Inexplainable and scandalous

Published: Wednesday, 08 March 2017

'Inexplainable and scandalous' said Arsene Wenger after Arsenal's latest humiliation. Lay aside the slight English mistake - that was the least of the horrors to come out of the Emirates last night (Tuesday) - just what was Wenger referring to?

If he meant the pre-match demonstrations calling for him to go then I agree. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Look - I fully support the right of the paying public to have their say - I do about how SISU are destroying my club Coventry - but there is something unedifying about Arsenal supporters getting involved in protests. It just doesn't sit well with me. This is 'The Arsenal' - a club with long standing traditions for doing things 'right'. The Arsenal are a classy outfit and I can't remember any other time in their history when I've seen such a thing. And let's not forget they're protesting about Arsene Wenger- somebody for whom I have the utmost respect. The guy is also a class act and he will for some time be Arsenal's most successful ever manager. He's a legend. Whether I believe it's time for him to go is another matter - I'll get round to that.

Back to the 'inexplainable and scandalous'. Was Wenger referring to Arsenal's performance on the night? If he was - he was right again. It was a shocker. It hasn't been good in recently and, I say again, I completely understand the frustration that surrounds The Emirates.

Actually we know exactly what Wenger was referring to. He was slating the Greek ref, Tasos Sidiropoulos, who first awarded Bayern a pen, booked Koscielny and then decided to send him off on the advice of his assistant behind the goal. We can argue all day about whether we thought it was a pen, or whether the new 'double jeopardy' rules applied, once the ref had given the pen, he was right to send Koscielny off on the basis that a 'clear goal scoring opportunity' had been denied. Crucially, he was also well within his rights to change his mind. And get used to it Arsene - we're going to see plenty more of this going forward.

Read more: Inexplainable and scandalous

Stop the bleating. He had to go.

Published: Friday, 24 February 2017

Come on. Enough. Stop the bleating please. Dilly ding. Dilly dong - Ranieri has gone - and not before time. Leicester are in crisis and he's to blame. If he's not - why did he get all the credit for winning the title last season? The re-moaners can't have it both ways. 

I last blogged on this very subject about two weeks ago. The surprise to me is that Leicester gave Ranieri the time they did this season and allowed things to fall apart so dramatically. 

Here are one or two facts surrounding a charismatic man who charmed us all the way to the most extra-ordinary title win of all time. 

I said in my last blog that the real architect of last season's triumph was Nigel Pearson. He was - him, Steve Walsh, who recruited the talent, and Craig Shakespeare, who coached the team. Fact, as Rafa might say. 

Pearson guided Leicester back from oblivion to the big time. All right, they initially struggled to adjust to life in the Premier League, but what a finish they had to that first season back - seven wins from the last nine - and the greatest escape of all time was complete. It was Pearson that had every right to be 'disappointed' about the decision to sack him - and a lot more than Ranieri. 

The players didn't want Ranieri as his successor. Fact. It was with that information that I predicted they'd go down the following season - believe it or not, having spent a lifetime on the fringes of the game listening to what's happening within it, I have gathered useful information. It's my job. Where I can I share it with you in these blogs. 

Read more: Stop the bleating. He had to go.

Here's why Leicester are struggling.

Published: Monday, 13 February 2017

I've read an awful lot on why Leicester are struggling this season. Apparently it's because they 'over celebrated' last season's title success. Nonsense.

Others believe it's because N'golo Kante was sold. Nonsense. His absence hasn't stopped them from progressing to the last 16 of the Champions League, although there is no doubt that he's been missed. He's a terrific little player. Any team would miss his non-stop running and uncanny ability to break up opposition play.

So it must be that the boys have downed tools? Nonsense. No they haven't.  Ranieri has 'tinkered' too much then? Nonsense. Is it that he's fallen out with too many people?  Nonsense.

Here's what I believe the problem is. They are simply not very good. What we're seeing now is just about what they are. They're two points better off than they were when they went on that fantastic run of seven wins in nine games to save themselves under Nigel Pearson, the real architect of last season's success.

And before you Leicester City fans start screaming 'Sky Blue Scum bag' let me explain myself.

After battling to safety under Pearson  - and it was without doubt the greatest escape of all time - no-one, absolutely no-one could foresee what was going to happen the following season. 

Pearson was sacked that summer wasn't he? I expressed serious doubts about Ranieri's appointment, going so far as to predict they'd  go down without Pearson's big presence and organisational skills.

Read more: Here's why Leicester are struggling.

Waking giants...

Published: Thursday, 02 February 2017

You know, I'm fairly certain I can hear the sound of waking giants all the way from Leeds and Newcastle, here in Qatar. Wonderful isn't it? Two of our most famous clubs, two 'proper' football clubs as Graeme Souness might say, at last - stirring.

Regulars know that Rafa the Gafa isn't my favourite. I've said many times that I believe he only manages for himself - for his own cv. Proof had to be the time he took on the Chelsea job (as revealed by yours truly and denied even by his closest confidantes!) after everything he'd previously said about the club and its fans. He'd take over at United if the price was right. I've argued often about the out-dated concept of 'loyalty', but some things you don't do.

That said - can I also repeat what I wrote when Benitez stayed at Newcastle last summer? I was both a little surprised, but also delighted for Newcastle fans, because whatever else, Benitez was the right man in the right place at the right time. He gave Geordies hope again and, so far, he's delivered.

Newcastle is a monster of a football club. I love it and I love everything about that football mad City, although I've always said that it's about

350 miles too far north of London for me! The Toon's rightful place isn't just in the Premier League, it's mixing it with the big boys at the top.

The trouble is, it's owned by a very ambitious man, who knows plenty about how to squeeze every last drop of sweat out of his workers, but not much about football.

For too long Mike Ashley and his small group of 'yes' men have run the club into the ground. Do you remember a gentleman called Tony Jimenez? The world eventually found out what a few already knew when he hitched his wagon to The Toon.

Read more: Waking giants...

Grandstand II? Why not?

Published: Wednesday, 01 February 2017

I know. I know. I keep promising a more regular flow of blogs - then I go and get distracted! I'm sorry.

At the end of a bruising week I'm sitting in the garden enjoying reading the arguments for tue return of a sporting icon - Grandstand. I'm talking about the excellent Gabby Logan's idea that it's time this giant was brought back to life. As someone who worked on it (albeit a bit part) and later was hell bent on destroying it - why not? I'll explain the above in just a moment.

What a wonderful way it was to spend a wet, winter afternoon - in front of the fire watching Grandstand (that was when we could afford the coal!) The racing was never my favourite, so after Sam Leitch had presented Football Focus I'd often go over to ITV for an hour or so to see what Richard Davies (Dickie in later years!) had to offer. Log rolling from Canada would fill time - for those working on World of Sport - and those of us at home! When the wrestling came on I went back. Funny - it was only the commentator Kent Walton who didn't know the bouts were timed so as not to run into ITV's results service!

Life was a lot simpler. I was from the generation that caught the back end of Eamonn Andrews fronting Grandstand. The brilliant David Coleman followed. Wily 'Arry Carpenter would often help out. Say what you like about Frank Bough, but what a class act he was once he sat in the chair. There followed the genius that was Des Lynam and the unflappable Steve Rider. I was delighted when they gave Sue Barker a go. How Sky went onto regret allowing Sue to cover Wimbledon for the BBC while contracted to 'us'. We knew she was a class act. We made her. The Beeb discovered how good she was that summer. She never came back. Good decision Sue!

Read more: Grandstand II? Why not?

If you want loyalty - buy a dog.

Published: Sunday, 15 January 2017

'He's on a fantastic contract, the highest paid player in the club's history. He signed it. Now he wants a move and feels Everton are a big club, so there's nothing we can do. West Ham are a big club in our eyes, but he feels otherwise'. Harry Redknapp Manager West Ham - March 1997.

The players' response to the stinging criticism above was this 'I had to do this. As all players know, if anyone gets the chance of a big club, he must take it'.  Slaven Bilic, West Ham - March 1997.

I'd like to take the credit for digging out the above explosive quotes, but I've lifted them from David Hills fantastic column 'Said and Done' in The Observer. I should say 'aptly named column', because all the fuss over Dimitri Payet's behaviour this past week now is!  Forget the moral posturing Slaven, there's nowhere to hide now.

Look - I like Bilic. I think he's a good guy and with Payet's enormous help he delivered a fantastic season for the Hammers last time out, but the 'love in' between Payet and his army of adoring fans at the Taxpayers Stadium was never going to last.

Time and again last season the question was asked 'how come he's 28 and only just surfaced on the big stage'. Now we know.

No-one at West Ham should be surprised by his behaviour. He threw a hissy fit just like this in order to leave Marseille for Upton Park! Have  we all forgotten so quickly Marseille issuing a robust statement to condemn the 'reckless demands' made and the ultimatum issued Payet and his agent expressing 'surprise that negotiations with another club had been opened' - without their permission?

Come on. Let's get real. Transfers are a dirty business - if you want a player you do everything you can to turn his head - which is exactly what West Ham did to get Payet. To a lesser extent - aren't they doing that right now to unsettle Jermaine Defoe? Sunderland haven't publicly said as much - yet - but privately they know that's exactly what's happening.

Read more: If you want loyalty - buy a dog.

HalfWay. Happy?

Published: Monday, 02 January 2017

So we've reached the half way stage. Are we all happy? Is the season delivering exactly what you expected?

Regulars will know I got caught with a couple predictions last season! In my defence no-one saw what was about to unfold at Leicester, but yes, I had said they would go down! Wrong. Badly wrong! I also thought West Ham would struggle, but Slaven Bilic delivered a wonderful season for Hammers' fans. I was pleased for him. He's a nice guy.

Let's be honest, neither Leicester nor West Ham are as good as their season suggested last time out. I think what we're seeing this time is much nearer the mark - so I was only 12 months out. That's my excuse anyway!

This year I went for Swansea, Hull and Watford to go down. No one likes being right about predicting an unhappy season for a club, but two out of three looks very likely to go. I expected Sunderland to struggle, but it's been tougher for them than I thought it might be. I still think they've got enough to sqeak clear again, but they're trying their best to make a mess of it. I still think there's a really good chance Watford will fall into trouble. You can't keep beating the 'system' as they do. Eventually it catches up with you.

That's why I thought Swansea would struggle as well. Huw Jenkins got a little bit too clever for his own good there. Yes, he did a brilliant job backing the right people to propel the club from where he found it all the way to Wembley and the Premier League, but that's the point, he 'backed' the 'right people'. I think Mr Jenkins started believing too much in all the good publicity he was getting and somehow convinced himself he was the reason for Swansea's success. He wasn't - and a couple of dreadful appointments have caught him out.

Read more: HalfWay. Happy?

Transparency and accuracy?

Published: Monday, 19 December 2016

Shoma Doi. Make a note of his name. He went down in history this past week. Any idea how or why?  Let me help you.

Shoma Doi of the Kashima Antlers.  On the face of it he didn't do too much special, he simply scored a penalty for his team on Wednesday December 14 2016 at the FIFA Club World Cup.  What made it special is that his was the first penalty to be awarded by a Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in the Suita City football stadium, Osaka.

Everybody involved in the tournament was quite pleased with themselves. Gianni Infantino was of the opinion that the historic decision ushered in a new era of 'transparency and accuracy' for football.

Dutch official Danny Makkelie, who took charge of the Hawk-eye technology for two games at the tournament, said 'it's been fantastic to go live at a FIFA tournament after a lot of practice over the last year'. Makkelie was referring to his time working as a VAR in the Dutch Cup, where they've been experimenting over the past 12 months. We've discussed all this dozens of times on beINSports Keys & Gray.

FIFA's Head of Refereeing, Massimo Busacca, added 'The main point of the technology is that no-one loses because of a refereeing mistake'. Really? Ask the Kashima Antlers about that. I think they'd vehemently disagree after their experience in the final of the CWC v Real Madrid. I'll come back to that.

So a lot of self congratulation - but let me add a few facts that might get you thinking. Do you know how long it took between the offence that was spotted by the VAR in the Antlers match and Doi's kick to score it? The answer is five and a half minutes! Play carried on for two and a half minutes  before the ref, Hungarian Viktor Kassai stopped to consult his VAR - took advice, wondered over to a replay machine situated on the side of the pitch, looked again at something neither he nor his assistant originally thought was a pen, and then awarded the kick. The rest of the time was taken up by fierce protests from the opposition, Atletico Nacional. The score at the time, incidentally, was 0-0 and 33 minutes had been played. It was a farce. An absolute farce.

Read more: Transparency and accuracy?

Bravo Claudio

Published: Monday, 05 December 2016

I wonder when Pep Guardiola is gong to realise he made a dreadful mistake when he signed Claudio Bravo? We know Guardiola is a stubborn man. We know also that he has an unshakable belief in what he does, but he dropped a b*****k when he signed Bravo. He simply isn't good enough to keep goal for a team with City's ambitions.

You see, that's the key for me - 'keep goal'. Isn't that a 'goalkeepers' primary function? I can't remember another keeper ever because being signed because 'he's good with his feet'. I haven't seen much evidence that Bravo is, but that's another matter.

What I have seen is one blunder after another. I've seen an 'ordinary' goalkeeper not as good as the man he replaced.

I know I've previously said that it was no surprise to me that Guardiola wanted Joe Hart out. So did Mancini and I don't believe Pellegrini was ever that convinced Hart either.

He was a big presence in the dressing room and that's why I believe Guardiola had made his mind up to move him out even before he got to the club. He'd had that problem before, with Messi, and he wasn't about to let it happen again.

But to replace him with Bravo? I just don't understand.

Bravo announced himself to City fans by gift wrapping a present for Ibra in the derby. He's gone on to make one error after another and if we're honest, he was hopeless again at the weekend. What exactly was he trying to do as Willian scored Chelsea's 2nd?

In stark contrast I watched David de Gea rescue a point for United at Goodison - at least that's how it turned out. At 1-0 down he pulled off a stunning save from Kevin Mirallas - ironically with his feet! Baines pen meant United had to settle for a point, so that save became even more important.

Read more: Bravo Claudio

Smile Jose

Published: Monday, 28 November 2016

Would the real Jose Mourinho please stand up - and smile? Charm us. again. Captivate audiences again. Convince us again. Make us believe again.

I just don't understand what's happened to Mourinho. He's got the job he always coveted. What a wonderful job it is too. Ok, he's not off to the start he wanted, but there really is no need for the tantrums. There's no need either for the miserable face - or the constant smiling and moaning.

United aren't the 'unluckiest' team in the PL as Mourinho would have us believe. They're simply not very good right now - and that's his fault. I think United fans have been more than patient with him so far.  And why not? We're only 13 games into the season. Turning a juggernaut around takes time. The horrible truth for United fans is that your team has been in decline now for 5 years - yes, that process started when Fergie was in charge and he did nothing about it. Well, nothing? Not quite - he signed Robin van Persie, a 29 year old, on whom there was no return beyond his first season, when single handedly he won an 'ordinary' United the title. Fergie knew that - he got out - and still the fall and fall goes on.

None of the above is new. I've said it many times. One of the big problems at United is the sense of expectation. Because a generation of fans have known nothing but success they 'expect' nothing but success. I'm sorry, it doesn't work like that, but I did genuinely think Mourinho and Manchester United were perfect for each other. I actually thought they'd win the title this year. I couldn't see a reason why not.

They spent big, Mourinho got most of what he wanted, and I thought the fact that he knew our league would give him an edge over Conte/Koop and co. I would add I thought he was two top strikers short and I still believe he is. I got shouted down on that one by United fans, but was I wrong?

Read more: Smile Jose