beINSPORTS studios when Rodgers was with us in Qatar. This was before he took the Celtic job. He was smart enough to know that whatever he decided after being sacked at Liverpool had to be right or he was going to disappear without trace. He got it spot on. Celtic was perfect. Leicester is his way back to a big 4 job.

He might still be at Liverpool if he’d shown a little more maturity in the title season that went wrong. He didn’t have to beat Chelsea. He WANTED to beat Chelsea to show Mourinho - who he’d worked for at Chelsea - who was now master. Mourinho knew that and did a classic smash and grab - infuriated by the fact that Rodgers wouldn’t move the game by 24 hours allowing Chelsea a little more time to recover from an arduous spell. Mourinho made the call to Rodgers himself and didn’t like the answer. Deep down though I think he knows Rodgers was right to say ‘no’. It was a decision that rebounded though. Chelsea were really fired up.

Rodgers should’ve sat it and taken a point. He’d have got the six he needed after that from his last two games. They were cruising at Palace before they started chasing goals to make up for the Chelsea defeat.

Yes, a little immaturity and his ego got the better of him. And it was costly.

It’s gold for Steve Bruce - the man even Geordies wanted to fail. What a job he’s doing - proving that not only Benitez can manage that club.

Is it true? Does Bruce really have Newcastle seven points better off than at this time last season? Yes it is. And that despite a really tough start - a far more difficult start than Benitez had. The former coach says it’s not fair to compare different seasons - but he would wouldn’t he?

In the Sunday Mirror at the weekend Andy Dunn was suggesting it won’t be long before Benitez is back in the PL - at Arsenal, West Ham or Southampton. Surely not Andy? Benitez left for a ‘long term project’ in China and because Mike Ashley didn’t ‘share his ambition’. What a joke. He left for a fat salary and having done his best to create havoc for his successor. Why didn’t he leave at the end of last season? He knew he was going in May. Why wait until pre-season training had started, therefore restricting the time Bruce had to get to know his team - to plan and work the transfer market?

If I were a West Ham fan I’d be shuddering at the prospect of Benitez turning up in east London. If you thought it was bad under Big Sam you ain’t seen nothing yet guys. And how do you think Benitez would get on with Karren Brady? Yep. Me too.

Anyway, against a near impossible back ground, Bruce has been quietly working miracles. I’m disappointed that he didn’t take the League Cup more seriously, but otherwise it’s been terrific. Do you know, he might even get an assist or perhaps even a goal out of £21m Miguel Almiron before the season ends. What exactly was Benitez thinking when he paid that money to Atlanta United? I can’t think of one - can you? This verdict from ‘Whoscored.com’ on Almiron. Crossing - weak. Passing - weak. Finishing - weak.

Almiron failed to score in 54 of his 68 MLS games. Five of his 22 goals were pens. It’s 1 in 21 for his national team. He’s quick, but, other than that, what exactly does he do? Bruce will be a genius if he gets something out of him, but I really do wish both well. No-one likes to see a player struggling.

In closing - have you noticed what else my three winners have in common? Correct - they’re all British and Irish. And jockeying on the fringe in my thoughts were Chris Wilder and Dean Smith. Had it not been for some outrageously bad calls by VR Villa would be half way up the table now.

Keep it going lads - and I can’t wait for it all to get started again this weekend.

Go Mike Riley - and now.

Published: Monday, 21 October 2019

Enough. It’s time for a change. Mike Riley, head of the PGMOL, has got to go. VR is a shambles. As I always said it would - it’s ruining our game. It was never going to take us to the promised land of 100 per cent accuracy - it hasn’t improved decision making - it’s now worse than ever it was - and it’s Mike Riley’s fault. He should quit and let somebody else have a go.

Riley has gone out on his own - with his version of VAR - surrounding himself with ‘yes’ men who peddle his version of events to cover up an avalanche of poor decisions that are being made in the Stockley Park VR bunker.

Riley recently admitted that his team had made four wrong decisions this season. Four? What a joke. By the way, he wouldn’t have admitted to any had he not been called to account at a PL meeting. Once again this weekend there were more than four errors. There’s more than four every weekend. VR is a total shambles. I’m annoyed with myself because I promised I wouldn’t get involved in the debates But I have to say something now.

Here’s what’s eating me. Yes - you read correctly - I call it VR. In the PL it is just that. We’re refereeing games by Video Ref. Our version of the system isn’t an ‘assistant’ at all. Only in England are we refusing to let refs check their own decisions on a pitchside monitor. I’ve been consistent with this. We’re operating in violation of the agreed worldwide protocol. Why? Why hasn’t anyone questioned Mike Riley on this? It’s crazy.

Ok. If a decision is regarded as ‘a matter of fact’ - offside let’s say - fine, let the bunker decide. But - if it’s subjective - the match day official HAS to be allowed the opportunity to check his own call. Don’t tell me Martin Atkinson wouldn’t have overturned United’s goal had he been given the chance to see Lindelof’s challenge on Origi that he’d missed. Of course he would. But David Coote, VR operator was NEVER going to tell him he’d missed one. NEVER.

The problem here goes back to the FA cup 1/4 final at Molineux between Wolves and United last year - when Atkinson showed Lindelof red - only for his decision to be overturned by the VR operator - Chris Kavanagh. He deemed the challenge to be worthy only of a yellow.

At the next referees meeting Atkinson was furious and let it be known that he never wanted one of his decisions to be overturned like that again. Atkinson is regarded by the PGMOL as their top ref - so does he - and he was annoyed that his judgement had been questioned by what regarded as a junior official. Coote knew this.

Did the incident affect Coote’s judgement on Sunday? Only he can tell us. But here’s the irony - Atkinson over-ruled Coote at Villa Park on Saturday, when he was in the VR bunker, deciding that Villa’s Wesley had impeded the Brighton keeper Matt Ryan - a subjective decision. The subsequent goal was ruled out. Coote should’ve been allowed the chance to check his own decision. I know - because some of today’s officials have told me - that they’re more likely to alter their own decision if they see it again, than accept another ref making the call - especially if that ref is less experienced. Dean Smith, Villa’s manager, now openly laughs when asked about VR. ‘Embarrassing’ he says.

Bad enough that Atkinson didn’t like Kavanagh changing his decision at Wolves - we’ve got Championship refs in the VR bunker who’ve never taken charge of PL games. People like Darren Bond, Darren England, John Brooks, Jarred Gillett and Tim Robinson.

It’s madness. They’re deemed to be more able to operate the system than Lee Probert, who’s recently retired due to a back injury, or Roger East, who finished last season. Riley has decided neither is good enough to help with the VR operation. Explain that if you can.

What about the shambles at Spurs? Deli Alli knew he’d handled that ball when he scored Spurs’ equaliser against Watford. You could see it written all over his face. I believe             John Brooks, in VR knew it too, which is why the goal was originally correctly ruled out and the decision was displayed on the big screen. But Chris Kavanagh gave the goal. Why? Somebody apparently ‘pushed the wrong button’. Come on. I don’t believe that for a minute. It was handball. I suspect there was a communication mix-up. Anyway, Kavanagh should’ve been asked to check it - not leave Brooks to make the call. Incidentally, the handball law applies for the full length of the arm, up to the join of the shirt. Alli controlled the ball with his arm.

Here’s another mess of Riley’s making. Sadio Mane’s goal at OT was ruled out for handball - not that he knew anything about it. It wasn’t as blatant as Alli’s . I don’t like it - but that’s the way UEFA want it so I accept it. But in the PL we’ve got our own version of the law - had the ball brushed Lindelof’s arm and he’d cleared it - a penalty wouldn’t have been given. Why not? He clearly would’ve gained an advantage by getting the ball away. Mane would’ve been disadvantaged. In the CL the ref would be asked to look at it and I guarantee you he would give a pen in those circumstances. Not in the PL - we’ve got two versions of the handball law - one for defenders - one for attackers - why? Again- we’re the only league operating like that, because that’s how Riley wants it. It’s worth pointing out that there are not two versions of handball in the laws of the game.

What about the pen Watford should’ve had? That’s a massive call at 0-1. It’s a game changing decision. Who knows - a win might have resulted - a win that, come the end of the season, might just keep Watford up. This is what VAR was introduced for. Ask the ref to check it. Had Kavanagh, a more senior ref than his VR operator, seen it - again, I’m convinced he would’ve have given it.

And City should’ve had a pen at Palace. Not only was De Bruyne pushed by Zaha - he was kicked. Have a look at the monitor ref. Now do you think it was a pen? Rightly, Guardiola was furious. He’s even a VAR advocate.

So is Burnley’s Sean Dyche, but he was left bemused by the decision to rule out their equaliser at Leicester. Was Jonny Evans getting that ball? Was there anymore contact than Lindelof made on Origi? Was there hell. There was less. It was a goal - but VR said no. Look at it yourself ref. Now decide.

So far 89 penalty decisions have been looked at in the VR bunker this season Not one has been overturned. That’s impossible, but that’s so Riley can trot out his meaningless stats that they’ve got 100 per cent of those decisions correct. Nonsense. Absolute nonsense.

It doesn’t help that ‘yes’ men like Peter Walton, Dermot Gallagher and Chris Foy - sent into the media - cover up all the time. I don’t know Foy - but I do the other two. They’re good men - under instruction to toe the party line. Some of the things Dermot has said this season have been laughable.

Walton, in his column in The Times, argued today that there wasn’t ‘sufficient force’ used by Zaha on De Bruyne. It doesn’t say how much ‘force’ should be applied in the laws of the game. Either there was contact - or there wasn’t. You can’t be a ‘little bit pregnant’. Either you are - or you’re not. Walton obviously also missed the kick. Zaha caught De Bruyne’s left foot It was a pen.

Let’s not forget that we waited a year longer than at other league to introduce VAR because we were told Riley wanted to be sure it was going to operate effectively. Now we’re told ‘it’s a work in progress’. What? Managers jobs are on the line whilst this ‘progress’ is being made. Players careers. Fans support. And they reckon they might need seven years to get it right. Wow.

The time was that we would judge a good ref on how little we talked about him. Somehow they’ve elevated themselves to being the most important part of a game. How? Why?

I accept that TV is a lot to blame. I’ve said for years that I hated the culture of re-refereeing on Monday’s. That habit has helped bring us to the mess we’re in.

I know VAR is here to stay. I don’t like it - but I accept it. But why is it? I suspect the real reason is because it will become another way to make money. In Australia they operate with a sponsor. They’re looking for one in the US. It won’t be long before that happens in both the CL and the PL and then we’ll be fitting in the decision making process at least twice per half, to satisfy the sponsor. You watch.

Another thing. The technology isn’t 100 per cent accurate. Even Riley has now admitted that. So why are we ruling out goals where a big toe has strayed beyond the defensive line? There has to be an element of doubt catered for. Scoring goals is the hardest thing to do on a pitch. It’s what teams work all week to do. It’s what fans pay to see. Surely we don’t want goals ruled out by inaccurate millimetres? We want entertainment. We want goals.

Oh - and can anyone explain to me why there was only one minute of first half stoppage time at Old Trafford? A first half that included two lengthy stoppages for VR. This is another theme. Check it yourself the next time your team play.

Mike Riley has made a mess of VAR. That’s what it should be. Not our version - VR. Protocol states that VAR should be just that - an ‘assistant’, like the fourth official. It SHOULD NOT be making the final call.

Riley was appointed by Richard Scudamore, the PL’s former Executive Chairman, largely because he would do as he was told. Riley has surrounded himself with ‘yes’ men as well. It’s time he was made accountable for the shambles that he’s created.

Scudamore once had me sit with Riley, fawning all over him, because he thought I’d been too critical of his man - a man who drove Mark Halsey out of the game because he had the temerity to tell the truth about his time as a ref in his excellent book ‘Added Time’. Between them, Scudamore and Riley withheld Halsey’s £75,000 severance money by way of a punishment for writing his book. Halsey later mysteriously lost his job as a BT analyst. He’s now on his uppers paying a heavy price for his honestly.

Perhaps that’s why others refuse to contradict Riley. I don’t know. But I do know this - it’s time for Riley to take ownership of the shambles he’s created and go. The sooner the better.

It’s an unexpected sack race

Published: Monday, 07 October 2019

I wasn’t quite sure what was more embarrassing - watching the latest shambles from those pretending to be Manchester United footballers - or the nonsense that Old Gunnar Solskjaer spoke again in his post match interview.

I feel sorry for the guy. He’s been landed with a job he can’t do. He looks lost - his eyes wide open in front of that interview camera - constantly repeating the same thing ‘they worked hard’. Really? As I’ve said before - that’s a minimum requirement for any footballer. There’s a whole lot more required if you want to be a Manchester United footballer.

I don’t want to dwell too much on United because I’ve largely said all there is to say - but I’m often asked who I blame for recent events at Old Trafford. Let me answer like this - power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. I blame Fergie. I always have. It wasn’t a popular view when I first floated it and it won’t be now - but it’s true.

I don’t mean that he was in anyway ‘corrupt’ - but the power he wielded meant he got his own way all the time - on everything. No-one would challenge him. Quite simply - he left a mess. I repeat what I’ve always said - his last title winning team was eight players short of being a good side. Van Persie’s goals papered over a multitude of cracks. But Fergie also left the Academy in a mess. And the scouting system. It’s his fault. And David Gill’s - who never pulled him on anything. Yes - the best and most successful British manager of all time - but he left a club crumbling and stuck in a different era. Solskjaer can’t sort it out. I ask again - which other PL club would’ve appointed him had United not? Exactly - not one of them.

Did you know some bookies slashed the odds on United going down from 500-1 to 200-1 on the back of that defeat at Newcastle. It won’t happen of course - it could never happen to United. Oh no - wait a minute.....

I certainly didn’t expect the mess that’s developed at Spurs. Pochettino has got to go. Pochettino will go. It’s the only way to start the healing process. Both he and that dressing room need a new start.

They’ve grown tired of each other. It’s as true today as it always was - either change the coach regularly, or the players. The latter isn’t going to happen so it’s got to be Poch. I’m being told that he’s lost the players. As we know, that only ends one way. He’ll get another good job and Spurs will get Gareth Southgate. That’s where the smart money is. We’ll have to wait and see whether that’s enough to persuade Harry Kane that he can win medals with Spurs. He’s got a big decision to make very soon now if he doesn’t want to end his playing days with just memories.

The last man in big trouble is our friend at Everton. I’ve spoken about Marco Silva before as well. Here’s a man seriously out of his depth - who’s also lost his dressing room.

I dedicated a blog to him a year or so back. You’ll find it If you have a look. I pointed out the fact that he’s always managed to get out of a job just before being found out. Well - not this time.

He’s a deeply unpopular character with all his staff at Goodison, let alone the players.

The last time Everton were in the bottom 3 was mid-October 2017. Ronald Koeman lost his job as a consequence. I’d be really surprised if Silva was still in a job when we resume after the International break. If he is - it won’t be long before he’s sacked.

I don’t blame Silva for the ridiculous money wasted at Everton. There are a few people responsible for that. Steve Walsh for sure. Silva obviously. Big Sam and Moshiri himself. They’ve all had an input and from a situation where they had a window to challenge Liverpool it’s gone. It’s gone horribly wrong.

There’s nothing to do but start again. I’ve never thought Silva was the man to take Everton forward. They’d have been better off marking time with Sam and looking around for the right successor. Everton are not the first club to waste a fortune and they won’t be the last and they’ve got to get on with it now.

Who next? Arsene Wenger is available of course. So is David Moyes and my call left field last week was Rafa. Don’t believe he wouldn’t take it. He tried twice to get it when he was at Newcastle - before Sam and Silva. He’d walk back from China for it. Rafa doesn’t do ‘emotion’ - as he proved when he went to Chelsea. He does what he believes is right for himself. He always has. Ask Mike Ashley.

If Newcastle fans are wondering why I’m suggesting Rafa - let me explain. Never have I said he isn’t a good coach. We all know he is. What irritated me about his time at Newcastle was the constant moaning. He knew the deal. So get on with it. Despite being told time and again that he’d walk into one of the world’s top jobs on leaving Newcastle I said he wouldn’t. He didn’t. He had the best job he was ever going to get in England - unless Everton are brave enough. Let’s see...

What is it about Qatar that the English can’t stand?

Published: Friday, 27 September 2019

Ok. So I owe Woodsy (so called on her Twitter handle) an apology. Listening to TalkSPORT - the worlds greatest sports radio station - on Friday morning I mis-took Laura for the actual host Natalie Sawyer.

I don’t know either girl - but I’m told Laura is studious and hard working. That she does her homework. Plainly that’s in stark contrast to Natalie - who was offering her mis-informed mis-guided opinions about Qatar quite openly and forcefully while sitting in for Jim White.

We’re all allowed an opinion of course - but in a position of influence we should all take time to be sure of our facts. Natalie didn’t. Nor has she in the past on this subject.

She was raging about everything she knew nothing about - including the idea of anchoring ships off-shore to accommodate fans. ‘So people can drink’ she declared.

Er - no. Absolute nonsense. If she’d read Matt Lawton’s piece in The Times that very morning she’d have known this.

Her other theory was that the stadiums should’ve been built off-shore in order to get round stringent alcohol laws on the mainland. Er - no. Utter garbage.

What is it with the English and Qatar 2022? As I told H&J, on the same radio station, six years ago - it is going to happen - nothing will stop it from happening - despite many attempts to do so. . And it’s going to be the best World Cup ever. If anyone has doubts and objections still - please - don’t come.

‘It’ll be too hot’ I still hear people screaming. Not in December it won’t - and if, for some unusual reason it is, the stadiums will be cooled to deal with it. Qatar planned for a summer WC when it won the bid. Fifa changed the dates.

What about LGBT rights? Homosexuality is banned in Qatar. Does anyone seriously think that LGBT matters are the exclusive preserve of the West? Come on. Grow up. I quote Nasser al-Khater from the Delivery and Legacy Committee - ‘I would like to assure any gender, orientation, religion or race that Qatar is one of the safest countries in the world and they will all be welcome here’. Yes, a public display of affection is frowned on. What’s wrong with that? Just respect the culture, that’s all Qatari’s ask.

Alcohol prices continue to fall. Ok right now they’re at levels that most find unacceptable. al-Khater again - ‘alcohol is not part of our culture. However, hospitality is’. Alcohol will be freely available in many more places than it currently is. And they are plenty already.

Ever since England lost 2018 there’s been deep resentment about 2022.

Let’s deal with a few facts. England’s bid for 2018 was never going to succeed. It was based on the arrogant assumption that football was ‘coming home’. Really? Do you know how much that kind of talk deeply annoys the rest of the world?

Every time that daft song is played it pisses people overseas off. That was never more evident than when it wound Croatia up at the last Euro’s. My advice to the FA would be ‘stop playing it’.

I know it’s based on irony - but outside England’s borders people don’t get that.

The FA’s Chief Exec, Martin ‘I’m not a football man’ Glenn, was right recently when he wanted to change the name of our FA to the ‘English FA’. It would’ve been a small change to the business cards - but made a massive difference to relations with other Associations and their delegates. It’s arrogance of the highest order - ‘hello, I’m from the FA’. ‘Are you? Which FA?’ It winds people up.

Our 2018 bidders paraded Mssrs Lineker Beckham Dein Cameron and Prince William. ‘Football is coming home’ was the theme. Is it? Sorry guys - football’s ‘home’ is now the rest of the world.

The competition is called the ‘World Cup’. It’s not the ‘England Cup’. Why shouldn’t the rest of the world have access to it? Why shouldn’t the Arab world host it? The hysteria and mis-information about Qatar’s WC has bordered on abuse and racism every since it was awarded. And still it goes on, with one publication or broadcaster simply repeating nonsense that they’ve read or heard elsewhere.

Let’s deal with workers’ rights while we at it. Qatar has never hidden from the fact that it had improvements to make in this area. It’s done it. It continues to do it. Does anyone think this would’ve happened without the spotlight being turned on Qatar following the award? I was in Mumbai recently - my goodness - I couldn’t believe some of the things I saw there. Could someone have a word with the Indian Govt about living conditions and workers rights please?

It’s worth pointing out that British and American companies have made multi millions from WC contracts in Qatar - and they were the biggest abusers of workers at one time.

You don’t hear from Andy or me on TalkSPORT these days because we distanced ourselves from the organisation when NewsCorp took it over. For many of the reasons Colin Murray stepped away - and more of our own - I simply can’t contribute to anything the Murdoch family have an interest in. The things we discovered when we put Hillsborough back on the front pages appalled me. If I had my time again many things in my life world be different - working for the Murdochs and their bully boys/girls would be one of them.

Doubtless my arch critic Marina Hyde will soon be calling me ‘Lord Haw Haw’ again. How childish is that? But carry on Marina. It’s an outdated and inaccurate insult.

Let me say this. I’m proud to call Qatar home. I’ve made some life long friends in the region. People judged me on facts - not the nonsense often repeated on the social media. Qatar is a lovely little country - it’s a gorgeous place to live. People are proud of their heritage and what they’ve achieved in the modern world. So they should be.

As Roy Hodgson once said when he was manager of England - ‘the question about Qatar shouldn’t be ‘why?’ - it should be ‘why not?’’

England lost 2018. Get over it. Its looking as though 2030 is going the wrong way too. Drop the arrogance guys - stop the mis-information. There’s a big world outside England. If I may get a tad political - it’s the same with Brexit - far better to be inside the tent pissing out, than outside trying to piss in. Join up.....football now belongs to the world.

It’s Liverpool’s.....

Published: Monday, 23 September 2019

Two things became a whole lot clearer for me this weekend. 1 Liverpool will end the 30 year wait for a title. 2. It’s all over at the top table for Manchester United. And neither of those two things should surprise you - I’ve been saying it for long enough.

Regulars will know I believed Liverpool would get over the line last season. My thinking then was that if they didn’t win it last season - with Klopp having been given everything that he wanted - well, they never would.

They couldn’t have gone any closer could they? The CL win was a very palatable consolation! But make no mistake - they’d rather have won the PL.

None of us could predict how they’d react. Would they go backwards - having added nothing to their squad? Not a bit of it. They look stronger. They look determined. They look like Champions.

No-one has laid a significant glove on them yet. Chelsea tried really hard - but were always second best at The Bridge. Liverpool did what Champions do - they rolled with Chelsea’s best punches and got the job done. In previous years I’m not sure they would’ve done. It’s games like that that can settle title bids.

I can’t see a weakness. More significantly - neither can Pep Guardiola, who said last week that Liverpool are the best team he’s ever had to set a side up to face. Think about that - it’s quite a compliment.

Whilst we’re talking Liverpool let me clear up something for the tiresome few Scousers that never give up with their childish insults and bullying.

After van Dijk’s mistake in Naples I posed a simple question. ‘What if Stones or Otamendi had done a similar thing?’ The hysteria about a mistake that either of those two makes is ridiculous. For sensible people to suggest ‘City can’t win a title with those two at centre-back’ is nonsense. Of course they can.

I never understand how X-players - who should know better - leap to those conclusions. Come on - Liverpool went close to a title on a few occasions with Jamie Carragher at centre-back!

The usual keyboard cowardly few missed my point entirely. They’re too busy screaming abuse to take a breath and listen. Players are human. They make mistakes. Stones and Otamendi did that at Norwich - they made a mistake. City lost - for the first time in 19 games. I’ve watched the very same players now slaughtering others make mistakes every week during their own careers. It happens. That’s exactly the point that Guardiola made after the game at Carrow Road. Meanwhile City battered Watford.

City have even won a title without de Bruyne but I’ll tell you how Tney couldn’t win a title - without Aguero or Jesus.

I’m at the stage where I’m now feeling sorry for Solskjaer. Poor fella. What else is there for him to say about the mess at United? ‘They didn’t give up and they never stopped running’. That was his verdict after the defeat at West Ham. Think about that. That’s a quote from the Manager of Manchester United. Manchester United for goodness sake.

‘Ole’s at the wheel’ we were once excitedly told. Those words came back to me as I looked at him in the dug out at West Ham. Dressed in his bus drivers jacket he cut a very confused and lost individual. He’s out of his depth. What is the former manager of Molde - and relegated Cardiff - doing at Old Trafford? I said when they gave him the job that it was a mistake. What’s happened since has only cemented that view. It’s over for United.

I sat with John Barnes this weekend on beINSPORTS and asked the question - ‘could United go 30 years without winning the title?’ He said ‘no’. But....

It’s unthinkable isn’t it? It couldn’t happen surely? Well - it has done to Liverpool, who were once a mightier force than United, and those of us of a certain generation remember United toiling for 26 years before Fergie ended that spell. It could happen. It could very easily happen.

One other thing. Give it a break Jose. You were right to force your exit. You saw all this - not so did a few more of us. I’ve been talking about the decline since Fergie papered over all these cracks in his last season. But please - ‘worse than when I was there’? I’d have jumped all over that. ‘So you admit that they were poor in your time?’ Come on.

There’s stinking rot from the top down at Old Trafford. Mr Ed isn’t a financial genius - he’s trading on United’s name and former glories. The deals will dry up when United are no longer successful. He’s got to go. He’s made too many mistakes - compounding one after another - since Fergie’s departure. Put Gary Neville in. He seems to know how to run everything. He’s a United man. He’d get it. And Pochettino remains the answer in the dug out.

There’s trouble at Goodison as well. Again - regulars will know my thoughts on Marco Silva. Read previous blogs - here’s a guy that has always got out of town just before he’s been found out. And he’s been very successful at it - until now.

Get this - I heard last week that no-one can raise a voice in his dressing rooms. Calmness reigns. You can see the outcome on the football pitch. Mediocrity. Niceness. Blandness.

And at Finch Farm he’s erected tarpaulins around his first team training pitch - so no-one can see him and his players work. That’s a brilliant way to cut yourself off from the rest of the club. It’s divisive. Louis van Gaal did a similar thing during his time at United - sectioning off the canteen. It creates an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality. It always fails.

At one time I thought Everton were ready to take the next step - but not anymore. They’ve spent fortunes - £312m now - chasing success but they’re as far away as ever.

I’d change coach now. I raised a few eye brows a couple of months ago when I suggested Mourinho would be perfect for Arsenal - new ‘George Graham’ I said. Well here’s one to digest. My suggestion for Everton? Rafa. And trust me - he’d walk back from China to take it. In the meantime - it’s Liverpool’s.....

MO has a right to tell his story

Published: Thursday, 05 September 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps that’s why things didn’t work

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

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

So how many BAME candidates have been interviewed?

Published: Tuesday, 20 August 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VAR - as clear as mud

Published: Monday, 12 August 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It should be Liverpool’s title

Published: Friday, 09 August 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Steve Bruce was right to take Newcastle

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