Beware the tale of the Pied Piper

Published: Monday, 11 October 2021

Well well well – there you have it. The Toon has their saviour. The Pied Piper has driven out the rats. But a word of caution – beware the tale of the Pied Piper.

First thing to say, I’m delighted Newcastle fans have hope at last.  Newcastle United are a fantastic football club. I’ve never said – or thought – differently, despite the mob’s habitual lynching of me and anyone who says anything other than Rafa is the Messiah.

Most of my best PL memories involve Newcastle. ‘The Entertainers’. The Keegan years were some of the finest ever enjoyed by football fans, or any club. It remains a deep regret for me that Kevin didn’t win anything during his time. As a mate, I desperately wanted to see him get Newcastle over the line. They deserved a title. Maybe the new regime will bring one. For some reason, I doubt it – beware the cautionary tale.

Now that the ravaging mob are happy, anyone who correctly called the collapse of the original takeover is safe to speak again. It’s funny how all the abuse, assaults, insults and death threats are long forgotten. And how outraged calls for transparency suddenly disappear when the desired outcome arrives. Transparency but only when it suits. 

At beIN SPORTS, despite the takeover extracting the justice we’d called for, there is no sense of victory in the past week – nor the past four and a half years when the pirates pillared beIN, Sky Sports, the BBC, ITV, the Premier League, Wimbledon, the Six Nations and every major British content producer you can think of. Too many good people here have lost their jobs for that. Too many personal phones here have been hacked by Pegasus. Too many death threats received – and I’m not just talking about the mob on Twitter. Just pause for a moment on that last sentence.

However, the events of the past week in unlocking the takeover show the real issue at play all along, while also exposing the contradictions, hypocrisy and lies of those who are now “custodians” of the club. As someone said to me recently, if you’re responsible for the most embarrassing corporate bid in football takeover history, I’m not sure you’re fit to run a corner-shop, never mind a football club.

Let’s have a look at some of the Pied Piper’s tunes. Remember the days (sorry months) we were all assured there were no red flags (when there’s been less red flags at Pamplona)?

Then it was delayed due COVID. Then there were red flags, but they were all being sorted so don’t you worry. Then a Saudi broadcaster was launching and was the game-changer #CANS.

Then Saudi lost the WTO case, but they claimed they’d won it (then they appealed a case they said they won!). Then piracy was a problem after all; then piracy had been sorted (but remember the Premier League sent their legal case to the wrong Saudi email address – nine times – remember that?!). Then the consortium pulled out of the takeover as it was all a disgrace; then they hadn’t pulled out. I know it’s confusing but keep up!

Fast forward to the Super League breakaway – the perfect national narrative to jump on; of course it was the Big Six who blocked the takeover, didn’t you know?! Then yesterday it turns out it was the Big 19! And I read reports that the Pied Piper’s lawyers are helping some of the Big Six out of their ESL adventure – I thought they were the bad guys?!

By the way - ask Javier Tebas about who funded the Super League project. Amongst all this nonsense, there were drivelling complaints about lost investment in the North East. What stopped that - takeover or otherwise? There were crocodile tears and shameless demands for fans to get 5am buses to Parliament Square with the arbitration on a knife-edge, only for it to have been delayed to 2022. I could go on - having been privileged to have had a ring side seat all along. 

The point is, if words don’t add up, it’s usually because the truth doesn’t feature in the equation. And while the Toon fans have been urged throughout to #TakeBackControl – sadly, they’ve never been further from it. When the new non-CEO prints that slogan on the team bus, remember you heard it here first. 

I say all this because I hope that now Newcastle have belied again, I hope they realise that this was never (and never will be) about them.

Looking back, if this takeover had happened to any other club, that club would have received the same scrutiny – just for a moment consider that the red flags aren’t about Newcastle. Looking forward, more worryingly, I hope the fans also realise they’ve been played like a panpipe every step of the way – this “custodianship” will never be about them.  

The Pied Piper was initially hailed as the saviour of Hamelin by driving out the rats. However, be careful what you wish for – when music is manipulation and you lap up every false note, you may get a very different ending.

Stunning Salah.

Published: Monday, 04 October 2021

Stunning. It was absolutely stunning. I said on the day and I’ll repeat it now - the only other player on the planet that could’ve scored that goal is Messi. It was a work of art. A thing a rare beauty. It needed no words as we looked at it time and again on BeINSPORTS. Nothing that me, Andy or Nigel de Jong were going to say could’ve added anything. Mo Salah’s goal against City was the highlight of a wonderful second half.

It was one of those rare moments that brought spontaneous applause from the whole studio - even Andy - who’s a blue - but knew immediately that we’d all just witnessed something special. It’s my new favourite all-time PL goal. Sorry Tiss! 

Le Tissier’s at The Dell against Newcastle, all those years ago, had been. It some ways that one had many of the same ingredients - so much happening in such a short space - up, over, round, goal - Tiss doing what he did best - everything at his pace. His mate, Mike Osman, reckons Tiss invented ‘walking’ football! He’s not far wrong. 😂.

Salah’s finished with a burst of awesome power before he angled the ball past Ederson - but it started out much the same way. His dancing feet were incredible. What a goal. Thank you Mo.

The game was squeezed into 45 blistering minutes. The first half was poor. I didn’t enjoy it at all, but our heavyweight title challengers really made up for it as they traded blows after the break. The draw was fair.

I wasn’t surprised to see Nuno leave Dele out. And Solskjaer had to start Cavani. Strange. Did both managers read last week’s blog? 😂.

Solskjaer started his best centre-forward, but strangely chose to withdraw him after an hour. I’ve no idea why - but more significantly - Cavani was both puzzled and furious. My mole working near the dugouts tells me he stormed past Solskjaer when he came off, but quickly changed his mind about ignoring the manager and shook hands. But make no mistake - he wasn’t happy and there’s trouble brewing there.

What’s more baffling is why Ronaldo didn’t start. Why did he need a rest when he’s not playing again until the weekend - and maybe not at all? I can’t think Portugal will need him to beat Qatar in their friendly. It was another daft decision by Solskjaer - this one compounded by the inclusion of Martial. Why didn’t he play Ronaldo left of his three up top? I’ve never understood managers leaving players out - only to find themselves needing them to chase a game. Why not get it won - and then take them off? Ole’s still at the wheel - but for how much longer I wonder?

Back to the game at Spurs. Can someone please answer me this? Why is it acceptable for a team to use a long throw if a ‘specialist’ coach has decided it’s a good idea - but it’s football from the dark ages if the likes of Pulis, Allardyce or similar do it?

Austin MacPhee has got Matty Cash causing havoc when he tosses a long ball in. It’s a smart move if you’ve got someone in the team that can throw the ball into the 6-yard box. MacPhee is winning a lot of friends with his set-piece work at Villa, but it does make me laugh - for the reason I’ve stated above. When others have done it down the years - they’ve been slated for it. Perceptions eh?

Set-piece coaches are all the rage it seems. Ok, if they can bring something to the party - why not? But surely getting Cash to toss a throw into the 6-yard box is something that Dean Smith could’ve thought of? Or is that too simple? Have we got another example here of coaches getting ‘too clever?’ Sorry Phil. 😂😂

Why do coaches try to be so clever?

Published: Monday, 27 September 2021

Musings this week. Just thoughts that

come into my head as I write. The first question is - ‘why are PL coaches trying to be so clever?’ Football is a simple game. If you’ve got good players it shouldn’t be difficult to get results. Most of the time, the team with best players win. So if you’ve got good players why try to confuse them? Why ask them to do things that aren’t natural to them? Why keep changing systems? Guilty this weekend - by their own admission - Nuno and Tuchel. Also guilty - as usual - but he got away with it - Guardiola.

After seeing his team torn apart in the first 45 minutes at Arsenal Nuno made changes. He later said he’d started with the wrong team. On the credit side - at least he played Harry Kane at centre forward. What was that all about last week - left of three? Too clever Nuno.

On the debit side - Deli Alli. It’s awful to think that we’ve seen the best of him, but I’m afraid there are no signs of him ever returning to the sort of form that once made his the best £5m any club ever spent. He’s lost. There’s no energy. There’s no confidence. Mourinho was right. He contributes nothing. He might be a favourite at Spurs - but that shouldn’t be a reason to pick him. Deli is a shadow of what he once was. It looks as though his lifestyle has caught up with him. He’s not the first and he won’t be the last to waste a god-given talent, but as long as Nuno continues to start him, he’ll be picking the wrong team.

Spurs were better without him in the second-half. They were more solid. They should’ve had a pen when Kane was fouled - but the ref and VAR fouled up again. If Spurs had scored then - with half an hour to go - who knows what might have happened? Arsenal won in a canter while Spurs were wide open. There wasn’t much to beat at that stage - but a reply before Son scores would’ve had them sweating. It was a great result but Arsenal are still fragile.

Tuchel got it wrong against City. Why did he pick two 6’s? Why did he ask Kante to do things he’s not accustomed to? It was City that had the psychological problems going into the game. Chelsea had beaten them three times in a row. They’d looked solid against them. And brave. They were at home - City really had it all do do. So why get so clever? I was amazed at what Tuchel did. By changing it all round he placed doubt in his players minds. They’ve looked terrific this season - let them go and play. Fine - change the faces of you want to - but not the system. Too clever Tomas.

Guardiola had Foden playing as a false 9. Why? He had a real 9 on the pitch who did what goal scorers do when he turned - hit a spawny shot that got deflected - and got the winner. My point is that he was where he should’ve been all game - at centre forward. Too clever Guardiola.

City deserved to win, but I don’t go along with the view that they were super dominant. Yes - they had plenty of the ball of course - but possession alone doesn’t win football matches. I don’t remember Chelsea’s keeper making too many - if any - saves across the 90 minutes.

Wolves discovered that at Southampton. After a dreary 80 minutes of tippy tappy football their keeper put his foot through one - and in less time that it took their centre-backs to pass between themselves again - Raul had the ball in the net. Again - he did what centre-forwards do. Get the ball to them and the chances are they’ll score a goal. They can’t if they’re starved of service. Don’t try to be so clever. I’ve got to add that I was chuffed to bits for Raul. Good luck to him after what he’s been through.

It’s one of many reasons that I like the way Klopp plays. You know exactly what Liverpool are going to do. Ok - the faces might change - but it’s a straight forward 4-3-3 and they back themselves to be better than the opponent. They play exciting football. On Saturday they came up against a team that believed in what they do and it made for wonderful entertainment. I hope Brentford keep believing.

Villa were fantastic at Old Trafford - but they were only playing against seven! Those of us that warned fitting Ronaldo in would cause as many problems as it solved look as though we might be right. He doesn’t like doing the dirty stuff. Nor does Fernandes. Nor does Pogba. Having one luxury is ok - the rest of the lads will chip in and do his work of he wins games - but carrying three is too much. Too often last season United had to carry Fernandes and Pogba and now they’ve got another one. It’s ok if these guys make the difference, but if they’re all having an off day - then you’re in trouble. Solskjaer has got to work out a way to cover for them when that’s the case.

Tonight (Monday) Brighton can top. I can’t follow that so I’ll call it a day by wishing them luck! 

Martin Atkinson - you should be fired.

Published: Monday, 20 September 2021

I’ve got a feeling hell will freeze over this week. That’s what United fans told me would happen the next time I said they deserved a penalty. And those that inhabit the strange world beneath our feet are in for double trouble, because they should’ve had two at West Ham.

What was Martin Atkinson thinking? What didn’t he see when Ronaldo was twice fouled in the box. Not once - twice. We’ll never know, of course, because the PGMOL will ensure that their apologists - Mssrs Walton/Foy/Gallagher & co are all on message when they send them out today - ‘be sure you defend Martin’ they’ll have been told.

But there is no defence. And they’d get more respect if they admitted Atkinson fouled up - and not just at West Ham. He had a beast of a weekend. He needs a ‘rest’. Alan Sugar would go further. Wouldn’t it be nice to hear those words ‘Martin Atkinson - you’re fired’? He really shouldn’t be allowed to work this week/weekend. We’ve all got to be responsible for mistakes we make if the office and pay a price as a result. Why not Atkinson?

I’ll tell you why. Because everybody at the PGMOL is scared of him and I also know why. He’s somehow got the impression that he’s our top ref. He behaves as such. He’s not. And he shouldn’t be allowed to.

As he got busy at City on Saturday my mind went back to an evening at Molineux in March 2019. Atkinson sent off United’s Victor Lindelof - a decision that was immediately overturned by Chris Kavanagh in VAR. Atkinson was furious. You could see that on the night as he left the pitch - and he later tore into Kavanagh at the refs monthly meeting. He felt belittled and warned the other guys never to do that to him again. They haven’t. They’re scared now. But why?

Atkinson should never have got involved at City. Jon Moss got it right - pen - and because Walker made no attempt to play the ball - he had to go off. Why did Atkinson get busy? We at beINSPORTS were told that VAR thought it was a ‘coming together’. It was - but it was orchestrated by Walker. It was a foul. It was a pen. It was a red card offence. Moss should’ve stood his ground - given the pen and shown Walker red. He was in charge - not Atkinson.

Let’s not forget that West Ham should’ve had a pen before the one they got - when Soucek was halved by Wan-Bissaka. Atkinson gave United a free-kick. How? Why?

And why didn’t the assistant flag when Shaw handled? Again - I reckon I know why. It’ll be because Atkinson will have told them ‘don’t get involved with big decisions’. Graham Poll operated like that. Do I need to add anymore?

It wasn’t a good weekend for our officials. At Brighton the home side got a pen when clearly a foul had been committed. Our hapless team here went onto disallow two Leicester goals. No-one that knows anything about football would agree with those decisions.

At Burnley - the host team here was denied a pen. Again - was a ‘clear and obvious’ error made in the original award? No. So why did VAR get busy?

I’ve been very supportive of the officials this season. They started well. I know Mike Riley had been spoken to and told to alter the way VAR was being used. He did - but it looks as though he’s back to his old tricks. Sort it out Mike - we can’t afford another weekend like this one.

And one last thing on this subject. We MUST be allowed to listen to the VAR/ref conversations. I’ve said this time and again. It’s the only way to stop them re-writing history. As for Walton/Foy/Gallagher & co. I don’t listen to a word they say. They’re on the pay roll. It’s like the Police investigating the Police. They’ll never tell us what they really think. They’re patsies. They’re a waste of time.

There were some lovely words on Greavsie today. Please - read Jeff Powell’s tribute in the Mail. It’s beautiful. I hope Jim is able to feel the love this morning - and what a terrible shame that he didn’t while he was with us. He was everything and more that you’ve read - he knew it - and it frustrated him that we didn’t recognise it sooner. Sir Jim - thanks for the fun we had - and rest well my friend.

It also a shame that Tottenham’s current No.10 couldn’t muster a performance fitting of Greavsie against Chelsea. What’s happened to Harry Kane? He’s a shadow of what he once was.

Typically, Andy spotted that he was operating left of the three that Spurs used up front. Why? What was that all about? Too clever Nuno and it bit you.

But it’s not just that Kane was poor on Sunday. He had a bang ordinary Euro’s. Remember? There were even calls for him to be left out after the first two games.

His head is full of mince - and it’s not his fault. City badly let him down. There is no way Kane would’ve entered the summer telling us all that he wanted to leave Spurs if City hadn’t assured him that they’d get him out. He believed them. But they played games again - and lost out. It was exactly the same when they went for van Persie - four times offering money that didn’t match the forwards‘ demands. They knew the figure that he wanted, but they tried to get smart in the negotiations. Fergie asked van Persie what he wanted and paid it. The rest is history.

Spurs wanted £150m for Kane. Simple. Pay it. You’ve got it. You both wanted needed him Guardiola. Why pay £100m for a player that hasn’t improved you any - but not go the extra mile for Kane? He must be thinking the same thing and it’s rocked him. Right now he isn’t the same and it won’t be long before Spurs’ fans let him know what they make of it all. Going on strike didn’t help him. He’s got a lot of making up to do and it isn’t going well.

I promised my personal trainer - Ant - a mention today. I know what you’re thinking - ‘personal trainer?’ 😂😂. Agreed - I’m a tad heavier than I once was, but I do try to get it off - I promise. 😂. Anyway - we discuss the blog on Monday’s in the gym and his help is invaluable. Perhaps that’s why the weight won’t come off? Thanks Ant. 😉.

Give it a rest Rafa.

Published: Monday, 13 September 2021

Let’s first wish Harvey Elliott a speedy and full recovery. What a talent he’s looked. I said (Saturday)to Andy on beINSPORTS ‘he’s made himself undroppable’. He had. And I’m certain he will again.

For me, no blame attached to Pascal Struijk. Ref Craig Pawson didn’t see a foul either, but rightly stopped play as soon as he realised there was a problem. Top marks for that, but from that point he let himself down. Struijk should never have been sent off. I’d be surprised if Leeds don’t win an appeal. Emotions were running high - especially Jurgen Klopp’s - but he shouldn’t have been on the pitch berating Pawson. Was it co-incidence that Pawson produced a red card straight after guiding Klopp back to his technical area? We’ll never know for sure.

I asked our guys to check with the PGMOL match centre who advised Pawson to show red. Twice - not once but twice, because I couldn’t believe the first answer - we were told It was Andy Madley, the 4th official. Twice we were told it wasn’t referred to VAR. That really surprised me because my understanding is that with any red it’s protocol for VAR to look at it. ‘No, not so’ we were told. ‘It was Madley’s call’.

This morning I read Mark Clattenburg in The Mail and he’s insistent that it was Darren England and VAR that made the decision. Someone is telling porky’s again guys. I’ll never let up on asking - so get your stories straight eh?

Anyway. As emotional a scene as it was - it doesn’t mean that the correct decisions shouldn’t be made. Klopp shouldn’t have been on the pitch and It wasn’t a red. If we allow managers onto the field of play every time they see something they don’t like we’re on a slippery slope. The FA should censure Klopp.

The game was terrific. And Liverpool were awesome. They’re back to their best and it’s good to see. Leeds should beat more than they lose playing as they did - but they’ve got to be careful. It could yet turn into a long season.

Who said this? ‘My life as a manager has normally been with teams where we did not have too much money and we had to sell players to bring in players. As I have said before, we are lucky to have owners who want to spend money and we have to find a way to do it properly’.

This guy has managed Valencia, Liverpool, Real Madrid (for 6 months) Inter (for 6 months) Chelsea (temporarily) Napoli and Newcastle - where he spent £102m on 18 players before a successful tilt at the championship.

You’ve got it. I know you have. As we all know, he left Tyneside for a ‘long term project’ in China, (where they print money) but was back after 18 months looking for a job. The one he got surprised a few people - but not me. He’d been trying like a bear to get it for years. I hope he does it well because he’s with a club I like a lot - but come on Rafa. You’re having a laugh. Never had money?

At which of the above list of teams didn’t he have money? He’s always had money. The problem has been that he’s always wanted more money - more than the owners of those clubs would trust him with.

Now he’s in the last chance saloon he’s got to behave. There isn’t another one for him after Everton - so he isn’t looking to fall out with the owners like he did Mike Ashley.

Where I do have some sympathy is that by Everton’s recent standards he’s had only buttons so far. David Moyes worked with both hands tied behind his back at Goodison and it looks at though Benitez will have to.

A small fortune - £450m - has pumped into Everton in recent seasons. By whom isn’t clear. Farhad Moshiri fronts the operation - but whatever the source - I don’t see the flow continuing.

In my part of the world it’s not a surprise to hear that someone is hawking a football club about looking for money. On the day I arrived here - eight years ago - I bumped into a mate, in a bar, who was looking to construct a deal to sell Man Utd - not that he had a mandate to! I’ve heard Liverpool mentioned - in fact - you name a club and there’s an accompanying story of someone trying to sell it. Few are ever true. There’s lots of sellers - but no takers.

But my ears did prick up recently when a friend of mine told me he’d been offered Everton. The price - £500m and a guarantee of £500m to finish Bramley Dock. The figures seemed realistic so I asked a few questions. My conclusion was that it was a bonafide offer. It was turned down - but it suggests that the current owners of Everton want out. Whether that’s good news or not I don’t know. Of course, a denial is only to be expected - but whatever the truth, I can’t see Benitez getting the same flow of money that he’s generally had elsewhere. It’s back to the future for Everton - to the days when David Moyes worked miracles year after year. I wonder if Benitez has got the stomach for a frugal ‘long term’ project?

Ronaldo - a romantic signing or the last piece in the jigsaw?

Published: Tuesday, 31 August 2021

I’ve spent all day thinking of things to write about other than Ronaldo - or Cristiano as half the world knows him. For Madrid fans there’s only one Ronaldo and it’s not the one United have just signed. Anyway - after the stunning events of last Friday it’s impossible to discuss anything else.

I’m a fan. I’m a huge fan of Ronaldo’s. I’ve always said - of the two incredible talents that we’re privileged to have watched this past decade - him and Messi - he was always my favourite.

In my opinion, what gives him the edge is that he’s conquered three of the five big leagues. He’s never ducked a challenge. He’s been awesome. The header that he got, when he was in the air for what seemed like a week, was a stunner. Only he could’ve scored that goal. He’s led his country with distinction and smashed almost every club football record that you can think of. And I’m delighted that he’s going to be playing in the PL again.

But there’s no use pretending - he’s not what he was. Will he still score goals? Of course he will. Is he the missing piece? No. And his presence at OT might have the opposite effect to the one their punters are all dreaming of. I’ll get back to that.

He’s already had the effect the Glazers wanted. The share price was up 8% Friday. Facebook and Instagram followers were up by a million. When they’ve worked out what number jersey he’ll wear, they’ll fly out of the door. It’s a brilliant piece of business by the owners - which is something that, so far, has escaped the attention of United fans. It’s everything that they’ve been protesting against. It’s the Glazers printing money for themselves again. I don’t have a problem with that. People don’t buy big football clubs to lose money, but there is still a belief among fans - and mainly United fans - that they should.

The way the deal was done was classic cloak and dagger. I can’t think of a transfer that’s been done so quietly since Southampton signed Kevin Keegan in the 70’s. That one took the breath away. This was the modern day equivalent. But it bothers me why it was done.

There’s no question that Ronaldo was going to Manchester City last Friday lunchtime. That’s when Fergie, Fernandes and Ronaldo’s old neighbour, Rio Ferdinand, got involved. Calls from all three helped change Ronaldo’s mind. Two hours later he was United’s. 

I know I’ve played fast and loose with the time line there - but it happened pretty much like that.

The point is - he doesn’t appear to have been on United’s radar. There’s nothing to suggest that Solskjaer and his coaching team had put a long term plan together to bring Ronaldo ‘home’. It was more a deal motivated by blind panic that Ronaldo was about to join the noisy neighbours. That’s no way to go about planning. Or building. 

What does Solskjaer do with him? How does he fit him in? Who makes way? Whose progress is stunted by Ronaldo’s return? Who takes pens? Who takes free-kicks? I know it sounds silly - but it’s often these little things that cause friction. Fernandes won’t want to give them up. Ronaldo definitely won’t step away from them.

Ronaldo is a superstar. He knows it. He’ll most likely bring with him all of the things that Fergie hated about David Beckham - and why he ultimately sold him. It could end up another circus.

I’ve said that I fancy United for the title this season - before Ronaldo was signed. He’ll scores goals. He’ll have a huge impact in some games. And I repeat - it’s great to have him back in the PL - but I’m not convinced that he wouldn’t have been better off going to The Etihad - and that United might have been better off encouraging him there. ‘Returns’ very rarely work out.

What a start Rom-e-blue.

Published: Monday, 23 August 2021

I spent last night trying to think of the last time I’d seen such a good performance from a proper No9. Lukaku was sensational at Arsenal. He bullied. He led. He caused havoc. He scored. It was uncomplicated and an absolute joy to watch.

It was Drogba-like. It was like watching Shearer at his best. It was a throwback and so enjoyable. Arsenal couldn’t get anywhere near him - and if they did he swatted them off like flies.

Post match Thomas Tuchel told us that it was exactly what he wanted - that he’d told Lukaku to go out and do what he did for Inter last season. Tuchel added that he didn’t want to complicate it for Lukaku.  ‘Just play’ he told him. Brilliant. The more I see and hear of Tuchel the more I like him.

Top marks to Chelsea. They identified what they wanted - moved quickly - paid the money - and got their man. In other words - all of the things that City are refusing to do in their pursuit of Kane. Just get it done if you want him City. You’re hanging the guy out to dry.

I said last week that I was encouraged by the attitude of so many teams on the opening day. I’ll say it again - it’s been a great start. It’s so refreshing to see teams going hell for leather to win games. Chelsea epitomised that attitude at Arsenal. They wanted to win - so they got on the front foot - and swept Arsenal away. What did Arteta’s team have by way of a reply? Nothing. Absolutely nothing - apart from one tippy tappy spell of possession in the second half, when it was all too late. The game has moved on guys. Thank goodness.

The next man in at Arsenal will have to recognise that. What a mess they’re in. What exactly is Arteta trying to achieve? Regulars know my view - he was the wrong choice. It was always going to be too big a job for him. I accept that he hasn’t had much help from people around him - but at the end of the day - it’s his neck on the line. If they lose at West Brom and City this week, he’ll be lucky to survive. My choice to replace him? Brendan Rodgers.

It was the perfect weekend for City. Coming off the back of the defeat at Spurs they couldn’t have chosen better opposition. They needed a team to turn up - open up - and not resist. Norwich were fodder. Why didn’t Farke do something about that? Why do exactly what Guardiola wanted? No wonder the City boss ‘enjoys’ the way Norwich play. What naivety. No. What stupidity Farke. That’s why they’ll go back down.

I was surprised United were so poor at Southampton. I expected them to roll Saints over. Instead - it was them doing the rolling again. Come on Ole. You say the game has degenerated into ‘Rugby’? Don’t make me laugh. What’s happened is that after all the antics from Fernandes/Pogba and co last season - diving every time they were sneezed on - it’s been decided that we’ve got to cut that out of the game. Does Solskjaer really believe Fernandes was fouled in the build up to Saints’ goal? No. I’m sorry. Fernandes waited. He wanted contact - he looked - he got it - and he fell over. No foul. Football is a contact sport. Lukaku proved how exciting the game can be when we recognise that. I can’t wait to see how United handle him. They won’t if they go round play acting and crying.

I was disappointed to hear Klopp moaning on the same subject. What did he want from Burnley? The sort of performance Norwich gave at City? It doesn’t work like that. Teams such as Burnley have to work for what they get. Their front two - Barnes and Wood - mess you about. That’s their strength. What is Klopp actually saying - that van Dijk and Matip aren’t up for a battle? Like Solskjaer - he’s scored an own goal talking nonsense like that. If I’m Lukaku hearing that I can’t wait to play them.

On another subject - I read at the weekend it’s been confirmed that 9000 people contracted Covid after the Euro final at Wembley. Are we surprised? I’m not. My beINSPORTS colleague - the excellent Matt Crichley - reporting from Anfield - told us that vaccine certificates aren’t needed to get into games. That there are no Covid precautions. None at all. That’s scary.

Arsenal seem to have been hit harder than most by Covid - but they’re certainly not alone. Newcastle have had their problems and Steve Bruce has support in some quarters in calling for all players to be double vaccinated. A week ago I’d have agreed with him, but then my son, Josh, had his first jab and was really ill. He collapsed and ended up in hospital for three days. He’s now on a heart monitor for a month. It was a scary time for him and his Mum. As a result I’m certainly more understanding of the stance some have taken not to be vaccinated. It’s a problem. And I don’t know if any of us have an answer.

What a great weekend

Published: Tuesday, 10 August 2021

What a great weekend that was. Brentford started it - underlining what we all knew - Arsenal are going nowhere. 

It was so enjoyable to see United doing what they used to do best. Apart from one aberration when he allowed Ayking to walk off him and equalise - Pogba was terrific. His pass to Greenwood won’t be bettered this season. Just one other small issue - which might develop - if Varane wants to wear No 4 shirt, which we’re told he does, then he should be given the jersey. Solskjaer should’ve told Phil Jones ‘have you pick of any number over 30 Phil. You’re not in my plans. You won’t play. I want that number back’. Solskjaer was weak - and it’s that I’m referring to when I say it might develop. He’s got to be more ruthless.

I loved watching Chelsea. That 3-0 in no way reflects how they destroyed Palace. They were awesome. Look at the talent they had on the bench - and they’ve got the big man to involve yet. It’s a bit too early to be crowing - but both teams more than justified what I said about winning the title in last week’s blog.

Liverpool were good as well. That was a banana skin - Norwich - in front of a packed house - first game back. Liverpool coped really well. Welcome back Van Dijk.

I’m going to leave City for a while. We’ll get round to them.

The Hammers more than suggested that David Moyes is right - that they can challenge for a CL place. They’ve got to land one to have a better season than the last. I hope they do. Moyes is a good man. An honest man. A football man. He’s been badly bullied and beaten up for too long now.

I don’t know what the Geordies will make of the game. I thought they were great for an hour. They entertained. They were bright. And they deserved something. Overall, I think the signs are good now that Bruce has got his main men available again.

Nothing has changed at Leicester. Vardy is still the top man - despite Rodgers correctly pointing out that the clock is ticking for him now.

Villa struggled a bit at Watford, but I’m sure they’ll get it right. Well done to The Hornets. They surprised me.

If Everton hadn’t beaten Southampton there would’ve been trouble. It was a ‘gimme’ on paper - a perfect one to start with for Benitez. Like Palace and Wolves - Saints were poor. Nothing I saw this weekend changed my mind about them all needing to be careful.

Brighton were brilliant second half at Burnley. Sean Dyche will be kicking his players because he knows the game should’ve been put to bed first half.

That’s everybody then - except Spurs and City. I was so pleased for Daniel Levy and Nuno. The latter looked as though he’d been boss there forever. It’s a really good fit. His players seemed to enjoy themselves - but Delli remains way off. He’s nowhere near the player he once was.

As for City? I expected it. Too clever again. My goodness - the first half was the worst of the weekend. Pass, pass, pass - sideways, backwards and out. I said after the Euros how I hoped that the high water mark of tippy tappyness had been reached. It seems it has for everyone - except City. Guardiola is in danger of being left behind by the ‘sweeping’ approach of the rest. City were slow. Sluggish. Predictable. And how they need a centre-forward.

We all know now that they want Kane. They need Kane more than they needed Grealish - so go and buy him. Stop trying to be smart. You‘ve unsettled the guy. You’ve told him you’ll buy him - so do it. Stop the games. You can’t leave him hanging any longer. What’s the difference between £120m and £150 for City? Guardiola has already spent £1.4b in his failed attempts to win the CL - so just get the deal done.

I didn’t expect anymore than we saw from Grealish. He’s a good player - let’s get that straight - but he’s going to have to re-learn many aspects of the game to play for City. He will slow them down when they start to get right - which they will. He’s got to get his head up and move the ball more quickly. And please Jack - stop falling over. There are no prizes for topping the ‘most fouled’ charts. Half the time he hasn’t been fouled - but over he goes anyway. The picture of him on the front of The Mail’s pullout today (Monday) sums him up - on the floor and squealing. The best way for him to ‘hurt’ the opposition is to stay on his feet and do what he’s more than capable of - create and score.

One last subject. And perhaps I’m missing something here. How on earth have the likes of Chris Foy, Peter Walton and co, got the temerity to congratulate themselves about the ‘softer touch’ of VAR? All you’ve done guys is what you’ve been told to do and what I’ve been saying you should do for two years. We don’t want every goal to be a crime scene. We don’t want your pedantic and idiotic pursuit of ‘perfection’. That’s an impossible dream. If VAR is needed - and it was to prove West Ham had scored at Newcastle - fine. Make your decision swiftly and then we can get on with the game.

For the PGMOL to be congratulating themselves because they allowed Fernandes’ third - saying ‘that would’ve been ruled offside last season’ is beyond ridiculous. We know. We told you last season to pipe down and allow us to enjoy our game without getting so busy. You’ve HAD to listen. You haven’t made changes because you wanted to. You’ve been TOLD to. Mike Riley should still stand aside. He made our game a misery for two years - and now he wants credit? Sorry Mike. No.

But it was a good weekend for the the guys on the pitch. I’ll bet they really enjoyed being back in control of their games. The ref should always make the big calls and know that they’ll get re-assuring support - not performance points docked because teacher Mike isn’t happy. Keep it up boys. And keep out of it VAR.

Sadly, I didn’t ever believe it was coming home.

Published: Monday, 12 July 2021

I wrote the headline to this piece with some irony. Regulars know I hate using that phrase. The song should be banned. Should’ve been banned before a ball was kicked at Euro 2020. I’ll explain why later.

It was all so inevitable wasn’t it? Not the outcome in the final, but the scandalous scenes from the mindless yobs who trashed Wembley Way, illegally broke into the stadium, took over disabled areas, stood recklessly in safety aisles - and all that after they’d raised London to the ground. Some of the memes we’ve all seen are disgusting. And these are the very same people that judge others on the social media - without a clue about the personal circumstances of tbeir targets. Doubtless they were the same people racially abusing the three penalty takers that missed. How awful it all looked. And I say that as a proud Englishman abroad. I’ve no idea what the 2500 UEFA suits that fraud Boris Johnson smuggled into England - trashing Covid regulations - actually made of it all. You might be interested to know that I write as I’m flying to Spain for 12 days because I can’t ‘come home’. I’m double-jabbed, PCR safe, but barred from entering my own country, without spending £1750, to enjoy being locked in the Holiday Inn Express for 12 days It’s an absolute outrage.

A word on that populist fool Johnson as well. What on earth was he doing sitting in an England shirt, that was pulled over his own shirt and tie? He looked like one of the yobs trashing Wembley. You’re the PM man. Dress like it. Look like it. Lead. And leave the ‘soccer’ to us.

The reason I mention the ‘suits’ is because the frightening scenes they witnessed won’t leave them quickly. England didn’t just lose the game on Sunday - they almost certainly lost any chance of staging the 2030 WC. Once again - a minority of mindless yobs - purporting to be England fans - spoilt it for the majority. It’s sickening. Try it in Qatar guys. I’ll look forward to that. You won’t find the Police standing back and watching where I live.

Not much of this will sit well with everybody - but again - I speak as an England fan abroad - watching with a distanced perspective. At home - It’s impossible to stand back from the hysteria stirred by the English tabloid press. ‘Ah, we just reflect the mood’, they always argue. No you don’t guys. You drive it. You’ve no idea how it pisses people off outside the borders of England. A case in point - football was never ‘going home’. Football doesn’t belong to England. It belongs to the world. I know. I know. The song is about irony and hurt. I get it. But, if you’re not English, you don’t. It smacks of arrogance. Of ownership. And the rest of Europe can’t wait to see England fail. It’s a tough enough job playing for the country. Why make it harder. I’ve said it before - drop it. Forget it. It’s of it’s era - but it’s well past it’s sell by date now.

What about the Sunday Sun front page? Harry Kane and the boys’ heads superimposed onto Bobby Moore and the boys of ‘66. No. Horrible. Arrogant. And it besmirched the memory of some genuine legends.

Of course, they weren’t alone. The Mirror did it. I love Mirror Sport - but their headline on Wednesday - it’s England v Italy* (*or Denmark). Wow. I know for a fact the Danes were furious. And had VAR not let them down, they might just have made England pay. Sunday’s officials were certainly ready for Sterling and Kane though weren’t they? By the final the Press had decided England were ‘streetwise’ and the Italians masters of ‘dark arts’. It was laughable.

I’m able to say all this because I’m in a perfect place to observe it. One of our beINSPORTS guests said to me ‘I’ve been away for some time now. I can’t believe how the U.K. has changed. (He meant England). It’s so divided. It’s so aggressive’. I haven’t been back for more than a year so I can’t comment - but I can ‘see’ what he means. Brexit has driven a dangerous divide down the middle of the U.K. It was always going to with mini-Trump in No. 10.

So let’s talk about the tournament. My verdict? Good effort guys. No more. Truth is - it was a wasted opportunity. England should’ve won it. You won’t read this elsewhere - but it’s true. They had home advantage. Home crowd. No travel (apart from the trip to Rome). But they only played in fits and starts. What happened to the ‘handbrake off’ football? Apart from quick starts and 10 minutes here and there, I can’t remember any. Watching them in the final I started to wonder if Jose Mourinho was in charge. Italy bossed England after the first 20 minutes.

I’m not convinced that Southgate ever had any idea what his best team was. Why all the chopping and changing? This was put down to ‘tactical nous’ by the Press boys. No it wasn’t. It was a mess. Find a team - like Italy - like most did - and play it. Play your best players. Why not build around Grealish? He’s the one the opposition fear the most. What happened to Foden - described by Guardiola as ‘the best player I’ve ever worked with’?Every change of personnel and system was passed off as ‘genius’.  But it wasn’t. For me it was an admission that we didn’t have a single X1 good enough. If a PL manager had been chopping and changing like it he’d have been pilloried.

There’s no doubt that England have made strides in the right direction. It hasn’t happened overnight and it hasn’t happened because of Gareth Southgate. It’s been a long process - starting with Howard Wilkinson’s decision to force PL clubs to run academies - and the FA to build St. George’s Park. Not that he’ll ever get any credit. The last Englishman to win the top league is now considered a dinosaur. But he’s not. Nor was he. He was a revolutionary.

There’s no question that Southgate is a nice man - but to win at the highest level that isn’t a tool required. He’s worked hard and thrown himself at his job. But I’d change it now - or what happened at Wembley will happen again in Qatar - but long before the final.

Talk to anyone that knows Mancini intimately and they’ll tell you that he’s arrogant. He’s dismissive. He creates division. But he’s a winner. He turned City into winners. His impact on that club was far greater than Guardiola’s. He turned a team of ‘nearly men’ into players that believed. All of a sudden they started coming first. His style wasn’t for everyone - and the big players eventually played him out. There’s no other explanation as to how they lost the Cup Final to relegated Wigan.

So it was nice for me to see him back at Wembley to bury that disgusting behaviour by his senior pro’s at the time. If it wasn’t going to be England - I’m glad it was Italy.

The whole tournament smacked of Southgate being just a bit too clever. Even the penalties were over thought. I felt for Rashford and Sancho - deemed not good enough to play a part in 120 minutes - but asked to go and make fools of themselves in a shoot out. Sorry. That was poor. So they were the best in training? So what? Your first touch of the ball on the night is a pen? No thanks. It was an impossible task. Too clever Gareth.

So in conclusion - I say again - it was good effort. A really good effort. But I can’t see England going any further with Southgate. It it was my choice I’d move heaven and earth to persuade Arsene Wenger to take it. He really could end all the hurt.

Steady as we go….

Published: Monday, 05 July 2021

Steady as we go. So far everything has gone to plan, so England can’t let it go now. As Arsene Wenger said on beINSPORTS just this week ‘England are super favourites’.

That’s not by luck either. Gareth Southgate has made some big calls and so far got them all right. So much of what I’m watching reminds me of 1966. As a wide-eyed 9-year-old what I watched from our holiday base in Cornwall was incredible. Majestic Bobby Charlton cruising through Portugal’s defence. Roger Hunt working a shift. Geoff Hurst crashing his way into the history books. Alan Ball running himself to a stand still. Sir (he should’ve been) Bobby Moore regally marshalling his troops. It was all there. And all those Union flags at Wembley. My goodness - that’s something that certainly has changed, - they’re English flags now - but it was a magical time all the same.

Sir Alf Ramsey went into the tournament predicting England would win it. It wasn’t arrogance - but belief. Mind you, none of us really thought they would. Ramsey was calm. And he made big decisions. None bigger than leaving a fit Jimmy Greaves out for Geoff Hurst. I didn’t understand all of that then, but getting to know Jim many years later, I got to understand how that decision cut him to shreds. Yes - far too late, all the boys got a medal - but it’s never the same as being immortalised as part of the starting X1. Greaves was Messi before Messi. A little genius. How could Ramsey leave him out? But he did, because he had a plan.

So many of these memories have come flooding back watching Southgate. He’s calm. He’s made big calls without flinching and he knows how much they hurt the individuals affected by them.

I don’t know if you saw him grab Jack Grealish on the whistle the other night. We all want to see Grealish in. And Foden wants to start, but Southgate has got a plan for every game and he’s sticking with it. He knows he’ll need Grealish if things are tight v Denmark, but I bet he’s not going to start him. So keep him onside. Keep him happy. Don’t ignore him. Clever.

Southgate also knows that England have to win this tournament now. Everything is going their way - results, the draw, home advantage - so stay calm and carry on. A semi-final defeat is unthinkable. Anything less than winning this tournament is failure. I said that last week. Southgate knows it, but he’s not showing it. So far, there’s no sign of the turmoil he must be feeling inside. Turmoil and excitement. Imagine forever being spoken of in the same terms as Sir Alf.

I’ve had a few people ask why I haven’t been more excited about England’s progress when I’m on tv. Let me answer that. I work for an Arab broadcaster. I front the ‘English speaking’ channel. We are NOT an ‘English’ channel. Therefore - as with everything here in Qatar - everybody’s tastes and loyalties are catered for. When we broadcast England mean nothing more to us than - say - Denmark. 😂. Especially if you have big Peter Schmeichel sitting next to you. 😂😂. If England beat the Danes - and perhaps meet Italy in the final - it will be a lot easier beating up Gianfranco.

It’s been a brilliant tournament. I’ve loved every minute of it - well, most minutes. Belgium’s chess matches have sent shudders down my spine. I repeat what I said last week - I really hope we’ve passed the high water mark of tippy tappy scientific football. Most teams seem to want to ‘play’ and it’s been so refreshing. The PL got stale as a result of the obsession with passing sideways and backwards. No more guys. No more. Belgium still seem to want to play like that, but Italy made them look old fashioned.

Congrats to Palace and Patrick Vieira. It’s good to see another black coach working at the top level. Slowly slowly, we might be making progress on that front as well.

And one last thing. Please - no more X-Liverpool players telling Evertonians how lucky they are to have Benitez at Goodison. No they’re not. Most don’t want him. The majority will tolerate him, but they don’t want lectures on how they should be feeling from across Stanley Park. It will end in tears. It always does with Benitez.