A football story to warm the heart.

Published: Monday, 21 March 2022

There is something very special going on in the Championship and let’s be the first to talk about it (as usual - oh how my detractors hate that). 😂😂.

Eight years ago this month #Luton Town were losing Conference Premier League games to Braintree and Woking. Eight years. It’s incredible what’s happened since. They’re now on the cusp of completing one of the most remarkable football stories of all time. There’s some work to do yet, but right now they’re third in the Championship and heading for the play-offs. If Coventry don’t make it - and that looks unlikely now - I hope with all my heart that Luton do.

A brief history lesson. Luton have never been far from controversy down the years. Who will ever forget their former chairman, David Evans, banning away fans? If you don’t know - Evans was a Tory MP always weaseling and this was an attempt to impress his boss - Margaret Thatcher. She loved it. Football people didn’t. We were right.

John Gurney - another mad Hatter and X-owner - distinguished himself with a series of bad decisions that led to Luton being docked 30 points by the FA for financial irregularities dating back ‘several years’ in 2009. Gurney wasn’t to blame for all their problems - but the upshot was that Luton were relegated out of the Football League.

A lot happened on the playing side as well around this time - with managers coming and going - but let’s not get into that.

I must admit to a teeny conflict of interest here. My old mate, Nick Owen, a Hatter since his schoolboy days, was chairman during the non-league years - and during the initial fight back - before stepping down in 2017.

I have always argued that what happened to Luton was grossly unfair. The people running the club, when they were punished, had nothing to do with previous misdemeanours. As usual - the only people who really suffered were the fans.

The journey back hasn’t been easy. They contested the promotion play-offs three times in four years before John Still finally got them promoted to League Two.

It’s been quite a ride.  Nathan Jones takes enormous credit for most of it - and Luton deserve credit too for taking him back after he’d walked out for an ill-fated stint at Stoke.

I’ve heard rumours of the PL not allowing them to play at Kenilworth Road if they get up - because it doesn’t meet modern day safety standards. Rubbish. Leave them alone. Whatever success they’ve had since that scandalous 30 point deduction has been hard fought. Good luck to you guys. Enjoy.

I’m also pleased to see that Karl Robinson has got Oxford on the brink of the play-offs again in League One.

Robinson has done the hard yards in the lower leagues. He was once described as ‘the next big thing’,  but has never been given a chance at a higher level for some reason. He’s in his 40’s now - so is no spring chicken - but he knows what he’s doing. Having guided Oxford to the play-offs in each of his two full seasons in charge - he’s at it again. I hope Oxford make it this time and that Robinson eventually gets his reward with a bigger club (sorry Jim. Jim Rosenthal - Oxford super fan!)

I’m already looking forward to Pep’s semi-final with Jurgen. Patrick must be delighted that Palace are there at the expense of his old adversary Frank. Well done Thomas. Wow - what a job he’s doing at Chelsea - despite all the problems. Incidentally, who gets the money from s/f ticket sales? What a mess govt has made of Chelsea.

Good to see that Antonio has got Spurs motoring again. David’s boys didn’t really get going Sunday did they?

Brendan will be chuffed to bits with Leicester’s win - which leaves Brentford 15th - exactly where the mathematicians at Thomas’s club said they would finish. Right now - that looks most likely.

Steven can’t be happy with Villa’s capitulation Friday, but it’s quite a run Mikel’s boys are on.

Daft isn’t it? Daft if we start using the first names of all our coaches. Please - let’s stop this pathetic grovelling and fawning to ‘Pep’. It’s Guardiola.

None of us know him well enough to refer to him by his first name. His team play lovely football - but he isn’t some kind of messiah. He’s a football coach. His name is Guardiola. Enough of ‘Pep’ eh? It gets on my nerves.

Don’t follow the money too far - you won’t like what you find.

Published: Monday, 14 March 2022

The first thing to do this week is congratulate the GOAT on another extra-ordinary record. Now he’s the greatest goal scorer ever - well, if you ignore Pele’s 1279 - which FIFA do. The Guinness Book of Records doesn’t. That’s why the argument will never be settled.

But either way, Ronaldo’s is an extra-ordinary achievement. He deserved a whack last week. I stand by my view that it was a mistake to take him back to OT - but he’s also been my favourite player of his generation.

Like all ageing sporting superstars - he can’t regularly do what he used to anymore. But, he’s still capable of memorable moments - like Saturday‘s performance. It was a fantastic hat-trick.

I think it was Rio Ferdinand who said recently that Ronaldo was re-signed to win the FA Cup. I was surprised to read that. Why? The FA Cup? Surely not? But if he wins them the CL then all the tantrums, going MIA last weekend, and all his attention seeking trips to the Post Office with his body guards, will have made it worthwhile. In a KO competition of course that’s still possible.

According to the Sunday Mirror this weekend - Everton are for sale. Who’d have thought? I should’ve mentioned that 3/4 months ago. 😂😂.

Eddie Howe was right - nailed on pen at The Bridge. Will Mike Riley be calling him this week? Will he call Dean Smith? Don’t hold your breath. There’s no way Mike Dean should’ve overruled Stuart Attwell at Elland Road. Clear and obvious error? I hate the phrase - but  absolutely not. It was a pen. Incidentally - the same two couldn’t see the most blatant red of the season at Brighton. That was an assault by Sanchez on Diaz. What chance have we got?

VAR made the calls - not the refs. It’s always VAR that makes the big decisions. I keep telling you this. Riley has instructed everybody that VAR decides. Refs know this when they’re ‘called’ to the monitor. It’s wrong. Totally wrong. We need transparency. We have GOT to hear those conversations at the monitors. I was glad Arsene Wenger agreed with me when he appeared on BeINSPORTS this past weekend.  He’ll make it happen.

Oh. And Klopp is right. We’ve got to remove the ridiculous ‘clear and obvious’ phrase from the game. We’ve got the technology now - so use it properly. 

Why are the British govt trying to destroy Chelsea? I thought they wanted an independent regulator to ensure that the sort of damage we see being inflicted at Chelsea doesn’t happen anymore? To make certain   that what happened at Bury could never happen again. That what’s happening at Derby would never happen again. What hypocrisy.

I get it. They want to go after Abramovich. I understand why. But what have they discovered about him that they didn’t know two weeks ago? Why did it take them that long to impose sanctions? Two years ago? Twenty years ago? Twenty-one trophies ago? I’d love to know.

There’s a lot of tribal triumphalism about what’s happening at Chelsea. Football fans are loving it. Look. It’s a good club. It’s populated by good football people. Why should the programme seller, the steward, the bar staff, the caterer, the bus driver, the grounds staff have their livelihoods threatened? What have they done wrong? What about the fans? What have they done wrong? Fans taunted this weekend by Newcastle supporters. Really? Newcastle fans! Boris Johnson and his cronies worked the back channels to make sure the Saudi’s got what they wanted at St James’ Park - now he’s gone all ‘ethical’.

I wonder if he noticed 81 people were executed in Saudi Arabia 24 hours before Newcastle played at Chelsea? Has he heard about the war in Yemen?Where conservative estimates suggest 233,000 people have been killed? 10,000 children are estimated to have been killed or maimed - four million people made homeless. Twenty four million are needy of aid. Ah. I guess he has because he’s selling British arms to the Saudi’s to fight that war - and this week he wants payback for getting MBS Newcastle - he’s flying to Riyadh to beg for more fuel supplies.

What about Evgeny Lebedev - The Lord Lebedev - son of the former KGB operative Alexander? Nice guy’ says Michael Gove. ‘And you can’t blame children for their parents sins’. Perhaps he is a nice guy - but he’s carrying on the work of his father - financed by his father. So yes - you can Mr Gove.

The Lord Lebedev owns the London Evening Standard. He backed Johnson’s campaign to get re-elected as Mayor. Ker-ching. Payback. Johnson put him in the House of Lords when he became PM - against all the advice of the British security services.

Has anyone looked closely at the list of prospective buyers of Chelsea? Or is it best not to? I’ve got a feeling we might not like what we find. But if they’re involved in the ‘right’ projects or they’re fighting the ‘right’ wars - that’s ok it seems.

Sadly politics and sport are now intrinsically linked. Ex PL chief exec Richard Scudamore got out of town before all this started to become an issue. He didn’t care who owned what as long as the rights kept going up and his bonus got paid. 

The hypocrisy knows no bounds. And it stinks.

Football is a simple game - so why negative running mid-blocks and hyper pressing?

Published: Monday, 07 March 2022

The only certainty to come out of the Manchester derby is that Ralph Rangnick won’t be managing Manchester United next season. Surely?

I’ve added ‘surely’ because you simply don’t know with United. It’s very probable that they’ll f**k it up again. He shouldn’t be in charge - that’s a certainty.

Richard Arnold is the man who’s ultimately got to decide. Rangnick is not his man - so get rid. Start again.

You can’t possibly have a situation where Rangnick is choosing his successor. Who would that be? Someone who shares his ‘philosophy’ - whatever that is? Presumably someone that he can control? So who would want to work shackled like that? Certainly none of the big boys. No. He’s got to go.

I liked the guy when he came in. He seemed honest - which I believe he is (mmmmmm - why didn’t Ronaldo play? I’ll comeback to that) but the message has worn thin.

It’s the same every week. He’s the coaches coach. I’ll bet he’s got a terrific power-point presentation. Iain Dowie was famous for that. He was impressive with a lap-top in front of him! Owners can be impressed with that kind of thing. Dowie certainly conned enough of them.

This week United were ‘ok in the hyper-press first half. It required a lot of negative running, but it worked’. This is what Rangnick told us post-match at City.

So what happened? Well, he added that he decided to ‘attack City from a mid-block’ second half. I forget the rest. I stopped listening at that point.

His players look as though they’ve stopped listening as well. Look - I understand things change. We must evolve - or we go backwards, but come on. All that’s changing here is the language. How many of you guys that play on a Sunday morning are talking about ‘low blocks’ or ‘negative running’? ‘False 9’s’ ‘inverted full-backs’ or ‘rest defending’? It’s physco-babble.

What Rangnick meant was that United tried to knick the  ball high up the pitch - and had to work hard chasing it. They were forced back a bit later in the game - had to defend deeper and try to get out from there.

I don’t hear Guardiola talking about ‘low blocks’ or ‘negative’ running. His team keep it a whole lot more simple. Get it - give it - go. Football is simple. Players want it to be simple. In defending Jack Grealish this week Guardiola was arguing that we‘ve become obsessed with stats. I was talking with a football scientist here in Qatar last week who said to me ‘we’ve been creating ‘athletes’ - not footballers’. Food for thought eh?

Klopp’s teams play with a ‘high block’ do they? No. They get in your face and suffocate you. Chelsea do much the same, but keep it wider. At the end of the day - if you’ve got the best players you will generally win. But….

You’ve also got to convince players you know what you’re doing. This is a massive part of ‘owning’ a dressing room. You can’t lift this from a coaching manual. Players will find a coach out in no time. They can work a fraud out pretty easily. If you lose them early you’re sunk. From what I’m seeing Rangnick has lost his players.

I’m not absolving them from all blame. They were hopeless at the weekend. They’ve got to be better than we saw surely? These are top players. These are players I thought might mount a title challenge this season. Something is very wrong. Am I right? Has Ronaldo blown up the dressing room?

You can’t blame it all on him but his behaviour this weekend was a disgrace. Where was he? He’s always very keen to tell us ‘it’s all about the team’. Is it? Well - where were you Ronnie? Why weren’t you supporting the team?

He’s been my favourite footballer over this past decade or so. He’s been awesome. I’d take him every day over Messi. I’ve loved his energy, dedication, leap, creativity, belief, talent, arrogance - the whole package. But he’s let himself down big-time since going back to United. He’s had one long strop from the moment he arrived. He’s set himself apart with his body guards and behaviour on and off the pitch. A lot of the guys aren’t having it. He’s not different. He’s a player.

He’s not what he was either - nothing like it. Rangnick is right to question what’s left in the tank. I’ve said all season long - it’s got to be cameo’s only from now. The best way to use him is as an impact sub.

Of course - he’s not having that. It’s hard - when you’ve been all of the above - to accept that it’s coming to an end. He can work as hard as he likes - but age is impossible to deny. Not even botox will help in that respect.

Was he injured? My guess is his pride was. The more likely scenario is that he was told Thursday that he wouldn’t be starting - and spat the dummy. If that’s not the case - where was he? Surely ‘it’s all about the team’? Surely his team-mates had every right to expect to see him at The Etihad?

United have got to get out of this one as well. How about they have a quiet work in Beckham’s shell-like and get him off to MLS? There Ronaldo can have another few years on his terms - he can’t at United.

Well done Jesse Marsch. It took him four days to get Leeds looking like a team again. I expect to hear a lot coaching-jargon going forward - but the start point was simple - ‘defend well - keep our shape - and hit them when we can’.  They deserved more out of the game at Leicester. Marsch seems to be a likeable guy. Let’s hope he gets it right. And keeps it simple.

Top marks for Eddie Howe as well. What a run Newcastle are on. They’re safe. There’s no way they’re getting back into trouble. They might even finish top half. Why not? They’re playing well enough.

And it’s been built on simplicity - with the solid citizens I mentioned here a couple of weeks ago. Yes - Joelinton has been enormous - but so has Dan Burn. They’ll need a whole lot better than either of those two guys if they want to achieve their dreams - but right now it’s great to see the likes of Burn getting a good press.

Penalty save experts? Really?

Published: Monday, 28 February 2022

Well let’s hope we’ve seen the last of that. Football is such a simple game - why does everybody want to complicate it? Penalty save experts? Really? Remind me - how many did Kepa save before blasting his kick over the top? I’ve heard Mendy takes good pens - perhaps Chelsea should have got him back on somehow? What a load of nonsense.

Wasn’t Kepa the one Chelsea wanted to take off in their last final? Because Caballero was more likely to save City’s kicks? You couldn’t make it up.

Here’s a few questions on the subject. What happens if Kepa drops one in during normal time? What if Liverpool keep the ball for the last 90 seconds so there’s no chance of him getting on?

Mendy had just had close to the best game of his life. He’d saved everything that Liverpool had thrown at him. Who do you think they were more pleased to see in goal for the shoot out?

Why didn’t Klopp bring on his No1? Surely Alisson is better at saving pens than Kelleher? If not - and Allison had been playing - would Klopp have changed them? Of course he wouldn’t. I love Klopp because he keeps it all so simple. And his team reflect his approach to life - all energy. Brilliant. I’m glad Liverpool won.

A few more observations on the penalty expert. Mendy seemed to do ok at Afcon - no? And surely the next taker he faces has a huge psychological advantage? He knows Mendy isn’t fancied by his manager or team mates.

The game itself was a fantastic watch. That’s how I like to see my football played. Not once did I hear anything about possession or pass completion.
It was blood and thunder from minute one. Brilliant. For me it was a much better watch than had City been in the final.  

I know they play ‘beautiful’ football - and there are many that drool over it. I accept that - at its best - it can flawless - but I reckon either of Sunday’s finalists would’ve swept them away. I mentioned it last week. I believe Guardiola knows that and he’s worried.

He’s six clear again after Everton were mugged off by the most inept decision I’ve seen all season - and that’s saying something. There are plenty of VAR candidates. What didn’t Chris Kavanagh see that the rest of the world did? It’s a scandal that VAR has the final call on these decisions. I’ve told you before - that’s how Mike Riley wants it. It’s wrong. It’s scandalously wrong.

Mark Clattenburg in The Mail today ‘for some strange reason Tierney wasn’t sent to his monitor (he knows the reason) to make up for missing this handball in real time. Had he been given a second chance to look at it, he would’ve awarded the penalty to Everton. This was a shocker’. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Clattenburg’s article started like this ‘this is the clearest handball I’ve ever seen that wasn’t given’. Explain please Mr Riley.

Leeds had to sack Bielsa. If they make the right appointment they’ve got a chance of staying up. I’ll go early with my thoughts on Jesse Marsch. He’s obviously a talented coach. He comes with a very good cv - but. There’s always a but isn’t there? He knows nothing about the PL. Nothing at all about a relegation battle. As I write his appointment hasn’t yet been confirmed but I expect it will be.

If I’m a Leeds fan I’m not at all impressed that we’ve sacked our hero only to replace him with Jesse who?

I’m hearing that the 49ers wanted him in last summer - along with a wish list of players he’d worked with before - the likes of Minamino and Brenden Aaronson.

If this goes wrong they’re sunk and that 2024 buyout takes on a very different look.

I saw that Andy and I were trending Sunday after I suggested Big Sam should take charge until the summer. Why not? What have Watford gone and done - they’ve turned to an ‘expert’. Why not Leeds? This job has got Sam’s name all over it.

Last question. Why did Villa stay in London on Friday night?

City missed out big time.

Published: Monday, 21 February 2022

Fine margins. How many times have we heard sports coaches talk about how vital they are? Big moments in sport that don’t come often - but when they do it’s big players/athletes (some can be trusted to be clean) that settle big matches/events.

We saw such an event at the weekend. Because of its context as much as anything - we watched the best game of the season so far at Man City.

What a match. It ebbed and flowed dramatically. City thought they’d scrambled a point after a late and generous intervention by VAR. Having got level, they even fancied winning it. Of course they did. It’s what they do.

None of us thought Spurs would win. None of us. I don’t believe that even Conte fancied his team. He was desperate for the whistle so he could get back on the bus (yes - some teams even travelled to matches by coach this weekend. Whatever next for our pampered luvvies?) and head for London with a point.

But I’d wager good money that Harry Kane was thinking ‘one more chance. Create me one more chance’. Spurs did. Kane scored. That’s what big players do. That’s what separates them from the rest. That’s why Spurs stole it. Fine margins at moments that really matter.

Guardiola. His bench. The City hoards. The players. They were all looking at the officials hoping they’d conjure another moment of VAR magic for them. Not this time. The man who should’ve been playing in light blue and not Tottenham white, had blown the title race wide open.

Twitchy bum time has come early for Guardiola and his team, although they probably don’t know that yet. And they might not even have realised yet exactly what Kane did Saturday evening. From being nailed on they’re now by no means certain. I fancy Liverpool. And I fancy Liverpool in Europe as well. Why? Because they’re better. They’re stronger. They can grind wins and they’re not afraid of City. There’s a reason Guardiola called them a ‘pain in the arse’ before the Spurs game. He knows.

He also knows his team are pretty. They they’ll win nine out of 10 games by three or four goals. And in those nine games they don’t need a proper centre forward. But in the big ones they do. At crucial moments they do. ‘Aguerooooooooo’. I can’t think of a better example.

Guardiola dropped a bollock last summer. Actually he dropped two. He didn’t need Grealish. There’s a separate argument on this subject and I haven’t changed my mind since the blog when I said ‘he’ll slow them down. They’ve already got better’. So why? Why spend £100m on a player you don’t need?

Grealish is 26 now. He should be in his prime. Sadly he’s nowhere near good enough to play for City. What does he do? Who should he play in front of? Foden? Sterling? De Bruyne? They can’t find a position for him and he certainly doesn’t get into their best X1.

De Bruyne joined City aged 24 - already an established ‘nuisance’ on the scene. He’s got better and better. When have you ever seen him out in the wrong place at the wrong time? Exactly. Never.

But Guardiola wanted to make a statement. For some reason he spunked £100m on an unnecessary luxury. Yes - I’ve previously said ‘England should build a team round Grealish’. I stand by that. England aren’t as good as City. And there’s no cost involved.

I guess you’ve already worked out where I’m going with this?. Why? Why didn’t City push on with a fifth bid of £140m and buy Kane? No. Why did they need to make four bids - all of which Spurs turned down? They knew the player was ready to join them. Do it. Meet Tottenham’s valuation straight away. Spend the Grealish money on Kane. They spunked more than the £40m extra that it would’ve taken on Nathan Ake for goodness sake. And a whole lot more on other bang ordinary centre-backs.

Kane would’ve made a difference. He might just have won them the CL. He’d have had them clear - well clear - at the top now. And he obviously wouldn’t have inflicted that damage at the weekend. Can you imagine how he felt? After all the embarrassment City caused him last summer. After the way they messed with his head before letting him down. No wonder he was happy to show off his new teeth with that enormous grin post match at City. ‘Ave it.  Job done. Vindicated.

Andy has argued long and hard that If City had had a proper centre forward in last seasons CL final they might just have won it. He’s right. What chance that Guardiola will have deeper regrets than Saturdays’s frustrations later this season?

Few teams have spent more than Everton in recent seasons. I won’t go over old ground here, but I’m afraid they’re going to have to go again if Frank Lampard has got half a chance of success at Goodison.

They’ve got a gem in Anthony Gordon. I’ll say again - ‘new’ Steven Gerrard. He reminds me so much of the former Liverpool skipper. His gangly teenage gate is the same. He loves a tackle. He can spray passes about and run all day. He’a also got an eye for a goal He’s special. But he’s about all they have got despite the big spend - and he was for nothing!

If I’m Lampard my priority is a goalkeeper. I’m afraid Pickford isn’t good enough. He frightens me anytime he’s near the ball - and he’s too often not near enough to it. He shouldn’t have let Trippier’s free kick in at Newcastle - and he shouldn’t have been letting Armstrong’s goal in at Soton. There’s too many mistakes in him.

He must give his defence kittens. He’s a nervous mess - edgy, twitchy, anxious - all the time.

It’s too late this season - but what chance Lampard goes back to Chelsea for Kepa? I would. I know Lampard didn’t fancy him at The Bridge, but he’s better than Pickford, Henderson or any other option you can think of that’s available right now. He’s also too good to be No2 at Chelsea.

Lampard knows him. Watch this space…..

Is society forgiving enough?

Published: Monday, 14 February 2022

Sarah Moulds. Ever heard of her? No? Well I can’t blame you. Until recently few people outside of the Leicestershire village of Somerby had either.

Later this month (February 28th 2022) Mrs Moulds will be appearing at Lincoln Crown Court. She’s chosen a jury trial to fight the charges she’s accused of.

She’s being prosecuted by the RSPCA with two offences - ‘causing unnecessary suffering to a grey pony and failing to take reasonable steps to protect the pony from pain, suffering or injury’.

She was a primary school teacher. But her day job was stripped from her when she was sacked. Her boss, Mowbray Education Trust CEO Paul Maddox, said, when announcing the decision ‘I can confirm that Sarah Moulds’ employment with the Trust has been terminated’. Not much sign of forgiveness there.

Mrs Moulds has paid a heavy price for her moment of madness. I can’t imagine what life has been like for her and her family since. The fall out is still coming.

Yep. She’s the ‘horse-kicking former primary school teacher’ as the Press usually describe her.

She was caught on camera kicking and slapping a horse at the Cottesmore Hunt and allegedly subjecting a grey pony called Bruce Almighty to ‘unnecessary suffering’.

Abhorrent. Disgusting. I don’t know - pick a word yourself. They’ve all been written to describe Mrs Moulds - who might yet be found not guilty of the charges. The law will run its course.

I should think by now it’s fairly obvious why I’ve brought this up?

What’s the difference between Mrs Moulds and Kurt Zouma? Well, there’s two I can see straight away. Mrs Moulds isn’t a £30m footballer. And she didn’t post the pictures of herself allegedly kicking that horse, screaming with laughter like dumb and his brother dumber. Hilarious guys. Sa commence. Ha ha ha ha ha ha. How we laughed when we saw the video.

Another difference? Mrs Moulds employers acted swiftly and sacked her. I guess they wanted to send a message to the thousands of youngsters who ride ponies - and their parents - that the kind of behaviour we witnessed was unacceptable? Judgement was swift. No forgiveness.

Compare what Paul Maddox said when announcing his decision to the weasel words of West Ham’s CEO, Karren Brady, this weekend.

Ms Brady told us ‘he (Zouma) has said sorry, and has apologised sincerely to everybody at the club and the wider public’. Oh. That’s ok then. Keep your eyes shut and Carry On.

Brady went on ‘that is an important first step on what will be a journey of re-education and atonement’. Yea. On this one - agreed.

But that journey should NOT be a public one. Zouma should NOT be playing football while he undertakes it.

Brady has failed her manager, David Moyes, and every animal loving West Ham fan - all the 10-year-olds that Moyes mentioned post-match at Leicester, while defending the decision (I’m not convinced it’s his) to keep playing Zouma.

Moyes went on ‘West Ham have done great work in the East End of London, young supporters coming in and a lot of good things being done’.  Moyes has been key to a lot of that work.

But stop for a moment - and ask some of those youngsters how they feel about a cat-kicking centre-back representing their club right now.

I’m with Graeme Souness ‘I have zero sympathy for him (Zouma). West Ham’s roots are in the East End of London, salt-of-the-earth people. They’ve (West Ham) mis-managed it from day one’.

We’re told Zouma was ‘unwell’ so couldn’t play at Leicester. Really? Moyes looked unsure about the nature of the illness when questioned after the match.

If Zouma really had missed team meetings and meals because he felt so unwell surely Moyes would’ve sent him home? Why go to the lengths to isolate him, yet still send him out to warm up with the intention of playing? Is he really that important to them? Come on - we’re not talking about Sergio Ramos here.

Or was it that Zouma started to feel unwell when he heard the reception he got? And the continued baiting? I wouldn’t blame him if that was the case. That’s another failure on West Ham’s part - protecting Zouma’s mental well being.

The RSPCA might yet press charges. Good. They should in my opinion. Zouma’s head must be full of mince. If Brady and West Ham care not a jot for decency in the public space - then they should be protecting their ‘asset‘ surely? Sorry - employee.

That’s what it comes down to. Zouma is an expensive ‘asset’. This is all about money. Brady is scared that £30m is going down the drain. She talks of a ‘forgiving society’. I agree - but that society isn’t ready to forgive in this case just yet. Long term I hope that happens - but don’t hold your breath. Zouma might just be finished in English football.

And ‘society’ certainly won’t feel too much sympathy towards West Ham if the brainless morons who took to kicking a blow up cat about at Leicester continue to behave in that manner. And cut those chants as well.

A final thought on why Ms Brady is so worried about her ‘asset’. Has it anything to do with takeover talks that we’re led to believe may have been taking place? Is that why West Ham are also desperate to hang onto Declan Rice until a deal has been done? To keep the share price high? I don’t know. But it’s a theory that’s been aired elsewhere as well.

I have no idea where Ms Brady and West Ham go with this. It’s a mess all of their own making. And I don’t blame David Moyes at all. I agree with the Mail’s Ian Ladyman today (Monday) on that subject.

He writes ‘Moyes has been hung out to dry. Somebody above him should’ve ordered him not to play Zouma.

‘Moyes comes out of this looking like he doesn’t care when, in reality, he undoubtedly does’.

This one is on Ms Brady’s toes. And all of a sudden - we live in a ‘forgiving society’. How convenient. As Richard Littlejohn might say ‘you couldn’t make it up’. What Alan Sugar would say is arguably more appropriate.

What did we learn in the break? United are still poor and Newcastle have got it all on.

Published: Monday, 07 February 2022

A break? Well, a PL break. That’s what it was supposed to be, but it didn’t feel much like it - not with all the Afcon and FA Cup drama.

First of all - congrats to Senegal on their triumph - but Mane was a lucky boy eh? That dive was something I thought we’d seen the last of from him and Salah. It’s Grealish and Sterling who’re the main offenders these days. Oh - and the usual suspects at United, although I didn’t have any complaints about the challenge on Pogba, that led to Ronaldo’s miss against Boro.

While we’re on the subject - well done Chris Wilder. Anyone would think Brit coaches knew what they were doing. Wilder and his boys put on a master- class to leave one of the most highly rated euro coaches (I’ve still no idea why) absolutely baffled. Granted - the handball interpretation is a nonsense. Of course Boro’s goal should’ve been disallowed, but they earned their slice of luck.

United return to action in the PL this week with even their most optimistic fan now realising that they’re not very good - surely? I read a piece from Ollie Holt the other day arguing that United have been going downhill ever since Fergie left. Not so Ollie. They were on the slide during his last few years.

I’ve said this many times - that last title team were eight short. They got over the line thanks to van Persie’s goals and the very timely return of Paul Scholes. Fergie was allowed to stay too long. He had the club in a vice-like grip - operating as he wanted - and while they stagnated, everybody else was moving forward. It’ll take them another decade to catch up.

An ordinary looking 4th round turned out to be very good didn’t it? Kidderminster, Plymouth and Coventry were terrific, but pride of place goes to Boreham Wood. My mate Pipes couldn’t muster a response when I enquired how the Cherries had got on yesterday (Sunday). Oh what joy. 😂😂

I hope people are beginning to realise that we don’t need replays anymore. The argument that a one-off tie doesn’t produce the same drama doesn’t wash anymore. Both the 3rd and 4th rounds have been brilliant.

What else did we learn in the PL break? Well - that Newcastle are still in big trouble, that’s for sure.

Their spend in January was interesting I mentioned Wood in the last blog. He’s a solid citizen. Trippier is too, although he’s not going to win you many games. Dan Burn? Underwhelming. So was the addition of Targett. Guimaraes is the wrong man, at the wrong time, at the wrong club for me. Is he really going to dig them out of trouble? I don’t think so. He’s got quality that’s for sure - but he might just be ‘new’ Dmitri Payet.

You can see why Newcastle bought him. They just had to land a big one (big-ish) to prove they could, but they came up well short. They were nowhere near the ones they really wanted. All the money on the world doesn’t guarantee success.

I don’t see enough goals in them to survive. I was texting a Geordie legend on another matter this week and he agreed - although he mis-understood my question - which was ‘do you think they’ve got enough to come straight back up?’ 🤷‍♂️😂.

Another problem which has emerged for the Toon is that two of the other strugglers are going to give it a right go.

Norwich are finding some form under Dean Smith - whose been the course before - and Roy Hodgson will get a tune out of Watford. What a great start - their first PL clean sheet in two years and six managers - at Burnley! Hodgson will have been delighted with the result. Yep - if Newcastle are going to stay up they’ve got it all on.

I can’t wait for the game against Everton this week. What a difference in the attitude and atmosphere around Goodison for the tie against Brentford. It was as if a stiff breeze off the Mersey had blown the stench of the Benitez era away. I’ve spoken to people who suffered the pain of the Spaniards time with Everton. Three words keep coming up - distanced, difficult and destructive. Three ‘d’s. Here’s another - dunce.

Good luck Frank. It’s great to have you back in business. Taking Paul Clement is a smart move. Listen to him talk on KeysandGray The Podcast @keysandGraypod. He’s worked with the very best all over Europe. He’s a smart guy.

I’m not suggesting it’s going to be easy for them - quite the opposite - but it was a great start and I think they’ll win at Newcastle this week. Everybody at Goodison looked refreshed.

What happens next at Leicester is going to be interesting. What a turn-around in fortunes for Brendan Rodgers. Early in the season he was being linked with all the big jobs - now there’s talk of him getting sacked.

Leicester should be careful. Rodgers is as good as they’ll ever get. He’s had them punching well beyond their weight. The title win will never happen again. Rodgers delivered the perfect season last time round - a trophy and Europe. Either/or should be their target. Both was a bonus. They’re not equipped to mount a serious top four challenge and the sooner they lower expectation the more likely it is that they’ll make sensible decisions. Sacking Rodgers now would be madness.

Don’t kill Bill - it really isn’t his fault.

Published: Monday, 24 January 2022

The first thing to say this week is that this really isn’t the blog I was going to write. I wanted to concentrate more on the phone call I got Monday morning - from an official on the current PL list - telling me my suspicions about refs being told what decision they’re going to make as they approach a monitor are bang on. They’re being told what to do by the matchday centre. More on this later…..

But first - a plea to Evertonians. Please - leave Bill Kenwright alone. The mess the club are currently in really isn’t anything to do with him. 

I understand the frustration. I get it. With all the money that’s been spent these past few years Everton shouldn’t be anywhere near a relegation scrap. It’s a scandal that they are. And make no mistake - they are.

There’s been too many changes - both in the managers’ office and elsewhere. Buying has been a scatter gun process. I remember the day they signed seven and Jamie Carragher laughed out loud on Twitter saying that not one of them would get into Liverpool’s team. That really annoyed me and I disagreed. Sadly - he was right.

It was history repeating itself. I was watching Everton most weeks when Howard Kendall arrived and bought the so-called ‘magnificent seven’. Apart from Neville Southall (who was being signed anyway) the rest were a disaster. But at least we knew who to blame - Howard. Of course he got the time to correct his mistakes - and we all know what happened.

We’ve no idea who’s been buying at Goodison is recent seasons. Or why. Well - I can hazard a guess but I’m not going to offer it up here.

The point is - Bill hasn’t been anywhere near the decision making process ever since Farhad Moshiri and Alisher Usmanov arrived. Nowhere near it. He’s simply a figure head in the Boardroom.

Bill has blue blood. He’s an Evertonian first - before anything else. He’s also a lovely man. I challenge anyone who’s done business with Bill - or worked with and for him - to find me somebody who’s got a bad word to say about him. You won’t.

Whoever paid for that plane to fly over the ground ahead of the game against Villa should hang their heads in shame. It was a disgusting stunt.

It cut me to pieces to see the videos of Bill in the street after the match trying to placate angry supporters. It was also typical of him. He doesn’t see himself as different to those fans - just lucky to have made a few quid and previously been custodian of the club for a time.

If Everronians want to get angry - and they should - concentrate your fire on Moshiri and Usmanov.

Nobody could ever question Bill’s motives. But you can the ‘millionaire two’? Why did they buy the club? What was their purpose? Again - I’ve got a very good idea but I’m not going to put it into writing. It’s not hard to work out though is it? And by the way - despite their denials when I last mentioned it - they’d sell in a heart beat if they could.

It was put to me this week by a legendary blue (not Andy Gray!) that Everton has become an agents’ paradise - with the club paying extra-ordinary fees for ordinary players. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

The most important thing in football is recruitment, recruitment, recruitment. Everton’s has been shocking.

This Everton board has spent - no, spunked - £500m - not a pound of it is on Bill’s toes.

My big regret for him is that he didn’t go public with his dismay at the appointment of Benitez. He argued strongly against it - but he’s a team player and wouldn’t say - despite encouragement to do so from me and others close to him. He should’ve done.

Please - back off him. He’s a good man. He’s as frustrated as the next Evertonian. It’s not his fault.

And so to that Monday morning call. Wow. So now we know - the refs are being told what decision to make as they approach the monitor. How? Because my source is currently on the list and he confirmed my suspicions. He works PL games every weekend. He’s fed up with the management at the PGMOL and after another shocking weekend of decision making - by VAR - he couldn’t resist. What a sad state of affairs this is.

I’ve believed for some time that the refs were on remote control. I’d love to go more deeply into this but it’s so hard to keep going over the same ground - although I’m encouraged by the call - and the request to ‘keep going’ with my criticism.

We can not have a situation where games are reffed from the bunker.

Mike Riley was never happy he was forced to accept FIFA protocols and use pitchside monitors. As I’ve always suspected - it seems he’s got round the problem. It’s got to stop. So what’s the answer?

I repeat. We MUST be allowed to listen to the conversation at the monitor. We want to know ‘why’ decisions are being made. And by who. If I’m wrong Mr Riley - prove it.

VAR operators must also be regular retired officials. Let the guys in the middle concentrate on just that job. It’s hard enough anyway - without the pressure of working the bunker. We need specialists in there.

And one other change would help more than anything else. Again - I repeat - Mike Riley has got to go.

So it’s back to the future Everton?

Published: Monday, 17 January 2022

No. I’m not going there. Absolutely not. I’ve had my say on the subject. No. It’s not happening. 

I feel like Chandler in the one where he’s not allowed to be sarcastic…… Of course, he eventually cracks. 

Sorry. This is impossible. Here we go - but I promise you - at this stage of the blog, my intention is to keep my words on the subject brief.

Goodness - this is hard! 

What was there about the eventual, inevitable, predictable outcome that Farhad Moshiri wasn’t warned about - or didn’t expect? What he should be grateful for is that it came to a head quickly enough for limited damage to have been caused to the club - just as it did at Real Madrid, Inter and Chelsea. 

I’m not going to make this personal. The above statement is a ‘fact’. So is this - Rafa Benitez should never, ever have been anywhere near the manager’s job at Everton. If he had an ounce of decency or integrity he’d have felt that way himself and turned Moshiri’s offer down in the summer - not wanting to tarnish his reputation at Anfield. 

I’m told he wasn’t going to walk - that he wanted his money before he left Goodison. Ok. He was contractually due - but morally? When Ruud Gullit realised he couldn’t win his battle with Alan Shearer at Newcastle he told Freddie Shepherd (the owner) that he was leaving - and didn’t want a penny piece in compensation. He just walked away. 

Especially for my friends at the Liverpool Echo - the following is true. Fact. He turned down the chance to take Philippe Coutinho to Goodison. Coutinho would’ve been a bigger attraction than Benitez. (Damn, I’m trying hard to keep this to ‘facts’). So Coutinho went to Villa - along with Everton’s best player, whose reputation Benitez tried to trash. And do you know who Everton were putting a deal together to sign instead of Coutinho? Sean Longstaff. Fact. Sean Longstaff - who can’t even hold down at place at Newcastle. 

It’s been the darkest period in Everton’s history. It’s been torturous for Evertonians - desperate for their team to win but not with Benitez at the helm. 

Did anyone else see this tweet from Dan Donachie - who Benitez sacked? He was the club’s director of medical services. 

Dan is the son of Willie Donachie - the former City full-back - so from good football stock and highly regarded in the game. 

Back to Everton’s latest dilemma. 

It’s Moshiri’s club (well - Usmanov’s) so he’s allowed to do whatever he wants. It’s his money (well - Usmanov’s) so he can run it as he likes. But I hope he’s learned a valuable lesson. 

It’s vital that he gets it right next time. As Andy Gray said on beINSPORTS this past weekend - ‘listen to football people now Mr Moshiri. You’ve appointed Graeme Sharp to the board - so listen to him. Take advice’. 

I read that Roberto Martinez is favourite. I like him. I can’t pretend to know him well, but his closest advisor is one of my best mates. Martinez knows the club and would be a calm influence around the place. 

Rooney’s name has been mentioned. Why not? He’s done a fabulous job at Derby. You’ve got to look beyond the points deduction to see that. By the way - Mike Ashley won’t buy that club as long as there are legal matters outstanding with Middlesboro and Wycombe. 

So either of the above - but if I were Moshiri I’d be testing West Ham’s desire to hold onto David Moyes. I’ve no idea if Moyes would take it - bearing in mind he’s shaken hands with Moshiri previously - only for Carlo Ancelotti to be appointed 48 hours later. Moyes loves it at West Ham - but he’s a Toffee at heart. 

How did I do? I tried my best, but I was always going to have to say something That was as inevitable as Benitez getting the sack! 😂. 

Another subject I’ve tried to steer well clear of in recent months is - Newcastle. That’s because our issues at beINSPORTS with Saudi piracy are settled. 

But in closing - can someone please answer me this? And before I ask question let me say I believe the player in question is a good buy. He’s perfect for what’s required in the project right now - but, how would the Toon Army have reacted if Mike Ashley and Steve Bruce had spent £25m on Chris Wood of Burnley - the scorer of precisely three PL. goals this season? 🤷‍♂️  

3rd round magic - and no need for replays.

Published: Monday, 10 January 2022

What a good weekend that was. We had it all - scares, surprises, shocks - the lot. It was a good old fashion third round weekend - without the mud - and it finally lays to rest the argument for replays.

We don’t need them. The modern calendar is too demanding. I’m not sure of the need for extra-time, but if that’s the trade off for dropping replays, then I’ll take it.

Let’s not pretend, the FA Cup isn’t what it once was. When I was a lad the final was about the only live game on tv - and the day itself was special. TV was at hotels, on buses, occasionally in dressing rooms - there were supporters games like It’s a Knockout - it was a day-long party and the climax to the season. Nowadays schedulers squeeze the final in before the last PL match day.

The big boys don’t take it as seriously. They can’t afford to. I’m not saying that they don’t want to win it, but they’ve got to be careful with how they use a squad in the early rounds. We lost Arsenal this weekend, but the three above them carefully navigated their way to round four. 

Player welfare is more important now than it’s ever been - and there’s too much demand on the guys. It’s not a co-incidence that we’re seeing so many players collapse on the field of play. That is something that’s only going to get worse - and a subject for a blog another time. 

Despite a perceived lack of interest, it’s always one of the top 4 that ultimately wins the competition. Wigan - in 2013 - were the last team outside that group to win it. West Ham - in 1980 - were the last team outside of the top league to win it.

The argument for keeping replays seems to be that we won’t get surprises otherwise. Hereford/Newcastle in 1972 is always used as an example. Hereford got a battling 2-2 at St James’ and won the replay in extra time. It was a fantastic occasion and a game that has become legend. 

But - who’s to say that they might not have won a shoot-out at the first attempt?  And don’t tell me that’s no way to settle a game. Yes it is - and we all love the drama that goes with it. 

Look at the results this weekend. Cambridge were brilliant AT Newcastle. Brilliant. Boreham Wood beat Wimbledon. Huddersfield won at Burnley. Kidderminster beat Reading. Wigan beat Blackburn. Rotherham took QPR all the way. Mansfield did the same to Middlesboro. And Plymouth won at Birmingham (If I’ve missed anyone, apologies) What more do you want?

It was FA Cup football at its ‘modern’ best. I know a few of the fallers didn’t give it their all - Burnley, for example, won’t mind being out. But the winners had the time of their lives - and it’s done. It’s over. The 4th round draw was made without all that if, but and maybe nonsense.

The tie a lot of us were pleased to see was Chelsea v Chesterfield. Nothing will ever compensate Chesterfield for the scandalous, indifferent way they were treated by match ref David Elleray in the 1997 semi-final at OT. 

They were wonderful against Bryan Robson’s Middlesboro. They won really. They won with a goal that Elleray refused to give. His assistant knew that John Howard’s shot was in. He ran back towards the half way line. It was in. Everybody at the ground knew it was in - but Elleray didn’t give it. It would’ve made the score 3-1 and Chesterfield would’ve gone on to win it. As it turned out Boro forced a draw and won the replay. 

The ‘A’ team from Sky were there. Post match we twice asked Elleray why he hadn’t given it. Twice he gave nonsense ‘reasons’ as to why. Twice we made him look foolish proving he was wrong. He never forgave us and as his career progressed and he assumed more power he did everything he could to block our requests for ‘in-goal’ cameras - and much else that would’ve improved the viewer experience. 

As John Duncan, Chesterfield’s manager that day, said this weekend ‘us going to a final would be changed people’s lives’.  It would’ve done.

Twenty-five years too late Chesterfield finally got to play Chelsea, who were waiting for the winners of that semi-final in ‘97. It doesn’t make up for the robbery - nothing ever will - but it was nice to see. 

Elleray never apologised. It’s not in his nature unless his back is really to the wall. He’s gone on to have a stellar career in the game - fiddling with law changes and positioning himself for ever more influence. He’s still at it - but why? How? 

Can I steer you to a terrific piece by Sam Wallace in The Telegraph this weekend? 

http://digitaleditions.telegraph.co.uk/data/842/reader/reader.html?social#!preferred/0/package/842/pub/842/page/147/article/259789

How can one of the most senior men in football get away with asking a black colleague ‘You look rather tanned, have you been down a coal mine?’ This was back in 2014. 

Unbelievable. On this occasion he apologised to Rob McCarthy and he took a diversity training course - but he’s still in post. How? 

As Wallace concludes in his piece - Elleray remains the most powerful man in English refereeing - so powerful that the FA won’t say anything about his position, an upcoming new investigation or whether Elleray (as rumour suggests) has resigned. Why? How can this happen?