Is Mourinho a dinosaur? Yes. And like me, he’s probably happy to be so.

Published: Monday, 22 March 2021
Wow. Ollie Holt didn’t miss his target. Did you read his piece in the Mail on Sunday? If not - have a look before you read this.

Ok? Right. We can carry on. Let’s first say that Ollie is a top writer and is someone that I enjoy reading. He’s got every right to his opinion. We’ve all got one and I don’t mind throwing the odd hand grenade. Well - you’re right. It can often be an Exocet!  But Ollie unleashed ‘shock and awe’ in Mourinho’s direction. It was vicious. And I believe wrong.

I know he won’t mind me responding. None of us that offers an opinion can get upset when others disagree. It’s part of the game. None of us? Well, none of us apart from The Mirror’s Brian Reade, who pulled me up earlier in the season because I’d said I didn’t fancy James Rodriguez. Fine. Argue the point, but there was no need for the nastiness or the cheap shots that he included in his response. And who was right? Correct. I was. After a couple of good games in blistering sunshine - against run of mill opposition - James disappeared, as I knew he would. And Everton are better without him. I haven’t heard too much from Mr Reade on the subject for a long time.

Anyway. Let’s get back to Ollie’s piece. ‘The Special One? All Tottenham have got is a dinosaur in a designer coat’ screamed the headline. He then set out to dissect and destroy anything that Mourinho has ever done, including his short time at Spurs. I couldn’t help but think that he was still carrying a grudge of some kind following Mourinho’s time at his beloved United. But the more I thought about that, the more I wondered why?Mourinho divides opinion. I’ve had a pop at different times, but it’s hard to criticise what he achieved at a Old Trafford. Yes, he could’ve left in better circumstances, but two trophies and a second place finish? Solskjaer would kill for that - despite his view that ‘trophies are largely for ego’s’. What? Perhaps that’s why he wasn’t too upset about United’s cup exit at Leicester? No Ole. Trophies are for fans. And you’re judged by how many you win.

Isn’t it strange how people that want to insult ‘experience’ always use the word ‘dinosaur’. Of course, I get it. But it doesn’t hit the mark with me because I embrace it. Yes. I’m a dinosaur and oh how I wish I’d had all the experience that I’ve gained down the years when I started out. Dinosaurs must’ve done something right. They ruled the planet for 179 million years. Mankind has been around for just 300 thousand.

So let’s cut that nonsense out. Mourinho is a brilliant coach. His record is bettered only by Ancelotti. Mourinho has had success in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain. And given the tools he’ll have success again in England.

Fortunately Daniel Levy is still backing him. I say ‘fortunately’ because those who believe in old fashioned principles - that clubs should be run from the top down - should support that. There’s no question that Mourinho is struggling to win over one or two in the dressing room. It’s why the upcoming Carabao Cup Final - his best chance of silverware Ollie - he’s in the final for goodness sake - is critical. If he wins - he wins the battle - the dissenters can go. If he loses, then another club falls to player power.

Would Spurs’ players down tools for such a big game? They might. Those who were desperate to see the back of Mancini at City gave up an FA Cup final to Wigan. They knew an era of success was guaranteed anyway - so the best solution was to ‘out’ Mancini. The rest is history.  

But the same formula no longer applies. There isn’t the money in the game anymore. Only City can push on to more ‘guaranteed’ success. They’ve got the resources to do it. And they’d do it with or without Guardiola. Spurs are now like Arsenal were when they moved stadiums. They’re deeply in debt. Did anyone hear what Wenger said to us on BeINSPORTS about the decade following their move? He said he knew at the start of every season that he couldn’t win the title and that he’d have to sell a top player in order to keep the bank happy. He knew top four was all he could hope for. He delivered, but was hammered all the same. He kept the club afloat for goodness sake.

That’s what Mourinho has to try to achieve now - with an ordinary group - Son and Kane aside. A trophy would be a bonus. And it doesn’t matter who manages Spurs through this era - that’s it. That’s the extent of what’s possible.

It’s got nothing to do with being a ‘dinosaur’ and therefore being ‘out of touch’. We know now how the upcoming final will be played. Just as United now play - with Spurs sitting in and waiting to attack. That doesn’t make Mourinho old school - it makes him smart. What’s the alternative? Should he open up and get battered?

Has Klopp lost his touch because Liverpool have lost five home games on the bounce? Spurs have won more games than Liverpool this season. They’ve scored more goals and conceded less. They’re two points better off for goodness sake. No-one is suggesting Klopp’s time has come.

Is Guardiola not able to compete with the likes of Di Matteo, Heynckes, Ancelotti, Enrique, Zidane and Flick, all of whom have won the CL since he last did in 2011?  And he’s spent £1.04 billion trying to do it without Messi. His supporters will argue of course not.

Success doesn’t come in straight lines. It has to be earned. It has to be fought for. It requires a strategy and belief. There are no guarantees. Would I rather Mourinho worked in our league than anywhere else? Too right. And may the game always be played differently. If everyone bought into the tippy tappy ideals of some of the modern coaches - my goodness we’d all be bored shitless. There’s a place for everyone.

So, if you don’t mind Ollie, I disagree with almost everything you said. But I look forward to reading next week’s column. I always do.

Why I didn’t like Tuchel.

Published: Monday, 15 March 2021

I spent the first couple of weeks of Thomas Tuchel’s time at Chelsea wondering why I didn’t like him.

I had all sorts of reasons. Here’s an ‘ist’ straight away. He didn’t look like a football coach. I’ve no idea what a football coach actually looks like - but whatever it is, Tuchel wasn’t it. And that, despite the fact, that he’d already come second in an on-line poll asking ‘who is the Premier League’s best looking manager?’

For the record, Scott Parker won it. I’m a little surprised that Guardiola or Mourinho didn’t, but what do I know? The bottom six weren’t a surprise! Anyway. I had to get over his looks.

Initially I wasn’t too happy with his ‘technical’ post match interviews - but at least he was looking interested and was engaging - unlike Guardiola, who always looks like there’s a bad smell in the air any time someone has the temerity to ask him about football.  

Tuchel would talk of ‘finding spaces for the 10. Closing down spaces for their 6 to operate in’. I’m sure I also heard him talking about ‘half spaces and pockets’. He has all the modern day jargon.

Was it the way he dressed? His team selections? Nope. It was neither of those either.

In some quarters he was getting aggro for his lack of ambition. The bore-draw with United did him no favours. But wasn’t making Chelsea more secure what Frank Lampard’s critics wanted?
So I was running out of reasons.

Hold on. Here’s another ‘ist’ - he was German and he’d replaced a fine young English coach. Do you know what? That was it. That was his only ‘crime’. I didn’t like what happened to Lampard.

In his first interview he apologised for that. Damn. That stopped me in my tracks. Of course he was right. It wasn’t his fault. The job was available and he looked like a teenage schoolboy fulfilling every ambition he’d ever had after his first game. He had to take it.

He was fun. He smiled. He got a result. He’s since still unbeaten. He’s got players playing. This is what I’ve been getting round to - I like him. I like him a lot.

I like the fact that he took a gamble and signed only an 18 month deal. He’s right about that too. Chelsea will probably sack him after that time, so why worry about it?

I like his attitude to players. He’s binned Lampard’s ridiculous fines system - saying ‘I haven’t got time to police fines’. He trusts his players. He treats them like men. My guess is that they’ll respond like men.

After their huge spend last summer I had Chelsea down to finish 2nd behind Liverpool. That worked out well eh? Liverpool won’t finish top - in fact, thinking about it - now might be the time to bring out that old tweet claiming Everton will finish in front of them! Chelsea definitely will. And I believe in Thomas Tuchel Chelsea have got themselves a smart coach and really good guy. I wish him nothing but success.

On another subject, the PL are asking managers/clubs how to get out of the mess they’ve made of VAR. Are we surprised? It’s been a shambles from day one and it was no better this weekend. Here are three things to do to improve it straight away. One - sack Mike Riley. What exactly has he been doing for three years for us to find ourselves in this mess? Two - appoint full time VAR operators. Ex-refs, not current match day officials. Of course refs are tired. Mourinho is right about that. He wouldn’t have said it if someone hadn’t whispered it in his ear. Riley has presided over a drop in standards the likes of which we’ve never seen, but let’s at least allow the guys to do their jobs without the distraction of days and days in the Stockley Park bunker. Three - give us access to listen to the ref and Stockley Park speak to each other. We MUST be allowed to listen to those conversations. That’s the only way we’ll stop the chumocracy looking after each other and constantly covering up their errors. I’d love to know what Michael Oliver said to Stockley Park when he gave Arsenal that ridiculous penalty. My guess is ‘I’ve got this one covered. I saw it. It’s definitely a pen’. Well you didn’t see it Michael. You were right behind the incident. You guessed. Your tone said to VAR ‘don’t you dare overrule me’. None of us like to be wrong - but you were. It wasn’t a pen and VAR should’ve been allowed to do it’s job. You intimidated Paul Tierney. If we hear those conversations that can’t happen. Why is it that football fans are always in the dark and treated with such arrogance when they ask to be part of ‘their’ game. It’s not Mike Riley’s game. Or any officials game. Its ‘our’ game.

One other thing was was obvious from the North London derby - Gareth Bale has gone. He’s no longer the player he was and won’t ever be again. He lost all that pace and doesn’t seem able to get around the pitch anymore. Yes, he’s still got a raking pass in him. Yes, he’ll nick the odd goal - but he’s a liability defensively. If I’m Spurs I’m not wasting money making his move permanent.

And finally. What have Sheffield United done? It’s hard without all the facts, but on the face of it I’d say they’re mad. Think about it - who would you say was the best man to get them back up next year? Someone with experience of the Championship? Someone who’s been promoted out of that league before? Someone who loves Sheffield and Sheffield United? Of course - Chris Wilder. Mad. The decision to let him go is mad. But here’s a thought....

Qualifying on two of those requirements - having worked in the Championship and being promoted from it - with big club experience - available due to lack of interest (I was told there would always be a queue of famous clubs) - wanting a ‘long term’ project again - Saudi money - it’s got to be Rafa hasn’t it? It’s all there waiting for him.

LLLLLLiverpool. Impossible.

Published: Monday, 08 March 2021

Sorry about the title. I’m sure you’ve all seen it on social media by now - but it’s too perfect to ignore.

What’s happened? After 68 unbeaten games at Anfield losing one at some stage was inevitable. Two was a bit of a surprise. But three? And then four, five and now six - in a row. It’s another of those impossible stats.

And here’s another. Exactly a year ago Liverpool were 20 points clear of Manchester City as they closed in on their first title in 30 years. Now they’re 20 points adrift. That’s a 40 point swing. Impossible - or so we would’ve said this time 12 months ago.

Liverpool fans are amongst the most vociferous when you question anything to do with their team. The anger that was vented in my direction a couple of weeks ago was both inevitable and mis-placed. When are you going to realise I don’t make things up? I’ve spent a lifetime in this business - making friends and contacts - so if I mention something - it’s far better to stop and think about it rather than fire off the nonsense bile. In no particular order that also applies to United, Newcastle and West Ham fans. 🤷‍♂️😂.

So, having hinted at it here for a fortnight once again everybody is now talking about it. Obviously that’s largely down to their latest extra-ordinary loss. Two weeks ago I said ‘something doesn’t smell right’. Now I think we can say something stinks.

It’s not simply down to losing Van Dijk. The keeper is a bag or nerves right now. The two full-backs are way off (I know Alexander Arnold didn’t play v Fulham). Why? Perhaps they’ve started to believe the nice things that were being said about them? Robertson certainly misses the Dutchman, but it’s going the other way that they’ve both dried up. I’ve said it before - those crosses were devastating. We don’t see them anymore. If he was fit - Tierney would be Scotland’s first choice left back right now.

Henderson is a massive miss. I wouldn’t have taken him out of the middle. Klopp weakened two areas of his team by doing that and now, of course, he’s out anyway.

Wijnaldum’s situation doesn’t help - but he’s not alone is wanting more money. But is he worth a ‘double your money’ deal? Not for me.

We’ve all known for some time that Mane and Salah don’t get on. Salah wants more money - but that’s a smoke screen. He’s leaving at the end of the season. His agent confirmed that when he tweeted that full stop after Salah was taken off in mid-week.
Where is he going?We need to look at events in Barcelona for the answer. Joan Laporta is back as President. His first job? Calm Messi. His second job? Deliver a poster signing. Who? You’ve got it.

Mane is unhappy that Salah is paid more - so naturally he wants more. Michael Owen gave us an insight into the problems between the two when he suggested that Mane won’t go down in the box because Salah is on pens! I’m pleased he’s staying on his feet - but that’s not quite the reason i wanted to hear.

Klopp looks bemused. Like his team - he looks worn out. Having to miss his mother’s funeral must’ve been horrible. I’ve all the sympathy in the world for him - but he looks battle weary anyway.

I can’t believe he’s currently the 4/1 second favourite PL manager to lose his job. Impossible. It all adds up to a bemusing conundrum. What next?

The worst thing about the defeat Sunday was that Fulham deserved their points. They were the better team. Everything about them was smart and sharp - apart from the manager’s jacket. That was a shocker. He looked like he’d grabbed his eldest boys’ as he left home in a hurry. If he was charged with bringing the game into disrepute I’d find it hard to defend him. 😂. Leave it at home next time Scott.

I wish him and his team well though. They’ve been on an incredible run and if they stay up they’ll have pulled off a minor miracle.

Here’s another amazing stat. No team in Europe’s big 5 leagues has scored more goals than Bayern. After four more it’s not 106 in all comps. But you know who’s second on that list don’t you? Yep - boring boring Spurs! Kane’s 2nd v Palace was their 100th of the season. Not bad for a team managed by someone who’s often described as ‘anti’ football. City are third on the list with 91.

Their remarkable run was strangled to a slow end by United. Was the result significant in the title race? No. City will win it. The significance was that it all but ensures United’s CL place. And the result and performance must’ve heartened Mourinho - who’s waiting to do a job on City in the Carabao Cup Final.

As City play Saints this week the CL resumes. Guardiola’s quest to win it without Messi continues a week Tuesday (March 16). Since he was last in the final - back in 2011 - he’s spent £1.04 billion trying to get back with both Bayern and now City. £1.04 billion - at Bayern and the richest club in the world. So far he hasn’t been beyond a semi-final. Impossible.

I agree Ole.

Published: Monday, 01 March 2021
Ole wasn’t happy was he? Mind you, I don’t think he does ‘angry’ very well. He gets too flustered and that dilutes the impact of what he’s trying to say. I get a little embarrassed for him.

But he was right about the point he was trying to make post match at Chelsea.  I too believe referees are being more careful about the penalties that they’re awarding United. And quite right too. The regularity with which they were getting them was a joke.

I hate to return to the subject, but Solskjaer put it right back on the agenda after the game at Stamford Bridge, whining about how the ref had cost them ‘two points’. How Ole? Even if you’d got the pen you were arguing about, you would still have had to score with it. It’s not a given that a pen leads to a goal. Ask Brighton. That’s why I hate to see players celebrate when they’ve ‘won’ one. There’s still work to do.

What else was it Solskjaer was complaining about? Oh yes - an oblique piece on Chelsea’s website that he thought the match day ref might have read and been influenced by? Please. Stop it. My sides are hurting.

Like most of us, I’m sure Stuart Attwell had better things to do than go trawling through Chelsea’s website before the game. Personally I’d rather have eaten an out of date yoghurt.

Come on Ole. Let’s get real. The only people to blame for the pens drying up are you and your team - more specifically the guilty men who’ve been falling over in a mild breeze and (with the obligatory squeal) after being sneezed on.

I admit I started the debate on BeINSPORTS, during a conversation with Andy, about 6 weeks ago now. I’d spotted how regularly United were ‘winning’ pens - 34 in all comps since the start of last season. It’s 35 now so the pace has slowed. The one they got against Southampton after another dive by Martial had the Frenchmen leaving the pitch telling team-mates and Saints players alike ‘it wasn’t a pen’. No. It wasn’t. Despite the score-line it mattered, because he got away with. And he shouldn’t have done.

Anyway, Liverpool spotted the story and ran with it. Frank Lampard followed and so did the press. All of a sudden everyone was talking about it and it led to referees being more careful. Again, Quite right.

Do you remember the one in Paris Ole? The one that got you your job? Granted, that one wasn’t ‘won’ - but it wasn’t a pen.

And how many times have you condemned Mssrs Martial. Rashford, Greenwood and Fernandes for diving? Or have you just sat with a satisfied look on your face knowing you’ve nicked another few points?

I said last week that Maguire should’ve apologised for his impression of a snipers target at West Brom. As we know, he was offside anyway, so why not? He’d have done himself and his team a world of good if he had done. Instead, he might just have cost his team this weekend.

For me, Attwell got it right. I’ve no idea why VAR got involved. But let’s give a little ground here and say the decision was ‘subjective’. For some it was - mostly United fans of course. For the majority it wasn’t. A month ago United would almost certainly have got it.

As for the game. Wow. What a bore- draw. That was United’s sixth game against one of the ‘big six’ this season. So far they’ve scored one goal - in the 6-1 hiding by Spurs - and the rest have all finished 0-0.  

Where are the howls of derision from the class of ‘92? Do you remember Gary Neville demanding that ‘no outsider should ever again be appointed to the manager’s job at Old Trafford and impose his style on us’? When they fired Mourinho, Solskjaer was welcomed because he understood United’s DNA. Really? Ok, they’re second - but the truth is, without their pens and Fernandes on a good day, they’re really not very good. Mourinho knew that and adapted as a result. He got battered. What Solskjaer is delivering is no different. It’s dull. It’s a betrayal of United’s ‘style’. Well - isn’t it?

The league is done now that City have learned how to defend. It’s a terrific run they’re on. Oh, just one thing. I didn’t say Guardiola should’ve been sacked some time ago for being reckless. I actually said ‘in any other line of business reckless spending - £500m on defenders to get it right - would almost certainly have let to someone getting the sack’. And I stand by that.

The battle for CL places is fascinating. It’s a good job too because it’s all we’ve got left again. Do you remember a couple of months ago all the excitement about four - maybe six teams being in a title race? It wasn’t going to happen. I said back then it would end up being only one - maybe two. That’s how it’s always been. That’s how it will always be. The two are different across the eras - that’s all.

The Blades are gone. We’ve all known that all season. And so have they. I still believe the Baggies will go, but Fulham are making a real go of it.

And yes, Newcastle fans. I know exactly what you want. We all do. You want what everybody else does. But let me clarify my latest mis-reported thoughts. I said ‘Mike Ashley owns the club and therefore can run it anyway he sees fit’. Fact. You might not like it - but it’s true. I didn’t say I supported him or ever have done. Ok?

And finally, thoughts with the Roeder family. We’ve lost another of the games’ good guys. I didn’t know him well, but had spent time with him and I liked him. RIP Glenn.

We can’t be tribal about cheating.

Published: Monday, 22 February 2021

Is it really only a week ago that Harry Maguire was complaining that VAR gave United nothing at West Brom? He was annoyed that he didn’t ‘win’ a pen for one of the season’s clumsiest dives. Never mind that he was off-side and VAR missed that - as I tried to explain to his agent - who happens to be a very good friend of mine. Cue abuse. Forget it - it’s like water off a ducks back.

Well VAR was certainly kind enough this weekend eh Harry? How did VAR   miss you smashing Lascelles in the face with your arm? And you had a look to make sure of your target! That’s a pen - and could easily have been a red. It was a denial. Whatever happened to retrospective action?

At the other end Marcus Rashford was at it again - winning a ‘modern’ pen. He’s learned well from the man who gave us that description - Jose Mourinho. That was never a pen. Sure - there’s a tiny bit of contact - but it’s a con. It’s not enough to send Rashford to his knees. Refs - both on the pitch and at Stockley Park have got to do better than this.

I thought we were making progress - but we took a step back this weekend.  
When I nail United for doing it, of course abuse from their fans - based on tribal lines - usually follows. And the very same people are immediately screaming about Salah and Mane. I agree with you. They’re both as bad. And I’m happy to throw Harry Kane’s name in there. He nicked one earlier in the season after making a back on the edge of the box and then falling into it. And Raheem Sterling is a serial offender. There are so many of them - Fernandes, Rashford and Maguire!

And that’s the point - we can’t be screaming at Salah if Martial keeps doing it. Or vice-versa. Either we agree we want it stopped - and call it out when we see it - or there’s no point complaining when our own team is undone by it.

One little twist that I’d like to see - and this might just persuade some to stay on their feet. I’d like to see the player ‘fouled’ get up and take the pen. Not everybody enjoys that experience. I’ve argued for this little change since seeing Warren Barton take off in the box at Coventry. He won a pen. There was no way he was going to take it so, of course, Shearer smashed it in. It’s not a cure, but it would certainly make one or two think. The cure is with the players themselves - better refereeing and all of us calling it out. And again - the FA taking retrospective action.

I always smile when discussing this subject thinking about Robbie Fowler going over as if a sniper had got him at Highbury. Do you remember? He realised what he’d done when big David Seaman stared him down - so he jumped up and admitted it wasn’t a pen. That didn’t stop him trying to score with the kick, which was saved and then cracked in by Jason McAteer - but as I’ve said to Robbie many times - why didn’t his honestly lead to him rolling the ball wide - or to Seaman? They can’t help themselves!

On the credit side - we’ll done Chris Kavanagh. He knew what he’d seen at Anfield. He saw Alexander-Arnold bring down Calvert-Lewin. He first tried to trip him but it was his head that sent the Everton man tumbling. Intentional? No. But it doesn’t matter. Calvert-Lewin was scoring with his next touch. So it was a pen and AA was lucky not to go for a denial. That would’ve been harsh, but on a point of law, correct.

Kavanagh was asked to go to the monitor. Why? It wasn’t a clear and obvious error. You could see how annoyed he was by the little time he spent there. It was a pen. End of.

So VAR missed Maguire’s assault, but saw something that Kavanagh didn’t. Why didn’t it also see that there was a clear handball at Burnley? I don’t blame Mike Dean for not seeing the       Ajayi handball (he was on the wrong side) but there was one in the box at the other end. Kyle Bartley handled. That was a pen. Stockley Park saw it but didn’t think Dean had made a ‘clear and obvious error’. Come on. Of course he had. If VAR is to be used for the purposes that it was introduced it’s simply got to correct errors. Never mind ‘clear and obvious’. Then we might be making some progress. That, in conjunction with Mike Riley’s removal.

I can also see why Chris Wilder was furious that he didn’t get a pen v Fulham. Wow. The challenge by Areola on Bogle was worse then Pickford v van Dijk. Jobs are on the line when things like that happen. Martin Atkinson and Peter Bankes should be made to pay for such a calamitous non-decision.

What about Moyesey?  Brilliant David. I’m so pleased. I also hope that Hammers’ fans now realise I was right. British coaches are just as good as their foreign counterparts. Everyone needs time and support. Moyes has got the support now and, at last, Mssrs Sullivan, Gold and Brady are back in their box. That was Moyes biggest battle and he’s won it. Sullivan and Barry Silkman aren’t buying the players anymore. He is. And what a difference in the recruitment policy.

I ended last week by asking ‘what’s wrong at Anfield?’ I said I didn’t like the smell. I’m ending the same way this week. Something isn’t right. What’s happening on the pitch is a reflection of much bigger issues behind the scenes. We’ll have to wait for developments it seems.

In Wenger We Trust.

Published: Monday, 15 February 2021
We’ve discussed this before. The question I’m asked most often is ‘of all the guests you've sat with - who have you enjoyed the company of most?’ 

My answer is always the same ‘the opinions I respect the most are from those who’ve spent time in the technical area’. These are the guys that understand, better than most, what comes with coaching. But I always add this - that I expect those that have tried and failed to act with a little more humility when they return to our screens. It’s obvious that they don’t have all the answers, otherwise they’d have been better at it. 

There are riders to that as well. It’s easy to find yourself in a good job at the wrong time. To be surrounded by players that aren’t good enough. To have an owner that isn’t empathetic. There are many different reasons why good people fail. Or are perceived to have failed. 

I once had a row with my boss at Sky who argued that we couldn’t keep ‘putting failures on screen’. I pointed out that we’d be a bit short of guests if we did that, because most had failed at one time or another. It’s different now of course. Anyone can pic a mic up and start offering an opinion. And those that shout the loudest tend not to have been anywhere near a technical area. I don’t listen too much to them. 

If you want names - Graeme Souness is always good company. Graeme is a great example of being in the right place at the wrong time. That’s why they say he failed as a coach at Liverpool. At that time he didn’t have a fiercer critic than me. It got so bad we didn’t talk for a couple of years, but normal relations were eventually resumed! 

I couldn’t understand what Graeme was trying to do. It was a club that I’d been around for a long time and it meant a lot to me. He was pulling the place apart. But he was right. Graeme wanted to modernise it. Right idea - wrong time. 

I also love listening to Glenn Hoddle. He’s got a brilliantly inquisitive mind. How right was he about playing three at the back - with two forwards up top. He played that formation when he was the England coach. Right job - wrong time. 

One I’d always wanted to spend time with was Arsene Wenger. Last weekend I finally did. What an absolute pleasure it was. What a mind. What knowledge. What a gentleman. And nobody’s fool. We’re lucky to have him involved in the game in a role that he can use to influence it. I also realised why I like listening to Glenn. He’s ‘mini-me’.  So much rubbed off on him during their time together at Monaco. 

To think that the new Brexit legislation would have stopped Wenger from taking the Arsenal job. What a nonsense all that is. Boris Johnson is lucky that Covid has deflected attention from that disaster, but eventually people will realise what we’ve done. Sorry. I was a strong remainer. 

I’ll never agree with Wenger about VAR mins you. It too has been a disaster. We now talk about refereeing decisions with far more frequency than we ever did. I hate it. It’s added nothing to our game. It’s lovely to hear people like Hassenhutll and Klopp coming round to my way of thinking on the subject. 

Take this weekend. Without it we’re not debating whether Maguire dived (of course he did) but the flag goes up for offside - which ‘Mossie’ missed in the bunker. 

Arsenal get a pen v Leeds when Saka goes over. Ok, it would’ve been soft, but we wouldn’t still be talking about it. VAR has served only to highlight how bad our refereeing is. It’s magnified errors. 

But Wenger did agree that we’ve got to have specialist VAR operators - not current working refs. I’ve argued since day 1 that we need regular operators in that role. Watching football on tv is different. You’ve got to know what to look for. X-refs should be doing that job, not the guys working in the middle the next day. It’s too much for them. 

Michael Oliver took charge of his 27th game since September this weekend. That includes four CL and two Nations League games, but not VAR bunker and 4th official work. It’s too much for the guys. 

And I repeat - we MUST be allowed to listen to conversations between the bunker and the match day ref. It happens in the Aussie A League. It MUST happen in the PL. That way we’d know the PGMOL were lying when they told us they were ‘checking to see if it was a pen and had it been given they’d have gone back to check for off-side’. Nonsense. ‘Mossie’ missed it. We’re talking about the Harry ‘Tom Daley’ Maguire incident here. There was no need to check to see if it was a pen. That’s why they don’t want us to hear those conversations. That’s why we MUST be allowed to. 

Wenger also told BeINSPORTS that we’re likely to see automated off-sides introduced at the 2022 WC - and offside with a twist. Right now a toe nail or an eye lash in front of the defender is deemed to be off-side. Wenger and FIFA are currently trialling his idea that anything level with the defender means you’re ON - even if the whole of your body is beyond the defender. 

On Ozil he said ‘he’s one of few that do things you don’t expect’. The same goes for Firmino. He said he backed the German because he was special. 

It was staggering to hear him say that for a decade after leaving Highbury, he knew that Arsenal couldn’t win the title - but worse than that - he’d have to sell a player at the end of every season or the club would go bust. Despite that - he kept finishing in the CL places whilst building a world class training facility and paying off the mortgage on The Emirates. And he kept winning the FA Cup as well. What an incredible achievement. How Arsenal would love a season like that now. 

He said that both Henry and Vieira told him they wanted to ‘continue their careers elsewhere’ because he was building a young team and both knew they couldn’t win the title again. Deals were done that suited Wenger, but he didn’t want to lose either of them. All the deals were done because they had to be - but the one he really didn’t want to lose was Fabregas. It’s fascinating stuff. Have a look for yourselves. 

A question to finish with. What’s wrong at Liverpool? Something smells bad.

It’s City’s.

Published: Monday, 08 February 2021
I signed off last week making the point that predicting is a dangerous game - but fun. I said that only two teams could win the title - Liverpool and City. I was quickly proved wrong. 😂😂.

I didn’t see Brighton’s win at Anfield coming. Mind you - nor did anyone else. That’s the game that ended Liverpool’s title bid, not the defeat by City. You might disagree, but either way, now there’s only one team that can win the title. In fact - let’s be honest, the title race is over. City will win it. So, congrats to everybody involved at The Etihad.

Once again, they’re worthy champions. They’ve done it without Aguero, who’s now surplus to requirements. Well - perhaps they’ll use him in the CL because that’s the one that Guardiola really wants to win. He’d give up the title now if you guaranteed him CL success. He’s desperate to prove he can win it without Messi.

As an Englishman I’ve got to thank him for Phil Foden. What a talent. And, at last, he’s got himself a defence he can rely on. Mind you, it’s cost City £500m for him to finally get there. It’s the one area that he couldn’t sort out and why I ironically suggested he should ask Big Sam for advice! If City can keep this run going - and Guardiola can resist getting too clever again - they’ve got a really good a chance of winning the CL.

But what of Liverpool? Where did it all go wrong? Obviously Klopp couldn’t have predicted van Dijk’s injury, a problem compounded by the loss of both Joel Matip and Joe Gomez. Jordan Henderson has done a terrific job filling in, but I wouldn’t have played him at centre back against City. Liverpool miss his energy in mid-field. He IS Liverpool’s intensity. Two, maybe three weeks ago, I said that Tiago is the wrong type for Liverpool. He slows things down. That’s not what Liverpool are. He’s a Guardiola-type player. I was pleased to see Didi Hamann agree with me. Tiago is obviously class, but he’s in the wrong team. By removing Henderson from mid-field I think Klopp shot himself in the foot and weakened two areas of his team. Surely - at 23 - Nat Phillips was worth taking a chance on? He’s a natural centre back. He’s got to be as good in there as Henderson?

I agree with Graeme Souness. Liverpool should’ve spent after winning the title. They always did. Always. It’s one of the reasons Kenny Dalglish left Blackburn - and knew he was leaving even before he got them over the line - because they weren’t going to spend. You’ve got to. You’ve got to add. Standing still is actually going backwards especially when everyone else around you is spending.

A thought for Frank Lampard. Why aren’t his representatives speaking to Bournemouth. Maybe they are? In my view they definitely should be.

What a great job that would be for him. He knows the league. They’ll spend. There’s a new stadium on the horizon. It’s a club 50 miles from his London home. He could afford to buy a row of houses on Sandbanks if he wanted. Oh how his playing success would drive his cousin to distraction. We’d discuss it as we drove the length and breadth of the country. He was insanely jealous so perhaps Frank wouldn’t be calling in on Uncle ‘Arry! But I’m sure he’d always be available for advice. ‘Arry might even offer to help. Maybe go in as Director if Football? You try and stop him!

Frank might not get another one in the PL so he’ll have to work his way back - and he’d have a real chance of getting Bournemouth up.

I can’t go without a word for Mason and Dean - currently English football’s funniest double act. Well - they would be funny if things weren’t so serious. What on earth were they thinking? Tomas Soucek - guilty of violent conduct? Had he used ‘excessive force or endangered the well being of an opponent’? Of course he hadn’t. It was an accident.

As I write I’m expecting to hear that the FA have overturned the decision. That would mean the last two red cards Dean has shown would’ve been rescinded. That’s never happened before.

A former PL manager said to me this weekend that ‘Dean hates players and he’s always fighting his ego’. Spot on. Dean thinks he’s doing is all a favour and that without him there wouldn’t a game. Wrong Mike. There are many other refs. There were always plenty of kids at school who couldn’t play that we gave the whistle to.

In his column in The Telegraph today Keith Hackett says it’s time Dean and Mason were retired. He’s right. At the very least neither should be working for the next three match days. There has to be some accountability for their error prone performances.

Hackett also says ‘I’d love to know what Mason and Dean were discussing when they decided to send Soucek off’. So would I Keith. We all would. We all should. We all should be able to hear what refs and Stockley Park are saying to each other. I’ve argued this all season. We’ve got to be able to listen. Why not? There’s only one good reason why not - because they’ve got something to hide. Here’s how it should work - and if it can work in Australia’s A league it can certainly work in the PL. Over to you Mike Riley.

Only 2 teams can win it.

Published: Monday, 01 February 2021

So now we know. Only two teams are capable of winning the PL title - and they’re the same two that have been contesting it over the past couple of seasons.

I had been hoping the race would go on for longer and that more teams would be involved, but whats happening is what always happens - there’s only ever really two in it.

If you look back over the years there’s never really been more than two serious contenders any era - certainly since the end of the 70’s. Of course there’s been the odd exception, but until Fergie retired it was usually United and one other. Now it’s Liverpool and City.

Regulars know I’d have loved to have seen Brendan Rodgers win it. I think he’s owed one after what happened the year Gerrard slipped. Leicester have looked likely some weeks, but always seem to slip after finding a good result. They’re not ready, but a top four finish would still be an outstanding achievement and in line with the growth expectations that Rodgers will have.  

Spurs are long overdue. Long overdue - and for a time it looked as though Mourinho had the ammo to remind everyone that he’s far from a busted flush. But he hasn’t. If he were honest he’d tell you he’d settle for a trophy right now.

Manchester United aren’t ready.  I did allow myself a smile when I read what Roy Keane said about them this weekend. It was exactly what I’d said after their game at Anfield. Either he’s reading these blogs - or someone else at Sky is and planted the seed in his mind!

I didn’t think United looked ‘scared’ at Arsenal. They’re simply not good enough. Forget the nonsense about Pogba transforming from ‘outcast to outstanding’. I repeat - he continues to offer flashes of talent v the likes of Burnley and Fulham - but you don’t see him in big games. He was hopeless again at Arsenal. He obviously wasn’t happy about being asked to play on the left - and when circumstances allowed him to move inside he was still sulking. He’s a selfish luxury.

United should’ve gone for the jugular at Anfield. I said they’d look back and regret their lack of ambition that day. They could’ve made a huge statement at Liverpool. The Champions were there for the taking. United could’ve put them out of the race - and themselves in with a real chance. A win at Arsenal would’ve cemented that aim.

Another problem United have got right now is that they really don’t look like winning games without their penalties! I mentioned Cavani’s attempts to nick one last week - this week it was Fernandes rolling about and screaming any time someone was near him. I do wish he’d cut it out. He doesn’t need to do it. Watch him closely - you’ll find out that I’m right again!

I had hoped for a better season for Chelsea. After over achieving last time round and with a big summer spend behind him, I thought Frank Lampard might get them in amongst it. He’ll know that he had the tools, but he was undermined by the very same dressing room that he was once at the centre of. I said this after he was fired.
Others are saying it now.

So there we have it. Only City and Liverpool are in contention and, of course, they meet next weekend. Liverpool can’t afford to lose it. City can. And I think they will.

I was really impressed with Liverpool at West Ham. David Moyes said that his team weren’t at their best - but I thought they made life awkward for Liverpool. They were solid. Sat in. Didn’t allow space - so Liverpool had to work out another way to win it  I can’t remember too many games when they’ve done that. We’re more used to seeing them ‘sweep’ teams away.

I hope they get that chance against City. I’d like to see them go to Anfield and play - but Guardiola knows he doesn’t have to win. He’s sat in before and City are more than capable of doing so again. That’s why Klopp must have been delighted the way his team ‘dug’ the three points out at West Ham. By the way - what about the second? I know most people were impressed by the speed at which Liverpool broke - but it was Salah’s quickness of feet that blew me away. What a first touch and what a finish. Had Messi done it we wouldn’t ever have stopped talking about it. It was fantastic.  

At the other end it’s looking increasingly like the current bottom three will go. Chris Wilder must’ve wondered if it was possible for his team to get out after two satisfying performances in Manchester, but they’re just too far back - especially after Brighton’s win.

It looks though Big Sam has taken one job too far. West Brom stirred in the 2nd half v Fulham, but neither of those teams are very good. A draw didn’t suit either of them.

As we know - predictions can often bite - but it’s all part of the fun. As the games continue to come thick and fast a reminder that they’re all on BeINSPORTS. All the games. All the time. All in one place.

I hope it’s not the end Frank.

Published: Monday, 25 January 2021
We all do it. I’ve been guilty as well. When things aren’t going well at a club the answer always seems to be to call for the coach to be sacked.

You can usually sniff trouble. Once rot sets in it’s really hard to cut away. Often the end is inevitable. That’s the way it’s been at Chelsea for the past few weeks now. Somebody always knows something. Rumours start. Players take their foot off the gas. Then the axe falls.

I’m sorry it ended like that for Frank Lampard at Chelsea. He’s a good guy - bright, forward thinking, but most of all English. We haven’t got enough ‘bright young things’. He’s had my support from day one and he’ll continue to have it. I hope he takes time out and then has another go. Our game needs high profile young English/British coaches. It’s why we set up St. George’s Park.

There’s obviously trouble at The Toon as well - but when hasn’t there been? Another tell-tale sign is when a manager starts biting back at the press. Lampard did recently. Bruce has as well. The big difference is that Bruce retains the support of the owner at Newcastle. Mike Ashley likes him - and he likes the way that Bruce gets on with the job without constantly causing waves - as Benitez did.

But that’s not to say that Bruce is solid. I can’t imagine any way that Ashley would invite Benitez back - but he’s a businessman. Remember, he brought Keegan back. He gave Shearer a go - and he didn’t want to make either appointment, but he knew both would play well with Geordies. If he thought it was good for business to take Benitez back I suspect he would.

Guillem Balague says Benitez wouldn’t fancy either Newcastle or Celtic. He’s his mate. But Balague went after me when I announced that Benitez was going to Chelsea. He was caught out and didn’t know. He frantically tweeted denials but was wrong. On that basis - don’t rule either out!

Fair play to the former manager of relegated Cardiff and Molde. He’s taken a kicking at different times but it’s beginning to look as though Ed Woodward’s faith is going to be rewarded. I hope so. We need a strong United.

I’m sorry - but I’ve got to mention this. It’s six games now since Utd last got a pen. That’s the longest run of games without one since the start of last season. It seems as though we changed something - although Cavani did his best at the weekend. He was a yard or two out when he went over with the usual murderous scream. I agree with Ian Wright - it wasn’t a foul, so they’re still at it. It wouldn’t have been a goal either if Tiago hadn’t ducked under the ball.

I write on the 10th anniversary (Monday Jan 25th) of Keys and Gray’s departure from Sky. Jack Pitt-Brooke wrote a piece for The Athletic Sunday. I like it. It’s a throw back. They do proper journalistic work without interference from the news pages. I’m often asked ‘why do you keep bringing the Sky incident up?’ I don’t. Jack said he was doing a piece so it struck me I might as well help him get it right - although he still managed to regurgitate a few myths. I followed up with a text to that end. He accepted the points I made. Sian Massey-Ellis never said ‘you should’ve known better’.  

Anyway. The Daily Mail inevitably jumped on it with a headline along the lines of ‘Keys again claims he was the victim’. They do make me laugh. I’m flattered that they still want to talk about me.

The truth is - we were. It was a set-up. I’ve got all the evidence I need to prove that and I’ve promised that I’ll share it. I will at some point.

To keep you going I’m happy to tell this story - only because I told Jack, but he didn’t write it.

Sky tried like mad to stop us working again - for TalkSPORT - or anybody else. Their big error was not putting us on gardening leave for a couple of years. They under-estimated my drive to get going again. And I was pleased that Andy eventually realised we had to get back at it.

The Friday of the week the story broke a senior executive from Talk was summoned to a meeting with three Sky execs and told ‘we sponsor a whole raft of your programmes. We don’t want this. We’ll have to withdraw our sponsorship if you do it. We thought we’d buried them’. To his eternal credit he got up and left the meeting.

I didn’t know this until some time later. I was at home discussing how I thought we could recover from being labelled sexists (incorrectly) when the phone rang. ‘There’s another video out’ said the caller - another Talk exec. ‘Now you’re a racist as well’. He was referring to what I would later find out was another carefully edited tape that wasn’t very helpful. I repeat - again - carefully edited. ‘What are we going to do?’ I said. The reply was the best news I’d had in weeks ‘we’re going to do exactly as we planned’ he said. ‘See you tomorrow’.

Every word of our first show was published on line by The Mail and The Guardian. What nobody noticed was the stand taken by two very good mates. Our first two guests were Dion Dublin and Paul Ince - both of whom knew me well and knew what nonsense the allegations were.

There’s so much more - but that will do for now. Jack’s got a lot of it. Tweet and ask him what else there is!

It’s all worked out ok - thanks to a few very good people. The two years at TalkSPORT were special and I love working in Doha. The guys here are a delight and have given us remarkable support. The lifestyle is amazing. And at our Group, whether at beIN or Paris St-Germain F.C. or Miramax, we're also at the beating heart of the global sports & entertainment agenda - shaping debate and the future of the industry, with the most incredible relationships across the world; it's a real privilege. Only last week, we had Guy Ritchie and a range of Hollywood actors in Doha directing one of our new films - I can only assume Jason Statham was cast as Andy.

Anyway, back to The Athletic's well-researched and judicious piece which is so rare these days - I suppose that’s what annoys me when I talk of how news interference dictates what good sports journalists can and can’t say. I’ve offered a number of mates the chance to come here and see the truth. See and experience Doha and Qatar with their own eyes - but the reply is always the same ‘we can’t Keysie, that would run against the papers policy’. It’s such a shame - because there’s a whole lot to admire about this pocket-battleship of a power-house nation - yes, it got some things wrong at the beginning, like every nation that's maturing, learning and developing. But the pace of positive change has been utterly amazing, and I do wonder if the critics think to apply their same yard-sticks closer to home. Anyway - you’ll see for yourselves in 2022 when Qatar stages what will become the best WC of all time. And again, we'll be at the heart of it.

A tale of 2 United’s.

Published: Monday, 18 January 2021

Only history will tell us. Did United drop two points - and miss the chance to all but put Liverpool out of the title race - or did they bore their way to a valuable point that might just be the difference between winning the title and missing out?

Everybody is talking about Liverpool. I get that. They’re the champions and they’re horribly out of sorts. I described them as ‘bits and pieces’ on BeINSPORTS - as I discussed the game post match with Andy and Nigel de Jong, you can see the full debate on YouTube. Those who saw it know what I’m referring to! They are ‘bits and pieces’ right now. The two full- backs are way off. They don’t have a central defender to speak of. Without Henderson in mid-field there’s no intensity and they’re mis-firing up top - but the service is awful. And for me, that’s largely down to the full-backs. When those two are firing their unstoppable crosses in Liverpool are an entirely different prospect.

So why didn’t United go for the jugular? The minute the team sheets came in - and he saw that Henderson was playing at centre-back - Solakjaer should’ve ripped up his game plan and started again.

United are better than Liverpool right now. They went into the game as the form team in the country. They should’ve been brimming with confidence.

They had more height. McTominay and Pogba. McGuire for set-pieces. The lightening quick reactions of Rashford and Martial. The cunning of Fernandes.  It was there to be won. Go and play in Liverpool’s half. Go and do what City would’ve done - and win it three or four nil. Make a statement.

Instead they were turgid. Dull. Boring. And scared. If Mourinho had served that up he’d have been slaughtered.

I know there are two sides to the game. I’ve argued that on many occasions when teams have gone into a cauldron - and sat in hoping to nick a point - or three. I get it. I applaud it when it’s done well. Mourinho is the master of it. We’ve seen his teams do it time and again - never to better effect than when he took Inter to Barcelona for a CL semi-final 2nd leg with a 3-1 lead and left with the sweetest 1-0 defeat in history. It was classic Mourinho. The benchmark. Inter played with 10 following Motta’s red card in the 30th minute. Messi, Ibra, Xavi - none of them could find an answer.

If United had gone to Anfield with Liverpool at their breathtaking best I could understand a rear guard action to protect and maybe steal. But, as I’ve already said, right now they’re not. The Champions were there for the taking and United bottled it.

Do you remember all the nonsense from the Class of ‘92 when Solskjaer got the job? ‘Never again must a manager here betray our traditions. Ignore our DNA. Try and impress on us his own beliefs’. My goodness. What was that we saw at the weekend?

By Monday Solskjaer was talking about the ‘fantastic, disciplined’ job Pogba did. Really? Doing what exactly? Why wasn’t he at the other end of the pitch proving that he can boss big games - not just games against Burnley?

And Klopp was realistic enough to be talking about ‘making the top four’ this season. There’s the key. He knows they’re way short right now. United missed a chance to blow them out of the water.

The other United I wanted to talk about is Leeds. What’s going on there? How can they be so good one week - and a limp, embarrassing version of themselves the next?

I’m beginning to wonder if a change isn’t needed. Bielsa holds a god-like status with Leeds fans. He can do no wrong in their eyes - but what does the owner make of it all? At the end of the day - his opinion is the only one that matters.

I hear tales of confused meetings with the manager. Of language barriers - erected by Bielsa to hide behind. Never piss the owner off. There’ll only ever be one winner - as Big Ron found out at Villa all those years ago - when he constantly undermined Doug Ellis.
The first chance Ellis got - Atkinson was gone. It’s the same today as it ever was.

At their best Leeds are a delight to watch. It must be fun and frustrating in equal measure to play in that side. It can’t be easy knowing that you’re going to have to score at least twice to win a game because you can’t keep a clean sheet. Here - there are arguments for caution on occasions.

I’m reading the usual suggestions of ‘tiredness’, which always come at this time of their season.  Are Leeds running on empty? Of course Karen Carney’s suggestion that ‘they wouldn’t have got up had it not been for Covid’ was clumsy - but I know the point she was making - and so did everybody else. They would’ve got up. They were the best team in the Championship by miles last season. What she really meant was that the Covid break allowed them to re-charge and she was right. There might not be the same chance this season.

I don’t believe Leeds will ever be better then 14th-10th playing the way they do. That won’t be enough for an ambitious owner like Andrea Radrizzani. It shouldn’t be enough for Leeds fans either. So what happens in order for Leeds to take the next step? I wonder if Bielsa will be in charge at Elland Road next season?