Troy - you’ve got to be kidding me. Souness could play in any era

Published: Monday, 27 March 2023

I got sent this the other day….


Where do I start? I guess with the author. It’s a cutting from last week’s column in The Sun (I’ve no idea why I‘ve just mentioned them - apologies) by Troy Deeney.

I don’t know Deeney. What I do know is that he comes across as a great guy and I would always have wanted him in my team. He’s a winner. A warrior. So he has that in common with Souness.

As Deeney himself would admit - that’s where the comparisons end. Souness was a Rolls-Royce. Deeney was more Herman Aubrey ‘Boycie’ Boyce from Only Fools and Horses. He certainly had me laughing - as Boycie used to - with what he said about Souness.

As ever - in the interests of transparency (as regulars know) - Graeme has been a long-time friend of mine. We go back to the time when he was dominating Liverpool’s mid-field in the 80’s. No - dominating big football matches all over Europe. He was magnificent. He’d have games won in the tunnel before he walked onto a pitch. He was both intimidating and regal. He could do both. (No pace btw).

I guess he had that in common with Roy Keane - another warrior, another leader, but Souness was ten times the player Keane was. Keane could inspire a team all right. The night he got United over the line in Turin, knowing that he’d miss the CL final that was to follow, he was awesome. But he was a thug as well. What he did to Alf-Inge Haland was a disgrace. It went way past the bounds of what’s acceptsble on a football pitch. Keane should’ve gone to jail for that assault. A similar attack in a street would’ve seen him sent down. Had he ever come up against Souness throwing his weight about the Scot would’ve had him on toast.

What on earth am I doing? I making comparisons, which isn’t what I set out to do, but I guess Deeney forced my hand here.

Would we describe Keane as a ‘modern day’ player? I think we would, but you could put any of today’s ‘monsters’ up against him and Souness would’ve had them in his pocket. I’ll get back to the idea that James Milner would ‘run all over prime Souness’ in a moment. That really is hilarious by the way.

Let me tell you this about Graeme. Yes - he could look after himself - and his team-mates. I remember when Arsenal’s Peter Nicholas fancied ‘running all over him’ in a League Cup semi-final. Nicholas got Ray Kennedy sent-off in the first leg at Highbury - effectively ending Kennedy’s Liverpool career. If memory serves me right he’d also been sent-off in the preceding league game so it was decided he was becoming a liability and Liverpool moved him on to Swansea.

Anyway - we all knew what was going to happen to Nicholas in the 2nd leg He didn’t get past the half hour mark. Having blasted Keane for his recklessness I should point out that there was a honest dishonesty about the challenge that saw Nicholas stretchered off.

These are the stories that people talk about a lot when Graeme’s name comes up. I guess Deeney has heard plenty of them? Deeney says of Souness’s challenges would be deemed illegal today. They were when he played Troy! The point is - I saw them. I saw Souness in his pomp and believe me, as I’ve said he loved a battle, but he was simply one of the best players I’ve ever had the privilege to watch play the game.

Souness would float across pitches (slowly - no pace) caressing passes this way and that - long and short - easy and difficult - with either foot. As he would say himself - he had ‘a habit it continually passing to the same coloured shirt’. 😂. But it’s true - he did. And there were many like Milner, who Deeney believes would’ve ‘run all over him’. Many tried. Souness would hear them coming and play round them.

Graeme laughs at the tales of his leaving bodies strewn around pitches. He’s really was a craftsman in that respect. When he finally settled an on-going dispute with Leeds’ Terry Yorath, who was at Coventry when this happened, Yorath was stretchered off applauding the challenge that got him! It was another one that was honestly dishonest.

I should also mention that Souness would get 10 goals a season - all before Christmas mind you. They tended to dry up after December when he’d be paying out Terry McDermott on their annual bet about who’d get the most goals in a season. McDermott always at least doubled Graeme’s total.

You’ll hear many say that we shouldn’t make comparisons between players of different era’s and that’s why I said what I did earlier. I don’t mind though. It sparks debate - but here’s the thing. What’s for certain is that the very best players would be able to play in any era. That’s why Deeney is wrong. No disrespect intended James - but you really can’t mention Milner’s name in the same sentence as Souness’s.

On the subject of comparisons - here’s one to discuss later in the pub. George Best was Messi long before we ever heard of Messi. I’d love to see Best playing now in the position that Messi does. Wow.

Before I leave the subject of Liverpool ‘greats’ - a quick word about Steven Gerrard.

If Gerrard still has ambitions to manage/coach in the PL I really think he should be swerving the legends games - the likes of which we saw at Anfield last weekend.

Gerrard needs to distance himself from Liverpool for a few years more yet. One of his biggest problems at Villa was that their fans largely saw him as Liverpool’s captain. It was ok to start with - Gerrard said all the right things, but as time progressed and things weren’t going so well, it was an easy stick to beat him with - even though he’d had those two years at Rangers as well.

Perhaps he’s given up believing that he’s got a coaching career, but if he hasn’t, I firmly believe he’s definitely got to give those games up. Either way - he shouldn’t be taunting Celtic fans as he did after scoring. I know it’s hard and I know they’d been on at him all through the game - but he’s a big boy and he knows it’s all part of the gig. Those fans had paid their money to charity (the players always get paid btw) and so they had a right to get involved in the occasion.

What did we tell you about Conte a week ago? Pretty obvious really wasn’t it?

And welcome back ‘Mr Roy’ - as the Italians always referred to him. As you know, I had Palace down for a struggle at the start of the season. Do they never learn at Selhurst Park? Every time they want to ‘soften’ the way they play it ends up as it did for Vieria. As I’ve said before - know what you are. Accept it. Palace are a steady PL team - in for the occasional relegation tussle and the odd Cup run. That’s it. No more - but they’ve got to earn the right to do simply that. Players are at Palace for a reason. They’d be elsewhere if they could really ‘play’.

Hodgson will keep them up.

The honeymoon is over Howard - get a grip

Published: Monday, 20 March 2023

I am a strong supporter of Howard Webb’s. His appointment as head of our referees - replacing the hapless Mike Riley - was the best decision that’s been made by anybody in football this season.

Webb is a class act. He was a top ref and from what I hear he’s a top bloke as well, which is why people want to work with and for him. But he’s got to get a grip on his refs and the matchday centre. Turfing Riley out of the door now would help. For some reason Riley is still hanging about the PGMOL and I don’t know why.

It will take time to repair Riley’s mess, which has been 10 years in the making, but Webb has got to make a start and get a grip.

Neil Swarbrick’s departure can only be a good thing. Swarbrick is the man who’s been in charge of VAR - not a great selling point when he applies for his next job.

It’s time Riley’s patsies Mssrs Gallacher, Foy & Walton were shown the door as well. They add nothing. In fact, they only confuse and muddy already dirty waters with their pathetic excuses and cover ups for bad decisions.  I’ve said all this before. By the way - I don’t expect to see Mike Dean back in the VAR bunker ever again.

Webb made a good start, returning power to the man in the middle on match days, but too many errors are now creeping in. Wolves have every right to feel aggrieved about the decisions that have been going against them. Of course they should’ve had a pen when they were only one-down to Leeds on Saturday. If they get the pen and score it’s a very different game. Junior Firpo caught Nelson Semedo in the box. Michael Salisbury didn’t think so and David Coote sat on his hands in the VAR bunker. Why? It was clear and obvious to everybody watching - except that pair.

I agree that refs should be allowed to make the final call on decisions - but help him out for goodness sake. Coote should’ve asked his mate to look at Firpo’s challenge again. If Salisbury had seen it on a monitor he would’ve given a pen.

That’s not the only call Wolves have been annoyed about recently.

The non-decision at Newcastle the previous week was the hardest for Lopitegui to swallow. How on earth did Nick Pope stay on when he clearly fouled Raul Jiminez in the box? It was a pen and a red card. We all saw it. It was clear and obvious - but not to Andy Madley.  An independent panel sat last week and admonished Madley - but somehow cleared Tony Harrington in VAR. How? If Madley was guilty of a bad decision so was Harrington, who was surrounded by technology and had no excuses.

Briefly - pen for Blackburn in the Cup for a handball no-one appealed for - yet nothing at Villa for an identical offence. Errors like these can’t keep being made.

Wolves have every right to feel aggrieved by their treatment. What a terrible shame it would be if these errors cost a club their place in the PL again. Yes - again. Have we forgotten Sheffield United scoring at Villa in a crucial relegation battle in 2020? A goal should’ve been given when Villa‘s ‘keeper Orjan Nyland fumbled Oliver Norwiod’s fk and the ball clearly went over the line. Riley blamed Hawk-eye because ref Michael Oliver’s watch didn’t signal ‘goal’. It was a scandal of monumental proportions. We didn’t need Hawk-eye. We all knew it was in. Everybody watching knew it was in. Everybody in the ground knew it was in. Riley claimed VAR couldn’t get involved because it contravened working practices. Bollocks. They all fucked up - Villa eventually stayed up and United went down.

Let’s not allow it to happen again. Get control Howard. We’re slipping backwards.

Having berated some - let’s give Chris Kavanagh credit for his handling of a shambles all of Fulham’s making at OT. What were they thinking? Never has a team been more guilty of tossing away a match. Ninety seconds of madness cost them. Kavanagh was terrific and got every call right - including denying Mitrovic a pen in the first half, the incident that sparked Marco Silva’s fury. Silva thought Kavanagh should’ve been asked to check his monitor when Mitrovic and the wee man clashed in the box. If Kavanagh had done he wouldn’t have changed his mind, but perhaps a look would’ve satisfied Silva?

Mitrovic should be banned for some time for his ridiculous attack on the ref. What was going through his mind? The way United were playing I’d have fancied Fulham to beat them with 10 anyway. Sending Willian off only evened things up. United only had 10 on. You can’t count Weghorst.

When he lost control Mitrovic cost Fulham any chance of winning the game.

It was an irony that Fernandes got a couple because he should be serving a ban. I still don’t know how he escaped an FA charge after he man-handled the assistant at Anfield. The FA were weak and should’ve charged him. My Mum used to tell me that ‘you reap what you sow’. The FA certainly did this weekend.

And the BBC certainly did last weekend. I don’t want to get into Lineker-gate again - the BBC and their army of striking sports staff deserve each other and I had my say on the subject last week - but I want to add a brief word. Well done Robbie Savage for making up the lost wages of back room colleagues who missed a days pay - through no fault of their own - during last weekend’s debacle. That was my major concern. Never mind the protests of the millionaire pundits who followed each other in their lemming-like protests - over something they should never have got involved with - it was the workers further down the food chain that I was bothered about. 

Savage made up the lost wages of people that should’ve been working on his show six-o-six. Well done Rob. I hope your gesture moves others to follow and do the same thing. They clearly don’t have minds of their own so let’s hope they follow the leader again.

And finally….. Would someone please put Antonio Conte out of his misery? How dare Spurs pay him £13m/year only to frustrate him as they do? It’s a disgrace. The poor guy has only spent close on £100m only to take their team - er……nowhere.

Was it Daniel Levy’s fault that Conte sent a weakened team to Sheffield United to get beaten? Come off it. They could’ve been playing in a 1/4-final yesterday but Conte tossed it off at Bramall Lane. The defeat was his fault - nobody else’s. Would we have fancied them to beat Blackburn? Of course we would.

So shut up Antonio. The last time I checked no-one was holding a gun to your head insisting you stay at Spurs. Perhaps United dodged a bullet after all?

A mess of the BBC’s own making

Published: Monday, 13 March 2023

Ok. A few thoughts on Lineker-gate which might stem the flow of people asking what I’ve made of the mess at the BBC these last few days. And thank goodness the whole sorry saga is nearly over as I write (Monday)

In my opinion Lineker was spot on with half the message he originally posted. The reference to the Nazi’s was clumsy. And if I asked him what part of the 1930’s he was referring to I’m quite certain he wouldn’t know. There was no need to go there. But I agree with him on the immigration issue. Whether he has a right to express his thoughts is what the whole row is about of course. I can’t say it hasn’t been fun watching the Torygraph, Mail and the Sun whip themselves into a frenzy over it.😂.

BBC boundaries on what staff can and can’t say have clearly never applied to Lineker. He can argue all day long that he’s not ‘staff’, but ask anyone who he works for and the answer will be the BBC. If you sign up to work for/represent an organisation, business, football club, surely you have to abide by their rules?

But It’s too late for BBC management or this Tory govt to complain about what Lineker has got to say. The horse has bolted.

Lineker has got form in this area and plenty of it. For instance, the way he and the publicly-funded BBC covered the WC in Qatar was nothing short of a disgrace.

The posturing that went with their coverage was a nonsense. To deny licence fee paying viewers full coverage of the opening ceremony was a dereliction of one the BBC’s primary functions of ‘fair and balanced’ coverage - the thing they’re arguing about now. I don’t know if Lineker was asked to deliver his inaccurate monologue by senior management - or whether they simply looked the other way when he did, but their decision making was always going to have consequences.

The hypocrisy of Lineker’s moral preaching and “boycott of principles” was laid bare when it was revealed he’d happily lined his own principle-free bank account with 7-figures of Qatari money for years. We’re still to hear Joe Lycett’s response to that.

But having allowed that stunt to take place - how can they now rear up about the contents of his tweet last week? Or anything else that he’s got to say?

I’m afraid what happened at the weekend - when BBC sport was effectively silenced - was a problem all of their own making. It’s been coming. My concerns weren’t with the front line staff withdrawing their labour, but the people who make the programmes, many of whom are freelancers and will almost certainly have lost money over this.

Senior football commentator Ian Dennis felt it was his duty to carry on working, but he was pilloried on social media for doing so. What about his right to make choices? The beeb didn’t seem to have too many concerns about him. They hung him out to dry.

Sadly it’s too late for us to pretend that sport in general shouldn’t be affected by politics. There have been some very worthy causes that sport has addressed in recent years - but do the people that watch really care? Were Liverpool fans worried about MotD as their team laboured at Bournemouth? What about City fans at Palace? Go lower down the pyramid - Wednesday fans at Portsmouth? I’m sure the row was mentioned at some stage in their day, but I sense a tiredness about the ‘causes’ football chooses to adopt. And it’s not just football.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could go back to the days when all that mattered were three points? It was only last week that I was reading stories about PL players suffering with ‘grief fatigue’ as a result of all the pre-match tributes and cause promoting that they’re being asked to do.

Yes - I asked for respect to be shown for John Motson after his passing - but there was a football man that the game needed to recognise in my view. Not everyone agreed and I realise I’m arguing against the more general point I’m advocating.

But I do believe that the minutes applause or silence has become too common place. Did Forest and Everton really have to pause pre-match to remember the victims of the Greek train crash because the Forest owner, Evangelos Marinakis is Greek? Should managers be wearing lapel badges promoting one cause or another every week? Surely it dilutes the impact for a time when something really matters?

Please - can we get back to when football fans could just enjoy a day out watching their team?

They don’t care who anchors what on tv. If MotD was going to die it would’ve been when the incomparable David Coleman left. Or Jimmy Hill. Or Lynam. Faces come and go - as I know only too well.

Quadruple? You’re having a laugh. And Haaland looks fed up

Published: Tuesday, 07 March 2023

That didn’t take long did it? Less than a week of celebrations and the wheels are off again at OT.

Well - that’s according to the newspapers that I’ve been reading this morning. There’s an angry reporter and pundit on every sports page I turned.

I get it. Of course I do. United were awful - and they committed the ultimate sin of giving up. None more so that their irritating captain Fernandes - but what have I always said about him? If he’s not scoring penalties - which he was every week until we alerted everybody to his and Pogba’s antics - he doesn’t offer enough. Anyone that compares him to Paul Scholes needs their head examined. Fernandes exposed himself at Anfield and I agree with Chris Sutton in The Mail  - he should never wear the armband again.

It was an amazing afternoon. I seem to say it every week, but just when you think you’ve seen it all something like that happens.

A word on Liverpool shortly, but let’s deal with United first. It’s tempting to weigh in like everybody else but I’m not going to. Although no-one could’ve predicted what happened I believe something like it was coming.

They are NOT the real deal. They’ve been getting away with a lot recently. Read last week’s blog when I said that they hadn’t played well at Wembley. Their best players were defenders. If Newcastle had scored in a very good opening 30 minutes they could’ve easily won that game.

It’s been heartening to see Rashford back in form, but his goals have been papering over cracks. There is no question that Seven Hag (I know, but it’s funny) has been making progress, but it’s been nowhere near as much as has been hyped. Talk of quadruples was nonsense. Absolute nonsense.

United are a work in progress and trophies are not ‘for ego’s’ as Solskjaer once claimed. They are evidence of the ability to win and supporters want to see their team do that. United have achieved that again.

So let’s not get too carried away by what happened at Anfield. Shambles? Yes. Capitulation? Yes. Embarrassing? Yes. But it was a one-off surely? Now comes the real test though. How do United react? Can Seven Hag get them ‘playing’ rather than sitting and waiting to mug the opposition with Rashford’s pace?

A quick word on the manager. He strikes me as very keen to take credit when things go well, but it’s always somebody else’s fault when they don’t. This time his players were ‘unprofessional’ and ‘didn’t stick to the plan’. In other words - don’t blame me guv’.

I’d have rather heard him say ‘it’s a one-off. It won’t happen again and it certainly won’t spoil the work that we’ve all been doing’. That would’ve been enough. Take it on the chin as a collective. He’s the one complaining that United ‘didn’t stick together’ but he’s distancing himself from it.

After all, it’s his decision to keep playing Wout Weghorst. It’s not Weghorst’s fault, but he has to be the worst player I’ve ever seen in a United jersey. He’s a bang ordinary No9, who couldn’t get in a struggling Burnley team, but what on earth possesses Seven Hag to think he’s a sumptuous 10? One who can ‘wear the tuxedo’ as the Americans say. Come on. It’s a joke and the manager has got to give up pretending that Weghorst has got something to offer. He’s not a ‘pressing monster’. He doesn’t ‘make runs’ because he can’t run. And he doesn’t score goals. You can’t start him - push Fernandes left and leave £80m Sancho on the bench. Too clever Erik. Far too clever.  

Finally Antony. Somebody has got to help him. All he’s got right now is a step over, roll the ball, step inside and try to find the bottom corner. Alisson was waiting for him all afternoon. He’s a one-trick pony and far too predictable.

Liverpool were terrific. They answered every question that’s been asked of them recently,  but Klopp isn’t daft enough to think they’re back. In an adrenalin fuelled atmosphere two of his ageing mid-field were fantastic, but Henderson and Fabinho can’t play at those levels every week anymore. Klopp has got to recruit in that dept. Elliott surprised me. Perhaps there is a player in there after all? And congrats to Salah, who has got to hit those heights every week again now if Liverpool are to make a CL place - and maybe turn round the tie against Madrid? Who knows? Well - we all do really! But why not dream a little?

As Nunez grabbed two more my mind went back to an early season blog I wrote when I said I really fancied him as a player - and that he might be a better long term bet than Haaland. The way the Norwegian started the season made that call look a little foolish, but I’m beginning to wonder if I wasn’t right after all. And notice I said ‘long term’

Haaland was magnificent early season at City. And he’s still picking up the odd goal here and there, but the power seems to have gone. The appetite. The hunger. Remember when he was banging in hat-tricks every week? Now it’s bits and pieces, but I don’t blame him.

He is awesome. He’s got everything you would want in a No9, but Guardiola is both frustrating and wasting him. If possession is your god - and it is Guardiola’s - then the coach will be happy with ‘team’ performances. If you live off goals - and the service to prove you’re the best at that difficult art - Haaland must be pulling his luxurious blond hair out. He needs chances. He needs balls into areas where he can utilise his strength and speed. It’s almost as if City want to starve him of those things.

He cut a very frustrated character again at the weekend. Are we seeing history repeat itself? Remember when Guardiola signed Zlatan at Barca, but couldn’t work out a way to get the best out of him? So he sold him after a season. Ah - there were ‘personality issues’ I’m always told. Of course there were. Zlatan quickly got fed up being starved of what he needed.

Was it just a co-incidence that Haaland’s agent, Rafaela Pimenta,  was talking so glowingly about Real Madrid last week? It’s the ‘dream’ move for players she said. I wonder.

What are we going to do for Motty?

Published: Monday, 27 February 2023

John Motson. The voice of a generation. Perfect. That was the best description of the legendary BBC commentator that I read last week. As I’m writing I still can’t believe that he isn’t still with us.

I don’t really have much to add to the thousands of lovely words that have already been written. I think it’s all been covered. He was a terrific guy - not the best footballer I’ve ever played with - but he tried! 😂.

He was a central figure in the commentators X1 that a lot of us used to play for - shuffling about at full-back but totally committed - just like he was to everything that he did - but football came first. My memories of Motty make me smile.

Sadly the PL did nothing last weekend to mark his passing. I know we can’t stop for a moments silence - or tribute with applause - every time someone passes - but come on - we should have done for Motty. The guy is a legend.

We did when Brian Moore passed. Quite right too. Moore has a seat at the top table of broadcast legends. Motty joined him last week but we didn’t make much of it. There were isolated tributes - I loved what Palace did in the 77th minute of their game v a Liverpool - and there were others - but too few. It should’ve been a collective thing. And it’s not too late. Let’s do it properly next weekend eh?

I don’t suppose too many of you noticed that Bernard Ingham also passed last week?  I know it’s ‘Sir’ but I don’t refer to him like that. For his family I’m sorry. Losing a loved one is always a terrible event, but there won’t be too many tears shed for Mr Ingham in Merseyside.

He was described by Charles Moore in the Daily Telegraph as ‘the finest spin doctor a PM ever had’. A very generous description - one that I don’t share. He was once press secretary to Margaret Thatcher.

Those close to the Hillsborough disaster know him only too well. It’s never been proven, but it’s generally accepted that it was a call from Ingham to editor of the Sun, Kelvin McKenzie, that led to the infamous headline ‘The Truth’ on that papers‘ front page in the days following the tragedy. It was a disgustingly inaccurate headline.

So what was his motivation? Ingham was desperate to ensure that no blame for the events at Hillsborough that day were going to be attributed to the South Yorkshire Police, who Thatcher had needed to break the miners strike of 1984/5. She felt indebted to them for the part they played in smashing the strike - and ultimately destroying the entire industry. She was forever grateful to them and wasn’t going to have their reputation sullied over what happened at Hillsborough. 

What Ingham did led to years of frustration, lies, hurt and cover-ups by both Police and Tory govts. I’ve always said the ‘victims’ of Hillsborough were the families who lost loved ones. They had to pick up the pieces and fight for the truth. In the end they got that, but they never got justice. There’s a whole lot more I could say, but let’s leave it here. I’m sorry for Ingham’s family - but he was not one of the good guys.

Well done United. Job done. But as my mate Andy Gray pointed out on beINSPORTS - they didn’t play well. Not that you have to in a final - you just have to win  - but, again, as Andy pointed out - their best players were all defenders.

That says a lot about how Newcastle played. I felt for them. At times they were terrific. They opened really well and were the better team before United scored. They should take pride from what they contributed to the day and I hope it won’t be long before the wait for a trophy is over.

Eddie Howe has built carefully and is well ahead of schedule, but Newcastle are going to need better players all over the pitch if they’re going to join the really big boys. But as we know, everything is now possible at St James’.

Chelsea? There’s not a lot left to say is there? It’s an on-going shambles. Does anyone know what Graham Potter is actually trying to achieve? I have no idea. Nor do his players.

The relief at West Ham was palpable. Well done Moysie. One thing though - please be careful David when suggesting managers’ shouldn’t be adversely questioned whilst in a job because criticism can affect their mental health.

A lot of work has been done - is being done - in this very sensitive area - all of it very worthwhile. It’s complex subject so I don’t think we should deflect or blur the edges because we don’t like being held to account. As someone almost destroyed by public criticism I know what I’m talking about. I too have had death threats - but I’ve never treated them seriously and I don’t think Potter did himself any favours playing that card in his press conference Friday. I repeat - I hear you guys - but please be careful.

If Sean Dyche didn’t know what he’d taken on he certainly does now. And what a week Everton face - Arsenal and Forest away. These two games could define their season. They’ve got to get something from them or I fear the trap door is going to start opening.

Javi Garcia made a great start at Leeds - but it’s too soon to start talking about him as their saviour.

It’s beginning to look like Saints and Bournemouth are going - so it’s one from the rest down there.

A final word on the VARce at Spurs. The officials on the pitch had it right. There was no need for VAR to get involved. I thought we’d dropped this nonsense? Don’t get busy guys if there’s no need.

Super Marcus Rashford

Published: Monday, 20 February 2023

There isn’t a more lethal or consistent striker operating anywhere in Europe than Marcus Rashford right now. And I’m delighted for both him and United.

It was this blog that first pointed out his struggles on the pitch some 18 months ago. I got a fair bit of stick for it as well. Even a work colleague, whose opinions I value, said to me ‘I’m embarrassed about the way you’ve gone after Rashford’.

I took on board what he was saying, but I hadn’t ‘gone after Rashford’. I simply pointed out that his numbers and goals had fallen off a cliff.

Rashford is clearly a nice guy - with both a conscience and an interest in many things away from football. He’s done startling work on the matter of school meals for the under-privileged and was rightly honoured for his efforts with a MBE.

I didn’t have a problem with any of that. How could you? He embarrassed a blustering, lying Boris Johnson, who was PM at the time, at every turn. What’s not to like about that?

No. It was the things I was hearing about his ‘people’ hoping to make capital from it all and create ‘brand Rashford’ that bothered me. They were a distraction. The plan was a distraction. Everything about it was doing exactly the opposite to what they were trying to achieve.

I said then - and it’s proven to be the case - the best way to promote brand Rashford was for him to start doing what he gets paid for - scoring goals. That way everybody would be talking about him. And? We are.

It’s great to see him back in form and blasting United into this title race.

If ten Hag has done anything to help Rashford it was in getting rid of Ronaldo. Surely the debate about the stroppy self-centred superstar is now over? Yes - he got goals after re-signing for United but rarely were they significant goals. He was a pain around the club and he suffocated the life out of players like Rashford. Here’s the proof - with Ronaldo starting games at United, Rashford scored eight goals in 19 games. Now Ronaldo has gone it’s 16 in 17 - 10 in 10 in the PL. Obviously there are other factors, but those stats don’t lie.

I’ve always said the PL needs a strong United. They’re stirring. And that’s good news.

I’m constantly being asked what I know about the proposed takeover. The answer is ‘nothing’. I don’t want to know either because anything I might be told would be compromising. My opinion is that the club would flourish under Qatari ownership. It’s fun watching Ian Herbert and the Daily Mail do all they can to stir unrest about a Qatari bid - a bid from a ‘god forsaken place’ to quote Herbert from his column last week. Herbert and his colleagues are hating the prospect of United being owned by Qataris.

Jim Ratcliffe seems to be a serious bidder. Just a couple of thoughts on him though that I haven’t read much about.

Ratcliffe owns the petrochemical company INEOS, whom Greenpeace have got plenty to say about.

According to Tom Hopkinson, in the Sunday Mirror, Greenpeace claim INEOS’s links with several sporting institutions are designed to distract from the damage the company’s business practices are doing to the planet.

He quotes a Greenpeace spokesperson as saying ‘Accepting a bid from Ratcliffe would be an awful own goal for United. Petrochemicals giant INEOS is just the latest fossil fuel company trying to use a popular sport to distract from their climate-wrecking business’. It’s hard to argue.

Qatari detractors say ‘look at what they’ve done in Paris’. Yea? Look at what they have done - they’ve turned an ordinary team into a multi-billion euro business employing thousands of locals, whilst putting the team firmly on the international stage, competing on equal terms with Madrid, Munich, United, Barca and anybody else you care to mention. It hasn’t gone quite so well for Ratcliffe owned Nice has it? Talk to anyone about that project and they’ll tell you what a mess it’s turned out to be. They were once considered the best run club in France. Not now. Btw - I wouldn’t want Dave Brailsford, who now serves as INEOS director of sport, anywhere near a sports project that I supported.

I wonder if Paul Tierney is going to follow Lee Mason out of the VAR bunker this week? What a howler Tierney and ref Stuart Attwell committed by not sending Marcel Sabitzer off. That was a horrible challenge on Wout Faes. ‘How it was not looked at is incredible’ said Brendan Rodgers. It was Brendan, but it was decided in VAR that it was ‘reckless’ not ‘dangerous’. When an accomplished assassin like Graeme Souness says it was intended - trust me - it was intended. It was a scandlous challenge and because no action was taken on the day - Sabitzer wasn’t even booked - the FA should look at it this morning and charge him. (Monday).

Well done Arsenal. What a response to the defeat by City. This really could be their year.

How can Graham Potter survive Chelsea’s latest meltdown? Surely only as long as it takes to get Mourinho out of Roma? A situation complicated by the fact that he’s now got them in one of the CL places.

I’m afraid the Potter experiment has failed. I’m sorry that it has, but he’s clearly out of his depth. Todd Boehly should put him out of his misery. If Potter gets out now he’s £8/10m up on the start of his season and there’s a really good job waiting for him at Southampton, where he’d be better suited.

And a final word this week has to go to Dickie Davies - Richard Davies as he initially was when he first went on air at ITV. It was John Bromley (head of sport) and Jimmy Hill who decided that he should be called Dickie - because there was more razz-ma-tazz about it. Dickie - a lovely man and a brilliant broadcaster.

His passing marks the end of that golden era of sports broadcasting - Coleman, Moore, Bough, Carpenter, Gutteridge, Wolstenholme - giants all of them.

I remember meeting Davies in the London Brasserie Langan’s some little time after Sky started to break up the old ITV-BBC duopoly. He was delightful ‘don’t let them burn you out’ he advised me. Sadly I didn’t listen. They did. Thanks Dickie - for that advice, but as with the other guys I mentioned - for filling my childhood with great sport and providing me with the ambition to try to follow you all. Whether I succeeded others will judge. RIP legend.

Did anyone ever really believe VAR would end the arguments?

Published: Monday, 13 February 2023

Let’s start with something positive to do with VAR. Top marks to Howard Webb for having the balls to admit VAR got it wrong at Arsenal and Selhurst Park - where Brighton were the victims of a ghastly mistake.

It’s never easy to accept decisions when your own team has been wronged. But it makes it a damned sight harder when officials gang up and refuse to admit their mistake.

That’s the world we lived in under Mike Riley. He was an incompetent weak ref before being appointed top ref at the PGMOL. Like every schoolboy who’d been bullied before finding their way into a position of power, Riley exacted his revenge at the PGMOL. It was his way or the highway - and he wanted the last say on everything. Even when Sheffield United scored a perfectly good goal at Villa - that we all saw was in - Riley came up with some nonsense as to why VAR couldn’t intervene and give the goal. Bournemouth were relegated as a consequence - not Villa, who should’ve been. So much for VAR ending mistakes of ‘enormous consequence’ as we were promised.

Lee Mason was in VAR watching Arsenal v Brentford. He got it wrong. Toney’s equaliser shouldn’t have stood - if you believe in finding ways to disallow goals. I don’t. I don’t know why we look so closely at marginal offsides. Whatever happened to giving the forward the benefit of the doubt when it’s tight? Anyway - if you do believe in making it harder to do the hardest thing on the field - score - then the goal should’ve been disallowed.

My mate Keith Hackett, who was once in charge of the refs, called for Mason to be sacked in his column in The Telegraph. I disagree. I actually feel some sympathy for the guys in VAR. I always have.

I’ve said this many times - watching football on tv is an art form. It takes years to understand what you’re looking for and why. It’s nonsense to believe that you can be a ref one day and sit in a bunker watching a tv the next. It’s different. Very different. I know Mason is full time VAR now. So is Mike Dean and that’s a move in the right direction. VAR operators should all be full time. I’ve also said that from day one. But it still takes a long time to adapt to watching football on tv.

If Mason were to be sacked what next? No-one would feel comfortable in that bunker. They’d all be on edge and too afraid to get involved. There’s an argument that that wouldn’t be a bad thing but we couldn’t operate like that.

I don’t like VAR. I never have and I never will. It’s ruined our game, but it’s not going away.  So we have to work out the best way to use it and Howard Webb needs time in order to do that. He’s admitted errors this weekend and I trust him to make it better.

Only this is for certain - those who promised that VAR would end the on-field debates were either naive or dishonest - perhaps both.   

Oh - did anyone hear the howls of protest from Arsenal when Saka looked like he might have been offside in the build up to Martinelli’s opening goal v Liverpool? No. Nor me. Remember - VAR told us The lino didn’t flag and the cameras weren’t calibrated properly, so the onfield decision of goal stood because they couldn’t prove Saka was offside. I could. I could see he was. Oh - Riley was in charge then.

There are many more examples of how VAR got it wrong proving, I suppose, that even with the technology decisions even themselves out across a season!

Who advised Guardiola to come out swinging in his press conference last week? My goodness - what a mess he made of his defence of City - in the face of 115 charges from the PL relating to their conduct. The first thing he said was wrong - City weren’t found ‘not guilty’ after they appealed UEFA’s charges to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Yes - a two-year CL ban was overturned, but only because it was ruled that a two-year statute of limitations had passed and UEFA were denied the right to press charges once it had. But City were still fined. You don’t get fined if you’re innocent. The PL don’t have such restrictions to worry about. Their charges will have to be answered - in full.

So Guardiola was wrong about that before going on to arguably libel 9 PL teams and naming Daniel Levy as responsible for pursuing the charges. If I was Levy I’d ask Guardiola to prove that claim in court.

Then came the Sunday’s take on it. Their reporters get an embargoed time with the coaches all on their own at those press conferences. Tv and the dailies can’t touch what they’re told. Guardiola’s argument to them was that City weren’t responsible for Gerrard’s slip. Come on. Nah nah na nah na. Pathetic.

What should’ve happened is that somebody in authority at City should’ve told Guardiola to avoid talking about the charges at all cost. Keep it simple - well, as confusing as his team selections - but as simple as he could. Football only.

Klopp wants us to blame him for Liverpool’s decline. I did last week. I will again. I repeat - you can’t put the decline on FSG’s toes. Klopp is responsible. He’s to blame for letting an ageing side get too old to be fit for purpose. Ok Jurgen?

It didn’t take long for us to be right about Nathan Jones did it? Just a week. I told you in my last blog that Southampton would make another change. They had no choice. But this time you can blame the owners. Whose idea was it to employ Jones? Does that individual escape without criticism? He shouldn’t - and he shouldn’t be anywhere near the process of finding the next coach.

One last thing. I was delighted to read today than Newcastle will wear their famous black and white stripes at Wembley in the Carabao Cup final. Good decision. Do you remember they they changed into their Saudi national kit for the game at OT? I know why teams do it - especially Newcastle - but there’s nothing like watching your team play in their proper kit on big days out. So black and white stripes it is. And I have to admit I hope they win it. They’re long overdue.

You can run - but you can’t hide City.

Published: Monday, 06 February 2023

For anyone that’s been following the saga, today’s announcement of charges levelled at City by the PL comes as no surprise. It’s something we’ve constantly referred to on beINSPORTS since Der Speigel published documents from football’s wiki-leaks cache first discovered by hacker Rui Pinto.

City have done everything in their power to frustrate and block the PL’s enquiries - including claiming that the info gleaned was inadmissible because the emails that condemned them were ‘hacked’ and ‘taken out of context’. Rubbish.

They used this excuse when they went to the Court of Arbitration to overturn a two-year CL ban imposed by UEFA. Then they successfully argued that the breaches were either ‘not established’ or ‘time-barred’. The PL were not under the same constraints when it came to pursuing their enquiries.

So what now for City? Well, it’s not too long ago that Rangers were relegated to the bottom tier of Scottish football - without due process - for far fewer offences than the 100 City have been charged with. Is that precedent? Should City be relegated if found guilty of the most serious offences? Stripped of titles? Don’t expect a speedy outcome but it’s all possible nooooooowwwww.

And do we think Guardiola will be at City at the start of next season? Even without this latest development I’d argue not.

There is something clearly not right at The Etihad. The unrest has been brewing almost as long as it’s taken for these charges to materialise.

Issues with Cancelo we are now very much aware of. Where is Foden? What about Phillips (or is he still too fat Pep?) Why isn’t Laporte playing? He’s City’s best centre-back. Why didn’t de Bruyne start at Spurs? A sniffer dog would be kept pretty busy in that dressing room right now.

And what’s all this nonsense with the ‘inverted’ Lewis? It’s this obsession as much as anything else that’s disturbed City.

Look at the goal Spurs scored. City are over-playing as usual. They get jumped all over. Lewis isn’t strong enough to resist the press on the edge of the box. Spurs are in. Kane scores once they take Akanji out - whose got the full width of the box to defend because Aki is at left-back, where Lewis should be. If Aki is where he should be - at left centre-back - Kane probably doesn’t score.

The knock on effect - with City in possession - is that Walker is too scared to go. De Bruyne is ineffective because he’s having to provide the width - last season he took 24% of his touches on the wing - now it’s 35%. And he’s without a goal in 12 appearances.

The service for Haaland has dried up. He didn’t get one touch in Spurs’ box. Not one - all game. It’s as if City have reverted to type and he’s now got to adapt to them - rather than them adapting to him, which appeared to be the case early in the season.

Regulars know that Guardiola isn’t my favourite. Why does he have to complicate things so much? Why try to be so clever? Why look at his inquisitors from the tv broadcast companies like they’re a piece of shit on his shoe? He’s contracted to talk to them - but he shouldn’t bother because it’s always very evident that he can’t be bothered.

Sean Dyche proved that football is a simple game. Well played mate. What a start. All of a sudden Evertonians are looking forward to next week’s derby. And with good reason.

Liverpool’s problems are not dis-similar to City’s. What a shame that Klopp appears to be doing his best to impersonate Guardiola in his post match press conferences now. What was that about at Wolves - blanking James Pearce from The Athletic because he doesn’t like what Pearce has previously written? Pathetic. There’s only one winner when a coach falls out with the press - and it’s not the coach.

My guess is Klopp will walk. Not now - but if they’re knocked out of the CL by Real Madrid I think he’ll be gone before the start of next season.

Liverpool are way off. A shadow of what they once were - and it’s no good blaming FSG. The downfall is Klopp’s responsibility. He didn’t start the re-build soon enough.

That was one of Fergie’s greatest strengths - that he would rip apart successful teams. What were Liverpool thinking keeping Milner, Henderson and Firminho? Tiago is past his best - not that I was ever a fan He was the wrong player at the wrong club at the wrong time. He slows Liverpool down. In fact, the entire mid-field is too old or not good enough. Robertson is past his best. Whoever is in charge next season has a massive job on his hands. Do we believe Klopp is up for it? I don’t.

How long do we think Graham Potter has got? I can’t think that Mourinho would be making as much noise as he is (sorry, his advisors are) if he didn’t think there was a chance he might get another crack at Chelsea. Watch this space.

What about Nathan Jones? Can he cling on? What a bizarre press conference he held post match Saturday. It wouldn’t surprise me if Saints didn’t make another change before the end of the season.

Well done Steve Cooper. Forest are edging to safety. I always said I thought they’d get enough points at home to cling on for another season. I still think they will.

There’s always a surprise struggler. For me - it could to be Palace. They’ve won just one of the last eight - a run which hasn’t really been talked about because there’s a lot going on elsewhere - not least at Leeds, who’ve won only two in 17 - losing ten in that sequence. How long has coach Marsch got? Interesting times eh?

Brilliant Brighton. And get Reidy back to Everton.

Published: Monday, 30 January 2023

Brilliant Brighton. What a ride their fans have been enjoying these past few years. And I couldn’t be happier for them.

Brighton was a regular haunt of mine in my late teens and early twenties. My eldest sister lived there and every other weekend I’d make the trip to see her from my London base. I loved the place and I’ve had a soft spot for the city of Brighton and Hove - to give it the correct title - ever since.

An old Coventry stalwart - Chris Carlin - played and managed there - so that helped me cement an affection for the club and a trip to The Goldstone Ground as a young reporter was always a treat. I felt like I was going home on many subsequent visits. My most recent was in 2018 to see my Super Sky Blues get turned over in an FA Cup tie. It’s fair to say I was none too pleased with the result - but my host, Darren Bloom, was his usual ebullient and generous self. It was a lovely day out.

Tony is a dream of an owner. He picked Brighton up off the floor. They’d had a miserable time following the closure of the Goldstone in 1997. Trips to Gillingham were followed by home games at the Withdean Stadium. I went there to watch Coventry as well.

There are other heroes to mention, apart from Bloom - Steve Coppell for instance, who worked miracles at the club - but in the end what’s happened is down to Tony and his brother Darren.

I wasn’t too happy when they sacked Chris Hughton and I told them so. But they were right. Graham Potter took it on and now Roberto De Zerbi is doing the same. Roberto who? we all asked. Appointing De Zerbi was a brave call. It’s also quite an achievement to keep selling your best players and yet remain competitive. Arguably get better, which is what Brighton have done.

It’s a well run club and I hope they go on to win the trophy this year. I was at Wembley in 1983 when Jimmy Melia’s side - Robinson and ‘Smith must score’ - took United to a replay. They came up short turn then.

I’d love to see them go one better now - but it’s a big call. Only Leicester and Wigan have broken the dominance of the big 4 in the last decade - so it can be done - but it’s a big ask. When it gets serious the big boys tend to come out to play and make life intolerable for the rest.

Not that Liverpool will be doing that this season. What on earth has happened at Anfield? Nobody expected such a calamitous meltdown, but Andy Robertson is right - it’s only getting worse.

I’m not going to suggest that Klopp should go - but this all falls at his door. He should’ve seen it coming. That’s what the best do. It’s what made Fergie great. He’d dismantle teams at the peak of their powers. He knew exactly when to do surgery. And that’s why I’ve always been convinced he knew he was leaving a bang ordinary team behind when he retired. This painful decade for United has only served to underline what an extra-ordinary period his time in charge was. I’ve always believed Fergie knew what he was doing when he walked. His previous record at re-building tells you that. I’m not a fan - but I’ve also always said he was the best ever. Guardiola isn’t in the same class.

City are still in it of course and I hope they continue to want to win it. I hope Spurs give it a go. Eddie Howe missed a trick when he named a weaker team and got dumped out in round 3. I know he’s a whisker from a League Cup final - but there are no guarantees. United’s hunger to win that is just as strong as Newcastle’s. I’m sorry Forest fans - the s/f is over. You know it is. But why didn’t Howe give it a go in the FA Cup? Strange.

Klopp puts a huge part of Liverpool’s demise down to chasing too many trophies last season. He might be right. His team look tired. But I hope what’s happened doesn’t deter others from having a go at trying to win all the prizes.

One way to keep the big clubs attention is to drop replays. We don’t need them. They’re an out-dated old fashioned throw back to an era when football was very different. Times change. Going to penalties at the end of extra-time is a much better way to sort things out.  ‘Ah - but you deny the little clubs money and glory’ say the critics of that idea. Really? Ask Wrexham what they would’ve preferred Sunday. They might be in the hat on their own for the fifth round now. What a climax that would’ve been to what was a terrific game v Sheffield United. The Hollywood ending that most are bemoaning we didn’t get.

Welcome back Sean Dyche. Everton dodged a bullet when Bielsa said ‘no’. What planet does that guy live on? He wanted to take the under-21’s before stepping up to the first team in the summer? I hope Everton didn’t pay for his flight if he muted that idea before coming to London. Mad. Completely mad. So was Moshiri for going down that path in the first place.

Dyche is a safe pair of hands. Lampard did the job he was asked to complete last season - and I’m sorry to see him go, but it was inevitable.

It’s going to get tight again - but Dyche will get a Everton out of trouble. The first decision I’d make would be to get Peter Reid involved at the club again. Reid is a blue legend as we all know. An Everton die-hard. It’s going to get bumpy for Dyche. If he had Reid about the club to explain what was happening he’d keep the hard core fed-up faithful on board. Sadly they’ve lost respect for Graeme Sharp after recent events.

Reid wouldn’t pull any punches. He’d tell it straight. He worked as a loyal lieutenant to Tony Pulis at Stoke - and Paul Cook at Wigan. I was surprised Sam Allardyce didn’t turn to him during his time in charge at Everton. Reid would be a breath of fresh air around Goodison and no threat to anyone. Think about it eh Sean?

Haaland is incredible but he doesn’t make City more dominant. And Arsenal are ready.

Published: Monday, 23 January 2023

It was The Beatles that sang about ‘eight days a week’ and a whole lot of love. Right now Arsenal fans couldn’t be more in love with Mikel Arteta. 

The last eight days in Arsenal’s week have proven beyond doubt that not only are they in this title race - they are the firm favourites and really should go on and win it. It’s theirs to throw away.  

They’ve passed every big test so far. Winning at Spurs was impressive enough, but the manner of the win over United was arguably more so.

I didn’t see panic when they went one -down. They calmly constructed a lead. And would’ve kept it but for a Ramsdale howler from the corner that led to the wee man’s goal. What a header that was. Brilliant. And to be fair to the keeper he’d made a magnificent save just before that.

The winner was deserved. There was never a doubt in my mind that Nketiah was on-side. Straight away you could see Wan Bissaka had played him on. The full-back handed Nketiah his first as well. The defending at the 2nd post was awful. No - it was Zinchenko who looked off to me. We’re told not, but I’m not sure what technology they‘ve found in the bunker that wasn’t available when Wolves got their ‘winner’ at Anfield in the Cup. I backed Stockley Park over that one but I’ve got my doubts now.

A Twitter follower later told me that Zinchenko hasn’t been caught off-side all season. I haven’t checked - but if that’s true its really impressive for a raiding full-back. Bearing in mind that Guardiola started with Laporte at left-back against Wolves I wonder if he’s regretting selling Zinchenko to Arsenal?

If I’m Arteta nothing else matters now. I don’t care about Europe - all I want is the title. Let the other chasers get caught up with European games - especially City - who will concentrate more and more on the CL if they’re still adrift further into the season. As I said last week - it’s looking like a ‘Leicester’ season. There isn’t the same quality of challenge that we normally see. This could yet be a one-off chance for Arsenal to nail the title

After another hat-trick I read today that the debate over Haaland at City is over. Does he make them stronger or not? No is the answer and I’ll make the case in a moment. Haaland is phenomenal - but when the the world’s cleverest (and smug) coach going to realise that, with the Norwegian in his team, he’s got to change his style of play? He’s got to get the ball to him more quickly.

Against Spurs, City struggled in a lifeless first-half. They came out in the second 45 - went longer and quicker and blew Tottenham away. Ederson even got an assist for the fourth goal.

At their best City can be breathtaking. But when they play as they did v Wolves - and in the first 45 v Spurs - they’re dull. I was bored Sunday and I’m sure I wasn’t alone. If I was a City fan I wouldn’t pay £100 to watch that. For 39 minutes it was a snooze fest. Then a right footed player turned up on the right hand side of the box and knocked a beautiful first-time cross onto Haaland’s head. Haaland snapped it up. Simple. Why do City have to complicate everything?

Why is England’s best right-back sitting on the bench watching a kid play in his position - drift into mid-field every time he’s passed the ball back or sideways? What’s useful about that? Clever though eh? Guardiola has come up with another cunning plan. Walker is dynamite on that right side and is missed when he doesn’t play. 

I’m guessing Lewis is picked to provide extra numbers in mid-field and make up for the fact that Haaland won’t come back to help out. Last season City didn’t have a proper No9 and everybody put in an extra shift to make up it. But do City really need numbers in mid-field for a game at home v Wolves? Come on. It’s nonsense.

So - does Haaland, who is an exceptional player, actually make City more dominant? No I said. And here’s why. Only so many goals can be scored. He’s got 25 so it follows that the others won’t get as many Gundogan had five by half way last year - it’s only two this.  De Bruyne had five - it’s three this. Mahrez had five - four now. Silva seven - just two now.

Last year Sterling had five. Alvarez has four. Foden has seven this year against four last.  The ‘rest’ this season have scored six - last year others had scored 15 - 17 if you count two own goals.

As a team things balance out, 45 points with 53 goals scored this season, 47 points and 53 goals last season at the half-way stage. There we have it - City are two points worse off. Haaland is a brilliant goal scorer but his numbers don’t make City more dominant. What he might be though is the difference on a big CL night. That’s what he’s really been bought for.

A couple of other conclusions from the weekend - United aren’t ready, but they are definitely making progress - and so are Newcastle, but they’re not in the title race either. Eddie Howe knows a CL place finish and a Carabao Cup win would still add up to a dream season. In fact - I’d give up a CL finish if I could swap it for guaranteed silverware. We all know that Newcastle fans are desperate for a trophy.

Having had a little go at City I should add that Liverpool/Chelsea was also a bore-fest. I still find it hard to read a table that sees them in ninth and 10th respectively. It’s amazing. Stuck on 29 points each I can’t see either making the CL. They both need to hit a rich vein of form - and right now neither looks likely to do that.