What a terrific weekend…..

Published: Monday, 04 December 2023

What a wonderful day of football Sunday gave us.  Only West Ham and Palace failed to get the memo! The rest went at it with a ferver that did the best league in the world justice.  

I don’t think another dramatic Anfield finish surprised anyone. There have been many down the years, but the latest is right up there with the best - although Tsimikas did foul De Cordova-Reid just before Alexander-Arnold hit the late winner. There was no way VAR was going to rule it out though after the way the ground erupted. No way at all - and that’s not a failing with the technology - it was a lack of courage and poor decision making that so often leads to the big boys getting big decisions. Have another look if you missed it - it’s a clear foul. Fulham deserved something from the game, but we’ve said that many times about the underdogs in big arenas down the years.

I don’t want to make too much of it, but it really isn’t right. Covid games proved that it happens - scientifically.

Researchers from the Frontiers in Sports and Active Living journal did a study analysing 1286 Covid ‘ghost games’, played in empty stadia, in the top leagues in England, Spain, Germany, Italy, Russia, Turkey, Austria and the Czech Republic - so pretty comprehensive - and came to the following conclusions 

Home teams had significantly more players booked because of what was described as ‘decreased social pressure’. In other words - refs weren’t bullied by home crowds. The lack of ‘social pressure’ also led to an impact on home advantage. There were no significant changes in decisions against away teams so the obvious conclusion was a ‘reduction of unconscious favouritism of referees for home teams’. Put that another way - the officials shit it at Anfield! Small teams don’t want favours, they simply want what they’re due.

Mind you - that was nothing compared to Simon Hooper’s howler at City. That’s both sides of Manchester that he’s pissed off now. Remember - he was the hapless ref that should’ve sent Onana off, and given Wolves a penalty, in the opening game of the season at Old Trafford. He was demoted for not doing so, although I’m never quite sure why that happens.

Why curse the C’ship with these guys when they’ve fucked up? Do C’ship games not mean as much as PL matches? Antony Taylor ‘the master and commander who knows everything’ (as Pep Guardiola called him in an interview with beINSPORTS Andy Kerr - brilliant Andy) was sent down to the C’ship recently after costing Wolves with another really poor call - and immediately he did it again - giving Preston a pen in their game v Coventry. It was a terrible decision and led to the PGMOL apologising to Mark Robins. Demotion doesn’t make them better. Leave them out. Rest them. Coach them Don’t inflict them on C’ship teams.

Anyway - what was Hooper thinking when he stopped Grealish in his tracks? As we all saw - initially he plays a great advantage, so what went through his mind when he pulled it back? It’ll be interesting to see what Howard Webb has to say about it. 

I read Chris Sutton in The Mail today tearing into Haaland for his reaction. Yes - the social media abuse can be ‘grotesque’ - but you played at the highest level Chris and you know very well how players react in moments like that. It’s emotion and Haaland and City knew that they’d been robbed of a chance to win the game. Referees can’t be allowed to make such match-defining errors as that. The abuse? I’m with you there, but The Mail’s campaign addresses the affects not the causes - which are a group of officials that aren’t good enough. They’ve shown that to be the case week after week. That’s where we need change. That’s the campaign to run. 

 
Addressing the affects is a bit like lambasting Rashford for his form - instead of asking ‘what’s the issue’? I’ll tell you. He’s bored shitless going to work every day for ten Hag. And he’s not alone. It must be mind numbing working with the Dutchman round the clock.  

So that’s the cause. Then you’ve got to ask ‘what’s the solution?’ - because we’re having these same conversations about a different Utd manager every 18 months.

I’d go and get Xavi Alonso. I’d offer him Saudi league money and guarantee him five years in charge. He’s about the only way Utd will ever re-join the elite group and he’d give them a chance of attracting big names to the club again - not ageing mis-fits and babies. 

I floated this theory on air this past weekend and had a hard time selling it. ‘He’s not ready’ I was told. Really? Let me ask this - if Klopp quit at the end of the season who would Liverpool want to appoint? Exactly. Alonso. Of course he’s ready. 


Are Villa title contenders? I’m pretty sure Emery won’t want to hear talk like that, but right now they’re in the mix. Imagine that they beat City at Villa Park on Wednesday. Why not? They’ve won their last 13 there - 14 would equal a 92-year-old club record. If they did win they’d be right in amongst the challengers. I’m not saying that they would stay the course, but I’d love to see them have a go. 

And finally….. again this weekend we saw far too many VAR delays as operators tried to turn our game black and white - which can’t happen. It never will. Football is not an exact science. But they keep trying. There was a three and a half minute delay at Anfield to check a goal and another of similar length at Bournemouth. 

As we know - unlike the CL and the recent WC - we’re not using automated off-side technology in the PL. I was told why this week. It‘s the ball. We use an adidas ball in the other two competitions and Adidas have developed the technology that allows it. We use a Nike ball in the PL. They haven’t. I’m sure someone will tell me I’m wrong. I’m happy to accept I am if that’s the case. But prove it please. 

Thank you El Tel

Published: Monday, 27 November 2023

As I said when we went to air at beINSPORTS yesterday ‘there will be many words spoken now by people who knew Terry Venables better than me’. There has been. None capturing who Venables was better than his mate - the Mail’s brilliant sports writer, Jeff Powell. What another beautiful piece Jeff. Nobody does it better. I know how hard it is to write those pieces when you’d really rather not, and few craft them like you do. Beautiful.

I only got to know Venables after I’d left Sky. Because he was so closely aligned to ITV and the BBC at that time, we didn’t book him to watch games with us. That was a shame. We should’ve done, but that was the policy back then.

Only when I got to beINSPORTS did I strike up a rapport with him. What a nice guy he was. He was always smiling and he made others around him smile. That’s how I’ll remember him - a smile here - a wink there - a cheeky glance and a razor sharp mind that invented all of todays inventions on the pitch long before they were invented. Thank you Terry. Now rest peacefully my friend.

It couldn’t have been an easy day at Spurs, but they shouldn’t have lost to Villa. Having said that - Villa were top class. Ollie Watkins finish was as good as you’ll see. Terrific. But Spurs were so naïve again. What was the keeper doing bouncing around in his area trying to get them on the front foot deep in first-half stoppage time? Calm down man. Keep the ball. Get in one-up. Manage the game. Do all of the things you didn’t do v Chelsea.

But oh no. They did it again. They were reckless. I know Ange ‘it’s what we are mate’, but you won’t be joining the big boys unless you’re more professional. I grant you - the way Spurs play can be enjoyable to watch, but it won’t bring success.

I don’t buy the fact that they were short yesterday. If they get in one-up the second-half is different.

They’re beginning to remind me of Spurs under another Ossie - Ardiles. Do you remember the famous five? Arsiles’ team were great in possession and could sweep teams away, but they were also naïve and their inability to win enough games quickly saw off the Argentinian, who was also determined to follow the maxim ‘it’s what we are mate’.

I didn’t like seeing Mikel Arteta marching across the Brentford pitch with his arms round Havertz. It was clear what he really was trying to say. ‘My man. I told you. My man’. Arteta knows he dropped a bollock paying all that money for Havertz so it was more with relief that he was cuddling and pointing at him. ‘I was right all along - you were wrong’. No Mikel. You weren’t.

What he should’ve been doing was walking towards those Arsenal fans with his arms around Ramsdale. The way he’s treated the keeper is a disgrace. He’s turned him into a nervous wreck. I hope Ramsdale gets himself out of Arsenal in January and goes on to prove what a good keeper he is with another club.

Just when it looked as though Chelsea might be turning a corner they showed their true selves again at Newcastle. They were awful. Pochettino was right. ‘We were soft in every challenge’, he said. ‘Not ready to compete’. Well I’m sorry Mauricio, whose fault is that? Who is supposed to prepare them?

Oh, and I read that Chelsea are preparing a £100m+ January bid for Victor Osinhem. Having spent £1b under Todd Boehly - how? I’m sure Everton will be watching closely.

On that subject - what a shame the Goodison response to last week’s events wasn’t to create a rip-roaring atmosphere that would’ve inspired their own team and rattled United. I thought the demonstration was limp and set the wrong tone. Everton played the same way. I still believe that Dyche will get them out of trouble, but they can afford too many more performances like the one they gave on Sunday.

Well done Luton. It’s been a long time in the making - 11537 days to be exact - so the win at Kenilworth Road must’ve felt good. Watching Burnley lose to West Ham made me think it might take Vincent Kompany as long to get a Burnley win at home.

De Zerbi’s celebrations at The City Ground were a tad over the top, but I understood the reasons. I’ve decided to cut him some slack this time, but for those of you wondering - yes, the Celebration Police made a note!

Finally - (this mention is personal) - well done Mark Robins. The Super Sky Blues have had an untidy start, so the win at Millwall was very welcome. It’s been coming. I don’t have any concerns about Coventry or what they can achieve. The support at Millwall was fantastic - as it always is these days. Not many clubs take over The New Den, but our fans did. And they did it the right way. Well done to everybody that was there. Now let’s go Mark.

Everton were at it - and got nicked

Published: Monday, 20 November 2023

Let’s be clear - Everton were at it. And they’ve been on a slow-motion journey to last week’s announcement of a 10-point deduction because of financial irregularities for some time now. They should be thankful that the trip ended last week and not before the end of last season - as some at the PL wanted - because they’d be playing Championship football now if it had done.

Let’s also be clear about this. Everton is a fantastic football club. I do genuinely feel sorry for their fans. It’s always the fans that are hit the hardest in situations like these. You can be sure that Manchester United will know that Goodison is angry at the weekend. It’ll be one hell of an atmosphere in the ground.

But having said I feel for Evertonians - would any of them have been complaining if the gamble to re-join the PL’s elite had paid off? Of course they wouldn’t. It didn’t - so I’m afraid they’ve got to suck this one up now.

There’s an appeal to be lodged of course. And it’s possible the 10 point deduction will be reduced. Possible - but I’m not convinced that it will be.

Look. Ten points sounds harsh. But is it? Some pundits have been screaming that it’s ‘disproportionate’. But is it? No. It’s now the benchmark. There’s never been a case like this one so there’s nothing to judge it against.

It’s certainly not the harshest of punishments for financial wrong doing - albeit of a different kind. That was handed down to Luton before the start of the 2008/09 season when they were docked 30-points before the start of their League Two campaign.

They were docked 10-points for irregularities when dealing with agents and a further 20 because of a failure to secure an insolvency agreement that satisfied HMRC. The result? They were relegated to the Conference. That was a genuine disgrace and it’s why I’ve argued that no team has ever deserved a place in the PL more than Luton - even though it came at a cost to my club Coventry.

It’s also worth noting that the season Luton got docked those points, Rotherham and Bournemouth suffered 17-point deductions.

Ten doesn’t sound too bad when you look at it like that does it? And do you know what - I’d back Sean Dyche to keep them in the league - although history isn’t with them. No team has ever had only four points after 12 games (in an 38 game season) and survived. QPR failed in 2012/13 when they had four and Sheffield Utd failed in 2020/21 when they had a single point.

The last team to do it, but in a 42-game season were - Everton - in 94/95. Evertonians won’t need me to remind them that was also the year they last won a major trophy.

No amount of ‘whataboutery’ will alter the fact that Everton only have themselves to blame for the mess they find themselves in. It doesn’t matter what City have been charged with - although the outcome to the 115 charges they face will be under even greater scrutiny now. The Athletic have done some great reporting on conversations between the U.K. govt and Abu Dhabi on this subject. Read the article for yourselves.

https://theathletic.com/4889001/2023/09/22/man-city-charges-premier-league-abu-dhabi/

An independent regulator eh? Is that the same ‘regulator’ that fixed it for the Saudi’s to own Newcastle? Yep - this Tory govt. Will they fix it for Abu Dhabi?

There’s one other thing I’d like to know. What’s the truth about who owns Everton? And why the rush to spend money? What was that really all about? It’s a subject that’s fascinated The Guardian’s Simon Goodley for a long time and he’s written some brilliantly researched pieces on the subject. This was his last piece - back on September.

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2023/sep/26/everton-fc-owner-alisher-usmanov-farhad-moshiri

Interesting eh? And if I know Simon - there’s more to come. We need it Simon.

Sadly, one of the biggest victims of the farce that’s unfolded at Everton is Graeme Sharp.

He was used as a human shield by Moshiri when he appointed him to the Board. It’s pretty obvious what Graeme‘s job was supposed to be - to deflect criticism from Moshiri. Torn between his love of Everton and loyalty to his job, Sharp fell into the trap and backed the ‘owner’. Some of the things he did and said didn’t play well with Evertonians - not surprising. He was wrong.

I think I’m right in saying that Sharpy hasn’t been back to the club since he resigned his position. This is wrong. It’s time to forgive and forget. Graeme Sharp is a Everton legend ffs. Now more than ever - Everton need everyone on the same side - pulling in the same direction - especially people like Sharp. Show him some love guys and get him involved again.

What a goal Cole

Published: Tuesday, 14 November 2023

Brilliant Cole Palmer. Absolutely brilliant. What bollocks. I was as nervous as hell for him. There couldn’t have been a neutral watching that didn’t want him to score that pen. Imagine if he’d missed it. He’d have struggled to have ever been accepted at Chelsea. Instead - he’s a hero. Rightly so. And throughly deserved.

He was incredible. What pressure. And not only did he score - it was the perfect pen - at an impossible height for any keeper. It was the climax to a wonderful game of football.

Just a thought - had Palmer not wanted it I wonder who would’ve taken it? I didn’t see Sterling fighting for this one as he had in the recent game against Arsenal.

Palmer was so accomplished and if he was nervous there weren’t any signs. I actually thought Haaland looked more anxious when he took his. Or perhaps that was guilt? I’m not getting into another VAR discussion but City’s was never a pen. It is worth pointing out though that Antony Taylor marked up a unique piece of history when he gave it - that made it three weeks in a row that he’s given one that his guv’nors ended up apologising for - at Wolves v Newcastle - for Preston against Coventry (Mark Robins has since revealed he received an apology) and now Haaland’s. Well done Antony.

The only thing missing at The Bridge was Geoff Shreeves. The post-match interview with Sterling and Palmer was embarrassing. It’s on days like yesterday (Sunday) and after big games like that, that Shreeves is missed. Badly missed.

The pressure is off ten Hag I read - after four league wins in the last five. Really? Do you know who those wins were against? Let me tell you - Luton, Fulham, Sheffield Utd and Brentford. All of them scratchy - half of them lucky.

It wasn’t a good week for Tottenham was it? All of a sudden there are allegations flying about that they’re Spursy again. But let’s not be too harsh. They were never going to stay top, nor mount a serious title challenge, but they should be good enough to compete for the top 4. They’ve been good to watch so far and I think we’ve all enjoyed Postacoglu’s style of play - but he was naive - bordering on reckless v Chelsea. It was madness to play with that high line believing he could win it with nine. The only way they were likely to have got anything out of the game was to sit deep - try and nick a point - and who knows how valuable that point might have been come the end of the season? Lesson learned I hope.

Now Spurs have been checked no-one is laughing at Harry Kane’s decision to move on anymore. He must’ve been aware at the ironic mentions he’s had ‘but what if Spurs win the title in their first season without him?’ We’ve all been with someone who’s asked that question.

Kane has ignored it and got on with doing his job. He got two more at the weekend - that’s now 21 in 16 appearances for Munich. Here’s an interesting stat. Haaland had 22 in 16 last season before going on to score 52. It’s a stunning start for Kane. ‘Ahhh - but is it really that hard to score in the Bundesliga?’ asks Ian Hawkey in The Times today. Ask Sadio Mane Ian.

Kane is now one of the top 3 players in the world. I love him. He’s class. He’s like Haaland in so many ways but a couple stand out. Obviously he’s a goal machine but he’s also one of very few that are more concerned about their appearance on the pitch than off it. That’s what Arsene Wenger said of Haaland when talking on beINSPORTS recently. The same applies to Kane.

Sorry Jurgen. 12.30 it is v City when the PL resumes. I know that Liverpool have had more than their fair share of the mid-day Saturday kick-offs, but there’s nobody to blame except the guys upstairs - who greedily take the tv money without a thought for you and your team. Have a word with them if you don’t like it.

And finally a word about Wazza. It’s now four defeats in five - and no wins. Go back a few weeks and have a look at what I said when he was appointed at Birmingham.

Every fucking week….

Published: Tuesday, 07 November 2023

Here we are again. Every fucking week. It simply isn’t good enough. It can’t go on. I repeat what I said recently - our current crop of match officials aren’t fit for purpose. They’re hopeless. And they’re ruining the best league in the world.

As you’ve probably guessed - I’m angry today. As angry as Arteta was - and he had every right to be. And Arsenal had every right to defend their man.

If we truly believe in free speech why can’t a coach tell us how he feels post match? Fans want to hear what their man is thinking. Free speech - not irresponsible speech, not hate speech. We want to hear genuine opinions, not diluted platitudes.

I believe Arteta was well within his rights to express his frustration following one of the most outrageous injustices I’ve seen on a football pitch this season - and there’s a few to chose from. Ask Gary O’Neil if I’m right. Or Klopp. Or…. There’s too many.

Again - why aren’t we allowed to hear bunker/ref conversations? Why not? If there’s nothing to hide - why not ffs? I know IFAB met last week and ruled it out again - but what on earth is IFAB exec Lukas Brud talking about when he says hearing the conversations would be ‘too chaotic’ for viewers? How arrogant is that? No it wouldn’t.

If it truly is chaotic conversation in the bunker then change the protocol. Get some discipline. It’s all such bollocks - and it’s one excuse after another. It’s our game - not IFAB’s. Not the PGMOL’s. Our game. We want to be involved in it, not treated like second class citizens, who’re lucky to be able to spend hard earned money to see our team play, knowing that some of it ultimately goes to supporting the pompous tone-deaf clowns who run these various organisations. We should all have been listening to the farce at Newcastle as it unfolded.

I’m in the luxurious position of being able to say what I think about the falling standards of officialdom in our top league - but imagine taking a call from a high ranking PL broadcast official reminding you who pays your wages. Scary. It happened to two people that I know recently. The message was clear ‘stop criticising the refs’. What sort of world are we living in when people who run the game also want to steer the narrative?

Between them the guys officiating Newcastle/Arsenal had a nightmare. Havertz has got to go off. His challenge was ridiculous and ticked all the boxes for serious foul play under law 12. I believe Stuart Attwell got his yellow card out thinking that if he’d got it wrong VAR would rule. It’s what refs do these days. They often don’t make big calls because the technology is there as a back-up. As it happened - Andy Madley also failed to make the correct decision. Did he not want to cause his mate trouble?

Bruno Guimaraes should’ve gone off. Attwell missed him hitting Jorghino’s head but Madley should’ve seen it. Another fail.

At beINSPORTS we produced evidence to suggest that Willock kept the ball in play during the build-up to the Newcastle goal by a millimetre. So erring on the side of caution was probably right but would anyone have complained if that ball had been called out?

So play was allowed to develop and then came the next contentious issue - Joelinton’s clear push on Gabriel. He’s clearing that ball if he isn’t pushed in the back. I was told one pundit claimed the Arsenal defender ‘dived under the ball’. What nonsense. I didn’t hear the claim so I can only hope my info was wrong. It was a push. End of. It should’ve been ruled a foul.

Did Joelinton handle the ball? Yes - but the current interpretation of the handball law rules out any offence because he didn’t benefit from the incident himself. So there was no reason to rule the goal out, but we wouldn’t be discussing this if Attwell and Madley had done their jobs properly and penalised Joelinton.

Was a Gordon off-side. Who knows? Somehow there wasn’t a camera angle to prove one way or the other. Why not? Weren’t we told the addition of more cameras this season would end the arguments?

One other thing - the debates about the goal mask another one that Arteta won’t be able to put off much longer. Raya is not an upgrade on Ramsdale. He’s poor on crosses. He flapped at Willock’s. He flapped one onto the bar in the derby v Spurs that led to Son’s equaliser and Mudryk’s mis-hit cross caught him badly out of position. Arteta has created himself a real problem here. ‘He’s good with his feet’ they say. Well he wasn’t v Lens. I’m with Arsene Wenger, who said on a beINSPORTS programme recently ‘I like my goalkeeper to be able to make saves’.

Message to Poch - when you manage Chelsea if asked ‘would you go back to Spurs?’ The answer isn’t ‘why not?’ The answer is ‘I’m the manager of Chelsea. I’m committed to this club now and want to get it right here’, something which he clearly hasn’t done so far. Chelsea fans don’t want to know that you’re still a Tottenham fan at heart.

How much longer has Vincent Kompany got at Burnley? If he doesn’t start listening to some of his coaching staff and change he won’t be around to see them relegated. Bringing in an official drummer isn’t the answer. Tightening up and not being so easy to play against is.

What now Erik….?

Published: Monday, 30 October 2023

Ok. When I called him Erik ten Months it was a little bit harsh, but it was an obvious one wasn’t it? And after the weekend capitulation to City - by far the worst PL derby performance by any Utd team - I might not be too far out.

I haven’t got anything else to add about the derby. It seems as though everybody has now caught up with what I’ve been saying for months so what’s the point?

The only question left is how long has ten Hag got?

He hasn’t presided over a mess that he inherited as some claim - he’s created one. £410m spent on bang ordinary players - most of whom can’t even get in his starting line-up. It’s a shambles. ‘Hojland might turn out to be a good player’ I can hear you saying. I agree - but for £70m he needs to be a good player now. Utd can’t afford to wait.

I said recently that Brighton wouldn’t take any of Utd’s starting X1. I stand by that. Which team would? Certainly not one of the current top four. And here’s another thought - what are the players that ten Hag has bought worth now? Antony? Mount? Onana? Casemiro? Martinez? Dubravka. Even Hojland based on what we’ve seen so far. Would anyone pay £70m for him?

Remember, last summer ten Hag spent a record busting £220m. At the time he said ‘if you want to compete at the top, you don’t have a choice’. At the top? Unless things change dramatically Utd will do well to finish 8th. If Newcastle beat them in the Carabao Cup this week ten Hag might be lucky to survive. There’s a lot of anger out there now, although the class of ‘92 continue to give him an easy ride. I don’t agree with Jamie Carragher often, but he’s right when he says the guys would‘ve destroyed Mourinho - or similar - by now.

Clearly the job is too big for ten Hag Clearly he’s lost his players. Clearly his ‘game plans’ are nonsense. Does he really believe that Utd were ‘toe to toe’ with City in the first-half? Clearly he’s deluded if he does. That was City’s easiest three points of the season. Brighton made them work harder. And Wolves. Even Sheffield Utd gave them more of a run for their money.

Regarding ten Hag’s point that you’ve got to spend record sums to make the top four. Really? Across two transfer windows Newcastle have spent a little over £200m. Two windows. Again - Ten Hag has spent £410m and taken Utd nowhere.

And then there’s Villa. Last summer they spent £55m. It was £15m the previous January. For that Emery has taken Villa from 17th to the cusp of the top four. Andy reckons they can finish there, but even if they don’t, a place in the top 6 is certainly achievable. And I’m no johnny-come-lately as far as Emery is concerned. I’ve always said he was harshly treated at Arsenal, where I think he did a terrific job. The problem was that he made himself a comedic character by keep wishing us all ‘good ebening’. That’s changed now. And he’s getting long overdue credit in our country.

Emery has been in charge of 35 league games at Villa and celebrated a full year in charge at the weekend. He’s taken an average of two points per game from those 35 matches. The only other PL managers to have done that are Fergie, Mourinho (twice) Ancelotti, Mancini, Guardiola Pellegrini and Klopp. They all went on to deliver titles of course. These are exciting times for Villa.

So it’s not so much the spend - it’s how you spend. And what sort of atmosphere a coach creates at a club. You can tell that players at Newcastle and Villa would run through brick walls for their coach. That’s not the case at Utd where the tin pot tough guy has lost his silly fight with Sancho and had to back off from his scandalous treatment of Maguire. Both battles cost him dressing room support.

His players look bored. They’ve heard the same tedious post-match routines too often and are fed up taking the blame for ten Hag’s mistakes. There’s nothing new here - these are things I’ve been saying for months. As a side issue - name me a Dutch coach that’s been a success in the PL. 🤷‍♂️.

One last thing from Sunday. Those Utd fans that thought it was clever to taunt Haaland with cries of ‘Keano’ should be ashamed of themselves.

We all know what they're referring to. Haaland isnt a fool - so does he. I’ve said before - that assault from Keane on Haaland’s dad would’ve led to charges had it been committed anywhere other than a football arena.

It was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen on a football pitch - something for which Keane has never said sorry for. In fact, he stands by it.

This is what he said in his book remember ‘I’d waited long enough. I fucking hit him hard. The ball was there (I think) Take that you cunt’. Nice.

In the eyes of some Utd punters this is all part of the Keane ‘brand’. It elevates him to legendary status in their minds. It shouldn’t. It was an act of pure malice. The ball was nowhere near Haaland when Keane hit him. It was a disgraceful assault. Years later it would comeback haunt Utd when they wanted to sign Haaland junior.

Keane was a terrific leader at Utd and did more good than bad. The night he hauled them to a CL final in Turin, knowing he’d miss the game, he was awesome. But the Haaland incident shouldn’t be celebrated. Nor referenced in the way it was Sunday. Certainly not when the travelling City fans behaved so well during the tributes to a true Utd leader and legend - Sir Bobby Charlton, who never once disgraced his club.

Is there any other business where failure is rewarded so well?

Published: Monday, 23 October 2023

Did you see Pochettino? His team had just tossed away a win and there he was at the end of the game laughing and joking with the opposition coaching staff. Honestly, I couldn’t believe it. What on earth was funny about Chelsea’s capitulation at home v Arsenal?

The Mail picked up on what I’d said post match on beINSPORTS, so some of you will be aware already about my views after watching Pochettino on the pitch after the final whistle. What was he thinking? Perhaps he wasn’t thinking? If he had been, surely he’d have understood how Chelsea fans felt after seeing their team toss away what could’ve been a season defining win? How angry they were. And there he was chuckling with his mates, who now work for Arsenal.

Chelsea have been piss poor on Pochettino’s watch. He’s been asking for time and understanding. Really? Time and understanding from fans who are fed up to the back teeth of watching a once-mighty Chelsea descend into ordinary. And they’ve been paying top dollar for the privilege. No. I’m sorry. He was bang out of order.

What he should’ve done was leave the scene of the crime double quick - get down the tunnel to the dressing room and wait for his team so that he could let them know exactly how he felt. How angry he was. But perhaps he wasn’t upset at all? And maybe that’s the problem? Perhaps it doesn’t matter enough? Mind you - why should it?

Pochettino has become a rich after delivering little more than mediocrity in his managerial career. Remember - this was the man who finished third with Spurs in a two-horse race against Leicester. He always comes up short.

I said in my first blog this season that the jury was out. I’m still not convinced by him. Does he care what people think? Probably not. He’s already rich beyond his wildest dreams - another sacking and he’ll be able to buy half of Argentina.

What other business rewards mediocrity and failure so well? Graham Potter is another one. He hasn’t lifted a finger since he was sacked by Chelsea. I guess they’re still paying him and he doesn’t have to while they are. When Chelsea are done - Potter will also be filthy rich, but why not take another job now? Doesn’t he want to prove his doubters wrong?

Poch and Potter aren’t the only two of course. There are others. And it’s not so much them earning the money that bothers me. Good luck to them if they can. I just want to see them hurt a little bit. Show respect - respect for people that spend hard earned money and want to see their team provide 90 minutes of joy and relief in really trying times.

Football’s extravagances will be accepted by fans if their team make them proud. If they enjoy watching them. If they feel their spend is good value. But not if those representing the club appear all too happy to accept failure every week.

I can’t think of another business where failure is rewarded so richly. It’s got to hurt a bit more guys. If it doesn’t - walk, laughing all the way to the bank no doubt.

On the subject of Chelsea - why is it that the proceeds of the sale of the club to Todd Boehly still sit in a U.K. bank account? The money was supposed to be for humanitarian purposes in Ukraine. You’ll hear a lot guff from the U.K. govt about why they haven’t yet released it - none of which rings true. Just get on with it James Cleverley. You’re out of time and excuses.

I was pleased to see Roy Hodgson speak as eloquently as he did on the subject of gambling. This, of course, after Sandro Tonali and his Italian team-mates Nicolo Zaniolo and Nicolo Fagioli were caught gambling on games.

We don’t know the minutia of what happened nor what the outcome of the Italian FA’s investigation will be but punishment will follow for Tonali for sure - just as it did for Fagioli. Of course punishment will follow and that will satisfy most observers. But will it help? As Hodgson argued before Palace’s game at Newcastle - probably not.

As I’ve said here previously - football has a cavalier attitude towards gambling, happily taking money from the big bookies - to the point of becoming reliant on it in some cases - yet frowning on individuals who fall prey to the advertising onslaught that’s designed to encourage them to gamble recklessly. It’s madness. Football can’t have it both ways. It’s time to distance itself from the odious creeping influence of the gambling companies.

What’s the reason for the takeover delay Sunny Jim? What a mess. Are we convinced that Ratcliffe’s bid for Utd will ever actually happen? Does he really think that Utd fans will tolerate the Glazers staying firmly in control of the club despite his potential investment? And I read that he’s actually borrowing money to make it happen - using loans from Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan according to Nick Harris in The Mail on Sunday. Incredible. Absolutely incredible.

I can’t finish without paying tribute to a man who lit up an entirely different era at Utd - Sir Bobby Charlton of course.

What a man. What a player. What an ambassador for both his club and country. We will never see his like again.

I can’t top the many words that were both written and spoken about him over the weekend. I just want to say this - thank you Bob. You lit up my childhood and helped me fall in love with football. And I wasn’t alone.

It’s over…

Published: Monday, 16 October 2023

Well there we have it. It’s over. Not quite for Man Utd, but Sheikh Jassim’s bid for the club. Over to you Jim. And good luck.

I said ‘not quite’ for Utd. They’ll continue to win the odd cup - as they’ve been doing since Fergie’s retirement and if there’s Ratcliffe investment, a decade or so from now they might even win the title again, perhaps the youth team... But the era when they won everything, all the time, is very definitely over. The chance to replicate what City now do went the moment Sheikh Jassim walked away.

I had a fun joust with a mate today who’s Utd to the core. It’s always good sport winding him up, but I love the passion he has for his team - and the fact that he sees the world through red tinted glasses. Sadly those same glasses won’t allow him to view the reality of what’s happened at Old Trafford. And there’s the problem.

I understand totally the ambitions of Utd fans. But they’ve got to be aligned with a dose of reality now.

I say again - it’s over. The years when Utd dominated domestically and occasionally won the big one (not enough) are long since gone. And what must hurt more is having to live in the shadow of one of the richest and most successful clubs in the world. The noisy neighbours of course. The team that Fergie said would never be favourites to win a derby ‘in my lifetime’. Nowadays it’s every time.

I’m quite certain that the Sheikh would’ve put Utd back on their perch. He has the resource to rebuild a crumbling stadium, wipe out Utd’s debt (his was a cash bid), start buying the best players in the world again, invest in the city. Jim Ratcliffe can’t and won’t do any of that.

He’s overpaying for a share of the club. Wildly overpaying – the fact there’s literally no-one else willing to buy tells you that, even “Qatar”. And what exactly is he buying? Whilst the Glazers still own a majority share the answer is ‘not very much’.

His purchase of a 25% stake apparently remains entirely dependent on outlining a ‘genuine path to majority control’. Again - good luck with that. If I were a Utd fan I’d be praying for negotiations to break down so that Sheikh Jassim’s ambitions could be tested. My belief is that he was totally committed in his desire to buy the club - just not at the £9-10b the Glazers reportedly want. That bracket is nonsense. It’s plucked from thin air.

Utd’s base valuation is very objective – their market capitalisation is £3.2b. Add a premium on top of that as MU is a top and rare asset, but you still don’t get anywhere near their Barbie-land valuation. But maybe in Jim, they’ve found their Ken.

I’ve always backed an owners’ right to run a club as they see fit. Whilst Utd were winning everything during the first eight years of the Glazers ownership - five PL titles - one UCL (two final defeats) three League Cups and one Super Cup nobody was complaining too much.

They’ve spent close on a billion pounds (I know, how was that funded?) since Fergie left the club - but on what? Generally ageing superstars that no other team wanted.

Hojland apart - and the jury is still out - which of our other top sides would buy anything that they’ve got now? Let’s go down a rung - would Brighton take anything that they’ve got? No When ETH is finally out of a job - where does he go? Brighton wouldn’t take him. Back to Holland is my best guess.

So there you have it. Wherever you look Utd aren’t good enough. But the wasted spending isn’t the fault of the Glazers. What is - is the lack of investment in infrastructure. And now- pure greed.

If Jim Ratcliffe is convinced by the Glazers offer of a path to full ownership, and he buys in for £1.25b, where does that money go? Again. My best guess is into the Glazers pockets. Jim will have to find as much again to spend on players, but will the very best want to join Utd when not much else has changed? And what about the stadium? Maybe they’ll get a new rowing machine in the training centre.

The deal that’s currently on the table is a mess. It does nothing to make Utd competitive again. It’s all so very sad. I’ve always said that we need a competitive Utd but I just don’t see it if this deal gets done.

It was the late Franny Lee that once said ‘if there was a cup for cock-ups City would win it every season’. He was right. They did. Not now though.

City now win everything with frightening regularity - like Utd once did. The only cup that they no longer win is now in Utd’s possession. The entire “strategic review of Manchester United” we’ve all endured for the past year is a world class cock-up – the last year has cost the Club so much more.

Arsenal don’t care - but what a bore-fest.

Published: Monday, 09 October 2023

Arsenal v City. The two best teams in the league last season. It was by far the biggest game of this season. I couldn’t wait. And the nearer we got to seeing it the more excited I got.

It should’ve been a stormer. Something for the whole world to watch and admire. The perfect advert for the best league in the world. But no - it turned out to be a bore-fest. 90+ minutes of tedium. A game often played at walking pace as centre-backs and goalkeepers put their foot on the ball and stood still.

I said on the day - it was a game organised by two ‘clever’ coaches who tried to ‘out-clever’ each other. Two guys who must’ve looked at our league from afar, desperate to work in it because of its pace, goal action, excitement and often blood and thunder. Arteta played in it for goodness sake and in some big games as well. Games that had us on the edge of our seats. Guardiola arrived as a coach, wanting a piece of the action, but immediately set about turning us into La Liga.

Kevin Keegan was wrong about a few things when he spoke at his recent much publicised Q&A - but he wasn’t wrong when he said he finds City boring and doesn’t watch them. They can be. I’ve said this myself. And they were on Sunday.

I’ve read one reason after another as to why they were so bad at Arsenal, but there are no excuses. City are the most expensive team ever assembled and they boast a front man who is arguably the best in the world. They starved him of the ball again on Sunday and he left a frustrated, disgruntled shadow of what we saw last season.

Ok. City are enjoyable to watch if you like your football served up in precise exhibition moments. And Haaland couldn’t have had any complaints about how things went last season, but I guarantee you the way Madrid and Bellingham are playing right now won’t have escaped his notice.

We read that City want him to sign a new deal. If what we saw Sunday goes on much longer it’ll be Haaland wanting to do the escaping. It’s one goal in six now - and it’s not his fault. He can’t score if he isn’t seeing the ball.

It’s only a couple of weeks since he went to the dressing rooms at Burnley with a flea in his ear from Guardiola, because, almost on the half-time whistle, he had the temerity to want a ball played into space that you know he would’ve scored from. ‘No No’ said Guardiola. ‘Shape. Keep the ball’. At Burnley ffs? No. Go for the jugular when there’s nothing to beat. Excite people. It’s what fans pay good money for.

Arsenal fans will have left the Emirates delighted with the win, but for the neutrals amongst us it was a tough watch. If I hadn’t been working I wouldn’t have watched it. That’s how bad it was.

Thank goodness for big Ange and Klopp right now. They’re both playing expansive, exciting football. The re-build at Liverpool is complete (maybe they still need a good No6) but they’re still getting to know each other and that’s one reason why they‘re conceding too many right now - but they’re still a good watch going forward. Their first goal at Brighton was terrific - a series of one-touch fast passes right through the heart of the home team. It was vintage ‘Klopp’ Liverpool. Rock and roll.

Spurs are getting our attention as well aren't they? The win at Luton - with 10 men - was first class. And I’m really pleased to see their ‘Cov kid’ James Maddison in such good form. He’s no Glenn Hoddle, but he’s doing that No10 shirt proud. What a good signing he’s proving to be.

Now. Here’s a line that had me sit up and take notice when I read a piece by Hamzah Khalique-Loonat in The Times Saturday. “The list of games they watched one season, when I played 25 games, they saw 24 of them - not only with one scout but with, like, (why does everybody have to use the word ‘like’ all the time? It’s infuriating - worse when a journo writes it) with, like, 15 different scouts, different sets of eyes. I had contact with the manager (Thomas Frank) and Manu (Sotelu) the goalkeeping coach, even during the period I was still with Freiburg”.

This is Mark Flekken talking, Brentford’s new ‘keeper. No-one can stop a club doing homework on a player they fancy - no problem there. And we know contact is often made by a club - perhaps with a players’ agent - to express an interest - but directly with the player? That’s illegal.

But it gets worse. Here’s the bit that really bothered me “they sent me video clips of things they really liked, and things they thought I should improve, and can improve”. Did they? Why did they? Did Freiburg’s coaching staff know about this? All totally illegal. How widespread is this behaviour? And something should be done about it if it is. It strikes me Brentford certainly have some questions to answer.

How would Frank and Brentford react if they found out a team was currently coaching one of their players by sending video clips and calling him with advice? I think we all know the answer to that. Brentford are bang out of order.

But wait. Then I read this, in an excellent piece by one of my favourite journo’s, Jason Burt, in The Telegraph “He demands a lot in training. When I spoke with him before I signed, he said ‘I don’t care what you do, do whatever you want. But when you have me on the [training] pitch you have to be focussed. If not, I will smash you”.

Again. “When I spoke with him before I signed”. This time it’s Erling Haaland talking about cosy chats he had with Guardiola before he joined City. So when was this Erling? Was it when you were still at Dortmund by any chance? My best guess is that it was. So - illegal. Totally illegal.

It seems this sort of practice is now fairly common place - but it shouldn’t be. I understand that in a modern world it’s hard to police and if we are accept that it goes on, I don’t want to hear clubs bleating about ‘illegal approaches’ anymore.

What certainly can not be the case is that a club can be coaching another team’s player. There is no excuse for that.

And finally….. I’ve just had a look at the Championship table. I had to be certain that I’d seen Birmingham in 6th when I looked at it Saturday night. Yep - 6th. And they’ve just sacked their manager. Wow. I’m sure John Eustace won’t struggle to get work - he’s done a fantastic job at St. Andrews, but the in-coming manager might struggle to win over a crowd that likes Eustace and has clearly been grateful to him for picking up a mess and giving them some respect back. Good luck Wayne.
You’re going to need it.

PGMOL is now in crisis

Published: Monday, 02 October 2023

Let’s be kind. It pushes the bounds of credibility to suggest that Darren England and his colleagues in VAR believed that Luis Diaz’s goal had been given and that they were simply confirming that it should stand. That somewhere there was a confusion of messages. That the most horrendous of errors can somehow be put down to a ‘momentary lapse in concentration’.

According to my Daily Mail today - and their breakdown of what happened entitled ‘story of a shambles’, England and his assistant Dan Cook applied lines as usual and saw the goal was onside. (No they didn’t). The Mail goes on to claim that England and Cook thought the on-field decision was ‘goal’ when it was actually offside. (No they didn’t). So - claim the Mail - when they told ref Simon Hooper ‘check complete’ they mistakenly confirmed that the offside decision should stand. (Nonsense).

The Mail complete this section of their story by saying that PGMOL insiders have described the incident as a ‘momentary lapse of concentration’. Stop digging guys. Please. This ‘leaked’ version of events is almost as embarrassing as the decision itself. Oh - and the broadcaster that exposed the mess, that the Mail don’t want to name, was beINSPORTS.

I know people in the U.K. were confused by their coverage. Your host broadcaster missed the incident and went into meltdown when they saw our tweet. They knew they had to discuss it which is why they also missed the start of the second-half. It had nothing to do with long ad-breaks.

Anyway, it’s impossible for the above ‘leaked’ version of events to be true. The guys in the bunker are in constant contact with on-field officials. They would’ve known exactly what they were checking for. We all saw the assistants’ flag go up. We all knew the goal had been disallowed. VAR would’ve heard the officials talking about the decision. VAR simply didn’t do it’s job properly. This was human error. A horrendous error and had nothing to do with the equipment.

I’m going to generous here and say that I have some sympathy for England and Cook - in fact, all the guys in VAR. Why? Because current match-day officials shouldn’t be in VAR and how long have I been saying that for?

It’s unfair to ask them to learn a skill that takes years to become good at in - what was it, four extra days of summer training Howard Webb told us? And there’s the occasional match-day appearance of course, but Webb claimed the four extra days would end the VAR errors. Remember?

Watching football on tv for professional reasons takes years to become proficient at. You learn to look for things that aren’t obvious to the casual game watcher. Instinct helps. It’s different. I’m sorry - it just is. Maybe that’s why Andy and I saw immediately that Diaz’s goal was good - and that was without a replay.

Refs should be allowed to concentrate on getting better at what they do on the field and junk VAR responsibilities.

I’ve said this before - VAR should be staffed by people like Chris Foy, Mark Halsey, Peter Walton - X-refs who know the laws and can be trained to understand the skill of watching the game on tv as a pro. We need full-time specialist VAR operators.

Right now people like Foy and Walton are being sent out every Monday to make excuses for a catalogue of errors committed previous weekend. What a waste of time. Surely it would be better to divert funds into constructively trying to make things better - not paying people to trot out well rehearsed excuses for poor match-day performances?

Why are we even drawing lines? What’s wrong with embracing the semi-automated WC technology that’s being used so successfully in the CL? I’ve heard that the PL weren’t interested in it because it’s costly to implement. I hope that’s not true. Costly? We’re talking about the richest league in the world here. How costly will Saturday’s meltdown ultimately prove to be for everybody? Especially Liverpool, who have every right to express their frustration.

And Liverpool weren’t alone - 24 hours after the incident at Spurs, Steve Cooper and Thomas Franck were lamenting another day of errors. Cooper of all people, who’s the most tolerant of all the PL managers - I guess because his dad was a ref. And a very good one.

Howard Webb (showbiz showbiz showbiz) has got to get a grip. Already this season the PGMOL has admitted to mistakes on 14 occasions. That’s mind boggling - 14 times already. And that’s not to mention others that they should’ve admitted.

I welcomed Webb’s return to our game. I genuinely thought he’d make a positive difference. He hasn’t.

Granted - he inherited a lot of this mess from his arrogant predecessor Mike Riley, who surrounded himself with incompetents in order that his own inadequacies weren’t shown up. Do you remember Riley being forced into a climbdown over the use of monitors? And his instructions to refs when he was forced to change that they should always go with decisions made by VAR? Some of these habits continue today.

Webb has got to get tough and fire some of the people he inherited that simply aren’t good enough. If you don’t know who they are I can help there Howard. I probably hear more about the frustrations of the good people than you do. Leaks eh? No. The PGMOL wouldn’t have leakers. Ah. Wait a minute…..

If you want genuine transparency Howard, junk the scripted tv shows with the carefully chosen inserts and let us all hear what happens when a ref goes to the monitor. And don’t hide behind saying FIFA won’t allow it. Push the case. If there is nothing to hide - why not?

And the recent habit of allowing officials to ref overseas has got to stop. Why is this happening? Is it so the boys can earn an extra few quid? It can’t be anything else. That’s not a good reason. Pay them more at home.

That Michael Oliver was in the UAE on Thursday and therefore couldn’t ref Saturday was a disgrace. As we know, England and Cook were with him. If Oliver was too tired to ref (he was 4th at Spurs) why were England and Cook asked to work VAR? Is this job not considered to be as important as taking the whistle? I think we’ve found out now that it is.

I make the trip to and from the Middle East frequently. It’s tiring when the turn around is as tight as the guys were forced into. And I’m not suggesting for a moment a late night might’ve been had, but a few of the PGMOL guys have got form when it comes to that sort of thing. Anyone else remember ‘Indonesia-gate’ - the ‘boozy charity trip to Indonesia’ as The Sun described it? I’m sure Martin Atkinson does. He’s one of Oliver’s bosses now.

Never has there been a time when our refs were so poor. And this is after spending millions on coaching, life-style, salaries, match-fees, dietary requirements…..I could go on.

Never has there been a time when confidence in the PGMOL has been so low. We are in a crisis. And please don’t tell me the scrutiny is unfair. It isn’t. In any other business if people aren’t doing their jobs - they’re out.

Refs wanted a more important match-day role. They wanted higher profiles. Well they’ve got both. Howard Webb has got to cut out his open-necked media appearances and get down to basics - get his hands dirty and get a grip on an organisation that is failing. And failing badly.