Arsenal don’t care - but what a bore-fest.

Published: Monday, 09 October 2023

Arsenal v City. The two best teams in the league last season. It was by far the biggest game of this season. I couldn’t wait. And the nearer we got to seeing it the more excited I got.

It should’ve been a stormer. Something for the whole world to watch and admire. The perfect advert for the best league in the world. But no - it turned out to be a bore-fest. 90+ minutes of tedium. A game often played at walking pace as centre-backs and goalkeepers put their foot on the ball and stood still.

I said on the day - it was a game organised by two ‘clever’ coaches who tried to ‘out-clever’ each other. Two guys who must’ve looked at our league from afar, desperate to work in it because of its pace, goal action, excitement and often blood and thunder. Arteta played in it for goodness sake and in some big games as well. Games that had us on the edge of our seats. Guardiola arrived as a coach, wanting a piece of the action, but immediately set about turning us into La Liga.

Kevin Keegan was wrong about a few things when he spoke at his recent much publicised Q&A - but he wasn’t wrong when he said he finds City boring and doesn’t watch them. They can be. I’ve said this myself. And they were on Sunday.

I’ve read one reason after another as to why they were so bad at Arsenal, but there are no excuses. City are the most expensive team ever assembled and they boast a front man who is arguably the best in the world. They starved him of the ball again on Sunday and he left a frustrated, disgruntled shadow of what we saw last season.

Ok. City are enjoyable to watch if you like your football served up in precise exhibition moments. And Haaland couldn’t have had any complaints about how things went last season, but I guarantee you the way Madrid and Bellingham are playing right now won’t have escaped his notice.

We read that City want him to sign a new deal. If what we saw Sunday goes on much longer it’ll be Haaland wanting to do the escaping. It’s one goal in six now - and it’s not his fault. He can’t score if he isn’t seeing the ball.

It’s only a couple of weeks since he went to the dressing rooms at Burnley with a flea in his ear from Guardiola, because, almost on the half-time whistle, he had the temerity to want a ball played into space that you know he would’ve scored from. ‘No No’ said Guardiola. ‘Shape. Keep the ball’. At Burnley ffs? No. Go for the jugular when there’s nothing to beat. Excite people. It’s what fans pay good money for.

Arsenal fans will have left the Emirates delighted with the win, but for the neutrals amongst us it was a tough watch. If I hadn’t been working I wouldn’t have watched it. That’s how bad it was.

Thank goodness for big Ange and Klopp right now. They’re both playing expansive, exciting football. The re-build at Liverpool is complete (maybe they still need a good No6) but they’re still getting to know each other and that’s one reason why they‘re conceding too many right now - but they’re still a good watch going forward. Their first goal at Brighton was terrific - a series of one-touch fast passes right through the heart of the home team. It was vintage ‘Klopp’ Liverpool. Rock and roll.

Spurs are getting our attention as well aren't they? The win at Luton - with 10 men - was first class. And I’m really pleased to see their ‘Cov kid’ James Maddison in such good form. He’s no Glenn Hoddle, but he’s doing that No10 shirt proud. What a good signing he’s proving to be.

Now. Here’s a line that had me sit up and take notice when I read a piece by Hamzah Khalique-Loonat in The Times Saturday. “The list of games they watched one season, when I played 25 games, they saw 24 of them - not only with one scout but with, like, (why does everybody have to use the word ‘like’ all the time? It’s infuriating - worse when a journo writes it) with, like, 15 different scouts, different sets of eyes. I had contact with the manager (Thomas Frank) and Manu (Sotelu) the goalkeeping coach, even during the period I was still with Freiburg”.

This is Mark Flekken talking, Brentford’s new ‘keeper. No-one can stop a club doing homework on a player they fancy - no problem there. And we know contact is often made by a club - perhaps with a players’ agent - to express an interest - but directly with the player? That’s illegal.

But it gets worse. Here’s the bit that really bothered me “they sent me video clips of things they really liked, and things they thought I should improve, and can improve”. Did they? Why did they? Did Freiburg’s coaching staff know about this? All totally illegal. How widespread is this behaviour? And something should be done about it if it is. It strikes me Brentford certainly have some questions to answer.

How would Frank and Brentford react if they found out a team was currently coaching one of their players by sending video clips and calling him with advice? I think we all know the answer to that. Brentford are bang out of order.

But wait. Then I read this, in an excellent piece by one of my favourite journo’s, Jason Burt, in The Telegraph “He demands a lot in training. When I spoke with him before I signed, he said ‘I don’t care what you do, do whatever you want. But when you have me on the [training] pitch you have to be focussed. If not, I will smash you”.

Again. “When I spoke with him before I signed”. This time it’s Erling Haaland talking about cosy chats he had with Guardiola before he joined City. So when was this Erling? Was it when you were still at Dortmund by any chance? My best guess is that it was. So - illegal. Totally illegal.

It seems this sort of practice is now fairly common place - but it shouldn’t be. I understand that in a modern world it’s hard to police and if we are accept that it goes on, I don’t want to hear clubs bleating about ‘illegal approaches’ anymore.

What certainly can not be the case is that a club can be coaching another team’s player. There is no excuse for that.

And finally….. I’ve just had a look at the Championship table. I had to be certain that I’d seen Birmingham in 6th when I looked at it Saturday night. Yep - 6th. And they’ve just sacked their manager. Wow. I’m sure John Eustace won’t struggle to get work - he’s done a fantastic job at St. Andrews, but the in-coming manager might struggle to win over a crowd that likes Eustace and has clearly been grateful to him for picking up a mess and giving them some respect back. Good luck Wayne.
You’re going to need it.

PGMOL is now in crisis

Published: Monday, 02 October 2023

Let’s be kind. It pushes the bounds of credibility to suggest that Darren England and his colleagues in VAR believed that Luis Diaz’s goal had been given and that they were simply confirming that it should stand. That somewhere there was a confusion of messages. That the most horrendous of errors can somehow be put down to a ‘momentary lapse in concentration’.

According to my Daily Mail today - and their breakdown of what happened entitled ‘story of a shambles’, England and his assistant Dan Cook applied lines as usual and saw the goal was onside. (No they didn’t). The Mail goes on to claim that England and Cook thought the on-field decision was ‘goal’ when it was actually offside. (No they didn’t). So - claim the Mail - when they told ref Simon Hooper ‘check complete’ they mistakenly confirmed that the offside decision should stand. (Nonsense).

The Mail complete this section of their story by saying that PGMOL insiders have described the incident as a ‘momentary lapse of concentration’. Stop digging guys. Please. This ‘leaked’ version of events is almost as embarrassing as the decision itself. Oh - and the broadcaster that exposed the mess, that the Mail don’t want to name, was beINSPORTS.

I know people in the U.K. were confused by their coverage. Your host broadcaster missed the incident and went into meltdown when they saw our tweet. They knew they had to discuss it which is why they also missed the start of the second-half. It had nothing to do with long ad-breaks.

Anyway, it’s impossible for the above ‘leaked’ version of events to be true. The guys in the bunker are in constant contact with on-field officials. They would’ve known exactly what they were checking for. We all saw the assistants’ flag go up. We all knew the goal had been disallowed. VAR would’ve heard the officials talking about the decision. VAR simply didn’t do it’s job properly. This was human error. A horrendous error and had nothing to do with the equipment.

I’m going to generous here and say that I have some sympathy for England and Cook - in fact, all the guys in VAR. Why? Because current match-day officials shouldn’t be in VAR and how long have I been saying that for?

It’s unfair to ask them to learn a skill that takes years to become good at in - what was it, four extra days of summer training Howard Webb told us? And there’s the occasional match-day appearance of course, but Webb claimed the four extra days would end the VAR errors. Remember?

Watching football on tv for professional reasons takes years to become proficient at. You learn to look for things that aren’t obvious to the casual game watcher. Instinct helps. It’s different. I’m sorry - it just is. Maybe that’s why Andy and I saw immediately that Diaz’s goal was good - and that was without a replay.

Refs should be allowed to concentrate on getting better at what they do on the field and junk VAR responsibilities.

I’ve said this before - VAR should be staffed by people like Chris Foy, Mark Halsey, Peter Walton - X-refs who know the laws and can be trained to understand the skill of watching the game on tv as a pro. We need full-time specialist VAR operators.

Right now people like Foy and Walton are being sent out every Monday to make excuses for a catalogue of errors committed previous weekend. What a waste of time. Surely it would be better to divert funds into constructively trying to make things better - not paying people to trot out well rehearsed excuses for poor match-day performances?

Why are we even drawing lines? What’s wrong with embracing the semi-automated WC technology that’s being used so successfully in the CL? I’ve heard that the PL weren’t interested in it because it’s costly to implement. I hope that’s not true. Costly? We’re talking about the richest league in the world here. How costly will Saturday’s meltdown ultimately prove to be for everybody? Especially Liverpool, who have every right to express their frustration.

And Liverpool weren’t alone - 24 hours after the incident at Spurs, Steve Cooper and Thomas Franck were lamenting another day of errors. Cooper of all people, who’s the most tolerant of all the PL managers - I guess because his dad was a ref. And a very good one.

Howard Webb (showbiz showbiz showbiz) has got to get a grip. Already this season the PGMOL has admitted to mistakes on 14 occasions. That’s mind boggling - 14 times already. And that’s not to mention others that they should’ve admitted.

I welcomed Webb’s return to our game. I genuinely thought he’d make a positive difference. He hasn’t.

Granted - he inherited a lot of this mess from his arrogant predecessor Mike Riley, who surrounded himself with incompetents in order that his own inadequacies weren’t shown up. Do you remember Riley being forced into a climbdown over the use of monitors? And his instructions to refs when he was forced to change that they should always go with decisions made by VAR? Some of these habits continue today.

Webb has got to get tough and fire some of the people he inherited that simply aren’t good enough. If you don’t know who they are I can help there Howard. I probably hear more about the frustrations of the good people than you do. Leaks eh? No. The PGMOL wouldn’t have leakers. Ah. Wait a minute…..

If you want genuine transparency Howard, junk the scripted tv shows with the carefully chosen inserts and let us all hear what happens when a ref goes to the monitor. And don’t hide behind saying FIFA won’t allow it. Push the case. If there is nothing to hide - why not?

And the recent habit of allowing officials to ref overseas has got to stop. Why is this happening? Is it so the boys can earn an extra few quid? It can’t be anything else. That’s not a good reason. Pay them more at home.

That Michael Oliver was in the UAE on Thursday and therefore couldn’t ref Saturday was a disgrace. As we know, England and Cook were with him. If Oliver was too tired to ref (he was 4th at Spurs) why were England and Cook asked to work VAR? Is this job not considered to be as important as taking the whistle? I think we’ve found out now that it is.

I make the trip to and from the Middle East frequently. It’s tiring when the turn around is as tight as the guys were forced into. And I’m not suggesting for a moment a late night might’ve been had, but a few of the PGMOL guys have got form when it comes to that sort of thing. Anyone else remember ‘Indonesia-gate’ - the ‘boozy charity trip to Indonesia’ as The Sun described it? I’m sure Martin Atkinson does. He’s one of Oliver’s bosses now.

Never has there been a time when our refs were so poor. And this is after spending millions on coaching, life-style, salaries, match-fees, dietary requirements…..I could go on.

Never has there been a time when confidence in the PGMOL has been so low. We are in a crisis. And please don’t tell me the scrutiny is unfair. It isn’t. In any other business if people aren’t doing their jobs - they’re out.

Refs wanted a more important match-day role. They wanted higher profiles. Well they’ve got both. Howard Webb has got to cut out his open-necked media appearances and get down to basics - get his hands dirty and get a grip on an organisation that is failing. And failing badly.

What is the ‘right way’ to play football? It’s not what Burnley did v United.

Published: Monday, 25 September 2023

I enjoyed the weekend. The North London derby was a really good watch whilst Newcastle were ruthless at Bramhall Lane. I felt for The Blades mins you and I’m pretty sure when the dust had settled Eddie Howe would’ve felt for Paul Heckingbottom and his staff as well.

The win was something for the history books and the thousands that follow the Toon to away games. Good luck to them. They’re as loyal as they come and it was a fantastic week all things considered, but professionals don’t really like inflicting harm like that on a set of pros at another club. The shot of Stuart McCall summed up Sheffield’s misery. But take nothing away from Newcastle. They were terrific.

Liverpool (II) look like the real deal again. Klopp’s rebuild has been a resounding success and from a position where last seasons table told us they way were way behind United they’re now back on their perch - way ahead of them, proving that you don’t always need time - you simply need to know what you’re doing.

How jittery were United at Turf Moor? One moment of sublime class sunk Burnley, who tossed away a gilt edged chance to get their first win. They were anaemic. Poor. And, as I predicted pre-season, they’re going down unless something changes. They’re far too ‘nice’ to play against.

All I heard from our world feed commentators was ‘they play the right way’. ‘They’re good to watch’. Really? No. They play the wrong way.

Does the ‘right way’ mean weaving pretty patterns sideways and backwards - mustering just two shots at goal all night and not forcing the opposition keeper to make any save of note? Does it mean giving away a corner inside 47 seconds because you’ve been caught trying to be clever?

I’ll tell you what the ‘right way’ should be for Burnley - to get into teams. To make them uncomfortable. To make them scared of visiting Turf Moor. Just like Forest last season, if Burnley are to survive it will be as a result of their home form. They’re simply not good enough to tippy tappy about against seriously better opposition.

I know they tore up the C’ship playing that way. So what? That’s a totally different league. The three promoted clubs won 78 games between them last season. They haven’t got one so far in the PL.

United were there for the taking. They were shitting themselves after the defeat in Munich - their latest set-back after a terrible start. Burnley should’ve got into them - dropped some bombs on Onana for 10/15 minutes and earned the right to play a bit if that’s what they wanted to do.

Vincent Kompany is taking liberties. I’m afraid it looks as though managing Burnley is a vanity project for him. He said afterwards ‘any team that is associated with my name will always play good football’. Wrong Vinny. You’ve got that totally wrong. It’s the other way round - right now your name is associated with Burnley - a fantastic old club that down the years has always known what it is.

Sean Dyche understood that. He bought into the club and the town. You knew he was committed. He was ‘Burnley’ when he was at Turf Moor. Kompany gives me the impression that he’s just passing through and he’s prepared to sacrifice the club and its fans, who work damned hard for the 90 minutes of distraction in enormously trying circumstances, to raise his reputation and wait for the right one - almost certainly City in his mind.

Money is tight in the U.K. Fans want value for their entrance fee. They want to see players putting in a shift not ball room dancing. That sort of football is ok if you’ve got the players. Burnley haven’t.

Speaking of Dyche - Everton were fantastic at Brentford. Dyche knew exactly what was required from his team - keep it simple, turn them and make the most of set-pieces. Also - be strong. Brentford isn’t an easy place to go. Only two teams won there last season, Newcastle and Arsenal. Ok - Brentford aren’t quite the same yet, but they’re still a handful.

Dyche and Everton started the weekend with one point, just like Burnley. Both needed a win. Who had the harder game? For me - Everton. They adapted. Burnley didn’t and they failed to capitalise on a home game against fragile opposition. So who played the ‘right way’? And who is the better coach?

I was interested to see Aaron Ramsdale’s dad leap to his son’s defence by lambasting Jamie Carragher for his comments during the derby game. Good on him. I feel for Ramsdale. He’s a terrific ‘keeper and made of the right stuff, which is why he’ll turn up elsewhere and go on to have a very good career.

I didn’t agree with Carragher’s midweek assessment that Arsenal would never win the title with Ramsdale in goal. When I saw that my initial reaction was ‘nonsense’, because they were a whisker away from doing so last season. But then I realised that Carragher played in a team that was never going to win the title with him in it, so he probably knows more about the subject than me.

And finally. Did you see the story in the Athletic re-City? For those that didn’t - how about this?

The Athletic report that ‘the U.K. govt has admitted it’s embassy in Abu Dhabi and the Foreign Office in London have discussed the charges levelled at City by the PL, but are refusing to disclose the correspondence’. Surely nothing is being discussed that would lead to charges being dropped? Watered down? Compromised?

You have to say - it’s a great piece of reporting again by The Athletic. Make of it what you will. But let me ask tjese questions. Would this be the same govt that’s insisting on an independent regulator to ensure fair play in football? The same govt that chose Todd Boehly’s consortium to takeover at Chelsea? And the same govt that pressured the PL to approve the Saudi takeover of Newcastle? 🤷‍♂️.

Will a top 6 coach get the sack before November?

Published: Monday, 18 September 2023

How about this for a call? One of the top six managers will get the sack before November. And right now it’s a pretty good race.

Three of them are very firmly in the frame - ten Hag, Howe and Pochettino. Guardiola, Klopp and Arteta are as safe as houses. 

Let’s go through the first list. It might surprise you that I’ve included Eddie Howe and I very much hope I’m wrong. Howe did a fantastic job last season, but this time round it’s very different.

Newcastle haven’t made a good start but back to back games v Man City and Liverpool was a tough ask. Having said that - if you’ve got ambitions to be a top club you’ve got to be competitive in games of that nature - and certainly win games at home against other top 6 teams. Newcastle should’ve beaten Liverpool. And they should’ve got at least a point at Brighton. Top teams don’t get beaten in those games. The very best teams win them. 

They were lucky v Brentford. Gordon throwing himself at Flekken should never have resulted in a pen - so Newcastle got away with one there. Now comes the CL - a wonderful distraction that they didn’t have last season. There’s no reason why they can’t beat Milan in the San Siro, but if they don’t, do the owners start to get a bit edgy? It’s Sheff Utd at the weekend, then City in the Carabao Cup - Burnley and PSG after that. If they’re only scratching results - or worse - I can see one or two questions getting asked. Again - I hope not, but we live in a realistic world - not a romantic one.

How long has Pochettino got? Chelsea were awful - again - at the weekend. 0-0 at Bournemouth? Not good enough. Beaten at home by Forest? Nowhere near good enough. They were also beaten at West Ham remember. Their only win so far was 3-0 at home v Luton. That’s after a £1b spend in the last 12 months. Do you know, every time I mention that figure I draw breath. It’s incredible. What chance they go bankrupt before they get the chance to sack Pochettino I wonder? I’m only half serious - but you wouldn’t rule it out would you?

I know Poch didn’t sign - or probably want - any of the players that he’s been given, but that won’t wash if results don’t start coming. Results - and a few performances to excite Chelsea fans.

A big problem I think they’ve got is that I don’t see warriors in their group - solid citizens like JT, Lampard, Drogba, Essien, Cech. Chelsea have always had ‘winners’ in their best teams. I don’t see any now. I see a group of ‘nice’ lads. ‘Nice’ doesn’t win big games or trophies. That might also prove to be a problem for Eddie Howe. 

In Pochettino’s favour - I can’t see Chelsea wanting to change coaches again, but I refer you to my previous comment. We live in a brutally real world.

So that leaves ten Hag - a coach who has spent £400m on exactly what he wanted. It’s his team now. There can’t be anymore excuses. He can’t keep blaming his players for poor results and performances. He picks the team. He’s shaped the team. It’s on him now. 

How bad were they v Brighton? Awful is the answer. Brighton toyed with them. They had the ball for a full 1’46” before scoring their glorious 2nd goal. They were better than Utd all over the pitch. And this is a team that’s had £300m ripped out of it in sales over the last 12 months. Despite that - they keep getting better and they embarrassed Utd. 

It’s Bayern next - and then Burnley next Saturday evening for Utd. My guess is Bayern spank Utd - and I can’t believe I’m about to say this - but Burnley could beat them as well. If that happens ten Hag has to be the one to go. He couldn’t survive a week that included a defeat at home to Brighton, defeat in Europe and defeat to a team that hasn’t got a PL point yet.

I sense I’m no longer alone in asking questions about ten Hag. There was a slight shift in the coverage after the Brighton defeat. Oh - one other thing. I’m too far from home to have all the answers but what do we know about this Dutch football agency SEG? They seem to be at the heart of most deals Utd are doing right now. Nothing wrong with that - clubs often have a favourite agency, but they’re currently involved in so much you’d think someone at Utd had family working for them. 

With the odd exception it was another poor weekend for our officials. When is Howard Webb going to get a grip? Instead of keep admitting officials are making mistakes - how about helping them get better? This is the poorest group we’ve ever had. Now is certainly not the time to be holidaying in California Howard. Now is the time to be at home influencing things. 

If you’re a beINSPORTS viewer in MENA make a CL date with us this week. It’s great to have the competition back - in its current form for the last time remember. We’ve also got Europa and Conference League football as usual. As I often say - all the games, all the time, on the biggest sports network in the world. 

Come on Fergie - tell us what you think is best for Utd

Published: Monday, 04 September 2023

It’s time Utd’s legendary Sir Alex Ferguson to get off the fence and tell their fans what he thinks is best for the club going forward. 

My initial thoughts got quite a bit of traction when I said this on beINSPORTS Sunday, and I thought it was something worth following up today.

To the best of my knowledge - this is where we are with the takeover saga. The Glazers put the club up for sale very nearly a year ago now. They want $10b for it. It’s not worth that. They are being greedy. If they achieved $5b it would be a world record sale - still steep, but that figure is achievable.

All along there’s only ever been two realistic bids - Jim Ratcliffe’s and the Qatari Sheikh Jassim Bin Hamer Bin Jaber Al-Thani’s. Both have money - and plenty of it, but you can be sure they’ve got it because they don’t splash it about recklessly.

We read that Ratcliffe has considered keeping some of the Glazer family at the club if he wins the bid. That rules him out as far as I’m concerned. Utd fans would never accept that.

So that leaves Sheikh Jassim - and this is where Fergie comes in. He’s got to go public on the takeover now.

Here’s my question Sir Alex - should the Glazers sell or retain ownership of the club? It’s not difficult. It’s got to be one or the other, but which is it?
Whatever Fergie says - and he’s earned the right to have a say - will resonate. 

Utd fans deserve to know what the greatest football manager of all time thinks. They know he was happy enough working for the Glazers when he was manager, but what about now that he’s just a fan? Just a fan - not quite, but you know what I mean. 

I can’t believe that Fergie doesn’t think it’s time for the Glazers to go. Look - I know it’s their club and I’ve always argued that an owner can do as he or she pleases while that’s the case, but the current stand-off can’t be allowed to go on.

The last year has been a total waste of time at Utd. They’re no longer a ‘go to’ destination for top players. Whilst the Glazers have been messing about chasing a greedy deal, so many other clubs have left Utd in the blocks when it comes to growth.

Even Brighton are running rings round them in the transfer market. Everyone is. Look at Chelsea. Liverpool have replaced the Fab Four and some. Newcastle, Spurs. Arsenal - they’re all doing business that’s way better than Utd’s.   

It’s not entirely fair to say that the Glazers haven’t found money for ten Hag and I guess there’s an argument that he’s the one that’s spunked fortunes on bang average players, but the uncertainty can’t help when Utd are trying to attract big names.

There has to be a resolution to the ownership issue. Fergie can help. If he believes Utd are in good hands - say it. If not - tell the Glazers it’s time to go and do it publicly.

There’s not a lot more I can say about what’s happening on the pitch. You know my feelings. The capitulation at Arsenal means that they’ve now picked up only one point from a possible 30 on the road against last season’s top nine. That’s a damning stat.

There’s no question that Arsenal looked more solid with Gabriel back in the side. I hope Arteta has learned his lesson - he’s too clever by half sometimes. All that nonsense last week about flat tyres, the M25 and 43 different formations during the game v City. It was ridiculous. 

Spurs purred at Burnley. How Postecoglu must be regretting sending a reserve team out to play against Fulham in the League Cup. When you’ve had so many barren years without a trophy it’s a scandal to toss off a chance to win one. So few PL teams take the competition seriously and we know why, but it’s almost a gimme if you do. 

He got away with it because the League form has been so good, but I’d be furious if I was Daniel Levy. It was a poor call by Postecoglu. 

Newcastle is an interesting one. It’s three straight defeats now. It was 23 games before they lost three last season. So what’s happened? 

I said at the start of the season that I fancied them for the top 6. I still do, but it struck me watching them at Brighton that if they’re not all at it - all of them nine out of ten every week, then perhaps they’re only average after all. This is a big season for Eddie Howe. 

Let’s finish with Chelsea. What is going on there? Pochettino now says he needs time to mould a team. There isn’t any time Poch. The time is NOW. Sort it out for goodness sake. 

So Levy knew what he was doing all along. And Salah is off to Saudi

Published: Monday, 28 August 2023

It was Shreevesey who messaged me this weekend - tongue in cheek - suggesting that Daniel Levy knew what he was doing all along. 😂. I had to smile. But perhaps Levy did?

How pleased did Levy look when the tv cameras cut him up at Bournemouth? In fairness - he’s got a right to be happy. Spurs have had a great start and Ange-ball would appear to be a winner.

As regular readers know I’ve defended Levy many times. Not a popular stance I know, but I’ve always meant it. Levy has never failed to back a coach. They’ve all had money.  He’s always appointed what he believed to be the right individual. It’s true that hasn’t worked out very often, but Levy doesn’t pick teams nor send them out to play.

This time he might just have got it right and it doesn’t really matter whether it’s by luck or judgement. Spurs could have struck gold in Postacoglu. And the song is genius. Someone deserves a pat on the back for that.  

It’s early days, but it’s been a really good start. I’ve got just one observation - as good as Maddison has been in open play - his set-piece delivery has been poor. He’s got to sort that out. I’m sure he will. He’s a Cov Kid done good!

Now. Mo Salah. He’s definitely leaving Liverpool. I think we all agree on that. What we don’t know is when, but don’t be surprised if it’s this week. Or - perhaps everybody waits until the international break, but right now the deal to take him to the Saudi league is very much on.

You’ve got to understand that what we hear in our part of the world is very different to what’s being said in the U.K. We’re a whole lot closer to the source.

We were discussing what’s happening on beINSPORTS Sunday when phones started going off. Messages were being received from people bang in the middle of the deal telling us that they’d got so far as arranging a medical this week.

To be honest - I didn’t see that as significant. The Saudis would take Salah if he was on crutches recovering from an ACL, but it did tell me that there’s oxygen in the story, despite Klopp’s denials. And I’m not saying Klopp is lying - perhaps he doesn’t actually know again? It’s not too long since he announced Liverpool had signed Caicedo is it - and we all know what happened next.

If I’m Liverpool I’m selling. Who’d have thought it would be possible to get £80/£100m back on a 31-year-old whose been a wonderful servant - who’s now earning £350,000 a week, with his best days behind him. It’s madness. Take it.

Please don’t run away with the idea that I’m saying the deal is done. It isn’t. There are so many moving parts when a club is trying to get a ‘normal’ deal over the line - let alone one of this size. What we are being told may come to nothing in the short term - but if it’s not now it will eventually get done.

It’ll depend on how much Salah wants the move. Remember - he’s coming home. And what has he got to prove at Anfield? Liverpool are not even playing CL football this season, which I know is something that’s pissed him off.  

It’s difficult to read how Salah would’ve felt after the stunning win at Newcastle. Is he thinking ‘there’s life in this team yet’ or ‘that’s a nice way to bow out’.

If he leaves he’ll be earning money beyond his wildest dreams and he’ll be an Arabic poster-boy for something that the Saudi’s are clearly very serious about. It would be a massive statement on their part.

I laughed a couple of times at the line of questioning during Klopp’s press conference Friday. The indignation about the Saudi project was incredible. Not quite in these words, but this was the gist of the questioning ‘How dare a league come along and chuck money about - buying some of the best players in the world Jurgen?’ Really? You mean like the PL has done for 30 years?

No-one should underestimate what a hot bed of football the Middle East is. That’s been a big part of the problem - Brits have. Take my situation for example. I don’t sit here in exile as a lot of you would like to believe. I’m here by choice - and I love it.

I work for a far bigger broadcaster than I did in the U.K.  I have a much bigger job. Audiences are in the tens of millions not tens of thousands. We put up to 30 live games - from Spain, Germany, France as well as England - to air on any given weekend. Think about that - 30 lives games.

Clearly the Saudi’s want a piece of the action and I’m quite certain my employers have noticed. Saudi Arabia has a right to be involved in tv broadcasting - as long as their interest is legal.

Salah won’t be their last big signing. Remember - it was Saudi money behind the failed Super league. That wasn’t foiled by fans in England - it failed because PSG and Bayern said ‘no’.  

It strikes me this new league is another way into world football for them. What the end game is I have no idea - a 2030 WC bid maybe?

Only two things are certain right now - Salah will be part of the Saudi’s planning - and they are not going away.

Is it time to scrap VAR?

Published: Friday, 25 August 2023

‘I didn’t want to send him up because he is a mate as well as a referee and I think I didn’t want to send him up because I didn’t want anymore grief than he already had’. Mike Dean.

There we have it. The prosecution rests its case. There is nowhere for the PGMOL to go. I’ve said from the time it was introduced that VAR would cause more problems than it solved - because it’s operated by humans. More simply - by refs who aren’t good enough with a whistle so what the hell makes anyone thing they’ll be better with a tv monitor in front of them? And when the drop a bollock - they try to cover it up with all sorts of lame excuses. But now this. An extraordinary admission of what we all knew - but no-one wanted to believe.

A big ‘thank-you’ to Mike Dean for at last admitting it. But make no mistake, his words mean Howard Webb has a crisis on his hands.

Let’s put some context into this. The incident Dean is referring to happens in the game between Chelsea/Spurs last season. In added time Chelsea lead 2-1.

We all see Cristian Romero pull Marc Cucurella’s hair. Everybody watching except Antony Taylor (one of our top 2 refs) and his assistants. Dean sees it in VAR.

Harry Kane scores from the corner that’s been awarded to make it 2-2. All hell let’s loose. The goal should be disallowed, the corner re-taken and Romero should be sent-off for violent conduct. Who knows what might have happened after a re-take? Kane might score again - but justice would’ve done.

‘I missed the stupid hair pull’ said Dean when talking to Simon Jordan on his Up Front podcast. No you didn’t Mike - you saw it - you’ve already admitted that. You said you didn’t want to send a Taylor to the monitor because he was a mate and he’s already had a tough game. Ffs. What? I can’t believe I’ve written that again. Seriously - let that sink in. It’s an admission of everything I’ve been saying about Stockley Park, VAR and the PGMOL.

We broadcasters rely on info provided by a matchday centre when things like that happen. On that incident we asked ‘what happened there?’ I vividly remember what we were told. ‘Pulling hair on a football pitch is not violent conduct. No further action was required’ they told us. Pulling hair is violent conduct - as they later had to admit. So were they lying to us with their original reply or trying to ‘help a mate out’? And how many more times has that happened? Is covering up errors more important than the laws of the game and the correct outcome to a match?

I knew that pulling hair was violent conduct. We’d seen Ronaldo sent-off on his CL debut for Juventus for doing exactly the same thing. He tugged away at Valencia’s Jeison Murillo and saw red. Quite right. Romero should’ve gone.

At this point I should say that I like Mike Dean. He was a tough ref - not everyone’s favourite - not mine when he had a whistle - but he gave what he saw instinctively. And that might be the key here - instinct.

And well done Mike for admitting the reasons behind your mistake - but where do the PGMOL and the matchday centre go from here?

I’ve rarely believed anything that the matchday centre has told us about decisions - much to the frustration of many of my colleagues but how can anyone ever believe a word that they say now? They’ve got a real credibility problem.

It’s human instinct to try to protect a mate. Anyone that works with me will tell you that I’ve always insisted that refs look after each other. But it isn’t right.

I’ve also always argued that there is no way a junior ref would ever ask Michael Oliver (or Taylor) to go to a monitor and check a decision.

It’s happened once - but not since. Oliver was furious when he was asked to check a decision during the game between Forest and Bournemouth last September. He gave a pen when Lloyd Kelly handled. Although he was asked to review it Oliver stuck with his decision and later let everyone know how annoyed he was about being asked to check it. He thought he’d been undermined.

Oliver might not like being questioned - but if a review leads to the correct decision why not check it? But junior refs are scared of him so they tend not to go down that route.

So my point is that all the technology in the world is useless if it still requires human input. If somehow we could align VAR with AI we might get somewhere.

Refs have had a terrible time this season. They’ve made a shocking start. Howard Webb has had long enough to have had a positive impact - but I’m afraid they hasn’t happened.

He told us all the guys had had four days extra training in VAR so mistakes would be eradicated. Don’t make me laugh. It’s arguably worse. And why is that? One reason is because this group aren’t good enough. Nowhere near good enough - with a whistle or in the bunker. I remind you that we were the only European league that didn’t have VAR reps at the Qatar WC.

It’s no secret that I don’t like VAR - but I’ve learned to accept it because I couldn’t see the system being junked. Too much money has been spent to allow that to happen. And too many egos would be bruised if it did. Its advocates promised it would deliver a brand new world. Well it hasn’t.

But, following Dean’s admission, is it time to get rid of it? Has it delivered what we were promised? Has it stopped arguments? Do we get decisions correct now? No. No. And no would be my answers. So what’s the point of it?

I’m good with the CL off-side technology that was trialed at the WC. It works. It’s quick and there’s no arguments. In the PL we’re still messing about with lines? Why? It’s nonsense when a better system is available.

Technology works as long as humans aren’t involved - making decisions to protect their mates or simply getting it wrong and then relying on the matchday centre to dig them out of a hole.

I wish Mike all the luck in the world with his new tv career - but I think he’s now got a credibility problem. Sky have for a big call to make.

Lionesses and King sized cock-ups at home

Published: Monday, 21 August 2023

Brilliant. Well done again to the Lionesses. What a group they are. I’ll have more to say on the subject in a moment. But first - a few bits and pieces. 

Man United? Well - a few more people are coming round to my way of thinking it seems. Ten Hag’s teachers pens - the blue/black/red combo pens that were popular when even I was a school (have a look - the entire coaching staff have one) - are not helping much are they? Small margins. Detail. Coloured pens. iPad presentations. 🤷‍♂️. 

At least it wasn’t the players ignoring the ‘game plan’ this week - it was the ‘three quick bookings that interrupted our rhythm’. said ten Hag. What? Are you sure Erik?

And as for the captain complaining that they should’ve had a pen? Agreed It was a nailed on pen. Handball. No arguments. But so Wolves should’ve had on Monday when Fernandes said ‘it’s the way the referee sees it’. What a hypocrite. Oh. And Spurs should’ve had a pen when Martinez cleaned Romero out. He got nowhere near the ball. 

It was good to hear Ivan Toney talking so openly on the YouTube channel, Diary of a CEO, about his addiction issues. Good - but sad. Addiction of any kind is an unbearable illness for the victim and his/her family. I’ve said this before. Punishment is not the answer. Yes - there has to be a deterrent, but Toney needed help - not a total ban from football. And the FA should’ve concluded the whole affair more quickly. These are things I said months ago. 

What will they do with Harry Tofolo? What about the allegations surrounding Lucas Paqueta? How long will they sit on these cases? Perhaps they’re in a pile buried under the charges laid against *City? Still nothing on that subject either. 

I’ll say this again. Is it little wonder that we have a problem with gambling? Did anyone else read the recent report in The Guardian business section recently revealing that betting company logos appear 3500 times in any televised football match? The average game features a gambling logo every 16 seconds. It’s everywhere. In-game. Around the game. On the shirts. On the sleeves. There are official gambling companies. Unofficial gambling companies. You name it. 

Whilst football refuses to do something about this or accept that huge damage is done because the game is ‘owned’ by gambling companies, we’ll continue to have these issues. 

That’s two weeks now and we’ve had a litany of errors from both our refs and VAR. In brief - no pen at Anfield. There was no contact. And it wasn’t a red. Mac Allister was reckless. It should’ve been a yellow. 

We've mentioned the decisions at Spurs. They were a joke, but not as comical as the penalty award for Brentford at Fulham. Bad enough that it was given - not identified as a clear and obvious error - but adding insult to injury, it lead to Tim Ream being sent-off. Fulham can’t appeal because it was a second yellow. The incident in question wasn’t even a foul let alone a pen. 

Chelsea’s pen should’ve been retaken. Soucek has his boot on the line as the kick is taken. He’s then first to the ball. It was encroachment.  All this on the back of a shocking opening weekend. 

So much for the extra training the guys are supposed to have had. 

Come on Howard. This isn’t good enough. Get a grip. Forget about trying to be a tv star - get back to basics and be a ref. We all backed you - but we’re losing faith. 

Everton? What is there to say about the Toffees? Well - nothing about the team. And for those Evertonians that don’t read as widely as I do and got upset when I mentioned that all is not well at Bramley Dock, let me steer you to the following.


Now. The Lionesses. Ok. They lost a football match. A big football match. But they won a whole lot more admirers. They won me over during the Euros and I make no apologies for underlining my admiration. 

This is the last time I’m going to say this. I was wrong to make fun of women in football. My remarks weren’t ‘banter’. They were hurtful and damaging. They were as clumsy as Parky’s interview with a young Helen Mirren which he always said ‘was of its time’. He never said sorry. He should’ve done and now sadly it’s too late. 

My remarks were ‘of their time’ - and look even worse at this time. I’ve done a lot to redress the harm that they caused. I’m not going into that. I’ve mentioned it before. But let’s move on now eh? 

It’s a shame the Lionesses didn’t get the job over the line - but Spain were better. Much better. And I hope Sarina Wiegman realises she picked the wrong team? Lauren James should’ve started. Andy made this point during our show on Sunday. Never mind being loyal to the team that made it to the final. James is one of - perhaps the best player England have. She should’ve started. 

I also hope Prince William realises his decision to stay at home was a disgrace. Hiding behind his daughter while he made that cringeworthy video apologising for not going was poor. 

His supporters argue he’d have been breaking royal protocols by visiting Australia before his dad. Bollocks. What nonsense. Charles could easily have said it was ok. William could also have travelled in his capacity as president of the FA. And on that subject - Gareth Southgate should’ve been there as well. 

But let’s not allow that to spoil the achievement. As my 6-year-old niece said to me Sunday morning ‘I’ll be watching if you are’. She did. She plays. I get it. 

Let’s stick with the clampdown

Published: Monday, 14 August 2023

I’m a big fan of the clampdown on time-wasting and cheating. It’s long overdue and if it irritates players and coaches alike then we’re doing something right. My fear is that it won’t last. In fact - despite Howard Webb’s assurances - I can guarantee that it won’t.

But we made a start this past weekend. How did we do? Well, here are the official match-time/ball in play figures.


The ‘longest’ game was at Newcastle, but we still didn’t manage to keep the ball in play more than 54 minutes. I don’t think anyone at St James’ was bothered though. The entertainment was 5-star.

At Brentford the match ran for a little over 105 mins. The ball was in play for more than 60 mins. That’s what we should be looking to achieve everywhere. I should point out that the length of the match was, in part, determined by the clash of heads between Romero and Mbeumo and a lengthy VAR check to ensure Romero was on-side when he scored Spurs’ opener. More on that in a moment.

Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and *City all went past the 100 minute mark. What should we read into that? Look at the ball in play times. Interesting eh?

We didn’t get near the target at Sheff Utd, Everton, Brighton or Bournemouth though. There’s a theme here isn’t there?

Back to that Spurs’ goal. Top marks to Tottenham for getting Romero off after that nasty clash of heads, but why did they wait 10 mins to do it? And why didn’t Brentford take the same precautions with Mbeumo?

Romero scored with his head. I don’t have access to the medical reports, but clearly Spurs were running a huge risk leaving him on. It’s during that time that a player is most vulnerable. A second blow to the head can be fatal. We know it was a concussion substitution because Postecoglou was bemoaning the fact that they didn’t fill in the correct paperwork - thereby not wasting one of his five possible changes. Will Spurs now follow the guidelines and not select Romero for the next game?

We’ve got to take player safety more seriously. Spurs got half way towards the correct decision. Brentford’s lack of action worried me.

I didn’t see anything to persuade me that my pre-season predictions are going to be wrong. Oh - on that subject - I was delighted that Opta’s super-computer predictions were exactly the same as mine!

I read a piece by The Mirror’s David Maddock today that I felt was having a bit of a swipe at the Evertonians that booed their team off after the defeat by Fulham. His argument was that it’s a shame that fans only react to results - and that there was a lot in the game for Evertonians to be encouraged by.

Ok. It’s an argument, but I’m with the Goodison die-hands. You can’t lose at home to Fulham on the opening day. I like Sean Dyche. I hope he gets Everton going, but his team have got to do a lot more than they did v Fulham. I said last week - the biggest problem Everton are going to have is scoring goals - and so it proved. If they can’t solve that issue they’ll struggle all season.

Newcastle were a treat to watch. No problems with goal scoring there. Isak is a player isn’t he? What a lovely finish his second was.

Arsenal were left sweating - and it might have been worse if Forest had been awarded the pen that they clearly should’ve had. That was handball by Rice. Michael Oliver couldn’t see it. VAR let him down.

No pen there, yet Lewis Dunk was penalised v Luton. Why? What a daft decision that was. That wasn’t handball under the new interpretation - nor the old one.

Liverpool were unlucky as well. That was handball by Jackson. That’s a pen all over Europe - but not in the PL. Why are our decisions always at odds with everyone else’s?

Good luck to Harry Kane. He’s a wonderful ambassador for our game. He says the right things - and generally acts impeccably (stay on your feet a bit more Harry). I wish him all the luck in the world at Munich and wouldn’t it be nice if he won the CL at Wembley in June?


Brilliant. It’s back. And here are my PL predictions for 23-24.

Published: Monday, 07 August 2023

Making predictions before the transfer window shuts is a dangerous business but it’s also a bit of fun and we haven't done badly in recent years - so here goes. 

The obvious choice for the title is *City. Five wins in the last six seasons - 7 in the last 12 - says they’ve got to be favourites. It’s now 12 trophies in total for Guardiola at a cost of £1,006,260,000 on 47 players. The haul of trophies includes the CL at last. It’s quite an achievement, but I can’t help believing that a few other coaches might have done equally as well given the same backing.

I hope *City don’t win the title. Five wins in the last six seasons is a fine achievement, but it should be a worry for the rest of English football. Thank goodness for Liverpool and their challenges and Arsenal, who had a really good go last season, but I didn’t ever really fancy them, despite the stunning home win over Fulham in August that was celebrated like they’d won the title. 😂

As I said at the time - too soon guys - and too often as it turned out. Mature teams that are used to winning don’t behave like Arsenal did. 

That was more than half of their problem. Time and again they’d lose focus. Celebrations were too long, loud, frequent and premature. Immature would be another good word.

I hope Arteta behaves a little better as well, although his emotional tale last week about nearly quitting after failing to win the title was worrying. Why? What’s the point of telling us that? It sounded weak.  

His behaviour in the technical area is annoying - and dangerous. The area is marked as it is for a reason. Jump up and down as much as you like within it. Let the world know you don’t trust your players to do the right things by waving your arms about like a broken windmill all game - but stay within your own technical area - not on the touchline, not on the half-way line and definitely not in front of the opposition area. ‘Stay calm - and carry on’. 

Arsenal came a long way after a fifth-place finish the season before. With Rice - who is a top player - they should be stronger, but I still don’t fancy them to win the title. 

I don’t think Liverpool have got a challenge in them either. The re-build was necessary, but I don’t see leaders in the team anymore. Van Dijk isn’t a leader. He’s too quiet - and selfish. If he plays well that’s all that seems to matter to him. And he didn’t play well often enough last season. I thought he was way off.

They’ll miss Henderson and Milner. I know the Milner decision was driven by the stats men, but sometimes you’ve got to go with your gut. Klopp knows Milner is a loss. A big loss. But he couldn’t get his way and keep him.

United aren’t strong enough to mount a challenge either. Ten Hag has spent more than half a billion now, but not much of it very wisely. Antony was an embarrassment last season. If ever there was a ‘one-trick’ pony it’s him. Step-over, step inside, curl it. 🤷‍♂️.

Rashford won’t have a better season than last time out so others have got to step up. Who? They simply haven’t got enough.  Hojlund looks good business but he’s largely one for the future. They’re still short. They couldn’t afford Kane, who would’ve made all the difference.

A couple of other things about United. Fernandes has got to take the responsibility of captaining a great club far more seriously. His behaviour can be tiresome. Constantly falling over when he’s been sneezed on, hoping to win decisions is cheating. Proper United captains - Bruce, Keane, Neville and similar - should perhaps have a word?

I don’t fancy the keeper either. Even before the howler v Lens at the weekend I’d said that he’ll cost United as many points as de Gea saved. 

I don’t expect the take-over to get done any time soon despite Rio Ferdinand’s claims that it was ‘imminent’ in May. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Glazers are still at the club at the turn of the year. They’re tyre-kickers. There’s a massive gulf between what they want and what the club is actually worth. And I don’t believe for a minute that there are ‘buyers’. There’s a buyer. End of.

Newcastle had a fantastic season. It’s great to see them back in amongst the big boys - but they won’t finish in the top 4 this time. They’re way short of a squad capable of challenging in Europe and mounting the same domestic challenge - but enjoy it guys - you’ve earned the right.

Spurs can only hope for top 6 - even with Kane. 

Chelsea remain a mess. Pochettino reckons he’s a far better coach than the one that we saw at Spurs. He’s going to have to be, but I’m not sure what he bases that judgement on.

If you’re looking for an outsider to do what Newcastle did last season - it’s got to be Villa.

I like Emery. I always have. Yes - we all echoed ‘good ebening’ when he used to say it every week at Arsenal, but the hilarity masked what a good job he did. It couldn’t have been easy following Wenger, but he gave it a really good go. He’s clearly a class act.

So it’s *City for me. Arsenal, Liverpool and Utd for the other places in the top 4. But it could be *City at a canter.

One last thing on *City. The season hasn’t started but Guardiola is already moaning. He doesn’t like the idea of having to play for 100 minutes/game. The idea, of course, is to extend games so that we get nearer 60 minutes of ball-in-play time. The answer is simple - don’t waste time. I’d take time-keeping away from the ref, but this is a step in the right direction. Fans are being short changed when games are only low 50 odd minutes long. 

Guardiola also reckons his players are running on empty because pre-seasons are shorter and demands greater. Nonsense. Only three of his players started more than 30 league games last season - the keeper, Rodri and Haaland. The next highest was de Bruyne on 28. The rest were in the mid-20’s. ‘Running on empty’? Come on. 

It’s going to be quite a race at the bottom and it’s an easy one to call.

Everton will struggle again. There’s no goals in the team. A possible points deduction for financial irregularities could relegate them. 

It’ll be a long season for Wolves as well. Forest should do better. Their problems will largely be off the pitch after last seasons transfer excesses.

Bournemouth will be at the bottom end all season but should have enough. I think Fulham will struggle this time as well. Palace will be hard to beat and finish mid-table.

I can’t see Brighton having such a good season, but I hope they do. Brentford are established now but they’ll miss Toney. If Kane leaves Spurs my guess is Toney will be at Tottenham in January.

West Ham need players. If David Moyes is allowed to bring in what he wants they’ll be fine. If not - it’ll be a season like the last one - without the trophy.

Last season all three promoted clubs stayed up for only the fourth time in history. My bet is all three go back down this time. Burnley will be great to play against - wide open. Sheffield United are way short and although Luton might start well they won’t have the players to last a gruelling season. I do hope they enjoy it though. They voted for a PL in ‘91 but didn’t get to play in it. They’ve been to hell and back since so they deserve their time in the sun.

*denotes a team waiting to answer 115 PL charges of financial wrongdoing.