It was classic rope-a-dope Jurgen

Published: Monday, 28 December 2020

I had to laugh. Jurgen Klopp’s face post match was a picture. He was in pain. It was as if someone had just told him he was going to have to replace half a dozen of those expensive teeth.

After seven consecutive home wins this season it was over. Big Sam had mugged him again and Klopp wasn’t happy. ‘Who would’ve thought he would come and play a 6-4 or 5-5 or whatever it was in the first half?’ Er - me Jurgen. And I was really surprised that you were surprised that he did. It was classic Big Sam. ‘A bonus point’ the big man called it.

Too right it was a bonus point. It won’t have been one that he’d scheduled when he calculated what was needed for West Brom to stay up. But he planned for it. He hoped for it. And the game turned exactly as he wanted.

The big man’s plan was very simple. Sit for 45 minutes - and keep any damage to a minimum. To get in at half time all square would’ve been a dream, but he would’ve expected to concede. The important thing once that happened was to make sure the gap didn’t get any bigger. Liverpool huffed and puffed and all but blew themselves out. All the time the score was only 1-0 West Brom were in the game. All it was going to take was to get on the end of something from a set-piece. Abracadabra - Allardyce worked his magic again.

Of course the Baggies were going to have to be a little more expansive in the second half. They had to get up the pitch to force a corner - or a free kick in the last third. It really was classic rope-a-dope. They’d taken Liverpool’s best shots - hadn’t been hurt too badly and there was plenty left to have a go at the champions with. Brilliant. Classically brilliant. Never mind all the nonsense about possession. The only stat that matters at the end of a game is the score-line. 1-1. That’s why the big fella cancelled his annual Christmas holiday in Dubai - to get that winning feeling again. And believe me, this one felt like a win.

It was a win really. It was a win over officially the best coach in Europe, who was left angry and bemused. But what did you expect Jurgen? Sam isn’t as daft as some that have visited Anfield this season and gone toe-to-toe with you - scoring three but letting in four. Yes, Leeds were wonderfully entertaining at Old Trafford as well - but took a hiding.

Add indignant to the list that best describes Klopp post match. It was almost as though he was struggling to come to terms with the fact that Sam hadn’t set up to get beaten. Come on Jurgen - you know very well that there are many different ways to play the game - and digging a relegation point out at the home of the champions requires stubbornness, discipline, planning and a bit of luck. It went exactly as Sam plotted.

There’s little that Allardyce likes more than bloodying the noses of the so called ‘super coaches’. It irks him that after a lifetime in the game he still has a reputation for being ‘anti-football’.

Love him or hate him - you can’t deny him. When he managed at Bolton he was often described as an innovator. He was prepared to do things differently. He once finished fourth with them. And think about the players he managed - Hierro, Djorkaeff, Campo, Anelka and there were many many more. He’s a super coach all right.

It’s not by good fortune that Sam is still around. When he’s been employed to do a job he’s always delivered. I’m still sorry that he didn’t get chance to get his teeth into the England job. That was the one he always coveted and it didn’t end as it should’ve done. Never forget - he wasn’t found guilty of any crimes - because there weren’t any. Greg Clarke got trigger happy so there weren’t too many tears shed by either myself or the big man when he was run out of town recently.

For those of you who do like a stat - here’s one - since April 17 Allardyce has taken 5 points away from Anfield. The rest of the big six have managed only four between them.

Another matchday started with me promising myself not to end up writing about more shocking decisions - both from the field of play and the bunker - but oh no - it’s impossible it seems.

Sean Dyche was left pulling out what little finger hair he’s got left. A pen for Bamford? No chance. Not on the basis of recent decisions that have seen pens overturned when a player has got a whisper of a touch. ‘Reckless’ said the PGMOL. Nonsense - but if so - why wasn’t Matty Cash penalised for his wild slash in the box on Van Aanholt - ‘because he got a touch on the ball’ said Stockley Park. There is no consistency. Excuses are made up as they go along.

Burnley were also denied a perfectly good goal. If Barnes goal was to be disallowed, then they should’ve had a pen for Meslier’s reckless challenge on Ben Mee.

And no wonder David Moyes wants to know why Lewis Dunk’s goal was allowed to stand after he’d knocked the ball into his own path with his elbow. ‘There wasn’t a definitive angle that proved he had’ said Stockley Park. Come on. I was looking at one when we put the call in. It was nailed on. Why don’t they just admit when they’ve got it wrong? Why not? It’s pathetic the scrambling that goes on. ‘The dog ate my homework Miss’. It really is as bad as the worst schoolboy excuse for covering up.

Brendan for Barcelona?

Published: Monday, 21 December 2020

It’s a measure of how far Brendan Rodgers has taken Leicester that we now expect to see them in the top six. And I don’t think anyone is surprised to look at a table and find them in the top four. I think he’s done a fantastic job.

I wasn’t sure he’d picked the right one when he left Celtic. And I was convinced he made a mistake when he turned Arsenal down before Arteta took the job. But, not for the first time, Rodgers has proved me wrong.

Brendan’s calm demeanour and penchant for being a tad verbose have made him one of the impressionists favourites. Darren Farley does a spooky life like take-off. If you shut your eyes and listen you’ll struggle to separate the real thing from the imitation. Farley should be ‘very proood’ of his work. There have been times that Rodgers has struggled to get us to take him seriously and Farley is one reason why. But now we have to.

Rodgers has never been short of self belief. He’s often taken himself a little too seriously. The documentary he starred in at Liverpool didn’t help. There was that terrible moment when he showed us his portrait. And we’d all previously seen the three envelope trick.  But do you know what - looking back I don’t blame him one bit. He was excited. He was ‘proood’ to have landed the job and he had every reason to be.

This was a guy that had no playing career to speak of - that had worked damned hard to make an impression at Chelsea before landing managerial jobs at Watford, Reading and Swansea. Then he got the big one, making a journey that John Toshack had dreamt of many years before. He got Liverpool - taking over from Kenny Dalglish.

That was never going to be easy. Rodgers made subtle changes - like turning the goal nets back from white to red - which Liverpool had always had. He wanted to show he understood the club. He bought into the traditions of the place - brushing off criticism from the likes of me! I had a real go once when he left Steven Gerrard out of a CL game at Madrid. Of course he had a problem with Steven. Gerrard was a huge character and would always over-shadow the manager.

But for Steven’s slip against Chelsea - who knows? Well - that slip and an eagerness on Rodgers’ part to get the better of his mentor Mourinho that night. If he’d settled for a point Liverpool would’ve gone on to win the title. They would’ve won at Palace - instead of conceding three as a result of chasing goals. Newcastle at home, on the last day of the season, was a banker. Gerrard later admitted that Liverpool were ‘over confident’ against Chelsea and it bit them.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter now. Rodgers chose his next job carefully and well. He morphed from the ‘nearly man’ into a serial winner at Celtic. Never mind that Rangers weren’t a threat - he had them playing some really good football and he swept up. He won everything, not once, but twice and very nearly three times. Perhaps he looks back on the timing of his departure with regret, but he didn’t really have a choice. Benitez was trying like a bear to get the Leicester job so Rodgers had to take it when it was offered.

Again, a lot of us thought he’d made a mistake. That dressing room was an unforgiving place, with the odd viper hiding in the corners. It had seen off as nearly as many managers as Watford have been through. Rodgers quietly set about winning players round. Not only has he done it, but Leicester are title contenders again. None of us thought that could happen after what we all called their ‘one-off fairy tale’ in 2016.

I’m really pleased for Rodgers, but I would add this. If Arsenal comes up again Brendan - take it. You can’t turn a club like that down twice. Rodgers has proved he can handle big clubs - as well as both difficult and big players.

I remember saying that when he tossed off the CL game in Madrid that the Spanish giants would never forget an insult like that. Again - I was wrong. Not only have we all forgotten, but I believe that Rodgers should - and would be - at the head of a short line of British managers that could handle a job like that - and the one at Barcelona. He’s become something that we in the British game should be ‘proood’ of.

Once again I started writing today determined not to mention the most bang ordinary set of officials any country in the world has the mis-fortune to trust their game to, but I want to leave you with a few questions.

Why did Craig Pawson need VAR to convince him Aurier had fouled Fafana? It couldn’t have been clearer.

Why wasn’t Callum Wilson booked for diving? Why was Andersen sent off? Why weren’t we allowed to listen to Graham Scott’s conversation with Stockley Park? What on earth were they discussing? It was a perfect example of why we should be allowed to listen in.

Why was Livermore sent off - but Hause wasn’t? That one was a leg breaker.

Why was James booked for diving when clearly that was a pen?

Why wasn’t Sterling penalised for a blatant handball in the box at Southampton?

And why on earth are we disallowing goals on the length of under arm hair? That was James Maddison’s question after his terrific effort was ruled out at Spurs. And then Watkins suffered the same fate at The Hawthorns? It’s ridiculous. I’ll say it again - our game has been stolen by a dozen men in suits that believe they know better than the millions that watch and love football. And Mike Riley has reduced our elite referees to bumbling, fearful wrecks - that make up excuses as they go along to cover for their own ineptitude - and that of their colleagues.

No ambition West Brom? At least have some class.

Published: Monday, 14 December 2020

Norwich City arrived in the PL the season before last with zero ambition. None. Zilch. There was no plan to survive. No plan flourish. No intent to do either. They came with little more than hope.

I had them down to finish bottom. Finish bottom they did. There was the odd game here and there - the win over City - that occasionally had their fans believing - but they were never doing anything more than making up the numbers.

The owners knew it. Senior management knew it. Daniel Farke knew it. Sadly their fans didn’t. I often wonder how it is clubs feel they can ask supporters to part with hard earned cash when they’re selling a con?

I suppose there’s always the argument that you might get away with it. After all - Sheffield United pulled it off. They weren’t lucky - but they over achieved and survived their first season back. Sadly that won’t happen this season. They’re down. They won’t get out of this one.

Now. Let me re-dress the balance a bit for Delia and Co. They were realistic. They knew survival was going to be near impossible - without a massive spend. But that doesn’t guarantee anything. Look at what Fulham did when they got back under Slavisa Jokanovic. A £300m spend later they were on their way back to the Championship.

Norwich have already won twice as many games this season as they did last. They’re top again. Pukki is scoring goals again. It’s fun again. They’re going up again. I say ‘fair play’ to them. They know what they are - too good for one league but not good enough for the next - and they’re happy with that. What they lack in ambition they make up for in realism and morality.

They didn’t blame Farke for last season's failure. They expected it. They backed their manager and showed commendable strength. They knew he was the right man to get them up again. Just as Burnley knew Sean Dyche would get them back after his first failed season in the PL. And now look.

West Brom are this season’s Norwich. They came up with no ambition. Yes - they would prefer to stay, but what chance has Slaven Bilic really got? They’ve spent diddly squat. They’re not good enough. Surely everybody at the club knows that? They’ve got to. So don’t blame Bilic. Give your man the time he deserves and needs. He’s principled. He’s the best you’ll find. He got you up last season and the chances are he’ll do it again next season. Don’t con your fans by pretending someone else can pull off a miracle now and sack the fella. Show some class. Do the right thing.

The same applies to Sheffield United - although I know that Chris Wilder had a few quid last to summer. I don’t think he spent it well mind you. There’s a reason Aaron Ramsdale went down with Bournemouth. He’s not very good. And Rhian Brewster isn’t ready for the job they want him to do - but I do think he’ll bang in enough goals next season to get them back. No ambition? Show some class at least if you’re one of the strugglers. I get it - you don’t want to bankrupt your club chasing wild dreams but be realistic.

As I write news has broken that we’ve lost another good football man. Gerard Houllier has left us. He probably wasn’t ever on Robbie Fowler’s Christmas card list - but I can only speak as I found.

When Gerard was first ill we were at Anfield to cover a game v Villa. It was a special evening for me - although as time has passed, like a lot of other things from my time at Sky - I’ve forgotten why. But the point is - Gerard had heard why and arranged for a cake and champagne - in his office - for the guys front of house after the match. It was a really nice touch. I’d never met the guy - but this had class written all over it.

The next time our paths crossed was when I got ill. I didn’t realise at the time - but the issues with my heart were exactly the same as Gerard had been through. The only difference was that I got lucky - by about two days. Gerard suffered an aortic tear and should’ve died. Thank goodness he didn’t and that there was plenty of time left in him. I only know this because he called me - out of the blue - and told me. He was kind. He was also inspirational. And we kept in touch. I’m so sad that he’s left us. He was a genuinely good guy who made a mark. He left a legacy and no-one can change it now. You can’t ask for much more. Thank you Gerard.

Is it time to wave Arteta-ta-ta?

Published: Monday, 07 December 2020

I’m sure it won’t have escaped the notice of Arsenal fans that if Brighton beat Southampton 2-0 tonight (Monday) only Fulham will stand between their team and the bottom 3.

Perhaps it has? If that’s the case - read the opening paragraph again and then pause for thought.

What would you all give for a top four ‘failure’ under Arsene Wenger now? Oh - and an FA Cup win to go with it. Strange isn’t it? Wenger won that trophy three times in his last four years at Arsenal - as well as delivering CL football - before finally missing out on a top four finish - and he was hounded out of the club - dismissed as a dinosaur. Arteta fluked it last season and somehow was elevated in amongst the small group of ‘super coaches’. Why? The answer, of course, is that he’d sat next to Fraudiola for a couple of seasons. That was it. He’d achieved nothing else. Nothing.

Go back through these blogs. I said when Arsenal appointed him that they’d made the wrong choice. Carlo Ancelotti was the man. He IS a genuine ‘super coach’. He almost invented the title. Ancelotti is a big club manager and he was perfect. He was also available. But oh no - clever people at Arsenal hatched their clever plan and went for the novice.

I read an article at the weekend which posed many of the same questions that I am here. It concluded that there are many good people at Arsenal and that it was impossible that all the brains belonged to Wenger. Maybe not....

‘Good ebening’ was a disaster. Was wrong. Was so obviously wrong. How did that happen? And they’ve compounded the mistake. I’ve no idea how they get out of this.

I can’t imagine that they’ll part company with Arteta but what’s happening can’t be allowed to go on.

One of the first rules of management is ‘don’t go looking for trouble - it will find you’. The words of the great Jock Stein. How right he was - and still is. Why did Arteta chose to freeze Mesit Ozil out? Are you telling me he’s not good enough to get into the current team? Please - don’t make me laugh. I’ve said previously that Arteta’s decision would come back to bite him. It’s doing just that right now.

Post match at Spurs I heard the suggestion from some pitch-side reporters that Arsenal had ‘dominated’ the game for long periods. What utter nonsense. No they didn’t. Ok - so they had 69% possession - but largely where it didn’t matter. They got 44 crosses in and had 11 shots - but the only attempts on target were two limp headers. Spurs bossed that game from start to finish. You don’t need the ball to boss a match. It’s why Mourinho was so happy. He talked after the game about how his team ‘grew up’ in that 90 minutes. All the possession in the world counts for nothing unless you hurt the opposition. I’ll bet the Spurs kit man didn’t wash Lloris’s kit. There wasn’t a need.

Make no mistake. Arsenal have got trouble. Just a thought - Max Allegri?

Meanwhile - back at Stockley Park I hear the latest missive from Mike Riley is that VAR needs to be used more often because ‘on-pitch’ mistakes are too frequent. Now - let’s examine that. Why are they? Simple. Because refs are scared to make big calls in the knowledge that VAR is there to get them out of trouble.

Next question - why the need for more use of VAR? Simple - because Riley continues to dictate decision making from his grand tower. He wants to present percentages that prove VAR’s worth. They’re telling officials what decisions to make as they go to a monitor. Still - only Graham Scott has stood by a decision he’d made on the pitch after visiting a monitor. They ALWAYS change their mind. They’re being TOLD to change their mind. Here’s your challenge Mr Riley - prove I’m wrong. Let us all listen in to the conversations that are taking place. It won’t happen will it? Because you know I’m right. Fans deserve better than this. We all deserve better than this. Our game has been high-jacked by a dozen ‘suits’ that think they know best. They don’t. They’ve stolen our fun. They’ve stolen our excitement. They’ve stolen our game. It’s wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

In the PL they can’t even get basic calls right. What on earth did the lino at West Ham not see? No word from the patsies yet as to why Simon Long didn’t rule that ball down the line out of play. We all saw it was - all of us - except him. If any of us made a similar catastrophic decision at work we’d be out on our ear. That was a game ebbing away from United. And as if that calamitous error wasn’t enough - why wasn’t Fernandes penalised for his outrageous lunge at Fabianski a couple of minutes later? The keeper leapt out of the way of flailing studs - knocked the ball into touch - and United scored from the throw. It was a foul by Fernandes - clear and obvious. Why didn’t Andre Marriner see it? Why didn’t his assistant - the very same Simon Long? Why didn’t VAR pick it up. Put that one down in the ever growing list of ‘mistakes’ column Mr Riley - match changing errors. Isn’t that what VAR was brought in for?

Meanwhile, Chelsea continue to look good and there’s no stopping Liverpool it seems. They were my one and two this season (champions first) but I’m really hoping that Spurs make a serious challenge now. As expressed in my first blog this season - I wasn’t sure that everybody at Spurs would buy into Mourinho’s work ethic. Well not everybody has - Delli Alli is a good example of someone who appears not to have done - but those playing regularly - and on the pitch at the end against Arsenal, could not have had broader smiles. They know they’ve got a chance now. It was man v boy in the technical areas. Oh what fun this is - another dinosaur proving why ‘we’ ruled the world for 300 million years. 👍🏼

I agree with Klopp.

Published: Monday, 30 November 2020

Jurgen Klopp is correct. The current schedule for some teams - especially his and Chelsea’s - is crazy.  Since the start of last season Liverpool have had six 12.30 starts - Chelsea seven. Early Saturday is exacerbated when either team have played in Europe on a Wednesday. I get it. It’s wrong. It’s tough. But - what do you expect tv companies to do about it Mr Klopp? The architects of the problem are the clubs. Simple. If there is an answer - find it. And stop moaning about it because it’s becoming a tedious obsession. And it’s affecting your team.

His ‘debate’ with BT Sports Des Kelly was fair enough. It wasn’t a rant - more of a discussion, but Klopp just won’t listen. It wasn’t quite the same - but there were echoes of Rafa’s Rant about it. I got our guys at BeINSPORTS to dig that one out on Sunday and you’d be surprised how many similar points Rafa made - fact, Mr Ferguson.

I know that Rafa’s infamous meltdown came at a much later stage in the season, but it cost his team. Liverpool were never the same after it and it’s generally agreed that it cost them the title.  If Klopp doesn’t put his obsession down he could end up doing the same thing. When a manager or coach loses the plot his team tends to follow. Remember Keegan? 

The problem originates from the multi-million pound contracts that the PL shareholders - the clubs - agree to. BT Sport has the right to 32 games at 12.30 on a Saturday. Twenty of them are ‘second picks’ - so once Sky have chosen 4.30 Sunday BT make their choice. BT paid £860m for the right to show 96 matches at lunchtime on Saturday over a three year period. £860m Mr Klopp. And you want them to chose to watch Burnley play Palace? Or Sheffield United v West Brom? Come on. Get real.

There are a number of other issues here. We ‘foreign’ broadcasters are rarely given a thought, but our money is happily received as well. In our part of the world there are thousands of Liverpool fans who love seeing their team in the early afternoon on Saturday. Go further round the globe, where the Far Eastern and Aussie broadcasters are, and its even better for supporters there. Thousands more Liverpool fans, who don’t have to stay up into the small hours to see their team play. Yes Mr Klopp, the same thousands that you pay lip service to with the odd post/pre season trip. The thousands that loyally spend their money on replica kit and various other rip offs. What about them? No. I thought not.

Overseas rights have become a huge source of revenue for PL clubs. In the last round of negotiations they matched the domestic figures. Next time they’ll be worth more because the U.K. broadcasters are at their limit re-rights. In this deal there was a package in the U.K. that the PL couldn’t give away for a while. Then Amazon stepped in. Covid has burst the bubble.

So be careful what you wish for Mr Klopp. Your bosses know what’s going on and that’s why they can’t help you. It’s them that you should be angry with.

And let’s not forget - the current load on everybody was easily avoidable. Some of us even spoke about it when Covid shut down last season. We should’ve ended it and got ready for an earlier start to this campaign. We didn’t. Liverpool - I guess understandably - were the club more than any other - that wanted to play to a finish. That’s where the root of this problem lies. We all knew it was going to be a quick turnaround. We all knew players would suffer. We all knew it was going to be ‘different’ this season Mr Klopp. You’ve said that yourself.

One last thought. Perhaps you could get your Chief Exec to have a word with someone at UEFA and get the midweek CL games played earlier on a Wednesday? Lunchtime perhaps? Or mid afternoon? Why not? With no fans in who would it adversely affect? I can’t think of a good reason why not.

Whatever else Mr Klopp - give us a break. The problem is of your making.

I was more concerned to see Arsenal’s medical team allow David Luiz play on through his sickening clash of heads with Raul Jimenez. And he later drove home. I’ve checked with some of my mates who work in medical depts elsewhere and to a man they were astounded. Especially in the current climate. It’s was complete madness.

Never mind Troy Deeney’s observations that his ‘legs didn’t give way’ when he came back on. I love Troy. He’s an old school warrior - but Luiz was in serious danger the moment he played on. A second bump could’ve been fatal. Literally - fatal.

Arsenal’s medical team were reckless. Mikel Arteta was too. He could’ve made the decision. Klopp is whining on about fatigue whilst Arteta is putting his man in serious danger.

I’ve got to mention the pen Brighton got. Never. Ever. Not for me. Why was it even referred? The error wasn’t ‘clear and obvious’. Nor were the two that got referred the previous week - that clearly were pens. It was another weekend when the match day official was overruled by Stockley Park. The visit to the monitor by Stuart Attwell led to a change of opinion. Why? I repeat - in my view the guys are being told what to do on the walk there. We need to hear that conversation. All of us - fans and broadcasters alike. It’s critical now. When you’ve got good pro’s like James Milner and Jordan Henderson coming out as strongly as they did something is clearly wrong. Join me - let’s get a campaign moving. We MUST be allowed to hear the conversation between Stockley Park and the ref.

And finally. Happy St. Andrew’s Day to those of you celebrating - including my mate Andy Gray. Happy Birthday also Andra - you’re still the best. Thirty two years we’ve been doing it now - it’s been a blast.

With a quarter of the season gone - where are the Manchester clubs?

Published: Monday, 23 November 2020

It’s hard to believe isn’t it? A quarter of the season has been played already. And where are the pride of Manchester ? The former manager of relegated Cardiff and Molde has announced his clubs’ season ‘starts now’. And the other would’ve been sacked had it been anybody else. His team are 13th. I repeat - 13th. It’s staggering.

Is Solskjaer serious? ‘Our season starts now?’ What? Two weeks ago he suggested United were ‘getting better because we’re on course to beat last seasons total of three wins in our first 10 games’. Come on. It used to be nine wins from 10 - and even that wasn’t good enough. Had it not been for VAR and a bucket load of free penalties it would be a whole lot worse than four wins in 10.

They should've lost again at the weekend. The Baggies were robbed - but as Martin Samuel pointed out in the Mail ‘Never mind. It’s only West Brom’. Between them David Coote (yes, him) and Peter Bankes had a nightmare. Of course The Baggies should’ve had a pen. And United should not. We can argue all day about whether Darnell Furlong handled the ball (don’t worry - VAR will sort these things out) but it shouldn’t have been given because there was a foul in the build up. That’s what VAR should’ve been looking at - not Darnell’s alleged infringement. But as Samuel points out - ‘no social media frenzy this weekend involving United fans - so that’s ok’. What a joke. Incidentally - it really isn’t funny anymore how many pens United are getting.

One other thing that will annoy United fans - have a look up the table. Have you seen who’s in 8th place? Yep. The Chosen One. His team have already played City, Liverpool, Spurs, Leicester and Wolves. His spend since going back to West Ham is minimum. Buttons. But he might just be building something a bit special by West Ham’s standards. Now wouldn’t that be an IRONy!

Let’s not pretend. The former manager of relegated Cardiff and Molde is not the man to manage Manchester United. Granted, there are many problems those in the know will tell you about behind the scenes, but that shouldn’t be an excuse. United have to make a change. I know for a fact that Mr Ed has spoken with both Pochettino and Allegri. So what’s he waiting for? If he doesn’t move soon both will be working again. Perhaps it’s because he knows he can’t afford too many more throws of the dice himself?

Draw your own conclusions about what’s happening at City. I’ll just say this - has any coach ever spent more money and not delivered his primary target? And does anyone think they’re nearer to it this season than in previous years?

I saw Jonathan Wilson in The Guardian applauding the decision to give Guardiola a new contract - suggesting he can now build his ‘second great team’ at The Etihad. He didn’t build the first one Jonathan. Kompany, YaYa, Aguero, Silva, de Bruyne, Sterling - all the big players - they were all at City before Guardiola. How much has he spent since? Well - £500m on centre backs - and where are they now? How many teams did Fergie build - whilst still winning titles?

Have a quick look at the Championship table now. Notice anything? Correct. One and two both went down last season - and Watford are hovering with intent in 5th - two points off the pace.

Rick Parry, EFL chairman is correct. It’s not a PL of 18 clubs that would kill the dreams of those outside - or the team finishing third in the championship playing off against a PL side - it’s parachute payments. The three that went down left with money in excess of £100m. That has to give them an unfair advantage the following season. They can keep their best players - pay wages far in excess of others - even if they are half of what they were the previous season. It’s wrong. It’s got to change. I refer you back to my arguments in favour of Project Big Picture. Too much of that plan was too good to dismiss as quickly as some did.

The debate about five subs goes on. Did you notice how many Guardiola used v Spurs? Two. Just the two. And one last time out v Liverpool. Klopp used three v Leicester - one was Minamino in the 89th minute. These two are demanding a change back to five subs. Why?

And in closing - I return to my argument about letting us listen in to conversations between match day officials and Stockley Park. I watched David Coote as he went to the monitor at OT. You can see him clearly say to Peter Bankes (VAR) ‘are you telling me that’s not a penalty?’ Bankes shouldn’t be ‘telling’ him anything. He can ‘suggest’ a review - but decisions on the pitch are for the match day ref only. I won’t go any deeper into the decision - or the one at Villa, but when Peter Walton comes out against Stockley Park then you know something is seriously wrong.

I repeat the charge that refs are being ‘told’ what decisions to make as they go to the monitor. If I’m wrong - prove it. Let us listen to the conversations. What have they got to hide? It happens in other sports. It’s happening in Australia’s ‘A’ league. There is no case against the idea. Educate us. Help us. Let us listen in - fans and broadcasters alike. I ask again - what have you got to hide Mr Riley?

Roy Keane. He became what he despised.

Published: Monday, 16 November 2020

I remember the day well. It was Old Trafford and we were all very excited because our best fixer (actually our only fixer at the time!) Geoff Shreeves had persuaded Fergie to allow us to have Roy Keane as a guest.

We’d come a long way from the first season when Fergie had banned us from any access at United, from about the October of our debut season, because we’d had the temerity to show him throwing his toys out of the pram on the touchline at QPR.

The ban actually worked in our favour. We got to know some really good guys - Denis Law, Bill Foulkes and of course Besty - who I knew anyway but not as intimately - as United stormed to their first title in 26 seasons. That summer Fergie called our senior producer, Andy Melvin, and asked if we’d take his boy - Jason - on the staff! You couldn’t make it up.

Fergie was wrong. I’ve said this before - we always operated on the basis that anything that happened in the arena was fair game. We had a rule that we would never point a camera down a tunnel - that was off limits. That was footballs ‘office’ and we had no place there.

Anyway. I digress. Roy Keane. Now we were being trusted with his captain.

As he sat down I explained that our attitude to football was always to try an accentuate the positive. I remember saying ‘if a game is shit - people know that themselves. What I need to know from you is - how can this get better?’

We didn’t have the luxury that Alan Hansen and his mates had at the BBC. Alan used to make me laugh ‘for me, I wouldn’t watch this is it was being played in my back garden - ball’s in the back of the net!’

Fine. The BBC are the only organisation in the world that know what income they’ll have year on year. We were a commercial organisation doing our best to promote our national game. That’s not to say we didn’t call it honestly - but why spend fortunes on a product and then kick the shit out of it? I know Arsene Wenger feels that about the way tv companies conduct their business these days. I don’t get it either.

Anyway. Keane looked back at me with an icy stare. I could see the devil in his eyes. The only other time I’d seen that same menacing look from a guest was when Mick Harford joined us at Luton. I remember thinking ‘don’t mess about tonight fella. Keep it straight’. We loved a laugh in that studio. It’s what made it - like any happy dressing room.

We were always very much aware that if we were going to criticise then it had to be done constructively. That we could offer both explanation and education. Andy Gray did that better than anyone else - and he’s still doing it. Teams and their managers back then were so sensitive. I can only imagine what would’ve happened If we’d ever called Gary Neville a ‘car crash’ and an ‘idiot’. And there were plenty of opportunities!

You can see where this is going can’t you? What a disgrace Roy. Cheap. Even by your standards. How would you have described your assault on Alf-Inge Haland - an incident that would’ve seen you arrested anywhere other than on the pitch?

I know why they do it these days. It’s all about ‘hits’. Young tv execs wrongly encourage it. Why do bang ordinary defenders - who had many bad games - always want to tell us why a goal shouldn’t have been scored? Why can’t they sometimes accept that not every goal can be stopped? And where would we be if it was? This is something that Andy has preached all his life. It’s probably because he was a forward and knows what it takes to score a goal - the hardest thing to do on a football pitch.

Again. I digress. We all remember Keane in 2008 hammering me - saying ‘he’d rather go to the dentist’ than be an analyst - actually, I’ll use the word I hate ‘pundit’ - because few actually ‘analyse’ anything these days.
He added that I sold ‘something that was built purely on hype’.

He also once said ‘there are ex-players and ex-referees being given air-time who I wouldn’t listen to in a pub’. Quite Roy. And you’re now one of them.

His barbed jibes might have more impact if his managerial career had been anything to get excited about. But it wasn’t. At Ipswich it was a ‘car crash’. Sunderland wasn’t much better and let’s not get into what he left behind when he  finished as Ireland’s asst. manager. I know a few of his ex-team mates were furious that he was welcomed back into the fold after he’d walked out on them in Japan. I know. I know. Mick McCarthy sent him home - but Keane wanted to go.

As for his comments about Kyle Walker - well it comes as no surprise to me that Manchester City have lodged an official complaint with Sky Sports. I don’t have to defend Walker Look at his career. A car crash? An idiot? I don’t think so.

Today’s ‘pundits’ need to be careful. In the U.K. we handed over a product that made multi millionaires of all of them. We did that on the back of supporting them as players. Of supporting the game I love. After all these years I still enjoy watching it. I’m proud of the way that we cover the product on BeINSPORTS. We must be doing something right. We’re still going and the channel is in everybody’s ‘most watched’ across 23 countries in our part of the world. That’s some going.

My advice is this. Everybody on that pitch has a bad day. You all did - some of you a lot more often than you care to remember. Mistakes happen. That’s often why goals are scored. But they’re also scored because sometimes it’s impossible to stop them. Enjoy our game. Stop trying to destroy it. Respect it.

Chuffed to bits for Rodgers and Mourinho.

Published: Monday, 09 November 2020

Take look at the top of the PL. First and second are two guys that have been pilloried by journalists down the years - me included. But I was wrong and now I couldn’t be more pleased for Mssrs Rodgers and Mourinho. I really hope one or the other finishes top this season.

I’ve got to hold my hands up and admit I’ve been a bit harsh on Rodgers. He’d waited a long time before getting his revenge a couple of months ago. Well - I say harsh. As I’m writing I withdraw - I wasn’t all wrong - but fair play to Brendan for giving me a wrap over the knuckles when we spoke recently.

He was kind enough to speak to me and Andy during the first lockdown. Before we started he reminded me that I’d had a little go at him for leaving Steven Gerrard out of a CL game at a Real Madrid. It made me laugh. He’d noticed. He’d waited. And he went in high! Good man.

The puzzling thing was - why had he waited so long? Look - I know he’s not everybody’s cup of tea because he can be a little verbose - but he’s always been good to me. When he left Liverpool he came out to join us in Qatar on BeINSPORTS and we had a fantastic few days. He was great fun and couldn’t have been more compliant. He did everything we asked of him.

I’ve talked about the car journey that we shared back to his hotel before. He explained how he had to be really careful about the next job he took because it was going to make or break him. We discussed Arsenal - which I still think would’ve been perfect for him - but he didn’t mention Celtic. As it turned out he couldn’t have chosen better. From being someone who couldn’t win trophies he got greedy and won everything - again and again. I’m sure the timing of his departure must haunt him - but he’d earned the right to decide when to go.

I also wasn’t sure about his decision to take the Leicester job. I used to call them ‘Chelsea light’. Like the West London club their dressing room was brutal. It chewed managers up. I couldn’t see the boys embracing Rodgers’ style. I was wrong again!

Last season ended badly and of course it led us all to conclude that Leicester’s time with the big boys was over. Not a bit of it.

The recruitment at Leicester has been fantastic. Sales of players has been even better - and still they’re winning. In fact, who else right now can boast wins over Guardiola (and that was a proper spanking) Bielsa, and ‘mini me’ (Arteta)? I suppose we should also add Numes to the list. Rodgers has gone in against all four and walked away with the points. We’re told these are some of the best coaches Europe has to offer. So where does that rank Rodgers?

When Mourinho was with us in Qatar I asked him ‘any regrets about Manchester United?’ ‘Yes’, he said. ‘Taking it and not leaving at the end of the second season’. Looking back now he can’t really regret having taken it - but he should’ve gone at the end of the second season. All the signs of what was to come were there. Klopp was right when he said recently ‘If I was smart I’d have left last season’. Timing is everything.

I had a pop when Mourinho started behaving like a spoilt schoolboy again. But he knew what he was doing. He played his way out. He knew it was the final nail when he left Pogba out for three consecutive games. He did it on purpose. Job done.

The relief at the club was palpable and the former manager of relegated Cardiff and Molde initially benefitted from that. But I’m afraid United are what they are - a big club in terminal decline. I don’t believe anyone is going to turn them round until the things we don’t see are corrected. Behind the scenes United are light years away from the rest.  But let’s not get distracted.

On leaving, Mourinho was described as a dinosaur - whose best days were behind him? Why? Largely because he believes in playing a different way to Guardiola - thank goodness.

At Spurs he’s been criticised for letting them be too ‘Spursy’. Also for winning ‘ugly’. You can’t have it both ways. I said last week - there’s something special going on at Tottenham - and the majority of the players know it. I wish them all the success in the world. It’s overdue - and for Mourinho any triumphs now will be the sweetest yet.

Meanwhile, Guardiola continues to toil - complaining bitterly about not being able to use five subs. You only used one at the weekend man - so what’s the problem? Klopp had a little moan up as well - and he only used two.

Oh - and there is no way in the world Jesus meant his cheeky little turn. You only had to look at his face when asked - he knew it was a mis-control - but top marks for reacting the way he did.

One last thing. If you care about football outside the top league then listen to the most recent episode of KeysandGray The Podcast. We spoke with Rick Parry, Chief Exec of the EFL. His thoughts were fascinating. Change is coming - whether we like it or not. I embrace the need for it to happen. Have a listen. And then tell me who the dinosaurs are.

Salah is tops on the ‘scream-ometer’

Published: Monday, 02 November 2020

We had this conversation on BeINSPORTS. I said to Andy ‘so which team is playing better than they were last season?’  

Liverpool? No. United? No. City? No. Arsenal? Not really. So that leaves Chelsea and Spurs. Of course, I’m referring here to the teams that can seriously mount a title challenge. As well as Everton started, I don’t think anyone really believes they can stay the course. The same applies to most of the other early season front runners - but I’d make Wolves an exception. I don’t think they can - or will - but they might. Confused? Sorry. But you get what I mean? They just keep surprising us. So maybe!

I had Chelsea down to finish 2nd in my pre-season predictions. Nobody takes those calls too seriously - unless you suggest  Everton might give Liverpool a serious run for their money - then the red half of Merseyside spend all their waking hours abusing you. 🤷‍♂️🤷‍♂️

I had Liverpool top - and they’re still my favourites. They’re winning games, despite not playing anywhere near their best - but they’ll need more going forward.

Chelsea are getting better every week. I wasn’t sure what Frank Lampard was trying to do in the first few games - but they’re settling now and looking good.

It’s Spurs that I’m most pleased to see emerging as a force. I didn’t have them in my pre-season four because I wasn’t convinced Mourinho could get enough of his squad to buy into the way he works. It looks like he might’ve done though. He’s got plenty of good players and the dissenters don’t appear to be damaging the mood. I see a real determination about them. I think the boys that are with Mourinho know they’re onto something.

I’m chuffed for the manager as well. I haven’t always been a fan - but having spent time with him here in Qatar he won me over completely. Don’t listen to those who tell you he’s past his best. That’s an opinion based more on hope. Mourinho is a winner. He’s everything that Spurs have rarely been. Believe guys. This really could be your season.

It’s a damned good job that Gareth Bale came up with the winner v Brighton or all hell would’ve let loose. I’ve seen some bad calls from our refs over the past 18 months or so but I’ve never seen one as ridiculous as Graham Scott’s when he decided Solly March hadn’t halved Hojberg just before Brighton’s equaliser. I’m sorry - what did he see? Or rather not see. It was a foul in real time and Scott was looking at it. It was a foul when he was asked to review it - and it was a foul after he had. It was a foul - full stop.

Scott left the pitchside monitor telling Harry Kane ‘I think he got a touch of the ball..’ You ‘think’ Graham? Really?You can’t ‘think’ when you make a decision. You have to be certain. It was a foul. Mind you, I’m sure Stockley Park would’ve come up with some nonsense to justify the decision had it affected the game. Do you remember Tammy Abraham getting a kick up the arse at Norwich last season? That was a foul, but it wasn’t given. Norwich nicked the ball - just like Brighton - and scored. We were told the goal was good because Chelsea had had the time to ‘re-set’. So Spurs must also have done - and on that basis, why was it even referred to VAR? It’s a joke. They make it up as they go along. Someone is also reading this blog - or was it simply a co-incidence that a ref stuck by his original decision having been to a monitor? That’s the first time it’s happened this season. I said last week that I was waiting for an example - but you chose the wrong one guys.

Oh, by the way Mssrs Scott and Moss. It was a foul by Kane on Lallana - he made a back. And Brighton should’ve had a pen. It’ll be interesting to see if Scott gets a game next weekend. My guess is he could well he ‘rested’. He had a shocker - and VAR wasn’t any better.

One last thing - a plea to those who play the game - please lads - stop the screaming. We knew it was a growing trend because we could ‘see’ it when there was a crowd. Now we can hear it. Salah’s murderous howling was embarrassing. He’s not alone - but he’s one of the worst offenders. He was lucky not to be booked for simulation. With him challenging for top spot on the ‘scream-ometer’ are Mane, Rashford, Martial, Fernandes and Pogba. Is that why United have had so many pens again this season? They’ll doubtless justify it on that basis - but it really isn’t good. Cut it out.

Why is our refereeing so bad?

Published: Monday, 26 October 2020

I don’t want to spend too much time on this - I’m bored with the whole thing but I repeat what I said on BeINSPORTS this weekend - we’ve got to hold Mike Riley and the PGMOL to account. It’s really important that we do. So here goes - again.

Somehow referees have elevated themselves to being the most talked about element of a football match these days. Why? How? I’ve said this before as well - do you remember when we used to say ‘the ref had a good game today - I hardly noticed him’. As Mourinho might say ‘not anymore’!

When is somebody going to do something about the ever declining standard of our refereeing? It can’t go on. Please. Please - for goodness sake. Help us. We’re becoming a laughing stock.

Did you see what Mario van der Ende said last week? ‘Who?’ I can hear you ask. He’s a retired Dutch ref that went to two World Cups during a glorious 15-year career. He was always regarded by those in the know as one of the very best.

He said he was ‘astonished’ to see Michael Oliver allow Jordan Pickford to ‘escape without sanction’ in the derby game. He added that he can only believe it’s because English referees ‘apply the laws of the game differently at home and abroad’.

‘When English referees go to the continent they stick to the laws of football. But as soon as they go back to their own island they use their own rules’. he said. Note the distinction between the reference to ‘laws’ and ‘rules’. He’s right. We have our own ‘rules’ in the PL - on our island.

Van der Ende again ‘when I saw how Michael Oliver refereed the game between Italy and Holland he was astonishingly good. But they make different decisions in England’.

At last. It’s not just me - or Keith Hackett or Mark Halsey - the only two genuinely honest X-refs who comment on the game. What they see must drive them mad.

One last quote from Van der Ende. ‘We used to call what Pickford did a “foul with contempt of death”. I can’t believe Oliver didn’t show a red card.

‘And I have no idea why VAR didn’t step in. There was all the time in the world with Van Dijk on the floor injured’. Quite.

I’d love to know what Mr Van der Ende made of Harry Maguire’s head lock on Cesar Azpilequeta. My goodness - was there ever a more obvious penalty? This time the man in VAR was Stuart Attwell - who gave Michy Batshuayi a significantly softer pen at Palace the weekend before. The inconsistency is staggering.

Why was Arsenal’s goal v Leicester disallowed? It shouldn’t have been. No-one was interfering with Schmeichel. The keeper knew it. His defence knew it. No-one complained. Why didn’t Michail Antonio get a pen when he had his legs taken away clean through on goal v Man City?

Why are refs not being asked to look at monitors in situations like these? How can Attwell make two such starkly different decisions one week after the other? Why hasn’t a ref visited a monitor and stood by his original decision?

Is it because Mike Riley is still making all the decisions remotely? He lost the battle on sending refs to monitors - so is he trying to have the last laugh? Is he telling refs what their decisions should be as they approach a monitor?  I believe he is. Prove me wrong Mr Riley. Like Australia’s ‘A’ League - let us listen to your conversations. Why not? I’ve argued this before. What have you got to hide? Help us. Educate us. Let us all listen in to the decision making process - broadcasters and fans alike. Why are you scared? Or have I already answered my own question?

Enough. Let’s talk football.

I’m so pleased to see David Moyes smiling again. Here’s a man that’s been beaten black and blue since leaving Everton. It’s all history now so there’s no point dwelling on it. Moyes is a good man. An honest man - a good footballing man. He’s right when he says he’s now got a club now that might just be the last with genuine potential to make a significant impact in the PL. That is if the owners - and Karen - back him and let him get on with the job. Up until now they’ve always thought they knew better than anyone that they’ve employed. They didn’t. They don’t. Oh - and let Moyes do the buying.

In conclusion - a word about one of the very best broadcasters the U.K. has ever seen. I wonder what Frank Bough would make of the eulogies I’m reading following his passing this weekend?

I didn’t know him - but I used to watch him - in awe - when I worked on Grandstand in the late 70’s. He was good - very very good.

His career ended prematurely. We all know the story but as Frank himself said ‘I’m not a wicked man, nor do I mean any harm or evil to people. I’ve made mistakes but everyone is entitled to do that’. Sadly, he wasn’t. I never wavered in my admiration for Frank as a broadcaster - so I find it galling now to see so many crawling out of the woodwork saying so many nice things about him. It’s too late guys. Where were you when he needed you?

One of his crimes, of course, was the use of cocaine in an era when it was frowned upon. These days it’s almost a required ‘must’ in LE, print journalism and in tv sports departments. There’s another irony.

RIP Frank. You truly were one of the greats. You - Coleman, Davies, Moore - what an era. None was perfect - but all were brilliant.