I can't see Messi at City

Published: Thursday, 27 August 2020

I might be wrong. Occasionally I am! But I really can’t see Lionel Messi at Manchester City.

There are a number of very good reasons - all of which could be overcome if all parties really want to make the deal - but I’m not convinced.

I understand that Messi is deeply pissed off right now, but he has no right to be. Barcelona have been fantastic to him. He’s earned trillions whilst enjoying privilege at the club that no player in history ever has. He’s run the place for 15 years. Granted - he’s delivered. I watched him single handedly destroy Arsenal one evening at the Camp Nou. It was an individual performance the likes of which I’d never seen - and haven’t seen since. He can do things with a football that leave you breathless. He’s a genius - but, he’s an ageing genius.

He’s 33 now and can’t dominate individuals, games or teams like he once did. It’s always been the case that if you had Messi (or similar if such a thing exists) then somebody else in your team is going to have to put the work of two men into 90 minutes. Or, as a collective, the rest have got to put in an extra shift. That’s why he liked playing with Neymar so much - if he was walking about for 10 minutes a little disinterested, then Neymar would come alive. They worked well together. And Busquets did the dirty bits.

But as Messi has aged so too have Barca. As a collective they’re not the force they once were. That’s painfully obvious. Messi cuts a lonely and frustrated figure. He knows his powers are waning.

Messi doesn’t speak English. Not an insurmountable problem, but an issue. And whatever you read or hear - he doesn’t like Guardiola and Guardiola doesn’t like him. It is well known within football circles that Guardiola realised it was time to leave Barca when Messi told him ‘never do that to me again’ after he’d been subbed. Messi’s power are the club exceeded that of Guardiola.

So why would they want to get it back on now?  As I’ve said, Messi is a fading force. Does he really fancy his chances in the PL at 33? Gonzalo Higuain went back to Italy complaining PL defenders are ‘built like wardrobes and kick the shit out of you’. Our league is a whole lot more intense than any other in Europe.

We don’t yet know if Messi will win a fight to leave Barca. They claim a release clause of something like €680m - he says he can leave on a free because last season ran past May and finished in August - so he’s into his last year and the clause has lapsed.

Guardiola demands work from his teams. Do you remember how many times he’d go after Aguero in the early days of their relationship? Aguero was scoring goals - but not working. Guardiola left him out until he got the message. So where would that put Messi?

Serious question - would any City fan drop De Bruyne to fit him in? No chance.

Messi is class. But he also needs class around him. That’s why he’s failed to cut it at international level. Players representing Argentina weren’t as good as those at Barca.

If - and I still believe it’s if - Messi leaves Barca I can’t see any other sensible destination for him than Italy. Ibra is still getting away with it in that league approaching 40. Messi would tear it up in a very different way to Ronaldo.

Ronald Koeman has set his stall out. A big piece of me understands that he wants to make an impression. I remember Terry Venables going in at Barca and doing the same. He sold Maradona - which shook football at the time - but we found out why. He had issues that the whole world has since become aware of.

Koeman has decided to go looking for trouble. Big mistake. Don’t go looking - there’s plenty that will find you. A fight with Messi will have exactly that - a messi ending - and right now I can’t see any winners.

Mancini would’ve won it by now

Published: Monday, 17 August 2020

The first thing to say is ‘we’ll never know’. The following is purely speculative - but I’m going to make the case that if City hadn’t sacked Mancini they almost certainly would’ve won the CL by now - and for a whole lot less than Guardiola has spent. A whole lot less.

Let’s deal first with what Guardiola has done at City. He’s produced the English games’s first domestic treble. But - this In a decade when it’s been done in Spain twice. It’s been done in Germany for the first time - and in Italy. It’s been done in France three times in four years. Oh, and we’ve seen a club win the CL three times in a row for the first time in 43 years. So - there’s a trend - the few spending money are generally bossing the many - with the exception of Leicester’s title win. I’m not decrying Guardiola’s treble - I’m simply arguing that it wasn’t unique in modern  European football.

Ok. He broke the 100 point barrier. But, so what? It doesn’t matter if you win the league with 55 points as long as it’s one more than the team finishing 2nd. It is worth pointing out that it’s also been done in Spain and Italy - by the usual suspects, which further supports my argument above. The Italian League, like Portugal and Scotland, has also produced its first invincibles. Some of the football City played in that treble that season was beautiful to watch - as lovely as it was clinical - but when you take into account what was happening elsewhere in Europe - was it unique or following a trend?

Guardiola’s domestic success has come during an era when United, Chelsea and Arsenal have all been in decline. Spurs have joined the big six and Liverpool have arrived back on the scene - but has the competition for trophies been as intense as it was when Mancini was at City? Not a chance. No, it hasn’t.

The City boss is credited with making Sterling a better player. Perhaps he has, but I’d argue that Sterling was always going to get better at City. Did Guardiola turn Stones into the world class defender that we expected to see? No. He didn’t. In fact, he’s spent the best part of £320m on defenders and only Laporte has ever looked decent. Think about that and consider how he went in against Lyon - and the personnel he used. It’s staggering. I’ve often asked the question ‘how is it that a super-coach can’t teach individuals - or a team - how to defend?’ 

Only once in four seasons have City had the best defensive record in the premier league. It is worth pointing out that in Mancini's three seasons they were the best and in his first season Mancini's team also won by four goals or more on eight occasions. 

So, other than ordinary central defenders what has Guardiola added? Walker has been terrific. So too Fernandinho when he played in central midfield. De Bruyne has been enormous. I tweeted the other day asking ‘how much longer can they keep hold of him?’ Surely consistent CL failure isn’t good enough for him?

Jesus might yet prove to be decent and if you want a goalkeeper who can pass Ederson is that man (I prefer mine to be able to make saves like Alisson) but the backbone of Guardiola’s success was of Mancini’s making - Kompany, Silva, initially YaYa and Aguero.

You’re getting the impression that Guardiola isn’t my favourite aren’t you? You’d be right! Yes, his Barca side were untouchable - but it was a Barca side built by Rijkaard that had already started winning. He really couldn’t fail with Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets. But fail he did in Germany. The team he inherited at Bayern won the treble the year before he took charge. Yea, he won three successive titles, but they were three of eight in succession won the by Germans. His job was the same as it is at City - win the CL - but he didn’t. He hasn’t. In fact, he didn’t get close at Bayern and it’s three successive 1/4-final failures at City. I’d expect him to be winning the things he has with the teams he’s had. It was the big one he was asked to win in Germany and Manchester.

Would he ever consider building as Mourinho has got to at Spurs? I doubt it. Klopp has had a more dramatic effect on Liverpool than Guardiola has on City - yet still he looks down his nose at inquisitors dismissing their right to ask questions of him. No matter what he or his disciples believe, Guardiola did not invent football.

It was Mancini that invented modern day City. There’s no question about that. He took over a ‘nearly’ team. The team that Francis Lee once said of ‘if there was a cup for cock-ups then City would win it every year’. Mancini had to change everything - but his biggest challenge was to make City ‘believe’ - just as Klopp has done at Liverpool. Get City over the line. And boy, didn’t he do just that? Aguerooooooo. Apart from their recent win at CAS - that has to be City’s greatest moment in this era. Oh - and Mancini taking his team to Old Trafford and spanking United 6-1!

Talk to those who were at the club at the time and they’ll tell you that Mancini was elusive, difficult, abrasive and demanding - all of the things that make winners. He didn’t care if he was liked. He wanted people to want to prove him wrong - to fight with him - to go the extra yard and not settle for indifference or second best. It worked didn’t it?

I’ve seen it argued that he lost his appetite the year after City won the title. Nonsense. His players did. Even being five per cent off the pace is enough when the rest are chasing. That’s why they always say winning a second successive title is more difficult. It was avoidable as well. Mancini wanted to add players that summer - the likes of Hazard and Van Persie. I’ve heard Di Rossi’s name mentioned - as well as Cavani’s. The hierarchy didn’t back him. Imagine the injection of just two or three of those. Everybody would’ve been on their toes. If you don’t get better when you come first - you don’t just stand still - you go backwards. That’s what happened.

The following summer Mancini’s players downed tools and played him out by losing the Cup Final to Wigan. It wasn’t just players either - it was staff, who couldn’t wait to see the back of him. By now Garry Cook had gone and the Spanish were moving in - with one long term objective - get Guardiola. His philosophy has never changed - defend by attacking. That’s all very well, but not against the very best. Mancini is Italian. Defend first. It’s impossible for me to think he wouldn’t have won the CL by now. Incidentally, I haven’t mentioned Pellegrini because he won a title with Mancini’s team. He was simply a stop-gap.

So what next at City? Guardiola has 10 months left on his contract. Do City trust him and watch him waste more money? If there’s change should there also be change behind the scenes? Is the Spanish era over? Is it Fraudiola or genius? Super-coach or myth? And who could possibly follow? My vote - Roberto Mancini, but sadly that ship has sailed. And so have City’s chances of ever winning the CL under Guardiola.

2 out of 3 ain’t bad

Published: Tuesday, 28 July 2020

It was Bruce Gyngell, who I’ve spoken of in previous posts, that taught me to remind people of the things you get right. Your achievements, if you like. Bruce was the Aussie genius that saved TV-am from going bust in the 80’s - although the Rat got the credit!

Bruce couldn’t understand why we Brits were always so shy about a success. His thinking was ‘if you don’t enjoy it and remind people - what’s the point?’ He was correct. So here goes!

Two out of three ain’t bad. And I was 12 months out with the other. I’ll come back to that.  Regulars know exactly what I’m talking about - relegation. 

Norwich were certainties. Their policy was evident from the outset - enjoy it and don’t bankrupt the club. Daniel Farke has admitted as much. He’s been criticised for saying it, but, I don’t have a problem with that philosophy. Norwich will never be able to compete with the big boys so what’s wrong with bouncing about between the Championship and the PL? There were some great moments this season - beating City for one - but they’ll enjoy next season just as much if they’re winning games and pushing at the top again. There’s nothing like the thrill of seeing your team to win. To get up next year they’ll have to do it excess of 25 times. Brilliant. Good luck to them. There could be many more enjoyable weekends to come rather than the long hard winter they’ve endured.

Bournemouth were also certainties for me. The decline at The Vitality started the season before last. They’ve been poor since around about Christmas 2019. They simply don’t win enough games doing things ‘the right way’ - whatever that is. They’re too ‘nice’ - just like their manager. It would be good for both parties if they went their separate ways now.

Howe did a wonderful job saving the club from relegation out the Football League - and then driving them to the PL - in two separate spells let’s not forget. But he spent a fortune doing it. They were fined for breaking FFP regulations after going up to the PL and they’ve continued to spend - the vast majority of it on bad players - which is the main reason they’ve been relegated.

At one time Howe was being touted as a future England/Arsenal manager. He needs to challenge himself again and prove to us that he knows what he’s doing. And Bournemouth need a fresh face at the helm.

I predicted Brighton would go - or Palace, if they couldn’t hold onto Zaha. Had they not got points on the board before lockdown they would’ve been in trouble - even with him. I love Roy - but I suspect there’s change coming at Palace as well. Oh - well done Graham Potter. I was wrong about Brighton.

I was 12 months out with my prediction Watford would go. Watford fans were furious when I said they were heading for the drop - but I wasn’t wrong - my timing was. You can’t run a club like the Pozzo’s do and expect success. Their primary objective is to make money for themselves - not worry about Watford, or any of the others clubs that they own The clubs are cash cows. You can’t keep going to the well as they do and not find it dry one day. I don’t like their business model. Watford deserve better. It’s a family club with higher principles than the Pozzo’s and their ‘yes’ man Scott Duxbury display. Sacking Nigel Pearson as they did was a disgrace. I’m glad I pointed out one of the reasons that they may have done it - to avoid paying him a bonus if they stayed up. That notion disgusted people - and quite rightly. They got what they deserved - relegation. Some of the goings on at that club must have Graham Taylor spinning in his grave. Now there was a principled man.

As pleased as I am to see Watford go - I’m equally so that Villa survived, although as a Coventry fan I know I shouldn’t say that!  But I am. Villa is a proper club. Magnificent stadium. Fabulous training facilities - and all of it thanks to the late Doug Ellis.

They too spent big - largely on a collection of rubbish from Belgium. Who was responsible for that? I suspect we’ll find out in the next few days. My next question would then be - why? I’ve been given a few answers -  but I can’t share them.

Dean Smith deserves another go at it, but he’s got to be solely in charge of recruitment now.

It might surprise you to here I’m glad West Ham survived as well. I’m chuffed to bits for Moysey. He too must now be in charge of buying. Time to take a step back Mssrs Sullivan and Silkman.

The Newcastle saga rumbles on, and it’s good to see one or two of the Nationals catching up with what I’ve been telling them about the deal. Here’s the latest. The Saudi’s will try again after shooting themselves in both feet. I originally said one foot - but it was both. Hiring Phillip Hammond to lobby is part of the new strategy although why they’ve chosen him I don’t know. He’s about as popular in the Tory party as I am in Newcastle! I still can’t work that out mind you - all I’ve ever done is tell you all the truth and I’m the only one prepared to do that. Surely you can see that now?

Henry Mauriss is still at the table. If he wants it - it’s an open goal. Ashley is a willing seller - Mauriss has to get his deal done. Simple. There you go. As your beloved Rafa might say ‘facts’.

The Saudi’s shot themselves in the foot

Published: Tuesday, 21 July 2020

It was Harold Wilson who famously uttered the words ‘A week is a long time in politics’. Historians continue to argue whether Harold Macmillan ever actually used the phrase ‘Events, dear boy, events’ when asked what was most likely to knock governments off course, but for now we’ll take it that he did.

Both apply to the ongoing saga of the Saudi government’s attempted takeover of Newcastle United. And yes – however you look at it, however they try to disguise themselves….it is the Saudi State – their sovereign wealth fund, entirely owned and controlled by the Saudi Arabian State and which executes Saudi state policy – who submitted a bid to buy Newcastle; not anyone else. Another hint is perhaps in the word “sovereign” – have a look at that word in the dictionary. I’m reminded of another Saudi word – “be-out-Q”, although maybe that’s Cuban (let me ask FIFA, UEFA and the Premier League what they think about that). 

A week ago when I sat down to write my blog I was convinced that the deal would somehow – by hook or by crook – get done. After 15 weeks, perhaps I’d started to believe the briefings and the bots. The relentless “no red flags”, the supreme confidence, the alternative facts. But a week is a long time in politics (sorry Harold) – everything has changed. That’s not to say that Mike Ashley won’t finally sell, but I would now be surprised if it is to Saudi Arabia.

So what changed? Simple. The Saudi’s:- who’ve spent 3 years stealing from Sky, BBC, beIN, every broadcaster in world sport; who’ve blocked legal cases 9 times; who’ve said the Premier League sent their complaints to the wrong Saudi email address; who said they won the WTO case (only for the WTO to say ‘read the judgment’)… Well, they really shot themselves in the foot last Tuesday – just as we’d all got sucked into their alternative reality. They permanently banned the Premier League’s broadcast partner from broadcasting in Saudi Arabia.

Why does this matter? Why was it so significant? Because beIN is the partner of the Premier League across the Middle East and North Africa and often in other territories around the world too. While some Newcastle fans may wilfully choose to ignore this – beIN is one of the biggest investors in Newcastle football club; we celebrate and promote their product, their players, their culture and history all around the world and have done for years. We also help pay their bills - enormously. So let’s follow the Saudi’s latest move to its natural conclusion – they’re looking to join the best league in the world, but ban anyone from watching that league, and the very club they’re trying to own. And it’s not just PL football affected by this decision – it’s all of UK sport, from the Six Nations to the Ashes, the EFL to the Scottish league, Wimbledon to our great male and female athletes at the OIympics next year. All these sports bodies want to see their product grow, all of them protect their broadcaster partners and their IP above all else. Remove the broadcaster in Saudi – all you’re left with is piracy. At a time when Saudi is trying to pass – essentially – a piracy test. That’s some middle finger to the PL.

Not surprisingly the holders of all these rights sat up – their business models are based on TV money, almost exclusively and especially in this COVID lockdown world. Not even the British govt. could turn a blind eye now – sport is one of their greatest exports.

I understand Geordie desperation to see their club sold. Don’t panic guys. Trust me - Mike Ashley is as keen to sell as you are to see him gone. All is not lost in that respect.

I’ve been privileged to have had a front row seat during this saga. When I first spoke about it in what we called ‘The Gray Lounge’ - Andy’s front room during lockdown - I had no idea about the enormity of the reaction it would stir. I’ve been pilloried by Geordies. I’ve had death threats - only from one side in the argument – but I won’t be silenced. That’s what the Saudi’s do, we know that. As a journalist it’s my job to ask awkward questions and to expose wrongdoing. The Saudi deal was never going to fail on moral grounds – which is a scandal in of itself. But legally the deal was wrong – if you steal the product you’re trying to buy, what do you think the security guard will say at the automatic doors?

One quick aside that’s puzzled me for 15 weeks – anyone, and I mean anyone, who flags legitimate concerns about the deal is lynched. MPs, broadcasters, other buyers, the Premier League, other clubs, Hatice Cengiz, Amnesty, anyone. Rather than lynch us all, I wonder why the cheerleaders don’t focus – just for a second – on the buyers. Maybe, just maybe, they’ve got some questions to answer – and I’m not talking about the weather in Cuba.

I repeat what I’ve always said. Newcastle is a fantastic football club. I told you Brucey would do a job for you – even if your ambitions are sky high (which they should be), he’s done an honest job in challenging times. You didn’t want to hear that because Rafa had somehow managed to convince everybody he was the only man that could manage the club.

I wish the club and its many fair minded supporters nothing but success. I’d love to see Brucey given the tools to deliver that success – by owners that see Newcastle as a family football club, not PR. He knows what silverware would mean. It’s his priority - not finishing high enough in the league to trigger personal bonuses as his predecessor did.  Cue a mountain of abuse.

When the dust settles on this saga, you may see that this current bid never added up – from the beginning. And if someone else takes the reigns - and I told you right at outset that Henry Mauriss wanted it - although I couldn’t name him - it’ll be better for the club.

I conclude where I started. ‘A week is a long time in politics’, so who knows? I said some time ago ‘don’t be surprised if there a surprise somewhere along the line before this gets done’ - but as of now you’re up to date with as much information as I can share.

Come on Clive...

Published: Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Just for a minute I thought something really serious had happened. There was my mate Clive Tyldesley - sitting at what looked like his breakfast table - with a glorious backdrop of green grass and fir trees - full of emotion. What was he about to tell us? Was somebody in the family a Covid victim? Did he have a terminal illness? No. It was worse than that - he was being replaced as ITV’s lead commentator. Not sacked. Replaced. Kept on as No. 2 - a job he’s previously had. No-one was trashing him - his work or his reputation. Replaced. And replaced by a dammed good operator.

Come on Clive. You’ve had a wonderful run. Of course I know how you feel. It hurts. But it happens.

Try leaving a company for good - watching them drip feed nonsense into the media and then calling your prospective employee to a meeting to threaten them with financial penalties if they continued with their plans to employ you. ‘We thought we’d buried them. We don’t want this’ three senior Sky executives told the commercial manager of talkSPORT - summoned to a meeting at Gillette Corner. Oh, there’s so much more, but that’s for another time.

I mention that only because I too was emotional about my decision to leave Sky. It wouldn’t have been such a problem had it been left there - but it wasn’t. So I’ve rattled back at times.

This is different. This is like moving an important piece on the chess board. Not having it taken. Just moving it   You’re still on the board Clive.

I’ve known Clove since we were both babies. We grew up together at Radio City in Liverpool. He was a brilliant operator. He was the best. He was better than anything national radio had at the time and he knew it, although it didn’t help that he told the bosses at the BBC that his ‘grandmother was a better commentator’ than they had!! And this was at a job interview!! He returned from London to a Birkenhead pub for drinks with me and Bob Paisley. He never applied to radio sport again!!

But I repeat - he was good. Very good. I had ideas of making it as a commentator as well - but I wasn’t anywhere near as good as he was. After four years working together I left to take charge of the sports dept at Piccadilly Radio in Manchester. I was always going to be No 2 had I stayed. No 2!

Clive is a nice guy. He’s deeply thoughtful and cares. He cares about so many people and he’s always the first to show if you’ve got a problem - although I haven’t heard anything from him these past five years. I don’t know why? 🤷‍♂️ That’s how I know ITV’s decision will have cut him to the core. But it isn’t terminal Clive. It isn’t over. Far from it.

I have to say I’m chuffed to bits for Sam Matterface. Like me and Clive - and so many more down the years - he’s done his time and he deserves his chance. I thoroughly enjoyed working with him at TalkSPORT. He’s a top pro.

Sam took a big risk when he left Sky to join TalkSPORT. His gamble has paid off handsomely.

Clive has years left in him yet. There’s a big world outside the borders of the U.K. Clive. Like me, you could always try you hand on the radio again. You were brilliant on the radio.

At beINSPORTS we’re lucky enough to have Peter Drury and Andy Townsend to listen to. Without question this pair are now the unrivalled kings of the mic. They’re the best in the business. Andy is the rightful successor to Andy Gray. He’s calm. Thoughtful. Doesn’t pretend everything matters - and he’s unique because he tells me something I haven’t seen - just like my mate used to. That’s the art of co-comm - tell me ‘why’. Don’t just talk over pictures that I can see.

So many these days talk for the sake of it and bury you in stats. TV has pictures. Let them tell their own tale - ‘names and numbers’ as I was once told. You don’t have to talk for 90 minutes - or try and work a game out after two.

I digress. It’s not the end of the world Clive, although I know it feels like it right now. It’s the end of an era. Sam is a good call. Enjoy it mate. Oh - watch out Martin!!!!

Fit and Proper.....?

Published: Monday, 13 July 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We now have the worst refs in the world

Published: Friday, 10 July 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And normal service here is now resumed.

What exactly are we trying to achieve?

Published: Sunday, 10 May 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In black and white - this is not about Newcastle.

Published: Saturday, 25 April 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published: Monday, 16 March 2020

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

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

Wolves haven’t done badly either.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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