What an almighty VAR-ce.

Published: Monday, 05 September 2022

Here’s what I believe Mike Riley has done to raise refereeing standards in the PL - and my verdict on his introduction of VAR.






With thanks to the late, great Len Shackleton for the original idea. Riley has been a disaster. I’m so angry about what happened this weekend that it’s best not to write about it, but I can’t pretend I’m not happy that he’s at last been collared.

As I’ve written previously, there’s a reason that the England is the only European country that doesn’t have a VAR representative at the upcoming WC.

I’ve also written this - Riley was appointed to run the PGMOL by Richard Scudamore, X chief-exec of the PL, to do his bidding. Scudamore sacked Keith Hackett because he was too strong for him. Hackett wouldn’t be pushed around. Here’s Hackett’s 7-point plan to turn things round - published in the Daily Telegraph today.


Brilliant. Spot on. VAR isn’t going away. It isn’t really the problem. Riley is. He’s bullied some really good guys to a place where they’re all scared to confidently do their jobs.

Top marks to Michael Oliver for having the courage to stand by his decision to give Forest a pen. It was a pen. There was no need for VAR to get involved. I’m told Oliver was overheard saying ‘no idea’ when asked why they did. He’s probably the only ref strong enough to withstand pressure from Stockley Park and not end up getting dropped for a series of games.

That’s it. That’s all I’m saying about the weekend. 😡😡😡.

Anyone surprised to see struggling Forest in the drop zone? I must admit I am. It’s happened sooner than I thought it would. Here’s what happens next at Forest - Steve Copper gets them blame for the ridiculous signing frenzy - the owner gets fed up - the club slips into administration - buried by the costs of paying the mercenaries - and they re-build in League One. The time line is the only hard bit to predict Sound familiar?

Another subject that we’ve previously mentioned - when is somebody going to tell Arteta he’s endangering the well being of players by marching up and down the touch line? The technical area is placed away from the pitch for a reason. Someone is going to get badly injured if they crash into him Why is he allowed to break the rules and no-one else is? Look at this picture from OT. He spent most of the afternoon here - in front of the 4th official for goodness sake. 🤷‍♂️

WhatsApp Image 2022 09 05 at 2.42.22 PM

How many times have we referenced what a mad world football can be? And how quickly things can change?

After an hour at the Bridge Thomas Tuchel’s coat was on a shaky peg. Had it not been for a calamitous VAR decision (which dampened reaction to the result) Moyes’s would’ve been on the whistle.

Steven Gerrard survived City’s visit. I’m pleased. I thought Villa gave it a go - and Mings was terrific.

Frank Lampard is growing into his job at Everton and every time I see Eddie Howe I’m more impressed.

Graham Potter will get a big job soon. Whether he’ll succeed in it we don’t know. He might just be in the perfect job right now.

Bruno Lage’s coat looks a bit more secure after Wolves’ win over Soton. I still think Hassenhuttl is in danger - but right now Brendan Rodgers is least secure surely?

Make no mistake - Rodgers is a good coach and he’ll get another top job, but the manner of Leicester’s collapse at Brighton tells me there are big problems there again. Rodgers looks like he’s waiting to get sacked. He’ll walk with a nice few quid and he can’t have too many complaints.

He knew what he was taking on when he accepted the job. That dressing room has swallowed a fair few good men. And he’s had money - £223m in the three and a half years that he’s been there. Although it’s been a frustrating summer - the current squad are too good to be struggling. Something is wrong. I’d get myself out now Brendan and wait for another one.

I see City are complaining about a schedule that sees them play 17 games in the next 10 weeks. Really? Is this the same City that filled their last free week with a charity friendly in Barcelona? You couldn’t make it up.

We beat Fulham and won - nothing.

Published: Monday, 29 August 2022

What happens in the next four days is going to be fascinating. Chances are it will make or break the rest of the season for some clubs.

Already PL clubs have spent $1.8b dollars this summer - according to professional services network Deloitte. That surpasses the current 2017 record of $1.7b as the most money spent in a window.

The figure is also higher than PL clubs spent in the whole of last season.

And there was me thinking that Covid might have burst the bubble. No - hoping that it had.

It’s madness. I’m tempted to say ‘unsustainable’, but how long have we been saying that for?

I’m writing Monday.  Deals yet to be done include Antony’s to United. Forest are said to be making their 19th signing in Willy Boli. We’re told Chelsea aren’t finished. Palace are set to spend £27m on Conor Gallagher (smart move btw) and Liverpool might yet swoop somewhere. These won’t be the only clubs doing business, but
most are done. City won’t spend again in this window. Neither will Villa. And it’s Villa I want to concentrate on.

Buying and selling is a gamble. Not if you’re buying Haaland obviously, but for the most part you just don’t know.   You can do all the homework you like - it isn’t an exact science.

Would City spend £100m on Grealish again? I doubt they’d spend £10m on him. What a sad waste of money he’s been. What about Pepe? £72m? No thanks. Lukaku? Pogba? Ndombele? The game is littered with expensive failures. I’m quite certain due diligence was done ahead of all of them- but none worked out. And there’s plenty of others on the list.

So back to Villa. They’ve spent €700m dollars since 2012. The spend is what you really judge - not the net spend - but if you want that stat - Villa were the highest net spenders of any club in Europe over the past three seasons - before you add what Gerrard has spent. That’s incredible isn’t it? More than United, Real Madrid or even Bayern.

And what have they got for their money? So far - nothing. Are they better now than they were when Dean Smith left? No. Did they replace what they had with better in the summer? No. Are they still an unsolvable conundrum? It looks like it. And does Steven Gerrard have any answers? Well - the jury is out. And I’ve got a feeling he will be if things don’t get better quickly.

Smile a bit Steven. Lighten up. Get the guys on your side. I’m told working at Villa right now isn’t enjoyable. If players don’t enjoy going to work that’s a huge problem. And what did I say about Mings-gate? All that was so unnecessary. It was badly handled and it’s still an issue. I’m afraid it might just be Gerrard’s undoing.

Let’s hope not. We both need and want young British coaches in the game, but Gerrard is failing at Villa.

Now. Let’s spell this out very clearly. Arsenal over-celebrated their win over Fulham. It was disrespectful to the opposition. And for me - it is a measure of how far they’ve fallen.

I’m not blaming the fans. I get it. Enjoy your wins. Enjoy your day out - you’ve spent enough on it - but Arteta and his coaching staff went over the top. They were running round like they’d just won the CL. They’d beaten newly-promoted Fulham 2-1. That’s all. Nothing more. Save the drama for a win over Spurs, Liverpool, or a valiant performance against City the likes of which Newcastle gave the previous week.

I say again - the win over Fulham was over-celebrated - and it was embarrassing. Proper Arsenal managers like George Graham or Arsene Wenger would’ve made a dignified exit and been off down the tunnel knowing full well that they’d got away with one. Arsenal fans aren’t happy about what I said - but think about it. It was Fulham. Come on.

While I’m on the subject - have I missed something? When did Arteta get special dispensation to stand on the touch line for 90 minutes - waving his arms about like a broken windmill? Literally - right on the touch line. Every other coach has to stay in his area - but not Arteta it seems. Why is this? Could somebody tell me? If he doesn’t have dispensation - could the PGMOL do something about it please? The coaching area is clearly marked and Arteta shouldn’t be marching up and down touch lines - nor entering the field of play - as he often does.

Last word. I’ve got a new hero - Brennan Johnson. Well done Brennan. Inevitably the irritating Richarlison was going to ground when you hit him. It’s just a shame it wasn’t with something to make it worthwhile! 😂😂

Top class Leeds and Newcastle

Published: Monday, 22 August 2022

I can’t remember enjoying a day of PL football quite as much. What a day (Sunday) - and fair play to both Leeds and Newcastle for taking lead roles in making it so.

Let’s start with the Toon. They were terrific. I said on beINSPORTS at half time that they’d played as well as any team I could think of over 40 minutes against the champions.

I say 40 minutes because City were a goal up in five of course. Newcastle could easily have folded. The game plan could very easily have gone out of the window. But no - they shook themselves down and caused City all sorts of problems for the rest of the half. And they went in deservedly leading.

West Ham had a really good go at City at the back end of last season. They led 2-0 at ht - but I made Newcastle’s near-half more impressive because they’d already conceded. And they should’ve had a penalty. Anywhere else on the pitch John Stones clumsy challenge on Schar is a free-kick. So why isn’t it when that sort of thing happens on the box? Refs will tell you ‘because there’s got to be a higher threshold in the box’ Why? It doesn’t say that in the laws of the game. It was a foul. It should’ve been a pen.

If I’m being picky there’s no way Ederson should let Trippier’s free-kick in. It’s his side. The ball didn’t go round - or over the wall. It went adjacent to it. Ederson’s positioning was awful.

Having said that I’m glad Trippier scored. The atmosphere was terrific inside the ground - just as it used to be - and it gave City a big problem.

But the one thing you know is that the Champions will come back at you. I’m sure they’ll face similar - perhaps worse situations in the CL this season - so it was a good challenge for them. And I think they’d have won it if Trippier had rightly been sent-off. There was no need for VAR to get involved. Jarred Gillet got it right. Did he make a ‘clear and obvious’ error? No. Ok, so Trippier’s lunge turned into a trip - but it was wild and it was excessive. He was definitely threatening the well being of an opponent. So stay out of it VAR. And, of course, we all know the outcome when a ref goes to the monitor, because Mike Riley has instructed everybody that VAR makes the final decision. I just wish Gillet had had the bollocks to stay with his original call - but he knows full well that he wouldn’t be involved next weekend had he done so. It’s all so wrong.

Btw - the ‘tactical’ foul is the curse of the modern game - and something has got to be done about it. That’s another reason why Trippier should’ve gone.

In the end - honours were even and probably rightly so. The next step Newcastle have got to make is to be able to do that when the likes Bournemouth come to town and the atmosphere isn’t anywhere near as electric, but Eddie Howe appears to be making genuine progress at the club.

For some the fact that Leeds ran 11k further than Chelsea explained why they won. Nonsense. I get it - so much emphasis is placed on stats and sports science these days that it’s inevitable these measures will keep coming up. Ten Months had United running all last Sunday to get near to the figures Brentford produced. But not covering kms wasn’t why United lost to them.

I’m with Tuchel.  ‘it was nothing to do with pressing,’ he said. ‘Nothing to do with running less kms and nothing to do with the style of Leeds. I don’t see that an own goal and a set-piece are anything to do with style’. Spot on. And let’s not forget Chelsea should’ve been two up before Leeds had barely had a sniff of the ball. Leeds wouldn’t have covered anything like the distance that they did then.

But it was a great win. And Elland Road is a brilliant arena when it’s full and jumping like it was. Marsch might just have started to win Leeds’ fans over. I certainly hope so. I said before the season started that I like the guy - but I know I’m in the minority with that view.

I think it’s his slavish belief in stats that puts ‘football’ people off. He loves talking about a players’ HMLD. High metabolic load distance. Nope. Nor me!

But good luck to him. The PL needs teams like Leeds and Newcastle - and the excitement they can generate on days like Sunday.

And so we wait with baited breath. What will Monday evening bring us? Are a United fans expecting anything other than a good hiding from Liverpool again? What if that happens? Will we even get a game? I’ll tell you this - if we don’t - Klopp is right - Liverpool should be awarded the points. Fine - United fans can demonstrate if they like - but if they force the game off there should be a price to pay for that. I hope those that were responsible for last seasons disgraceful scenes are aware of the consequences their words can have.

Did Graeme Souness mean what he said? Of course he did.

Published: Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Let me first declare a conflict of interest. Graeme Souness is a friend a mine. A very close friend. I’ve know him since he was 25 and in his prime as a player at Liverpool.

We’ve fallen out a few times - mainly because he didn’t like what I had to say about his management style. When he was at Liverpool we didn’t speak at all. His call - not mine.

I was instrumental in getting him the Newcastle job - and if you asked him who started his tv career he’d say ‘Richard Keys’ - without hesitation.

He was the first man I sat and drank with after my open heart surgery. The shock of him paying for the champagne nearly put me back in hospital! Graeme doesn’t like paying for anything.

We speak often - about football and a whole lot of other things. He doesn’t buy much but he’s hugely generous with his time and quietly does so much good work for others. He really is one of the good guys.

So there we are. That’s the background.

I’m sorry to see him engulfed by the current storm after his comments following the Chelsea v Spurs game - which he described as a ‘man’s game’.  

The question is - did he mean what he said at Stamford Bridge? The answer is ‘yes’.  Of course he did. Did he mean what he said to be insulting to women in any way? Absolutely not.
Is he a sexist? No. His daughter used to work in our business. He works every weekend with one of his closest friends’ daughters - Kelly Cates. He’s always promoting women’s rights. He knows how important the subject is. 

It’s great to see so many people leaping to his defence. Who would want Graeme cancelled? Who would want him to go through what I have these past few years? Trust me - if anyone wants to talk about how social media - and more particularly our national press - can affect the mental health of an individual - give me a call.

I got caught up in a row because I was from a generation that didn’t immediately understand how life was changing. That’s not an excuse for what happens - its a reason. My first blog of this season addressed that issue. Times have changed. Attitudes have rightly changed and women’s rights are a whole lot stronger and better for it. What the Lionesses did last summer was brilliant. It’s empowered women and girls alike. Why shouldn’t everyone play football? Why shouldn’t everyone have the choice to play football at school as part of the curriculum? 

If we’re to continue to make progress
on this issue we’ve got to be both honest and brave. When we hear what Graeme said at the weekend we’ve got to call it out - but we don’t need a witch-hunt. It was clumsy. It’s was a generational thing. And it was wrong. 

What we can’t have a hand-ringing group of celebrities backing people because ‘we don’t want to call out one of the good guys’. (That’s a headline I read in The Mail On-line) and looking to destroy others because we’ve taken a dislike to them  
Why would The Mail leap to Graeme’s defence so quickly? Easy. He’s just signed a three-year contract to write a column for them. Martin Samuel wrote a glowing piece yesterday (Tuesday) defending Graeme. I had to look twice to be sure it was Martin. Yep - the same Martin Samuel who answered the phones when we worked together in Fleet Street. Someone I thought was a mate - but who went after me when I got into trouble with an editorial instruction ‘bury them (Me and Andy) and make sure nothing sticks to Redknapp. He too used to write a column for them.

Graeme isn’t alone in dicing with cancellation. ‘Best bra none’ tweeted Gary Lineker when celebrating the Lionesses. How would the world have reacted if I’d done that? He knew exactly what he was doing. It was a very unfunny line that belittled the achievement. But he survived with resolute back tracking from the BBC.

My point is this. Either we want to take the subject of womens rights seriously - or we don’t. It shouldn’t matter if someone is a ‘good guy’. Who decides? Is there a list of good and bad guys somewhere in the sports editors’ desk at the Daily Mail?

It took me a long time to understand my mistake, but I’ve done a lot of hard work both on myself - and on the subject ever since. Isn’t that how things get better? We accept - learn - and move on?

Not for a minute do I want to see Graeme in trouble. But he meant what he said. I say again - he said it without malice. It was a mistake. Can’t we accept that? He’s from that generation that believed football was a ‘man’s game’. That’s how he thinks. That’s how a lot of men in football still think. That’s how I used to think. But it isn’t now. It’s simply a ‘game’ to be enjoyed by everyone. And womens rights are an issue that can’t be forwarded if we’re not honest about the subject. That’s the more important issue here.

What would Fergie have done? Changed the kit.

Published: Monday, 15 August 2022

How many times have you heard the question being asked this weekend? I’d like to claim credit for the answer, but I can’t. It was a mate of mine - a United fan - who gave it to me. Of course Fergie would’ve changed the kit at half-time.

Why? Because it would’ve made a difference? No. Simply because we’d all have been talking about what he’d done rather than what we’d seen.

What we saw was as bad as it gets. I’ve nothing more to say on the matter. My last blog last covered everything And explained the reasons.

Oh. One thing I do want to add is this. Is David de Gea a bad keeper because the first one rolled in? Not at all. He‘s still world class - and United’s only hope of delivering a platform from which ten Months might be able to deliver. Right. That’s it.

Well done Forest. We also predicted that the City Ground would perhaps be the reason that they stay up. It was great to see them back in the PL on the 30th anniversary of the first ever televised match in the competition. Having said that - they’ll never get another afternoon when literally everything goes their way.

I believe the West Ham goal should’ve stood - but I can also see why it didn’t. What was Antonio supposed to do? It was nothing more than traffic. Poor decision by VAR in my opinion.

Scott McKenna should’ve been sent off. That was a denial and he knew exactly what he was doing. It doesn’t matter that the keeper was behind him. The law is very straightforward on this. If a player ‘denies a goal scoring opportunity - or a goal’ it’s red. I’ve checked this with two former FIFA refs.

Then West Ham hand the ball to Rice. As they did I found myself shouting ‘noooooo….’ Why give the ball to a player who has publicly stated that he’s not good at pens and does’t like taking them?  I’m really surprised Moyes made that call. I’ll bet Rice doesn’t take another one for them.

Forest rode their luck as the bar was struck twice and another was kicked off the line - and it was a good match to watch. Very enjoyable.

Now. Mike Dean. When he hung up his whistle he told us he’d always tried to be an entertainer. I made the point that no ref should take charge of a game with that attitude. It’s not for the ref to entertain. He’s there to apply the laws fairly. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Well it seems that hapless Mike has taken this attitude into the VAR bunker. His decision-making at The Bridge would’ve had us all laughing if it wasn’t so serious. Not that Antony Taylor was much better on the field.

The challenge on Havertz? Foul. A clear a foul as you’ll ever see. It was from behind, reckless and born of frustration after Bentencur had lost out in a challenge seconds earlier. Would we be discussing this had Taylor given the free-kick? No.

Richarlison is clearly off-side as Hojbjerg scores. Of course he’s affecting the keepers line of vision. He’s active for goodness sake. No goal.

Before Kane scores the second there’s an act of violent conduct as Romero pulls Cucerella to the ground by grabbing his hair. Since when was this acceptable on a football field? It’s clear. It’s obvious. It’s violent conduct so VAR can intervene. It’s a red card. The outcome should’ve been free kick to Chelsea because the ball was in play - and Romero has got to go off. For an incident of that kind - had the corner not been taken - Taylor should stopped it from being taken - sent Romero off - and then started again with the corner.  Either way - Romero has to go off.

It’s only in the PL that these things happen. No wonder we’re the only European country without a VAR representative at the WC.

Sept 18, 2018 Ronaldo is sent off after 29 mins of his CL debut for Juventus. His offence? Pulling the hair of Jeison Murillo. I rest my case.

I can see why Tuchel and his Chelsea players don’t want to see much of Taylor going forward. It’ll be interesting to see how Dean explains all this away. ‘Entertainment’ I guess? Except it’s not funny Mike. These aren’t things that require VAR coaching. They’re matters of law.

We know Everton have got huge problems, but it was interesting to see Gerrard restore Tyrone Mings to his defence. He had to. Villa had to win that game. Mings 1 Gerrard 0. What happens next will be interesting.

What a good game Nick Pope had for Newcastle. Eddie Howe obviously agrees with me that Martin Dubravka isn’t good enough. Pope is. Either he will be in goal for England’s WC opener or Ramsdale will. Pickford won’t.

And so the 30th anniversary of that first televised match at Forest passed. 30 years? Incredible isn’t it? It’s been a privilege to have been part of it - and still be a part of it. Here’s to the next 30. 🍾 👍🏼😂.

Stevie G - why go looking for trouble?

Published: Monday, 08 August 2022

Rule 1 in management. Don’t go looking for trouble - it will find you. I’m afraid Stevie G appears to have blundered into trouble all of his own making at Villa.

Few of the weekends’ results surprised me. The exceptions were Liverpool’s anaemic performance at Fulham and Villa’s defeat at Bournemouth.

Then the Gerrard/Neville meme started doing the rounds. It doesn’t make good reading for either of them.

Coaching has done with Neville so it doesn’t really matter from his perspective - but it’s damaging for Steven.

So what’s wrong at Villa? Last season was a free hit. Gerrard had plenty of time to work out what he wanted and Villa spent big on his plans in the summer. That’s why I expected to see them hit the ground running.

Pre-match at Bournemouth he told us that they’d had a trouble free pre-season and were ready to go. Well they weren’t. And they didn’t have a trouble-free pre-season. Gerrard walked into trouble all of his own making. He stripped Tyrone Mings of the captaincy - and dropped him at Bournemouth. Big mistake. He’s divided his dressing room right down the middle.

Mings will have his supporters. And they’ll make their feelings known. Some won’t care - but in the other corner will be a group that are delighted to see the x-captain brought down a peg or two. The unrest will spread to the canteen. Players will sit in their chosen groups - muttering and whispering. It’ll be the same on the coach. Negativity will spread like a virus. Little things become big problems.

Dean Smith dropped Mings once - during his last few months at Villa. I’m told Mings didn’t react well. He was an instant problem with his attitude. Why didn’t Gerrard know this? Perhaps he did?

The reason I ask is that if he did surely the time to tell Mings the bad news was last May? Why didn’t he call him in at the end of last season and have a grown up conversation?

He could’ve told Mings that he wasn’t in his plans. He could’ve invited Mings to find another club - while at the same time suggesting if he wanted to knuckle down and prove his manager wrong he’d be happy to accommodate that. But no - Gerrard left his bad news until 10 days before the season started. Big error.

Come on Steven - you’ve been a player too recently to make that mistake. I guess you wanted to be seen as a tough-guy? But you know how that re-bounds. It did on Benitez when he wanted Alonso out at a Liverpool. It did when Benitez hooked you in a Merseyside derby saying he ‘couldn’t trust you’ because you got too carried away in those games.

This is a massive season for Mings. There’s a WC around the corner and he’ll want to be part of it. He won’t want to spend the first two months on the bench and he’ll stink the place out if that happens.

It’s Everton next at home. If Villa lose that one their fans will rear up and take sides. They’ll be on Mings side as well. Trouble Steven - and it didn’t have to be like this. Btw - that system looks too rigid to me and doesn’t suit the players you’ve got. Just my view - that’s all.

Liverpool we’re strangely quiet at Fulham, but that might have had a lot to do with Fulham. We sometimes forget that. That’s why I wanted to concentrate on what Brighton had achieved at OT on BeINSPORTS before we spoke about United.

Brighton we’re terrific. They had a plan. They believed in it - and it’s very evident they believe in their coach as well. They played through - and all round United.  And let’s not forget they sold their two best players for £100m in the summer.

So why couldn’t Ralph ten Hag’s United have done better? They were hopeless. Nothing has changed since Rangnick picked his last team. Nothing. No - I’m sorry. They’ve got a 5’8” centre-back that’s likely to have the arse ripped out of him most weeks now that proper No9’s are back in fashion. Who’s idea was that for goodness sake? 

Ten Hag has talked a good game since his appointment. He delivered nothing on Sunday.

I saw Henry Winter argue in The Times that United have got the right coach - but the wrong squad and owners. Really? Have Brighton got a better squad? I don’t think so - but their coach got them playing. Ralph ten Hag looked lost on that touch line.

VAR was also hopeless I’m sorry to say. McTominay should’ve gone off. Brighton should’ve had a pen - and United’s goal should’ve been disallowed. If it wasn’t handball - McGuire was off-side - and of course he was ‘active’. He forced the own goal.

So why was Mike Dean not explaining why VAR got all this so badly wrong in The Mail today? Mike Riley got him to column so that he could.  Might it be that there’s no defence so Dean didn’t write his piece?

Haaland was terrific at West Ham. What a start. There’s one word I associate with him - ‘timing’. His runs were devastating. Perfect. And what about his pen? I’m always worried when a taker leaves the ball on the spot for too long. Haaland waited for the whistle BEFORE he put the ball down - and then quickly took his kick. He had no time to think about missing - and gave the keeper no time to think about saving it. Timing. 👍🏼 

I was sorry to see some coach’s taking the piss out of the new 5-subs rule - but it was inevitable.

Chelsea made 5 changes late on at Goodison in order to interrupt Everton’s momentum (when they got some). The ball was in play only 47 minutes at Everton. Newcastle made 5 to disturb Forest. Liverpool made 4 as they hung on at Fulham. Fans at Tottenham had to watch 10 changes in all.

I’m not a fan. It wasn’t a necessary change. There’s talk of playing a minimum of 60 minutes before games end - but we’ve added this change and it allows coaches to slow games - kill games when they want with endless changes. Far from ‘’saving’ the game as Klopp argues - it’s another change that is more likely to ‘kill’ it.

It’s not City for me…

Published: Thursday, 04 August 2022

  I wanted desperately to be wrong. I     know. You don’t believe me. But I did. I really wanted it to work out for Ronaldo and United part II. Ronaldo will forever be the greatest player of his generation for me. Arguably the GOAT. But what was going to unfold at United was all too predictable. It was never going to work. 

I said at the time that it was a romantic signing. A bad signing. That he would score 20 goals, but contribute nothing to the ‘team’. Well?  
I’d happily drive him to his next destination if I was ten Hag. He blew the dressing room up last season and he’ll do it again this time round if they don’t get rid of him. 

At 36 and with his best years behind him, he can’t expect to be anything more than a cameo sub these days. But he won’t have that. For some strange reason he believes that United should be building a team around him.

Really? He can’t play wide anymore. He definitely can’t play up top - so where does he fit in? The answer is - he doesn’t.

Sadly his stand-off with United has also exposed how little there is they ten Hag can do about it. I read he’s told Ronaldo his behaviour last week was ‘unacceptable’. Ouch. The sulking superstar must be stung by they eh? No. He doesn’t care - and he’s exposed an immediate weakness of ten Hag’s. He can talk tough - but he can’t see it through with senior pro’s. 

Am I surprised to see United toiling in the transfer market and pre-season? No. Nothing has changed really. And it could get worse before it gets better. Big players don’t want to sign for United right now. 

It’s a real shame that they didn’t make more of an effort to buy Lewandowski. What a difference he would’ve made. No9’s are back in fashion - and he’s got a year or two left in him. Remember the job van Persie did at about the same age? Almost single handedly he won them a title. There was a time Lewandowski would’ve crawled to Manchester to sign for United. 

I’ve always said that we need a strong United and Ten Hag might eventually get it right, but it won’t be this season.

My feeling is that he likes working with young players. He’s intimidated by senior pro’s. If I’m right - it’ll be a while before United are a force again. I don’t see much better than top 6. 

Ibrahimovic reckons Guardiola is the same - which is why he lost control of Messi and there are always changes close-season - wherever he works. He too wants youth. The only time City didn’t make wholesale changes they lost the title to Liverpool.

Haaland is a class act - no question about that. But how much time will he need to adapt to a new league? Forget adapting to a new country. He knows England well enough.

Will he hit the ground running - or will he be new Sancho? They’re still making excuses for him at United. My feeling is that Sancho simply isnt good enough. It was all too easy for him in Germany. 

You couldn’t say that about Haaland. But I’m not totally convinced. There’s something about Nunez I like more. This won’t sit well with City fans, but I reckon Liverpool have done better business. We’ll see. It’s all conjecture but it gives us something to talk about doesn’t it?

I’ve never tipped City to win it. I don’t know why - and I’m not going to now! Make no mistake - they should. They really should. They probably will - but Liverpool are due one and I don’t care what they say publicly - Guardiola, Mansour and co are desperate to win the CL. Without question that’s the one they MUST win.

So it’s Liverpool and City one and two for me. The other two top four places are a roll of the dice. I’ll go Spurs and Chelsea again - but Arsenal will be better this time and Jesus is a terrific signing.

I expect the Hammers to go well, but I don’t see them in a CL place. I reckon Moyes would take a trophy - any trophy. And so he should. If he delivers silverware it will have been a great season.

Wolves surprised me last time round. I had them down to struggle. They’re certainly not stronger than they were which is why I think they’ll be at the wrong end this time. The way they finished last season should worry their fans.

Leicester? Again I’d be worried if I were a fan. It’s been an awful close season and there isn’t much time left to change that. Brighton? Safe. No more - no less. And that should satisfy everyone at The Amex. Never ever forget what you are. Strive for progress, but realise your station. Charlton forgot what they were and look what happened.

Eddie Howe knows he’s got to make an impression. I’ve been taken by how careful Newcastle have been in their spending so far. It’s evolution not revolution and Geordie fans can look forward to a season in a way that they haven’t since Sir Bob was in charge. The debate about ownership is over. It’ll be good to see a fine football club rattle a few cages.

Palace will do what Palace do - get 40ish points. Brentford would settle
for that, but they’re in for a battle. Eriksen turned their season on its head. They were going down until he signed. He’s still a top player and he’ll make a massive difference at United. That really is a good piece of business. But Brentford will miss him
- massively. And second season syndrome will be a factor.

Villa have got to make a statement. It’s them and Newcastle that should be shaking up the natural order of things. They spent big again in the summer and Gerrard will have failed if they’re not challenging for a place in the top six.

New-boys aside - that leaves us with Saints, Everton and Leeds. Saints will struggle again. Hassenhuttl was lucky to survive the back room clear out. Those things rarely work unless you get rid of the lot - manager included. I don’t think he’ll be there in November.

Frank Lampard has got it all on. He’s already called it. He knows it’s going to be a long season. Everton simply aren’t good enough. I fear for them.

Leeds are interesting. I quite liked Jesse Marsch when he arrived, but I’m not hearing good things. Like Everton - they’re another club where there’s too much going on behind the scenes for it to be healthy. Verdict? Another struggle.

Of the new-boys I think Forest are best equipped to survive. The City Ground will be a hard place to visit, but they’ll still struggle to win 10 games. I reckon they’ll have enough - just about enough - if they can win a few at home.

Fulham? Down. Bournemouth? Down. If you pushed me I’d go with Southampton to make up the relegated three. If you’re looking for a surprise struggler - its got to be Leicester. And for the record - I’ve had two of the bottom three correct in each of the last two seasons. So be worried if you support those teams. 😂. 

On a general note - why are the PL waiting to allow us to hear conversations between Stockley Park and the refs? I notice that Ch Exec Richard Masters has said that they’re ‘working towards’ releasing audio post match. Why post match? What have they got to hide? Do it now. It’s our game - not yours Richard. Nor is it Mike Riley’s.

I know why they won’t. It’s because Riley still wants to make all the big calls from his bunker. Refs visited a monitor more than 60 times last season and were told what decision to make to make as they approached it. Not once - not once - did a ref stand by his original decision. I’m pretty certain they’re waiting for Howard Webb to change things when he replaces Riley. To be honest - I’d have taken the comedian Rob Webb as long as someone replaced Riley. If I’m wrong Mike - prove it. But you know I’m not.

We haven’t got one VAR official at the WC this year. Proof that the rest of the world knows we don’t use it as it was intended. I hope Mike Dean can help make a difference - but will he? On retiring he called himself an ‘entertainer’ with a whistle. An entertainer? That’s not a refs job Mike. We don’t want to be entertained by the ref - we simply want him to get things right.

And I fail to see how Dean can’t be compromised by his new role as a ‘pundit’ for the Daily Mail. That’s utter madness. It shouldn’t be allowed. Dean argues that PL clubs have asked for more openness - and that he can provide it with his new column. No. He can’t. The Mail are paying him. It’s a conflict of interests. Of course we want openness - so let us listen to the conversations at the monitor - and make yourself available to everybody Mike - not just The Mail. I hope the other papers really kick off about it. 

And so we start our 30th PL season. I’ll have a few more words on that subject on Monday - but yes - Andy and I were both there - although you wouldn’t know it reading some of the previews. 

Final word. What don’t these people get? Of course girls should be allowed to play football at school. I didn’t realise that they still can’t. I was coaching 4/5/6 year olds at school when my daughter was at that age. It caused a bit of a stir back then - but I didn’t care. She wanted to play. So I organised games. I had no idea football for girls still wasn’t on the curriculum. Change that - and now. 

Lionesses - you’ve changed everything.

Published: Tuesday, 02 August 2022

‘Dream makers. Record breakers. Game changers’.  Not my words, but those of Robyn Cowen, who provided the commentary on a blockbuster Women’s Euros final Sunday evening. Brilliant. And perfect for the occasion.  

Commentators spend careers hoping for moments like that. Saturday night Robyn must’ve dreamt of delivering those words on the final whistle - and she must’ve loved it.  

It’s what I call the ‘Wolstenholme’ moment. No-one will ever better ‘there are some people on the pitch - they think it’s all over’ As Geoff Hurst thrashed his third - England’s fourth - into Germany’s net in the 1966 WC final, with perfect timing commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme added ‘it is now’. Genius. The best ever. 

A lot of things had to go his way. Those people needed to be on the pitch. Bobby Moore had to deliver an immaculate ball downfield to Hurst. And he had to score. Tick. Tick. And tick. 

Clive Tyldesley gave us ‘Manchester United will score. They always score’ in CL stoppage time 1999. Sheringham did. He went on to complete a majestical final few minutes. He was brilliant that night. 

Martin Tyler will simply have ‘Ageroooooooo’ on his grave stone. We’ll know who lies beneath it. 

Some commentators will have three different paragraphs written to cover three different results in a football match. You can tell who they are - but it’s the special moments - that you can’t rehearse - that are always remembered. 

I’ve got the feeling Robyn was ready - but she delivered the line with class, style and - like I’ve said - it was perfect. Trust me Robyn - it won’t ever get any better than that! 

There’s only ever one ‘first’. 

I was thrilled to bits for the Lionesses. Ian Wright best summed it up on Twitter when he made the point about how significant the win will prove to be - in all sorts of different ways. 

i was quiet on this subject during the tournament because of all the usual nonsense that surrounds anything I have to say. Tell me guys - how many of you both received and sent on the memes? Fun was it? There isn’t a guy who hasn’t or didn’t - yet they still come after me. Some were genuinely funny and may we always have the ability to laugh - and my goodness I’ve unintentionally provided a few down the years - but here’s the thing….we need to be careful how and when we do this. We never want to cause offence. If it’s offensive it’s wrong. 

Although my best intentions were genuine when I said - on air - ‘let’s wish Sian Massey all the best today. She’s from my manor. In fact - I may even have gone to school with her dad’ - no-one remembers that. What they do remember is the carefully edited phone recording that was lifted from our studio ahead of the Wolves v Liverpool game as the guys went through our pre-match routine. We always laughed. It eased the tension - especially for guests. 

It was Sian that introduced me to the word ‘banter’. She used it in the conversation I had with her on the Sunday when I called to apologise for what was said in the hack. But she shouldn’t have done. What she should have told me was ‘not funny Richard. It doesn’t help’. It was some time before I realised that. 

Ironically, I think the incident did help in many ways - but that was a lucky by-product. I think a lot of people look back on it now as a turning point in how seriously men were prepared to take women’s football. Most of us have realised things had to change. 

There was a time you could be sexist/racist - and a whole lot of other ‘ists’ without realising. And those who were would start a conversation with the words ‘I’m not a racist, but….’ You still hear it now. ‘I’m not sexist, but….’ 

There were so many other things happening around what sparked the now infamous incident on that weekend in Wolverhampton that I lost sight of the fact that it was all too easy to dismiss what had happened. No. That was wrong. 

Some time later I felt that I needed to put something other than just ‘me’ into the women’s game. I’d attended PoY dinners for years. I’d presented games - but I needed to do more. 

I took a call from a club called Coventry Sphinx - in my manor! The manager of the girls teams asked me if I’d sponsor the club - both the match day and training kits. He said ‘we’ll put your name on the front of the jerseys. That will shut a few people up’. Good intention, but wrong. I bought the kits for a few years - until they stopped asking - but I didn’t want my name on the shirts. We agreed that the local children’s hospice - Zoe’s Place - would have their name on the kit instead. I had one other stipulation - nobody needed to know. That way I felt like I was genuinely doing some good and I couldn’t be accused of buying good faith. It wasn’t much - but it was a little that made me feel a whole lot better. 

So despite all the repetitive nonsense - and the mindless inaccurate allegations about my stance on the women’s game - that’s why I was so pleased about the result Sunday. 

Off the field the event was fun. The men’s game isn’t much fun anymore. Families loved it. The men’s game doesn’t attract too many families. That‘s  why I think the Lionesses should keep a distance between themselves and the boys. It’s that point of difference that’s so marketable. 

Before the game - early Sunday afternoon I found myself playing football with a 5-year-old girl on the beach. She was good btw - too good for this old man. 😂. That’s another of the by-products that the past month has achieved. Let’s hope she grows up to make her mark in the game. 

The women’s game has changed dramatically down the years. A decade has made a massive difference. Imagine what 10 more years will do. 

And so our attention turns to the men’s game. 😂. I’ve no idea why I do it, but every year I make my predictions. I’m not going to do that here - but rest assured before a PL ball is kicked Friday I will have done. And the blog is back. Join me every Monday for my weekend thoughts. 

A disgrace - of UEFA’s making.

Published: Monday, 30 May 2022

‘It’s a miracle no-one died. A fucking miracle’. Not me. Not my words, but those of my mate Jason McAteer, who was witness to the shambles that shamed UEFA in Paris.A night that ended for the McAteer family with his wife being mugged for and his son getting beaten up by a gang of feral local youths.

I was 3500 miles away in Qatar - watching pictures on BeINSPORTS. My best source of ‘true’ info was from people on the ground, who were sending me text messages. There tweets as well - from well respected reporters. These people were watching a potential disaster unfold. Jason was amongst them.

I knew instinctively what was happening. I called it on-air. As UEFA’s mealy-mouthed excuses for it all were arriving by official channels, I knew it had nothing to do with late arrivals or forged tickets. It was an organisational issue. This one was down to UEFA. I didn’t have anything to go on - other than those texts and tweets - and instinct. Racing through my mind were the dreadful stories that I’d heard about Hillsborough. I’ve heard first-hand - not read or had stories told to me. And the 97 who died. As I’ve always said -  the Hillsborough ‘victims’ were those who survived to suffer the pain.

I’m thinking ‘here we go again’. And I also knew the first people to get blamed would be Liverpool fans. After what Margaret Thatcher’s govt. (and Bernard Ingham) had done to them, they were an easy and obvious target for neutrals.

McAteer had a birds eye view of it all in Paris. I’ll get round to the scandalous attack on his wife and son shortly.

McAteer was broadcasting for LfcTV outside the stadium - on a raised platform between the two security rings. I mention that it was ‘raised’ because he was close enough to hear appeals from people caught up in the crush. Close enough to feel as though he was in that crush.

The first security ring was to check for forgeries and stop the holders of those tickets from gaining access to the second perimeter. It’s standard practice - and works well if organised properly, but that requires enough staff to do the job. From what I’ve been told there simply weren’t enough staff on duty - stewards or Police.

Liverpool fans DID NOT turn up late. Nor were they drunk. That tired narrative was used by South Yorks Police and was later proven to be false. They were at that first perimeter ring in good time. McAteer saw them - in their thousands - as he went on air two hours before the scheduled kick-off.

His view is that there were too many fans for the authorities to control - so the authorities gave up. They closed the initial ring and allowed everyone to walk to the gates at the second ring. Noooooo. We’ve heard that story before as well. And inevitably the same thing happened.

McAteer was watching - there were too many people in one place, being tunnelled into smaller spaces. They were screaming at him to do something. But what could he do?  To be in that crush must’ve been frightening. I guarantee there wasn’t one Liverpool fan who wasn’t thinking about Hillsborough. Do you know - I’m getting angry as I write.

McAteer and his colleagues came off-air - largely because they couldn’t broadcast with those scenes unfolding behind them. As people tried to climb barriers to escape the crush - others climbed into the tv compound where it was safe. Cue the usual accusation - ‘Liverpool hooligans break into tv compound’. Of course they did. It was safer there. But out came the pepper spray and tear gas. What on earth were the French Police thinking? 

At BeIN we were getting news of a delayed kick-off and the inevitable reason given was ‘late Liverpool arrivals and forged ticket carriers’. Nonsense. I said so on the night. I knew a few of my colleagues were uneasy about my conclusions but I just knew it.

McAteer was whisked into the stadium with his colleagues through a tunnel for broadcasters. He was on the phone to his wife to make sure she and his eldest son Harry were ok. At this stage they were. They were shaken by what they’d seen and been on the fringes of, but they were ok.

‘Excuse’ No.1 was quickly withdrawn by UEFA. Our information now was that they weren’t now blaming late arrivals - and they’d re-opened gate ‘Y’ to allow people with genuine tickets into the arena. McAteer believes other gates may also have been opened but he can’t be sure. My question is ‘why were they ever closed?’ It really is a miracle no-body died. He’s right there.

Post-match it got worse for the McAteer family. And I’m certain they weren’t alone. Liverpool fans were left to run the gauntlet of marauding gangs, who were waiting for them outside the arena. Gone was any sign of the Police or stewards.

Lucy and Harry were making their way back to the official LFC ‘friends and family’ coaches when they bumped into the woman who’d organised the trip. She told them the arranged meeting place had changed because the coach for their party had been bricked, so it had been moved to a safer place.

At this point a gang of five burly feral youths emerged from the dark. They ripped Lucy’s blouse open and then off - leaving her standing in her bra. They pulled her screaming into the middle of them - inflicting some of the bruising pictured. This was no ‘alleged’ attack.

image 2image 2image 3image 4

Serious injuries inflicted on Lucy McAteer as she feared she was about to be raped.

Harry waded in. Lucy said she felt her arms being twisted and burned. I guess like an old fashioned Chinese burn that we’d inflict on each other as children.

Fortunately they eventually let Lucy go and ran off. Harry noticed her watch had gone and chased after them. Daft I know, but again - instinct takes over.

Because he was on his own he inevitably took a savage beating when he caught up with them and was only saved by a group of Madrid fans, who saw a lad in a Liverpool jersey taking a beating and stepped in to stop it.

McAteer was by now taking calls from his wife - who was naturally in bits. Then Harry called - totally lost. He had no idea where the coaches were. Fortunately he’d held onto his phone in the scuffle. He pinned his dad his location and the two met up.

Heading of the attack it reminded me so much of the gauntlet Liverpool fans had to run after their triumph in Rome in 1984 - the birthplace of Heysel in my view. I’m not excusing ‘85 but, in my opinion, Liverpool fans went prepared after what had happened 12 months earlier. The Heysel disaster wasn’t planned - and there are no excuses for it - but it festered after Rome and was a year in the making. Just my view - that’s all. 

The McAteer family drama wasn’t over yet in Paris. As they boarded an official coach - not theirs but the nearest one - it had been invaded by two ‘street lads’. They were quickly identified and kicked-off. How was this happening? Where are the Police? McAteer tells me there simply weren’t any.

The drama ended at 5.00 the following morning. He’d been advised to report the attack on his wife and son - and the theft of the watch - a substantial piece. Yea - with hindsight it’s obvious. Don’t wear it to the game. But if you’re with the official party you don’t expect the events that took place.

McAteer was sent to three Police stations. The first one was shut. He gave a statement at the second - and was then sent to a third. Why? Who knows? But as any Brit who has holidayed in France knows - it does. I know - but it does.🤷‍♂️

I’m pretty sure Jason’s story won’t be an isolated incident, that others will be heard in the coming days and weeks. I’m not suggesting for a minute that everybody in red was impeccably behaved in Paris. All football fans are a handful and Liverpool’s can be especially ‘creative’. No-one would deny that. But it’s both lazy and wrong to point the finger at the majority for what happened.

There were many more Liverpool fans in Paris than had tickets. A week earlier Rangers fans had swamped Seville. They travelled despite being asked not to. Their crime was the same. They wanted to see their team play - but they weren’t allowed to. Being close was the next best thing. Liverpool were allocated less than 20,000 tickets for a stadium that held 82,000. Rangers got 9500 of 43,000 available. This is nonsense.

In Paris they had a fan park catering for 50,000. Seriously! There’s your clue UEFA. Ticket allocations for finalists are scandalously small. This has got to change. And so has the pricing strategy, which means proper fans can’t afford to buy them. The game dies without supporters. Covid taught us that surely? It’s my greatest fear for the WC In Qatar - that not enough real fans will be there.

Liverpool FC are right. There must be an independent review of what happened in Paris. Anything less will result in the decades long cover-up initiated by the Thatcher govt over Hillsborough. The last thing UEFA will want is to be found culpable. Its too easy - and wrong in my view - to point the finger at Liverpool supporters.

I’m encouraged reading the big hitters in today’s U.K. press - who all appear to have drawn the same conclusions as me. This one was down to UEFA and the French. And it must never happen again. But how many times have we said that?

I can’t end without congratulating Forest. Steve Cooper’s team will be a welcome addition to the PL. What a job Cooper has done at The City Ground. Cloughie would be proud.

Well done City - but boy that was close.

Published: Monday, 23 May 2022

What a day. I don’t think we’ve seen anything like it. I’m not just talking about the title - but the race for 4th/6th and relegation. Eight of the 10 final day games had something riding on them and we showed all 10 on beINSPORTS - including unique split screen coverage as the drama unfolded at City and Liverpool. It was quite something.

It was also the 28th season that Andy and I had seen to a conclusion. We had an enforced two year absence of course - but I wouldn’t have missed that time at TalkSPORT for the world.

Congrats to City. The table doesn’t lie - unless VAR f***s up and doesn’t award Everton a pen that Mike Riley later issued an official apology for getting wrong! If Everton score - City come up two points short.

But we shouldn’t concentrate on that. It would’ve been a travesty if City had finished without a trophy. At times their football has been mesmeric. De Bruyne has been sensational week after week. So I’m glad they won it - but my goodness - Guardiola did his best to ‘overthink’ it again.

He started with the wrong team. What on earth was going through his mind when he named Fernandinho at centre-back and Stones at right-back? Fernandinho was responsible for Villa’s first goal - going far too deep because he was concerned about his lack of pace. He could also have gone for his foul on Watkins. I promise you - at the other end Mings goes for a challenge like that on Jesus.

Guardiola changed it at half time - bringing Zinchenko on - sending Cancelo to right back and restoring Stones on the middle. Was he brave to change it - or badly wrong to start as he did?

Putting Gundogan wasn’t ‘one of the great PL substitutions’. By the 70th minute Guardiola was desperate and had to throw everything at it. He didn’t have a choice. But it worked and it gave us some wonderful drama.

In 24 previous PL seasons Liverpool’s total would’ve been enough to win it. That gives you some idea of how good City have had to be. But - I guarantee you they’d swap places with Liverpool if they could. The one they want - they really really want - is the CL.

Domestic success for City (spend £1b under Guardiola) Bayern, Real or Barca, and until this season Juve, is taken as a given. It’s no longer enough. The real success for all the big teams is in Europe. That’s what a coach is ultimately judged on. Bayern have won 10 successive domestic titles, but as Nagelsmann found out this season - that’s not enough. That’s expected.

City will have to wait another year and maybe Haaland will be the difference, although it does concern me that Guardiola is already saying that he’ll need time to settle. Why? He was born in England. He speaks perfect English. He knows the culture. He’ll be surrounded by good players. It didn’t take Luis Diaz any time at all to settle at Anfield. 🤷‍♂️

I guess Guardiola is readying us just in case - with Jack Grealish no doubt on his mind. If I were Grealish I wouldn’t be making a fool of myself leading City’s celebrations. I’d have a glass or two and then start asking myself why I contributed so little so far.

Grealish doesn’t get into City’s best team. He didn’t get on the pitch Sunday. He started only 22 PL games this season - scoring three goals and making three assists. The goals came against Norwich, Leeds in a 7-0 thrashing and West Ham. For £100m it’s not very good is it? At any other club serious questions would’ve been asked by now of the coach - the money spent - and the player.

What a job Conte did at Spurs. Daniel Levy doesn’t get it right all the time (often!) but he got this one spot on. I hope Conte stays - but he doesn’t seem too sure. Perhaps it’s another stand-off in order to get what he wants again? The problem is Spurs have little or nothing to spend. It’s all going on the stadium.  

I can’t pretend I wasn’t gutted for David Moyes. He knows his team threw away a Europe League place at Brighton. Watching the final this past week must’ve hurt everyone at West Ham, because they know they should’ve been in it. I thought it might be a motivator for them, but sadly the opposite was true.

What unwanted stat did United achieve on the last day? They were the only team, along with Norwich, not to score. Ten Haag’s face at Palace told me he didn’t realise how bad it actually is.

I was pleased Leeds made it. It was too soon to lose them again. I’m certain they’d have gone had Bielsa been left in charge so the change was both smart and needed. Bielsa had run that squad ragged. They were shot.

I’m looking forward to finding out a lot more about Jesse Marsch. Now we’ll get to see what he’s really made of. Is he Ted Lasso or is he about to blaze a trail for other American coaches?

I got two of the bottom three correct in my pre-season predictions - but it wasn’t hard. Norwich and Watford were relegated before a ball was kicked. Unless either comeback with more ambition than just making up the numbers I hope we don’t see them back any time soon. It’s someone else’s turn.

Burnley are the architects of their own downfall. Sean Dyche called it. They didn’t invest last summer and now they’ve paid the heaviest price of all. With the takeover terms as they are Burnley are in big trouble. I can’t see Vinny Kompany wanting it now.

In conclusion - it’s been fun again. Our guys at beIN were sensational Sunday. I was proud of them - and proud also to have fronted another ground breaking programme. To our many many millions of viewers in MENA thanks for watching us. Andy and I will see you next Saturday for the CL final - and then it’s WC season when we’re back in August. That’s what we all came for. We can touch it now. It’s going to be a blast. I can’t wait.