ten Hag? Not for me, but I’d like to be wrong

Published: Monday, 11 April 2022

In the end it changed nothing. And we didn’t find out anything new. But - what a game. What a wonderful game of football. If only it was like that every week.

Sadly it can’t be, because City and Liverpool are so much better than the rest. Well - at their very best Chelsea can mix it in that company, but the others are a long, long way behind. Manchester United are light years away, but we’ll come on to them.

I don’t think the semi-final this weekend will be as good. They’ll both make changes, and they’ll both want to win it. I just don’t think it will have the same drama attached, but I sure hope I’m wrong.

I watched the feast at The Etihad with half my thoughts on how United fans would be viewing it. Doubtless with a bit of envy? With anger for sure. Like the jilted bride - it should be them.

Ok, they’re having a bad time right now - but they’re still a special club They’re still ‘Manchester United’. The suggestion that the game between the current top two is now the greatest rivalry of all time is ludicrous. Of course it’s not. 

United‘s games against Liverpool will take some shifting from the No1 spot. They’re our two most successful teams. That’s why. Never mind the historical dislike born as a result of the building of the Manchester Ship Canal. 

On the subject of United - how poor were this current lot at Everton? Awful is the answer. But how long have we been saying that in this blog? I’m pleased Everton got the points - but there really was nothing to beat. Absolutely nothing.

We weren’t wrong to criticise Rashford here. Nor Ronaldo. Nor Pogba. 

Maguire can’t help not being very good. At least he tries and the fee wasn’t his fault. Nor was the £80m that United paid for Sancho his fault - but not trying is. I’m afraid he’s another one who needs to ask himself a few hard questions.

I’ll pose one. What exactly has he contributed to United’s season? Nothing right? Nothing at all. I had this conversation on-air with Andy last Saturday and he was fiercely defending Sancho. That’s fine. I’m sure others will - but let’s put this into context - Luis Diaz has been at Liverpool for 10 minutes and has been on fire. He’s already done more than Sancho has all season. I don’t buy into Andy’s argument that Sancho needs time to settle - and that he’s a ‘baby’ He’s 22 for goodness sake. He’s played in The Bundesliga and lived Manchester before. United have a right to have expected more from another massively over-hyped player.

Fred? Honest trier. Pogba? Waste of space. I repeat what I said last week - I wouldn’t have him anywhere near the club now. He’s stinking the place out.

Varane? Rarely fit. Shaw/Telles/Wan Bissaka/Dalot? It doesn’t matter. Take any two from four. None of them are good enough. McTominay? Good lad - but shouldn’t be able to get into a proper United team.

When Fergie left I said United were eight short. I got hammered for that, but they were. Time has proven that to be so. Despite spending £1b in the decade since - they still are.

Worse than any of the above though is the fact that Rangnick is making Solskjaer look like a genius. Our reporter Matt Crichley (top class btw) described Rangnick as a ‘lost grandad’ on beINSPORTS Saturday. I can’t think of a better way to put it.

And to think - he was greeted as the man who invented the modern game. He was the brains behind the hyper-press. He was the ‘coaches coach’. That’s what they told us. Except he wasn’t.

He conned us. I actually believed some of the things he was saying at first - but it was all puff. He can’t do the job. On paper - and PowerPoint - he almost certainly looks and sounds great. But that’s the trouble with these school teachers. They all do. Look at Bielsa - what did he do at Leeds that Marsch isn’t doing better already?

I’ve got a horrible feeling United are about to compound their appointment errors. Again - I hope I’m wrong - but I don’t believe ten Hag is the answer.

When I talk to people about him - like the Dutch pair Nigel de Jong and Ruud Gullit - two guys who should know - all I ever hear is ‘his attention to detail is first class’. So what? United don’t need that. They’ve had that in Van Gaal, Mourinho and Rangnick. ten Hag would be new Dave Sexton in my view. Football by numbers. Big players don’t want it - but if you’re going down that road, be sure you are stronger than they are - or they’ll chew you up and spit you out.

ten Hag might get the time to prove that he is - but United don’t have time anymore. Of all the teams at the top they’re the one that need things to happen now. They’re already way behind after a decade of waste.

United need a showman. Someone to walk onto the stage at OT and drink it all in. Someone from left field - like Ron Atkinson was. It was Ron who made the call to Chairman Martin Edwards when he heard that Lawrie McMenemy had turned the job down.

Ron knew his football - and he was perfect for United after the misery of the Sexton era. He knew United were different and needed his bravado. Big club. Big man. And he took them all on - even Busby, who resigned his place on the Board because he didn’t agree with spending so much on Bryan Robson. Atkinson didn’t care. He did things his way.

I’m not deriding Sexton. He was a terrific coach. He did wonders at Coventry with young players - but United is different. United need ‘big’.

I’ve got four on my list. Sadly Ronaldo made certain that Conte wasn’t going to get it. I’ve also heard that Conte’s penchant for changing his mind about days off and schedules didn’t impress the commercial dept. How on earth could they plan to satisfy sponsors demands if Conte changed his mind about training all the time? Heaven forbid that football would be the priority! Sponsors must be looked after. Mind boggling isn’t it?

I’d go for one of these - Luis Enrique. Ok, so he wants be in charge of Spain in Qatar. Let him do that. Appoint him and let him take over when the WC has finished. Rangnick is staying anyway isn’t he? (Watch this space - I’m not convinced he is).

Brendan Rodgers. He knows all about the PL - and managing big clubs. They don’t come much bigger than Liverpool and Celtic. Maybe United? I’ll let you argue that.

Players love Rodgers. Talk to anyone at Leicester right now about that.

But if you really wanted to stir things up - Mancini. He’s scared of nothing. He’s like Klopp and Guardiola. He doesn’t take shit from anyone and he doesn’t care who he upsets.

At City that formula worked as he turned them from nearly men into winners. We know that eventually the players did for him and downed tools - but that suited management. Their long term target was always Guardiola and having Mancini turn himself into a firm fans favourite wasn’t going to be allowed to happen. Getting rid of Pellegrini to make that appointment was always going to be easier than sacking a serial winner like Mancini.

He won’t get the job at OT - but he’d be a marvellous fit. He’s exactly what they need in that vipers nest of a dressing room.

So it’s looking more and more like ten Hag - and more football by numbers. Smaller and smaller budget numbers as well if United don’t qualify for Europe. Right now - would you back them to do that? Does ten Hag have the magnetism to persuade big players to join if they’re out of Europe? It’s bad enough being out of the CL That’s all going to be a factor. If he gets it I wish him well - but I don’t see it.

And finally - 3’45” seconds to disallow an Arsenal goal that was impossible to prove was off-side. It should’ve stood. We’ve got to stop trying to find ways to disallow goals.

And well done Anthony Taylor. Yes - he could’ve sent players off but a refs primary responsibility is to keep 22 on. Taylor did that and played his part in a classic.

I still miss you fella.

Published: Monday, 04 April 2022

‘I beg your pardon young chappie?’ You’d hear it every time he heard something he didn’t like. ‘I make you right fella’. This followed when he’d heard something he agreed with. ‘Morning fella’. Obvious.  We’d taunt him with a version of this one - we’d make out that his first words at a press conference would be - ‘morning fellas, but don’t quote me’. Of course it wasn’t quite like that, but he hated controversy - and any good impersonation needs a little exaggeration!

Ray Wilkins. I’m proud to say ‘my mate’. I said this on Twitter today, (Monday April 4) on the 4th anniversary of his desperately sad passing ‘I’ve lost too many good friends in recent years but this fella is still the one I miss the most. There isn’t a day goes by that I don’t hear myself mimicking him’. It’s true - whether it’s on the golf course, in a tv studio, a bar or just passing another mate. He gave us ‘Ray-speak’ - his own unique version of the English language.

He hated his early nickname ‘Butch’. The family gave it to him because he was a chubby baby. I guess you couldn’t today! He’d hate woke just as much mind you.

You knew when you’d pissed him off. He’d just look at you and frown - concentrate his eyes on you and stare. I’d always laugh - I couldn’t help it.

That was the thing about Razor - yes, lovely, lovely guy - but there was an inner steel. There had to be or he wouldn’t have touched the heights that he did. What a player. What a wonderful player - years ahead of his time.

It was Ron Atkinson that christened him ‘the crab’.  Ray’s view was ‘why waste possession with a hopeful ball into space? Keep it. Go sideways or back - but keep it’. Guardiola would’ve loved him.

I didn’t necessarily agree! I still laugh when I think about me and Andy taking him into the centre circle at Singapore Cricket Club. We were about to play a friendly against them - football of course. We told Ray ‘get your head up son - no sideways and backwards - we’ll be running that way (pointing towards the goal) - all you’ve got to do is hit us’.  I’m laughing again now. Happily, he did as well. Of course, he was brilliant. He always was and my goodness I called on him often enough to play charity games.

That inner steel I referred to - do you remember him trading punches with Graeme Souness in an England/Scotland game? He wasn’t going to back down. He could look after himself.

He got his revenge sometime later when they both played for Rangers. Graeme was manager - and as he came on as sub mid-way through another stroll, Ray quickly went round the other players and told them not to give Souness the ball. Graeme spent the last 20 minutes of the game chasing it They passed round him - over him - anywhere they could in order that he didn’t get the ball. He’d drop deep to pick it up from the keeper - but away it went again. Ray was that good he could control things like that. Souness left the field without getting a touch.

Post match Souness was furious ‘whose fucking idea was that?’ he ranted in the dressing room. The lads kept their heads down and ‘chuckled’. ‘Right, you’re all in Monday’, he said before storming out. I’m laughing again. I did that a lot around the little man.

It’s lovely to read so many warm words about Ray, but how I wish he was still here. I’m sure Jackie, Ross and Jade will be touched by the annual show of love for their husband and dad, but they know more than any of us how cruel it is that we lost Ray far too soon. Love ya fella.

A couple of things from the weekend. I don’t know if David Ginola has watched much football in recent years - I guess not. He wouldn’t be alone. Not everyone that’s played the game watches it during their career - or after. This is the only excuse I can give Ginola. David - Harry Kane is many things, but he’s not Maradona.

Marcie Rashford wasn’t ‘killed’ (horrible word to use) by Ralf Rangnick at the weekend. He lost his way many, many months ago. I wrote a blog way way back on this subject and came in for some stick then. And now?

Deli Alli hasn’t ‘mysteriously’ disappeared Graeme. He was the subject of another blog months ago. I’m afraid he’s gone. Poch, Mourinho, Nuno and Conte have all failed to get a tune out of him. Lampard will as well. Dele will never be the same again.

Fernandes can’t leap out of a tackle - and then complain that his team-mates aren’t putting enough into games. Lead by example Bruno. Words are cheap.

Another pundit reckons United’s players don’t ‘look as though they’re enjoying themselves’. Really Poirot? Good spot! That’s what happens when you ‘play by numbers’.

Rangnick wants 18 months to sort United out. With you at the helm I’m guessing Ralf?

Tuchel claimed a lot of Chelsea’s problems in the defeat by Brentford were down to the weather. ‘We trained in gloves on Friday’, he said. ‘Today it was warm’. Please. 😂😂.

Guardiola claimed the grass was long at Burnley. It can’t be. They’re all a standard cut these days thanks to Arsene Wenger - except City’s pitch, which is really tight. That’s their choice - but Guardiola can’t expect others to prepare a pitch to his liking.

And David Moyes is correct - there is no way that the FA Cup should offer a CL place to teams that have previously played in that competition. What next? Russian money supporting a Chelsea takeover? One of the groups is trying that sting. Let’s not dig down too far with the others eh? Or it’ll never happen.

It’s good to see England win ugly - and now it’s time for Southgate to make some big calls.

Published: Monday, 28 March 2022

It’s good to see England winning football matches - however they do it. There is no crime in winning ugly. in fact - it’s a very good habit to develop. Few big tournaments - domestic or international - are ever won by ‘nice’ teams, who play ‘lovely’ football.  

Yes - Barcelona developed a reputation for doing it. But they didn’t really. They knew how to ‘win’.  In Sergio Busquets they had someone who could mix it with the best. A real enforcer. Nothing got past him. If you did - he was stopping you anyway he could.  He didn’t take prisoners.

Barca we’re deceptive because they had a genius up top, who could win games on his own. I’ll never forget him destroying Arsenal at the Camp Nou in the 2010 CL 1/4-finals. He crafted four. He was unplayable. To this day it remains one of the best individual performances I’ve ever seen.

Spain didn’t have the luxury of being able to include him of course. With the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas and one of my all time favourites, Alonso, in they could turn it on, but they still needed Busquets to ‘impose’ them on other teams. The 2010 WC win is a great example. Remember - they only scored eight goals in the whole tournament and really had to ‘grind’ to beat a very good Dutch side in the final.

England struggled against Switzerland. I’ve read all the guff about how Southgate tweaked things at half time and got a better 45 out of them as a result. Did he? Or did he correct selection errors that he’d initially made?

Look. I like Southgate. He’s a nice guy and in a modern world when a coach is dealing with 22 or more delicate footballers - all with monstrous ego’s - being ‘nice’ can be a strength. But like pretty football - it’s only going to get you so far.

In the end you’ve got to be ruthless. Klopp is. Guardiola is. Tuchel is. Success usually follows. Southgate has got to develop the ability to make big decisions.

He can’t keep changing teams in order to keep everybody happy. ‘He left Rashford out of this squad’ I can hear some saying. ‘And Sancho’. So? Hardly brave was it? Blindingly obvious I would say.

At the Euro’s he got far too much slack. I kept reading that he was a cunning tactician because he would change his team dependent on the opposition. Nonsense. In the end it cost him. Find a team Gareth - and play it. Play it every time England have got a game between now and the tournament in Qatar.

And here’s your first big call - drop Pickford. He’s not good enough. This isn’t a recent conclusion - I’ve said it for some time now. I said it going into the Euro’s. In my opinion he was one of many reasons that England weren’t going to win it.

He makes me nervous. Imagine playing in front of him. You’d shit yourself. As a defender you’ve got to have total confidence in the guy behind you. That’s the last thing that Pickford inspires.

He doesn’t make my top 6 PL keepers. One who does isn’t even playing - Henderson. He’s better. Pope would be ahead of him in my view - but Ramsdale is the best available. Southgate has got to get him in and stick with him. Right now. Pickford has had his turn. He simply isn’t good enough at the very highest level.

The evidence is to be seen at Goodison week after week. If Everton want to stay up they’d be better off playing Asmir Begovic. I’m told, after an impressive game v Newcastle, he would’ve kept his place for the Cup tie at a Palace had he been fit. That might have forced Southgate’s hand. Watch this space and see what Lampard does at the weekend.  

Declan Rice gets better and better. I’ve no idea where he’ll end up, but whoever buys him will be getting a bargain at £150m.

Paul Pogba reckons he’s wasted five and a half years of his career at United. Those of us who watch him every week would agree. And United have wasted millions on a bang average imposter. How dare he? You can count on one hand the number of good games he’s had in a United jersey. I’ve seen some good players in United red down the years - he, definitely - isn’t one of them.

If I were running United I’d invite him to leave now. What’s the point of him
staying? He has absolutely nothing to contribute. United will be better off without him. Play someone who wants to wear that magnificent jersey. Who wants to be at OT. Who cares. Who’s proud to represent the club. Pogba makes my blood boil.

And finally…on another subject - well done United. It’s desperately sad that keeper Paul Wollston has had to retire at just 23 following extensive hip surgery. United have extended his contract by another season to allow him to complete his rehab. Top marks guys. And good luck Paul.

A football story to warm the heart.

Published: Monday, 21 March 2022

There is something very special going on in the Championship and let’s be the first to talk about it (as usual - oh how my detractors hate that). 😂😂.

Eight years ago this month #Luton Town were losing Conference Premier League games to Braintree and Woking. Eight years. It’s incredible what’s happened since. They’re now on the cusp of completing one of the most remarkable football stories of all time. There’s some work to do yet, but right now they’re third in the Championship and heading for the play-offs. If Coventry don’t make it - and that looks unlikely now - I hope with all my heart that Luton do.

A brief history lesson. Luton have never been far from controversy down the years. Who will ever forget their former chairman, David Evans, banning away fans? If you don’t know - Evans was a Tory MP always weaseling and this was an attempt to impress his boss - Margaret Thatcher. She loved it. Football people didn’t. We were right.

John Gurney - another mad Hatter and X-owner - distinguished himself with a series of bad decisions that led to Luton being docked 30 points by the FA for financial irregularities dating back ‘several years’ in 2009. Gurney wasn’t to blame for all their problems - but the upshot was that Luton were relegated out of the Football League.

A lot happened on the playing side as well around this time - with managers coming and going - but let’s not get into that.

I must admit to a teeny conflict of interest here. My old mate, Nick Owen, a Hatter since his schoolboy days, was chairman during the non-league years - and during the initial fight back - before stepping down in 2017.

I have always argued that what happened to Luton was grossly unfair. The people running the club, when they were punished, had nothing to do with previous misdemeanours. As usual - the only people who really suffered were the fans.

The journey back hasn’t been easy. They contested the promotion play-offs three times in four years before John Still finally got them promoted to League Two.

It’s been quite a ride.  Nathan Jones takes enormous credit for most of it - and Luton deserve credit too for taking him back after he’d walked out for an ill-fated stint at Stoke.

I’ve heard rumours of the PL not allowing them to play at Kenilworth Road if they get up - because it doesn’t meet modern day safety standards. Rubbish. Leave them alone. Whatever success they’ve had since that scandalous 30 point deduction has been hard fought. Good luck to you guys. Enjoy.

I’m also pleased to see that Karl Robinson has got Oxford on the brink of the play-offs again in League One.

Robinson has done the hard yards in the lower leagues. He was once described as ‘the next big thing’,  but has never been given a chance at a higher level for some reason. He’s in his 40’s now - so is no spring chicken - but he knows what he’s doing. Having guided Oxford to the play-offs in each of his two full seasons in charge - he’s at it again. I hope Oxford make it this time and that Robinson eventually gets his reward with a bigger club (sorry Jim. Jim Rosenthal - Oxford super fan!)

I’m already looking forward to Pep’s semi-final with Jurgen. Patrick must be delighted that Palace are there at the expense of his old adversary Frank. Well done Thomas. Wow - what a job he’s doing at Chelsea - despite all the problems. Incidentally, who gets the money from s/f ticket sales? What a mess govt has made of Chelsea.

Good to see that Antonio has got Spurs motoring again. David’s boys didn’t really get going Sunday did they?

Brendan will be chuffed to bits with Leicester’s win - which leaves Brentford 15th - exactly where the mathematicians at Thomas’s club said they would finish. Right now - that looks most likely.

Steven can’t be happy with Villa’s capitulation Friday, but it’s quite a run Mikel’s boys are on.

Daft isn’t it? Daft if we start using the first names of all our coaches. Please - let’s stop this pathetic grovelling and fawning to ‘Pep’. It’s Guardiola.

None of us know him well enough to refer to him by his first name. His team play lovely football - but he isn’t some kind of messiah. He’s a football coach. His name is Guardiola. Enough of ‘Pep’ eh? It gets on my nerves.

Don’t follow the money too far - you won’t like what you find.

Published: Monday, 14 March 2022

The first thing to do this week is congratulate the GOAT on another extra-ordinary record. Now he’s the greatest goal scorer ever - well, if you ignore Pele’s 1279 - which FIFA do. The Guinness Book of Records doesn’t. That’s why the argument will never be settled.

But either way, Ronaldo’s is an extra-ordinary achievement. He deserved a whack last week. I stand by my view that it was a mistake to take him back to OT - but he’s also been my favourite player of his generation.

Like all ageing sporting superstars - he can’t regularly do what he used to anymore. But, he’s still capable of memorable moments - like Saturday‘s performance. It was a fantastic hat-trick.

I think it was Rio Ferdinand who said recently that Ronaldo was re-signed to win the FA Cup. I was surprised to read that. Why? The FA Cup? Surely not? But if he wins them the CL then all the tantrums, going MIA last weekend, and all his attention seeking trips to the Post Office with his body guards, will have made it worthwhile. In a KO competition of course that’s still possible.

According to the Sunday Mirror this weekend - Everton are for sale. Who’d have thought? I should’ve mentioned that 3/4 months ago. 😂😂.

Eddie Howe was right - nailed on pen at The Bridge. Will Mike Riley be calling him this week? Will he call Dean Smith? Don’t hold your breath. There’s no way Mike Dean should’ve overruled Stuart Attwell at Elland Road. Clear and obvious error? I hate the phrase - but  absolutely not. It was a pen. Incidentally - the same two couldn’t see the most blatant red of the season at Brighton. That was an assault by Sanchez on Diaz. What chance have we got?

VAR made the calls - not the refs. It’s always VAR that makes the big decisions. I keep telling you this. Riley has instructed everybody that VAR decides. Refs know this when they’re ‘called’ to the monitor. It’s wrong. Totally wrong. We need transparency. We have GOT to hear those conversations at the monitors. I was glad Arsene Wenger agreed with me when he appeared on BeINSPORTS this past weekend.  He’ll make it happen.

Oh. And Klopp is right. We’ve got to remove the ridiculous ‘clear and obvious’ phrase from the game. We’ve got the technology now - so use it properly. 

Why are the British govt trying to destroy Chelsea? I thought they wanted an independent regulator to ensure that the sort of damage we see being inflicted at Chelsea doesn’t happen anymore? To make certain   that what happened at Bury could never happen again. That what’s happening at Derby would never happen again. What hypocrisy.

I get it. They want to go after Abramovich. I understand why. But what have they discovered about him that they didn’t know two weeks ago? Why did it take them that long to impose sanctions? Two years ago? Twenty years ago? Twenty-one trophies ago? I’d love to know.

There’s a lot of tribal triumphalism about what’s happening at Chelsea. Football fans are loving it. Look. It’s a good club. It’s populated by good football people. Why should the programme seller, the steward, the bar staff, the caterer, the bus driver, the grounds staff have their livelihoods threatened? What have they done wrong? What about the fans? What have they done wrong? Fans taunted this weekend by Newcastle supporters. Really? Newcastle fans! Boris Johnson and his cronies worked the back channels to make sure the Saudi’s got what they wanted at St James’ Park - now he’s gone all ‘ethical’.

I wonder if he noticed 81 people were executed in Saudi Arabia 24 hours before Newcastle played at Chelsea? Has he heard about the war in Yemen?Where conservative estimates suggest 233,000 people have been killed? 10,000 children are estimated to have been killed or maimed - four million people made homeless. Twenty four million are needy of aid. Ah. I guess he has because he’s selling British arms to the Saudi’s to fight that war - and this week he wants payback for getting MBS Newcastle - he’s flying to Riyadh to beg for more fuel supplies.

What about Evgeny Lebedev - The Lord Lebedev - son of the former KGB operative Alexander? Nice guy’ says Michael Gove. ‘And you can’t blame children for their parents sins’. Perhaps he is a nice guy - but he’s carrying on the work of his father - financed by his father. So yes - you can Mr Gove.

The Lord Lebedev owns the London Evening Standard. He backed Johnson’s campaign to get re-elected as Mayor. Ker-ching. Payback. Johnson put him in the House of Lords when he became PM - against all the advice of the British security services.

Has anyone looked closely at the list of prospective buyers of Chelsea? Or is it best not to? I’ve got a feeling we might not like what we find. But if they’re involved in the ‘right’ projects or they’re fighting the ‘right’ wars - that’s ok it seems.

Sadly politics and sport are now intrinsically linked. Ex PL chief exec Richard Scudamore got out of town before all this started to become an issue. He didn’t care who owned what as long as the rights kept going up and his bonus got paid. 

The hypocrisy knows no bounds. And it stinks.

Football is a simple game - so why negative running mid-blocks and hyper pressing?

Published: Monday, 07 March 2022

The only certainty to come out of the Manchester derby is that Ralph Rangnick won’t be managing Manchester United next season. Surely?

I’ve added ‘surely’ because you simply don’t know with United. It’s very probable that they’ll f**k it up again. He shouldn’t be in charge - that’s a certainty.

Richard Arnold is the man who’s ultimately got to decide. Rangnick is not his man - so get rid. Start again.

You can’t possibly have a situation where Rangnick is choosing his successor. Who would that be? Someone who shares his ‘philosophy’ - whatever that is? Presumably someone that he can control? So who would want to work shackled like that? Certainly none of the big boys. No. He’s got to go.

I liked the guy when he came in. He seemed honest - which I believe he is (mmmmmm - why didn’t Ronaldo play? I’ll comeback to that) but the message has worn thin.

It’s the same every week. He’s the coaches coach. I’ll bet he’s got a terrific power-point presentation. Iain Dowie was famous for that. He was impressive with a lap-top in front of him! Owners can be impressed with that kind of thing. Dowie certainly conned enough of them.

This week United were ‘ok in the hyper-press first half. It required a lot of negative running, but it worked’. This is what Rangnick told us post-match at City.

So what happened? Well, he added that he decided to ‘attack City from a mid-block’ second half. I forget the rest. I stopped listening at that point.

His players look as though they’ve stopped listening as well. Look - I understand things change. We must evolve - or we go backwards, but come on. All that’s changing here is the language. How many of you guys that play on a Sunday morning are talking about ‘low blocks’ or ‘negative running’? ‘False 9’s’ ‘inverted full-backs’ or ‘rest defending’? It’s physco-babble.

What Rangnick meant was that United tried to knick the  ball high up the pitch - and had to work hard chasing it. They were forced back a bit later in the game - had to defend deeper and try to get out from there.

I don’t hear Guardiola talking about ‘low blocks’ or ‘negative’ running. His team keep it a whole lot more simple. Get it - give it - go. Football is simple. Players want it to be simple. In defending Jack Grealish this week Guardiola was arguing that we‘ve become obsessed with stats. I was talking with a football scientist here in Qatar last week who said to me ‘we’ve been creating ‘athletes’ - not footballers’. Food for thought eh?

Klopp’s teams play with a ‘high block’ do they? No. They get in your face and suffocate you. Chelsea do much the same, but keep it wider. At the end of the day - if you’ve got the best players you will generally win. But….

You’ve also got to convince players you know what you’re doing. This is a massive part of ‘owning’ a dressing room. You can’t lift this from a coaching manual. Players will find a coach out in no time. They can work a fraud out pretty easily. If you lose them early you’re sunk. From what I’m seeing Rangnick has lost his players.

I’m not absolving them from all blame. They were hopeless at the weekend. They’ve got to be better than we saw surely? These are top players. These are players I thought might mount a title challenge this season. Something is very wrong. Am I right? Has Ronaldo blown up the dressing room?

You can’t blame it all on him but his behaviour this weekend was a disgrace. Where was he? He’s always very keen to tell us ‘it’s all about the team’. Is it? Well - where were you Ronnie? Why weren’t you supporting the team?

He’s been my favourite footballer over this past decade or so. He’s been awesome. I’d take him every day over Messi. I’ve loved his energy, dedication, leap, creativity, belief, talent, arrogance - the whole package. But he’s let himself down big-time since going back to United. He’s had one long strop from the moment he arrived. He’s set himself apart with his body guards and behaviour on and off the pitch. A lot of the guys aren’t having it. He’s not different. He’s a player.

He’s not what he was either - nothing like it. Rangnick is right to question what’s left in the tank. I’ve said all season long - it’s got to be cameo’s only from now. The best way to use him is as an impact sub.

Of course - he’s not having that. It’s hard - when you’ve been all of the above - to accept that it’s coming to an end. He can work as hard as he likes - but age is impossible to deny. Not even botox will help in that respect.

Was he injured? My guess is his pride was. The more likely scenario is that he was told Thursday that he wouldn’t be starting - and spat the dummy. If that’s not the case - where was he? Surely ‘it’s all about the team’? Surely his team-mates had every right to expect to see him at The Etihad?

United have got to get out of this one as well. How about they have a quiet work in Beckham’s shell-like and get him off to MLS? There Ronaldo can have another few years on his terms - he can’t at United.

Well done Jesse Marsch. It took him four days to get Leeds looking like a team again. I expect to hear a lot coaching-jargon going forward - but the start point was simple - ‘defend well - keep our shape - and hit them when we can’.  They deserved more out of the game at Leicester. Marsch seems to be a likeable guy. Let’s hope he gets it right. And keeps it simple.

Top marks for Eddie Howe as well. What a run Newcastle are on. They’re safe. There’s no way they’re getting back into trouble. They might even finish top half. Why not? They’re playing well enough.

And it’s been built on simplicity - with the solid citizens I mentioned here a couple of weeks ago. Yes - Joelinton has been enormous - but so has Dan Burn. They’ll need a whole lot better than either of those two guys if they want to achieve their dreams - but right now it’s great to see the likes of Burn getting a good press.

Penalty save experts? Really?

Published: Monday, 28 February 2022

Well let’s hope we’ve seen the last of that. Football is such a simple game - why does everybody want to complicate it? Penalty save experts? Really? Remind me - how many did Kepa save before blasting his kick over the top? I’ve heard Mendy takes good pens - perhaps Chelsea should have got him back on somehow? What a load of nonsense.

Wasn’t Kepa the one Chelsea wanted to take off in their last final? Because Caballero was more likely to save City’s kicks? You couldn’t make it up.

Here’s a few questions on the subject. What happens if Kepa drops one in during normal time? What if Liverpool keep the ball for the last 90 seconds so there’s no chance of him getting on?

Mendy had just had close to the best game of his life. He’d saved everything that Liverpool had thrown at him. Who do you think they were more pleased to see in goal for the shoot out?

Why didn’t Klopp bring on his No1? Surely Alisson is better at saving pens than Kelleher? If not - and Allison had been playing - would Klopp have changed them? Of course he wouldn’t. I love Klopp because he keeps it all so simple. And his team reflect his approach to life - all energy. Brilliant. I’m glad Liverpool won.

A few more observations on the penalty expert. Mendy seemed to do ok at Afcon - no? And surely the next taker he faces has a huge psychological advantage? He knows Mendy isn’t fancied by his manager or team mates.

The game itself was a fantastic watch. That’s how I like to see my football played. Not once did I hear anything about possession or pass completion.
It was blood and thunder from minute one. Brilliant. For me it was a much better watch than had City been in the final.  

I know they play ‘beautiful’ football - and there are many that drool over it. I accept that - at its best - it can flawless - but I reckon either of Sunday’s finalists would’ve swept them away. I mentioned it last week. I believe Guardiola knows that and he’s worried.

He’s six clear again after Everton were mugged off by the most inept decision I’ve seen all season - and that’s saying something. There are plenty of VAR candidates. What didn’t Chris Kavanagh see that the rest of the world did? It’s a scandal that VAR has the final call on these decisions. I’ve told you before - that’s how Mike Riley wants it. It’s wrong. It’s scandalously wrong.

Mark Clattenburg in The Mail today ‘for some strange reason Tierney wasn’t sent to his monitor (he knows the reason) to make up for missing this handball in real time. Had he been given a second chance to look at it, he would’ve awarded the penalty to Everton. This was a shocker’. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Clattenburg’s article started like this ‘this is the clearest handball I’ve ever seen that wasn’t given’. Explain please Mr Riley.

Leeds had to sack Bielsa. If they make the right appointment they’ve got a chance of staying up. I’ll go early with my thoughts on Jesse Marsch. He’s obviously a talented coach. He comes with a very good cv - but. There’s always a but isn’t there? He knows nothing about the PL. Nothing at all about a relegation battle. As I write his appointment hasn’t yet been confirmed but I expect it will be.

If I’m a Leeds fan I’m not at all impressed that we’ve sacked our hero only to replace him with Jesse who?

I’m hearing that the 49ers wanted him in last summer - along with a wish list of players he’d worked with before - the likes of Minamino and Brenden Aaronson.

If this goes wrong they’re sunk and that 2024 buyout takes on a very different look.

I saw that Andy and I were trending Sunday after I suggested Big Sam should take charge until the summer. Why not? What have Watford gone and done - they’ve turned to an ‘expert’. Why not Leeds? This job has got Sam’s name all over it.

Last question. Why did Villa stay in London on Friday night?

City missed out big time.

Published: Monday, 21 February 2022

Fine margins. How many times have we heard sports coaches talk about how vital they are? Big moments in sport that don’t come often - but when they do it’s big players/athletes (some can be trusted to be clean) that settle big matches/events.

We saw such an event at the weekend. Because of its context as much as anything - we watched the best game of the season so far at Man City.

What a match. It ebbed and flowed dramatically. City thought they’d scrambled a point after a late and generous intervention by VAR. Having got level, they even fancied winning it. Of course they did. It’s what they do.

None of us thought Spurs would win. None of us. I don’t believe that even Conte fancied his team. He was desperate for the whistle so he could get back on the bus (yes - some teams even travelled to matches by coach this weekend. Whatever next for our pampered luvvies?) and head for London with a point.

But I’d wager good money that Harry Kane was thinking ‘one more chance. Create me one more chance’. Spurs did. Kane scored. That’s what big players do. That’s what separates them from the rest. That’s why Spurs stole it. Fine margins at moments that really matter.

Guardiola. His bench. The City hoards. The players. They were all looking at the officials hoping they’d conjure another moment of VAR magic for them. Not this time. The man who should’ve been playing in light blue and not Tottenham white, had blown the title race wide open.

Twitchy bum time has come early for Guardiola and his team, although they probably don’t know that yet. And they might not even have realised yet exactly what Kane did Saturday evening. From being nailed on they’re now by no means certain. I fancy Liverpool. And I fancy Liverpool in Europe as well. Why? Because they’re better. They’re stronger. They can grind wins and they’re not afraid of City. There’s a reason Guardiola called them a ‘pain in the arse’ before the Spurs game. He knows.

He also knows his team are pretty. They they’ll win nine out of 10 games by three or four goals. And in those nine games they don’t need a proper centre forward. But in the big ones they do. At crucial moments they do. ‘Aguerooooooooo’. I can’t think of a better example.

Guardiola dropped a bollock last summer. Actually he dropped two. He didn’t need Grealish. There’s a separate argument on this subject and I haven’t changed my mind since the blog when I said ‘he’ll slow them down. They’ve already got better’. So why? Why spend £100m on a player you don’t need?

Grealish is 26 now. He should be in his prime. Sadly he’s nowhere near good enough to play for City. What does he do? Who should he play in front of? Foden? Sterling? De Bruyne? They can’t find a position for him and he certainly doesn’t get into their best X1.

De Bruyne joined City aged 24 - already an established ‘nuisance’ on the scene. He’s got better and better. When have you ever seen him out in the wrong place at the wrong time? Exactly. Never.

But Guardiola wanted to make a statement. For some reason he spunked £100m on an unnecessary luxury. Yes - I’ve previously said ‘England should build a team round Grealish’. I stand by that. England aren’t as good as City. And there’s no cost involved.

I guess you’ve already worked out where I’m going with this?. Why? Why didn’t City push on with a fifth bid of £140m and buy Kane? No. Why did they need to make four bids - all of which Spurs turned down? They knew the player was ready to join them. Do it. Meet Tottenham’s valuation straight away. Spend the Grealish money on Kane. They spunked more than the £40m extra that it would’ve taken on Nathan Ake for goodness sake. And a whole lot more on other bang ordinary centre-backs.

Kane would’ve made a difference. He might just have won them the CL. He’d have had them clear - well clear - at the top now. And he obviously wouldn’t have inflicted that damage at the weekend. Can you imagine how he felt? After all the embarrassment City caused him last summer. After the way they messed with his head before letting him down. No wonder he was happy to show off his new teeth with that enormous grin post match at City. ‘Ave it.  Job done. Vindicated.

Andy has argued long and hard that If City had had a proper centre forward in last seasons CL final they might just have won it. He’s right. What chance that Guardiola will have deeper regrets than Saturdays’s frustrations later this season?

Few teams have spent more than Everton in recent seasons. I won’t go over old ground here, but I’m afraid they’re going to have to go again if Frank Lampard has got half a chance of success at Goodison.

They’ve got a gem in Anthony Gordon. I’ll say again - ‘new’ Steven Gerrard. He reminds me so much of the former Liverpool skipper. His gangly teenage gate is the same. He loves a tackle. He can spray passes about and run all day. He’a also got an eye for a goal He’s special. But he’s about all they have got despite the big spend - and he was for nothing!

If I’m Lampard my priority is a goalkeeper. I’m afraid Pickford isn’t good enough. He frightens me anytime he’s near the ball - and he’s too often not near enough to it. He shouldn’t have let Trippier’s free kick in at Newcastle - and he shouldn’t have been letting Armstrong’s goal in at Soton. There’s too many mistakes in him.

He must give his defence kittens. He’s a nervous mess - edgy, twitchy, anxious - all the time.

It’s too late this season - but what chance Lampard goes back to Chelsea for Kepa? I would. I know Lampard didn’t fancy him at The Bridge, but he’s better than Pickford, Henderson or any other option you can think of that’s available right now. He’s also too good to be No2 at Chelsea.

Lampard knows him. Watch this space…..

Is society forgiving enough?

Published: Monday, 14 February 2022

Sarah Moulds. Ever heard of her? No? Well I can’t blame you. Until recently few people outside of the Leicestershire village of Somerby had either.

Later this month (February 28th 2022) Mrs Moulds will be appearing at Lincoln Crown Court. She’s chosen a jury trial to fight the charges she’s accused of.

She’s being prosecuted by the RSPCA with two offences - ‘causing unnecessary suffering to a grey pony and failing to take reasonable steps to protect the pony from pain, suffering or injury’.

She was a primary school teacher. But her day job was stripped from her when she was sacked. Her boss, Mowbray Education Trust CEO Paul Maddox, said, when announcing the decision ‘I can confirm that Sarah Moulds’ employment with the Trust has been terminated’. Not much sign of forgiveness there.

Mrs Moulds has paid a heavy price for her moment of madness. I can’t imagine what life has been like for her and her family since. The fall out is still coming.

Yep. She’s the ‘horse-kicking former primary school teacher’ as the Press usually describe her.

She was caught on camera kicking and slapping a horse at the Cottesmore Hunt and allegedly subjecting a grey pony called Bruce Almighty to ‘unnecessary suffering’.

Abhorrent. Disgusting. I don’t know - pick a word yourself. They’ve all been written to describe Mrs Moulds - who might yet be found not guilty of the charges. The law will run its course.

I should think by now it’s fairly obvious why I’ve brought this up?

What’s the difference between Mrs Moulds and Kurt Zouma? Well, there’s two I can see straight away. Mrs Moulds isn’t a £30m footballer. And she didn’t post the pictures of herself allegedly kicking that horse, screaming with laughter like dumb and his brother dumber. Hilarious guys. Sa commence. Ha ha ha ha ha ha. How we laughed when we saw the video.

Another difference? Mrs Moulds employers acted swiftly and sacked her. I guess they wanted to send a message to the thousands of youngsters who ride ponies - and their parents - that the kind of behaviour we witnessed was unacceptable? Judgement was swift. No forgiveness.

Compare what Paul Maddox said when announcing his decision to the weasel words of West Ham’s CEO, Karren Brady, this weekend.

Ms Brady told us ‘he (Zouma) has said sorry, and has apologised sincerely to everybody at the club and the wider public’. Oh. That’s ok then. Keep your eyes shut and Carry On.

Brady went on ‘that is an important first step on what will be a journey of re-education and atonement’. Yea. On this one - agreed.

But that journey should NOT be a public one. Zouma should NOT be playing football while he undertakes it.

Brady has failed her manager, David Moyes, and every animal loving West Ham fan - all the 10-year-olds that Moyes mentioned post-match at Leicester, while defending the decision (I’m not convinced it’s his) to keep playing Zouma.

Moyes went on ‘West Ham have done great work in the East End of London, young supporters coming in and a lot of good things being done’.  Moyes has been key to a lot of that work.

But stop for a moment - and ask some of those youngsters how they feel about a cat-kicking centre-back representing their club right now.

I’m with Graeme Souness ‘I have zero sympathy for him (Zouma). West Ham’s roots are in the East End of London, salt-of-the-earth people. They’ve (West Ham) mis-managed it from day one’.

We’re told Zouma was ‘unwell’ so couldn’t play at Leicester. Really? Moyes looked unsure about the nature of the illness when questioned after the match.

If Zouma really had missed team meetings and meals because he felt so unwell surely Moyes would’ve sent him home? Why go to the lengths to isolate him, yet still send him out to warm up with the intention of playing? Is he really that important to them? Come on - we’re not talking about Sergio Ramos here.

Or was it that Zouma started to feel unwell when he heard the reception he got? And the continued baiting? I wouldn’t blame him if that was the case. That’s another failure on West Ham’s part - protecting Zouma’s mental well being.

The RSPCA might yet press charges. Good. They should in my opinion. Zouma’s head must be full of mince. If Brady and West Ham care not a jot for decency in the public space - then they should be protecting their ‘asset‘ surely? Sorry - employee.

That’s what it comes down to. Zouma is an expensive ‘asset’. This is all about money. Brady is scared that £30m is going down the drain. She talks of a ‘forgiving society’. I agree - but that society isn’t ready to forgive in this case just yet. Long term I hope that happens - but don’t hold your breath. Zouma might just be finished in English football.

And ‘society’ certainly won’t feel too much sympathy towards West Ham if the brainless morons who took to kicking a blow up cat about at Leicester continue to behave in that manner. And cut those chants as well.

A final thought on why Ms Brady is so worried about her ‘asset’. Has it anything to do with takeover talks that we’re led to believe may have been taking place? Is that why West Ham are also desperate to hang onto Declan Rice until a deal has been done? To keep the share price high? I don’t know. But it’s a theory that’s been aired elsewhere as well.

I have no idea where Ms Brady and West Ham go with this. It’s a mess all of their own making. And I don’t blame David Moyes at all. I agree with the Mail’s Ian Ladyman today (Monday) on that subject.

He writes ‘Moyes has been hung out to dry. Somebody above him should’ve ordered him not to play Zouma.

‘Moyes comes out of this looking like he doesn’t care when, in reality, he undoubtedly does’.

This one is on Ms Brady’s toes. And all of a sudden - we live in a ‘forgiving society’. How convenient. As Richard Littlejohn might say ‘you couldn’t make it up’. What Alan Sugar would say is arguably more appropriate.

What did we learn in the break? United are still poor and Newcastle have got it all on.

Published: Monday, 07 February 2022

A break? Well, a PL break. That’s what it was supposed to be, but it didn’t feel much like it - not with all the Afcon and FA Cup drama.

First of all - congrats to Senegal on their triumph - but Mane was a lucky boy eh? That dive was something I thought we’d seen the last of from him and Salah. It’s Grealish and Sterling who’re the main offenders these days. Oh - and the usual suspects at United, although I didn’t have any complaints about the challenge on Pogba, that led to Ronaldo’s miss against Boro.

While we’re on the subject - well done Chris Wilder. Anyone would think Brit coaches knew what they were doing. Wilder and his boys put on a master- class to leave one of the most highly rated euro coaches (I’ve still no idea why) absolutely baffled. Granted - the handball interpretation is a nonsense. Of course Boro’s goal should’ve been disallowed, but they earned their slice of luck.

United return to action in the PL this week with even their most optimistic fan now realising that they’re not very good - surely? I read a piece from Ollie Holt the other day arguing that United have been going downhill ever since Fergie left. Not so Ollie. They were on the slide during his last few years.

I’ve said this many times - that last title team were eight short. They got over the line thanks to van Persie’s goals and the very timely return of Paul Scholes. Fergie was allowed to stay too long. He had the club in a vice-like grip - operating as he wanted - and while they stagnated, everybody else was moving forward. It’ll take them another decade to catch up.

An ordinary looking 4th round turned out to be very good didn’t it? Kidderminster, Plymouth and Coventry were terrific, but pride of place goes to Boreham Wood. My mate Pipes couldn’t muster a response when I enquired how the Cherries had got on yesterday (Sunday). Oh what joy. 😂😂

I hope people are beginning to realise that we don’t need replays anymore. The argument that a one-off tie doesn’t produce the same drama doesn’t wash anymore. Both the 3rd and 4th rounds have been brilliant.

What else did we learn in the PL break? Well - that Newcastle are still in big trouble, that’s for sure.

Their spend in January was interesting I mentioned Wood in the last blog. He’s a solid citizen. Trippier is too, although he’s not going to win you many games. Dan Burn? Underwhelming. So was the addition of Targett. Guimaraes is the wrong man, at the wrong time, at the wrong club for me. Is he really going to dig them out of trouble? I don’t think so. He’s got quality that’s for sure - but he might just be ‘new’ Dmitri Payet.

You can see why Newcastle bought him. They just had to land a big one (big-ish) to prove they could, but they came up well short. They were nowhere near the ones they really wanted. All the money on the world doesn’t guarantee success.

I don’t see enough goals in them to survive. I was texting a Geordie legend on another matter this week and he agreed - although he mis-understood my question - which was ‘do you think they’ve got enough to come straight back up?’ 🤷‍♂️😂.

Another problem which has emerged for the Toon is that two of the other strugglers are going to give it a right go.

Norwich are finding some form under Dean Smith - whose been the course before - and Roy Hodgson will get a tune out of Watford. What a great start - their first PL clean sheet in two years and six managers - at Burnley! Hodgson will have been delighted with the result. Yep - if Newcastle are going to stay up they’ve got it all on.

I can’t wait for the game against Everton this week. What a difference in the attitude and atmosphere around Goodison for the tie against Brentford. It was as if a stiff breeze off the Mersey had blown the stench of the Benitez era away. I’ve spoken to people who suffered the pain of the Spaniards time with Everton. Three words keep coming up - distanced, difficult and destructive. Three ‘d’s. Here’s another - dunce.

Good luck Frank. It’s great to have you back in business. Taking Paul Clement is a smart move. Listen to him talk on KeysandGray The Podcast @keysandGraypod. He’s worked with the very best all over Europe. He’s a smart guy.

I’m not suggesting it’s going to be easy for them - quite the opposite - but it was a great start and I think they’ll win at Newcastle this week. Everybody at Goodison looked refreshed.

What happens next at Leicester is going to be interesting. What a turn-around in fortunes for Brendan Rodgers. Early in the season he was being linked with all the big jobs - now there’s talk of him getting sacked.

Leicester should be careful. Rodgers is as good as they’ll ever get. He’s had them punching well beyond their weight. The title win will never happen again. Rodgers delivered the perfect season last time round - a trophy and Europe. Either/or should be their target. Both was a bonus. They’re not equipped to mount a serious top four challenge and the sooner they lower expectation the more likely it is that they’ll make sensible decisions. Sacking Rodgers now would be madness.