England? Ok. No more.

Published: Monday, 17 June 2024

If you believe teams find form and grow into tournaments then it was the perfect night for England. They got the result - just - and were bang average across the 90 minutes. So - good news all round?

If, on the other hand, you want to see your team fly out of the traps - put on a really impressive show and convince people they’re tournament favourites, you’ll be disappointed today (Monday) Really disappointed.

I’d have liked to have seen England put on the sort of performance Germany did. I know the Scots were poor, but they still needed beating. And Germany tore into them. There’s something about Nagelsmann’s team. Sometimes you can sniff winners. We haven’t seen all the big teams yet, but of those that we have, I think Germany look most likely.

England did enough. No more. And they got lucky with the goal. Bellingham’s finish was brilliant. It was a great header, but there’s no way the cross was meant for him. Saka was playing that to the first post for Kane. The deflection lifted into Bellingham’s path. I’ve read some reports suggesting Bellingham was Saka’s target. Nonsense. Of course he wasn’t.

I can’t think of much else that England could take from the game. TAA was poor. Because TAA played and Rice had to look after him, he was restricted - just as he is at Arsenal if he doesn’t have a 6 alongside him. Kane was anonymous. So was Foden and the deflected cross aside - I can’t think of much else that Saka did.

It’s hard to judge the back four. The keeper made a couple of saves I’d expect him to deal with, but the Serbs didn’t ask too many questions. They tried a few long range efforts late on and if they’d got lucky, as England did, with a deflection, they might’ve scored. But generally it was a quiet night for the defence.

So there’s plenty to work to do. But remember - Argentina lost their opening WC fixture, so let’s reserve judgement.

Having said Germany were good - they surprised me. I didn’t expect them to be so impressive. The same goes for Spain. After a slow start they had a blistering 25 minute spell and won their game during it. Italy were ok, but they won’t win it.

I’m looking forward to seeing Belgium, Portugal and France. If de Bruyne doesn’t blow the dressing room up again Belgium might do something at last.

I’m not sure about Portugal. I think the Ronaldo factor is their biggest problem. Once he’s taken off or left out the toys will come out of the pram again and that will upset everything.

To some degree I think the French have the same kind of issue. As always - their biggest enemy is themselves. There are signs already. A divisive election at home might prove to be their most difficult opponent and split their dressing room.

Are we surprised that the first big refereeing error came from the English? What did Michael Oliver not see in the Spain game? You can argue all day about the penalty award to Croatia - I thought it was btw - but having given it he’s got to send Rodri off.

There was no double-jepordy. Rodri didn’t make an attempt to play the ball. He instinctively did what he does at City every week - made a foul. It was a clear denial so he has to go.
Stuart Attwell - in VAR - shit it as well. Why didn’t he tell Oliver to have another look on the monitor? Oh - hang on. Clearly PL rules apply in Europe as well. Nobody tells Oliver he’s made a mistake because they’re scared of him. It was poor. Oliver is arrogant and I hope both the mistake and his attitude cost himp the further we go into the tournament.

Meanwhile - what on earth is Sunny Jim doing at United? After hawking ten Hag’s job around Europe since the end of the season it turns out the incumbent keeps stays in post - although he was only fourth choice. What rank amateurism.

The players must be on the floor. To a man they expected ten Hag to get the sack. What does Ratcliffe think will change? If he’d offered a proper salary I’m told Tuchel would’ve said ‘yes’. But Ratcliffe is trying to do everything on the cheap. £35m for Branthwaite? He’s having a laugh and it will bite him. He’ll also have to sack ten Hag before Christmas.

Put Brighton down for relegation. What a strange appointment they’ve made - 31-year-old Fabian Hurzeler. There’s his first problem. He’s younger than many of his key players - Jason Steele (33), Lewis Dunk (32), Joel Veltman (32), Pascal Gross (32), James Milner (38) and Danny Welbeck (33).
He could lose his dressing all too easily if he gets off on the wrong foot.

Good luck to him. I’ve said many times that I’ve got a real soft spot for Brighton, but I fear they’re going down the same path as their near neighbours Southampton. There’s only so many times that you can go to the ‘clever’ well before you find it’s run dry.

Well done City but I’m afraid you win another asterisk to go with the title.

Published: Monday, 20 May 2024

Well that was a bit of a damp squib. Absolutely nothing happened that we didn’t all expect. Oh - maybe not. United won. I don’t think too many saw that coming did they? Otherwise - from top to seventh, it worked out exactly as we thought it was going to.

So let’s congratulate City on another title success. Four in a row really is an exceptional achievement. Five, of course, is even better. And that’s what Emma Hayes delivered at Chelsea.

She’ll be missed in the WSL. I wish her well in her new career, but it’s a shame we couldn’t find room for her in the men’s game. I’m quite certain she would’ve stirred things up and I hope
its not too long before the odd temporary appointment of a woman in the men’s game becomes more permanent and something we expect to see on a regular basis.

But back to City. And regulars know what’s coming. It wasn’t just the final day that fell flat - I thought City’s achievement did. They know. They all know - fans, players and management
alike, that none of us can take anything they do at face value - until they‘ve answered the 115 outstanding breaches of PL regulations. And here they are….

54x failed to provide accurate financial information 2009-10 to 2017-18.

14x failed to provide accurate details for player and manager payments 2009-10 to 2017-18.

5x failure to comply with UEFA’s rules including Financial Fair Play (FFP) 2013-14 to 2017-18.

7x breaching PL’s PSR rules 2015-16 to 2017-18.

35x failure to co-operate with PL investigations Dec 2018-Feb 2023.

City strenuously deny any wrong doing. And they’re innocent until proven guilty. The problem is that everything they win comes with an asterisk, until we know one way or the other. And that’s not fair on the guys winning the trophies - or City’s fans. If the people that run the club are certain they’ve done nothing wrong - face the charges now. Stop running.

Arsenal deserve enormous credit for taking the race to the last day. It was possible - but never probable. I was interested to hear what City’s Rodri said, when it was all done, about their challenge. ‘Arsenal did an unbelievable season’ he said. Adding ‘the difference was the mentality. When they came here they didn’t want to beat us they just wanted to draw’. Exactly as I’ve been saying. That’s where Arsenal lost it. They looked scared to win at The Etihad. And they could’ve won it. They were the better team on the day. Mental strength is what separates winners and losers. City are never afraid.

Well done Wolves. Sadly their motion to get rid of VAR will fail when it comes up at next month’s PL AGM, but they’ve rattled a few cages.

Too many people have got too much invested in VAR for it ever to be binned now - but I’d love to see it consigned to history. I know I’m not alone. My guess is that if ‘football’ ever bothered to ask fans what we really thought a vote to get rid would carry with a massive majority.

VAR is the worst thing football ever did to itself. It’s a joy-killer. It’s tried to turn a game that ebbs and flows with emotion, and by definition must have grey areas, into a black and white spectacle.

We were promised that VAR would end debates about refereeing decisions. Has it? No. It’s created more argument. It’s ruined game after game after game. And this nonsense about it getting 96% of decisions correct this season is laughable. They don’t get 96% of decisions correct in one game.

We haven’t heard much from Howard Webb (showbiz showbiz showbiz) since Wolves made their move have we? I wonder what they’re thinking at PGMOL HQ? Unless they really are tone deaf they must be embarrassed. They must know they’ve made a right pigs ear of its use?

Here’s what to do. Stop interfering in games. Stop trying to find ways to disallow goals. Give the ref back his authority - unless he makes a glaring error (doesn’t spot Henry score v Ireland with his hand) VAR must not get involved in the game.

It’s a shame - but if we want to rule goals out because a forwards’ toe-nail is longer than a defenders - let’s embrace semi-automated off-sides and hope the lino and ref don’t fuck up as they did in the Madrid/Bayern CL semi-final.

We need full-time VAR operators and we want to hear the conversations that take place at the monitors. It’s ‘our’ game - not the PGMOL’s. We want to be involved in it - not get treated like fools and cash cows that don’t matter.

Oh. In case you missed it - this is what Richard Masters, the PL Chief Executive told The Sunday Times this week on the subject ‘We need time to get VAR right - we’ve only had it five years’. Ffs. How long do you need Richard?

Good luck to Jurgen Klopp in whatever he decides to do next. I wonder what the chances are he’s back at Anfield within 18 months?

We should all be grateful to him for what he gave us. Yes - ‘us’. His rock and roll football was a delight to watch and deserved a title or two more. We’re going to miss him.

I told you de Zerbi would be leaving Brighton didn’t I? I still think Thomas Frank is favourite to replace him but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Graham Potter turn up at the Amex again.

As for de Zerbi - I think he’s going to regret leaving Brighton. They’re a fantastic club. He’ll do well to find a better job.

Again - I can’t help thinking West Ham have dropped a bollock allowing David Moyes to leave. They will eventually miss him. They just don’t realise how much yet.

There should be no tax-payers money for United

Published: Monday, 13 May 2024

I’ve seen it all now. It’s definitely the correct decision - but United cancelling their end of season awards dinner? Wow.

The official reason is because they don’t want any distractions ahead of an FA Cup final they shouldn’t even be involved in. I think we all know the unofficial reason - there’s absolutely nothing to celebrate from a miserable season.

After this I’m done with commenting on ten Hag - but, for the last time - what planet does he inhabit? What game did he watch yesterday? (Sunday)

Before we heard from him I predicted on-air some of the post-match nonsense he’d be spouting - including the suggestion that Utd had gone ‘toe to toe’ with a team challenging for the title.

True to form, that’s exactly what he did. Of course he did. Honestly. No you didn’t Erik. They were poor, but got the job done. You were hopeless. One other thing - I don’t know if you’ve had a look at the table, but you’re 32 points behind them. Go. Just go. The job was always too big for you.

I’m glad Rooney questioned the commitment of one or two of the missing starters mind you. So did I. But can you blame them? They’ll all be fit for the final.

One last thing on United - and then that’s it for the season. Why all the speculation about Sunny Jim spending to fix OT? I thought the playing side was his responsibility? Surely fixing the roof (literally) is for the Glazers to do?

Perhaps that explains why Sunny Jim wants taxpayers money for the re-build? That should get a big fat ‘no’ from whichever govt is in power. What a cheek - the most valuable club in the world - owned by billionaires - holding out a begging bowl. No.

I checked my pre-season predictions yesterday. My top four were City, Arsenal, Liverpool - and for some reason I went Utd. Not bad, but Andy went one better and called Villa in 4th.

It was a brave shout and I remember laughing when he said it. Top marks to him though. He’s going to be right.

My bottom three were the trio that have been relegated - Sheff Utd, Burnley and Luton. Let’s not pretend Luton aren’t going. They’d need to win on the last day - and Forest lose - with a 13 goal swing in order to stay up. That’s not happening.

I’m sorry they’re going, but one win from their last 16 wasn’t good enough. They deserved their chance though and I’d like to think they’ll be back but I’m not sure. What is a certainty is that Rob Edwards will get a bigger job though.

Burnley had a go towards the end of the season, but it was too little too late. Vincent Kompany’s obsession with playing ‘the right way’ proved to be wrong and ultimately their undoing. Teams like Burnley can’t ‘play’ in the big league. They don’t have the players to do it.

I saw Kompany saying that he didn’t want to gamble with the clubs future by spending their way to another season. Really? Who was it that spent £111.05m last summer then? I have to say, if I owned Burnley, I’d have expected a better effort at staying up for that kind of money.

Sheff Utd never had a chance. They were a mess from day 1.

I’ve got to mention Bournemouth - for two reasons. First - they were robbed of another win by a combination of a rookie ref and VAR. Iraola was right - there was nothing wrong with either of the two goals they had disallowed. Not much was made of their frustration of course - because they’re Bournemouth.

Secondly - congratulations to Iraola for his Manager of the Season nomination. I guess he gets a mention because he’s steered Bournemouth to a record points total - 48 with one game to come - 9 more than last season? All that pre-season planning clearly paid dividends.

I look two places below Bournemouth and find Wolves - already five points better off than last season - whose manager was appointed three days before the season started. He had no time to plan. He’s also English, which is why he isn’t on the MoS nominations list. Well - I can’t think of another reason.

And if we give Sean Dyche Everton’s eight points back the Toffees also have 48. After a torrid campaign off the pitch - Dyche has worked wonders on it. No nomination for him either though. I wonder why?

Why have West Ham hung Moyes out to dry?

Published: Wednesday, 08 May 2024

It took a millisecond for David Moyes to reply - ‘Declan Rice’, he said.

The question was ‘why have West Ham conceded so many goals this season?’  

It’s 70 now. Only the bottom 3 have conceded more. That’s a scary stat.

Moyes wasn’t blaming Rice of course - he was bemoaning the fact that Rice isn’t in his team anymore. Losing Rice isn’t the only reason West Ham have come up short, but more on that in a moment.

Rice is a Rolls Royce. I said as much earlier in the season when I blasted him for being Declan Nice. He was tippy-tappying about in midfield, playing second fiddle to Zinchenko, playing sideways and backwards.

That’s not his game. I know it’s what he was being asked to do, but it was frustrating to see such a talent being wasted.

Arsenal have looked so much better when they’ve played with Jorghino or  - freeing Rice to get involved all over the pitch.

Thank goodness Arteta’s obsession with Zinchenko, in that pointless inverted role, seems over. If they don’t win the title I wonder if he’ll berate himself for playing the wrong team v Villa? I said on the Monday after that defeat he’d got it wrong so I’m not trying to be clever now. 

Playing Zinchenko meant anchoring Rice and also giving Havertz a different role. It didn’t work. It doesn’t work. Havertz is an 8 1/2 - 9. On that subject - do Arsenal really need a proper 9? They’re the league’s top goal scorers - so why?

Anyway - it’s great to see Rice back doing what he does best and of course West Ham have missed him.

But as I said - he’s not the only reason the Hammers’ form has dropped off. Clearly the players have switched off. And whose fault is that? Obviously David Sullivan’s and Karen Brady’s.

What are they thinking? Perhaps they’re not? But why have they hung Moyes out to dry? Tony Cottee eloquently made his feelings known at the weekend. ‘Absolute joke of a Board’ he wrote on X. He didn’t hold back adding ‘publicly courting and talking to other managers (who aren’t as good as Moysey) is really poor and classless’. Here here.

Never before have West Ham enjoyed an era like the one Moyes has delivered. Never. Yet the brains-trust continue to prevaricate on whether to offer him a new deal. Perhaps they’ve got Manuel Pellegrini lined up? Oh no - wait a minute…..

If I’m Moyes I would tell them to fuck off - just as Big Sam did. The way he’s been treated is a disgrace and the main reason why the players have now got their flip-flops on. They know Moyes is leaving. We all know he’s leaving. And West Ham will know it when he has.

If Sullivan or Brady were to talk right now they’d probably tell us that they ‘want to take the club in a different direction’ (again?). Good luck with that. I remember Charlton doing it - and look at the direction they went in.

Congrats to Andy Woodman and Bromley. Bromley - of the Football League. What an amazing story this one is. Well done guys. Enjoy the ride.

What are your thoughts on gambling in football? There’s been talk on the subject - not enough in my view - but PL clubs have banned match-day front-of-shirt sponsorship deals with gambling companies from the summer of 2026.

It’s not much, but it’s a step in the right direction and followed discussions between football and a Boris Johnson led Tory govt in 2020, who announced they intended to launch the biggest overhaul in sports gambling legislation in 15 years.

Of course that didn’t happen.

But this has - I noticed a line at the weekend that Johnson has landed a lucrative deal to star in Paddy Power’s advertising campaign for the Euro’s. As Richard Littlejohn would say ‘you couldn’t make it up’.

Do Bayern Munich really want Erik ten Hag? If I was Jim Ratcliffe I’d be driving him to Germany myself. Today. 

I was interested to read Ten Hag revealing at the weekend that United had indeed tried to sign Harry Kane last summer. They failed. Why? We don’t really know, but they did sign Rasmus Hojlund. That deal was negotiated by Kees Vos, co-founder of the Dutch agency SEG, which also represents ten Hag. Vos also acted for United in the deal. 

Andre Onana’s deal was also negotiated by SEG - so too was Sofyan Amrabat’s. All a happy co-incidence I’m sure. Kane has his own representatives. 

Arne ten Slot

Published: Monday, 29 April 2024

He was the stand-out choice among a strong field of candidates. He set out a long-term vision to build a successful, exciting team’.

On the appointment of the Dutchman the above was the sort of thing that was being said. Also ‘he was the manager most closely aligned with the identity and aims of the club - including a commitment to attacking football’.

There was also this ‘he showed passion, energy and enthusiasm for the challenge’.

Oh. And of course it was mentioned that he was a ‘proven winner’. The message to the fans was that they should ‘show patience’ as the new man set about building a successful team.

The problem turned out to be that none of the above was true. And they’re nothing to do with anyone at Anfield - yet. They’re the words of John Murtough, the former football director at Manchester United and the man responsible for appointing Erik ten Hag. Looking at them again now it makes me wonder who exactly he was trying to persuade. Perhaps himself?

It’s taken too long, but at least United are now on the cusp of correcting the monumental error they made when appointing ten Hag.

He was never the right man. And regulars will know my view has never wavered.

The truth is - he got the Utd job on the back of dominating a small league with the biggest club in that league and after winning three consecutive titles. But that’s exactly what he should’ve done. He had the best players and good resources. Ok, there was a CL semi-final, but none of this made him one of the best coaches in Europe. None of it qualified him for the job at OT.

I’m not revisiting this simply to remind Utd fans of the nonsense Murtough spouted. They’ve lived it. They know first hand how bad it’s been. Ten Hag was out of his depth from the moment he walked into OT. Do you remember when he came up with the cunning plan to switch the dug-outs round? Genius. What on earth was that all about?

No. I mention it because I believe Liverpool are about to make the same mistakes that Utd did. Arne ten Slot. Really? Not for me. And I’m not alone. There isn’t a Liverpool fan that I’ve spoken to isn’t totally underwhelmed by the news ten Slot is going to replace Klopp.

Ok. Let’s cut him some slack. I accept we don’t know. It could turn out to be an inspired appointment. But I’m not convinced.

Why ten Slot? (I know that’s not his name but he’s mini-me isn’t he?). I guarantee you we’ll hear all the same things they said about ten Hag when Liverpool finally unveil their man. What you won’t hear is an admission that he wasn’t first choice. Or that his record in Holland isn’t even as good as ten Hag’s was.

In amongst the things I’ve read about him so far was a revealing line that ten Slot will not be ‘manager’ at Anfield. He’s going to be ‘head coach’.

Why is that significant? Well - I believe because it cements Michael Edwards’ position as ‘head of football’.

Edwards has only recently returned to Liverpool after a two-year absence. Perhaps it’s just co-incidence he’s back when Klopp is leaving? But I don’t believe it is. Talk to insiders and they’ll tell you he left after a fall-out with Klopp, who ended up running Liverpool from top to bottom. Quite simply - Edwards lost the power struggle.

There is no way Edwards would’ve returned to the club unless he had assurances about having total control of all football matters. That meant he’d be working with a coach - not a manager. Whether he’s chosen the right one only time will tell.

At Brighton Roberto De Zerbi continues to write his resignation letter. After the defeat to Bournemouth he returned to a now familiar theme - but with a little bit of a twist.

We already knew he doesn’t believe Brighton match his ambition (honestly - the arrogance) but now he’s turned on his players, who he says, ‘lack motivation’. Wow. It’s over.

Brighton’s latest defeat means that only Sheff U, Burnley and Forest have a worse record than theirs this season. They’ve won just six of their last 28. If Sean Dyche, David Moyes or any other domestic coach had a record like that there would be screams for them to be sacked.

The Italian will leave at the end of the season - I’m hearing to be replaced by Thomas Frank, who can think himself unlucky not to have been linked with bigger jobs. Liverpool? Why not?

A quick question - would VAR have awarded Villa a pen for the offence that saw Chelsea’s winning goal ruled out?

As we prepare to watch the last day of the C’ship season I can’t help but think B’ham deserve to go down. What a mess they made of their season. Think back - they were sixth when they fired John Eustace. I feel sorry for their fans, who were promised too much and were delivered nothing. It’s another lesson in being careful what you wish for.

What else is there to say? You all saw it.

Published: Monday, 22 April 2024

I know. I’m late. I’m sorry, but my problem was knowing where to start after what happened at Wembley this weekend - and I’m not just talking about the Coventry game.

I’ve decided not to say too much on that subject. What is there to add? You all saw it. Nobody thought our winning goal should’ve been disallowed and those who argued that technology would end injustices were wrong when they did - and they’re wrong now.

Sadly, technology delivered an injustice of monumental proportions on Sunday and denied football a fairy-tale story that would’ve been talked about for generations. And in a week when the FA Cup, as a competition, so desperately needed some good news.

If I’m being strictly impartial - I wasn’t sure about the pen. If it hadn’t been given it wouldn’t have been overturned, so maybe we got away with one there?

That’s it. I’ve nothing else to say - apart from this - I’d like to see a change to the shoot out. On big-game occasions - when the crowd is equally split in a stadium - it’s just plain wrong that one team gets the advantage of taking pens in front of their own fans. We’ve got enough officials to make it possible for kicks to be taken at both ends - two assistants and the fourth. If you argue that it wouldn’t make any difference - fine, but let’s see. I believe it would.

In conclusion - I couldn’t have been more proud of my team, nor the fans from my home city. They were wonderful. Did you notice that we were the only team of the quartet in the s/f’s to sell our ticket allocation. Well done guys. It was a day I won’t forget for a long time.

In the other game, Chelsea should’ve had a pen. If ours was, so too was Chelsea’s. Grealish clearly makes himself bigger with the use of his arm. As I always say - the award doesn’t mean that a goal will follow, but with Cole Palmer on the pitch the chances are it would’ve done.

I’ve nothing but sympathy for Forest fans today. I know we haven’t always seen eye to eye, but I’m with you now. What a disgrace that was at Goodison. And not for one minute do I agree with Mssrs Jordan, Souness or Neville (Oh what selective memories some people have) that the club had no right to issue the statement that followed the game. Yes they did.

No team has suffered more from poor decisions this season than Forest. Wolves come close, followed by West Ham. Hold on…..I’d better stop there before I name them all. Fulham. Burnley. See what I mean?

No. After what I saw at Goodison, when I caught up on the weekend’s games, Forest are out on their own.

Let’s be generous - one of the decisions was debatable. But, in truth, all three were pens. And I’ve nothing against Everton, whose fans are both knowledgable and honest. They know, like United, they got away with one.

The reason I don’t have a problem with Forest’s statement is because I happen to know that they warned Howard Webb (showbiz showbiz showbiz) on Friday that appointing Stuart Attwell to VAR was asking for trouble. Attwell is a Luton fan.

That’s not news - we all know that now. Forest knew it on Friday and asked for Attwell to be removed - quietly and without going public. Good call. Why not?

Nobody at Forest was suggesting that Attwell would adversely affect the game. I don’t believe any ref ever sets out to make bad decisions, but there’s always the risk of a game turning out the way it did - with controversial decisions being made - and a stench to follow.

I’ve argued this so many times when Anthony Taylor gets games between Man City/United and Liverpool. Of course he won’t make bad decisions intentionally, but why run the risk of him making a genuine mistake that backfires on him? Why? It’s stupid. It’s also arrogant and stubborn for the PGMOL to continue this practice. It’s bitten them badly with Attwell. I feel for the guy. I really do. It’s not his fault, although you could argue that he should’ve recused himself.

Webb was fully aware of the dangers. He should’ve stood Attwell down. Referees wanted to play a bigger role on match days. They wanted to be professionals. They wanted to be taken seriously. Well with those things comes accountability and scrutiny. I’m sorry, but that’s how it is now. We all live in that world.

If the small number of us that keep asking questions and pointing out failings don’t keep up that work nothing will change. I’m with Forest on this one.

When was football ever logical?

Published: Monday, 15 April 2024

Well that’s it then. It’s City’s title. The champions are back on top and logic tells us they win it now. But when was football ever logical? I’ve got a feeling we should still expect more of the unexpected.

Who thought Palace would win at Anfield? I’ll bet Oliver Glasner didn’t, although two his predecessors have (Pardew and Hodgson) so that makes Palace the only PL team to have won three games at Anfield in the Klopp era. What makes the stat more impressive is that no team has ever done it twice.

There was more chance of an upset at Arsenal of course. Villa are a good side, but I didn’t fancy them because they’d previously fucked up too many of their big games - Man Utd twice, Spurs and Newcastle for example.

How sweet must the win have tasted to Unai Emery? Of course he was there primarily to win it with Villa, but a piece of him will have enjoyed it just a little bit more than anybody else at the club.

I’ve always said his time at Arsenal was too heavily criticised. His record on the pitch really wasn’t bad and let’s not forget he took them to a euro final. What killed him was becoming a comedic character because of his insistence of starting every interview with the words ‘good ebening’ or ‘good abternoon’. Fortunately, at Villa, he’s stopped doing it.

As if he had to - because of his record in Spain - but Emery is now proving to an English audience he is a very good operator.

If Arsenal don’t win the title now everybody will look back on the Villa defeat as the day it was lost. I don’t agree. I think they lost it at Man City.

They had City by the throat that day. They were the better side, but failed to take advantage of their superiority. I’ve previously said they looked scared to win it - not lose it. There’s a huge difference between those two mind sets.

If they’d shown just a little more ambition - a little more belief - they could’ve won it and at the same time put City out of the race. If’s, but’s and maybe’s I know, but it was a massive opportunity missed.

They had chances to put Villa away as well. Arteta claimed afterwards they should’ve been three or four up by half-time, which was nonsense, but they certainly missed some great openings.

I also felt he played the wrong team. I notice Piers Morgan made the point Arsenal still don’t have a centre-forward, but that wasn’t the problem for me.

They’ve been playing with one. Ok, Havertz isn’t a natural 9, but he’d been in good form operating as a centre-forward with five in eight league games.

Also in really good form - Declan Rice, who I’ve previously said I wanted to see a lot more from. Arteta made a subtle change recently - playing Jorginho - which allowed Rice to start bossing games in the way he used to at West Ham.

So why change it Sunday? Rice was back to being Declan Nice, tippy-tappying about allowing Zinchenko to try and run the midfield. What is Arteta’s obsession with crow-barring Zinchenko into his team? Is he really so important? If I was Rice I’d be furious. I’d be asking ‘why pay £100m for me - only to ask me to play second fiddle to that busy fool’? Zinchenko doesn’t affect games in the same way Rice does.

Zinchenko’s inclusion also means a different role for Havertz of course. The whole balance of the team has to be different.

I guess the answer is that Arteta wants us to believe he’s as clever as Guardiola, whose also made baffling team-selections in the past - proving to be too clever for his own good - just as Arteta was on Sunday.

One last thing. What happened to the crowd? Why were there so many empty seats at the end? Ok - there was nothing to celebrate (😂) on the day, but come on - Arsenal have given their fans plenty to shout about this season - at least stay and applaud them off - surely?

How lucky were United? Ten Hag went into the weekend bemoaning the fact that his team hadn’t been at all fortunate this season. I know. What planet does he live on?

The pen they got was a joke and Bournemouth should’ve had one of their own at the end. What was Jarred Gillett doing in VAR? Why did he get involved? Did he see a ‘clear and obvious error’? He was the only person that did if so. If you get a pen there’s still work to do, but Bournemouth were robbed of a chance to win it.

The next time United play I’ll be there to watch them. They really should spank my Super Sky Blues in the FA Cup semi-finals. I don’t expect any other outcome.

It’ll be great to see my boys back at Wembley. I couldn’t make last seasons play-off final because of work commitments, so I’m really grateful to my bosses for getting me the weekend off this time.

United are better than us. They’re expected to win. They should win. Many of their fans are making plans for the final - and have been since the draw was made. All logic says they’re right - but when was football ever logical?

Well said Jeff Shi.

Published: Monday, 08 April 2024

Well said Jeff Shi - Wolves chairman. If you missed it, this is what he said after seeing his side robbed of a perfectly good equaliser in the game v West Ham ‘when a goal is scored and not one person inside the stadium questions the validity of that goal, including both sets of players, coaches, fans and even the match officials themselves, it’s time to question whether someone remote disallowing that goal is really what football wants or needs’.

We all know the answer. No. It isn’t. It was never intended to be like this. I ask again - why are we trying to find so many ways to disallow goals? Why the forensic dissection to deny the one thing that supporters pay to see?

There was nothing wrong with that Kilman goal. The decision was compounded when the PGMOL issued a statement trying to defend the decision. They were wrong. There was no defence. The path of the ball was not over the head of the attacker and it was well to the right of the keeper. They were adrift on a matter of law.

I’ve got to admit I was a little disappointed in David Moyes’ reaction. His team have suffered a succession of bad calls recently - including one at Molineux. They too had a perfectly good goal disallowed, so why didn’t Moyes come out in support of Gary O’Neil and his team? He had nothing to lose. The game was over. It was a win/win for him had he backed O’Neil. The only way we’ll reign these refs in is if we pressure them together. Looking at that decision in the round would’ve been far more productive of Moyes.

Thanks goodness things worked out for everybody at Old Trafford. I thought Antony Taylor was terrific - one big call aside. Casemiro should’ve gone off for his late lunge. That was an awful challenge.

Utd/Liverpool is a huge game anyway but, of course, it comes with added pressure for Altrincham based Taylor.

Not for a moment do I think he would ever do anything but a professional job on it, but why put him under the added duress? It’s obstinate and arrogant of the PGMOL to keep doing it, knowing that something could go wrong. Just imagine if we were arguing over a similar decision to the one at Wolves following the game. Taylor would be slaughtered and it wouldn’t be his fault. It’s asking for trouble to keep appointing him to the fixture.

Palace should’ve had a pen v City. And was everybody in the bunker asleep when Maddison punched Ryan Yates off the ball at Spurs? It’s not so bad that Simon Hooper missed it - but it was as clear as day for VAR. Maddison should’ve been sent-off.

I’m told Jamie Redknapp didn’t want to make much of the incident on Sky. I wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that Maddison models for Redknapp’s clothing company? If that’s not a conflict of interest I don’t know what is.

I must say, Arsenal are looking good. There’s a very real chance now they really will have something to celebrate this season. 😂.

I noticed Newcastle posted another dressing room pic following their titanic win at…..Fulham. 🤷‍♂️ The win must’ve felt good. Not many pick up three points there. The Toon were only the sixth team to do it so far this season. Well worth a celebration pic eh?

Sadly we lost Joe Kinnear over the weekend. Joe wasn’t everybody’s favourite. He certainly failed to win many friends on Tyneside - but he was a good guy, very good company, a real character and his contribution to the PL era shouldn’t be forgotten. Spurs fans will remember him as a damned good full-back. RIP Joe.

The battle to get out of the C’ship is fascinating now. It’s impossible to call it - the race for automatic promotion - or a play-off place.

How well have Ipswich done? The defeat at Norwich was untimely, but Kieran McKenna deserves a whole lot of praise for another terrific - whatever happens now.

Leeds and Leicester are the other two jockeying for an automatic place. I’ve got to admit there’s something about Leicesters bid that I don’t like. It feels like 2003 all over again to me. Their promotion that year - after falling into administration - led to the current regulations about financial mis-management being brought in. Once again they’ve got some serious questions to answer about their finances.

Good luck to all our teams in Europe this week. I don’t care who it is - when English teams play a European tie I want them to win it. We’ve got it all covered on beINSPORTS of course and I’m looking forward to meeting Jojn Obi Mikel this week. Jon will be one of our CL guests, along with our regulars. Join us if you can. I always feel the competition comes to life at this stage after a very long winter.

What about Plan B City?

Published: Tuesday, 02 April 2024

There is no question that, at their very best, City can be irresistible. They were in the two CL semi-final games v Madrid last season. If you let them, they’ll tear you apart.

But, if they run into an immovable object, they struggle. There’s no Plan B.

United nearly did a job on them recently. Their problem though is that they’re not very good, so they were always going to get beaten. And that tends to be the case for most teams that go to The Etihad and just sit in.

But not Arsenal, who’ve got the tools to do the job properly. Not for a moment did I enjoy their suffocating performance, but I respect their right to play as they did and it was a job well done. But my word, it was dull. I’d add that if they’d had a go they might just have won it. City can be fragile - more this season than ever - if you get at them, so I’m sorry that Arsenal weren’t a little braver.

That’s what title teams do - win it for themselves, not rely on others to drop points. Get on the front foot. Ask questions. Believe in themselves. But, Arsenal got what they went for, so they’ll be delighted. Whether it turns out to be enough we won’t know for a while yet.

Here’s an interesting stat - City still haven’t beaten any of the top 5 this season. Think about that. Why?

For me (I always think about Alan Hansen when I say that - top guy) they don’t have a Plan B.

I refer back to what I said earlier, they can be devastating if they have things all their own way - and if teams turn up allowing themselves to be rolled over - playing ‘the right way’.

But if they come up against really solid resistance they can struggle. They had just one shot on target in nearly 100 minutes on Sunday. One shot. How can that be? We‘re talking about the champions here - some would say the best team in the world - playing at home. I’ll say it again because I still can’t quite believe it - one shot on target all afternoon. It’s staggering.

Why can’t Guardiola occasionally compromise and add a little muscle into the mix? He’s got a beast playing at centre-forward so why not get crosses in occasionally? Balls that a Shearer thrived on? ‘Just get it in’ would be the last thing Shearer would tell his mates as they left a tunnel. It worked out quite well for him as well didnt it?

Why don’t City just ‘get it in’ sometimes? Even when Guardiola made changes in the second-half he simply replicated what he had. Grealish offered nothing. His game consists now only of tippy-tappying inside or falling over. He never beats a man or gets a cross in. If he was as good as Beckham he wouldn’t have to beat anyone - just cross it, but he doesn’t even do that.

Guardiola put Doku on on the right - but he proved to be as ineffective as Grealish - always going inside and straight into traffic. Arsenal must’ve been delighted that he went that side. Doku’s best work this season has been on the left - striking a blow for ‘proper’ wingers.

It’s almost as though Guardiola sees going a bit ‘agricultural’ as a sell-out. He shouldn’t. There’s more than one way to play football. Everything City do has to be precise it seems. I’d love to see them scruffy things up occasionally and just ‘get it in’.

There’s a long way to go yet, but I hope that whichever team wins it does so by earning the right. In other words - having a go.

What a weekend it was for ref howlers. Mind you - when isn’t it?

In no particular order - Antony Gordon conned Rob Jones twice. Well - once. The hapless David Coote, in VAR, was to blame for the second error. What did you see that was ‘clear and obvious’ David? I saw simulation. So did everyone that wasn’t supporting Newcastle.

Why didn’t Jones send Dan Burn off for taking Kudas out when he was clean through? It was a denial. Burns made no attempt to play the ball. It was a clear red.

Mudryk pen? No chance. That was a joke award. Calvert-Lewin should’ve had one at Bournemouth though, but that one went unnoticed somehow. Salah could easily have had one at the Kop End, but Coote didn’t give that one - yet he intervened at Newcastle to turn the game on its head when West Ham led 3-1 and award Gordon the 2nd pen.

It was slide-rule stuff at Sheffield United to deny them a match-winning 4th goal. No wonder a raft of managers were bemused again - not least Chris Wilder. And you know something really is up when mild-mannered Kompany loses the plot. And I didnt blame him. I say the same thing every week - it’s simply not getting any better.

Speaking of refs, I see Bobby Madley has got a book out - entitled Barking Mad. Clever.

But as always when I see a ref release a book - I’m left wondering why Mark Halsey was denied his severance payment of £75,000 when he retired - for writing a book. For some reason the authorities didn’t like Halsey’s book. Perhaps because he was too honest - but isn’t that the idea of a memoir?

To my knowledge Halsey remains the only ref that has ever been denied his leaving package. £75,000 is life-changing money. It was an outrageous injustice, but there is still time to put matters right.

I wish Madley well and hope his book is a success, but somebody should look again at what they did to Halsey in a previous era.

Come on down….Gareth.

Published: Monday, 25 March 2024

So football’s worst kept secret is out. Manchester United have decided Gareth Southgate is the man to replace Erik ten Hag.

I get it. I can see why. Southgate is a nice guy. He gets on with everyone. He’s been a dream for the FA - very much their type of man. Southgate says all the right things and does all the right things. Most importantly - he’s got both players and press alike onside. So why not? What’s not to like?

Southgate certainly knows how to treat a modern player. Don’t test him. Don’t argue with him. Don’t fall out with him. Give him what he wants and give everybody a game as often as possible - a policy dressed up as ‘experimenting’. That way everybody wins.

On the field I’d say Southgate has had limited success, which has been spun by the legacy media into describing him England’s most successful coach since Sir Alf Ramsey. They’ve certainly got an argument. But it’s not one that I share.

Southgate’s is a luxurious existence. He doesn’t have any of the day to day hassle that a club coach has. He doesn’t deal with the mundane issues that players take to work every day. He doesn’t have to buy and sell. He gets the best to choose from every time he picks a team. It’s others that put in the hard yards developing, nurturing and maturing players.

Ok. I know. Somebody has got to do it - and Southgate has done ok.

If he fits the ‘model’ that Sunny Jim and Dave Brailsford (I still can’t believe that Brailsford is anywhere near professional sport) have worked out then Southgate it will be.

He’s smart enough to realise that it will be the right time to leave the England job after the WC. If he wins it (I hope he does, but I’m not convinced) then there’s nowhere to go. If he doesn’t - that will he three major tournaments he’s failed in. Again - there will be nowhere to go. He can’t stay on and run the risk of failing in four.

The United job will only ever come up once. If he doesn’t take it - that’s it. Despite the recent denials - make no mistake, he wants it. He won’t ever be coming from the same place of strength as he is now.

If I’m a United fan am I excited by this prospect? No, I’m not. I’m as numb as I would be if Graham Potter turned up.

Look. I like Southgate. He’s given England fans pride back in their team. England now go into tournaments with a belief to match the inevitable hype. It’s different. But - manager of Manchester United? Not for me.

United should be looking along the top shelf. I know that reduces the number of candidates, but there isn’t much real quality about.

Deschamps? Yes. Zidane? Yes. I was laughed out of court at the back end of last year when I said they should go and get Alonso - agree a deal with his ‘people’ and guarantee him five years to get it right.

My critics said ‘No. what’s he done? It’s too soon’. Really? Well 3 months on it’s not too soon for Liverpool to have got him to agree to become their next manager. As I always say when I share news like this - these big deals can always go wrong. There’s a lot to go wrong when they’re blue riband, whether it’s a player or coach/manager involved, but my information is that Alonso has decided on Liverpool.

If I’m a Liverpool fan - that excites me. What United have got to do is better that appointment. Would Southgate turning up at OT do that?

According to The Sun today there’s more bad news for United. They report that UEFA have decided to stay with the ban on clubs under the same ownership playing against each other in Europe.

UEFA’s new regulations about multi-club ownership, mean that clubs like Nice and United can play in Europe if they’re in different competitions, but they can’t take part in the same competition. In short - if United qualify for the CL and Nice the Europa League - that’s ok. But it’s not if they both qualify for the Europa.

The Sun go onto say that United could miss out all together if Nice finish the season 5th - which is where they are now (after just one win in seven) and United finish 6th. Nice would take precedent as the club ranked highest in their domestic championship.

So United need Nice to finish in a CL place, or win the FA Cup themselves. Btw - I hear United fans talking about buying tickets for the final already. Be careful guys. Beating Coventry is not a given.

A quick word of warning for Rehanne Skinner, coach of West Ham’s women’s team. After another poor decision went against her side in the defeat to Chelsea at the weekend, Skinner called for the introduction of VAR into their game. Careful Rehanne. Trust me - you’re better off without it.

And I see that Villa have got themselves a new shirt sponsor for next season - the Greek betting brand Betano - as well as a new Adidas kit.

Shirt sponsorship is an area that Villa haven’t done well in over recent years. The association with BK8 caused a real storm, just as it had at Norwich. Now they’ve got Betano on board.

Of course, Villa aren’t alone in selling their shirt to a gambling company. At the last count I think nine PL clubs had.

Yet they’ve all agreed a voluntary ban on gambling sponsors for 2026/27. Why? Why bother? It’s a smoke and mirrors exercise isn’t it in order to avoid legislation. Clearly none of them really cares about the damage gambling does to peoples lives. As ever - money talks - to the tune of £40m/year in Villa’s case.