Luton in the PL? That would be a miracle to eclipse Leicester’s title win.

Published: Monday, 17 April 2023

If my beloved Super Sky Blues don’t make it back to the PL - I have only one wish for this season - that Luton Town do.

I’m dreaming - just a little bit. It’s not beyond possible, more improbable I have to admit. But, we’re in the mix. For a couple of hours on Saturday we were actually in the play-off places.

I won’t bore you with too much detail because you’ll switch off, but what a job Mark Robins has done at Coventry. When we dropped into League Two in 2017 (the lowest point of a decade of mis-management by previous owners SISU) I honestly felt we were heading out of the League altogether. I couldn’t see any other outcome. They were desperate times. Mark Robins came to the rescue. We will forever be in his debt. He deserves a crack at the PL.

But - to return to a story that I’ve written about previously. Imagine being a Luton fan at the start of the 2008/09 season. Before that campaign the FA hit them with a 10-point deduction and a £50,000 fine for irregularities in the club’s transfer dealings - which wasn’t the fault of the consortium that was trying to buy the club at that time.

They were docked a further 20-points for failing to exit administration properly and crashed out of the league at the end of that season - despite winning 56 points in the campaign.

I know a lot of this because my old TV-am mate Nick Owen is a big Luton fan. We’ve talked often about the injustices of what happened to Luton and I blogged on this same subject back in March 2022 before Luton’s failed Championship play-off bid.

Owen was appointed chairman by the LTFC2020 consortium that took his club over during the turbulence and he did a magnificent job, not just helping keep it alive, but steering it better times again, before he quit the role in 2017.

Three times Luton made the play-offs whilst in the Conference/National League. Three times they failed to make it back into the FL.

John Still eventually got them up in 2013. The recently maligned Nathan Jones (his troubles at Soton were of his own making) picked up the mantle and got them out of League Two.

Club legend Mick Harford got them promoted from League One after Jones had left for an unsuccessful spell at Stoke. Jones eventually returned and built the basis of the squad that Rob Edwards now has sitting third.

The reason for the history lesson is so that I could give the above heroes credit for what they achieved - including Jones, who despite his troubles at Soton, is clearly a good coach and will return somewhere soon.

Now Luton are again on the cusp of a taking a place in a PL that they voted for in 1992 but never got to play in because they were relegated before it was formed - another reason that I hope they get up if we don’t. I know. I know - it’s a long shot for Coventry. 🤞

It’s something of an irony that Edwards is in the position that he is as well. Remember he started the season as boss of Luton’s arch-rivals Watford - but was sacked after just 10 games. The mad owners of that club are once again on a third manager of their season and sit 12th - two places lower than they were when they sacked Edwards. Kama. Lovely.

I read that the PL want to install four new cameras next season to help the accuracy of off-side decisions. Why? What’s wrong with the AI technology successfully used at the WC in Qatar and now in Serie A?

Do you know what - you could add 100 cameras and Stockley Park would still find a way to fuck things up. It’s not cameras we need - but operators in that bunker that can actually do their job properly.

One blunder after another has followed this season. Ask Brighton and Wolves. And Newcastle. And West Ham - in fact, all of the clubs.

How on earth did Spurs’ equaliser against Bournemouth stand? Kane was clearly off-side and interfering with the keepers view. I guarantee you that goal doesn’t get given at the other end. I was so pleased Bournemouth went on to win the game. They deserved to.

And why didn’t Forest get a pen v United? Maguire clearly handles in the box. We asked the matchday centre why a pen wasn’t given - ‘because there was traffic that impeded Maguire’s arm movement’ they said. Yea - there were two other United players around him. What nonsense. It should’ve be been a pen. It might then have been a very different game.

I’m genuinely sorry to see Steve Cooper struggling. He’s a good guy working in a madhouse atmosphere created by another self-absorbed owner. Sorry - but it was oh so predictable. I know I upset Forest fans by pointing this out at the start of the season and I got hammered - but….? 🤷‍♂️.

It’s to be hoped that the signings that were made have clauses in contracts that allow for relegation. If not - part 2 of my prediction will come true and the club will be in administration in the Championship. Evangelos Marinakis - and his chaos - will be a distant but expensive memory.

Not so many pictures coming out of the Arsenal dressing room now is there? The celebration police could very well be right after all.

I promised Liverpool I would point out an inaccuracy in the blog last week. They haven’t yet been fined for failing to control their players following the 4-1 defeat to Man City and they were only hit with a fine of £25,000 for the same offence v Everton - £15,000 less than the Toffees.

And finally - I’m delighted that assistant Constantine Hatzidakis was cleared of any wrong doing following the altercation with Andy Robertson. I think Liverpool missed a trick here. They should’ve got Robertson to issue a statement asking for the matter to be laid to rest before it was investigated. They would’ve won a lot of friends by doing so.

Not so much Ted Lasso - more Dumb and Dumber Jesse

Published: Monday, 10 April 2023

I must be missing something. Jesse Marsch is obviously a much better coach than I’ve given him credit for. And I’ve been a keen supporter of his. 

He deserved great credit for keeping Leeds in the PL last season - and I said as much then. I still believe they’d have gone down if Bielsa had stayed in charge. 

Marsch made many friends at Elland Road. I’m told the players thought he was a really nice guy - but, in the end, they just couldn’t work out what he wanted from them. 

Marsch overcame the language barrier! He talked of ‘football’ not ‘soccer’. Of ‘away games’ not ‘road trips’. So no stick to beat him with there. 

But. I’d love it if someone would explain to me how it is that a man, recently sacked by a club battling for their PL lives, has the temerity to turn down two offers to stay in England and continue to work in the PL? Marsch must really rate himself. 

Ok. Southampton - a great club by the way and a gorgeous area to live and work in - apparently only wanted to employ Marsch until the end of the season. So nothing permanent. Maybe Marsch felt that was too much of a gamble, but if he’s as good as he clearly thinks he is, he’d have kept them up wouldn’t he? 

No sooner had he said ‘no’ - Leicester came along. Leicester - recent FA Cup winners and former PL champions. Another great club, with a training centre second to none. 

We’re told terms were all but agreed on a 3-year deal, but then Marsch watched the defeat by Bournemouth - and after a ‘long consultation’ with his coaches he decided to back away - and I’m quoting from what I’ve read - Marsch didn’t want to work in the C’ship next season. 

What? Again - surely this modern day super coach would’ve kept them up? And if he hadn’t - what’s wrong with working in the C’ship? If Burnley can piss it (no disrespect intended Vinny) then surely Leicester would? Marsch would’ve won more games than he ever has in a season - had fun doing it - and made himself a hero.  It would’ve been a blast. 

Who does he think he is? Maybe he’s had a call from that lunatic Boehly telling him to hold off because he’s in line to replace Lampard? Boehly, we read, is now taking advice from James Corden. Well - it makes sense doesn’t it? Perhaps Fred Karno was engaged when he tried to call him? 

Seriously. What is Marsch waiting for? I don’t see him getting another offer to work in the PL. 

What a game at Anfield. I know Arteta wasn’t celebrating at the end (😂) but I firmly believe it was a good point for his team. 

We’ll maybe never know exactly what happened at half-time when Robertson and assistant Hatzidakis clashed. The pictures aren’t good for the lino, but I hope he escapes censure - just as Bruno Fernandes did on that very same ground. 

I said then that Fernandes should’ve been charged. The FA rightly threw the book at Mitrovic, but a week or two before that incident at OT they let Fernandes off after he laid hands on an assistant. See. These things come back to bite you. 

As Robertson approached Hatzikakis perhaps the assistant was concerned about his safety? He’d have every right to be. What an irony that Liverpool last week paid the FA another £75,000 for failing to control their players during the recent game against City. That was after a combined £60,000 with Everton following the derby. In total PL clubs have been fined £1.3m for ref abuse this season - Arsenal have contributed £185,000. 

It’s got to stop. Robertson had no right to confront the assistant at half-time. I don’t agree with Roy Keane often, but he was right when he said Robertson behaved ‘like a baby’. Mind you - let’s not forget that Keane, Neville and co invented ref abuse. Just ask Andy D’Urso. 

Who knew this? Have a look at the diagram below. 

It’s from the IFAB laws of the game web site and it clearly shows that they’ve changed the interpretation of the handball law again. Why did no-one tell us? Is that why Mitoma’a goal at Spurs was disallowed? 

What a mess David Elleray and his colleagues at IFAB have made of the handball law. 

I wonder if you can guess who said this ‘I absolutely do not understand the law and something must be done in this area’. 

I’ll tell you - Alexander Cerefin - President of UEFA. He was talking to the Slovenian newspaper Ekipa just two weeks ago. He went on to say ‘nothing is clear to anyone any more’. Correct. Sort it out guys. Oh - and let us know what you decide. 

Ten excuses for Nout Workhorse - quit Sharpy - and is Mourinho going home?

Published: Monday, 03 April 2023

Oh I do like Monday’s. What’s not to like - sitting here in glorious Qatari sun with a cup of tea, writing this blog?

I enjoy it. It’s fun. And I’m pleased to say that it seems you do as well. Thank you for your feedback. It’s nice to get back to my roots and script a few words. I knew early in my career that I was never going to be the greatest wordsmith - I left that to others that I worked with at the London-based sports agency Hayters - the likes of Mssrs Calvin (whose new book The Survivor is terrific) Winter, Samuel and the late Alan Lee and Tony Roche. They were all better than me. I liked the spoken word and chose to pursue work in radio and tv.

Forgive the daydreaming. Let’s get down to it.

What a weekend. Arsenal continue to look like the real deal. There’s absolutely no reason why they can’t win this title. There’s certainly nothing to fear when they go to Anfield at the weekend. I think they’ll win.

I’m also pleased to see Newcastle finding their rhythm again. I’d love to see them finish in the top 4.

All of a sudden United have got to be a little uneasy about their chances. Well - I say all of a sudden - it isn’t really. Have you noticed their last six league results? They’ve won only two of them - against Leeds and Leicester - a sequence that includes a goalless draw v Southampton and that 7-0 hiding at Anfield. I’m sorry - but they’re nowhere near as good as they’ve been hyped. The talk of a quadruple after the Carabao Cup win was nonsense.

I agree that they’ve made progress - but this isn’t a title winning side. They’ll never win a title with Nout Workhorse in the side. Seriously - why do they play him? His supporters tell me he’s doing something right because he’s starting games. Really? What is it then? And don’t tell me he’s a ‘pressing monster’ or that he ‘starts the backwards press’ whatever that means. Ten Hag justified his plans to sign him permanently by telling us that last week - and went on to add that Workhorse ‘creates space for players’. I’ll tell you what - he’d create more space if he wasn’t on the pitch. 

The bottom line is that he’s a bang ordinary centre-forward who doesn’t score goals and isn’t good enough to play for United. Ten Hag sounds like a desperate man trying to justify a mistake every time he talks about him. 

And when is ten Hag going to accept that his team don’t lack ‘passion, desire, hunger and attitude’ every time they get beaten? Or that ‘they didn’t stick to the game plan’.

Sometimes you lose a game simply because the opposition were better. Newcastle were. They too had a game plan and it was better than ten Hag’s. Game plans are all very well in freeze-frames on laptops - they rarely go wrong then - but football is played by humans and therefore there is no perfect ‘game-plan’.

A couple of other things from that match - Fernandes remains the most irritating player in the PL. Never mind applauding the travelling support - cut the play-acting, stay on your feet and try to affect games that way. I’m pleased to see that officials have got the measure of him now. They know that if he goes over in the box he’s trying to con them.

And wasn’t it good to see Marcus Rashford fully recovered from the injury that kept him out of the recent England games? His speedy return to fitness must have had something to do with the air on the plane as he flew to New York? Or perhaps he got treatment there?

What a shambles the govt appointed owner of Chelsea, Todd Boehly, has created at The Bridge. Potter’s sacking was inevitable and overdue. Sacking him isn’t a mistake - sacking Tuchel was.

I really wanted Potter to succeed, but it’s been evident for weeks that he was out of his depth. This morning he’s got to be as relieved as he is rich. What other business rewards failure like football does? It’s madness.

Potter will come again - perhaps somewhere like Leicester? Or maybe Southampton - as I suggested a couple of weeks ago.

It would appear that Chelsea want to  take their time finding a new coach. Is

 that because they’re prepared to        wait for Mourinho? If they don’t  appoint until the end of the season  don’t rule it out. There’s no way he  would walk out on Roma now but he  might if he delivers a CL place and a  trophy. Chelsea is his home.

 It’s great to see Roy Hodgson back in  business. What an impact! It was a big  call by Steve  Parish to invite him back  to Palace, but going forward why not  Alan Pardew?  Why does Pardew  never got a  mention when jobs become available? He’s a proven PL manager and would do a very good job for someone.

I’ll finish with a word about Everton. What a shame they’re in the mess that’s engulfing the club. It’s getting on for two years now that I revealed that the de-facto owner Farad Moshiri was looking for someone to buy the club. Moshiri offered Everton to a friend of mine here in the Middle East for £500m + another £500m to complete the new stadium with. The answer was ‘no deal’.  Everton denied my story - but I was right.

Who would anyone buy it now? If there is interest surely a prospective buyer would wait for the club to go into administration? Believe me - depending on how the season pans out - that’s a real possibility.

I’m desperately sad that Graeme Sharp feels - along with the rest of the board - that he can’t attend games. Graeme is a great guy and an Everton legend, but unfortunately he’s put himself at odds with fans that used to idolise him by both joining the board and backing the unpopular owner - whoever that really is.

Graeme compounded matters by telling supporters that Chief Exec Denise Barrett-Baxendale shouldn’t be a target of abuse because she ‘works hard’. Really Graeme? Abuse? No. But trying to convince hard working fans, many of whom can barely afford to go to games now, that Barrett-Baxendale works hard wasn’t a good idea. That’s a minimum requirement for someone in her position.

We’re told that Sharp and his fellow directors have stayed away from games because of a threat to their safety. I don’t buy that.

No-one would condone violence of any kind but is the threat real? Merseyside Police say they have no credible evidence to suggest it is. And does anyone really think that Evertonians would wish harm of any kind on Sharp or his family? I don’t. Not for one nano-second. If I’m wrong - I’m sorry.

My advice to Sharp would be to stand down from his role - apologise to fans for taking the stance that he has and take a seat next to Reidy tonight (Monday) for the game v Spurs. Make yourself a hero again Graeme.

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.