A breakaway 12? We need jaw jaw

Published: Monday, 19 April 2021

One thing is for certain - change is coming; and change is positive. Its progress. But, it shouldn’t be rail-roaded, bullied and briefed through by a cabal of elites – let alone failing elites who are trying to bail themselves out - and without a moment to consider who really pays the bills - fans.

I refer you back to my blog when I discussed Project Big Picture – the first suggestion that change was coming. I was one of the very few (when it was first announced – not one of the retro-fitted flip-flop opinions that came a few weeks afterwards) that saw a lot of sense in it. It wasn’t all acceptable – far from it - and it wasn’t all going to happen – nor should it. But there were a lot of things about it that I felt could be considered and perhaps accommodated in order to satisfy the demands of the Big 6. And pause right there – before you get ready to lynch - the majority of us might not like them – and have no association with them – but we’ve got to accept that, in some ways (not every way), they are Box Office. They disproportionately drive PL sales overseas, year on year, country by country. They’re the teams the world wants to watch – the shirts that youngsters from all four corners of the globe want to wear. With them, we’re all stronger. The collective parts make a whole – but the bigger parts are more of the whole. So let’s find a way to make them happier and have them stay at home.

Saying that is not a sell-out. It’s a solution. It’s also sensible. The big clubs are going to have their own way - one way or another.

The Super League is their answer. I can’t see it possibly happening – you don’t disenfranchise every single stakeholder group in sport (and world political leaders) in a matter of hours – like the remarkable few hours of yesterday evening – and survive.  But I’m certain of this – eventually change is coming.

Why? The big boys are in trouble – so we’re all in trouble. I’ve said it before - the media rights bubble has burst. They’ve all overspent - on transfer fees and wages. None of them - not one of them - planned for the COVID disaster that has decimated them, nor the piracy pandemic (long-COVID) that’s slowly corroding the entire sports economic.

None of us saw COVID lurking – but a few of us have felt and said for years that the gravy train was running out of track, precipitated by piracy. And that’s happened.

So what now? Well - it’s panic stations isn’t it? They’re all desperate - and desperate people do daft things. Perhaps signing up to a Super League is one such daft thing.

Or is it? What actually do we know about their plans (ever seen such a world-defining plan without public plans?!)? Who’s behind it and what are their true intentions? Does Gianni Infantino – who must be driven mad by the fact that the CL is the biggest club competition in the world and he has no part of it - have a back-channel open to the breakaway clubs? (if so, that’s absolutely scandalous – no comment from FIFA at the time of writing – curious, given it’s a world-defining moment). What about the execs who are on boards of federations, who are - seemingly - actively undermining those very same federations - then saying it’s nothing to do with them? Where is the consideration for the average fan in all of this?

However back to change being progress. It isn’t just for financial reasons that I’ve always believed we were heading for ‘evolution’. This ‘revolution’ isn’t entirely unexpected either – that happens when you don’t do evolution, which is why we are where we are today. I’ve talked about it before - with venues worldwide - games being played on a Friday evenings in neutral venues - New York, Beijing, Mumbai, Riyad, Sydney, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo. Who knows where? The creep of the commercial giants. The ‘evolution’ I thought more likely was because of the number of big clubs now in the hands of American owners. Americans don’t get promotion and relegation. They don’t get a ‘pyramid’ system. They don’t get why big clubs should feed the little guys. All they see is spreadsheets - and where to get the next big deal from. Richard Scudamore, the former Chief Exec of the PL didn’t care less who owned our clubs - as long as his TV bonus came in at the end of every cycle of contracts. He now sits in his sprawling American mansion – no doubt chuckling at all this. Perhaps advising the breakaway 12. He walked away a hero to many - but I never knew why.

Where will this end? If you burn all your bridges, you end up on an island. With no-one on it. And it will be interesting who resigns over the coming days and weeks – duplicity never ends well. As an aside, I’m proud that PSG has been a giant amongst men – it’ll pain some to say that I’m sure, but enormous credit where it is due. Maybe UEFA will retrench and call the 12’s bluff – it would be tempting. But perhaps good sense will prevail and UEFA will be able to satisfy some of the reasonable demands of the 12 – keep the whole as a whole, with all its parts. I hope they do - but if they do, be sure that it won’t be the end of the matter. We’ll be back here again for sure. I repeat what I said in my blog referenced at the top – there is no point opposing change simply because it doesn’t immediately help us. Sometimes you need to give a little to get a little – even if you can’t quite see it. One thing is for sure - ranting about stripping titles and arguing for revenge on the 12 won’t work. As Winston Churchill once said ‘jaw jaw is better than war war’.

Playing dead is now a plague and our hapless refs haven’t got a clue.

Published: Monday, 12 April 2021

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer doesn’t do irony. He doesn’t so funny either. You shouldn’t try Ole. It’s embarrassing. Sadly - he doesn’t do honest. He should definitely try that.

I’m tired of this subject. I really wanted to talk about something else today, but after what happened at Spurs I can’t.

Before we go any further. This is not anti-Manchester United nor anti-City. It’s not anti-Spurs nor anti-Liverpool. It’s anti-cheating. And before the scumbags pipe up - my private life is just that - private.  One opinion of any event doesn’t make it true - certainly not when you read it in the Daily Mail. And how sad is it that the first version of an event that we’re told is true is the one we believe? That’s it. No more. I’ve never commented beyond that and I’m not going to now.

So. I’m anti-cheating. We all are surely? What on earth was Solskjaer thinking when he went into that rant about his son not eating? I’ll tell you this - you can see in his face that he was initially going in another direction - but he pulled back knowing that it wasn’t a good idea. I’m guessing his daughter was about to get a mention.

Yes Ole - you’re correct. Son conned the ref - and his mate at Stockley Park. You had a perfectly good goal ruled out. You should and would’ve led at half time had it not been, because Spurs wouldn’t have scored. It was a joke.

But so it was when Rashford went down on the edge of the box just before that incident. And when our serial offender Fernandes collapsed with a scream clutching his foot mid-way through the second half.

Sterling conned a pen when on international duty recently. He’s almost as bad as Fernandes, Martial and Rashford.  Kane does it. As we know - Son does it. Mane used to do it until he stopped because Salah is on pens. Salah has done it too often, but not at Arsenal the other week when he could’ve gone down, but chose to score instead. Good on him on that occasion.

United are now nearing 40 penalties across two seasons. I’ll repeat what I’ve said before - that’s an impossible stat. Compare it to penalties given to Burnley, West Ham, Newcastle and West Brom, who I don’t think have had six between them. Hold on - there’s a theme here. I’ll come back to it.

My point about Solskjaer is simple. This weekend he was the biter bit. How on earth can he complain about players conning refs if he won’t stop his own team doing it? He sits - with a smug satisfied face - week after week watching the three amigo’s go over when they’ve been sneezed on. Fernandes did it in Europe last week. Oh, we shouldn’t forget Pogba, who was caught on camera earlier in the season bollocking Shaw because he didn’t take a dive in the box.

Enough. It’s a plague. I’ve been saying it all season. Players have to take the blame. Managers who don’t call them out are culpable - and our hapless officials haven’t got a clue.

I’m happy for VAR to look at incidents if the technology helps. Fine. Check the goal. We all saw what Son did - except the officials. Give the goal - and put Son on a charge. Monday morning slap a 2-game ban on him for ‘deceiving’ the officials. Whatever happened to restrospective action? I suppose the problem with that is that it would require our refs to have something of an idea of what is happening to our game. ‘McTominay wasn’t running naturally’. Please. Stop it. It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious. If coaches won’t put an end to this creeping farce - the answer is a panel of three x-pro’s - sitting on Monday morning and banning players for two games.

Did you work the link out above? Yep. All four clubs are managed by Brits - who won’t put up with the nonsense. It’s ruining our game. It’s time to stop it.

It was good to read Henry Winter finally calling it out in The Times Monday. Too many of UK Press won’t because they’re too close to the PL and PGMOL. If they rock the boat they don’t get fed tits bits. Grow some balls and call it as it is. We’ve got to remove Mike Riley before he inflicts anymore damage.

What about the pen Newcastle should’ve had? ‘Ah, but Tarkowski got the ball first’ say the PGMOL. What? He nearly took Longstaff’s head off. Of course that should’ve been a pen.

If getting the ball first is a factor - then why was Leeds’ Liam Cooper sent off at City? ‘He was endangering the well being of an opponent’ say PGMOL. Really? And Tarkowski wasn’t? It’s a nonsense. Two more errors that Riley will add to his ‘got it right’ column when he releases his own stats at the end of the season. Why is it that Riley allowed to police himself?

Well done Brendan Rodgers - who put principle before points at West Ham.
It would’ve been easy for him to ignore his Covidiots, but he took a stance that made Leicester’s job all the more difficult. It might ultimately cost him a CL place. I really hope not, and perhaps those who suggest a collapse is on the cards should stop to think before alleging that all too easy assumption.

And I have to say - brilliant Moysey. It’s not quite an achievement of Leicester proportions, but if Moyes lands a CL place this season it won’t be far behind. He’s done a monumental job in East London. If he makes the top 4 he’s got to be Manager of the Season.

And a final word for Steve Bruce. What a terrific win at Burnley. Newcastle aren’t safe yet, but I’m sure they’ll be ok.

Mike Ashley isn’t anybody’s favourite on Tyneside but he struck a blow for those in charge of clubs when he publicly backed his man recently. Those Newcastle players downed tools v Brighton. Ashley was having none of it. ‘Bruce stays’ he told them. The message was simple - ‘if you want to play Championship football next season - fine, but it’ll be with Bruce’. A draw v Spurs and Sunday’s win followed. Further message to Bruce - get them safe Steve and then get out of there. It really is as Graeme Souness described it - ‘the impossible job’.

Agents.........

Published: Monday, 05 April 2021

Thank you for your responses to last weeks blog re-Qatar 2022. Of course, there was the usual bigoted nonsense, but along with that, a great deal of constructive debate. That’s all that anyone here asks for. Keep an open mind, while the planning continues a-pace and Qatar gets ready to deliver the best World Cup of all time. One last thing on the subject - although I don’t agree with a lot of Amnesty Internationals criticisms, figures and conclusions, I accept that they are well intended, it is worth pointing out again that they haven’t called for the competition to be moved. That’s a fact that gets lost in all the noise.

Here’s one that I believe we can all agree on. And this slipped out almost un-noticed because of the fuss surrounding Qatar - how on earth did PL clubs’ manage to spend £272m on agents’ fees during the last Covid ruined 12 months? No. You didn’t mis-read that. And I didn’t mis-type it. £272m. How? Why? And when will this madness stop? I’ll say it again - £272m. And that’s about £10m more than the previous season.

Chelsea were the highest spenders with £35,847,222. City spent £30,174,615. United slightly less: £29,801,555. Again - how? Why? There isn’t a footballer on the plant wouldn’t walk to Stamford Bridge, The Etihad or Old Trafford to play for those clubs. And if there is - then I wouldn’t want him if I was Lampard (who was in charge), Guardiola or Solskjaer. It’s obscene, especially when so many of our clubs are screaming ‘foul’ because they’re in such a financial mess. Believe me, it’s only going to get worse because the bubble has burst. There won’t be the massive tv money to rely on going forward.

So why does this keep happening? Surely it’s not beyond the wit of those that run the game to put a stop to it? It’s rumoured that just to join a conversation about Erling Haaland, his agent, Mino Riola, wants a personal guarantee of £30m on the table. That’s just to talk. It was the same when he moved Pogba to Old Trafford. It’s madness. 

Obviously, it’s in his interests to keep moving players. That’s not right either. And do we think that United have had anywhere near approaching value for money as far as Pogba is concerned? Forget the £90m fee - I’d say they would’ve overspent if they’d stopped at Riola’s cut. It’s a joke.

So why is it that somebody, somewhere doesn’t put a stop to this nonsense? Perhaps the answer lies in the story I was once told by a big club Chief Executive.

He took a job in football having enjoyed a very successful time in corporate business, which can also be a murky world, but he told me he was amazed by the things he saw in football. He said he quickly realised that at some point he was going to end up spending some time at Her Majesty’s pleasure. ‘If I’m going to prison I’d like to know why’ he told me. Obviously that line was delivered with some humour and irony, but you get where he was coming from?  He decided to ask one of the game’s top officials ‘why?’. 

Before lunch he got the answer. A map of the world was taken out of a cupboard. It was as explained to him who ran what and where. He was told ‘it works, so let’s leave it alone’. Lunch followed and he went home even more baffled.

Is it really like that? I hate to believe that it might be. It’s our game. People who put their hands in their pockets - who have their pockets picked by football - deserve better.

Players at the top should wake every day and thank God for what they’ve been given. If they want an agent to take care of them - and let’s be fair, there are some very good guys out there as well, then let them pay for that service. In what other business does the employer actually pay the costs of an employees agent? It shouldn’t happen. So why does it? Why does football bleed money into the fat, bloated world of the super-agent? It really is time it was stopped.

Further down the ladder - how good is it to see a couple of clubs that had every right to feel hard done by when the curtain was drawn last season, knocking on the door of success again? Peterborough were denied a chance of getting out of League One after being replaced in the play-offs by Wycombe. That was on a points-per-game basis. Director of football, Barry Fry was furious. ‘I’ve been in the game 60 years,’ he said. ‘It’s the biggest disappointment I’ve ever had’. He added that Posh had been ‘cheated’. It was worse for Tranmere - they were relegated.

I don’t think either team was ‘cheated’. There wasn’t a perfect solution, but I felt for both clubs when the season ended early. I like Barry and my long term mate Mark Palios owns Tranmere.

As I write Posh are in the automatic promotion places. Tranmere slipped out of the top 3 in League Two this weekend, but they’re on the fringe. I don’t wish any team chasing harm, but I really do hope that Posh and Tranny get up. They deserve it after last season’s frustrations. Keep an eye on them.

Qatar 2022 protests – a cautionary note

Published: Monday, 29 March 2021

I’m all for protest. It’s often the only way to effect change. But let’s be sure our chosen protest is based on properly attributed facts; and that the protest is applied indiscriminately against all offenders.

Let’s also be sure that the protesters themselves aren’t publicly saying one thing, and quietly doing another privately when it suits and benefits them.

Because that’s not protesting – that’s hypocrisy; and it’s taking us all for fools. Much like an MP who protests for expenses reform, with a floating duck island in his pond. Or someone demanding the world switches to green energy, while driving around his/her private estate in a Hummer.  Do as I say, not as I do.

Before the usual mob descends on me having barely read beyond the first sentence (bigoted people don’t read full opinions, you see, one sentence is more than enough) – yes I live in Qatar. I’m a resident, not a propagandist or an apologist. This blog is completely independent - just like the podcast I do with Andy. No-one tells us what to say. No-one tells us what to do. In all the time I’ve worked in Doha never once has anyone tried to influence my opinion. Never once have I been told what I can or can’t say. That’s in stark contrast to my many years at Sky, where I was often told “just do as you’re told Keysie – James Murdoch could end up in jail if this unravels”. How many times do you think I’ve wished I’d ignored orders? Let’s also forget that an opinion from someone based in the place that’s the very subject of the debate might (in principle, but of course not necessarily) be valid. However the bigots will never have that, much better to have a trenchant opinion on somewhere you’ve never been. This country, my home, is an amazing place. It has gone through the developmental cycle of nomad-to-nationhood in the time since the world created email – just think about that, a cycle that takes most countries centuries (and based on the past 4 years I’m no longer sure where the US is on that scale). When the British Empire handed Qatar back to its people in 1971 it wasn't much more than another colonial backwater – dismissed as an Arab wasteland. Now, not only is it one of the leading sports centres in the world, it has become one of the world’s biggest trading hubs, with some of the most advanced educational and healthcare systems in the world, while having the most societally liberal norms in the region. Yes, booze is not a norm – that’s the religious choice of 1/4 of the world’s population, and the personal choice of many more. And to keep the Daily Mailers happy, they’re even going to have booze at the World Cup – why let local culture get in the way of lager louts trashing up a high street?

This has all come at an inexcusable cost. Arguing anything other than that is wrong – and it’s not a worker’s right, it’s a human right. In the course of the warp-speed evolution here, mistakes have been made; mistakes that can’t be undone. Every nation’s history is marked by these scars – many much bigger – just ask Germany, just ask Japan, just ask the “British Empire”. It’s thanks to the World Cup that these scars have been exposed in Qatar. So much has changed positively as a result. When I first visited Doha - to launch Al Jazeera Sport only as recently as 2008 - this was a very different place. And I simply couldn’t believe the changes that had been made when I returned in 2013. For almost a decade I’ve seen it develop and evolve and improve with my own eyes every day – you see I’m not living this place through algorithms; I live here, and I get out and about and I interrogate – I’m a journalist.

Can more be done? Absolutely and emphatically yes. And more will be done, that’s the way here.

However a few words of caution for the latest fury of protests against Qatar, led by Norway and Germany in the qualifiers.

First, be armed with the facts – that is the very minimum bar any genuine protester must meet, otherwise I question their agenda. Over the past month I’ve lost count of how many headlines and “opinion-leaders” and  “influencers” falsely quoted, or perhaps even manipulated, The Guardian’s 6500 figure as World Cup stadium deaths. That’s simply not correct – and it’s acceptable to say that that’s not correct, without disrespecting those who tragically did die in that way. The same factual amnesia and/or narrative manipulation applies to booze at the world cup (allowed) or LGBT fans (welcomed) or women-can’t-drive (utter bullsh*t) or the temperature in December (averaging around 23C – the only issue for the Final is likely to be rain and being naturally (not artificially) cold).

All these are facts – and facts are consistently overlooked when it comes to this country, yet inarguably relied upon as a defence when applied to others. In fact (!), you only have to look at the nonsense blockade that fractured this region recently, which was unceremoniously dropped overnight after 4 years when a sensible US President acknowledged it was all based on alternative facts in the first place.

Second, a protest is based on a point of principle and you can’t pick and choose them at your convenience – then it’s a flawed protest or an agenda. In Russia – a monumentally different scale of human rights abuse exists, both historic and continuing, but I can’t remember a single t-shirt at the Russia World Cup 2018? Human rights protests against China on behalf of the Muslim Uighurs – for years this wasn’t a la mode enough to protest. Where were your designer clothes made – I’d probably check, if human rights are the cause you're championing.

Third, a message for our obscenely paid football stars. If you want to become political lobbyists – that’s fine, make all the points you want in the world. But you can’t then be immune from the public scrutiny that political discourse is subject to – just because you’re a footballer. If you’re leading global campaigns about human rights, your third and fourth holiday homes in Dubai should be questioned. As should photos of you celebrating emergency surgery in Doha….‘human rights on and off the pitch’, but not in hospitals when you benefit? And selfies of you ring-side at the Joshua fight in Riyadh, or thumbs up in the F1 paddock in Bahrain. Didn’t support your team mate Mesut Ozil when he was harangued out of Arsenal for standing up for Muslims human rights? All too happy to take the pay cheque from Man City? I could go on. As I said before, floating duck islands aren’t a good look.

The players also might want to check Amnesty International’s position on Qatar 2022 – turns out it’s not to boycott the event. Another one of those facts pushed into the small print.

Over the years, I’ve lost track of the times I’ve invited colleagues from the Western press to visit here. I’ve even agreed to host and cover everything – on one proviso, I say: ‘tell the truth, tell people what you really saw’. Every time the answer is the same ‘I can’t do that Keysie. It won’t fit with the papers’ editorial policy’. I’ll leave that there – the scrupulous pursuit of the truth…and all that. Sadly England’s press pack has also never recovered from losing our 2018 bid – it’s still one massive conspiracy. I suggest they read the Garcia Report, all 350 pages of it (so should England’s bid team from back then).  

Anyway, here’s to more positive change and to the best World Cup in history.  A World Cup for the Arab world too – after all, football is for all, not just for the West.

By the way, some advice from a local. When you come here next December, you should know we fully celebrate ‘Christmas’ – so you can leave your ‘seasons greetings’ and ‘winter holidays’ t-shirts at home. Also, bring jumpers instead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why I didn’t like Tuchel.

Published: Monday, 15 March 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LLLLLLiverpool. Impossible.

Published: Monday, 08 March 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I agree Ole.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We can’t be tribal about cheating.

Published: Monday, 22 February 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Wenger We Trust.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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