We can’t be tribal about cheating.

Published: Monday, 22 February 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Wenger We Trust.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

It’s City’s.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only 2 teams can win it.

Published: Monday, 01 February 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope it’s not the end Frank.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A tale of 2 United’s.

Published: Monday, 18 January 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cancel the Cup.

Published: Monday, 11 January 2021
So was it all worth it? Ask Chorley that question and the answer would be a definite ‘yes’. You’d get the same answer from Crawley. And despite taking a bit of a hiding from Spurs, Marine would agree. They had a day out that they will never replicate.

But - how heavy a price are we going to have to pay for staging last weekend’s 3rd round FA Cup ties?

Time was that the 3rd round was special. Everybody played Saturday - usually whatever the weather - and on surfaces that would see a parks match called off these days. If you’re not old enough to remember Hereford beating Newcastle go and have a look at it.

Those were the days. When mighty Newcastle - SuperMac, Tudor, Moncur and McFaul - were humbled by Southern League Hereford. For accuracy, it’s worth pointing out that the game at a Edgar St was a replay, but that fact spoils the story!

Some of us remember Wrexham beating George Graham’s Arsenal at The Racecourse - Mickey Thomas crashing in an unstoppable free-kick to finish the Gunners off. Make no mistake, Arsenal were a good team. They won the competition the next season.

And I hate to mention it - but Sutton Utd will never forget their day in the sunshine when they beat Coventry. We weren’t the holders incidentally - this was 1989 - people often get that confused - but it doesn’t dilute the embarrassment.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter really. They were all famous FA Cup wins. And there were others - Leatherhead (and their famous lip Chris Kelly) and Blyth Spartans come to mind.

We loved it - huddled around the fire watching David Coleman in his pomp on Grandstand - before rushing to the shops to buy The Pink (or Green ‘un) It was magic. But it really isn’t like that anymore.

The FA Cup isn’t what it once was. Too many teams find it a distraction. A whole lot really don’t care. The 18 PL teams playing before Monday made a total of 113 changes between them. Go further down the ladder - Millwall 8, Forest 8, M’boro 7, Swansea 7, Rotherham 6, Wycombe 5, Blackpool 4, MK Dons 3 - and so it goes on. It’s ridiculous - until you stop to ask ‘why?’.  

The first objective of 16 PL teams every season is to stay in the league, at all costs.

Half the C’ship clubs are desperate for promotion. The other half want to stay in that league, so a Cup run is a distraction. They all know they’re not going to win it, so why get caught up in something that will divert attention?
The last team from outside the top league to win the FA Cup were West Ham in 1980.

I’m sorry, but the once greatest Cup competition in the world isn’t what it was and it never will be again. ‘Ah’ some say ‘give the winners a place in the CL. That’ll get them interested again’. No it won’t. Only Portsmouth and Wigan have come from outside the big six to win it in the last 29 years - and in the vast majority of those seasons the winners were from the top 4. So you’re eating your time with that ‘incentive’.

I asked ‘was it worth it?’ for good reason. How many teams do we believe really wanted to play last weekend in this Covid season? My guess is probably only the two or three mentioned above. In my view - it was madness.

Surely our primary concern is to be able to continue to play football at all? Things are only going one way in the U.K. right now. No-one can behave, it seems (not just footballers) and that’s why the country is in such a mess.

Steve Bruce and David Moyes reckon it’s immoral to play on. Big Sam wants a circuit breaker. More will follow suit. But in the end it probably won’t matter.

How many of the guys did you see adhering to new Covid regulations on the pitch? Nope - nor me. As I write the PL are shifting fixtures around for the upcoming week. I’m afraid only chaos lies ahead. And I fear we’re not too far off from shutting down again.

It might be that would’ve happened anyway - but a bit like Celtic’s trip to Dubai last week - it was totally unnecessary. We were asking for trouble - and we’re going to get it.

Arise Sir Jim. Why not?

Published: Monday, 04 January 2021
‘It’s a boat race tradition Anne,’. All over EggCup House people stopped what they were doing and looked up at a tv. Greavsie had the cheeky look on his face that only Jim wore. You knew it was coming.....but what?

Jim was our tv critic at TV-am. He’d preview on a Friday and review on a Monday. If he could cause trouble he would. He got away with murder. Our Aussie guv’nor Bruce Gyngell loved him despite often being the butt of jokes.

Jim was reviewing the Boat Race this Monday morning. It was the one that never got going. Cambridge collided with a barge and sank - so it was run the next day. Naturally there was room for a little chuckle from Nick Owen as the footage was shown, but Anne Diamond appeared to be genuinely concerned about the well being of those taking part. Well, I say genuinely concerned, she wasn’t really but she did ‘sincere’ very well. Truth was - like with all sport - she didn’t care less.

Anyway - ‘it’s a boat race tradition Anne’ said Greavsie. ‘Oh really’, came a half hearted response. ‘Yes’ said Jim. ‘The guys always dip their cox in the water. Here they are, at the end of the race on Sunday, celebrating and doing the same thing’.  
Brilliant. ‘Don’t panic Mr Mainwaring’. But of course, people did. I’ll save the rest for another time. The important thing here is to give you a flavour of Jim’s character. He was naughty. Impish. Always happy to stir up a little trouble and then leave the scene of the crime. I loved it. I encouraged it when it was my turn to sit on the sofa with him for a few years.

Jim played football like that. He’d nip into a box - steal a goal - and be off before anyone realised. He was precise - like a surgeon. Often a ball wouldn’t actually hit the back of the net. I’m sure he finished like that on purpose. Just like George Best in the ‘68 Euro Cup final - roll the ball in - let them think they can get it - but you know they won’t. Genius.

Greaves is still English football’s greatest ever goal scorer. Ok - he didn’t play in the final, but he was very much a part of England’s ‘66 World Cup win. He played until the quarter finals. It took until 2009 for the FA to organise a medal for the squad members - including Jim. What a disgrace. How shabby was that? Forty-three years the guys waited. Can you imagine that happening today?

A generation that never saw Jim play were royally entertained by him on tv. He had a habit of saying what people were thinking.  Saint and Greavsie were terrific. By this time, of course, Jim had stopped drinking. He hadn’t ‘recovered’ from alcoholism. You never do that. Every day is a battle and I discussed this with him many times in our hospitality suite at tv-AM as he waited to go on. ‘I’ll have a drink on my 50th birthday - or in the year 2000’ he once said me. His family told me recently that he did neither.

But I read that he did have a glass of wine to celebrate the award of his MBE. Good on you Jim. And I’m pleased that the honour has been received well by you. But - the Greavsie I knew would’ve told Boris Johnson and his govt to stick their MBE up their posh Tory arses. And quite right too.

How dare they? An MBE? Honestly. No. No. No. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. It should’ve been a knighthood. An MBE? It’s a pathetic nod to popular opinion that Jim needed acknowledgment after his recent illness. Yes - he did. He needed long overdue acknowledgment of a lifetimes achievements. Sadly not enough of the boys of ‘66 are alive to be honoured - but Jim is. So is Sir Geoff. And so is Sir Bobby. Why hasn’t Sir Jim joined them? It’s pathetic.

I exchanged messages on the subject with a member of Jim’s family. I’m pleased to say that they would appear to agree with me - that a younger, healthier Greaves would’ve reacted differently, but he’s old now and not in good health, so he’s accepted the MBE. I haven’t got a problem with that.

But think of the tax cheats, frauds, hucksters and Tory donors that have been knighted over the years. And there isn’t room for a genuine British icon amongst them? Come on.

A couple of other things before we close this week. Sorry - there is no excuse for defending Covidiots Senor Guardiola. I don’t care how nice a guy Benjamin Mendy is - or his fellow complicit fools that have put project re-start in danger. How daft does Mendy think we are? ‘He had a chef and two friends over for dinner’ Really? It would’ve been easier to organise a takeaway. Do you really need a chef for only two guests? Of course there was a houseful. The principal mistake was organising the event. The secondary error was to deny. That Guardiola believes it’s ok is incredible. Compare his remarks with those of Roy Hodgson when he found out that his skipper had been caught out. ‘Not acceptable’ was Hodgson’s reaction.

It’s one of the reasons the UK’s Covid policies haven’t worked. It seems people don’t care enough - but when high profile individuals take the piss - there really is no defence. No hiding place. A lot is at stake here. As the U.K. faces a third national lockdown if we are to continue to play football - and I’m not certain that we should - then the central components need to grow up, find some self discipline and responsibility.

One last thing - thank you for your response to my revelations about Man Utd’s ridiculous number of penalty awards - 33 in all comps - since the start of last season. Utd fans were furious. The rest of us know I’m right. Thirty three pens - that’s one every one and a half games. Impossible you would think? Some were genuine. The majority were not. It’s time referees wised up to the dark arts that Mssrs Rashford, Martial, Pogba and co are playing. The prosecution offers the following as evidence.

It was classic rope-a-dope Jurgen

Published: Monday, 28 December 2020

I had to laugh. Jurgen Klopp’s face post match was a picture. He was in pain. It was as if someone had just told him he was going to have to replace half a dozen of those expensive teeth.

After seven consecutive home wins this season it was over. Big Sam had mugged him again and Klopp wasn’t happy. ‘Who would’ve thought he would come and play a 6-4 or 5-5 or whatever it was in the first half?’ Er - me Jurgen. And I was really surprised that you were surprised that he did. It was classic Big Sam. ‘A bonus point’ the big man called it.

Too right it was a bonus point. It won’t have been one that he’d scheduled when he calculated what was needed for West Brom to stay up. But he planned for it. He hoped for it. And the game turned exactly as he wanted.

The big man’s plan was very simple. Sit for 45 minutes - and keep any damage to a minimum. To get in at half time all square would’ve been a dream, but he would’ve expected to concede. The important thing once that happened was to make sure the gap didn’t get any bigger. Liverpool huffed and puffed and all but blew themselves out. All the time the score was only 1-0 West Brom were in the game. All it was going to take was to get on the end of something from a set-piece. Abracadabra - Allardyce worked his magic again.

Of course the Baggies were going to have to be a little more expansive in the second half. They had to get up the pitch to force a corner - or a free kick in the last third. It really was classic rope-a-dope. They’d taken Liverpool’s best shots - hadn’t been hurt too badly and there was plenty left to have a go at the champions with. Brilliant. Classically brilliant. Never mind all the nonsense about possession. The only stat that matters at the end of a game is the score-line. 1-1. That’s why the big fella cancelled his annual Christmas holiday in Dubai - to get that winning feeling again. And believe me, this one felt like a win.

It was a win really. It was a win over officially the best coach in Europe, who was left angry and bemused. But what did you expect Jurgen? Sam isn’t as daft as some that have visited Anfield this season and gone toe-to-toe with you - scoring three but letting in four. Yes, Leeds were wonderfully entertaining at Old Trafford as well - but took a hiding.

Add indignant to the list that best describes Klopp post match. It was almost as though he was struggling to come to terms with the fact that Sam hadn’t set up to get beaten. Come on Jurgen - you know very well that there are many different ways to play the game - and digging a relegation point out at the home of the champions requires stubbornness, discipline, planning and a bit of luck. It went exactly as Sam plotted.

There’s little that Allardyce likes more than bloodying the noses of the so called ‘super coaches’. It irks him that after a lifetime in the game he still has a reputation for being ‘anti-football’.

Love him or hate him - you can’t deny him. When he managed at Bolton he was often described as an innovator. He was prepared to do things differently. He once finished fourth with them. And think about the players he managed - Hierro, Djorkaeff, Campo, Anelka and there were many many more. He’s a super coach all right.

It’s not by good fortune that Sam is still around. When he’s been employed to do a job he’s always delivered. I’m still sorry that he didn’t get chance to get his teeth into the England job. That was the one he always coveted and it didn’t end as it should’ve done. Never forget - he wasn’t found guilty of any crimes - because there weren’t any. Greg Clarke got trigger happy so there weren’t too many tears shed by either myself or the big man when he was run out of town recently.

For those of you who do like a stat - here’s one - since April 17 Allardyce has taken 5 points away from Anfield. The rest of the big six have managed only four between them.

Another matchday started with me promising myself not to end up writing about more shocking decisions - both from the field of play and the bunker - but oh no - it’s impossible it seems.

Sean Dyche was left pulling out what little finger hair he’s got left. A pen for Bamford? No chance. Not on the basis of recent decisions that have seen pens overturned when a player has got a whisper of a touch. ‘Reckless’ said the PGMOL. Nonsense - but if so - why wasn’t Matty Cash penalised for his wild slash in the box on Van Aanholt - ‘because he got a touch on the ball’ said Stockley Park. There is no consistency. Excuses are made up as they go along.

Burnley were also denied a perfectly good goal. If Barnes goal was to be disallowed, then they should’ve had a pen for Meslier’s reckless challenge on Ben Mee.

And no wonder David Moyes wants to know why Lewis Dunk’s goal was allowed to stand after he’d knocked the ball into his own path with his elbow. ‘There wasn’t a definitive angle that proved he had’ said Stockley Park. Come on. I was looking at one when we put the call in. It was nailed on. Why don’t they just admit when they’ve got it wrong? Why not? It’s pathetic the scrambling that goes on. ‘The dog ate my homework Miss’. It really is as bad as the worst schoolboy excuse for covering up.

Brendan for Barcelona?

Published: Monday, 21 December 2020

It’s a measure of how far Brendan Rodgers has taken Leicester that we now expect to see them in the top six. And I don’t think anyone is surprised to look at a table and find them in the top four. I think he’s done a fantastic job.

I wasn’t sure he’d picked the right one when he left Celtic. And I was convinced he made a mistake when he turned Arsenal down before Arteta took the job. But, not for the first time, Rodgers has proved me wrong.

Brendan’s calm demeanour and penchant for being a tad verbose have made him one of the impressionists favourites. Darren Farley does a spooky life like take-off. If you shut your eyes and listen you’ll struggle to separate the real thing from the imitation. Farley should be ‘very proood’ of his work. There have been times that Rodgers has struggled to get us to take him seriously and Farley is one reason why. But now we have to.

Rodgers has never been short of self belief. He’s often taken himself a little too seriously. The documentary he starred in at Liverpool didn’t help. There was that terrible moment when he showed us his portrait. And we’d all previously seen the three envelope trick.  But do you know what - looking back I don’t blame him one bit. He was excited. He was ‘proood’ to have landed the job and he had every reason to be.

This was a guy that had no playing career to speak of - that had worked damned hard to make an impression at Chelsea before landing managerial jobs at Watford, Reading and Swansea. Then he got the big one, making a journey that John Toshack had dreamt of many years before. He got Liverpool - taking over from Kenny Dalglish.

That was never going to be easy. Rodgers made subtle changes - like turning the goal nets back from white to red - which Liverpool had always had. He wanted to show he understood the club. He bought into the traditions of the place - brushing off criticism from the likes of me! I had a real go once when he left Steven Gerrard out of a CL game at Madrid. Of course he had a problem with Steven. Gerrard was a huge character and would always over-shadow the manager.

But for Steven’s slip against Chelsea - who knows? Well - that slip and an eagerness on Rodgers’ part to get the better of his mentor Mourinho that night. If he’d settled for a point Liverpool would’ve gone on to win the title. They would’ve won at Palace - instead of conceding three as a result of chasing goals. Newcastle at home, on the last day of the season, was a banker. Gerrard later admitted that Liverpool were ‘over confident’ against Chelsea and it bit them.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter now. Rodgers chose his next job carefully and well. He morphed from the ‘nearly man’ into a serial winner at Celtic. Never mind that Rangers weren’t a threat - he had them playing some really good football and he swept up. He won everything, not once, but twice and very nearly three times. Perhaps he looks back on the timing of his departure with regret, but he didn’t really have a choice. Benitez was trying like a bear to get the Leicester job so Rodgers had to take it when it was offered.

Again, a lot of us thought he’d made a mistake. That dressing room was an unforgiving place, with the odd viper hiding in the corners. It had seen off as nearly as many managers as Watford have been through. Rodgers quietly set about winning players round. Not only has he done it, but Leicester are title contenders again. None of us thought that could happen after what we all called their ‘one-off fairy tale’ in 2016.

I’m really pleased for Rodgers, but I would add this. If Arsenal comes up again Brendan - take it. You can’t turn a club like that down twice. Rodgers has proved he can handle big clubs - as well as both difficult and big players.

I remember saying that when he tossed off the CL game in Madrid that the Spanish giants would never forget an insult like that. Again - I was wrong. Not only have we all forgotten, but I believe that Rodgers should - and would be - at the head of a short line of British managers that could handle a job like that - and the one at Barcelona. He’s become something that we in the British game should be ‘proood’ of.

Once again I started writing today determined not to mention the most bang ordinary set of officials any country in the world has the mis-fortune to trust their game to, but I want to leave you with a few questions.

Why did Craig Pawson need VAR to convince him Aurier had fouled Fafana? It couldn’t have been clearer.

Why wasn’t Callum Wilson booked for diving? Why was Andersen sent off? Why weren’t we allowed to listen to Graham Scott’s conversation with Stockley Park? What on earth were they discussing? It was a perfect example of why we should be allowed to listen in.

Why was Livermore sent off - but Hause wasn’t? That one was a leg breaker.

Why was James booked for diving when clearly that was a pen?

Why wasn’t Sterling penalised for a blatant handball in the box at Southampton?

And why on earth are we disallowing goals on the length of under arm hair? That was James Maddison’s question after his terrific effort was ruled out at Spurs. And then Watkins suffered the same fate at The Hawthorns? It’s ridiculous. I’ll say it again - our game has been stolen by a dozen men in suits that believe they know better than the millions that watch and love football. And Mike Riley has reduced our elite referees to bumbling, fearful wrecks - that make up excuses as they go along to cover for their own ineptitude - and that of their colleagues.