Richard Keys Blog

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! 

Inexplainable and scandalous

on Wednesday, 08 March 2017. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

'Inexplainable and scandalous' said Arsene Wenger after Arsenal's latest humiliation. Lay aside the slight English mistake - that was the least of the horrors to come out of the Emirates last night (Tuesday) - just what was Wenger referring to?

If he meant the pre-match demonstrations calling for him to go then I agree. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Look - I fully support the right of the paying public to have their say - I do about how SISU are destroying my club Coventry - but there is something unedifying about Arsenal supporters getting involved in protests. It just doesn't sit well with me. This is 'The Arsenal' - a club with long standing traditions for doing things 'right'. The Arsenal are a classy outfit and I can't remember any other time in their history when I've seen such a thing. And let's not forget they're protesting about Arsene Wenger- somebody for whom I have the utmost respect. The guy is also a class act and he will for some time be Arsenal's most successful ever manager. He's a legend. Whether I believe it's time for him to go is another matter - I'll get round to that.

Back to the 'inexplainable and scandalous'. Was Wenger referring to Arsenal's performance on the night? If he was - he was right again. It was a shocker. It hasn't been good in recently and, I say again, I completely understand the frustration that surrounds The Emirates.

Actually we know exactly what Wenger was referring to. He was slating the Greek ref, Tasos Sidiropoulos, who first awarded Bayern a pen, booked Koscielny and then decided to send him off on the advice of his assistant behind the goal. We can argue all day about whether we thought it was a pen, or whether the new 'double jeopardy' rules applied, once the ref had given the pen, he was right to send Koscielny off on the basis that a 'clear goal scoring opportunity' had been denied. Crucially, he was also well within his rights to change his mind. And get used to it Arsene - we're going to see plenty more of this going forward.

Let me explain. The ref can 'correct a mistake' as long as play hasn't re-started. Let me ask Arsenal fans if they remember benefitting in such a way in Sept 2004 when Mark Halsey awarded Fulham a pen in a game at Craven Cottage? Arsenal's players hounded Halsey and got him to change his mind after consulting with his lino. A drop ball re-started the game and Arsenal went on to extend their unbeaten run to 45 games. The Fulham boss, Chris Coleman, described Halsey's performance as 'crap' incidentally!!  Sorry Mark!

Wenger is also an advocate of video refs. Last night's incident is exactly the sort of situation we're going to see in the FA Cup next season when VAR's are introduced. You can't have it both ways Arsene. It's one thing or the other.

What Wenger should really be concentrating on is not the deflection of that incident, but what he's going to do next. I remember after their last  Cup writing this blog and saying I hoped he quit then. He's a giant, who's done so much for the English game, as well as Arsenal, that I wanted him to be able to walk away with his head up. I remember saying that he deserved to go on his terms and not be hounded out. Well it's too late now.

I'm told that the Arsenal Board have given Wenger until the end of March to make his mind up about staying. He definitely wants to and he's stubborn enough to, but it would be a mistake - just as it was when he clung on after Wembley.

The Chief Exec, Ivan Gazidis, is determined that whatever Wenger's decision there will be big changes at the club next season. I don't know what that means, but it's not before time. Of course, Wenger is right when he says there are 'no guarantees' that his successor will have the formula to get The Gunners firing again, but I believe it's in everybody's interests now that change comes. The atmosphere at The Emirates is poisonous these days and it's not going to get any better.

If Wenger  announced that he'd decided to go everything would change. Every game at The Emirates would become a celebration and a party marking what he's achieved. You know, it might even be that it could propel Arsenal back into the top four. Sadly I don't think he will - even more sadly I think the chances are Wenger will want to fight on. It's a pity his team don't show the same spirit.

 

Oh, one last thing, is there any difference between what we're seeing in the dressing room at Arsenal to that which we saw at Leicester? No. Nor me!! All in all it's 'inexplainable and scandalous'. 

Stop the bleating. He had to go.

on Friday, 24 February 2017. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

Come on. Enough. Stop the bleating please. Dilly ding. Dilly dong - Ranieri has gone - and not before time. Leicester are in crisis and he's to blame. If he's not - why did he get all the credit for winning the title last season? The re-moaners can't have it both ways. 

I last blogged on this very subject about two weeks ago. The surprise to me is that Leicester gave Ranieri the time they did this season and allowed things to fall apart so dramatically. 

Here are one or two facts surrounding a charismatic man who charmed us all the way to the most extra-ordinary title win of all time. 

I said in my last blog that the real architect of last season's triumph was Nigel Pearson. He was - him, Steve Walsh, who recruited the talent, and Craig Shakespeare, who coached the team. Fact, as Rafa might say. 

Pearson guided Leicester back from oblivion to the big time. All right, they initially struggled to adjust to life in the Premier League, but what a finish they had to that first season back - seven wins from the last nine - and the greatest escape of all time was complete. It was Pearson that had every right to be 'disappointed' about the decision to sack him - and a lot more than Ranieri. 

The players didn't want Ranieri as his successor. Fact. It was with that information that I predicted they'd go down the following season - believe it or not, having spent a lifetime on the fringes of the game listening to what's happening within it, I have gathered useful information. It's my job. Where I can I share it with you in these blogs. 

They players were never comfortable with Ranieri. Fact. If a strong dressing room can down tools and see a manager sacked - Mancini, Moyes, Mourinho and now Ranieri - then it most almost surely follow that it can galvanise itself into producing success? How many times have we all heard Graeme Souness tell us that the most successful Liverpool teams didn't need a coach? He would add 'if there was a problem at half time me, Kenny and Jocky (Alan Hansen) would sort it out'. I've heard that line a million times! Fact

Now that's not to dilute entirely the impact Bob Paisley had at Anfield, nor that which Ranieri had at Leicester. Ranieri played the Press brilliantly last season, shielding his players from the pressures of what they were doing. He made us laugh and ultimately he astounded us by helping to deliver that title. Fair play to him - it was stunning. We'll never see the likes of it again. 

But there were always doubts and cracks in the dressing room. The same doubts emerged last summer although although we'll never hear it publicly. That was the time for everybody to part company. Everybody would've been remembered as 'winners'. Fact. 

The dressing room always wanted either Walsh or Shakespeare to succeed Pearson. Now Shakespeare is in charge temporarily. Believe me, if the players can 'play him in' they will. And I wouldn't entirely rule out Pearson coming back, although when that idea was muted at the beginning of last week, the hierarchy at Leicester were insistent Ranieri was staying. Something changed and it changed quickly. 

I'm grateful to those of you who take time out to share your thoughts on Twitter so let me address a few of them. 

One of the biggest criticisms of me supporting Leicester's decision was that I'd made my feelings plain about strong dressing rooms before. Yes, I have. And yes, I was disgusted at how City's dressing room played Mancini out - even going so far as to toss a Cup Final off. United's players saw off Moyes. We know very well now who ran Mourinho out of the Bridge. So what's the difference? I'll tell you. 

At City the owners should've backed Mancini. They were at the beginning of a project and could easily have replaced the dissenters and not been affected by the turmoil. It was easier to get rid of Mancini though, with the knowledge that it would eventually be easier to sack his replacement to make room for Guardiola, which was always going to happen. I've addressed this previously. 

Moyes was 'guaranteed' two years to sort out a fading Manchester United. Forget they'd won the title the previous season - it was all over for most of that team and Fergie knew it. It's why he left then. Moyes was categorically told that missing out on Champions League football for a couple of seasons, while he addressed the re build, wouldn't affect his position. Again, the hierarchy crumbled under player power, when they were in a much stronger position to back their manager than Leicester are. The same applied at Chelsea. 

Leicester are different. They'll never challenge for another title. They're in free fall and right now everything says they're going down. Something HAD to be done. Time is their enemy. There simply isn't any. Now, this change doesn't guarantee they'll survive, but it was a guarantee they were going down without it. 

Enough please of the sentimental nonsense that 'Ranieri deserves better'. Why? That 'Ranieri deserved a crack at the Champions League'. Why? That 'football has lost its soul'. Utter nonsense. In any other walk of life a leader failing as badly as Ranieri was would've been shown the door weeks ago. 

Look - last season was wonderful. We all enjoyed it, but you can't run a football club on memories or sentiment. Ranieri will go down, rightly, as Leicester's most successful manager ever. He was out of work and going nowhere when Leicester gave him the gilt edged chance that they did. He was coming off the back of a complete shambles with Greece. It worked out well for both club and individual, who leaves with a vastly enhanced cv and a nice few quid. But it's over. Done. Fact. It was a business decision and the right decision, no matter what the romantics tell you. 

Here's why Leicester are struggling.

on Monday, 13 February 2017. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

I've read an awful lot on why Leicester are struggling this season. Apparently it's because they 'over celebrated' last season's title success. Nonsense.

Others believe it's because N'golo Kante was sold. Nonsense. His absence hasn't stopped them from progressing to the last 16 of the Champions League, although there is no doubt that he's been missed. He's a terrific little player. Any team would miss his non-stop running and uncanny ability to break up opposition play.

So it must be that the boys have downed tools? Nonsense. No they haven't.  Ranieri has 'tinkered' too much then? Nonsense. Is it that he's fallen out with too many people?  Nonsense.

Here's what I believe the problem is. They are simply not very good. What we're seeing now is just about what they are. They're two points better off than they were when they went on that fantastic run of seven wins in nine games to save themselves under Nigel Pearson, the real architect of last season's success.

And before you Leicester City fans start screaming 'Sky Blue Scum bag' let me explain myself.

After battling to safety under Pearson  - and it was without doubt the greatest escape of all time - no-one, absolutely no-one could foresee what was going to happen the following season. 

Pearson was sacked that summer wasn't he? I expressed serious doubts about Ranieri's appointment, going so far as to predict they'd  go down without Pearson's big presence and organisational skills.

Quite the opposite happened. Again, Leicester gave us something that will never - ever - be done again. We all smiled as Ranieri shoved the words of people like me back down our throats. Leicester winning the Premier League title was arguably the greatest sporting achievement of all time. It was brilliant. It was breathtaking. And it was so re-freshing. But it was a one-off. It will never be done again. Oh, It wouldn't have been done had Arsenal had some bollocks. They should've won it and Arsene Wenger knows it. They'll never have a better chance again while he's there.

Leicester found all the stars aligned just at the right time and they capitalised. Brilliant. I say again, it was a wonderful achievement, but here's why it can't be done again.

The 'big six' have have got their act together - that's a major factor. Normal service at the top has been resumed this season and the six of them are only going to get stronger - especially if they can force through a re-distribution of the overseas tv money. Trust me, if they can - and I think they can - they will.

So that's one issue, but the main one from Leicester's point of view is that for some reason and somehow a group of 'ordinary' players all performed in an 'extra-ordinary' way. They all produced outstanding 11/10 performances on a weekly basis. As the season went on, belief grew and the impossible became probable before they eventually got it over the line.

There's a reason only Kante left the club. The rest, with perhaps one exception, aren't good enough to play for top clubs. They're at Leicester for that reason. Those that started careers at the bigger clubs weren't good enough to stay, so a collection of really good pro's all found themselves in the same place - at the right time - and something very special happened.

Morgan and Huth are the wrong side of 30 and won't ever again have a season like they did last time out. Everybody has worked Vardy out. Drinkwater is no more than 'solid' and he's missing his mate. Mahrez is a shadow of himself. Schmeichel is a great lad but again, would he get into any of the top 6 sides? The rest are good players - no more.

I do think that there is perhaps a little unrest in the dressing room caused by the fact that some of last season's stars are now earning money beyond their wildest dreams, whilst others have been left behind. That's a factor, but the bottom line is this - Leicester are neither as bad as their league position and form, but they were certainly never as good as last season's title win suggested.

Make no mistake - they're in big trouble. Unless something changes, and quickly, I reckon I'll have been a season out - they're going down. 

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