Guardiola - hit or miss?

Published: Monday, 16 December 2019

‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’. Brilliant. And the answer from John Cleese as he sat round with his fellow rebels from The People’s Front of Judia was pure genius. It’s still funny. Many different versions of the question still get asked today.

So - ‘what has Pep Guardiola ever done for us?’. The question, of course, requires an answer.

His achievements at Barcelona are without question. He won everything time and again. And he won with style. He won with a brand of football that had us all drooling. Barca were sensational during that period. But - he had Messi. And the footballing microsurgeons would argue that he inherited a team that Frank Rijkaard had built. A Rijkaard team that had started winning trophies again before Guardiola succeeded the Dutchman.

How often is it the case that a man’s greatest strength can also be his greatest weakness? That’s true in many other walks of life. Take Messi. Wonderful footballer. For some - the best ever. His talent is without question. I watched him tear Arsenal apart single handedly one CL night. He was unplayable. But - and there is always a but - those closest to Barca will tell you he’s a difficult boy to handle and popular myth has it that Guardiola tired of his demanding behaviour. So he left.

Next stop Bayern - with one objective - win the CL. Remember, he got the job in the December/January of a season that was shaping up to be ok under Jupp Heynckes, but nothing more. What an irony then that Heynckes went on to complete an incredible treble, which included winning the CL! That really left Guardiola with nowhere to go. He won titles and cups - but didn’t get near the one thing that he was employed to deliver - the CL. So - hit or miss?

I’ve no idea. I didn’t see enough of Bayern to make any kind of decision. Ok, he missed out on the big one - without Messi - but there are some who believe what he did during his time in Germany laid the foundation of their WC win 2014, although what Joachim Low would make of that, again, I’m not sure.

Next stop was City of course. And he would’ve been there 12 months before he took it had it not been for us at beINSPORTS. You’ve got to have a grasp of the politics of the region I now live in to understand that. The deal was done around about January of 2015. I said so and so my did Arabic colleagues at beINSPORTS. That was enough to send City’s Abu Dhabi based owners into meltdown. There was no way they were having their thunder stolen like that - so Pellegrini was very publicly given that contract extension but the buying of Guardiola’s targets started.

We’ve marvelled at some of the football played by his City. It’s been joyous. Resisting Liverpool as they did last season was incredible. Winning a domestic treble had never been done. There’s been De Bruyne’s grace. Sterling’s fleet of foot. Aguero’s goals. Kompany’s leadership. Silva’s magic. But.....

The holy grail at City is the CL. They haven’t been close under Guardiola. Ok, so they were ‘unlucky’ last season. So we’re a few other teams. City haven’t even made a final. Nor has Guardiola - without Messi. Today’s (Monday) last 16 draw doesn’t make the job anymore inviting this season.

Back to those microsurgeons. Yes, there was the unprecedented treble, but have City won anything that they didn’t under the previous two managers? No, they haven’t. It was Mancini that laid the foundation stones. He turned City from the team that won ‘cups for cocks ups’ into winners. Into believers. Into believing that they could adapt to adversity and get over the line. Agueroooooooo. I rest my case.

City have gone backwards. There’s no excuse for not being able to cope with injuries. Not when you’re the richest club in the world. Not when you’ve got the best part of £100m worth of central defenders that you’ve bought but now don’t fancy. Same with the left-back.

I’m hearing that Guardiola is all but done at City. The smart money says he’s off to coach Beckham’s Inter Miami and will be in charge of the US national team in time for the 2026 WC. If that’s true - does he leave City a hit or a miss?

Well done again Big Dunc. If he keeps producing results Everton will have to give him the job - but it would be a mistake in my opinion. They need more than raw ‘passion’ (a word I hate). Dunc got a tune out of tue Toffees again at OT, but what he did to Moise Kean wasn’t just unnecessary, it was unforgivable. Shame on you big man.

As I write it looks as though Mikel Arteta is in the box seat for Arsenal. If it’s his I wish him well. Arsenal are drifting - rudderless - and an appointment needs to be made quickly. My ideal man would be Carlo Ancelotti - a serial winner with ALL the big clubs. He’s experienced. He knows how to handle big players. He’s a class act. He’s available. I don’t see an argument for not giving him the job. If they don’t, Arsenal’s loss would be Everton’s gain - if they could persuade the Italian to join them. I don’t get the ‘dither and delay’ at Goodison. They’ve shaken hands with David Moyes, but have now backed off. Why? For Ancelotti - ok. For Duncan - not for me.

And today’s stunning stat to finish with. Stats can tell you anything you want depending on how you read them - so make of this what you will. Manchester United are one point worse off than they were at this time a year ago when they sacked Mourinho!!

Improbable - yes. Impossible - no.

Published: Monday, 09 December 2019

He couldn’t - could he? It’s improbable. But impossible? Well, that’s what we said when Leicester mounted their last title charge.

Right now Liverpool are red hot favourites. City are out of it - trust me on that. There is absolutely no way they’ll come back from a 14-point deficit. No way.

Last season they resisted Liverpool’s relentless march with gritty determination - a fair slice of good fortune, and with a real belief that they couldn’t be beaten over the line. They were good. Very, very good.

But I don’t see that same grit now. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if they haven’t been sussed. Plan A is glorious When it works - beautiful to watch - but I’m not seeing Plan B. Everton used Plan B to great effect on Saturday, but could City do that? I think we know the answer.

So they’re are out for me, leaving them with the perfect chance to have a run at the CL. That’s the holy grail at The Etihad. Just as he was in Munich, Guardiola was brought in to win it. He failed in Germany (without Messi) and he’s so far failed in England (without Messi)

I’m not deriding the successes that he has had, but between them Mancini and Pelegrini won the same trophies. Guardiola’s job was to win the big one. It still is. And I would add this - if he wants to win it this season he’s going to have to get his team in much better shape by the time the CL resumes than it is now. And this from the man that told you he was going to City 18 months before anyone would admit it - don’t rule out this being his last season. Inter Miami calling......

So, to explain the way I started. Improbable? Well, unlikely you’d think. But impossible? Absolutely not. Leicester City are bang in this title race.

Be frightened Liverpool. Be very very frightened. I mentioned it in passing last week, but now everybody connected with Liverpool has got to consider the nightmare scenario that it’s Brendan Rodgers that denies them their first title win in 30 years. Wouldn’t that just be the greatest irony of all time? The man sacked to make way for Klopp derails the best chance they've had since Kenny Dalglish won it in 1990.

I thought Liverpool would win it last year. I felt that if they didn’t they never would, but the CL win concentrated minds and I see a real determination about them to get the job done. I’m sure they’re going to win it. But.....the bogey man isn’t going to let them ease up. I can’t wait for Boxing Day when the two meet. If Rodgers wins that one then it really is game on.

I was chuffed to bits for Big Dunc. What a great way to start - maybe even make the best pitch he could for the Everton job full-time. I’m not convinced that would be the right decision, but I’m certain it was the correct thing to bin Silva. Dig out my blog from the time he was appointed at Goodison. You’ll see I didn’t fancy him then and nothing ever changed. He was a chancer. He always got out of town just before being found out - but not this time. I don’t think we’ll see him again in England.

Welcome back Nigel Pearson. I’m so pleased he’s back in. He’s a great guy, who I don’t think ever really gets the credit he deserves for the part he played in the re-build at Leicester.

We’ve spent a fair few hours with him at beINSPORTS in the time that he’s been out and I can promise you he’s a ‘football’ man to the core. He can be a little ‘left field’, but it takes all sorts!

Pearson’s comeback tips the balance of power in the PL back in the Brits and Irish favour. At the weekend 11 of our boys were in charge. I’m criticised for a lot - especially my call that the Brit pack be given some of our top jobs. It’s important that we’re well represented for many reasons - but the biggest has to be that our guys need to know there is no ceiling on what they can achieve if they decide to go into coaching.

And you knew I was going to mention it - what about Brucey? Newcastle fans must be hating what he’s doing! He’s proving that not only Rafa can manage that club. He’s 10 points better off than the Toon weren’t this stage last season - and there’s not a hint of turmoil behind the scenes. I had hoped one or two of you serial abusers in the North East might’ve had the good grace to withdraw some of your vile abuse. No - I’m kidding. I knew you wouldn’t but I do hope the rest of your season continues as it is now. Oh - and you never know, Santa might yet have a surprise for you. 👍🏼👍🏼

Would Brendan walk? You bet he would....

Published: Monday, 02 December 2019

The general view was that Freddie didn't change much. That he had little impact on Arsenal. What on earth did people expect? He only had 24 hours to plan for the game at Norwich!

But I saw one very dramatic change. Gone was the suicidal madness of trying to split centre backs and play from the 6-yard box. Arsenal simply can’t do it, so why did Unai Emery insist on playing that way? Most weeks Arsenal are an accident waiting to happen anyway, so why inflict friendly-fire?

I’ve maintained for a long time that there isn’t much wrong at The Emirates. I still believe that. They really aren’t far off, but is Freddie the man to get them going again? If there weren’t two other obvious options I’d say yes - but would you take him over Mikel Arteta or Brendan Rodgers? No, you wouldn’t.

Arteta would be more of a gamble than Rodgers, who did nothing in his interview with Geoff Shreeves to deter Arsenal from making an approach. In fact, he did quiet the opposite. He’d take the job in heart beat - and now if he had to. And he’d be right as well.

I’ve mentioned my taxi ride with him before. He was with us here at beINSPORTS after losing his job at Liverpool. I won’t go into detail, but during the journey back to his hotel, he left me with absolutely no doubt that Arsenal’s was the job he coveted, but he had to be careful how he got there. If he wasn’t going to get it post Wenger, then he had to make the right choices to still be in contention down the line. He chose brilliantly - won a bucket load of trophies at Celtic and now he’s got Leicester the closest to Liverpool. They’re not going to - but could you imagine how he’d feel if he denied them this title? He must’ve thought about it.

Rodgers has proven what a good coach he is. He remains a little too verbose for my liking, but he’s got something going at Leicester. And he’s tamed a notoriously difficult dressing room.

Would he leave Leicester now? You bet he would. He’s already shown that he’s prepared to make big decisions by walking out on Celtic and the prospect of a ‘treble treble’.

I reckon he knows he’s about at his limit at Leicester. Where is the stability and guarantee of longevity if he gets it right? Were he to take James Maddison and Caglar Soyuncu with him he’d start to address areas that Arsenal need to improve in. He’s got Jamie Vardy playing some of the best football of his career right now so imagine what he’d do with Aubamayang and Lacazette.

One other thing that he’d love would be to mix it in North London with the man he still calls ‘the gaffer’. Jose Mourinho was his boss at Chelsea. He tried to get one over on him that fateful night of Stevie G’s slip and failed. That still gnaws at him. He’d love to put Mourinho in his place!

I reckon somebody at Goodison was reading this blog last week. How else did Eddie Howe start getting name checks for the Everton job?!? I’d take him. He’d be good. Don’t believe this nonsense that he can’t work away from Bournemouth because things didn’t work out at Burnley. There were matters going on in his life at the time that made it impossible for him to succeed there.

I must admit I was a little surprised to hear John Barnes support my view they Rafa could be the man for Goodison. The subject came up Sunday afternoon on beINSPORTS. John reckons Benitez would be perfect. As I said last week - he’s certainly have the brass neck to do it. It was timely perhaps that a rash of interviews were conducted with Rafa through this past week. What a co-incidence. I’m not sure how long his ‘long term’ project will last in China after a poor finish - one in 15 and 10th place in a 16 team league. Still, his team finished 11th the previous season so I suppose he’s had an impact.

Sadly there’s no change in the habits of the mad house that is Watford. I read that the players want a British coach next - let’s hope so, but working there can’t be fun for any coach. I had them down for relegation last season - perhaps I was just ahead of my time again!!

We’ve got a great PL week ahead of us and a ground breaking week in the UK. Good luck to everyone involved in Amazon’s coverage. I know a few of the guys there and I wish them well. I hope they pull it off. It’s about time UK audiences had the chance to enjoy their football the way we’ve been presenting it in the Middle East for getting on for a decade now. It’s the future in the UK - if they get it

Who’s sorry now Arsenal?

Published: Monday, 25 November 2019

‘Nothing is forever’. And how many times have I said ‘be careful what you wish for’? Both apply in equal measure at Arsenal.

I’d love to know how many Gunners’ fans left the Emirates on Saturday wondering why they had chased Arsene Wenger out of town?

Arsenal Wenger. The man oozed class. He still does. He was the perfect fit at a fabulous club steeped in tradition - a man who added a modern twist that meant Arsenal were able to compete with - and beat - the very best during his glorious years in charge.

Before you start typing your ‘outraged’ replies - let me remind you that Wenger delivered 19 consecutive seasons of CL football. Let’s not forget that he won three FA Cups in his last four seasons. The year Leicester won the title Arsenal were 2nd, having beaten them twice. It was the others that failed to stop Ranieri’s team.

Having said that - I remember writing that I too felt it was time for Wenger to leave when he did - not because he couldn’t do the job anymore, but because the atmosphere had become so toxic.

A bit like following Fergie, whoever took the job was on a hiding to nothing. That’s why I have some Sympathy for Unai Emery (Bruce Rioja). I don’t know him, but he seems a decent guy. He’s polite and he’s obviously good at his job or he wouldn’t have had the career that he’s had - but, he’s become a laughing stock. He’s ‘Mr Good Ebening’. We all wait for it. We all laugh. I don’t think anyone is looking to be unkind - it’s just funny. Why hasn’t somebody stopped him saying it? Even so, I fear it’s now too late for him to re-establish any credibility.

His players look confused. He looks confused. Arsenal fans are totally confused as to how their club has been reduced to this.

I don’t believe there is any great appetite to sack Emery, but Arsenal are going to have to make a change. The replacement must be Mikel Arteta. If they can’t get him now they’ll have to limp on with Emery until they can. Arsenal need someone that understands the club. Arteta does. Remember, he took a pay cut to join them when he left Everton. He ‘gets’ Arsenal.

‘What’s he done?’ is the usual cry when I mention him. What’s he done? He’s only been sitting with one of the best coaches in the world for the past three seasons. He must have a vast amount of knowledge stored away now. Go and get him Arsenal. Restore some dignity at the club.

Working with the best is the reason why I believe Everton should at least talk to Rui Faria, Mourinho’s long time No 2. Faria has worked with some of the best players in the world at some of the biggest clubs in the world. He’s out on his own now in Qatar and he’s got to be worth talking to. Somebody soon will get a very good coach in Faria.

Everton have got to make a change Dig back through these blogs and you’ll find I warned them about Silva - the man who’s always got out of town just before he’s been found out - until now. He’s not good enough. He’s a pretender. He’s got to go. He should’ve gone weeks ago. No - let’s be honest, he should never have got the job in the first place.

I hear that he’s still at Goodison because they don’t know where to turn. Here’s a couple of names - Chris Wilder, Faria, Sean Dyche, Eddie Howe, or David Moyes? Why not Moyes? He’s a better coach than he was when he left having gained a whole lot of different experience. ‘Never go back’ is an argument I keep hearing. Why not?

‘It didn’t work for Howard Kendall’ - agreed, but by the time Howard returned to Goodison he was already consumed by his demons. He wasn’t the same man that had left. Moyes is better, not worse at what he does.

Either that, or have a look further down the leagues. What about Alex Neil? What a fantastic job he’s done at Preston - ironically Moyes made the same journey. Or Gareth Ainsworth? Mark Robins? Why not? That’s how things used to work. A young coach would cut his teeth in the lower leagues and then get one of the big jobs. That’s how Martin O’Neill worked his way through. That’s how Danny Cowley is doing it, but it’s too soon for him. He’ll eventually get a big one though for sure.

From a time when I felt they might be on the cusp of competing with the top boys again it’s all gone horribly wrong at Everton. They hand to get things sorted out quickly or don’t rule out a really dangerous battle with relegation.

Another coat on a shaky peg is Manuel Pelligrini’s. Are we surprised? I’m not. £100m plus later they’re right back where they started - worse off than when Big Sam left them. Actually, that’s a bit of a theme - so are Everton! Teams usually are when Sam leaves. I’m sorry - but that’s a fact.

I’m reading Chris Hughton is West Ham’s man. I hope so. Chris is a great guy, but in order to have any success ambitions at that club have to be more realistic. Historically West Ham have been a top end second tier team or one that can compete half way up the top league. Occasionally they’d win a cup. That’s what West Ham are today. It’s nonsense to pretend differently, although Ms Brady believes otherwise. It’s a pity all the advice she offers to others in her national newspaper column can’t be harnessed for the good of West Ham.

Oh, and welcome back Jose. I’ve been critical of him in the past - not least when he was looking to get out at United. That was a horrible time for everybody. He once told me that he regretted not leaving at the end of the second season. He was right. He should’ve gone then. He remains box office though and it’s great to have him back.

Take a bow Steve Bruce

Published: Monday, 18 November 2019

I’m ahead of the Christmas rush to hand out awards - and just a little behind the quarter-stage mark in the PL season, but managers and coaches will tell you that the table starts to take shape after 12-games, so here goes.

There’s nothing happening at Liverpool I didn’t expect. I said they’d win the title - with an unbeaten start and more than a little drama already - I’m more convinced than ever that they will. The ‘Devils Club’ Evertonians call them. They believe if there’s any luck going Liverpool get it. If there are big decisions to be made, Liverpool get them. You can argue that they’ve had their fair share of both so far - but I prefer to look at it differently. I believe they’ve been doing what Champions do - finding a way. Always finding a way.

They look powerful, but more than that I detect an unshakable determination. It’s their year and they believe it.

Norwich are finding it tough. No surprise there either. Check my pre-season prediction for them and the other new boys. Villa will be fine and so will The Blades. The bonus is that both are managed by Brits. Isn’t it lovely to see a belief in British coaching returning? I’ve taken some stick on this subject, but I’ve never wavered. There isn’t a secret book that foreign coaches use and our boys are every bit as good as they are. They just needed a chance to prove it and now it’s happening.

Frank Lampard takes my bronze award for what he’s doing at Chelsea. He’s calmed a notorious dressing room. He’s blooded terrific talent and he’s got players believing in what he’s doing. I’m so pleased for him He’s a really good guy and a perfect fit at The Bridge, but he still had a huge job on.

I read a line recently suggesting that Lampard is in danger of getting us all to ‘love’ Chelsea. It’s true!

It’s silver for Brendan Rodgers. Again - check out my pre-season blog. I expected them to do well and break up the established top 6. I had them down to finish 4th and it’s even better than that at the moment.

Granted, they’ve had their fair share of VR decisions, and like Lampard, Rodgers inherited a difficult dressing room. For years I’ve referred to them as ‘Chelsea light’. They’ve seen off a few coaches, but not this time. Rodgers has got them onside. With Spurs and Arsenal both struggling don’t rule out Leicester making the top 4. Perhaps there’s even another title challenge in them?

Don’t mention Rodgers name to the green half of Glasgow, where he did a fantastic job, before controversially leaving and taking over at Leicester, although he really had no choice but to take the job when he did. Other coaches were circling and had their made their interest known - including RAFA Benitez.

I remember sharing a car back to his hotel from our beINSPORTS studios when Rodgers was with us in Qatar. This was before he took the Celtic job. He was smart enough to know that whatever he decided after being sacked at Liverpool had to be right or he was going to disappear without trace. He got it spot on. Celtic was perfect. Leicester is his way back to a big 4 job.

He might still be at Liverpool if he’d shown a little more maturity in the title season that went wrong. He didn’t have to beat Chelsea. He WANTED to beat Chelsea to show Mourinho - who he’d worked for at Chelsea - who was now master. Mourinho knew that and did a classic smash and grab - infuriated by the fact that Rodgers wouldn’t move the game by 24 hours allowing Chelsea a little more time to recover from an arduous spell. Mourinho made the call to Rodgers himself and didn’t like the answer. Deep down though I think he knows Rodgers was right to say ‘no’. It was a decision that rebounded though. Chelsea were really fired up.

Rodgers should’ve sat it and taken a point. He’d have got the six he needed after that from his last two games. They were cruising at Palace before they started chasing goals to make up for the Chelsea defeat.

Yes, a little immaturity and his ego got the better of him. And it was costly.

It’s gold for Steve Bruce - the man even Geordies wanted to fail. What a job he’s doing - proving that not only Benitez can manage that club.

Is it true? Does Bruce really have Newcastle seven points better off than at this time last season? Yes it is. And that despite a really tough start - a far more difficult start than Benitez had. The former coach says it’s not fair to compare different seasons - but he would wouldn’t he?

In the Sunday Mirror at the weekend Andy Dunn was suggesting it won’t be long before Benitez is back in the PL - at Arsenal, West Ham or Southampton. Surely not Andy? Benitez left for a ‘long term project’ in China and because Mike Ashley didn’t ‘share his ambition’. What a joke. He left for a fat salary and having done his best to create havoc for his successor. Why didn’t he leave at the end of last season? He knew he was going in May. Why wait until pre-season training had started, therefore restricting the time Bruce had to get to know his team - to plan and work the transfer market?

If I were a West Ham fan I’d be shuddering at the prospect of Benitez turning up in east London. If you thought it was bad under Big Sam you ain’t seen nothing yet guys. And how do you think Benitez would get on with Karren Brady? Yep. Me too.

Anyway, against a near impossible back ground, Bruce has been quietly working miracles. I’m disappointed that he didn’t take the League Cup more seriously, but otherwise it’s been terrific. Do you know, he might even get an assist or perhaps even a goal out of £21m Miguel Almiron before the season ends. What exactly was Benitez thinking when he paid that money to Atlanta United? I can’t think of one - can you? This verdict from ‘’ on Almiron. Crossing - weak. Passing - weak. Finishing - weak.

Almiron failed to score in 54 of his 68 MLS games. Five of his 22 goals were pens. It’s 1 in 21 for his national team. He’s quick, but, other than that, what exactly does he do? Bruce will be a genius if he gets something out of him, but I really do wish both well. No-one likes to see a player struggling.

In closing - have you noticed what else my three winners have in common? Correct - they’re all British and Irish. And jockeying on the fringe in my thoughts were Chris Wilder and Dean Smith. Had it not been for some outrageously bad calls by VR Villa would be half way up the table now.

Keep it going lads - and I can’t wait for it all to get started again this weekend.

Go Mike Riley - and now.

Published: Monday, 21 October 2019

Enough. It’s time for a change. Mike Riley, head of the PGMOL, has got to go. VR is a shambles. As I always said it would - it’s ruining our game. It was never going to take us to the promised land of 100 per cent accuracy - it hasn’t improved decision making - it’s now worse than ever it was - and it’s Mike Riley’s fault. He should quit and let somebody else have a go.

Riley has gone out on his own - with his version of VAR - surrounding himself with ‘yes’ men who peddle his version of events to cover up an avalanche of poor decisions that are being made in the Stockley Park VR bunker.

Riley recently admitted that his team had made four wrong decisions this season. Four? What a joke. By the way, he wouldn’t have admitted to any had he not been called to account at a PL meeting. Once again this weekend there were more than four errors. There’s more than four every weekend. VR is a total shambles. I’m annoyed with myself because I promised I wouldn’t get involved in the debates But I have to say something now.

Here’s what’s eating me. Yes - you read correctly - I call it VR. In the PL it is just that. We’re refereeing games by Video Ref. Our version of the system isn’t an ‘assistant’ at all. Only in England are we refusing to let refs check their own decisions on a pitchside monitor. I’ve been consistent with this. We’re operating in violation of the agreed worldwide protocol. Why? Why hasn’t anyone questioned Mike Riley on this? It’s crazy.

Ok. If a decision is regarded as ‘a matter of fact’ - offside let’s say - fine, let the bunker decide. But - if it’s subjective - the match day official HAS to be allowed the opportunity to check his own call. Don’t tell me Martin Atkinson wouldn’t have overturned United’s goal had he been given the chance to see Lindelof’s challenge on Origi that he’d missed. Of course he would. But David Coote, VR operator was NEVER going to tell him he’d missed one. NEVER.

The problem here goes back to the FA cup 1/4 final at Molineux between Wolves and United last year - when Atkinson showed Lindelof red - only for his decision to be overturned by the VR operator - Chris Kavanagh. He deemed the challenge to be worthy only of a yellow.

At the next referees meeting Atkinson was furious and let it be known that he never wanted one of his decisions to be overturned like that again. Atkinson is regarded by the PGMOL as their top ref - so does he - and he was annoyed that his judgement had been questioned by what regarded as a junior official. Coote knew this.

Did the incident affect Coote’s judgement on Sunday? Only he can tell us. But here’s the irony - Atkinson over-ruled Coote at Villa Park on Saturday, when he was in the VR bunker, deciding that Villa’s Wesley had impeded the Brighton keeper Matt Ryan - a subjective decision. The subsequent goal was ruled out. Coote should’ve been allowed the chance to check his own decision. I know - because some of today’s officials have told me - that they’re more likely to alter their own decision if they see it again, than accept another ref making the call - especially if that ref is less experienced. Dean Smith, Villa’s manager, now openly laughs when asked about VR. ‘Embarrassing’ he says.

Bad enough that Atkinson didn’t like Kavanagh changing his decision at Wolves - we’ve got Championship refs in the VR bunker who’ve never taken charge of PL games. People like Darren Bond, Darren England, John Brooks, Jarred Gillett and Tim Robinson.

It’s madness. They’re deemed to be more able to operate the system than Lee Probert, who’s recently retired due to a back injury, or Roger East, who finished last season. Riley has decided neither is good enough to help with the VR operation. Explain that if you can.

What about the shambles at Spurs? Deli Alli knew he’d handled that ball when he scored Spurs’ equaliser against Watford. You could see it written all over his face. I believe             John Brooks, in VR knew it too, which is why the goal was originally correctly ruled out and the decision was displayed on the big screen. But Chris Kavanagh gave the goal. Why? Somebody apparently ‘pushed the wrong button’. Come on. I don’t believe that for a minute. It was handball. I suspect there was a communication mix-up. Anyway, Kavanagh should’ve been asked to check it - not leave Brooks to make the call. Incidentally, the handball law applies for the full length of the arm, up to the join of the shirt. Alli controlled the ball with his arm.

Here’s another mess of Riley’s making. Sadio Mane’s goal at OT was ruled out for handball - not that he knew anything about it. It wasn’t as blatant as Alli’s . I don’t like it - but that’s the way UEFA want it so I accept it. But in the PL we’ve got our own version of the law - had the ball brushed Lindelof’s arm and he’d cleared it - a penalty wouldn’t have been given. Why not? He clearly would’ve gained an advantage by getting the ball away. Mane would’ve been disadvantaged. In the CL the ref would be asked to look at it and I guarantee you he would give a pen in those circumstances. Not in the PL - we’ve got two versions of the handball law - one for defenders - one for attackers - why? Again- we’re the only league operating like that, because that’s how Riley wants it. It’s worth pointing out that there are not two versions of handball in the laws of the game.

What about the pen Watford should’ve had? That’s a massive call at 0-1. It’s a game changing decision. Who knows - a win might have resulted - a win that, come the end of the season, might just keep Watford up. This is what VAR was introduced for. Ask the ref to check it. Had Kavanagh, a more senior ref than his VR operator, seen it - again, I’m convinced he would’ve have given it.

And City should’ve had a pen at Palace. Not only was De Bruyne pushed by Zaha - he was kicked. Have a look at the monitor ref. Now do you think it was a pen? Rightly, Guardiola was furious. He’s even a VAR advocate.

So is Burnley’s Sean Dyche, but he was left bemused by the decision to rule out their equaliser at Leicester. Was Jonny Evans getting that ball? Was there anymore contact than Lindelof made on Origi? Was there hell. There was less. It was a goal - but VR said no. Look at it yourself ref. Now decide.

So far 89 penalty decisions have been looked at in the VR bunker this season Not one has been overturned. That’s impossible, but that’s so Riley can trot out his meaningless stats that they’ve got 100 per cent of those decisions correct. Nonsense. Absolute nonsense.

It doesn’t help that ‘yes’ men like Peter Walton, Dermot Gallagher and Chris Foy - sent into the media - cover up all the time. I don’t know Foy - but I do the other two. They’re good men - under instruction to toe the party line. Some of the things Dermot has said this season have been laughable.

Walton, in his column in The Times, argued today that there wasn’t ‘sufficient force’ used by Zaha on De Bruyne. It doesn’t say how much ‘force’ should be applied in the laws of the game. Either there was contact - or there wasn’t. You can’t be a ‘little bit pregnant’. Either you are - or you’re not. Walton obviously also missed the kick. Zaha caught De Bruyne’s left foot It was a pen.

Let’s not forget that we waited a year longer than at other league to introduce VAR because we were told Riley wanted to be sure it was going to operate effectively. Now we’re told ‘it’s a work in progress’. What? Managers jobs are on the line whilst this ‘progress’ is being made. Players careers. Fans support. And they reckon they might need seven years to get it right. Wow.

The time was that we would judge a good ref on how little we talked about him. Somehow they’ve elevated themselves to being the most important part of a game. How? Why?

I accept that TV is a lot to blame. I’ve said for years that I hated the culture of re-refereeing on Monday’s. That habit has helped bring us to the mess we’re in.

I know VAR is here to stay. I don’t like it - but I accept it. But why is it? I suspect the real reason is because it will become another way to make money. In Australia they operate with a sponsor. They’re looking for one in the US. It won’t be long before that happens in both the CL and the PL and then we’ll be fitting in the decision making process at least twice per half, to satisfy the sponsor. You watch.

Another thing. The technology isn’t 100 per cent accurate. Even Riley has now admitted that. So why are we ruling out goals where a big toe has strayed beyond the defensive line? There has to be an element of doubt catered for. Scoring goals is the hardest thing to do on a pitch. It’s what teams work all week to do. It’s what fans pay to see. Surely we don’t want goals ruled out by inaccurate millimetres? We want entertainment. We want goals.

Oh - and can anyone explain to me why there was only one minute of first half stoppage time at Old Trafford? A first half that included two lengthy stoppages for VR. This is another theme. Check it yourself the next time your team play.

Mike Riley has made a mess of VAR. That’s what it should be. Not our version - VR. Protocol states that VAR should be just that - an ‘assistant’, like the fourth official. It SHOULD NOT be making the final call.

Riley was appointed by Richard Scudamore, the PL’s former Executive Chairman, largely because he would do as he was told. Riley has surrounded himself with ‘yes’ men as well. It’s time he was made accountable for the shambles that he’s created.

Scudamore once had me sit with Riley, fawning all over him, because he thought I’d been too critical of his man - a man who drove Mark Halsey out of the game because he had the temerity to tell the truth about his time as a ref in his excellent book ‘Added Time’. Between them, Scudamore and Riley withheld Halsey’s £75,000 severance money by way of a punishment for writing his book. Halsey later mysteriously lost his job as a BT analyst. He’s now on his uppers paying a heavy price for his honestly.

Perhaps that’s why others refuse to contradict Riley. I don’t know. But I do know this - it’s time for Riley to take ownership of the shambles he’s created and go. The sooner the better.

It’s an unexpected sack race

Published: Monday, 07 October 2019

I wasn’t quite sure what was more embarrassing - watching the latest shambles from those pretending to be Manchester United footballers - or the nonsense that Old Gunnar Solskjaer spoke again in his post match interview.

I feel sorry for the guy. He’s been landed with a job he can’t do. He looks lost - his eyes wide open in front of that interview camera - constantly repeating the same thing ‘they worked hard’. Really? As I’ve said before - that’s a minimum requirement for any footballer. There’s a whole lot more required if you want to be a Manchester United footballer.

I don’t want to dwell too much on United because I’ve largely said all there is to say - but I’m often asked who I blame for recent events at Old Trafford. Let me answer like this - power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. I blame Fergie. I always have. It wasn’t a popular view when I first floated it and it won’t be now - but it’s true.

I don’t mean that he was in anyway ‘corrupt’ - but the power he wielded meant he got his own way all the time - on everything. No-one would challenge him. Quite simply - he left a mess. I repeat what I’ve always said - his last title winning team was eight players short of being a good side. Van Persie’s goals papered over a multitude of cracks. But Fergie also left the Academy in a mess. And the scouting system. It’s his fault. And David Gill’s - who never pulled him on anything. Yes - the best and most successful British manager of all time - but he left a club crumbling and stuck in a different era. Solskjaer can’t sort it out. I ask again - which other PL club would’ve appointed him had United not? Exactly - not one of them.

Did you know some bookies slashed the odds on United going down from 500-1 to 200-1 on the back of that defeat at Newcastle. It won’t happen of course - it could never happen to United. Oh no - wait a minute.....

I certainly didn’t expect the mess that’s developed at Spurs. Pochettino has got to go. Pochettino will go. It’s the only way to start the healing process. Both he and that dressing room need a new start.

They’ve grown tired of each other. It’s as true today as it always was - either change the coach regularly, or the players. The latter isn’t going to happen so it’s got to be Poch. I’m being told that he’s lost the players. As we know, that only ends one way. He’ll get another good job and Spurs will get Gareth Southgate. That’s where the smart money is. We’ll have to wait and see whether that’s enough to persuade Harry Kane that he can win medals with Spurs. He’s got a big decision to make very soon now if he doesn’t want to end his playing days with just memories.

The last man in big trouble is our friend at Everton. I’ve spoken about Marco Silva before as well. Here’s a man seriously out of his depth - who’s also lost his dressing room.

I dedicated a blog to him a year or so back. You’ll find it If you have a look. I pointed out the fact that he’s always managed to get out of a job just before being found out. Well - not this time.

He’s a deeply unpopular character with all his staff at Goodison, let alone the players.

The last time Everton were in the bottom 3 was mid-October 2017. Ronald Koeman lost his job as a consequence. I’d be really surprised if Silva was still in a job when we resume after the International break. If he is - it won’t be long before he’s sacked.

I don’t blame Silva for the ridiculous money wasted at Everton. There are a few people responsible for that. Steve Walsh for sure. Silva obviously. Big Sam and Moshiri himself. They’ve all had an input and from a situation where they had a window to challenge Liverpool it’s gone. It’s gone horribly wrong.

There’s nothing to do but start again. I’ve never thought Silva was the man to take Everton forward. They’d have been better off marking time with Sam and looking around for the right successor. Everton are not the first club to waste a fortune and they won’t be the last and they’ve got to get on with it now.

Who next? Arsene Wenger is available of course. So is David Moyes and my call left field last week was Rafa. Don’t believe he wouldn’t take it. He tried twice to get it when he was at Newcastle - before Sam and Silva. He’d walk back from China for it. Rafa doesn’t do ‘emotion’ - as he proved when he went to Chelsea. He does what he believes is right for himself. He always has. Ask Mike Ashley.

If Newcastle fans are wondering why I’m suggesting Rafa - let me explain. Never have I said he isn’t a good coach. We all know he is. What irritated me about his time at Newcastle was the constant moaning. He knew the deal. So get on with it. Despite being told time and again that he’d walk into one of the world’s top jobs on leaving Newcastle I said he wouldn’t. He didn’t. He had the best job he was ever going to get in England - unless Everton are brave enough. Let’s see...

What is it about Qatar that the English can’t stand?

Published: Friday, 27 September 2019

Ok. So I owe Woodsy (so called on her Twitter handle) an apology. Listening to TalkSPORT - the worlds greatest sports radio station - on Friday morning I mis-took Laura for the actual host Natalie Sawyer.

I don’t know either girl - but I’m told Laura is studious and hard working. That she does her homework. Plainly that’s in stark contrast to Natalie - who was offering her mis-informed mis-guided opinions about Qatar quite openly and forcefully while sitting in for Jim White.

We’re all allowed an opinion of course - but in a position of influence we should all take time to be sure of our facts. Natalie didn’t. Nor has she in the past on this subject.

She was raging about everything she knew nothing about - including the idea of anchoring ships off-shore to accommodate fans. ‘So people can drink’ she declared.

Er - no. Absolute nonsense. If she’d read Matt Lawton’s piece in The Times that very morning she’d have known this.

Her other theory was that the stadiums should’ve been built off-shore in order to get round stringent alcohol laws on the mainland. Er - no. Utter garbage.

What is it with the English and Qatar 2022? As I told H&J, on the same radio station, six years ago - it is going to happen - nothing will stop it from happening - despite many attempts to do so. . And it’s going to be the best World Cup ever. If anyone has doubts and objections still - please - don’t come.

‘It’ll be too hot’ I still hear people screaming. Not in December it won’t - and if, for some unusual reason it is, the stadiums will be cooled to deal with it. Qatar planned for a summer WC when it won the bid. Fifa changed the dates.

What about LGBT rights? Homosexuality is banned in Qatar. Does anyone seriously think that LGBT matters are the exclusive preserve of the West? Come on. Grow up. I quote Nasser al-Khater from the Delivery and Legacy Committee - ‘I would like to assure any gender, orientation, religion or race that Qatar is one of the safest countries in the world and they will all be welcome here’. Yes, a public display of affection is frowned on. What’s wrong with that? Just respect the culture, that’s all Qatari’s ask.

Alcohol prices continue to fall. Ok right now they’re at levels that most find unacceptable. al-Khater again - ‘alcohol is not part of our culture. However, hospitality is’. Alcohol will be freely available in many more places than it currently is. And they are plenty already.

Ever since England lost 2018 there’s been deep resentment about 2022.

Let’s deal with a few facts. England’s bid for 2018 was never going to succeed. It was based on the arrogant assumption that football was ‘coming home’. Really? Do you know how much that kind of talk deeply annoys the rest of the world?

Every time that daft song is played it pisses people overseas off. That was never more evident than when it wound Croatia up at the last Euro’s. My advice to the FA would be ‘stop playing it’.

I know it’s based on irony - but outside England’s borders people don’t get that.

The FA’s Chief Exec, Martin ‘I’m not a football man’ Glenn, was right recently when he wanted to change the name of our FA to the ‘English FA’. It would’ve been a small change to the business cards - but made a massive difference to relations with other Associations and their delegates. It’s arrogance of the highest order - ‘hello, I’m from the FA’. ‘Are you? Which FA?’ It winds people up.

Our 2018 bidders paraded Mssrs Lineker Beckham Dein Cameron and Prince William. ‘Football is coming home’ was the theme. Is it? Sorry guys - football’s ‘home’ is now the rest of the world.

The competition is called the ‘World Cup’. It’s not the ‘England Cup’. Why shouldn’t the rest of the world have access to it? Why shouldn’t the Arab world host it? The hysteria and mis-information about Qatar’s WC has bordered on abuse and racism every since it was awarded. And still it goes on, with one publication or broadcaster simply repeating nonsense that they’ve read or heard elsewhere.

Let’s deal with workers’ rights while we at it. Qatar has never hidden from the fact that it had improvements to make in this area. It’s done it. It continues to do it. Does anyone think this would’ve happened without the spotlight being turned on Qatar following the award? I was in Mumbai recently - my goodness - I couldn’t believe some of the things I saw there. Could someone have a word with the Indian Govt about living conditions and workers rights please?

It’s worth pointing out that British and American companies have made multi millions from WC contracts in Qatar - and they were the biggest abusers of workers at one time.

You don’t hear from Andy or me on TalkSPORT these days because we distanced ourselves from the organisation when NewsCorp took it over. For many of the reasons Colin Murray stepped away - and more of our own - I simply can’t contribute to anything the Murdoch family have an interest in. The things we discovered when we put Hillsborough back on the front pages appalled me. If I had my time again many things in my life world be different - working for the Murdochs and their bully boys/girls would be one of them.

Doubtless my arch critic Marina Hyde will soon be calling me ‘Lord Haw Haw’ again. How childish is that? But carry on Marina. It’s an outdated and inaccurate insult.

Let me say this. I’m proud to call Qatar home. I’ve made some life long friends in the region. People judged me on facts - not the nonsense often repeated on the social media. Qatar is a lovely little country - it’s a gorgeous place to live. People are proud of their heritage and what they’ve achieved in the modern world. So they should be.

As Roy Hodgson once said when he was manager of England - ‘the question about Qatar shouldn’t be ‘why?’ - it should be ‘why not?’’

England lost 2018. Get over it. Its looking as though 2030 is going the wrong way too. Drop the arrogance guys - stop the mis-information. There’s a big world outside England. If I may get a tad political - it’s the same with Brexit - far better to be inside the tent pissing out, than outside trying to piss in. Join now belongs to the world.

It’s Liverpool’s.....

Published: Monday, 23 September 2019

Two things became a whole lot clearer for me this weekend. 1 Liverpool will end the 30 year wait for a title. 2. It’s all over at the top table for Manchester United. And neither of those two things should surprise you - I’ve been saying it for long enough.

Regulars will know I believed Liverpool would get over the line last season. My thinking then was that if they didn’t win it last season - with Klopp having been given everything that he wanted - well, they never would.

They couldn’t have gone any closer could they? The CL win was a very palatable consolation! But make no mistake - they’d rather have won the PL.

None of us could predict how they’d react. Would they go backwards - having added nothing to their squad? Not a bit of it. They look stronger. They look determined. They look like Champions.

No-one has laid a significant glove on them yet. Chelsea tried really hard - but were always second best at The Bridge. Liverpool did what Champions do - they rolled with Chelsea’s best punches and got the job done. In previous years I’m not sure they would’ve done. It’s games like that that can settle title bids.

I can’t see a weakness. More significantly - neither can Pep Guardiola, who said last week that Liverpool are the best team he’s ever had to set a side up to face. Think about that - it’s quite a compliment.

Whilst we’re talking Liverpool let me clear up something for the tiresome few Scousers that never give up with their childish insults and bullying.

After van Dijk’s mistake in Naples I posed a simple question. ‘What if Stones or Otamendi had done a similar thing?’ The hysteria about a mistake that either of those two makes is ridiculous. For sensible people to suggest ‘City can’t win a title with those two at centre-back’ is nonsense. Of course they can.

I never understand how X-players - who should know better - leap to those conclusions. Come on - Liverpool went close to a title on a few occasions with Jamie Carragher at centre-back!

The usual keyboard cowardly few missed my point entirely. They’re too busy screaming abuse to take a breath and listen. Players are human. They make mistakes. Stones and Otamendi did that at Norwich - they made a mistake. City lost - for the first time in 19 games. I’ve watched the very same players now slaughtering others make mistakes every week during their own careers. It happens. That’s exactly the point that Guardiola made after the game at Carrow Road. Meanwhile City battered Watford.

City have even won a title without de Bruyne but I’ll tell you how Tney couldn’t win a title - without Aguero or Jesus.

I’m at the stage where I’m now feeling sorry for Solskjaer. Poor fella. What else is there for him to say about the mess at United? ‘They didn’t give up and they never stopped running’. That was his verdict after the defeat at West Ham. Think about that. That’s a quote from the Manager of Manchester United. Manchester United for goodness sake.

‘Ole’s at the wheel’ we were once excitedly told. Those words came back to me as I looked at him in the dug out at West Ham. Dressed in his bus drivers jacket he cut a very confused and lost individual. He’s out of his depth. What is the former manager of Molde - and relegated Cardiff - doing at Old Trafford? I said when they gave him the job that it was a mistake. What’s happened since has only cemented that view. It’s over for United.

I sat with John Barnes this weekend on beINSPORTS and asked the question - ‘could United go 30 years without winning the title?’ He said ‘no’. But....

It’s unthinkable isn’t it? It couldn’t happen surely? Well - it has done to Liverpool, who were once a mightier force than United, and those of us of a certain generation remember United toiling for 26 years before Fergie ended that spell. It could happen. It could very easily happen.

One other thing. Give it a break Jose. You were right to force your exit. You saw all this - not so did a few more of us. I’ve been talking about the decline since Fergie papered over all these cracks in his last season. But please - ‘worse than when I was there’? I’d have jumped all over that. ‘So you admit that they were poor in your time?’ Come on.

There’s stinking rot from the top down at Old Trafford. Mr Ed isn’t a financial genius - he’s trading on United’s name and former glories. The deals will dry up when United are no longer successful. He’s got to go. He’s made too many mistakes - compounding one after another - since Fergie’s departure. Put Gary Neville in. He seems to know how to run everything. He’s a United man. He’d get it. And Pochettino remains the answer in the dug out.

There’s trouble at Goodison as well. Again - regulars will know my thoughts on Marco Silva. Read previous blogs - here’s a guy that has always got out of town just before he’s been found out. And he’s been very successful at it - until now.

Get this - I heard last week that no-one can raise a voice in his dressing rooms. Calmness reigns. You can see the outcome on the football pitch. Mediocrity. Niceness. Blandness.

And at Finch Farm he’s erected tarpaulins around his first team training pitch - so no-one can see him and his players work. That’s a brilliant way to cut yourself off from the rest of the club. It’s divisive. Louis van Gaal did a similar thing during his time at United - sectioning off the canteen. It creates an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality. It always fails.

At one time I thought Everton were ready to take the next step - but not anymore. They’ve spent fortunes - £312m now - chasing success but they’re as far away as ever.

I’d change coach now. I raised a few eye brows a couple of months ago when I suggested Mourinho would be perfect for Arsenal - new ‘George Graham’ I said. Well here’s one to digest. My suggestion for Everton? Rafa. And trust me - he’d walk back from China to take it. In the meantime - it’s Liverpool’s.....

MO has a right to tell his story

Published: Thursday, 05 September 2019

What a strange world we live in. I thought I’d mention that in case you hadn’t noticed!!

Mo has stirred a few things up with his book hasn’t he? Michael Owen that is.

My initial reaction to Day 1 of his autobiography ‘Reboot’ was ‘why?’ On reflection I decided ‘why not?’

He’s spent a decade being pilloried for his ‘disloyalty’ to Newcastle - for his refusal to throw his lot in with Alan Shearer’s attempts to keep the Geordies in the PL during Shearer’s ill-feted time in charge at St James’.

I’ve regarded Alan as a mate for a long time now. I’ve defended him stoutly - not least against my governors at Sky who wanted to stop using him when he worked for us -because he was ‘dull’. As a player - I argued - he had to be careful and couldn’t go round battering everybody. I’m proud to say those that supported him won the argument and he’s gone on to become a very good observer of football. I still hate the description ‘pundit’.

So naturally I’ve tended to side with him when arguments have raged on boozy nights - and never more so than on gloriously warm evenings in Qatar. I’ve never really known Michael.

We loved winding Alan up when Michael burst onto the England scene - in the same circumstances that he describes Wayne Rooney did when he was a senior pro! Alan hated Michael stealing ‘his’ headlines. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s happened all through the generations.

It also happens in our business. As journalists we’re always looking to steal a march on the opposition - who’re probably employing our ‘mate’. We all enjoy getting one over in the opposition. That explains why The Mail have hammered Michael this week - because they didn’t get the serialisation rights. But they’ve loved every minute of being able to hunt about for a line to discredit Michael. It’s always been that way. I had it. I worked for Murdoch - so when they time came to get stuck in on me and Andy - the whole Press world went after us. Because they were looking to tuck us up - so did the Murdoch Press. That’s when you know you’ve got no chance!

Only one person was to blame for Alan failing at Newcastle - and that’s Alan. (Iain Dowie’s didn’t help - but Alan bizarrely appointed him) And he knows it. I too have heard all the stories about Michael not being prepared to put his body on the line at the end of that season. We all have. But ask yourself - would you? Aside from the fact that Michael was injured - he had no contract offer. Imagine if he’d picked up another one like the injury that he got playing for England during his time at Newcastle. What then?

So Michael is right to put the record straight and we should allow him the courtesy of doing so.

Alan also knows that at one stage he was on his way to Liverpool. Just like Steven Gerrard was joining Chelsea at one time. This nonsense about loyalty makes me laugh.

‘Loyalty’ is generally for bang ordinary players that won’t ever get a chance to move - or for those that have got everything they want - a salary that rewards their talent and medals. Alan once told me ‘medals don’t buy shoppin’’. Well I can’t imagine Ryan Giggs has ever struggled to fill his shopping basket!

I had murders with a gobby modern day analyst when I backed Raheem Sterling’s decision to leave Liverpool. I was right. He went to mix with better players and has become one of the top 5 in the world. Never mind ‘we gave him his chance’. It’s the same with Bobby Duncan. Good luck to the lad. If he’s prepared to back his own ability - let him go. We didn’t notice Jadon Sancho slip out of the back door - but what a good decision he made to go and play in Germany.

It’s a ridiculous old fashioned argument that these lads should ‘keep their feet’ on the ground - ‘serve time’ and earn buttons. Nonsense. In any walk of life you want as much as you can get for your work. Why not?

It won’t be long before we see the first £1m/week footballer. Again - why not? American owners know the value of talent. Look at the money they pay NFL stars. No-one complains when Rod Stewart pulls in a £1m for a concert. Or when Lewis Hamilton earns £1m every time he parks his backside in an F1 car. It’s coming - wether Les Reed likes it or not. No Les - the reason the U21’a failed recently was largely because you and Aidy Boothroyd got it wrong.

I didn’t think I’d ever find myself agreeing with much that Roy Keane has to say - but he too has a right to his opinion. He’s been pilloried for suggesting that Alex Ferguson isn’t a nice man and that he could’ve done more to protect him towards the end of his career at Old Trafford. Agreed Roy - Fergie is an acquired taste - but he also happens to be the most successful manager the game has ever known. That wouldn’t have been possible if he hadn’t made decisions for ‘himself’. I’m sure I could find a dozen or so footballers that would say the same thing about you. When you’re at the top of the pyramid you have to be selfish - but you’d also better be good to justify being so.

Perhaps that’s why things didn’t work

out for Shearer at Newcastle. I’ve told the story before of Ray Wilkins telling me he’d ‘suffocate’ those lads at the time. Ray saw it early. Ray was right. Alan’s reputation didn’t inspire them - it frightened them.

It’s a great shame that Shearer wasn’t afforded the chance to put things right the following season. I don’t know why he wasn’t, but I’ll guess it was something to do with money. I remember telling Alan at the time ‘tell Ashley you’ll do it for nothing - you’ve had enough money out of the club down the years. Tell him to reward you at the end of the season’. My thinking was that Alan could so something that nobody else had ever done and make himself a real hero. Show some loyalty. Oh no - wait a minute......