We're off...

Published: Tuesday, 08 August 2017

It was 1992, about September time, and I was following Ron Atkinson out of a studio. We'd just been recording another edition of the Footballers' Football Show. He was bubbling about the new Premier League era and still excited about football in general.

I say 'still' because as we walked I looked at him and thought 'Wow - even after all these years he's revved up by it all'. I went on to think 'will I retain an enthusiasm like that?' 

I'd known Ron since my time in Manchester. He's a great guy - deeply loyal, great fun and simply football mad. What he isn't, by the way, is a racist.

The reason I was having all those thoughts was because we'd just landed the Premier League contract at Sky and although I too was hugely excited by everything that was happening around me, I was wondering how long I'd retain an appetite for it all. I've got the answer now - so far, 26 years!

As we start again, what should we expect? Well, as Leicester proved, predicting is a mugs game. The year they won the title I had them down for relegation! Maybe it's time to get my own back - they will definitely NOT win the title this year and I'm 100 per cent certain of that!

So who will? With time yet for all the contenders to spend again, it's hard at this stage to make either bold or accurate predictions, but I'll share with you the way I'm thinking right now.

With Gareth Bale United win the title. Without him they are strong contenders, who could muscle their way back to the top, but they're not nailed on. It's a shame to be talking about a United team 'muscling' their way to success, but that's what they are now - big and strong. Mourinho once said you can't win a title with less than five players over 6'2" because you're always vulnerable at set-pieces. Well he's fixed that little problem hasn't he?

Read more: We're off...

PL loans distort the competition (1)

Published: Monday, 26 June 2017

Having burst back into life yesterday I didn't intend to be making my fingers sore again today - but sometimes 140 characters on Twitter just aren't enough.

I've made mention previously how I believe that PL clubs distort the competition when they loan players to each other. Right now, Chelsea have five out and the chances are there'll be more before we kick off again. It's wrong. And here's why.....

Each and every one of those players can play for the team they're with AGAINST Chelsea's title rivals - but they can't play against Chelsea. It remains to be seen if they have any effect on the race by scoring big goals - stopping them - or indeed bossing games that frustrate a point or two from the other contenders. They might - they equally might not - but they're going to have more of an impact against them than they would sitting in Chelsea's bench.

Of course I know the value of sending players out on loan - but it doesn't have to be to the PL. The truth is that too many clubs nowadays run squads that are top heavy and ways of keeping the guys happy - or furthering their education - don't exist like they once did.

Let me give you another example of what I'm saying. We know Mourinho doesn't fancy Anthony Martial. He's not going to be in Utd's starting line up very often this season. There are two options - sell - but the chances are Utd won't make back the ridiculous money they paid for him - or loan him out.

Read more: PL loans distort the competition (1)

Just sayin'

Published: Sunday, 25 June 2017

So much has happened since we last shared a few words together. I thought we'd best catch up with some of it or my next blog is going to have to be a monster!

I noticed a line that the Premier League is 25 years old. 25! It's incredible. It's formation brought about a sizemic change the likes of which football had never previously seen - a real revolution. It's largely been evolution ever since - mostly under the brilliant leadership of Richard Scudamore. If there has ever been a brighter, smarter sports administrator than Richard I can't think of him/her.

Every TV deal that's agreed the doom mongers tell us 'that's it, the bubble will burst soon'. No sign of it though is there?

So the spending goes on and there's no sign of it relenting either. So far, City have spent £133m on three full-backs alone! Is it sustainable? According to Scudamore it is 'The most important thing is player costs as a percentage of turnover,' he says. Adding 'We're down in the early 60 per cents and we were much higher 10 years ago. Sixty per cent of turnover spent of player costs is actually very manageable.' Fair point. Interesting as well. So the truth is the transfer market hasn't 'gone mad' at all.

I repeat, there's a lot more spending to come before the window 'slams shut' (Why does the window always 'slam shut' Jim? Why can't it just close?) but who's done the best business so far? Let's use the old boxing adage 'pound for pound' as our barometer. So forget the big money spent - let's have a look round for the bargains.

Here's my top 4, in reverse order.

Read more: Just sayin'

It's a funny old game...

Published: Monday, 29 May 2017

It was Jimmy Greaves who coined the phrase 'it's a funny old game'. A bit like a few other football cliches - 'sick as a parrot' - which Phil Thompson is to blame for - it's over worked and had its time. But, every now and again it best sums up certain situations.

So, after a miserable season, ruined by the uncertainty over Arsene Wenger's future, this dignified man wins the FA Cup for a record 7th time. His team didn't just win it, they won it with all the qualities that have so often been missing from their game - oh, and a huge slice of luck, which every successful team needs.

Let's deal with the luck. Alexis Sanchez handled that ball. Fact. There is no other conclusion to come to. Quite simply Anthony Taylor didn't see it. If he had - he would've given Chelsea a free-kick. Here's what Gary Cahill had to say about the incident. 'It was incredible. I spoke to him (the ref) at half time and he was adamant he kneed the ball through'. Case close. Taylor didn't see it.

And Ramsey HAS to be offside as Sanchez scores. Thibaut Courtois this time 'Ramsey is clearly bothering me. If he's not there I can run out and get the ball before Alexis does. But because he's standing there, I stop, thinking he's going to collect it and shoot. As does the defence. He clearly interrupts the game for me and is taking part in active play'. Correct. It Ramsey continues to leave the box as he was initially doing, he's fine, but the moment he turns to try and play the ball he's offside because he becomes active. He's affecting the play. Case closed.

Having said that, the last word on that incident has to go to Cahill. 'To be honest, Arsenal were better than us. We can't hide behind the first goal'. I love the big guy. He was my player of the season. He was awesome all year long and this isn't the first time I've found myself complimenting his honesty. He's a natural and fine successor to John Terry as Chelsea's leader.

Read more: It's a funny old game...

Nearly done...

Published: Tuesday, 16 May 2017

It's hard to believe we're just about to complete our 4th Premier League season working with the mighty beINSports. It's incredible. When Andy and I first arrived in Qatar - 2022 seemed a lifetime away - this coming weekend the first WC stadium opens for the Emir Cup Final. The country is unrecognisable from the one I first saw in 2008 and now we're racing towards what I believe will be the best 'finals' ever. I know it doesn't suit a lot of you to read that, but my friends here in the Middle East are going to put on a spectacular festival.

Anyway, back to business - we're nearly there, another Premier League season is all but over.

Let's start at the top - well done Chelsea. If you finish top you deserve all the accolades that come your way. In short, you're there because you've been the best. Chelsea have been a champions mix of both entertainment and power. Brilliant. You'll get no arguments from me about their return to the summit.

I'm disappointed for Spurs. They're the team I enjoyed watching this season more than any other, but sadly a poor January cost them. My fear for this group (modern day phraseology!) is that they might never get any closer. I'm with Tim Sherwood - I just can't see them winning a title out of Wembley. Walker is leaving this summer, Eriksen could just as easily go as well and if he does - then what?

Why do I believe he might leave? Well, because it would follow a long standing 'Daniel Levy' transfer pattern. Historically he's always sold a player for the best price - that means at the top of their game and at the right age. He's had Ross Barkley ear-marked as a replacement for some time now, but after a recent meeting with Barkley's representatives in London I'm told Spurs aren't as convinced as they were. Watch this space..... 

I don't see any other 'short term' departures - but another season from now I think there'll definitely be significant movement.

Read more: Nearly done...

VAR will not take us to utopia

Published: Monday, 01 May 2017

Let's start with a few positives from the weekend - and I agree, there weren't too many! I repeat what I've previously tweeted - I love watching Spurs right now. There isn't a more attractive team in the Premier League. I sat with Graeme Souness this weekend (Graeme was with us on BeINSports) and he said 'this is the best Spurs team I've seen'. I couldn't agree more.  I hope they win the title but let me quickly add that I really don't CARE who does. The best 'team' will. It always does. And despite the vicious abuse I get on Twitter - it's not going to affect my life whichever team does. Honestly - I don't care - as usual, I will applaud whoever does.

The only reason I say that I hope Spurs win it is because I think Tim Sherwood might be right. Tim told us on beINSports that he doesn't believe Spurs can win the title playing at Wembley. His argument is that it's not a fortress like White Hart Lane. If Spurs' European experiences are anything to go by this season he's got a point hasn't he? And if they take time adjusting to their new stadium this squad might not be together long enough to win it. That would be a shame.

Anyway, Chelsea were top class weren't they? The win at Goodison was a real statement. They're not 'easy on the eye' like Spurs, but they're 'efficient' and very, very good. A small observation - never mind Kante or Hazard as Player of the Year - what about Gary Cahill? He's been enormous - at both ends - this season. He's adapted to the new system - he's succeeded John Terry in every respect - he fronts up, win, lose or draw - he's a warrior. He won't win the award of course, because Fleet Street tends to go for popular or obvious - unless they're voting for Scott Parker - in the year West Ham went down! Well - apart from Crossy, they all support The Hammers, so perhaps no surprise there!

Now to the unsavoury. Marcus Rashford - sorry, the dive was poor. The kid should be banned now for the rest of the season. We HAVE to stop that kind of thing happening. Oh, and you can put Leroy Sane on the list as well. Both players 'conned' the officials. I don't blame Neil Swarbrick for buying Rashford's dive, his angle wasn't great, but Kevin Friend has NO excuses - he was looking directly at the incident.

Read more: VAR will not take us to utopia

Dull. Deadly dull.

Published: Friday, 28 April 2017

That has to be the worst Manchester derby in living memory. There could be one I've missed but I don't think so. And I've been watching them a long time now - all the way back to City's famous 5-1 on the ice. It was just awful wasn't it?

So who or what was the blame? Well, I don't entirely blame Mourinho, but if he's still setting his team up to get results like that this same time next year then I do think some serious questions will be asked about the direction he's taking the Manchester United in. I'm holding back on any judgement because he might yet deliver a fantastic season for United fans. There's already one trophy in the cabinet - a great chance of another - and 4th or better is a really good possibility now.

I'm not making excuses for him because I hate to see a game played as it was last night - especially by Manchester United. Parking the bus like that goes against every natural instinct of United fans, but if the outcome this season is as I've suggested above - everything will be forgiven.

I can't make any excuses for Fellaini though. What sort of fool is he? I light heatedly suggested on Twitter, as he walked off, that United should be charged with bringing the game into disrepute every time they play him! Look - let's get this straight,  he's obviously a good player. He's an international footballer for goodness sake and I'm sure there are many teams he would do a competent job for - but United? Not for me. He is the embodiment of everything that's wrong with them on nights like that.

As for City, well - what can you say? At the beginning of the season I wrote that I believed that this was going to be Guardiola's first REAL test as a coach. It has been hasn't it? And he's failed the audition. For the first time, without a team to bully the opposition with the very best players in both Spain and Germany, he's come up short. It could yet get worse - what if they don't finish in the top 4?

Read more: Dull. Deadly dull.

Making a Joey out of Barton.

Published: Thursday, 27 April 2017

Two football stories broke on Wednesday - one had me shrug my shoulders with an air of nonchalance - the other had me spitting mad.

I was in no way surprised to hear that another raid had been had been organised on football clubs' offices, this time by HM Revenue and Customs pursuing a criminal investigation into tax fraud. It was around a decade ago that City of London police staged similar raids, but they were looking into the murky world of bungs. Do you remember? There was an early morning raid on Harry Redknapp's home. The Pompey owner, Milan Mandaric, was arrested so were Birmingham's owner and MD, David Sullivan and Karen Brady and the offices of Newcastle were raided as well as those of Pompey and Rangers. The outcome of investigations led to nothing. Will it be any different this time? HMRC had better come up with something to justify the frenzied activity of the week.

I'm not 'hoping' this goes away. Quite the contrary. Yes, football contributes hugely to HMRC coffers - billions in fact - and far in excess of many multi nationals that work the system to their benefit, but if the game mirrors society, then there is much the game could do to clean up its act.

Are we to believe that George Graham is the only manager ever to have taken a bung? To date he's the only man convicted of having done so - largely as a result of tax investigations. Of course he's not, but as long as the game continues to excite us, create its enormous wealth and sells as it does around the world, no-one is going to be too bothered.

Here's a true story. When Keys and Gray were on the radio I identified a guest I really wanted to talk to. We didn't know each other too well so lunch was organised. As the drinks flowed this is what he said to me 'I knew when I got into football I'd eventually go to jail, but I wanted to know why! I arranged a meeting with some of football's top brass to ask questions and find out'. He was making light of a serious subject. Coming from industry he just couldn't believe some of the things he was seeing pass across his desk. In London he was told 'it works - let's go and have lunch'.

Read more: Making a Joey out of Barton.

Cherish the game

Published: Wednesday, 12 April 2017

I'll give them six months'. That was Sir Alex Ferguson's verdict on Sky Sports chances of success after being awarded the first contract to cover 'live' Premier League football back in 1992.

Six months? We knew why he said it but we were determined to prove him wrong. I think we did that - but it wasn't without a fight - often with both hands tied behind our backs! It certainly didn't help when Fergie refused to talk to us from about the October of the first season - and then subsequently banned us from speaking to any of his players. Our crime? We pointed cameras at him as he flew into a frenzy on the touchline at QPR when a decision went against United! Whether the ban - as United went on to win their first league title in 26 years - was to help him make his case that we would fail we'll never know!

To succeed we needed to show off our national game in all its glory - and many different colours. We were also selling subscriptions - without which we couldn't afford to pay the huge amounts of money back into football that funded it. In that sense nothing has changed. We needed football. Football needed us. Our aim was the same - to make a success of it all.

I think everybody achieved that. Radio flourished - 5-live was born. TalkSPORT followed soon after. Newspapers created weekend pull outs and gave more column inches to football than ever before. Footballers started earning more money than they'd ever dreamt of. Young men became multi-millionaires in the blink of an eye. We respected what they did and they respected what we did. We all benefitted.

Andy Gray invented a new way of analysing football. He helped educate a generation. There had never been anything like Monday Night Football before. The show itself was the brainchild of our Executive Producer. Andy Melvin. Its purpose was to 'analyse' football. Simple.

We weren't into getting players banned for misdemeanours on the pitch - and my goodness there were many times we could've done - no, we wanted to give football a place to show itself off - so, we 'analysed' football. Simple.

Read more: Cherish the game

What about plan B Pep?

Published: Thursday, 16 March 2017

Well the hysteria of the original tie is long since forgotten eh? Not by me. I remember well all the headlines lauding Pep Guardiola and Manchester City. At last - Guardiola had found the formula. This is how football should be played. What an exhibition. City swept Monaco aside.  Nothing could stop Guardiola now. Er - yes it could. And yes it has.

I agree, the 5-3 at The Etihad was a fantastic exhibition, but that's all it was. It wasn't really a step towards the quarter finals. For me, it was the very reason why City wouldn't make the quarter-finals. You can't play football like that against the big boys and hope to succeed. It was suicide.

I admire Guardiola and his record tells us he one of the very best. One of..... Everybody that knows him tells me he's a nice guy. That he's fastidious in his work. That he BELIEVES in what he does. All fine - but I've said it before - how often is a man's greatest strength also his greatest weakness? Guardiola won't change - but in order to succeed at City he's going to have to.

He doesn't have the best three players in the world in his team anymore - as he did at Barcelona. He doesn't have the best two wide men and the best centre-forward and goalkeeper in the world anymore - as he did at Bayern. Other than Aguero, who he doesn't want, he hasn't got anything like the best in any position anymore. What he appears to me to have is 'plan A' and only 'plan A'. He wants to play - all the time - with a belief that if the opposition get three - City will get five. Oh, wait a minute..... 

Read more: What about plan B Pep?