Fit and Proper.....?

Published: Monday, 13 July 2020

Apart from the following couple of lines I’ll leave the CAS verdict on City to those who know more about it than me. If it’s the same as most subjects I discuss that tends to be everybody! Seriously though - if you want the inside track on most things financial within the game - read David Conn in The Gradian. Those of a certain generation will laugh at that. I’m not going to explain it. David is the best.

I can see both sides of the FFP argument. I haven’t made a decision which side to come down on though. I’ve never understood why City can’t spend what they want to. After all, with owners like theirs, they’re not accruing debt. I know this case was about slight of hand but that was forced on them because of the regulations. Surely a club like United, with their ever growing multi-million pound debt mountain, are more of a danger to the financial well being of the game?

And Javier Tabas, the Spanish League President, should get back in his box. Until the Spanish Govt stop giving both Barca and Real their generous tax breaks then he has no right to enter the debate. That’s financial manipulation in plain sight.

My conclusion is that we’ve moved from a time when the town butcher would run the local club, through an era where rich individuals would largely ruin them - to a time where countries now own clubs.

In Italy that’s arguably always been the case. I give you Milan. In Spain the Govt are shareholders in the big two - in all but name and we’ve got Paris and City as two working examples of clubs owned by countries. And any day now the PL will nod through the Saudi bid for Newcastle. This is not for the Newcastle Chronicle because they promised some time ago not to quote me - but I’m told it’ll happen Friday.

It’ll happen not because the Saudi’s are ‘fit and proper’. There is no formula by which they, collectively or individually, pass any of the PL’s tests in that respect. No, it’ll happen because the British Govt want it to. It’ll happen because Arms deals will boost the British economy and the Saudi’s have doubtless promised to finance a bit of UK infrastructure. The Saudi’s will also have to make some serious moves to settle their ‘rights’ dispute with Qatar. The bottom line here is they they’ve stolen Intellectual Rights from everybody - all round the world - these past three years. But it seems a promise to buy more weapons to continue to bomb the shit out of Yemen will persuade BoJo and his merry crew that all is well with the deal.

Anyway - let’s talk football. What a weekend. You know, there’s always one like it - you win and then everybody around you wins. It’s so frustrating. It’s very much ‘winner takes all’ at West Ham on Friday night now. And all of a sudden Villa have stirred. Do you know what? I fancy them to do it now. I still think Bournemouth will go and it could very well be the losers on Friday join them.

I had to laugh at Mark CLATTENBURG’s column in The Mail this morning (Monday). I like Mark. He’s a great lad. My goodness, the game misses him - but he was making the case that we’ve seen so many refereeing and VAR errors because the guys in black are ‘tired’. They’re having to drive themselves to games and not getting enough rest. Poor loves. No Mark - we’ve got the worst officials in the world now and they’re making one mistake after another because they’re not good enough. I made this point in my last blog. Mike Riley is to blame for that. We need change - sweeping change. Are you interested Mark? That would be a good start point. Really, it can’t go on.

I hate constantly talking about it, but what choice have we got? Grealish? I refuse to go there. Join the dots yourself. It was a pen. End of. No, the one that left be speechless was Sakho’s disallowed goal. Since when did the top of your shoulder count as handball? It’s laughable. Would they have given a pen for that? Of course not. And if a shoulder is handball - how come Jay Rodriguez’s goal against West Ham wasn’t ruled out? He didn’t score that with his head - it came off his shoulder. Working on the basis that your shoulder is handball - it should’ve been disallowed. It wasn’t because they didn’t see it. Watching football on tv is different. You have to know what to look for - and have spent 25 years sitting with Andy Gray. All we can hope for is better next season when FIFA are in charge of VAR protocols.

We now have the worst refs in the world

Published: Friday, 10 July 2020

Think about it. The PL have now admitted that all three penalty decisions were wrong on Thursday night. All three. That’s the most recent Fernandes dive (he got caught out at Spurs with the same cast that operated United’s game at Villa) the award at Everton for Southampton and the one Kane and Spurs should’ve had at Bournemouth. I’ll get round to the consequences in a moment - but that means six - yes six - of our top referees fucked up. I’ll say it again - six. That’s the three in the middle - and their apologists at Stockley Park. How can we allow this to go on?

We’ve now got the worst officials in the world - being supported by patsies like Dermot Gallagher, Peter Walton and Chris Foy.  It’s embarrassing. We’re a laughing stock. I’m sorry to go on about it - but six is a third of our elite refs. It’s staggering.

On this same match day - how did Tarkowski stay on the pitch at West Ham? That’s red when you see it real time - let alone half a dozen times on VAR. Vardy. How did he stay on at Arsenal? Look at the anger in his face as he loses it and lashes out at Mustafi You can’t see it real time - but VAR can. And it took the best part of three minutes to see Nketiah off. What a shambles all that was. Three minutes for goodness sake - and two refs. If it’s not obvious immediately then discount it.

I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve waited two minutes and more for decisions to be made. Can you imagine VAR operating like this with crowds in the stadiums?  There would be frustrated riots.

And then there’s the big one - the goal Sheffield United scored at Villa. Real time we all saw it was in. Asst could see it. He should’ve flagged - but I discover that they don’t because if they’re wrong they get marked down - so better not to get involved. Any replay you watched showed the ball was in - we waited - and waited - and waited - nothing. All the PGMOL could think of was to blame the technology operators. Pathetic. Absolutely pathetic. I was in stitches listening to Gallagher try and dig his mates out of a hole when he spoke on TalkSPORT afterwards. Dermot has lost all credibility. Nothing he says counts anymore. Conversely - the ‘go to’ man we all want to hear from - Mark Halsey - continues his honest assessment of this nonsense in many a media outlet which means, of course, means that he continues to be shunned by the PGMOL.

There is nothing else for it now - and this isn’t the first time I’ve said it - Mike Riley has to go. He’s simply GOT to go if we are to recover some credibility on the international stage.

Riley was a weak and ineffective ref. He’s carried those same underwhelming qualities into this job. Richard Scudamore appointed him because he would ‘do as he was told’. I used to argue with him about Riley all the time. ‘He’s a nice guy’ he would tell me. I don’t know about that but I do know he’s totally out of his depth. He’s stubborn. He’s very often wrong. He rules his empire by fear and he’s produced a generation of the worst officials I can remember watching.

How does Dean Smith feel today? He knew it wasn’t a pen. What a time in a game - that Villa we’re doing well in - for the officials to turn the match on its head. It went away from them after the award. They’ll almost certainly go down now. I’m not suggesting because of that decision - but it hasn’t helped.

Mourinho got pelters again after a drab draw at Bournemouth. But what if Kane scores from the pen he should’ve had? Bournemouth likely fold and Spurs win. The pressure isn’t so intense then.

It could not have come as a surprise to anyone that FIFA made their land grab and decided that VAR comes under their control from now on. Good. The way we operate it flies in the face of all the agreed protocols. I don’t like VAR - I never will. It’s certainly not delivered the utopia that we were assured it would. All we do is argue about the same things but with technology now. But at least there should be a uniformity of operation going forward. FIFA’s move also diluted the influence IFAB have on the game, which means we should hear less from David Elleray - who’s still trying to find a reason as to why he disallowed Chesterfield’s semi-final goal against Middlesbrough at Old Trafford. He gave us three reasons before he left the ground that day and none of them stood up. He’s had a chip on his shoulder about tv ever since.

Anyway - in conclusion - somebody - please - put us and Riley out of our misery. Give officials the confidence to do their jobs properly. Stop making such inflammatory appointments as sending Antony Taylor to United - or Mike Dean to Liverpool. Why? Why puts the guys under the scrutiny that will follow. Oh - and wait until Mourinho finds out that Michael Oliver has got the North London derby. Why? Why put Oliver under that pressure? It smacks of arrogance by the schedulers - all of whom come under Riley’s control.

Apologies that I haven’t shared so many thoughts in writing recently. That’s because Andy and I have been busy on a daily basis doing Covid influenced shows from his apartment for beINSPORTS They’re available on YouTube. Give yourselves a treat and watch them. 👍🏼👍🏼

And normal service here is now resumed.

What exactly are we trying to achieve?

Published: Sunday, 10 May 2020

Just exactly what is it that we are trying to achieve? Ok - so there are signs that we’re beginning to get to grips with the Coronavirus pandemic. We might just be in a place where we could consider that we might be winning. So why throw it all away now for Project Re-start?

Why are we trying to play football again? Who is it driving the agenda? In my opinion it’s madness. Do you remember why we stopped playing? No? Well let me remind you. It was because Mikel Arteta contracted Coronavirus. One man. One coach. At just one club. Now almost everywhere you look clubs are reporting cases. As I write Sunday afternoon Brighton are the latest. ‘No problem’, say the PL. ‘We’ll be testing every 24 hours. We’ll make sure everybody is safe’. I’ve got news for you Mssrs Hoffman and Masters. You can’t guarantee that. It’s impossible.

Part of the cunning plan to protect ‘everybody’ is to play in neutral venues. I’m with those who’ve raised an objection. And they’re not ‘rebels’ because they have. They simply want to protect themselves from a carve up. So far home games have accounted for 71% of the points the bottom 6 have amassed.

I read the conservative estimate for testing is going to be in the region of £4m. If PL footballers can be tested every day why can’t NHS front line workers?

Fans won’t be allowed into stadiums, so there’ll gather in each other’s front rooms. Liverpool fans will be marauding up and down the Anfield Road the minute their title success is confirmed. It will happen - despite the assurances supporters’ groups have given the local Police. It’s both inevitable and understandable.

Leave aside all the on-pitch changes that will make every game we watch an anaemic version of the sport we love - we’re told that cameras will be allowed in dressing rooms. Why? This is the holy grail for tv companies. I’ve always been against it and I still am. What purpose does it serve? We all know what the inside of a dressing room looks like and it’ll be two minutes before the boys are trying to prove who’s ‘longest in the showers’. That’s ok is it - but swearing on the pitch in empty stadiums isn’t? Someone please explain that to me.

So I ask again - who is driving this madness? Is it the domestic tv companies? Is it Govt? The same Govt whose Health Minister pasted footballers early in the Coronavirus crisis. Now they want the very same players to ‘lift the spirits of the nation’ and get playing again. And what of the BAME footballers - who we now know are four times more likely to contract Coronavirus? Should they not be four times more concerned about going back?

TV companies should be the last group to be consulted. Here’s an inconvenient fact - tv needs football. Football needs tv. It’s a partnership - never more obvious than during this period of time. So would tv really withhold monies and bankrupt the game? I don’t think so. I’ve said it before - re-set and extend all the tv deals by another year. It’s simple.

I love watching football. It’s what I do for a living, but it’s not so important to me that I could sit quietly knowing the dangers a re-start poses - and not just to the ‘guinea pigs’ on the pitch - but to others. What about the Police? I know football is a selfish business, but come on, not now for goodness sake. Let’s call it off and plan for a sensible return in August/September. I said this in the first week of the crisis and nothing has changed my mind.

Of course the PL has got another. massive issue to decide on this week. Does it waive through the Saudi led takeover of Newcastle? Before going into a bit more detail - let me say this - if it does, it will never again be able to mount a winnable case against Piracy. Stream away guys.

For getting on for four years now, the Saudi Govt has supported the theft of intellectual properties owned by the beIN Media Group. It has cost the company I work for millions - probably billions. It also cost 400 of my colleagues their jobs.

The PL know full well the extent of what’s been happening because they’ve been at the forefront of trying to sue for their losses. Nine times they tried to take legal action in Saudi Arabia. Nine times the companies they wanted to use were shut down. All the facts are available in previous blogs I’ve written.

People say to me ‘aren’t you scared of the Saudi’s? Should you really be saying what you do?’ Scared of what? The Sovereign Fund buying Newcastle is a separate entity to the Saudi Govt. Or at least that’s the basis of the argument that’s being made so that the takeover can be waived through. Of course that’s nonsense - but just to be sure - I’m not thinking of jumping off my balcony any time soon - nor do I have plans to visit any Saudi Embassy!

Mike Ashley has a lot to answer for if the deal goes through - and if half a dozen Sports Direct outlets open in Riyadh over the next few weeks then we’ll all know what it was really about. I’ve said for months that there’s another deal on the table - and the Daily Mirror’s article a week ago proved me right. The American, Henry Mauriss wants it and he’s not short of a few bob. Surely that deal would suit the Toon Army? Why not? It would get the PL out of a tight corner, that’s for sure.

Shame on the British Govt if they continue to sit on the sidelines and do nothing. What are they trying to protect? I’ll tell you what they should be protecting - the £7.6billion that the PL contributes to the UK’s GDP every year - and the 100,000 full time jobs underpinned by the League’s supply chain. How is this in danger? Again - simple. If broadcast rights can be stolen without consequence then they become worthless. Trust me, any time soon the big broadcast companies will start putting down sports rights. If the PL thinks it’s got a problem in the short term because of Coronavirus you ain’t seen nothing yet. The real problem is coming hurtling down the track.

Boris Johnson perhaps believes that he’s ‘protecting trade deals and jobs’ by cosying up to the Saudi’s. You always hear noises about ‘arms deals’ at times like these. Mr Johnson, have you noticed that the world has never been more ‘conflict free’ than it is now? We’re all fighting a common enemy - which doesn’t need ‘arms’. And we don’t need ‘arms’ to fight it. So what exactly are you protecting?

I expect the Saudi deal will get the nod of approval this week. If so - good luck to everybody connected with the club. As for the rest of us - as I said - stream away. What a sad, unprincipled world we live in. Be careful what you wish for Mr Masters. And all of you on Tyneside. Oh - one last thing. Has anyone noticed what a staggering resemblance the proposed in-coming Chairman Yasir Al-Rumyyan has to me? 😂😂😂😂😂

In black and white - this is not about Newcastle.

Published: Saturday, 25 April 2020

One last time - this is NOT about Newcastle. It’s not about me for sure. It’s not about Saudi v Qatar. It’s not about making a judgement on the House of Saud. It’s about right and wrong. It’s a legal matter. And it will be judged as such.

Anyone who doubts the above go and look at what I’ve been saying on K&G All our shows are available on YouTube. I have never wavered on my view nor on what I have said.  And I wish the Saudi’s were trying to buy any club other than Newcastle so we could talk about them and not the Toon.

This is about beINSPORTS - the legitimate holders of Premier League rights in the Middle East and North Africa - and beOutQ - a Saudi owned pirate operator, that has been stealing the intellectual rights of the legal owner for the last three years. And not just PL rights - but the rights of every other sports operator world wide.

What do I mean? Well, this is the example I used on air this week. Sky buy PL rights for billions. They sell subscriptions, as well as sponsorships and ads, in order to make a profit on their outlay. It’s a fairly straight forward business model. But - let’s say ITV decide they’re going to broadcast Sky’s property. They don’t just steal the matches, they sell set top boxes and subscriptions - and advertising in scheduled commercial breaks. This business model is to totally illegal. But its what’s been happening in our part of the world. The obvious conclusion is that sports rights become worthless and sport dies. Football is in a total mess six weeks after Covid 19 stopped play. Imagine what it would be like without any tv money whatsoever.

In fairness to the PL they’ve been more active in trying to shut down the Saudi pirate operation than any other sports rights body. Nine times they’ve tried to employ legal companies in Saudi to sue on their behalf. Nine different companies have backed away from the job.

Here’s a statement from the PL last Sept, after many many months of work exploring who was behind the pirate operation BoutQ.

‘An independent report confirms, without question, BoutQ’s pirate broadcasts have been transmitted using satellite infrastructure owned and operated by Arabsat, a Riyad based satellite provider partly owned by the Saudi Arabian government and other gulf states’. No room for confusion is there?

In recent months the Saudi’s moved to close down the operation distancing themselves from it. But the illegal streaming goes on through the illegal set-top boxes. The Saudi’s will also argue that those trying to buy Newcastle are independent of them. But, the Saudi sovereign wealth fund are backing the bid. It’s not for me to decide on that matter. The lawyers will.

So you see, it’s not about whether I like Newcastle or not - and I’ve never suggested I don’t. I repeat what I’ve often said - it’s a proper club in a part of the world that I always enjoyed visiting.

Did I buy into Rafa’s argument that he was the only man that could manage the club? No. Steve Bruce has proven me right.

Did I believe Rafa should have control of the purse strings? No I didn’t, but more importantly, nor did Mike Ashley. Why did Benitez want control? I can’t for a minute guess, but my surprise is that he didn’t want good old ‘Arry installed as director of football to help him identify talent. Football fans spend hard earned money to watch their team and are excited about transfer deals. They expect good governance. A deal to buy a player should be simple. Transfer fees should not be scattered about like confetti.

I’ve defended Ashley, not because I know him - I don’t. I’ve defended him because - as I’ve always said - it’s his club and therefore it’s his right to run it how he sees fit. Do I have a view on his business empire and how he runs that? No. Not my business.

Newcastle is in great shape thanks to some careful management on Ashley’s part. It’s why the Saudi’s want it. I get that too. It’s a great buy, but whether they’ll be allowed to is another matter. Whether they will be allowed to is a legal matter. As a journalist it’s my job to put these matters into the public domain. I’ve done that. I’ve explained again, as best I can, why I’ve done that. The lawyers will decide what happens next.

In the meantime I’ll return to the day job - broadcasting on the legal operator beINSPORTS - all over the world 5 days a week. If you can’t find us like that - then go to YouTube. Andy and I are there as well - with some very interesting things to say!! 👍🏼

Re-set the clock. It’s the only sensible thing to do

Published: Monday, 16 March 2020

Let’s get this clear straight away. Liverpool have been magnificent at times this season. They’ve blown teams away. They looked invincible. It looked as though they’d set a new points record in the PL. I think we can all agree?

Mind you, Sheffield United have been fantastic. Who’d have thought they could achieve what they have? Well - actually, me! Read my early season predictions blog. If Sheffield United win their game in hand they go 5th - above United. Fifth could be good enough for CL football this season.

Wolves haven’t done badly either.

Leeds and West Brom have had eventful seasons, but they’re not up yet. Both can still he caught. So how can we promote them? It would be outrageous if those chasing play-off places were to miss out on the chance to get up.  Bristol City, Millwall, Cardiff are all jockeying. So are Blackburn and Swansea. It’s one of the joys of Championship football that very little is ever settled until the last day of the season. Oh - and the football is pure. No VA-bloodyR spoiling matches.

Barnsley are bottom. They’re not down but they could go - so too could at least seven other teams.

In League One Coventry are top. They’ll come up surely? After years of misery their fans (me included) deserve something to shout about. But we don’t know do we? Are you getting my point? We just don’t know.

Liverpool were going to be ‘invincible’. They were going to retain the CL. They were going to do a league and cup double. Were..... Not now they’re not.

Of course it looks as though they’re going to win the title. But they haven’t won it. Who knows? Their form in recent games has been sobering for their fans. They’ve been poor. Very very poor. Have Klopp’s infamous demands of his players caught up with them again - as they have in previous seasons? Has last seasons fantastic chase of City left them empty? We don’t know. And we might never know. Apologies, by the way, If your team plays lower down - but who cares about that? Liverpool fans appear not to. I left you out of the argument to make that very point. Never mind that Barrow might be back in the EFL next season - and maybe Harrogate for the first time, where father is chairman and son the manager.

The sensible thing to sort all these things out is to ‘play on’ when we can. It’s everybody’s preferred choice. But how exactly do we do that?

Postponing the season was a no-brainer. How that fool Boris Johnson couldn’t see that I have no idea. Perhaps ‘soccer’ isn’t on his radar - just ‘rugger’- and sending children to school to play it during a pandemic. God help us.

But let’s be realistic - the chances of finishing this season are receding by the day. My old mate, Javier Tebas, who runs the Spanish League, has this morning called for the season to be cancelled. For once, I agree with this over promoted egotist. Cancel - now. Re-set the clocks. Go back to last August and start again with everything as it was. That includes the same teams in the CL, UEL - all of them. That will suit the big boys clamouring for a closed shop of CL clubs anyway.

How can we realistically start again in - say, a couple of weeks? Six weeks perhaps? No - two months. Perhaps a week? See the problem? It’s one thing all agreeing to stop playing at the same time but teams won’t all be ready to start playing again at the same time. What about those isolating players now? Some will show symptoms days/weeks from now. They won’t be ready to play with those who’ve recovered earlier. So teams are nothing like the same as those that stopped playing? Where’s the integrity in that?

And the further we push the season back the nearer we get to the deadline when 70 or more PL players are out of contract. Why would they play on with their current clubs? What about injuries? Who would look after a player out of contract, denied a big move by an injury in the last few days of his time with his current employer? So some are weakened in other ways. Where’s the integrity in that?

I read of plans to re-start the European competitions with mini-leagues to sort out a winner. It’s meaningless. It’s not how the competitions work.

All of the above applies to England only. What about Scotland? Should Celtic be ‘given’ a title they haven’t won? Of course they shouldn’t and as manager of Rangers Steven Gerrard should be making that very point. Or is he more concerned about Liverpool? It makes you wonder doesn’t it?

No. Liverpool can not be handed a title they haven’t won. Nor can Celtic. Nor can Barcelona or Juventus. It’s tough - if like my team you’ve worked hard all season to put yourself in a position to achieve something - but it’s only fair on the majority. I’m sorry Liverpool - if you take a title you haven’t won it will forever be tainted. It will always be the ‘title you didn’t win’. And the same goes for Celtic - Barca Juve.....

Let’s hope things settle down, but please, whilst there are many many more important things to worry about, let’s stop the fanciful nonsense. Liverpool have NOT won the title.

Liverpool have won their battle - now it’s war.

Published: Monday, 09 March 2020

The wait is over. Thirty years. None of us that remember watching the great Liverpool teams that Shankly, Paisley and Dalglish built - and Kenny built his own team whatever his critics would have you believe - would ever have imagined that it would be 30 years between the last title and this one.

Jurgen Klopp rightly joins the above Hall of Fame. He’s eclipsed Benitez. The true test of how good a team - or coach is - is delivering a title. The odd Cup success is enjoyable, but it’s no more than that. Porto? Coventry? Wimbledon? As Graeme Souness has often to me ‘everybody can get lucky once’.

If Coronavirus allows - Liverpool will be celebrating, with a packed Anfield, just three matches from now. But then what? Well, that’s when the trouble starts. I believe Liverpool will have to go to war to hold onto their prized assets.

Not the Henderson’s (my player of the year), Robertson’s or Milner’s, but Salah? Mane? Van Dijk? That’s different.

I remember arguing with many a good judge about Ronaldo’s decision to leave Manchester United. There weren’t many that understood why he wanted to leave what was undoubtedly the best club in the world at that time. For me it was simple. He got a call from Real Madrid. If you’re a top pro - if you want to test yourself - if you want to become a legend in the most special jersey of them all - then you can’t resist.

I got to thinking this weekend about who will be on the summer round-a-bout - and why.

Don’t believe what they tell you about Mane and Salah not having much time for each other. It’s worse than that. They deeply dislike each other. Both would be a whole lot happier playing in a team without the other. So - how does that happen? Do Liverpool sell one and keep the other? In an ideal world - yes. But I’ve got a feeling both could be on their way out. Here’s why.....

I fancy that Barca will test Liverpool’s resolve to hang onto Mane. Never mind all the contractural clauses that were written into the Coutinho deal - if Mane has his head turned by the prospect of playing in the Camp Nou - he’s off. A football career is short - and the chances to play for the big two don’t come round too often. And what else could he achieve at Liverpool?

Salah will be thinking the same if Real come calling. I think the smart money has to be on a move to The Bernabeau - but hold on. There are others on the round-a-bout.

Mbappe must be Real’s first choice. He’s currently showing all the signs of a player sowing the seeds of unrest. He wants out at Paris. Anyone disagree? We know where the power lies these days - always with the player.

But Paris have also got Neymar playing up again. They’ve done brilliantly to hang onto him this long - but what has he actually contributed since making it plain last summer that he wanted to go back to Barca? As the late Paul Daniels might say ‘not a lot’.

So - Mbappe engineers a move. Neymar goes too - that means Paris are in the market for a big one. They’ve got to be. My guess is Mo Salah is that big one. Culturally it’s a perfect fit. In my part of the world Salah is a superstar - never mind what they think about him in Liverpool. You’ve got to live where I do to understand the awe in which they hold him here. 

So - that’s Salah to Paris. Mane to Barca with Neymar. As an aside I wonder what Senor Javier Tebas will make of that. Remember him? Well, you can’t forget him really. He’s CE of La Liga, who’s constantly wining about what clubs outside Spain spend. It was him that refused to allow Barca to cash the cheque they got from Paris for Neymar. Strange because I’m sure that what his big two spend this summer won’t bother him too much.

Anyway - if I’m right - that’s Mbappe, Neymar, Mane and Salah on the move. Bale is on the round-a-bout as well. He’ll definitely leave Madrid this summer. But to where? United at last? Spurs? Real will have to help with the wages somehow. It makes no sense for them to keep paying him £650,000/week for so little return. I would add that there’s no reason for Bale to walk away from his deal - Real offered it so they should honour it.

Will van Dijk fancy a move? He’ll certainly be sounded out.

Enjoy the win Liverpool. It’s well deserved and it’s been far too long, but the trouble is about to start.

It’s only two seasons since the football world predicted a decade of dominance from Man City. Only Andy Gray thought differently. He was right. So what chance a decade of Liverpool success? Not much if I’m right. I await with interest the first shots in the upcoming war.

My 2 PL legends

Published: Tuesday, 03 March 2020

Before I get round to the main subject - have you seen the top of League One? How about that? Coventry City are top of a league, post Christmas, for the first time since 1967. Sadly I’m old enough to remember the last time!! 

What a job Mark Robins has done at Coventry - despite the owners - not because of them. I don’t want to get into that debate again - I simply wanted to thank Mark and his team for giving all of us Coventry fans something to smile about again.

It’s such a pity that we’re not playing at the Ricoh. It can’t be easy for the guys turning out in front of just 6/8 thousand fans at St. Andrews. I’m not going to get into that debate either - I’m simply going to pretend I’m 10 years old again - as I was in 1967 - and keep looking at the table - as I did back then! Sad isn’t it? But joyous at the same time! All that football I’ve watched. All those big games I’ve been privileged to have been at but I’m still a fan at heart and it’s such a good feeling to see my team back on top. And on top of anything - I just don’t care after what we’ve been through. Thanks again Mark - and keep it going.

And so - the PL have at last decided to have a Hall of Fame and the first two to be honoured will shortly be inaugurated.

I say ‘at last’ because this is something I’ve advocated for such a long time. It’s an idea I put to Richard Scudamore so many years ago that I can’t remember his reason for not doing it.

I also went to see him with a group of friends - that included Alan Curbishley - to put the idea of a red carpet event called ‘The Footies’ to him. It would’ve been brilliant - an event just like The Oscars, but it would’ve been simply football. Perhaps that’s why the PL didn’t want to do it - because someone knew this was up their sleeve?

I think it’s a great idea but I also understand that there are many who think it’s also sad, because football didn’t start in 1992. I get that. Of course, we at Sky we’re responsible for re-starting the clock when the PL was born. It’s something that Andy argues about often. He was party to the decision to ‘start again’ if you like, but now he realises that his career was all but rubbed out when we did that.

As we know, the top PL goalscorer is Alan Shearer, who has to be under consideration as one of the first nominees. He got 260 goals. But, how about the 23 he got at Southampton? Nobody ever mentions those? We know why - because he got them before football was invented - in 1992! It’s wrong. I know it is, but when we started it seemed the right thing to do - start with a clean slate because the PL was a new project.

I remember referring to ‘previous meetings’ when we were at games. It seems daft now talking about United v Liverpool and, for example, saying ‘they’ve met on 6 previous occasions....’ Mad. But that’s how we did it.

Oh, one other little piece of history that Shearer has been robbed of - when he got a hat-trick for Saints against Arsenal at age 17 years and 240 days he became the youngest player to score three in a top division match - breaking Jimmy Greaves’ 30-year-old record. I feel your pain Alan!

Shearer is a PL giant. So like Andy Gray it’s spooky. He’s one of my contenders for the first two official PL ‘legends’.

You’ve got to think about all the usual suspects. Bergkamp (but he once got Paul Williams sent off, so black mark 😂). Zola was amazing. He didn’t get to Chelsea until he was 29 but went on to become a fans choice as their best ever.

Henry was fantastic, but one little known fact that always bothers me about him is this - he played in 13 different finals during his career and didn’t score in one of them. Big players settle big games. I know a few of his playing colleagues always felt he was happy in ‘comfortable’ surroundings.

There’s Giggs. A wonderful footballer. Keane - a warrior, but not as good as Robson for me. His ‘assault’ on Alf-Inge Haland is impossible for forget.

There’s Lampard and Gerrard - two of the best of their generation. How about Tony Adams and John Terry? Peter Schmeichel and David Seaman? Two wonderful goalkeepers.

I agree with Andy that when you’re looking for candidates for this kind of award ‘longevity’ has to be a factor. That would play in Giggs. It certainly does my first nomination - Paul Scholes - simply the best footballer the PL has ever seen.

Scholes was a player that Guardiola, Zidane, Ferguson Socrates, Davids, Xavi, Fabregas, Lippi, Capello, Keane, Giggs, Gerrard, Blanc, Beckham, Brazilian Ronaldo, Bergkamp, who called him ‘the master’, all say was the best they’d ever seen. There’s many more that agree.

He was magnificent. Never mind this nonsense that ‘he couldn’t tackle’. He knew exactly what he was doing every time he ‘mis-judged’ one. I’ll tell you this, despite Van Persie’s goals, Fergie would never have won his last title had Scholes not come out of retirement for those last few months of 2013.

So - longevity and an unquantifiable talent gets Scholes my first vote. Eric Cantona gets my second.

Why? Impact. I can’t think of another player who turned up and had the impact that Cantona had on all of us -not just United. He was an entertainer in every respect. He loved his stage at Old Trafford. He was born to play in those surroundings. He triggered the ‘glory’ years for Fergie. Do you remember him scoring against Sunderland with that sublime chip and then turning 360 degrees, with his collar turned up of course, to take the applause. Brilliant. Genius. Entertainer. Confusing. Unique. All of those things and more. He captured that whole period for me. He made football exciting. You were happy to pay to watch him. He had that extra little bit of something that made him irrepressible. And - most importantly - he settled big games - time and time again. When he was on a pitch you didn’t what was going to happen - but you knew when it did it would be special. That was a quality George Best had. Players like that make football look so easy.

So if it’s not to be Dion Dublin and Darren Huckerby from my beloved Super Sky Blues, my two for the first to be inaugurated into the PL Hall of Fame are Scholes and Cantona. I’m sorry that they’re both from United, but we’ve all got to agree they are two from the most dominant team in PL history, so perhaps that’s not so much of a surprise? Discuss......

Why is our refereeing so bad?

Published: Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Apologies first that we’re a day late with this week's blog. I spent the entire afternoon yesterday (Monday) with a long time friend that I hadn’t seen enough of in recent years.

So here we go. I’m depressed that talking about referees has become so common for all of us. Why on earth has this happened? How is it that referees have elevated themselves into a position where we’re talking about them more than we do the greatest game on the planet? It’s outrageous. I remember well the days when we’d congratulate an official on his performance because we hadn’t noticed him.

I’ve had an extra day to think about this. My conclusion is that they are now so bad that it’s impossible to ignore them. Honestly, I hate saying that, but after another shambles, both on the pitch and in the VAR bunker last weekend, how can anyone disagree?

I give you Mr David Coote. Here’s a man who recently failed a FIFA fitness test - along with Andy Madley. Granted - they both have subsequently passed - but, what does it say about the way we handle refs in the PL if they’re not fit enough to gain FIFA credentials?

Worse - last weekend Coote didn’t even have to run about. All he had to do was look at tv monitors (replay after replay) and come to the conclusion - like everybody else watching real time - that Tottenham’s Giovanni Lo Celso should’ve been sent off at Chelsea. No ifs. No buts. No maybes. Off. His challenge was clearly a red card offence. It was a career ending stamp. It was violent conduct. How hard can it be? What did Coote think he saw? ‘There was nowhere else for his foot to come down’ we were originally told. Please - I’m still laughing. Never mind trying to get onto the FIFA list - this man should never work again. He’s a danger. As Frank Lampard said - ‘it’s not good enough for the PGMOL to admit they were wrong’. Who made that decision anyway? Why don’t they tell us? And why was it made? Was it simply because the social media caught fire? My guess is Mike Riley was once again hanging about in the VAR bunker - as he is most weeks - wanting to make the final decision on everything, when he realised the gravity of the mistake.

Lampard was angry because he’d stood in the same place the previous Monday and watched Harry Maguire almost castrate Michy Batshuayi. That should’ve been red. The VAR bunker decided there was no case to answer. Really? How? I wonder what patsy-in-chief Peter Walton would’ve made of the challenge had he been working? Was it? Wasn’t it? ‘Hold on - I’ll wait until somebody tells me’. Honestly. Its pathetic. I’ve mentioned it here before - I was a huge fan of Dermot Gallagher’s - but not anymore. His credibility is shot as well. So too the other PGMOL apologist Chris Foy. Walton’s indecision was final at Chelsea. Why are these guys employed?

Let’s not forget how bad it got for Coote as he went onto make a mess of the game at Leicester. Why was he allowed anywhere near it after what happened at Chelsea?

If you think I’m being harsh - I’m sorry. These guys wanted VAR, promising to take us to a utopian land where they would get everything correct. They haven’t. They won’t. All it’s done is underline how bad our general standard of refereeing is - and who do we have to blame for that? You got it - the aforementioned Mike Riley.

Riley was a weak ref. Average at best. I’ll never forget him desperately trying to get Ashley Cole to give him his name in a match at Spurs one night. ‘Turn round Ash. Show me your shirt’ you could see Riley saying. Cole didn’t. Cole wouldn’t. Why for goodness sake? Riley knew his name, yet here he was trying to assert his authority but making himself look daft into the bargain

Riley got his job because he is a ‘yes’ man. Richard Scudamore appointed him to succeed the excellent Keith Hackett, largely because Riley would do as he was told. Scudamore was tired of trying to get refs to do his bidding. He failed with Philip Don, so he went. Hackett was never going to be told what to do. So, of course, he went.

Look at Riley’s record. He’s responsible for this VAR farce - stubbornly refusing to let referees use pitchside monitors. It’s Riley that’s given the PL two interpretations of handball - one for forwards, so they can find another reason to disallow goals, and another for defenders. This only happens in our league.

It’s Riley that refuses to use VAR to see if a keeper has moved from line in a penalty situation. We leave it to the ‘on-field’ officials. There’s something of an irony in that eh? And this only happens in the PL.

It was Riley that allowed the excellent Mark Clattenburg (a World Cup final ref) to cut short his career in England because he was so frustrated by the PGMOL leadership. So too Howard Webb, another World Cup final ref. Because of Clattenhurg’s ‘retirement’ we didn’t have one official at the last World Cup. It’s embarrassing.

Philip Don lost his job because Scudamore - and the clubs- were unhappy about the number of yellow cards flying around during his era. He didn’t do much else wrong - but he went. So how does Riley hang on?

This is a man that Scudamore was warned he shouldn’t employ. There’s a reference in Mark Halsey’s book ‘Added Time’ to a conversation Halsey had with Scudamore when the former PL chief admitted Riley was the wrong man - but he went ahead of employed him anyway.

As much as anything, it was this revelation that led to Halsey being black-balled by the PL and the PGMOL.

It annoyed both organisations deeply when they read a different passage in the book about Halsey being told to change his mind on the infamous clash at Stoke between Ryan Shawcross and Stephen Nzonzi. Stoke and Blackburn fans remember it well. Halsey didn’t see anything wrong with it, but was told by Riley at a subsequent refs meeting, that he should’ve shown red. Riley added that Halsey would be getting a call from the FA to ask if he would ‘change his mind’ if he saw the challenge again. Halsey said ‘no’,  Wrong answer. The ref added that he wasn’t very happy about being bullied over the incident either. I’m not telling tales here. It’s all in Halsey’s book. Read it for yourselves. It was Halsey being typically honest.

The book caused Halsey all sorts of problems. Despite originally being given permission by the PGMOL to write it, they subsequently withheld his exit package - a 5-figure sum - when he retired. The money would’ve allowed Halsey and his wife Michelle, who’ve both been cancer victims, to live the rest of their lives in relative comfort. We might never know who cost Halsey his job at BT Sport, but I’ve got a good idea. They now employ Peter Walton!

I mention Halsey because what happened to him is a modern day football scandal - made worse when you consider that Scudamore walked away from his very well rewarded job with a £5m pay off.

Halsey and Hackett are now the go to men if you want a no holds barred, straight forward, honest opinion about refereeing. Both should be involved in the VAR bunker. It’s a waste that they’re not. The same goes for Roger East and Lee Probert. Both retired last season and were told they were not good enough to operate VAR. But David Coote is? And I’m not singling Coote out because he had a shocker last week - I am genuinely concerned about the direction our refereeing is heading in whilst good men sit idle. These guys should be encouraged to become VAR specialists. Let the match day refs do their jobs - ‘assisted’ by VAR - which is how it works everywhere else in the world.

I’m keeping some gun powder dry because I’m assured change to VAR is coming - it will have to or the PL are going to lose their IFAB licence to operate it - but it will count for nothing if Riley isn’t removed from his post.

And if you enjoy both listening to and reading Mark Halsey - who was punished for his honesty - join me in my crusade to right a dreadful wrong. Let him and the PGMOL know what you think. They HAVE to pay him his exit package even if they don’t take him back into the fold.

And by the way Mike - you’d be amazed at how many of your current refs are constantly in touch with me about their frustrations. Why? Because I air them.

Sent from my iPhone

I had to - my thoughts on City’s ban

Published: Monday, 17 February 2020

Where to start? That’s the problem. There are so many different aspects to the Manchester City case.

What I know for sure is that I don’t want to see sanctions from the PL that would lead to City’s on-field achievements being expunged from the record books. I’m not Guardiola’s biggest fan - I think that came across pretty clearly in my most recent blog on the Spaniard - sorry, the Catalonian - but what his Manchester City have given us has been nothing short of breathtaking at times. Only United fans have failed to enjoy watching them and that’s understandable. You know my view - Guardiola has failed in both Munich and Manchester (so far) to deliver the one trophy he was employed to win, but the football has been joyous at The Etihad (can we still call it that?).

I know this isn’t a very strong argument - and there are many that will offer the alternative view - that they couldn’t have done it without the financial skulduggery that was going on - I get that, but none of it is the fault of the players employed to deliver the dreams. They did their bit with flair, brilliance and honesty. Although I’m not convinced Guardiola can argue the same mitigation. No - let the records and the trophies stand. City’s fans parted with their money believing in what they were being sold.

Are UEFA right to go after City? Yes. One hundred per cent. You can argue all day long about the merits of FFP, but it’s a waste of time doing so. City signed up to the rules. They knew what they were doing. No-one held a gun to Begiristain or Soriano’s heads Far smarter brains than mine will eventually decide - but right now it would appear that the management at City knew exactly what they were doing and wilfully decided to find a way to circumvent the rules. They got caught, so now they have to face the consequences.

Regular beINSPORTS watchers will know this is a story Andy and I have been talking about on K&G for many many months. What always surprised me was how little the rest of the UK press wanted to do with ‘Footie-leaks’. Time and again I spoke to friends back in the UK and asked ‘Why the silence?’ It seemed only Rob Harris, the excellent AP reporter, was prepared to ‘follow the money’. When he questioned Guardiola about these matters after the Cup Final last May it was as though he broke the code of ‘love Guardiola’. His line of questioning was frowned upon by the rest of the room. You could feel the dis-satisfaction. He was right though  And he was right to go after the story. I hope you’ve had a good week Rob.

Anyway - K&G. Almost weekly we’d speak to reporters at Der Spiegel. Some of the things they told us were mind blowing - but where were they getting the info from? Someone mentioned the name Rui Pinto to me. I went on line and dug about. He wasn’t a secret, but no-one was talking about him outside of Germany. And it was evident he’d seriously pissed off people in Portugal, his country of birth.

I don’t want to get too deeply into the story - it’s all available on-line - but it bothers me that as UEFA congratulate themselves on a job well done - the source of all their information is languishing in a Portuguese jail facing 90 separate counts of hacking, sabotage and fraud. He failed as recently as Thursday - 24 hours before City were nailed - with an appeal.

Amongst the allegations is the serious matter that he tried to extort a ‘generous donation’ out of Sporting Club of Portugal of between 500,000 and one million euros. If they paid - Pinto and his company,Doyen, would ‘lose’ some of the documents that would embarrass Sporting. We don’t know. It’s a charge unproven. What we do know is that City wouldn’t have been in the dock without Pinto’s information.

Here was the problem the British press had with the story. It’s City’s main line of defence as well. Can we use ‘stolen’ information to convict wrong-doers? I don’t know the answer - but my feeling is that it’s no bad thing if we use information- however it comes to light - to hold arrogance and rule-breakers to account.

City’s problems have delighted many - not least La Liga’s President Javier Tebas. But - again, I’d like to know where the line is when you’re ‘bending’ rules. Is it ok for Real Madrid to sell a square metre of their training ground to the govt for millions? It turned out it wasn’t and Real had to buy the land back - for a euro. That must’ve hurt!

Is it ok for the Spanish govt to treat Real and Barcelona as ‘special cases’ offering huge tax advantages to both clubs? It’s not really is it? If I was Senor Tebas I’d pipe down. It’s always been the case - don’t shine the torch to brightly into the corners of the room. Do we think everybody in Italy plays by the rules?

We won’t know the outcome of City’s appeal for some time yet - and here we go again - but, what if? Jonathan Wilson’s column in The Guardian today (Monday) makes for a fascinating read. What if - FIFA jump on this and manipulate it to their own end? What if City feel they don’t need UEFA? What if FIFA can offer riches enough to fill the void of a European ban with their own creative ideas and tournaments? What if....?

I don’t believe that route is one many other would follow, but football hasn’t stopped evolving since 1992, when the PL was set up. It remains the model that the rest of football would like to smash. So, what if.....?

West Ham - a car crash.

Published: Monday, 03 February 2020

‘Is it not even vaguely puzzling that Karen Brady is held up as a paragon of business virtue yet she runs a car crash of a football club?’ Not my words, but a tweet posted last week by the brilliant Ollie Holt.

Well? He’s correct isn’t he? Ollie has often written about Ms Brady. He’s not a fan. Check his work out online. Another article headlined ‘The Comical Ali World of Karen Brady’ will leap out at you. It’s another masterful piece. Unlike the majority of today’s sports writers Ollie isn’t a West Ham fan, so you’ll get a whole lot more sense and honesty out of him.

I hereby have to declare a mild conflict of interest. I don’t like Ms Brady either. We used to get on quite well but (under instruction) she had too much to say about my departure from Sky. Most of her views were inaccurate but she went onto abuse me with the most vile and inaccurate slurs. Her behaviour was scandalous. I’ve never responded and I’m not going to now. I’m saving it.

Ms Brady once claimed that her toughest battle in football was fighting sexism. Nonsense. Who cares about the sexuality of a Chief Executive, Chair, club owner or Board member? If she/he is good at what she/he does - fine. But - if they’re not they should expect criticism whether they are male or female. Or whatever other gender they maybe.

I called Ms Brady out on the shambles surrounding Avram Grant’s sacking. She f****d it up. Do you remember? One minute he was waving goodbye knowing full well he’d lost his job - the next he was back at work with West Ham denying they were sacking him. But they were. They were replacing him with Martin O’Neill. I’ve talked about this before - Graeme Souness and Big Sam had also been spoken to. How do I know? Because they both asked me my advice about taking it. What none of us knew then was that O’Neill had been offered it - Souness and Allardyce were insurance policies, who subsequently both said ‘no’ - but Ms Brady’s problem was that O’Neill changed his mind and decided not to take it. So - what else could she do but tell Grant to carry on? It was a shambles and had her Dad, Terry Brady, made such a pigs ear of the situation I’d have called him out too.

I’ve made myself very unpopular with West Ham fans down the years - but only by telling the truth. The trio that run your club have let you all down. It’s a mess. How David Gold has got the brass neck to ‘like’ a tweet referring to West Ham fans as ‘morons’ I don’t know. Hang your head in shame David and remember that you too are a West Ham fan.

Here’s my take. West Ham is a wonderful football club with glorious traditions trashed in the modern era. My first footballing hero was Bobby Moore. He must be turning in his grave. Having said that, I also believe that a lot of Hammers fans have an unrealistic view of what their club can achieve - perhaps fuelled by the current owners.

West Ham are NOT going to play Champions League football any time soon. Certainly not by buying fading 28-year-old Frenchmen for £8m on three-year contracts that are never renewed. And not by spunking £100m in panic on feint-hearts who don’t give a damn about the club. Who buys these players Mr Sullivan? And Manuel Pellegrini? Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

No. West Ham should hope to finish in the top half and enjoy the occasional Cup run - just like it always was. Big Sam knew that. Big Sam delivered half of that equation. Given time he would’ve had a go at a Cup as well.

I genuinely hope West Ham don’t go down again - largely for David Moyes sake. David, of course, master-minded the last great escape before being fired. Oh well.....

A couple of other things. Newcastle fans should hope that the group wanting to buy their club can pull things together by mid-February. They’re still at the table. And it’s not the Saudi’s. I was pleased when Steve Bruce cooled that nonsense. Well - it’s not the Saudi’s right now although it is fair to say they they’ve been ‘sniffing’ around.

Remember the ‘experts’ talking about an era of Manchester City domination a couple of years ago? It was Andy Gray that poured scorn on that. How right he was. I read today that some now believe City need a reboot and are seven players short. Will Guardiola be around to under-take that task next season? I’m not convinced.

I’m not getting into the VR mess at Spurs. I think you’ve all sussed the PGMOL out now. I’m told change is coming. It’s coming largely because the PL have been told they’ll lose their licence to operate VAR if it doesn’t. They have GOT to adopt IFAB protocol. It’s that simple. In making these up coming changes can I once again suggest that Mike Riley, the head of the PGMOL, be one of them? He has got to go if football in England is ever to recover from the arrogant mess that Riley inflicted on us. Only then will the healing process really start. I can’t wait to read my Twitter responses. Enjoy.....😂😂.