Richard Keys Blog

Waking giants......

on Thursday, 02 February 2017. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

You know, I'm fairly certain I can hear the sound of waking giants all the way from Leeds and Newcastle, here in Qatar. Wonderful isn't it? Two of our most famous clubs, two 'proper' football clubs as Graeme Souness might say, at last - stirring.

Regulars know that Rafa the Gafa isn't my favourite. I've said many times that I believe he only manages for himself - for his own cv. Proof had to be the time he took on the Chelsea job (as revealed by yours truly and denied even by his closest confidantes!) after everything he'd previously said about the club and its fans. He'd take over at United if the price was right. I've argued often about the out-dated concept of 'loyalty', but some things you don't do.

That said - can I also repeat what I wrote when Benitez stayed at Newcastle last summer? I was both a little surprised, but also delighted for Newcastle fans, because whatever else, Benitez was the right man in the right place at the right time. He gave Geordies hope again and, so far, he's delivered.

Newcastle is a monster of a football club. I love it and I love everything about that football mad City, although I've always said that it's about

350 miles too far north of London for me! The Toon's rightful place isn't just in the Premier League, it's mixing it with the big boys at the top.

The trouble is, it's owned by a very ambitious man, who knows plenty about how to squeeze every last drop of sweat out of his workers, but not much about football.

For too long Mike Ashley and his small group of 'yes' men have run the club into the ground. Do you remember a gentleman called Tony Jimenez? The world eventually found out what a few already knew when he hitched his wagon to The Toon.

Tony turned up announcing that he was an 'expert' in player recruitment.

He was appointed vice-president in charge of that department. At an early Board meeting he made a presentation saying that he was going to start signing a steady flow of South American talent, nurture it, then sell the players on for good profit. It was Arthur Cox who asked 'how are you going to get them here Tony?' The reply was 'fly them in'. You couldn't make it up! What Cox meant, of course, was 'how do you intend to get them permits to come here and work?'  Tony and Mike hadn't thought about that!

Brilliant! That was plan A dead in the water. 

Ashley and his current error prone MD Lee Charnley, have always meddled and Newcastle fans have had little or nothing to celebrate during Ashley's ownership. But then came Rafa - and a suggestion of success at last for one simple reason - Benitez demanded full control of football matters at St James' Park.

Newcastle were flying under the new regime. We hadn't heard anything from Charnley or Ashley- until last night (Weds, after the 2-2 v QPR). For the first time Benitez aired public disappointment about an unsuccessful transfer window and carefully told us how he felt let down. I got the feeling he was warning us that the wheels might be about to come off. He obviously feels he needs more than he's got to get automatic promotion. I hope he's wrong - but when will the people that own and run that club learn? Back Benitez and he'll get you back.

At Leeds Garry Monk is doing a fantastic job - having set out similar rules - 'I'm in charge'.  Monk has brought a calm to Leeds that the modern day basket case version of a once mighty club had long since forgotten.

It's wonderful to see. Leeds should also be mixing it with the big boys at the top end of the Premier League. Why aren't they? For exactly the same reasons that Newcastle aren't - and I'm not just blaming mad Massimo for that - Ken Bates has to take his fair share of the blame. Far from being a saviour when he bought the club, Bates fell out with everybody as usual and all but killed it off, just as he previously had Chelsea. Let's never forget that when Roman Abramovich walked through the doors at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea were literally hours from going bust after years of Bully Bates stewardship. Leeds fans know I'm right about his time at Elland Road.

I wouldn't rule out Leeds getting up automatically. If they do it's Newcastle that could miss out - and Benitez knows it. As for Monk, he's a fine young British coach who was badly treated at Swansea. It's good to see him recovering his reputation.

I fancy Brighton to win the Championship and I'd be delighted for the Bloom brothers if they do. These two guys are 'football' people and they've delivered on everything they said they would. They've got a terrific manager in Chris Hughton (as Newcastle fans know only too well!) and I hope it's their turn after last season's near miss. The Blooms let Chris get on with his job.

So the lesson here is 'let football men do what they do best'. Businessmen should stick to what they know.  Would Mike Ashley let Rafa walk into Sports Direct and run it?  Of course not. History tells us every time Ashley, or more recently Charnley, get busy at Newcastle things go wrong.

I hope Benitez keeps them on course, but I fear he's trying to tell us he's not sure he can.

 

Grandstand II? Why not?

on Wednesday, 01 February 2017. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

I know. I know. I keep promising a more regular flow of blogs - then I go and get distracted! I'm sorry.

At the end of a bruising week I'm sitting in the garden enjoying reading the arguments for tue return of a sporting icon - Grandstand. I'm talking about the excellent Gabby Logan's idea that it's time this giant was brought back to life. As someone who worked on it (albeit a bit part) and later was hell bent on destroying it - why not? I'll explain the above in just a moment.

What a wonderful way it was to spend a wet, winter afternoon - in front of the fire watching Grandstand (that was when we could afford the coal!) The racing was never my favourite, so after Sam Leitch had presented Football Focus I'd often go over to ITV for an hour or so to see what Richard Davies (Dickie in later years!) had to offer. Log rolling from Canada would fill time - for those working on World of Sport - and those of us at home! When the wrestling came on I went back. Funny - it was only the commentator Kent Walton who didn't know the bouts were timed so as not to run into ITV's results service!

Life was a lot simpler. I was from the generation that caught the back end of Eamonn Andrews fronting Grandstand. The brilliant David Coleman followed. Wily 'Arry Carpenter would often help out. Say what you like about Frank Bough, but what a class act he was once he sat in the chair. There followed the genius that was Des Lynam and the unflappable Steve Rider. I was delighted when they gave Sue Barker a go. How Sky went onto regret allowing Sue to cover Wimbledon for the BBC while contracted to 'us'. We knew she was a class act. We made her. The Beeb discovered how good she was that summer. She never came back. Good decision Sue!

Can you imagine what a thrill it was when I was asked to go and help out on Football Focus - by now presented by my mate Bob Wilson? I didn't do much - just checked stats and Bob's scripts - but I felt like I'd been given the key to the sweet shop. Bough really did have legs - seriously, what a fantastic operator he was. Alan Hart and Jonathan Martin were Editing at different times. 'Editor' at the BBC is the commercial tv version of Producer. Producer is their version of Director. Brian Venner was doing that job, ably assisted by his PA Penny Wood. Venner was followed by Martin Hopkins. Editing Football Focus was MIke Murphy, a brilliant brain, who was later to become Grandstand's youngest Editor at just 26. Mike and Bob took me under their wing and became life long friends. So did Brian when he set up the UK's first independent production company TSL Sports. We covered the Tour de France together for C4. 

I feel a bit like Ronnie Corbett now - I've strayed miles from where I wanted to be!

When I got to Sky, the BBC were sailing serenely on - not a bit concerned about the 'new kid on the block'. We owed Jonathan Martin, who was happy to see us spend on 'live' sport, never imagining that we would swallow them whole. Like a lot of others - Fergie was one of them - he thought we'd last six months!

We were Wimbledon - no-one liked us - but we didn't care. We were nibbling away all round the fringes of the 'establishment' when David Hill, our pugnacious Head of Sport, decided it was time to take onGrandstand. Soccer Saturday was born - but not as we know it now.

It's first Producer was Mark Schofield - his wife Barbara Slater is now Head of Sport at the BBC. Mark was uneasy about this move. He'd worked on Grandstand and thought we were wrong to take them on. 'Bollocks', I told him. 'We have to take them on. And kill them'.

Mark's formula always puzzled me. Paul Dempsey, another fine operator, was its first host. His guests were Mssrs Best, Marsh, McLintock and often Law.

They'd sit and discuss the week's events before he'd send them off behind a screen to watch the afternoon's games - and join Paul every now and again - on the phone! 'Why?' I remember asking him. 'Leave the guys where we can see them. No-one is fooled by your pretending they're at the game! I've seen George in the studio at 2.55 and I'm supposed to believe he's at Old Trafford at 3.05?'  It was nonsense.

It was a throw back to Mark's time at the BBC. Remember Denis Lowe and others sitting in vision to report on games they'd only seen 45 mins of before traveling back to the studio to do a 'piece in vision' during the results sequence?  Mark couldn't let this formula go.

When he left I offered his successor Andrew Hornett the same idea. Initially he looked at me blankly - but he went on to base his whole career around it. It worked! It worked brilliantly - so well that it eventually killed Grandstand stone dead. Jeff Stelling and his boys have become part of tv folk law with it. It's a fantastic product and the one everybody wants to copy now - that is unless you're a beINSports viewer!  We just show the goals all afternoon - and 3 live games. It works much better! 

But perhaps Gabby is right. Perhaps 'back to the future' is the way forward. As pleased as I was, at the time, when the BBC announced it was all over for Grandstand, it was a pity. That theme tune. The camera that turned straight towards you and had sport in four different lenses. The teleprinter. Coleman - who genuinely knew his stuff - pouring over the results. No-one was whispering facts and figures in Coleman's ear.  He was Brilliant.

Gabby, of course, played her part in helping Sky take on Grandstand and the BBC. I organised her first big break. As she planned to meet our then Deputy Head of Sport, Mark Sharman, she called and asked me what she should wear. I told her 'Smart. Dress to impress'. Her reply made me chuckle at the time 'I know' she said 'sex sells, leave it with me'.

Remembering that line I was never quite sure how she squared that view with the documentary she fronted, in later years, for the BBC - a programme about sexism in sport. As Greavesie would say 'funny old game isn't it'? Fiction and facts are often miles apart, but dressed up as the same.

Maybe I'm looking back with a fictitious view of Grandstand? I don't think so though. It was a giant. Fact. Let's have it back Barbara!

 

If you want loyalty - buy a dog.

on Sunday, 15 January 2017. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

'He's on a fantastic contract, the highest paid player in the club's history. He signed it. Now he wants a move and feels Everton are a big club, so there's nothing we can do. West Ham are a big club in our eyes, but he feels otherwise'. Harry Redknapp Manager West Ham - March 1997.

The players' response to the stinging criticism above was this 'I had to do this. As all players know, if anyone gets the chance of a big club, he must take it'.  Slaven Bilic, West Ham - March 1997.

I'd like to take the credit for digging out the above explosive quotes, but I've lifted them from David Hills fantastic column 'Said and Done' in The Observer. I should say 'aptly named column', because all the fuss over Dimitri Payet's behaviour this past week now is!  Forget the moral posturing Slaven, there's nowhere to hide now.

Look - I like Bilic. I think he's a good guy and with Payet's enormous help he delivered a fantastic season for the Hammers last time out, but the 'love in' between Payet and his army of adoring fans at the Taxpayers Stadium was never going to last.

Time and again last season the question was asked 'how come he's 28 and only just surfaced on the big stage'. Now we know.

No-one at West Ham should be surprised by his behaviour. He threw a hissy fit just like this in order to leave Marseille for Upton Park! Have  we all forgotten so quickly Marseille issuing a robust statement to condemn the 'reckless demands' made and the ultimatum issued Payet and his agent expressing 'surprise that negotiations with another club had been opened' - without their permission?

Come on. Let's get real. Transfers are a dirty business - if you want a player you do everything you can to turn his head - which is exactly what West Ham did to get Payet. To a lesser extent - aren't they doing that right now to unsettle Jermaine Defoe? Sunderland haven't publicly said as much - yet - but privately they know that's exactly what's happening.

Let's also not forget that Payet was once on PSG's radar, back in 2011. He was playing for St Etienne at the time. In order to force the move through Payet stopped training saying 'my decision is taken. I think only of Paris'. On deadline day he actually drove to the French capital expecting a deal to be done, but it stalled. Payet went back to St. Etienne.

This only has one ending - Payet leaves, either now or in the summer. I'd get shot now. He's a wrong 'un and they never change. If West Ham don't sell he'll stink the place out between now and next summer. And never mind 'holding out' for £35m - they're not going to get it. Take the money back you spent 'David's' - and be happy for the good times he gave you. Don't be greedy - because it'll be a costly exercise in many other ways the longer you try to hold onto him.

As for the fans indignation and the ridiculous cries of 'where's the loyalty?' - let me repeat, there isn't any. Loyalty with an employer ends on a monthly basis when your salary is put in the bank. Seriously, how many of us have ever turned down an employment opportunity to better ourselves and our money out of 'loyalty' to our current employer. Come on, the whole idea is daft. Footballers are no different.

The above also applies to Diego Costa. Sell Chelsea. Cut your losses. We're talking here about a player central to the coup that led to Mourinho's sacking last season. He downed tools. Have we forgotten that as well?

Chelsea will survive his departure. There's every chance they'll flourish. I've long wanted to see Hazard (another mutineer mind you) play through the middle. I think he'd be sensational there.

Players are commodities. They know that too. They play because they can and because - at the very top end of the game - it makes them rich. They don't care about 'loyalty'. As I've said many times before - as a colleague of mine used to say - 'if you want loyalty, buy a dog'. 

 

Half Way. Happy?

on Monday, 02 January 2017. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

So we've reached the half way stage. Are we all happy? Is the season delivering exactly what you expected?

Regulars will know I got caught with a couple predictions last season! In my defence no-one saw what was about to unfold at Leicester, but yes, I had said they would go down! Wrong. Badly wrong! I also thought West Ham would struggle, but Slaven Bilic delivered a wonderful season for Hammers' fans. I was pleased for him. He's a nice guy.

Let's be honest, neither Leicester nor West Ham are as good as their season suggested last time out. I think what we're seeing this time is much nearer the mark - so I was only 12 months out. That's my excuse anyway!

This year I went for Swansea, Hull and Watford to go down. No one likes being right about predicting an unhappy season for a club, but two out of three looks very likely to go. I expected Sunderland to struggle, but it's been tougher for them than I thought it might be. I still think they've got enough to sqeak clear again, but they're trying their best to make a mess of it. I still think there's a really good chance Watford will fall into trouble. You can't keep beating the 'system' as they do. Eventually it catches up with you.

That's why I thought Swansea would struggle as well. Huw Jenkins got a little bit too clever for his own good there. Yes, he did a brilliant job backing the right people to propel the club from where he found it all the way to Wembley and the Premier League, but that's the point, he 'backed' the 'right people'. I think Mr Jenkins started believing too much in all the good publicity he was getting and somehow convinced himself he was the reason for Swansea's success. He wasn't - and a couple of dreadful appointments have caught him out.

Let's get this clear - I like Bob Bradley. He's another of the good guys, but what chance did he really have? You're in a relegation battle, because your previous appointment was poor, and you compound that mistake with another. Brilliant. Oh, and why are you having to make so many managerial appointments? The answer to that is because you forced the best guy for the job out of the door by meddling with his backroom appointments. Garry Monk isn't doing too badly at Leeds is he?

I said in a tweet recently - when are the people that make these decisions going to take responsibility for them? It was the same at Villa last season. Who thought Remi Garde was a good idea?

Swansea are on the cusp of doing it again. I wish Paul Clement all the luck in the world - he's going to need it. My choice would've been Chris Coleman. He's got the experience required for a fight like the one Swansea are in. He's an X Premier League manager, coming off the back of a wonderful Euro's with Wales. He's played for the club, and he's a Swansea boy. What more do you need?

The big 6 have re-taken their rightful positions at the top, but not yet in the order I expected. I thought United would win the title, but they're too far off now, although as Leicester proved, anything is possible!  The irony of United's recent good form

is that it's largely down to half a dozen players that Mourinho had written off after deciding he didn't want them!  I can also tell you that he'd said to one of them recently 'I made a mistake buying you in the summer. You can leave in January'. He's changed his mind now! I'll let you work out who the player was.

Conti has done a fantastic job at Chelsea. Simply brilliant. They've got to be favourites to win it now.

What a job Klopp is doing as well. If there's a team to stop Chelsea then it has to be Liverpool. Again, I didn't expect to see so much improvement so soon.

Arsenal are simply doing what Arsenal do - no more - no less. Spurs are interesting. They're finding some of last season's sparkle now - particularly Kane and Dele. They won't win it, but they're heading for another top 4 finish.

As we enter the New Year it's City that have got the problems - 5th, and that's after spending £100m+ in the summer.

Guardiola is finding out exactly what I thought he would - that without Messi, Xavi and Iniesta - without Muller, Robben and Levandowski, the 'project' isn't quite as easy as it was at Barca and Bayern.

Remember all the rubbish four games in? I read one piece suggesting 'Pep has sorted City out in a month'. What absolute nonsense

Look, Guardiola is a class act and he's had stunning success in his career so far, but he's had some

good fortune along the way as well. Barca weren't bad when he inherited them were they? Rijkaard had turned them into winners again. And he wasn't going to struggle at Bayern was he?  

The gig at City is different. I understood why he wanted Joe Hart out. Hart was a big influence in the dressing room and there's only room for one boss. A showdown with Messi led to his ultimate departure from Barca. That was a battle he couldn't win. He took Hart on and won before a ball was kicked.

Ok, so change the keeper, but not for one that simply isn't up to the job. City won't win the top prizes with Bravo in goal. At some point Guardiola is going to have to swallow his pride and accept that. He's also going to have to get 'street-wise' in our league. He can't dominate it as he did in his two previous jobs with the best players and little or no opposition. Our league is demanding. It's brutal. It doesn't forgive. It's for battlers. Conti and Klopp worked that out very early on. If it's not, why has Arsenal's 'beautiful' football only delivered a top 4 finish for a decade?

There will be days that City look fantastic. They'll pass teams to death and score goals, just like Barca and Bayern did, but they won't 'dig' results out and in the end that will cost them.

I said when Guardiola took over that he had a strong dressing room to sort out. Hart's departure helped, but Kompany and Yaya are still there and I think the rest are beginning to have reservations. The answer is another major spend combined with a compromise on his beliefs. But, is Guardiola for compromising? It all makes you realise what a brilliant job Mancini did doesn't it? They say the 'first' trophy is always the hardest to win. Mancini did that - and left a squad good enough to go on winning. Given time he would've cracked the Champions League as well. The clue to that is in what Guardiola said recently 'it's tough in a competition when you don't have a history'. City know that competition a lot better now than when Mancini was in charge.

One New Year's prediction - Aguero to Madrid in the summer and Sanchez to City as his replacement. Let's see......!

Transparency and accuracy?

on Monday, 19 December 2016. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

Shoma Doi. Make a note of his name. He went down in history this past week. Any idea how or why?  Let me help you.

Shoma Doi of the Kashima Antlers.  On the face of it he didn't do too much special, he simply scored a penalty for his team on Wednesday December 14 2016 at the FIFA Club World Cup.  What made it special is that his was the first penalty to be awarded by a Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in the Suita City football stadium, Osaka.

Everybody involved in the tournament was quite pleased with themselves. Gianni Infantino was of the opinion that the historic decision ushered in a new era of 'transparency and accuracy' for football.

Dutch official Danny Makkelie, who took charge of the Hawk-eye technology for two games at the tournament, said 'it's been fantastic to go live at a FIFA tournament after a lot of practice over the last year'. Makkelie was referring to his time working as a VAR in the Dutch Cup, where they've been experimenting over the past 12 months. We've discussed all this dozens of times on beINSports Keys & Gray.

FIFA's Head of Refereeing, Massimo Busacca, added 'The main point of the technology is that no-one loses because of a refereeing mistake'. Really? Ask the Kashima Antlers about that. I think they'd vehemently disagree after their experience in the final of the CWC v Real Madrid. I'll come back to that.

So a lot of self congratulation - but let me add a few facts that might get you thinking. Do you know how long it took between the offence that was spotted by the VAR in the Antlers match and Doi's kick to score it? The answer is five and a half minutes! Play carried on for two and a half minutes  before the ref, Hungarian Viktor Kassai stopped to consult his VAR - took advice, wondered over to a replay machine situated on the side of the pitch, looked again at something neither he nor his assistant originally thought was a pen, and then awarded the kick. The rest of the time was taken up by fierce protests from the opposition, Atletico Nacional. The score at the time, incidentally, was 0-0 and 33 minutes had been played. It was a farce. An absolute farce.

Here's are my next issues - in the two and a half minutes that the game carried on while the VAR studied what he 'thought' he'd seen - what if Nacional had scored? What if they had been awarded a penalty? What if a player had committed an offence that might have seen him sent off? What happens to the five and a half minutes that were wasted? Do the opposition get them back? And what if Kassai had decided he didn't agree with the VAR, after all, the decision  was a matter of 'opinion' not 'fact'?

I can answer a few of those questions. Busacca says 'if a goal were scored before there is a play that needs to be revised, the goal would be annulled'. Really? This is nonsense. We're heading into a chaotic mess that hasn't bee. Properly thought through.

VAR was also used in Real's semi-final, when a goal from Ronaldo was given - correctly on this occasion because he wasn't offside - but the delay was again unacceptable and it completely diluted the celebrations of his 500th club goal.

It was used on one other occasion - in the final. Here's what happened. This time Zambian official Janny Sikazwe was in charge. Late on in normal time, with the score 2-2, Sergio Ramos clipped an opposition player in mid-field. Ramos was already in the book and despite an indifferent protest in his defence, he expected to walk as Sikazwe went for his cards again. A long delay followed as Sikazwe appeared to be in touch with his VAR - then nothing. Ramos scuttled away as the Kashima players protested furiously. The strong belief is Sikazwe was told to leave Ramos alone. The match went to extra-time and Madrid won! What a surprise!!

I have to be honest and say I hate the idea of our game being taken over in this way. The above example is one of how it's wide open to abuse. Doi's pen was arguable and signalled chaos. Look - on matters of 'fact' maybe, but even then I'm not convinced.

Here's the most recent example I can give you as to why I'm not. Was City's equaliser v Arsenal off-side? Even with the technology we can't all agree. For me it was. For a lot of others watching it wasn't.

How about Sterling s winner? The moment Silva makes an attempt to play that ball the new interpretation says he's off. If he wasn't then why was John Stones' goal v Soton disallowed? Aguero made a dart across the near post - tried to head a ball that he was nowhere near, and the flag went up. Stones was 'on'. So why wasn't Silva off? Again, no-one could agree, even with multiple replays available. In an argument like this whose 'opinion' do we rely on?

I was against goal line technology, not because it couldn't be useful, but I said when it was introduced that it would be the thin end of the wedge. I knew this impending mess would be forced upon us.

Our game is different to Rugby, Cricket, NFL and others where technology is already used. Those games have natural breaks, during which decisions can be discussed. I hate the idea of football going the same way.

 

Infantino says we need 'transparency and accuracy'. We need transparency all right, but we need that at FIFA! As for accuracy, yes - we should always be looking to improve standards, but if we sanitise our game completely what will we have left? What will there be to discuss? Not that I believe VAR will deliver. I actually think we'll end up arguing about even more! Maybe that's the strongest argument for adopting it! But it's not for me. You have been warned. 

Bravo Claudio

on Monday, 05 December 2016. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

I wonder when Pep Guardiola is gong to realise he made a dreadful mistake when he signed Claudio Bravo? We know Guardiola is a stubborn man. We know also that he has an unshakable belief in what he does, but he dropped a b*****k when he signed Bravo. He simply isn't good enough to keep goal for a team with City's ambitions.

You see, that's the key for me - 'keep goal'. Isn't that a 'goalkeepers' primary function? I can't remember another keeper ever because being signed because 'he's good with his feet'. I haven't seen much evidence that Bravo is, but that's another matter.

What I have seen is one blunder after another. I've seen an 'ordinary' goalkeeper not as good as the man he replaced.

I know I've previously said that it was no surprise to me that Guardiola wanted Joe Hart out. So did Mancini and I don't believe Pellegrini was ever that convinced Hart either.

He was a big presence in the dressing room and that's why I believe Guardiola had made his mind up to move him out even before he got to the club. He'd had that problem before, with Messi, and he wasn't about to let it happen again.

But to replace him with Bravo? I just don't understand.

Bravo announced himself to City fans by gift wrapping a present for Ibra in the derby. He's gone on to make one error after another and if we're honest, he was hopeless again at the weekend. What exactly was he trying to do as Willian scored Chelsea's 2nd?

In stark contrast I watched David de Gea rescue a point for United at Goodison - at least that's how it turned out. At 1-0 down he pulled off a stunning save from Kevin Mirallas - ironically with his feet! Baines pen meant United had to settle for a point, so that save became even more important.

For two seasons now de Gea has been United's best player. He 'saves' them time and again. Is he as good as Bravo with his feet? I've no idea, but I don't believe United have suffered too much if he isn't.

Do you remember Brian Clough signing Peter Shilton when he was at Forest and immediately announcing that the England keeper would be worth 10 points a season to them?  He was.

I can't remember a team ever winning anything without a top keeper. Schemeichel - did he play 'because he was good with his feet'? His son isn't bad either. Cech. Seaman. Flowers. Courtois. Van de Sar. Lehmann. These are a selection of top keepers. What do they have in common?   Of course, they all won P Lge title medals.

If a defence doesn't feel confident about the man behind them they're going to make mistakes. They're going to constantly feel on edge.

I've mentioned before that Guardiola is proud of the defensive records he had at both at Barca and Bayern. When he won his third Spanish title with Barca his team conceded just 21 goals in 38 matches - a rate of 0.55 goals per game. At Bayern he set a club and Bundesliga record 17 goals in 34 games. Of course he did - Neuer is a magnificent keeper, which helped - but if you've got the football for as long as Bayern and Barca always had it - against largely ordinary opposition - you won't concede goals. That's not rocket science is it? Our Premier Leagie is different. There are no easy games and there are more challengers for the big prizes.

Guardiola is a Cruyff disciple. He too believed in a 'keeper being able to 'play'. Jan Jongbloed could do that, but he couldn't keep goal. As a player Cruyff held tremendous sway in the Dutch dressing room and always insisted on Jongbloed playing during that glorious era for the Dutch in the 70's.  I'm not saying he lost them big games on his own, but he didn't 'win' many of them.

Bravo Claudio for having a go, but I don't believe City will look secure again until they change the keeper.

Well done Alan Pardew - what a relief for Palace fans that their team at last won at the weekend. I was pleased doe David Moyes and Sunderland as well. They're on a tidy run now.

Keep your eyes on Watford. I'm not convinced they can sustain their early season good fortune. There's always one team that drops like a stone. They're my pick this season.

As for West Ham - well - I'm not getting as much stick from Hammers' fans as I did a year ago. Maybe I was just one season out when I said they should 'be careful what they wished for' post Big Sam?

Smile Jose

on Monday, 28 November 2016. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

Would the real Jose Mourinho please stand up - and smile? Charm us. again. Captivate audiences again. Convince us again. Make us believe again.

I just don't understand what's happened to Mourinho. He's got the job he always coveted. What a wonderful job it is too. Ok, he's not off to the start he wanted, but there really is no need for the tantrums. There's no need either for the miserable face - or the constant smiling and moaning.

United aren't the 'unluckiest' team in the PL as Mourinho would have us believe. They're simply not very good right now - and that's his fault. I think United fans have been more than patient with him so far.  And why not? We're only 13 games into the season. Turning a juggernaut around takes time. The horrible truth for United fans is that your team has been in decline now for 5 years - yes, that process started when Fergie was in charge and he did nothing about it. Well, nothing? Not quite - he signed Robin van Persie, a 29 year old, on whom there was no return beyond his first season, when single handedly he won an 'ordinary' United the title. Fergie knew that - he got out - and still the fall and fall goes on.

None of the above is new. I've said it many times. One of the big problems at United is the sense of expectation. Because a generation of fans have known nothing but success they 'expect' nothing but success. I'm sorry, it doesn't work like that, but I did genuinely think Mourinho and Manchester United were perfect for each other. I actually thought they'd win the title this year. I couldn't see a reason why not.

They spent big, Mourinho got most of what he wanted, and I thought the fact that he knew our league would give him an edge over Conte/Koop and co. I would add I thought he was two top strikers short and I still believe he is. I got shouted down on that one by United fans, but was I wrong?

Mourinho is making hard work of managing United. It's a tough gig, but when you're earning £12m/year and in charge of the fantastic institution that is Manchester United what's the problem?

Everywhere Mourinho has been he's had success. He's a giant in the game. His reputation as a 'winner' is well deserved. So is his reputation for moaning and behaving like a spoilt brat. It always ends like that - wherever he's been, but it's never before started like that - until now.

I keep hearing theories that he's a 'busted flush'. That the game has moved away from him. That a new breed of coach has stolen the spotlight from him. That may prove to be true, but right now I don't believe that. Not for a minute.

But it's difficult to argue that dramatic turn around in Chelsea's fortunes under Conte suggests the players downed tools and got him out of Stamford Bridge.  No-one can condone that, but it's the modern game. Players hold sway.

I'm hearing worrying stories that he's falling out with too many people at Carrington. Initially he breezed in and got things going, returning the place to the way it looked and felt under Fergie, but all too quickly his time at Old Trafford has become all about 'him'.

What he did to Schweinsteiger was a disgrace. Ok, do you don't want the fella at the club, so tell him to find another one and help that process. Why treat footballing royalty like he did? He later said it was a 'human' decision to involve the German again. As I said at the time - by his own admission that made his initial treatment 'inhuman'.

Smalling and Shaw came in for unwarranted criticism. Mkhitaryan is one of Mourinho's but can't put a foot right. Jones was frozen out, before working his way back in. Rooney keeps a dignified silence despite being messed about horribly. Then there's Young - in then out - one week important and then frozen out the next.

I know there's still surgery to be done on that squad and a lot have to go, but do it properly. They've all got mates at the club and dissatisfaction spreads quickly.

After their worst start for 27 years the title has gone. Fourth is looking a long way off. Fourth? Since when were United happy to settle for fourth? Speak to people at the club now and they'll tell you they'd take it.

Smile Jose, please. It's a big job, but enjoy it. More importantly, be seen to be enjoying it. Or is the truth that the new generation of coaches have stolen the limelight and he's sulking? If he is and things don't change he won't last at Old Trafford. He really won't.

For now, I'll continue to believe he'll sort it out. I'm a big fan - a BIG fan, but no more of the childish antics we saw at the weekend. You're making Sir Bobby Charlton look more and more right by the day Jose. He worried you'd tarnish United's image.

If Mourinho fails, what then? I wonder. I wonder if history could repeat itself and Fergie might step back in? I'm not suggesting that would be a long term solution, but it might steady the ship. No, you're right, that could never happen. Oh, hold on - do I remember a guy called Sir Matt Busby?

 

Spurs - the 'nearly' men

on Wednesday, 23 November 2016. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

Now this admission might make me unique. Some might think the sun has finally got to me - but I really quite like Daniel Levy! And I think he's done a terrific job at Spurs - but....!  

He's been a constant and 'steady' figure at White Hart Lane now since 2001. Well, when I say steady, perhaps not quite as steady as some would've liked, but he's never shirked a decision. He hasn't always been right - but he hasn't wasted much time in correcting things once he's realised a mistake. 

He's not a man that seeks publicity. He's very private, which is why I felt privileged to have spent an afternoon in his company a few years back. The owner, Joe Lewis was also there. It was around the time both had realised good old 'Arry had to go before he inflicted much more damage on the club. 

We talked about that and a whole lot more - including Levy's plans for the new stadium that they're finally building. He's astute. And clever. He gets things done. Incidentally, how right was he about the Olympic Stadium? He wanted to knock it down and start again. He knew it was the only sensible solution to all the problems that West Ham have created for themselves by trying to do things on the cheap. 

Anyway, through much tumult he's put Spurs back in amongst the big boys. Now here's the 'but' I referred to earlier - having done that unless Spurs push on again they won't just be standing still - they'll be going backwards and wasting a wonderful chance to be C Lge regulars - maybe even regular title contenders - perhaps even regular title winners. 

In my view Levy has been a big plus for Spurs. He's been their greatest strength these past few years, but he might also now be their greatest weakness if he doesn't ease the purse strings. 

Last night's (Tuesday) C Lge exit adds weight to my argument. What a waste of all last season's hard work. Spurs simply don't have a squad big enough to cope with modern day football demands and I fear that it's only going to get worse 

You can't accuse Levy of being 'tight'. Spurs pay good money. They're 12th in the table below with an annual wage bill of £2.68m. The average salary at Spurs is 51k/pw. But it's not enough. Look at United, City, Arsenal and Chelsea. If you want to play with the big boys you've got to pay with the big boys. 

 

I'm told Levy won't sanction any pay deal that starts with a '1'. In other words, nobody at WHL is going to earn 100 grand a week or more whilst Levy holds the purse strings. He'll have to change his mind about that if he wants to keep Hugo Lloris and Harry Kane. 

Lloris's advisors are trying to negotiate a new deal right now. They're miles apart. Kane has three and a half years left on his deal, but there'll be a break clause in it. For what he's contributing at Spurs he's seriously underpaid. Would you believe Sissoko earns more? Manchester United are aware and want Kane. We've all read those stories - and what United want they generally get. Unless Spurs come up with a proper deal - my view is Kane will soon be at Old Trafford. And I mean 'soon'. 

If that happened I don't think it would be too long before Pochettino baled out. 

Spurs are fine club, with a glorious past. They've given us much but for too long now they've been the 'nearly' men. Don't let it happen again Daniel. 

Gareth Southgate? I'm not holding my breath.

on Monday, 21 November 2016. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

Apologies that I've been so quiet lately and thank you for inspiring me to get going again. I had no idea how popular these musings had become! I'm flattered.

So Gareth Southgate passes the interview process to become England manager.  He was one of one in the running. I wish him well, but was there really nobody else? If not, why not? What a farce. Greg Clark, Dan Ashworth, Martin 'I'm not a football man' Glenn, Howard Wilkinson and Graeme Le Saux really had their work cut out didn't they?

I can hear them now 'Right gentlemen, let's get down to business. First item on the agenda is the new England manager. Let's make this an exhaustive and thorough process. We've got to get it right this time. How many candidates do we have?'  'Er, just the one Mr Chairman'. Honestly, if it wasn't so serious it would be funny.

I like Gareth, but he wouldn't be my choice. I'd have done everything in my power to persuade Glenn Hoddle to take it. At the very least, he should've been considered - interviewed maybe? Now there's a thought!

Southgate is a nice guy, and that's going to be his problem. He's 'mini' Hodgson, he'll play to the gallery too much. Roy didn't start like that, but he sure as hell finished like it, making decisions that the Press boys were screaming for.

Southgate dropped Rooney for his second game in charge v Slovenia, after he'd just skippered England to a 2-0 win v Malta. Why? Worse, he paraded him in front of a baying media to explain the decision. Why? He had him apologise for having a few drinks last weekend - with other England staff - whilst 12 players went on the missing list. Why? I'll tell you, because he was playing to the crowd. For me, it showed weakness, not strength. Back your man Gareth. What happens now we know that Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana were in a strip club in Bournemouth?

Significantly, both knew they'd be playing against Spain, Henderson as captain. In the furore surrounding Rooney, whose face on the front page of a tabloid sells papers, it's been overlooked that he knew he WASN'T going to play against Spain. I'll get back to this in a moment.

As for Southgate's 'audition' - a 3-0 win over the worst Scotland team in living memory and a 2-2 against Spain's reserves - did that really fill us full of optimism? I read one piece that suggested  he'd ushered in a 'new era' - giving youth a chance. Really? Have we forgotten that Hodgson took the youngest squad to the Euro's? That worked out well didn't it?!?

As for Rooney-gate. Come on, give the guy a break. He did nothing wrong. I repeat - he knew he wasn't going to be playing against Spain. Instead of leaving the hotel, he had a few drinks, a full seven days before he was due to play again, with a few members of the FA staff! So what.

I'm told he DIDN'T gate crash a wedding party, it was more the other way round. He was approached by the wedding party. He spent time with the married couples' guests - how refreshing in a modern era when our heroes are almost untouchable. What a disgraceful fuss about nothing.

I've said before, I don't understand the obsession with destroying our last English modern day icon. When he's gone there'll be more of an understanding of what he achieved during an extra-ordinary career. Respect guys please, a bit more respect.

 

As for Southgate - I genuinely wish him well, but I'm not holding my breath.

Death by a thousand cuts

on Monday, 31 October 2016. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

It was Niall Quinn that said it - 'its like watching a death by a thousand cuts'. You could feel his pain. Quinny is one of the good guys. He's a Sunderland man through and through. Not only was he a fantastic - and as it turned out, irreplaceable centre-forward for the club - he went on to both buy it and then run it.

He came as close as anybody to restoring a grand old club to its rightful place in amongst the big boys. Well, when I say he did, both he and Steve Bruce did. They delivered Sunderland's only top ten finish since Peter Reid kept finishing seventh. That was quite a useful habit!

Quinny's managerial career wasn't quite as successful. His one game in charge ended in embarrassment when the Super Sky Blues tanned their arses at High field Road - ironically managed by Peter Reid! I'm half joking - it wasn't a s bad as I'm making out - but it was a defeat - and a rare enjoyable win for us!

Bruce filled the Stadium of Light and delivered for Quinn, by now Chairman, like no one else has done since.

And so back to the slow death that Quinny described after watching Sunderland being taken apart by Arsenal. It's sad to see them in such a mess. It's been a dreadful start for David Moyes, who now has the unenviable record of having delivered the worst ever P Lge start to any club's season. Cast your minds back a season and Sunderland won their tenth game of that campaign, beating Newcastle. That result gave them six points from their opening ten games and Big Sam went on to do what Big Sam does - he got performances from a team well beyond their capabilities. And, of course, he kept them up. Now Sunderland have just two points. They're going down. And not before time.

I don't say that to be unkind, but it's actually the only way they can go forward. They've got to replicate what Newcastle are doing. There is no more to get out of a tired squad of bang ordinary players. They're shot (I could've used an 'i' there!). They're well passed their sell by date. They're a collection of mis-fits and somebody else's poor buys. They're done. They're hopeless.

None of this is Moyes fault, although I do sometimes think that he could get on the front foot a little more. Sunderland fans knew, but didn't want to be told after half a dozen games, that they were in a relegation fight.

So who do we blame? We can only blame Ellis Short. It had to be Short that nodded through the appointment of Paolo di Canio in 2013.  Worse - DI Canio and his director of football Roberto De Fanti?  Di Canio then brought in a small army of backroom assistants and 14 duffers onto the playing staff. The outcome was as predictable as it was disastrous. Let's not forget that DI Canio replaced Martin O'Neill, who Short had sacked. Brilliant.

Gus Poyet inherited a mess and another relegation battle.  So did Dick Advocaat. So did Big Sam. So did David Moyes. There's a theme here isn't there? Enough. It's time for a remedy. Sticking plaster won't do anymore.

I wrote, before a ball was kicked, that I'd be worried about this season if I was a Sunderland fan. Granted, that was hardly a bold prediction!  But do you remember why I said that? It was because of Martin Glenn's arrogant belief that there was 'no rush' to appoint Roy Hodgson's successor. Really? Sunderland fans knew there was. We all knew Big Sam would get the job but Glenn and the FA couldn't see that while they dragged their heels a transfer window was passing and Sam's successor at Sunderland was going to have no time to work in it. It didn't help that when the FA finally made their minds up Short=

held out for unrealistic compensation. He got his money in the end - but it 's going to be the most expensive compensation in history. The protracted discussions are partly the reason why I believe Sunderland will go down this time.

So what should Short do next? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. David Moyes is the right man to sort things out. Sunderland need to do what Newcastle have done - as much as it will hurt Mackems to read that. Short has to back away - give Moyes the reigns and let him get on with it. If they start preparing for the drop in January - and subsequent recovery - there's no reason why they can't be top of the Championship and heading back to the big time a year from now.

If somehow Moyes keeps them up we'll be re-visiting this same subject next season. Like Villa - eventually it will catch them out. My solution?  A clear out. Get the lot out. Start again. And give Sunderland fans what they want -a bit of pride back in their team.

Age is no limit

on Wednesday, 26 October 2016. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

What a wonderfully unpredictable season we've got on our hands - so far anyway! And my title tip - Mourinho and Man Utd - are doing their best to make me look as much of a mug as I did last season after predicting Leicester would go down!

How bad were they at Chelsea? Awful is the answer. And despite the fact that they got out of Anfield with a point last Monday, they weren't much better there.

I read a piece by Mourinho this weekend where he was arguing that all he's got to do to win over United's fanatical support was 'win'. Wrong Jose. Yes, that's part of the formula, but managing Manchester Utd comes with a responsibility to understand the club and 'entertain' whilst winning. Nothing else will do.

Right now there's a lot of re-building to be done, so I accept that it's a process, but on recent evidence Mourinho looks miles away from achieving either.

They're missing Rooney for sure. Before you jump all over me, undertake this exercise for yourselves - look at the results with him his season - and compare them to the results without him. He's a leader. He's the captain. He makes things happen.

And tell me this - what is Ibrahimovic doing to justify his selection that Rooney wasn't? Or Pogba? Or the dreadful, ponderous Fellaini? There's three major problems right there, but Ibra comes with a reputation, Pogba with a huge price tag, so I can understand Mourinho persisting with them, but Fellaini? United really should be charged with bringing the game into disrepute every time they play this lumbering, laborious neanderthal. He is hopeless. Embarrassing. He can't run and he can't pass a ball forward. He can't open up defences and he often can't keep his elbows to himself. He is NOT a Man Utd player, yet he gets in ahead of Rooney? I know Wayne was injured on Sunday, but he hasn't been.

I'm also wondering if there's another issue? Has Mourinho's magic gone? Have United been duped? I hope not and I still believe the marriage of manager and Man Utd was just about perfect, but Jose has got to lighten up and start entertaining again. We've seen the petulant, spoilt teenager routine and I think it's fair to say we've all had enough of it? How he could complain to Conte about his touchline antics is beyond me. Mourinho invented that act!

Chelsea were terrific weren't they? I think they finally rinsed Mourinho out of their system. It was a stunning win. Stunning. That's the way to do it Jose - entertain.

I must say I'm fascinated by what's going on at City. As we all know, it's now five games without a win. That's only happened to Guardiola once before, in his first season as coach at Barcelona. By his impeccably high standards this is a crisis. Locking your team into the dressing room for an hour after the match says as much.

Super coach? You know my feelings. Good coach, yes. Super coach? Not for me.  Not yet anyway.

I'm not being churlish, but - with the side he had at Barcelona he couldn't fail. They haven't exactly struggled since he left have they? In fact, there's an argument they're even better now.

He came up short in Germany. Bayern wanted him to win the C Lge and he failed, however you look at it, and now he's got a job and a half on at City, where. nothing is ever simple.

Most weekends Guardiola would expect to win in both Spain and Germany. That won't happen in our league. The congestion at the top tells you that and there are no easy wins to be had in the bottom half either.

Guardiola says he's not for 'changing', that it's his way or the highway. Well I think it'll be the highway for a few on the playing side very shortly - and if he's not careful it might be for him down the line. I've spoken about that dressing room at City before. Yes, Guardiola has made a start in sorting it out, but there's a long way to go yet.

I'm hearing Aguero's representatives have been asked about the chances of him going to Real Madrid. The answer was 'very good'. That's why Guardiola phrased his answer carefully when asked about Argentinian in his press conference. 'If he leaves this club it'll be his decision' was the answer. There you have it. Aguero isn't the only one that doesn't buy into the 'philosophy'. He doesn't want to be hunting defenders down - he wants to be fresh to snap up chances when they come - something he does very well.

Asked after the game Sunday what he'd changed at half time Guardiola said 'nothing'. He added 'they (the players) changed their attitude'. Wrong. He changed but didn't want to admit it. He put another forward on and the equaliser came from a long diagonal ball, something that they hadn't been doing in the first half.

Look, things change so quickly in football that the two Manchester clubs are just as likely to be the only two left chasing the title at the end of the season, but right now not much at either club is going according to plan.

I wonder what the chances are that 'old man' Wenger might just sneak over the line first this season! Wouldn't that be one in the eye for those who write off experience? It's a commodity you can't buy, not even in the big money world of P Lge football.  

Right now age and the sky would appear to be no limit for Wenger. Nor time. He'll leave Arsenal when he wants to and not before.

Back in business.

on Thursday, 13 October 2016. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

Is it only me, or do we all feel the same about these international breaks?  I hate them. I shut down. The only thing I'm thinking about, from the moment the last P Lge ball is kicked and we stop, is 'when do we get going again?'

I know it shouldn't, but international football is starting to leave me stone cold. I'm not sure that players themselves aren't beginning to feel that way too. I've mentioned it before - playing for England now isn't fun. The Scots have had a kicking this past fortnight as well - and Wales. What is it about our Press boys? Why is there always so much negativity?

Answer me this - how much better were England without Wayne Rooney? The guys bullied Gareth Southgate into leaving him out - to what end? I was disappointed that Southgate buckled so easily under media pressure. At least Roy Hodgson took a couple of years before he started dancing to Fleet Streets' tune. Southgate wants to please everybody I know, but I thought he made the wrong call on Rooney.

Oh, and when the new England boss says 'I inherited a mess' who is he blaming? Big Sam, who only had 67 days to create that mess, or the previous regime, which Southgate was very much a part of? 

Briefly on the skipper - Rooney remains the only player England have that frightens the opposition. United blitzed Leicester without him - scoring four in 20 first half minutes - three from set pieces, which I suspect they would've done with Rooney on the pitch, but what happened v Stoke? I didn't read anything from the people who'd castigated him following the Leicester game admitting that he's not United's problem. I'll make a little prediction here - I'll bet Mourinho plays him against Liverpool on Monday night.

Speaking of Liverpool - I've been reading some fascinating stats about Jurgen Klopp. Let me share them with you, because again, I'm totally baffled by the conclusions of two separate articles. 

From the excellent Andy Dunn in the Sunday Mirror -

'Klopp has won fewer than half of his 37 Lge games.

His team has averaged 1.729 pts per game.

During his 122-game spell at Anfield Brendan Rodgers won more than half his matches averaging 1.795 pts per game

Klopp is averaging 1.97 goals per game. Rodgers averaged 1.9.

Liverpool were marginally tighter under Rodgers, conceding 1.24 goals per game.  It's 1.35 under Klopp'.

Pretty similar records aren't they?  Also last week The Times reported 'Klopp's Liverpool are the masters of a new era of Super Fit Football'.

Here's a few of their findings.

'Liverpool have increased the distance they covered in their opening games this season from 756.4 km's to 814.8.

Sprints are up to 4165. A sprint, apparently is 'an action of movement over 25.2/h or 7m/s. Keeping up? No? To be fair I got lost when I first read all this!

Liverpool made those 4165 sprints in their first seven games, an 'enormous' 478 or 13 per cent more than Bournemouth, who led the table after seven games last season. 

From the same article I read that Liverpool's 'surge' this season came as a result of their pre-season which included 'treble'  sessions. Really? And so far they've achieved what? Not much more than a similar record to Rodgers - but they have sprinted more than Bournemouth a year ago? Again - is it just me?

Anyway - it's great to be back in business and have our P Lge ready to start again.

We've got a fantastic weekend ahead on BeIN Sports, starting with an extended Keys & Gray on Friday night. ALL the weekend's games are 'live' across our channels and for La Liga fans - be sure that the first Classico of the season WILL BE 'live' on beINSports. I read because of the 3.15 kick off  time it won't be broadcast in the U.K.  Rest assured, you'll never miss a thing with us at BeINSports. 

You were Super - Spurs

on Monday, 03 October 2016. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

The air of invincibility around Pep Guardiola and his City team was blown away by Tottenham's tornado. What a game. I enjoyed it more than anything else I've seen this season.

Spurs were terrific and had Eric Lamela scored with that penalty  3-0 wouldn't have flattered them.

Double training sessions you see - that's the way forward! Wait until they lose one though - then double training sessions will be to blame again!

So what of City? Have they been found out, not just by Spurs, but also Celtic? Well, not exactly. I thought Guardiola was both magnanimous and relaxed after the game. He's right - City are a work in progress and all those who thought they title race was over because of the way they'd started now need to re-assess. It wasn't over before the Spurs game - and it isn't now. City hadn't won it - and they haven't lost it. I was pleased to see Guardiola smiling in his post match interview as well. Early on in the season I thought he was surly and rude when facing reporters post match. It's not an easy that - for either the manager or the reporter. The guys in the tunnel do a really good job - none more so than Geoff Shreeves and I'm pleased to see how well Des Kelly has taken to it at BT.

What point was Mourinho trying to make when he said the performance against Stoke was 'United's best of the season'?

Is he saying that what's been served up prior to the weekend wasn't very good? Was he trying to protect those that this week toiled without their skipper Wayne Rooney? Funny isn't it, after a really good 20 mins last week, when they got four goals against Leicester, three of them from set-pieces, the media buried Rooney. And this week when he wasn't on the pitch and Utd struggled - was that Rooney's fault as well? I come back to what I said last week, they're a much better side without Fellaini, but like City, they're a work in progress. As for Jose's claims? As he said - we're all allowed our opinions!

Here's a 'fact' though that's been overlooked this weekend - a year ago United were top at this stage, with three more points than they have now!

Arsenal were lucky. Koscielny's goal should never have been allowed. It was handball, not intentional, but because of the consequences of it, it should've been disallowed. Have a look at law 18 and what it says about 'common sense'.

Everton's goal should've been disallowed as well.  We can argue all day long about whether they should even have had the free-kick, but once it had been given it should've been indirect. Why? The offence was 'dangerous play' because there was no contact. Jon Moss was wrong in law.  Lukaku stuck it straight in - so the game should've re-started with a goal-kick for Palace.

Liverpool continue to make obvious progress - second half they were really good at Swansea. Francesco Guidolin won't be in charge when we resume after the Internaional break. I still think Ryan Giggs will be.

And I wouldn't be surprised to see his old skipper, Steve Bruce, in charge at Villa. Not only do I think he'd be the right choice, I have no doubts that he would get them up - almost certainly this season. Bruce knows the league. He knows what's required to get out of it and he inspires people. For too long now Villa have been an unhappy ship. Bruce would get people smiling again.

As for me, it's been a crazy weekend. My wonderful wife and I have said all we intend to on the weekend's fire-storm. It's business as usual all round. And thank you to everybody that took time out to offer their support.

Much ado about something

on Friday, 30 September 2016. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

I've waited all week, mainly because we've been promised fireworks all week. As it turns out The Telegraphs' explosive expose of the wrong doings in English football has turned out - so far - to be like a wet Guy Fawkes night.

In fairness they certainly stirred things up early in the week reporting the 'sting' that cost Sam Allardyce his job. I said on the day that I was both disappointed with Sam and for him too. With him? Well, as he realised very quickly he really shouldn't have put himself in the position that he did - and not said many of the things that he did. I'm sorry for him because in trying to do a life long friend a favour he cost himself his dream job. By the way, why is it that in every report I've read in The Telegraph so far, Scott McGarvey's name keeps coming up. Why was he at every meeting that The Telegraph set up, both him and the Italian agent Pino Pagliara?

Having served Sam up on a silver platter were we told that eight P Lge managers - either working or 'resting' - would be exposed for taking bungs. So far - nothing. All we've had is two sacrificial asst managers, one - Eric Black - a really good guy, who was also trying to do McGarvey a favour. I don't know anything about Tommy Wright. Oh, and Jimmy Ffloyd, who as far as I can see, was looking to negotiate a fee for public speaking in the Far East. Don't we all want to get paid for the work we do?

Now, The Telegraph might yet reveal something far juicier, but in the meantime, why all the hysteria? Gary Lineker wants the Police called in to investigate. Perhaps that's not a bad idea, but how far back do we go? Do we investigate everything from the early 80's when all our top talent was going to play in Spain and Italy? Those guys invented the brown envelope. Are we to believe all those deals were clean?

Look. I'm no different to anyone else. I don't like foul play and if wrongs have been committed, let's route them out. But we need proof. I know all too well what it's like to be the victim of smears. Right now some really good football men are suffering a similar fate. We've all heard the names. It's wrong. Very wrong.

Naturally the social media is screaming blue murder. A number of X-players with a few skeletons in the cupboard are 'insulted' by the content of the allegations - players who've missed out on England squads because of drink driving charges. Players that have been caught by their employers in secret meetings with the Chief Execs of other clubs talking about a transfer. Players that have even missed drug tests. It's amazing.

We've also had Parliament up in arms. Almost inevitably every busy MP trying to make a name for himself has been quoted. Take Damien Green, the current Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee. He's only temporarily in the job because his predecessor, Keith Vaz, has all sorts of life-style problems of his own right now.

Honestly, MP's lecturing the rest of us on matters of decency and honesty? They can't be serious. How long is it since we were reading similar stories about their expenses scandals? That stench still won't go away. We still are hearing of many examples of similar fraud even now.

And on that subject - my journalistic colleagues are full of opinions as well. How many of them can honestly hold up their hands and say 'I've never been creative with my expenses'. I'll tell you - none of them. What's the difference? It's all fraud isn't it? Some of the top guys have sat and laughed, enjoying the hospitality of individuals constantly linked with financial impropriety in our game. I've mentioned this before - I've even discussed the subject with one in particular. I asked him how he could put himself in that position?  'Oh, it's *****. he's only nicking a few quid'. Ah - so that's ok then? Of course it's not.

I'm not defending anybody that's had their fingers in this sticky pie. It's wrong, but it's also how business and life often works. There are hundreds of countries in the world where, if you want to get a deal done, you've got to be 'creative' in doing it. It's how it works.

So why is it always football and football people that attract so much criticism on this subject? 'Aren't they paid enough?' is a question often asked. Well, perhaps not. Does a City banker stop earning money if he pulls off a £100m deal? No, he wants £200m. It's life. Is it right that an F1 driver can earn a million for two hours work every fortnight? Yes, it is, if that's the going rate.

Football is always getting a kicking. I repeat, where wrong doings are 'proved' then let action be taken, but we can't go round speculating and creating stories to fit baseless claims. It's not right. Remember - despite the fact that we now live in a very judgemental society - everyone deserves the right to be judged innocent until proven guilty.

West Ham and Rooney get Hammered

on Monday, 26 September 2016. Posted in Richard Keys Blog

After six games last season West Ham were in the top 3 - and my  suggestion that their fans 'should be careful what they wish for' wasn't looking too accurate. Many a Hammer would regularly, and quite rightly, point out how well Slaven Bilic had taken to life as a coach in the P Lge and that my fears weere considerably wide of the mark.

After six games this season West Ham are in the bottom three and my warnings don't look quite so daft do they?

Look, I have no desire to open up old wounds with West Ham fans and I genuinely don't like to see the club struggle - it's a fine club that's contributed hugely to the English game down the years, especially for those of us of a certain vintage - Moore, Peters and Hurst were all heroes of mine.

What always disappointed me about the modern West Ham fan was how ungrateful he/she was to Big Sam. Hands up - Sam is a mate so of course I'll defend him wherever and whenever I feel I have to. I first got close to him back in 2008 when I worked in Qatar for the first time and he was hugely supportive of me and Andy when we were tucked up by Sky. Aren't you supposed to be loyal to good friends? I thought that was unwritten law in the East End - perhaps more so than anywhere else in London?

Sam didn't just save West Ham at the most needy point in their history, he first settled and then built the club back into a P Lge outfit. Bilic has never been shy of making that point. Sam made last season possible.

In warning that Hammers fans 'should be careful what they wish for' I was making the point that the old fashioned belief that their team should always play the 'West Ham' way was outdated and dangerous. You simply can't play 'nice' football in our league anymore.

Bilic, who I like enormously - he's a real football man, both knew last season and knows now that there is no such thing as the 'West Ham way' anymore. I pointed out last season, that before Christmas, the percentage of long balls West Ham played was up from 18% to 23%. Not my stats - Opta's.

In the last minute on Sunday I saw Antonio chucking a long throw into the box. Most Hammers fans would've missed this because they'd already left the stadium, but is they 'West Ham way'? The throw very nearly did its job though.

Last season the Hammers were brilliant and I said so on many occasions. Payet was sublime. Any football fan must've enjoyed his contribution to their season.

This time around they're a shadow of themselves. So is Payet. Perhaps he's struggling at the moment after all the excesses of the past 12 months, but right now he looks like a player that wants to be elsewhere. West Ham need him again - and fast.

I don't believe the Hammers will struggle all season. They're not as bad as their results have been so far but nor were they as good as results were last season.  The truth is that they're somewhere in between - about where Sam left them.  

The crisis at Old Trafford appears to be over! I said last week that I didn't believe Mourinho wouldn't sort things out. He hasn't yet, but Saturday was obviously much better. Or was it?

I thought they looked nervous for 20 mins. Goals change games and their opener did just that. Mata was terrific and helped put the game to bed before half time. A good job too, because Leicester had the better of the second half.

Were United better without Rooney? No. I'm not having that. I think they were miles better without Fellaini, something which seems to have gone totally un-noticed after all the nonsense surrounding Rooney.

I asked before - what is it with the Rooney-bashers? Why? Why are they so keen to run him out of both Old Trafford and England? I've never understood it. I repeat - the fella is a phenomenon. He's been awesome for club and country. His record speaks for itself. When has he ever complained about a job he's been asked to do for either?

Yes - he's out of sorts just now, but he'll be back. And when he is let's hope he's given just ONE job to do on the pitch. I can tell you, without fear of contradiction, that in the games he's played for United this season his manager has had him perform in a combined 12 different positions - shifting him forwards, back and sideways. Twelve! Rooney has adapted without complaint done what he's been asked, all for the good of the team. Back off him and enjoy him while we still can. We won't see his like again.

I thought it was interesting how Antonio Conte reacted to Chelsea's dismal performance at Arsenal. A warning Antonio - that dressing room won't react positively to criticism. It never has. Ask Villas Boas, Scolari and more recently Mourinho, to name just a few. You can go all the way back to Ranieri. Dennis Wise was in our BeIN Sports studios this weekend. When I made that point he reacted with a wry smile! I said in the summer, if those big ego's at The Bridge thought they were in for an easier time once they'd outed Mourinho then they should think again. Conte is more pedantic, tougher, demanding and he'll upset them. What happens next is going to be very interesting.

Oh. In amongst all the hysteria surrounding Rooney I saw this headline - 'Son proves Spurs don't need Kane'. Really? What a daft statement. They were good at the weekend - but is anyone seriously thinking they won't miss Kane? Believe me, they look able at the minute - but they'll miss Kane all right. 

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