Agent Rafa.

Published: Monday, 29 November 2021

‘The plan remains the same. I get sacked by Christmas yea, big Dunc gets the job and gets H’everton relegated and I take over from Eddie Howe at Newcastle….’

If the above wasn’t so near the truth it would be funny. If you haven’t yet seen Darren Farley’s brilliant impersonation of Agent Rafa after H’everton’s defeat at Brentford - have a look. Here it is. 

Scary eh? It is funny in the round, but it’s a bit too near the truth for my liking.

Of course, no-one is really suggesting that Benitez is running H’everton into the ground on purpose, but this is the blog I knew I’d be writing sooner or later. And it certainly isn’t a self congratulatory ‘I told you so’.

Benitez should never have been given the H’everton job. Wrong man. Wrong club. It was always going to end in tears.

What I wrote when he was appointed didn’t go down well with everybody. I get that. Benitez has got a small army of ‘friends’ in the press (and the odd former player) who he’s managed to con for years and they quickly got to work to support the appointment - rubbishing me and others of the same view. I didn’t mind because I knew time would be his greatest enemy.

I also understood that Evertonians would swallow their guff and get behind Benitez, because whatever else, we all want to see our team do well.

The Rafa-lites also told me I knew nothing about what Evertonians really wanted. Wrong. During my four years in Liverpool I got it to know the club inside out. Many of my closest footballing friends are Evertonians. It’s a club closer to my heart than any other after Coventry. 

Evertonians bought into Rafa because they were drip fed the appointment over weeks - in order that their anger about it would subside -  and because they wanted someone to bring back the glory days. Moshiri promised a safe pair of hands - someone with pedigree. He delivered Benitez, whose hands were covered in Liverpool red. Let’s just say ‘red’.

It was a shameful appointment. Of course, the Rafa-lites were making plenty of noise as they swept to home wins over Southampton, Burnley and Norwich and for a while were almost replicating the start Ancelotti had delivered the previous season. But, inevitably, the wheels came off. It’s now two points from 21.

Benitez is starting to do what he does best - try to blame everybody else. It’s not his fault that he can’t sign players. It’s FFP. He blamed the restrictions for slipping Andros Townsend into Goodison. This guy couldn’t get into an average Crystal Palace team. There’s a reason Damarai Gray was in exile - and then there’s Salomon Rondon. I wonder why he follows Benitez everywhere? It’s certainly nothing to do with talent.

It’s not FFP. Alisher Usmanov has given up. He doesn’t want to spend anymore money. I wrote recently about a friend of mine in this part of the world that was offered H’everton for £500m. That was too much, but the sting in the tale was having to guarantee another £500m for the stadium. £1b? No chance. But trust me. H’everton is available for purchase.

So Benitez can have that one. There isn’t any money, but what I’m not having is his latest excuse to try and disguise the capitulation at Brentford. He reckons the fans should be more understanding of the ‘intensity’ and ‘mentaaality’ of the players, adding that there was a disconnect between fans and players last season, which he wasn’t responsible for. He claims he’s now working at repairing the relationship. No there wasn’t a disconnect . Most of last season passed without fans in the ground. Any ground. So how can he talk of a ‘disconnect’? How does he judge that?

If Everton lose the derby this week Moshiri should sack Benitez the very same evening - and apologise to Evertonians for his error. And it was his error. Bill Kenwright didn’t want Benitez - nor did anyone else at Goodison. Give it to big Dunc. And give Benitez what he really wants - an early conclusion to Agent Rafa’s master-plan.

Here’s why Conte didn’t join United.

Published: Monday, 22 November 2021

I’ve now read virtually every word that’s been written about Ole Gonnar Solskjaer today. As I’m reading I’m thinking ‘I’ve heard all this’. And then I realised ‘I’ve also written all this’ - here - in this blog. I’ve read nothing that I haven’t been saying, so there’s no point in repeating any of it. The outcome was inevitable.

But let me add this - and let’s see how long it takes for this to get regurgitated. Here’s the reason why Antonio Conte is at Spurs and not United. Oh, make no mistake - he wanted the United job, but once senior individuals in the dressing room had been asked their view - one in particular, with strong links to Juventus - Conte wasn’t getting it. This guy had had too many of the same conversations with ‘friends’, who all told the same stories. Conte is tough to be around. Tough and predictable.

John Terry was in our BeINSPORTS studio at the weekend. Telling stories of Conte’s time at Chelsea I heard him use the word ‘boring’. I had to stop him and check I’d heard correctly. I had. Here’s what he said ‘towards the end of that first season the players were finding what he was doing boring’. That first season? That title season? At the end of that - the players were ‘bored’? Wow.

In the interests of balance I’ve got to say that Terry also said he liked working with him. He added that ‘as a defender I enjoyed a lot of the work, but creative mid-field players and forwards didn’t’. There we have it. Those with the most influence at United were having none of it. And, in fairness, United might just have dodged a bullet. They can’t afford to keep making mistakes.

I described Conte recently as Mourinho’s ‘mini-me’. He is. If anyone at Spurs thinks that working with him is going to be preferable to their time with Mourinho - forget it. It won’t.

It will be tough. Already Conte has muttered the words all new coaches use about teams they’ve inherited. ‘They’re not fit enough’ he’s said. Oh come on. You can do better than that Antonio.

First half against Leeds it looked as though he’d been running the bollocks off them. They were flat. They looked tired. It had to get better in the second half.

As Andy said on our programme ‘you can be sure he’s ripped into them’. He was right. Spurs we’re better second half, but what happened was nothing to do with the laughable view expressed elsewhere that Conte is a ‘tactical genius’. Again - as Andy said ‘every good general also needs a huge slice of luck’. Spurs first was a lucky bobbler - the second came as a result of an awful free-kick, that was deflected onto a post. The ball could’ve gone anywhere, but it fell into the path of Reguilon, who was smart enough to be on the move. But how that equates to ‘tactical genius’ I have no idea.

Now the dust has settled - Saudi Arabia has stopped stealing BeINSPORTS output and we’re all friends again - I hope it’s also possible for Geordie fans to understand that I wish their club well. I repeat what I’ve said many times - it’s a great club. I’ve got wonderful memories of games at St James’ Park and I hope there are many more to come. I never had a problem with the ownership changing - IF the Saudi’s stopped pirating our output. Remember - 400 people lost their jobs at our company as a result.  So - good luck to Eddie Howe.

But how many times down the years have I said that Geordies would rather see their team lose in an exciting 5-4 than win a scruffy 1-0? It’s true. Proof is what happened at the weekend.

They had more possession than Brentford. Yes - Brentford, who had lost their previous four. They mustered many more attempts at goal than in recent games, and they got a battling point. They were applauded off - as they crashed to the bottom of the table! You see, I’d rather have seen my team scramble a 1-0, as they might have done under Brucey, and give me belief that we could stay up.

For the record, of the four teams that have failed to win in their opening 11 games, only one team has stayed up - Derby in 2001. The others went down. Newcastle haven’t won in 12. And believe me - as Derby, Reading, Sheffield Weds, QPR and Bournemouth have all found out - profitability and sustainability regulations in the EFL are a whole lot tighter than they are in the PL. Relegation would be a disaster for Newcastle.

Finally this week - Raheem Sterling.

He’s a fabulous talent. I backed his move to City. Others argued he was too young. I felt he’d learn a whole lot more surrounded by better players. I also said if I’d been Real Madrid I’d have signed him before Eden Hazard.

As ever - there’s a but.  Cut out the diving Raheem. That was a shocker on Sunday - admittedly not much worse than the dive v Denmark - but both were cheating.

The big difference is that v Denmark he was in an England jersey, so highly paid England pundits failed to call him out. I didn’t. Danish football didn’t. European football didn’t.

As we waited for the replays Sunday Andy said to me ‘I think it might be you know’. I replied ‘It’s Sterling’. It wasn’t.

Once again there wasn’t a word of condemnation from English sports writers or watchers. Why not? I’ll say it again - its cheating. And when Salah used to do it we were all over him. Go all the way back to Klinsmann - it’s always Johnny Foreigner that we blast. But our boys are as bad - Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard and many others have been forgiven because they’ve been wearing England white. And now, it seems, it’s ok for Sterling to do it both in an England jersey and City light blue. Well let me say this - no it’s not ok. Why haven’t the FA charged him retrospectively? He dived. It’s was as clear as day. A ban should follow. Ask Matty Godden about taking a dive. He missed Coventry’s next two games after going over easily v Fulham. He was charged retrospectively. Why hasn’t Sterling been? Oh - hang on - he plays for England and City doesn’t he?

A great week for British coaching - but leave the big boy stuff alone Conor

Published: Monday, 15 November 2021

It’s been a great week for British coaching. How good was it to see three of our brightest taking jobs in the PL?

Welcome back Steven. Although I wish you’d taken a bit more care about the manner in which you accepted the Villa job.

I said this on Twitter last week - and I stand by it. Leaving Rangers like a thief in the night was poor. Everybody at Ibrox deserved better - not least the players - who knew little or nothing about your intentions until they saw pictures of you holding up a Villa shirt - and yes - you looked happy! The ‘daft questions’ came later this time

Why leave like that? Why skulk off after being given your big break by Rangers? You later issued a statement saying ‘in time - I hope people understand’. Well they won’t. If you’d done things the right way I’m sure they might have done.

I don’t see Gerrard taking the job at Villa as a gamble for him. It’s Villa who’ve taken the gamble. Just because Steven played for Liverpool and England doesn’t make him a cast iron certainty to make a success of it. Frank Lampard played for Chelsea and England, but he came up short when he returned to The Bridge. I’m not suggesting Lampard won’t yet make a very good coach, but the jury is out. It’s the same with Gerrard. He’s taken on a massive club and he’s totally unproven in England.

There’s no doubting that the job he did at Rangers was first class. If nothing else - he stopped Celtic making it 10-in-a-row, but this is a step up. The last man to make a similar journey failed. It hurts me to say that because he’s a mate. I’m sorry Graeme.

So we wish Steven good luck, but it won’t be a walk in the Villa Park.

What a whirlwind week it was for his predecessor at Villa. Out of one door and in through another almost without breaking step. I’m delighted for Dean Smith. He’s a good man. He got shafted by Villa and deserved better. So he lost five on the bounce. Thomas Frank has lost four in a row, so if he gets beaten at Newcastle on Eddie Howe’s debut, does that mean he’ll be out of work Monday morning? If you follow Villa’s logic it does.

Norwich have finally woken from their long sleep. I still think it’s too late for them to avoid the drop - but it seems they want to have a go. I’m glad I had a go at them a fortnight ago - specifically Stuart Webster and Delia. I’m not suggesting I’m the reason they fired Danial Farke, but isn’t it funny how the sporting director and owners have a panic-up when they find themselves under pressure? 😂.

And that leads us onto Eddie Howe. It’s a warm welcome back Eddie as well. And I genuinely wish Howe good luck - he too is going to need it. It’s great to have another young Brit back in the PL. But, let’s keep it real.

On the plus side Howe is apparently already a much better manager than he was when he took Bournemouth down. Than he was when he didn’t take to managing in Burnley (Newcastle is a bit further north than Turf Moor) or when he didn’t fancy a crack at Celtic. Or the previous regime at Newcastle chose to ignore him time and again. So that’s all good news.

And I’m sorry - but as the face of the new Saudi ownership at Newcastle - Howe can’t duck questions about that regime as he did at his unveiling. It isn’t just ‘about football’ Eddie.

But I guess you’ll find that out when you try to sign players in January. Forget about the likes of Conor Coady and his England colleagues, who’ll be demanding the FA hold Qatar to task on the subject of human rights as soon as they’ve qualified for the WC finals.

Coady has announced that he and his colleagues will ‘use their platform’ to make a difference to the human rights issues in Qatar. Will you Conor? What exactly do you know about human rights in Qatar? Will you use your platform to highlight abuses in Saudi when Newcastle come calling in January - offering to fatten up your bank account? Have you been in touch with Jamal Khashoggi’s widow? No. I thought not.

You see - this is where it gets complicated when pop stars/footballers and the like start to want to get taken seriously - and they forget about the day job.

Marcus Rashford is also a good example of that. What he did to tackle child hunger was wonderful. But leave it there Marcus. Solskjaer was right - get back to you doing what you’re paid for. There’s a need for massive improvement there.

Rashford has made 183 appearances for United and scored 57 goals - one every 3.21 games. Making 46 appearances for England he’s scored 12 goals - one every 3.83 games. For a striker - is that enough?

His MBE was reward for his campaigning - but why was it hijacked by his management team to help ‘build brand’? There was a GQ article, paid for by Burberry, who designed and clothed him in an outfit so he could collect his gong. How does that sit with campaigning on child poverty?

Just pulling on a big shirt isn’t enough. Yes - where you can do good. Influence for better if possible, but never lose sight of your real job lads and in the case of Coady and his England  colleagues - be careful you don’t cross the line into territory that you’ve no idea about.

One last thought on that subject - who does Coady think built the party playground of Dubai - and the 7star hotels he and his mates are on the first plane to enjoy whenever they can?

The one-eyed snipers can farke off.

Published: Wednesday, 10 November 2021

Until recently, did the name Josh Cavallo mean anything to you? No? I’m not surprised. Few people outside of Adelaide - where he plays his football - had heard of him, until he came out as gay a few days ago.

The first thing to say is good luck to him in every way. He was brave, courageous, selfless; and I’m not the only one who would wish him continued fortitude and every possible success – the prejudice he faces is sadly not over and across all four corners of the world. I hope his decision also leads to anybody and everybody else currently feeling that they have to hide or deny who they are making the same decision.

Sadly I don’t think a Premier League player will come out any time soon. Being gay isn’t a crime in many countries (many less than you’d think), but there’s still a stigma attached even in places where it is not criminalised. And even with today’s more relaxed - and generally supportive - attitudes, I think we all know that a PL player would get a pretty rough ride from a vocal minority of thuggish fans – perhaps the flare-in-backside and drug-taking yobs who ruined the EUROS in London, but who knows. Anyway, change takes time. For tribal football fans this one is still an issue.

Here’s another interesting question - did you know that being a practicing homosexual man in the U.K. was a crime the last time England hosted the World Cup? Amazing eh? The Sexual Offences Act of 1967 started a process whereby attitudes began to thaw, but research suggests that 15,000+ gay men were convicted in the decades that followed the 1967 liberalisation. Between 1885 and 2013 – yes, 2013 – 100,000+ men were arrested for same-sex acts in the U.K. Surely not? In Britain? Yep. In Britain. And let’s fast forward shall we, how about all those lovely holidays to Barbados, the Maldives, Sri Lanka; a safari in Namibia, or a sports tour to Singapore. Forget 2013 in England – being gay is a crime there today; in fact in nearly 70 of the 190 countries on the planet it is. 

Thank goodness social norms are slightly ahead of legal laws, and we’re now at the stage where most people don’t care about two men or women enjoying each other’s company – unless, perhaps, it’s two Premier League or Women’s Super League footballers judging from the current statistics?

Why does any of this matter? Because that’s exactly how it is in the country that I now call home - Qatar - host of the 2022 World Cup. As was the case in England, Qatar will host a WC at a time when being gay is illegal. But do you know what? Few people care. In fact, in my experience, nobody cares. They really don’t. Which is why I found reading this opening paragraph from an article on Josh Cavallo today staggering: ‘The world’s only openly gay top-flight footballer says he would be ‘scared’ to play at the WC tournament in Qatar next year because of the emirate’s harsh ban on homosexuality and legal penalties ranging from flogging to lengthy prison terms and execution’.

What? All of the above is utterly hysterical nonsense – we might as well add eye-gouging and disembowelment to the floggings and executions. And it’s this kind of moronic and sensationalist hyperbole from media that actually denies a proper debate. Much like the “you’ll be banged up for booze at the Qatar WC” – booze will be fully available at WC (and look how booze went down at the EUROS in London – more of that coked-up stadium-storming for the kids to see please, just lovely). Or much like “temperatures will be 50C and players will collapse taking a peno at the Qatar WC Final” – try 25C in peak-day sun in Qatar in a few weeks; and funny how temps approached 40C at the Toyko Olympics but no-one batted an eye lid.

Qatar has already made it be fully and openly known that everybody will be welcome at next year’s WC and at any time - whatever their sexual orientation, colour or beliefs - but that’s an inconvenient fact that blurs the lines of sensational journalism and doesn’t allow for the (most typically) British press to continue to give Qatar a kicking. Often written from a holiday sunbed in Barbados or the Maldives – no comment on the legal systems there – funnily enough.

Nobody pretends life is perfect in Qatar. Where is that the case? How about Rochdale and Rotherham if you want close to home. Or let’s have a look at some of the things Trump incited for four years – leader of the free world, just not for the black community, women, Muslims, or anyone who thinks COVID is real and many who died as a result. There’s a lot of catching up to do in many areas in Qatar - but it’s happening and happening at comparatively lightning speed compared to the West. Change is a process. It can’t happen overnight - 1885-2013 remember for England. The spotlight that’s on Qatar now has brought about many changes and the process will continue. That’s not excusing the past – but let’s not be one-eyed, facts shouldn’t be unequal.

I can partially forgive those that simply regurgitate the same badly researched narrative for clickbait – trying to get a couple more impressions to work up the media ladder. Trump became President of the free world on that ticket, after all. But I do struggle with people like Gary Lineker, who should know better. His classically pious and hypocritical go at David Beckham - whilst promoting himself again - was poacher Lineker at his best. Mr “Squeaky Clean” (ahem) rhetorically asked himself: “Will I do stuff for Qatar in the World Cup? Absolutely not. Whatever they wanted to pay me the answer would be no.” Lineker worked for the Qatari’s for years. He deposited huge sums into his agents’ account at the Queen’s bank Coutts for years. And that’s not including the many promotional gigs that he did – flying Qatar Airways is nice after all.

In fact, had he not tripped himself up with an awful on-air gaff he might still be working with Qatar. This is an area in which I have some experience myself of course. My faux pas never went to air publicly – but one of my colleagues recorded it privately and leaked it to help get rid of another colleague – although that doesn’t make my comments any less crass, which I have the contrition to admit, unlike some. However, fully on-air (not privately) Lineker laughed at a Muslim footballer dropping to his knees and facing Mecca celebrating a goal – something that the likes of Mo Salah does all the time. How hilarious it was to ridicule the individual by suggesting he was “eating grass”. Hmmmmm. You didn’t know about this either? Again, some facts seem to be unequal, or maybe it’s just carefully SEO-managed reputations. Mr Squeaky Clean was told to record an apology - which he did. He was lucky that he had the chance to apologise swiftly - Sky stopped news of my apology becoming public for days, after which point their mission had already been accomplished. Anyway – Lineker’s contract wasn’t renewed.

Is that what motivates Lineker’s anger now? I don’t know – but the one-eyed sniping and hypocrisy just gets exhausting. Qatar won a WC, the English were farked off - as a result of a mixture of incompetence and complete arrogance by those presenting the bid - which was later found to have ‘compromised’ regulations. Another inconvenient truth. What did the Garcia report say about the English World Cup bid, Gary, or the Russia bid or the Australia bid – or let’s only focus on Qatar??

Anyway, none of us are untouchable. If we have opinions we should expect to be questioned – and Gary should be grateful he’s barely questioned, never mind abused online.

As an aside, I’m told the excellent Jake Humphrey is doing a terrific job back home. Good on him – of course he is, he’s a good pro. Curious to see if he’ll be commenting on Newcastle v Sunderland next year – I’ll leave that there for the one-eyed trolls……

Happy international break – take three.

Is the balance of power shifting in London?

Published: Monday, 01 November 2021

The noisy neighbours did it. It cost them trillions, but they did shift the balance of power in Manchester. It got me wondering last night if West Ham might be doing it in London?

They haven’t got the same resources as City. Few have. But what West Ham have got is priceless. They appear to have a team spirit and work ethic that is second to none. And I’m delighted for the man who’s making it happen - David Moyes.

Moyes has found a new home. Somewhere that he feels really comfortable. His players obviously love working with him and everybody in East London is enjoying the ride of their Premier League lives.

Unlike City - this is despite the owners - not because of them. How many times have Mssrs Sullivan and Gold got it wrong? And Ms Brady has made one bad call after another - hiding behind allegations of sexism every time I, or anyone else, pointed it out. No Karen - we’re all responsible for decisions we make - whatever gender we are.

In fairness - the three of them had the good sense to re-employ Moyes after their disastrous decision to replace him with Manuel Pelligrini. ‘He won the title - he must know what he’s doing’ they thought.  Er - no. The only surprise is that they didn’t bring in Ranieri as his assistant.

Moyes is a good man. I’ve sat for hours with him here in Qatar discussing what happened at United. He was broken after that experience. Working in Spain was a good idea - but the practicalities were different to the reality.

He knew he’d taken a bad one at Sunderland. Day 1 he text me to say ‘you’re about to see the worst PL team of all time’. How right he was - but Norwich have since returned to the PL!

It took some balls and a lot of self belief for Moyes to give it another go. The Hammers are benefitting big time from his determination. It does make you wonder how much pain United could’ve saved themselves had Mr Ed had bigger balls and a bit more patience.

You could see how much fun Moyes Boys are having every time they scored at Villa. They celebrated together. They smiled together. They hugged together. They’re a unit and something to be reckoned with.

What’s happening in East London is in stark contrast to the turmoil the North London teams have been (and in Spurs’ case still are) experiencing. Nuno has gone. Driven out in double quick time by player power. Or maybe it was more simple than that - an H-bomb. Harry isn’t happy. He’s making that very clear. He’s wearing the jersey but doing little more than putting it on. He’s stinking the place out. Would Spurs have been better off taking City’s £75m in the summer? Right now I don’t think they’d get anything like that for him.

I’m not sure it matters too much who gets the managers job. Levy has tried everything. Perhaps like Mr Ed with Moyes- he’s thinking that he pulled the rug out on Mourinho a bit too quickly?

I’ve said before on this platform - there’s a whole lot of pain still to come for Spurs. They’ve got a wonderful stadium - but no team. Arsenal had a decade just like it after leaving Highbury.

There are signs that Arteta is making things happen. The win at Leicester was a good one. They played well. I hope it comes good. The PL needs a strong Arsenal, but The Hammers are better. Is there a gentle shift of power going on - or can Moyes make it permanent? It’s doing to be fun watching.

I notice that a lot of what’s happening at Arsenal is being credited to their specialist set-piece coach. Honestly. You couldn’t make this up. I mentioned it recently - a long throw or a set-piece at Burnley is old fashioned. When Big Sam or Tony Pulis pointed out the importance of set-pieces they were called dinosaurs. Arteta brings in Nicolas Jover, who used to work at City, and he’a being hailed as a genius.

‘It’s a crucial part of the game nowadays’ says Arteta. Nowadays? Please. It always has been. What he probably means is ‘it’s clever if you have a specialist’.

Apparently, last season, the total proportion of Arsenal’s expected goals generated from set-pieces was 0.14, the second lowest in the league. Now it’s double that at 0.28. Brilliant.

They’ve taken 19 in-swinging corners. 19 outswingers. And seven straight corners. Apparently this unpredictability makes them harder to defend against. Please. Stop it. My sides are aching.

For the record, Burnley have hit 46 inswingers from 47 corners. Brentford 25 out of 30. Liverpool 57 outswingers from 73. Is your head hurting yet?

It’s always been the same. Good delivery is step one. Then get someone on the end of it. It doesn’t need a specialist coach to work that out.

Oh. West Ham don’t have a specialist coach. They’ve got Moyes - and they scored 16 goals from corners last season - more than anyone else. Before Sunday four of their last five goals had come from set-pieces.

Well done Ole. He took the easy options leaving Rashford and Greenwood out - but his changes worked. As I said last week - he had to find a way to get Cavani in. Not that I think we can judge Solskjaer or United on what we saw at Spurs. They were dreadful. United’s next big test is against City. Will Solskjaer ‘park the bus’ - betraying United’s DNA? Hold on - haven’t we been here before? 😂.

History keeps repeating itself at United.

Published: Monday, 25 October 2021

I watched Busby - the documentary - the other night. It’s terrific. A really good watch.

What a man Sir Matt was. It was an extra-ordinary achievement to win the European Cup only a decade after losing half his team and very nearly his life in Munich. I can’t think of any other sporting achievement that comes even vaguely close.

I got familiar with the disaster when I had to produce a radio documentary, with the late Tim Grundy, on the 25th anniversary of the disaster for (what was then) Piccadilly Radio.

I conducted hours of haunting interviews with survivors. Listened to others from the time and got to understand what it was about Manchester United that made the club special. Why it had such a special place in the hearts of so many.

I’d worked closely with United during Big Ron’s time, so I got to know the club quite intimately. I never tired of asking questions of the legendary Manchester Evening News reporter, David Meek, as we criss-crossed the country covering away games. So I get it. I get what makes United different.

Even so, Busby had me riveted. There it was again. All of it. I repeat - it’s incredible what he achieved. What a man he was.

Fergie got it. He knew. He understood what being manager of Manchester United meant. He embraced the remarkable history of the club. He taught himself about Munich. He became expert on Best, Law and Charlton - and he went onto to replicate so much of what Sir Matt had achieved. The comparisons are incredible. Two demanding Scots. Two totally driven football men. Two men who will forever be ‘special’ to United fans.

But. And this time it’s a big but. Other scary similarities became very evident to me whilst watching the documentary. Neither man could ever really let go. Neither man was ever able to identify a suitable successor. And that theme of ‘history repeating itself’ came back into stark focus again this weekend.

Busby anointed Wilf McGuiness as his immediate successor. Charming Wilf. A good guy. A funny guy - but a guy hopelessly out of his depth in the job. Sound familiar?

Frank O’Farrell had a go, but couldn’t escape Busby’s shadow or influence. Dave Sexton was somebody else’s choice, but The Doc was Busby’s. Big Ron got as close to getting it right as anyone - before Fergie, but they all had Busby in the background. Poor old Frank even found him in the manager’s office on his first day at The Cliff. He had the balls the kick him out - and Sir Matt took up residency half way down the corridor on the way to ‘the manager’s office’

Fergie, of course, chose David Moyes - and chose to go missing when Moyes needed his backing. LVG and Mourinho were Mr Ed’s, who wanted to prove he could make big decisions without Fergie. By the way, I’m sorry Gary - but to say Mourinho was a failure at United is ridiculous. He finished 2nd with a bang ordinary squad and delivered two trophies. I’d say being run out of Spain after 6 months was failure.

Anyway, we all know who chose Solskjaer - ‘new’ Wilf McGuiness. I looked at him on the touch line Sunday and saw an affable guy drowning. Poor fella hasn’t got a clue.

I said recently that it was obvious that none of that side was listening to him They’re playing for themselves - if you could describe Sunday’s humiliation as ‘playing’. What a shambles. Even in the darkest of times I have never seen people streaming away from OT - in their thousands - at half time. Not even the day they got relegated in 1974. By the way - yesterday’s capitulation must’ve hurt long standing United fans more than that ignominy.

Sunday has been coming for weeks. Maybe even months. You can’t keep going to the well and finding water. Time and again United have saved themselves with late rallies. It wasn’t going to keep happening. It couldn’t keep happening.

Ronaldo? Anyone agree with me now? Fernandes? Unless United have got a free-kick or a pen this guy is a luxury. How long before others start saying the same? Pogba? What he did was scandalous. I would go so far as to suggest he wanted to get sent off. He’s a petulant disgrace. And Harry Maguire? A man described by my beINSPORTS colleague Nigel de Jong as ‘the most overrated centre-back in the league’. It’s hard to disagree. It’s no good apologising Harry. You’ll be doing it every week at this rate.

United’s best player was again de Gea - what a save that was from Alexander-Arnold. That one moment elevated him above the rest.

New Wilf McGuiness didn’t know what to do. He spoke afterwards about ‘telling people what to do at half-time’. Half-time? How about trying that at the start of a match Wilf?

No. I’m sorry. Solskjaer, the former manager of relelgated Cardiff and Molde, will never be able to manage Manchester United.

I started the season believing that they had all the component parts to mount a challenge. Wilf says they’re ‘so close’ that he doesn’t want to walk away. Close to what? Close to what should be the sack I would suggest.

Well done Watford. After my harsh words last week I was pleased to see them rally at Everton. Now - more of the same please. As for Norwich - well. What else is there to say?

Scrap the parachute payments.

Published: Monday, 18 October 2021

It’s was the weekend when fantasy crashed headlong into reality - and not just in Newcastle. It did at Leicester - where all United’s problems were exposed and at Watford. And perhaps at Everton.

Dilly-ding. Dilly-dong. This, of course, is Ranieri’s trademark cry on the training ground when he wants to stop a practice match and do a little bit of coaching. I’ve got a feeling they’re going to be hearing it quite a lot at Watford.

I don’t believe I’ve seen a worse team in PL history. They were shocking against Liverpool. Abject. Lacklustre. Lazy. Lacking even an idea - just one. I feel for Watford fans. It was a good club - but the current owners have stripped it of its soul and direction. Graham Taylor will be spinning in his grave.

What is the point of Watford being in the PL? And Norwich? What are either club contributing? Right now - nothing. We might as well cut the league to 18. And unless Newcastle sort their mess out quickly - make that 17! But I don’t include them in my next argument.

For years now I’ve backed clubs that have wanted to manage finances carefully. I still do. I know how reckless spending can destroy a club. When Coventry were relegated (more than a decade ago now) they went with debts of £66m. That was a huge number then. Chasing an unsustainable dream destroyed the place. Administration was inevitable and a once proud club sunk to the depths of League Two. What a job Mark Robins has done - despite the current owners - bringing back that lost pride - and excitement. And on a shoestring.

I digress slightly. I’ve also always backed clubs yo-yo-ing between the top two leagues. Teams like Burnley for a while - West Brom - Norwich - Watford and Palace.

Burnley were careful first time up - got relegated but when they bounced straight back they had a go - and settled. They weren’t daft - they had budgets and stuck to them, but they also had ambition.

I understood Norwich being careful the last time they were with us. But come on guys - show us something. They’re hopeless and back where I said they would be - bottom. And on the evidence of what we saw Saturday it won’t be long before Watford join them and Newcastle in the bottom 3.

So why is this? At Watford I think it’s very obvious. The owners there simply want to make money - get up - get relegated - take £100m quid. Norwich are doing it. They’ll talk to you about ‘Soccerbots’ and other off-field investments - but supporters don’t want to know about that. They want to see their team win. They part with hard earned money - often twice a week - for a couple of hours when they can forget about how to earn the next admission fee - and dream. See their team ruffle the feathers of the big boys. Look at the middle and top of the table in the programme - not at the relegation scrappers. Brighton have done it - so why not?

Knowing that there’s ‘£100m quid to parachute back to the Championship with is too big an incentive not to have a go.  We’ve known for some time that it badly distorts competition in the second tier - have a look at the top three right now - but it’s not for that reason I want to see the parachute scrapped. It’s because it stops clubs taking their promotion seriously - and that distorts the competition in the PL. Watford give off the air of a club that simply doesn’t care. So do Norwich.

What about Salah? What a goal. How does he do that? I waxed lyrical about the goal v City but wow - I think Saturday’s was better. It wasn’t world class - it was out of this world. There is no argument that right now he is the best player in the world.

What’s a 6-yard box for? According to Benitez it’s a place where goalkeepers should be protected. What nonsense. Of course it’s not. Antonio’s challenge on Pickford was clean. The goalkeeper had the advantage being able to use his hands. You’d have been lucky to get a cigarette paper under his feet. He reminded me of Shilton floundering and failing to get off the ground when Maradona scored the Hand of God. 

Just like last season, Everton had made a good start, but what we saw Sunday won’t do - and I’m afraid there are going to be many more days like that under Benitez. Truth is Everton aren’t very good - but playing the way he does - 7 back - 3 up - won’t do - unless he gets people out of their seats. Two of the three he allowed freedom at Liverpool - Gerrard and Torres - set Anfield alight. I’m afraid Gray, Townsend and Rondon (why on earth did Everton sign him?) won’t.

Who is left believing that Ole should stay at the wheel? Other than Ed Woodward - no-one. What a mess they were again at Leicester. Solskjaer - with his eyes wide open - constantly looks like a scared rabbit caught in headlights.

It’s often joked that Matt Le Tissier invented ‘walking’ football. 😂. United are playing it now - none more so than Fernandes and Pogba. The latter demanded change when he spoke to the media. One I’d make is get rid of him - immediately after sacking Solskjaer. And the honeymoon is over for Ronaldo. I’ve argued all season that he was a romantic signing - not an effective one - and I think that’s becoming evident. He’s not a centre-forward and when he’s got his spanked arse face on he’s a pain. I thought United could mount a challenge this season - but with a clueless coach - whose every sentence baffles me - and players that won’t listen to him - they’re as far away as they’ve been since Fergie left.

Beware the tale of the Pied Piper

Published: Monday, 11 October 2021

Well well well – there you have it. The Toon has their saviour. The Pied Piper has driven out the rats. But a word of caution – beware the tale of the Pied Piper.

First thing to say, I’m delighted Newcastle fans have hope at last.  Newcastle United are a fantastic football club. I’ve never said – or thought – differently, despite the mob’s habitual lynching of me and anyone who says anything other than Rafa is the Messiah.

Most of my best PL memories involve Newcastle. ‘The Entertainers’. The Keegan years were some of the finest ever enjoyed by football fans, or any club. It remains a deep regret for me that Kevin didn’t win anything during his time. As a mate, I desperately wanted to see him get Newcastle over the line. They deserved a title. Maybe the new regime will bring one. For some reason, I doubt it – beware the cautionary tale.

Now that the ravaging mob are happy, anyone who correctly called the collapse of the original takeover is safe to speak again. It’s funny how all the abuse, assaults, insults and death threats are long forgotten. And how outraged calls for transparency suddenly disappear when the desired outcome arrives. Transparency but only when it suits. 

At beIN SPORTS, despite the takeover extracting the justice we’d called for, there is no sense of victory in the past week – nor the past four and a half years when the pirates pillared beIN, Sky Sports, the BBC, ITV, the Premier League, Wimbledon, the Six Nations and every major British content producer you can think of. Too many good people here have lost their jobs for that. Too many personal phones here have been hacked by Pegasus. Too many death threats received – and I’m not just talking about the mob on Twitter. Just pause for a moment on that last sentence.

However, the events of the past week in unlocking the takeover show the real issue at play all along, while also exposing the contradictions, hypocrisy and lies of those who are now “custodians” of the club. As someone said to me recently, if you’re responsible for the most embarrassing corporate bid in football takeover history, I’m not sure you’re fit to run a corner-shop, never mind a football club.

Let’s have a look at some of the Pied Piper’s tunes. Remember the days (sorry months) we were all assured there were no red flags (when there’s been less red flags at Pamplona)?

Then it was delayed due COVID. Then there were red flags, but they were all being sorted so don’t you worry. Then a Saudi broadcaster was launching and was the game-changer #CANS.

Then Saudi lost the WTO case, but they claimed they’d won it (then they appealed a case they said they won!). Then piracy was a problem after all; then piracy had been sorted (but remember the Premier League sent their legal case to the wrong Saudi email address – nine times – remember that?!). Then the consortium pulled out of the takeover as it was all a disgrace; then they hadn’t pulled out. I know it’s confusing but keep up!

Fast forward to the Super League breakaway – the perfect national narrative to jump on; of course it was the Big Six who blocked the takeover, didn’t you know?! Then yesterday it turns out it was the Big 19! And I read reports that the Pied Piper’s lawyers are helping some of the Big Six out of their ESL adventure – I thought they were the bad guys?!

By the way - ask Javier Tebas about who funded the Super League project. Amongst all this nonsense, there were drivelling complaints about lost investment in the North East. What stopped that - takeover or otherwise? There were crocodile tears and shameless demands for fans to get 5am buses to Parliament Square with the arbitration on a knife-edge, only for it to have been delayed to 2022. I could go on - having been privileged to have had a ring side seat all along. 

The point is, if words don’t add up, it’s usually because the truth doesn’t feature in the equation. And while the Toon fans have been urged throughout to #TakeBackControl – sadly, they’ve never been further from it. When the new non-CEO prints that slogan on the team bus, remember you heard it here first. 

I say all this because I hope that now Newcastle have belied again, I hope they realise that this was never (and never will be) about them.

Looking back, if this takeover had happened to any other club, that club would have received the same scrutiny – just for a moment consider that the red flags aren’t about Newcastle. Looking forward, more worryingly, I hope the fans also realise they’ve been played like a panpipe every step of the way – this “custodianship” will never be about them.  

The Pied Piper was initially hailed as the saviour of Hamelin by driving out the rats. However, be careful what you wish for – when music is manipulation and you lap up every false note, you may get a very different ending.

Stunning Salah.

Published: Monday, 04 October 2021

Stunning. It was absolutely stunning. I said on the day and I’ll repeat it now - the only other player on the planet that could’ve scored that goal is Messi. It was a work of art. A thing a rare beauty. It needed no words as we looked at it time and again on BeINSPORTS. Nothing that me, Andy or Nigel de Jong were going to say could’ve added anything. Mo Salah’s goal against City was the highlight of a wonderful second half.

It was one of those rare moments that brought spontaneous applause from the whole studio - even Andy - who’s a blue - but knew immediately that we’d all just witnessed something special. It’s my new favourite all-time PL goal. Sorry Tiss! 

Le Tissier’s at The Dell against Newcastle, all those years ago, had been. It some ways that one had many of the same ingredients - so much happening in such a short space - up, over, round, goal - Tiss doing what he did best - everything at his pace. His mate, Mike Osman, reckons Tiss invented ‘walking’ football! He’s not far wrong. 😂.

Salah’s finished with a burst of awesome power before he angled the ball past Ederson - but it started out much the same way. His dancing feet were incredible. What a goal. Thank you Mo.

The game was squeezed into 45 blistering minutes. The first half was poor. I didn’t enjoy it at all, but our heavyweight title challengers really made up for it as they traded blows after the break. The draw was fair.

I wasn’t surprised to see Nuno leave Dele out. And Solskjaer had to start Cavani. Strange. Did both managers read last week’s blog? 😂.

Solskjaer started his best centre-forward, but strangely chose to withdraw him after an hour. I’ve no idea why - but more significantly - Cavani was both puzzled and furious. My mole working near the dugouts tells me he stormed past Solskjaer when he came off, but quickly changed his mind about ignoring the manager and shook hands. But make no mistake - he wasn’t happy and there’s trouble brewing there.

What’s more baffling is why Ronaldo didn’t start. Why did he need a rest when he’s not playing again until the weekend - and maybe not at all? I can’t think Portugal will need him to beat Qatar in their friendly. It was another daft decision by Solskjaer - this one compounded by the inclusion of Martial. Why didn’t he play Ronaldo left of his three up top? I’ve never understood managers leaving players out - only to find themselves needing them to chase a game. Why not get it won - and then take them off? Ole’s still at the wheel - but for how much longer I wonder?

Back to the game at Spurs. Can someone please answer me this? Why is it acceptable for a team to use a long throw if a ‘specialist’ coach has decided it’s a good idea - but it’s football from the dark ages if the likes of Pulis, Allardyce or similar do it?

Austin MacPhee has got Matty Cash causing havoc when he tosses a long ball in. It’s a smart move if you’ve got someone in the team that can throw the ball into the 6-yard box. MacPhee is winning a lot of friends with his set-piece work at Villa, but it does make me laugh - for the reason I’ve stated above. When others have done it down the years - they’ve been slated for it. Perceptions eh?

Set-piece coaches are all the rage it seems. Ok, if they can bring something to the party - why not? But surely getting Cash to toss a throw into the 6-yard box is something that Dean Smith could’ve thought of? Or is that too simple? Have we got another example here of coaches getting ‘too clever?’ Sorry Phil. 😂😂

Why do coaches try to be so clever?

Published: Monday, 27 September 2021

Musings this week. Just thoughts that

come into my head as I write. The first question is - ‘why are PL coaches trying to be so clever?’ Football is a simple game. If you’ve got good players it shouldn’t be difficult to get results. Most of the time, the team with best players win. So if you’ve got good players why try to confuse them? Why ask them to do things that aren’t natural to them? Why keep changing systems? Guilty this weekend - by their own admission - Nuno and Tuchel. Also guilty - as usual - but he got away with it - Guardiola.

After seeing his team torn apart in the first 45 minutes at Arsenal Nuno made changes. He later said he’d started with the wrong team. On the credit side - at least he played Harry Kane at centre forward. What was that all about last week - left of three? Too clever Nuno.

On the debit side - Deli Alli. It’s awful to think that we’ve seen the best of him, but I’m afraid there are no signs of him ever returning to the sort of form that once made his the best £5m any club ever spent. He’s lost. There’s no energy. There’s no confidence. Mourinho was right. He contributes nothing. He might be a favourite at Spurs - but that shouldn’t be a reason to pick him. Deli is a shadow of what he once was. It looks as though his lifestyle has caught up with him. He’s not the first and he won’t be the last to waste a god-given talent, but as long as Nuno continues to start him, he’ll be picking the wrong team.

Spurs were better without him in the second-half. They were more solid. They should’ve had a pen when Kane was fouled - but the ref and VAR fouled up again. If Spurs had scored then - with half an hour to go - who knows what might have happened? Arsenal won in a canter while Spurs were wide open. There wasn’t much to beat at that stage - but a reply before Son scores would’ve had them sweating. It was a great result but Arsenal are still fragile.

Tuchel got it wrong against City. Why did he pick two 6’s? Why did he ask Kante to do things he’s not accustomed to? It was City that had the psychological problems going into the game. Chelsea had beaten them three times in a row. They’d looked solid against them. And brave. They were at home - City really had it all do do. So why get so clever? I was amazed at what Tuchel did. By changing it all round he placed doubt in his players minds. They’ve looked terrific this season - let them go and play. Fine - change the faces of you want to - but not the system. Too clever Tomas.

Guardiola had Foden playing as a false 9. Why? He had a real 9 on the pitch who did what goal scorers do when he turned - hit a spawny shot that got deflected - and got the winner. My point is that he was where he should’ve been all game - at centre forward. Too clever Guardiola.

City deserved to win, but I don’t go along with the view that they were super dominant. Yes - they had plenty of the ball of course - but possession alone doesn’t win football matches. I don’t remember Chelsea’s keeper making too many - if any - saves across the 90 minutes.

Wolves discovered that at Southampton. After a dreary 80 minutes of tippy tappy football their keeper put his foot through one - and in less time that it took their centre-backs to pass between themselves again - Raul had the ball in the net. Again - he did what centre-forwards do. Get the ball to them and the chances are they’ll score a goal. They can’t if they’re starved of service. Don’t try to be so clever. I’ve got to add that I was chuffed to bits for Raul. Good luck to him after what he’s been through.

It’s one of many reasons that I like the way Klopp plays. You know exactly what Liverpool are going to do. Ok - the faces might change - but it’s a straight forward 4-3-3 and they back themselves to be better than the opponent. They play exciting football. On Saturday they came up against a team that believed in what they do and it made for wonderful entertainment. I hope Brentford keep believing.

Villa were fantastic at Old Trafford - but they were only playing against seven! Those of us that warned fitting Ronaldo in would cause as many problems as it solved look as though we might be right. He doesn’t like doing the dirty stuff. Nor does Fernandes. Nor does Pogba. Having one luxury is ok - the rest of the lads will chip in and do his work of he wins games - but carrying three is too much. Too often last season United had to carry Fernandes and Pogba and now they’ve got another one. It’s ok if these guys make the difference, but if they’re all having an off day - then you’re in trouble. Solskjaer has got to work out a way to cover for them when that’s the case.

Tonight (Monday) Brighton can top. I can’t follow that so I’ll call it a day by wishing them luck!