Arsenal might just be the real deal - so why the antics?

Published: Monday, 16 January 2023

I always like to try and start on the front foot. With something positive. That’s not always the case, but I do try. So here goes….

For the first time this weekend I started to believe that Arsenal might just win the title. There’s a long way to go yet, but I’m getting the same feeling about this season as I had when Leicester won it. No-one handed Leicester that title. They earned it, but the opposition wasn’t as strong as it had been in other years. It simply kept falling away. And it’s happening again.

What’s wrong with City? Do we subscribe to the view that Haaland is actually part of the problem and not the solution? That, despite the goals, he’s damaged the ‘team’ ethic? It can happen. Look at what’s happening at OT. I’ve been right all along - United are better without Ronaldo and his goals. Much better. It’s just a thought about Haaland. We can discuss another time.

What’s not in question is that City have hit the wall. They’re nowhere near it right now. We’ll get back to this as well.

Conversely - as others stumble - Arsenal plough on. There’s no challenge from Liverpool or Chelsea. United aren’t really ready, but they’re in the chase. So are Newcastle. If City keep dropping points, that’s it. Arsenal have got a rare chance here to win this title.

What a shame then that they keep ending up in situations like the one at Spurs Sunday. Look - there is no excuse for that thug lunging at Ramsdale and trying to kick him. Whoever it was should be banned for life. And never mind 31,657 people have come forward claiming it was them. 😂. We’ve all seen that meme.

But I knew Ramsdale wasn’t entirely innocent. You could see him laughing at Richarlison as he cleared the last ball of the game up field. Within minutes he was telling Geoff Shreeves that he’d been winding up Spurs fans at that end for the entire second-half. Why? Ramsdale thinks it’s good natured and fun, but it’s not. And it’s certainly not in a North London derby when the home team are losing. He was asking for trouble and he got it. He does it all the time. He’s a good keeper and should concentrate on being just that. Cut the clown Aaron. It’s not necessary.

Inevitably all the expected suspects jumped in at the end. And at the heart of the melee was the architect of so much of the nonsense - the coach - trying to calm things down. 🤷‍♂️.

Look. The Arsenal are a class act. Some of us remember being totally overawed walking into the marble halls at Highbury and being greeted by the bust of Herbert Chapman and a suited and booted George Graham - looking magnificent. Graham understood the club. It because a Rolls-Royce of an institution from Chapman’s time on. Graham’s teams competed - in every sense of the word - but he knew how behave and represent The Arsenal.

Wenger’s teams didn’t take prisoners - but he didn’t behave like a lunatic week in week out. Yes - he occasionally got carried away - but he didn’t patrol the touchline waving his arms about like a whirling dervish screaming at players who are taking throw-ins. If they don’t know how to take a throw-in they shouldn’t be playing.

As regulars know I’ve been warning about this for weeks. We all got away with one on Sunday - but it was close. Arteta has got to calm down and lead by example. The Gunners are already on two FA charges. They’ve got to be careful. Someone - please - explain to Arteta that actions have consequences.  If the coach can’t behave and set the right example then players won’t either. This won’t end well.

I’ve seen a few daft decisions during Mike Riley’s time in charge at the PGMOL - but nothing like the one that led to Utd’s equalising goal v City. It was the worst decision I’ve ever seen on a football pitch.

Of course Rashford was off-side. Never mind that he didn’t touch the ball. He affected City’s defending. Akanji actually stopped running. Rashford got clear as a result and then shielded the ball from defenders - shaped like he might hit it - confusing Ederson - before the keeper had to re-adjust to try and save Fernandes’ shot. Offside. Offside. Offside. And I don’t care about the arguments that the current law is written to allow for Rashford’s part in the goal. No it isn’t. All the above applies to overrule that judgement.

It wasn’t just a daft decision that affected the game - it was a decision to adversely affect City’s challenge for the title. We don’t know - but my guess is they win the game if United don’t score then.

Read Keith Hackett - X-chief of the PGMOL - in the Sunday Telegraph if you don’t believe me. There are few better judges than Hackett. He actually argued it was ‘an OT decision’. It might have been. Would it have been given at the other end? Or in Covid times with no crowd to have such an influence?

Last word on Stuart Attwell/Darren Cann’s decision. And I know Cann lectures on the laws of the game and believes it was a correct decision. But….

If so - then why was Havertz adjudged to have been offside in Chelsea’s game v Palace. Here’s what happened - Chelsea corner that Silva heads towards goal. The ball is cleared -Silva heads it back straight back. Havertz is caught coming away from goal - between the last defender and the keeper. The flag goes up. Silva, meanwhile, hits a left footed volley that Guaita saves and the ball goes out. So another corner? But no - Havertz is given off-side and the game resumes with a free-kick. Why was he offside? He didn’t touch the ball. What if Silva had scored?  No-one has addressed this. Why not?

A couple of things to end on. It’s great to have Bayern Munich in Qatar warm weather training. Yep. Bayern - and the very same players that were making their WC protests a couple of weeks ago. You really couldn’t make it up. What’s changed guys?

And I don’t know if you saw Sunday’s story about the luxury watch store in Newcastle raided by the UK’s FBI in what was described as a ‘money laundering probe’. Wow. If Disneyland did luxury watch stores…..

Owner Todd - you’ve f****d up.

Published: Monday, 09 January 2023

Not for a minute do I blame Graham Potter. What was he supposed to do? One of the best football clubs in the world offers you the chance to become coach. You’re ambitious. Your reputation is growing. You’ve done a really good job wherever you’ve been so far in your career and you back yourself. So you take it.

I backed him. I was delighted to see a young British coach given a chance at one of our big clubs. I wanted it to work. I genuinely thought it would. What was to go wrong? He had good people around him - Marina Granovskaia - one of the smartest operators in the game - and Peter Chech, who was fast establishing himself as a very good technical director. Any problems and surely they’d be able to advise Potter?

What I didn’t expect was that they’d both quickly be shown the door by an American owner desperate for headlines and equally keen to show British Englanders how to run a soccer ball club. Of course owner Todd knew best. A game that had stood the test of time had to change and he was the only one that knew how to change it. One of the most successful soccerball clubs in the world had been doing it all wrong. Owner Todd was about to show us how to do it.

So having appointed rookie coach Potter - and he was by Chelsea’s standards - owner Todd set about destroying the structure of the club so that he could take charge of everything.

And let’s not forget owner Todd was the chosen Johnson govt buyer. He was green lighted by foreign secretary Liz Truss, who was central to sanctioning Roman Abramovich following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and insisting he sell the club. Never mind that the same Tory govt had elevated other Russian oligarchs (Tory party donors) to the House of Lords. And waved through huge deals allowing Russian money to flood into the U.K.  And gloried in Chelsea’s success. Johnson, Truss and owner Todd. What could possibly go wrong?

What’s happening at Chelsea is the best argument I can think of for keeping govt and sport a million miles apart. It’s why we don’t need an independent regulator in football. Who chooses the regulator? Oh yes - in the cunning plans of Tracey Crouch and her mis-guided supporters - it’s govt. Brilliant. No thanks.

Owner Todd wanted to ‘soften’ Chelsea. Play soccerball ‘the right way’. Coach Potter was perfect for the job. And he would do exactly as he was told. Never mind Thomas Tuchel putting up sound arguments as to why owner Todd might be wrong about almost everything he suggested.

It’s clear that without good people around him Potter is deeply out of his depth. He’s got to go. Other than his ambition to turn Chelsea into Brighton - he’s failing on all fronts. His players don’t want him there. Nothing could be clearer. It always is when players aren’t happy - and this is a club where the dressing room doesn’t take prisoners.

Potter says he’s struggling with injuries. At Chelsea? Who have one of the best squads available to a coach. Nonsense. He also claims the team needs re-building. Nonsense.

Silva, Koulibaly, Kovacic, Havertz, Mount, Ziyech, Pulisic and Sterling, who featured in both recent defeats against City, all played in the World Cup and are established internationals. Most of Potter’s team played last season - finished third and got to two cup finals. Have they all become old and poor overnight?

It’s sideways and backwards in the pursuit of possession stats. Possession? Stevenage had 21% of the ball at Villa. Chelsea saw less of the ball than City when they beat them in the CL final of 2021 and in the s/f of the FA Cup that same year.

Chelsea fans don’t want to see pretty patterns - sideways and backwards. They want to watch a team that can win - that can overpower an opposition. That believes in what it’s doing. More importantly - that knows what it’s doing. They don’t want to watch Brighton ‘lite’. Owner Todd has dug himself a huge hole and it won’t be easy to get out of. His ego will be his biggest obstacle. He won’t like admitting he was wrong.  

What a result for Stevenage. Thank goodness for dinosaurs like Steve Evans.

And well played Wrexham. Theirs truly is becoming a Hollywood fairytale. At Coventry we can now concentrate on the league. 😂.

I felt sorry for Wolves. They really should be in the 4th round. There was nothing wrong with the ‘winning’ goal at Anfield. Don’t blame Mike Dean and VAR though. Dean didn’t have definitive angles to prove the goal was good. He could see it was. We all could - but VAR gets involved only when the operator has proven angles of what he/she is judging. If he/she doesn't - the decision stays with the on-field officials.

Blame a farcical disgrace. VAR shouldn’t be used in a ko competition like the FA Cup until Wembley. I said this years ago. It’s ridiculous that it’s used in some games but not others. How is that fair? It isn’t. We’re never going back to a time when it isn’t used - and Howard Webb has already made huge and positive changes about its protocol - but it’s got to be used fairly and for the benefit of every team.

United need a centre-forward. How about Kane?

Published: Tuesday, 03 January 2023

Small margins. How often do we hear that short phrase nowadays? Coaches in many sports are always looking to convince us that the ‘small margins‘ make all the difference. And who of those that watch is in a position to argue?

Small margins then. Let’s take that as our start point this week. Antonio Conte got me thinking about this after his latest meltdown following Villa’s win at Tottenham.

Conte was arguing that it was daft for any of us to have considered that Spurs could mount a title challenge this season. Why I don’t know. Arsenal are making a pretty good fist of it - having finished 5th last season and Newcastle’s Likely Lads are giving it a good go - having come from further back the year before. So why were we wrong to speculate that Spurs would be in the race? They should be. They really should be. That they aren’t is Conte’s fault. On the face of it they’ve certainly got the tools.

But let’s stay with his reasoning for the time being. His argument seems to be that a team can only challenge for the the title if it’s adding at least two £70/£80m players every season. He added that it’s pointless thinking signings in the £20/30m bracket will add much. At least that was my understanding of his argument. Really Antonio? How about Martin Odegaard at £35m? Or Bruno Guimaraes at £40m?

Anyway - this isn’t where I really wanted to be this far into the blog. Here’s my point. I checked what Spurs were doing a year ago after 17 games. They were 4th - with 31 points. And now? 5th - with 30 points. So - a ‘small margin’ decline.

How about Manchester United I thought? A year ago they were 5th - with 30 points. They haven’t yet played 17 (I write Tuesday before they’re due to play) but after 16 games they’re 4th with 32 points. That’s a gain. That’s improvement. I think we can presume that they’ll beat Bournemouth so it’s a 5-point gain on last season. Ok - that’s nothing like Newcastle have achieved, but they’re going the right way.

Why does any of this matter? Well - because it had me thinking about what Harry Kane does next. What do Spurs do with Kane - who has won nothing at Tottenham? Nothing. He’s been close - but it’s still nothing.

United haven’t been flushed with success over the last decade either - but right now who do you think looks the more likely of the two? Who’s making progress? Yep. I think so too - it’s United.

At long last - here’s my point. United need a centre-forward. Spurs have one that dominates the club - but that can’t win anything with them. So - surely it’s time for Spurs and Kane to try something different? He’d be a massive addition at Old Trafford. He might just be the missing piece in ten Hag’s jigsaw. He could be new van Persie - who won United a title almost single-handedly.

I watched Kane closely during the Villa match. He looked lethargic. He twice gave the ball away in the build-up to Villa’s 2nd goal. He looked like a player that needs another challenge.

What’s he worth now? I guess £40/50m? Would you get much more for a player of his age whose contract is running down again? Spurs missed the big money when they refused to sell to City - who only wanted to pay £80m. I don’t think they’ll see that figure again - they certainly won’t see £120m - so it might be worth cashing in on Kane now before his value drops still further.

And selling Kane might just have the ‘Ronaldo’ affect. How much happier do United look - as a collective - with their stroppy superstar now out of the door? Rashford looks re-born. He’s the main man again and loving it.

Sell Kane and others would step up to the plate at Spurs. They’d have to. They’d have to find a different way. I know Kane is a goal machine. I know he both rescues and wins games. I know he can be the difference - but what if his presence is suffocating others? What if Spurs were forced to find a different way?

What’s happening at Spurs reminds me so much of the dilemma Newcastle had when Sir Bobby Robson was appointed manager. Sir Bob wanted Shearer out for that very same reason. A deal was struck with Liverpool - Shearer had agreed to rent Michael Owen’s house in Southport so he knew all about it - then chairman and owner Freddie Shepherd put the brakes on the deal after realising the Toon couldn’t sell their hero. It would’ve been SuperMac mark II. Look it up!! 😂.

Gullit wanted Shearer out. The Dutchman felt that everything at Newcastle was set up for Shearer to score goals but he wanted to play a different way. After a long running feud things came to a head that night against Sunderland - who won the derby whilst Shearer looked on from the bench. Gullit knew he’d gambled and lost so he walked away. There was no way anyone was going to win a battle to sell Shearer. But who knows what might be been achieved if they had done?

It’s the same at Spurs. Kane is all-powerful. He does what he wants - but what if what he wants actually has a harmful effect on the ‘team’?

It happened at Everton after Rooney’s return. He’d sit in mid-field spraying worldies about enjoying himself and entertaining the crowd - but he wasn’t doing what his team-mates wanted. I remember one in particular telling me how relieved the rest were when Rooney moved on.

Fans don’t see it that way. They love their heroes and won’t hear a bad word said about them. Shearer’s answer to the criticism was ‘look at my goals record’. Fine. Brilliant. Amazing

In a team set up to accommodate him he blazed Blackburn to the title. But at Newcastle? There was nothing for the ‘team’.

Spurs have got a massive decision to make. How much is Conte frustrated by his No 9 and a half? And that might just be more than half of the problem.
How much would Conte really like to go in another direction? And I wonder if Gareth Southgate would ever share his true thoughts on Kane? There’s your challenge guys - get him talking about the problem away from cameras and recording devices.

The Likely Lads should dare do dream

Published: Tuesday, 27 December 2022

So where were we 43 days ago? Oh yes - Arsenal were top, 5 points clear of City. The Likely Lads had gate-crashed the new order and Spurs were making a habit of conceding the first goal in every gene they play  - then a second - before putting together storming second-half comebacks.

In the time the PL has been dormant Argentina have become world champions, Messi has joined the immortals, we’ve all witnessed the best WC of all time - and the greatest game of football we’ve ever seen.

When the PL resumed on Boxing Day the above had almost been forgotten and it was as if nothing had changed.

Spurs went one-down at Brentford - conceding the first goal for the sixth consecutive game. They then conceded a second - for the sixth consecutive game, before snatching a point and being a coat of paint away from stealing all three when Kane’s late header hit the bar. If they’d won it would’ve been harsh on Brentford.

The Likely Lads blew Leicester away in 45 minutes. Who is this kid they’ve got playing on the right of their mid-field? Is he related to Almiron? Wor Miggy is a man re-born.

I like what Eddie Howe said post-match ‘Newcastle fans can dare to dream - but we’ve got to stay focussed’. Why not dream? One defeat in 16 in impressive. So is they way they’re playing. I said before the resumption that I fancy them to go the distance better than Arsenal - and despite the Gunners’ win (in front of Arsene Wenger) I haven’t changed my mind. Newcastle look strong and they’ve got really good players to come back yet. I’m not saying they’ll win the title - with the resources City have they should win everything every season - but I’m pretty sure the Likely Lads can snatch a CL place. If they buy carefully in January - who knows? A title bid might just be on.

Just a word on Wenger’s return to Arsenal - that was really good to see. Perhaps the healing process can start in earnest now? Arsene has been an absentee by his own choice, but being forced out as he was at Arsenal wasn’t his choice - and I know from discussing his departure with him that it really hurt.

Liverpool were right back at it weren’t they? Keep faith in Nunez - I still believe he’ll go on to have a glorious Anfield career.

We’ll see how City and United react to the WC break later in the week.

I’m calling a truce with the PGMOL now that Howard Webb is in charge. Let’s see how things settle, but it was good to see VAR wasn’t overly busy on Boxing Day. Spurs could  easily have had a pen at Brentford when Mee and Kane got tangled up, but VAR was happy to go with the David Coote’s on-field decision. We were told that had Coote given a pen VAR wouldn’t have intervened either. Good. Let’s hope it’s a sign of things to come.

Mike Dean couldn’t resist getting busy at Palace. He spotted the ball brush Mitrovic’s arm before Ream scored Fulham’s second. Andy Madley looked, but wasn’t interested. Well done Andy. And Mike? We discussed this during the WC Mike.  Don’t get involved if you don’t have to. 😂.

How long has Frank Lampard got I wonder? I don’t blame him entirely for Everton’s awful season so far. What are they doing at Goodison? Haven’t they got £4m quid to turn their on-loan player of the season into a permanent signing? Conor Coady couldn’t play v Wolves for that reason. He’s on-loan from them.  He might not have made a difference to Everton  - but I fancy he would’ve done. If there’s one thing Everton can take from their miserable campaign it’s that they’ve been very good defensively. The trio of Coady, Tarkowski and Pickford have some well. If Everton don’t have £4m for Coady that tells me there are massive financial problems yet to be revealed.

I see Jesse Lingard has started whining about ‘broken promises’ at United. Shut up Jesse. You’re one of the luckiest players ever to have kicked a ball.

One last thing. Am I the only one that’s a tad uncomfortable about Ivan Toney continuing to play for Brentford whilst he’s facing 262 FA charges for gambling offences? 262 ffs.

I understand that any of us are innocent until proven guilty. I don’t know Toney - he strikes me as a good lad and he’s certainly a magnificent penalty taker. He would’ve scored v France if he’d been anywhere near the pitch.

But as we know - Gareth Southgate chose not to bring him to Qatar - and 24 hours after that decision was made the first raft of charges dropped. Co-incidence I’m sure 🤷‍♂️😂.

Anyway - innocent until proven guilty - but let’s get an outcome on this. 262 charges is a massive number. We don’t know the extent of the gambling nor the nature, but surely it’s not beyond the FA to bring this to a conclusion quickly ? I’m sure we’ll be told it’s going to take time for the defence team to out their case together, but I don’t believe Toney should be playing until there is an outcome.

I’m not condemning him. I’m uncomfortable watching him. If he’s got issues with gambling that might very well not be his fault. Gambling ruins lives - just ask Paul Merson. It’s an odious habit. Like smoking and drinking - it’s addictive. They’re both banned from advertising in football - so why isn’t gambling? It’s madness that we police footballers in the way that we do and yet promote the very thing that gets them into trouble. We’ve got to stop it. Ban gambling advertising

In the meantime a cloud of suspicion hovers over Toney. Sort it out guys. This simply isn’t good enough.

It was - as promised - the best WC ever.

Published: Monday, 19 December 2022
Explosive. Exhilarating. Extra-ordinary. And that was just Messi. What a final. It wasn’t just the best ever, it was close to being the best game of football I’ve ever seen. In fact - thinking about it as I write - it probably was. It had everything.

So let’s start there. It was billed as the ultimate showdown between Messi and Mbappe. To some extent that proved to be the case and on a personal level I made it a draw. Mbappe couldn’t have done anymore. Nor could Messi. His team-mates and those fantastic supporters got him and their country over the line. They had it won twice - at 2-0 and 3-2 - before they finally nailed it in the shoot out.

The two main characters were flawless. Neither flinched. Neither gave an inch. Both should consider it to be their best yet. And I say that of Messi having been privileged to have seen some of his world class performances in the flesh before last night. At his mesmerising best he’s sensational and now he’s gone and landed the last piece in the jig-saw. With his performance, and by getting his hands on the WC, he’s elevated himself into the elite. He now sits with the other giants - Pele, Maradona and Ronaldo, who Kaka told a beINSPORTS audience was viewed as ‘just another fat bloke walking the streets’ in Brazil.  😂😂. Well that’s not the case in the rest of the world Ricky 😂.

There is time for Mbappe to join the others. Although he was a WC winner four years ago - there’s a lot more for him to achieve before he can be mentioned in the same breath as Messi and co.

As for the debate about the modern-day GOAT. I’ve always said I preferred Cristiano, but his antics over the past few months have turned me right off. He must’ve hated everything about Sunday’s final. But let’s not dwell on him - let’s applaud Messi and say the debate will rage forever because there is no definitive answer.

I was as pleased for those magnificent Argentinian fans as I was Messi. They embraced this WC. They came in their thousands and had fun.

And we shouldn’t forget the ref - Szymon Marciniak. I watched the game with Mike Dean, who post match described Marciniak’s performance as ‘the best ever’ in a big game final. I couldn’t agree more.

Before we talk about VAR and the refereeing in general - let’s also pay tribute to France. They too were magnificent. After a sluggish 40 mins, Deschamps was brave enough to make changes and my word - what an impact those changes had. Could you imagine Gareth Southgate affecting a game like that? No. Nor me. I for one am disappointed he’s decided to stay on.

So what about the refs? Of course there were moments and the odd few decisions that had us all scratching our heads - but, on the whole, I thought they were terrific. As the regular readers know, I’ve never been a fan of technology, but it’s not going away so all I’ve ever asked is that we use it correctly. Again - a heavy majority of decisions were correct.

VAR wasn’t intrusive in the way it has been in the PL. They encouraged the refs to make the big decisions. According to Dean that’s one change we’re doing to see in the PL now we’re finally shot of Mike Riley - and Howard Webb is in charge. He’s going to encourage refs - and VAR - to stay with the original decisions. Our game will be better for it. It will encourage refs to be brave again. Oh - Dean also told me that it won’t be long before we’ll all be able to hear the exchanges at the monitor. That too will be a huge leap forward.

As for the tournament in general. It was as promised. No-one was left out. Everyone was welcome - whatever their colour, gender or allegiance. Arrests were a record low. There were no drug-fuelled drunken rampages like we saw in London before the Euro 2000 final. The streets were safe and enjoyable. The organisers deserve great credit for pulling it off.

Sadly some - like the Mail’s quartet of moaning Minnie’s - including moaner-in-chief Ian Herbert - left as they‘d arrived - desperately finding something to complain about. They tried to ruin it. They failed. They were in a sad minority. Why did they come? They actually failed with every objective they had. They must’ve been exhausted after trying so hard. It certainly looked that way in their drab, dull, daily podcasts. Leave the broadcasting to experts eh lads?  

They weren’t totally alone. A mate, who I had staying with me, bumped into a friend now working for the BBC. He told him they weren’t allowed to express their real opinions about the tournament on air. They weren’t allowed to compliment atmosphere, stadia or Qatar itself. What a sad state of affairs. For the record - he said he thought it had been brilliant.

And I saw a former colleague complaining on Facebook about having to be in Qatar because it ‘mixed‘ his morals. I wondered what morals they were. Were they the same morals that led to him being eased out of his last job for sleeping with most of the women he hired to work for him in the Mayfair flats he took them too? Sad. Very very sad. Enjoy the flight home lads.

Why did Kane take the 2nd pen?

Published: Tuesday, 13 December 2022

I thought I’d keep a low profile during the main body of the WC - and let the competition do the talking for me. I’m glad I did. It’s been good hasn’t it?

Despite the hysterical nonsense about life in Qatar - and the 8 hour pre-tournament lectures re-etiquette for visiting journo’s and broadcasters - which had some of my colleagues on other channels threatening to leave even before we got started - I don’t think it could be gone any better. By the way - none of the ‘warnings’ counted for anything, but it was very much in keeping with the narrative of spoiling the event.

This WC has been a celebration of colour - peoples - race - gender and football - just as we were promised by the organisers. It’s been a WC for everyone. I’ve called it The People’s WC.

Was banning alcohol - and falling into line with U.K. stadium protocol - such a big deal after all? Of course it wasn’t. It added to the spectacle. Families have loved the atmosphere. It hasn’t been threatening. There’s been little if any trouble. To be frank - not having hoards of the same drunken English louts that ruined the Euro 2000 final, roaming the streets and wrecking the fan parks was an absolute delight.

The Daily Mail tried harder than most English newspapers - but in the end even they ran out of steam - and nonsense stories.

They didn’t even recognise their own hypocrisy. I laughed out loud one day when they ran a story about ‘searing Qatari heat’ right next to one about Liverpool enjoying their ‘warm weather training’ in Dubai. Please. Come on. Which is it? 😂😂😂. German wags even complained the stadiums were too cold. How many drinks breaks have you counted? That’s right - none.

The football has been fantastic. Every day it felt as though we got a bigger story the the previous one. Saudi beating Argentina. Who saw that? Japan beating Germany and Spain. Germany’s exit. The demise of Belgium’s golden generation. The Dutch - who didn’t want their fans to come. In the end Louis you were right - it would’ve been a waste of money. You were never going to win it. Ronaldo’s meltdown. Messi’s magic. Mbappe’s power. Morocco’s miracles. And England’s predictable car crash We’ve had it all and we’re not done yet.

Morocco’s incredible run to the semi-finals has delighted everyone in my part of the world. Isn’t that what a WC is about? You couldn’t - almost certainly wouldn’t - have written a script quite like it - an Arab WC providing the platform for an Arab nation to rip up the norms and make the semi-finals. Perfect.

And England? Oh dear - so, so predictable. At least this time we were saved the ridiculous hysteria. Not good enough I’m afraid. Still not good enough. Too nice. They reflect the coach. ‘Nice’.  How can you pick up only one booking on a run to the quarter-finals?

Look at Argentina in the face of that Dutch aggression. They snarled. They bit back. They won. England? We rolled over and had boys playing men. 

Gareth Southgate promised us that nothing would be left to chance. Except it was. Why did Kane take the second pen? Didn’t anyone think about changing the kicker if we got two pens?

I’m not being smart after the event. I was screaming at Kane as he set the ball a second time ‘let someone else have it’.

Under normal circumstances - a pen against anyone but a club colleague - I wouldn’t have been bothered, but the pressure was too much. He’d already scored one - outsmarting Lloris. The first pen was magnificent. He took his time. He was strong. He went to his ‘safe’ side and smashed his kick past Lloris. Job done. Don’t go through it again.

Lloris was waiting for him the next time. Advantage keeper. Add in that somewhere in his mind Kane knew this was a chance to break Rooney’s England goal scoring record - his heart would’ve been pounding because he must also have been thinking ‘score and we’ll win’….and it all became too much.

Kane chose his ‘safe’ side again - but knew Lloris was going that way this time, so he had to get it high and over the keeper’s dive. He did that alright.

Why not give the ball to someone else? Lloris would’ve been totally confused - so the advantage would’ve been back with the kicker. There’s no way Lloris would’ve expected to face anyone but Kane. Don’t tell me we didn’t have anyone else on the pitch capable of taking a pen - Southgate told us he’d been preparing for a shoot-out for months - so someone was available. Small margins. Critical margins.

So we came up short again. I’m afraid I don’t agree with those that think Southgate should carry on. He’s had his time. We need a change. We need someone to instil a bit of devil into England again.

I’m not sure Southgate has ‘taken England on’. If he has - to where from where? We’ve always been good at losing quarter-finals at the WC.

We should’ve won the Euros at Wembley. That tournament was set up for us to win - but Southgate froze. He was outsmarted by Mancini. Gareth is a nice guy - but nice guys don’t win very much. He’s an FA man. He’s just too vanilla.

No. Move on Gareth. My shout? Arsene Wenger. Please.

Ronaldo feels betrayed? Sorry. Pass the sick bag.

Published: Monday, 14 November 2022

Rarely have I read such self-centred self-pitying tripe. Who on earth is advising Christiano Ronaldo these days? Perhaps nobody - which is why he stumbles from one tantrum to the next PR disaster almost daily.

Before I go any further - in case the this blog somehow find its way to him - I respect you Ronnie. I respect what you’ve achieved in football. I believe that you’ve been the greatest player of your generation - proving what a talent you are in four different countries - ripping up record books as you went. You’ve been my favourite player through the Ronaldo/Messi years. You never shirked a sporting challenge and you’ve provided us all with some wonderful moments on the football pitch. Ok?

But here’s the harsh truth - your time has gone. You’re no longer what you were. Your powers have faded. You can’t push back time. You’re at an age now where you should accept that your role is that of cameo - come on for 30 mins every week and enjoy yourself. Turn a game for United or add a couple of goals to a solid win. That’s it. No more. No less.

Re-signing for United was a mistake - and I said so at the time - volunteering for a wave of abuse and death threats from disgruntled United fans.

You’re now destroying your legacy. Whinging, whining and refusing to play for your club does you no favours and the interview with Piers Morgan that I’m reading about this morning is embarrassing. I’m surprised at Piers. I get it - his show is struggling and Ronaldo is a great interview to help draw viewers - but Morgan has offered his mate up on a plate to people like me.

I’ve never fried a mate. I’ve been in many situations where somebody has said something that I’ve felt was inflammatory or reactive and better left unsaid. I’ve stopped interviews - sometimes buried interviews - that could’ve caused the interviewee problems. Isn’t that what friends are for? To watch your back?

A couple of things from the Morgan interview. Ronaldo asks of Ralf Rangnick ‘if you’re not a good coach - how are you going to be the boss of Manchester United’. Er - Fergie? Busby. Neither was a ‘coach’. They employed coaches - good coaches. Both men were motivators above anything else.

Ronaldo says he didn’t know who Rangnick was when United appointed him. Really? Have a look at his record on Google Ronnie. I didn’t think he was the right man for United, but his record speaks for itself. He’s been on everybody’s wish list at one time or another.

Ronaldo says of ten Haag ‘I don’t have respect for him because he doesn’t show respect for me’. Really? What does that mean Ronnie? Does it mean because he doesn’t start you you’ve drawn the conclusion that he doesn’t respect you? Having said that - perhaps he lost respect for you when he asked you to go on against Spurs - but you refused and stropped off down the tunnel before the game had ended.

Respect? How much respect did you show United fans at that moment? What about the kids who’d probably travelled miles - funded by struggling parents - to get a glimpse of the great Ronaldo that night? Perhaps they’ll never get another chance to see you in a United jersey. What about ‘respect’ for a full house that had fallen under your spell again when you re-signed instead of joining City? Or was that all a ploy? Did you have any ‘respect’ for them when you played them in order to engineer the move back to Old Trafford?

With respect to what I’ve just said about young United fans getting a sight of you in red - I carry with me still the memory of seeing Best, Law and Charlton all on the same pitch - in United red - at Coventry in the late 60’s. What a treat. United beat us that day - but I didn’t care. What a footballing moment that was. To see that trio on the same pitch in real life. It never happened again, but once was enough. It was special - very special.

No Ronnie. I think we’ve all lost respect for you now. You’ve become a pampered egotistical disgrace of a modern day footballer whose every whim is catered for by an army of simpering hangers on too scared to tell you the truth. So let me repeat some of what I’ve already said and add a little bit more.

Your time is done. It’s over. You’ll get the odd two - maybe three - against second rate opposition - but you won’t affect many big games anymore. Show some respect and contrition for the people that help pay your ridiculously inflated wages and stop whining. What a ride you’ve had - funded by the people who once adored you. And ask yourself this - how come Real Madrid were happy to see you leave after all your done there? They got tired of the tantrums And Juventus - where the dressing room also grew fed up of you?

Perhaps the best option now is a written apology - posted in Alderley Wedge - with your minders accompanying you. You know where the Post Office is. You were pictured there once doing ‘ordinary’ things - with your minders! You know - the things that the people who pay your wages have to do for themselves. Or perhaps you should call another team bonding meal - which you turned up to with the same minders in tow - immediately making yourself different. Respect? United have ‘betrayed’ you? No. I don’t think so. United made you.

A quick word on VAR - Brighton should’ve had a pen v Villa when Digne mis-timed a challenge on March I’m tired of asking how VAR misses these things. We know now - because the operators aren’t good enough. 

And Forest’s goal v Palace shouldn’t have stood. Gibbs-White was off-side from the original cross. I didn’t need lines to see that. 

And finally - well done Brentford, who proved that City can be beaten if you have a plan and some belief. I hope Brendan Rodgers was watching. 

The only consistent thing about VAR is the operators’ inconsistency

Published: Monday, 07 November 2022

Another week. Another set of blunders. But let’s start with something positive. Top marks Darren England for a big call at City. Of course Fulham had to be awarded a pen when Cancelo barged into Harry Wilson in the box. It was an incident that correctly led to Cancelo being sent off, which is another reason I admired England, for what was, a big call.

As we all know - it’s easy for refs not to make these calls when it’s one of the big teams, especially when those teams are playing at home. Who really wants to upset a Guardiola or a Klopp in their own back yard? It takes courage to make those decisions. Never mind that Cancelo was daft for making the challenge - as Guardiola pointed out afterwards - let Wilson score - there’s still an hour or so to sort things out with eleven men still on the pitch. Anyway. I repeat. Well done England.

Less than 24 hours later we’re all watching Liverpool at Spurs. Would you believe it TAA loses both concentration and his mind and rolls Sessegnon over in exactly the same way that Cancelo had Wilson. There‘s no difference between the two challenges. If anything TAA’s is worse. It’s got to be a pen. And TAA should really go off. There was no attempt to play the ball.

Ok, Andy Madley didn’t see it so VAR will have a look and at the very minimum ask Madley to review it surely? I hear myself shouting ‘come on guys. This is easy. Darren England made this same call yesterday’. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Strange. So I have a look at who’s in VAR. You know what’s coming don’t you? Yep. Darren England. This time he’s sitting on his hands. Why? Did he think he was wrong at City? No-one did on the day or he’d have been asked to review his own decision. So what happened? It’s incredible. The only consistent thing about VAR is it’s inconsistency.

I understand that when so many these calls are a matter of opinion. I’ve said before - that’s why VAR will always let us down - because most of these calls are about opinions - but come on. This was the same guy. How on earth can he see two incidents - exactly the same incidents - differently 24 hours apart?  Incredible.

Forest got away with one. Their second goal should have been ruled out. Yates is clearly off-side as Forest batter the door down looking for the equaliser. He’s standing behind the keeper and in front of Ben Mee, who’s doing his best to clear the ball off the line. Quite obviously Lee Mason (I know, him again) whose reviewing the goal in VAR, didn’t see there was only one defender behind Yates. This time there’s no opinion required. It’s a fact. But what do PGMOL do? They cover up by saying Yates wasn’t affecting play. Nonsense. Absolute nonsense. Clearly Mason f****d up.

Forest fans will argue that Brentford’s pen was a mistake as well, because Henderson clearly gets a touch on the ball before he brings Wissa down. Over to you Lee…..

Well done Unai Emery. It’s great to have him back. He’s a class act and I’ve said before that I’ve always felt he was too harshly judged at Arsenal. It was a great win for Villa - and I’m in total agreement with Leon Bailey. Martinez should’ve gone off for his ridiculous challenge on Bailey. What did Anthony Taylor not see? Bailey was elbowed twice in the ribs - the second time with real malice. Bailey later tweeted ‘I sometimes wonder why we’ve got VAR. Smh’. The a Daily Mail felt obliged to spell out for us what the letters stood for. Honestly - what planet do their journalists inhabit? Ffs. (Look it up guys)

Someone please have a word with Mikel Arteta. Right now he’s the most irritating coach of the lot. Sit down man - and if you can’t do that - stay in your own technical area. I say this because someone is going to get hurt soon as a result of his antics. There are good reasons coaches are asked to stay in their technical areas - safety is one issue. Look at the picture below.

WhatsApp Image 2022 11 07 at 12.27.35 PM

Graham Potter is clearly in his area. Arteta is not only out of his - but he’s on the touch line almost in front of the Chelsea bench. Why? And why is the 4th just watching - doing nothing?

I had a mate text me after I’d pointed this out in a tweet on the day saying ‘agree - let’s see if he’s doing this when they’re sixth in March’. Harsh - because I think they’re in with a shout now. But sit down Arteta.

One last thing. I told you Hassenhuttl would be out of work before the end of November. Another one we got right before a ball was kicked. 😉.

A whole lot of effort - for nothing.

Published: Tuesday, 01 November 2022

They were brilliantly marshalled. The game plan couldn’t have been more perfectly executed. They were disciplined. There literally was nowhere for City to run. They’d obviously worked on everything they did - for hours on the training ground - leading up to the game. And it worked. They denied Erling Haaland space to run into and stopped City from scoring in open play. Well done lads. Well done.

Of course there was one unexpected surprise. Haaland wasn’t there. He didn’t play. So he was never going to score anyway. De Bruyne did. He broke the tedium with a genius of a free-kick and City didn’t need to do anything else to win the game. That was it. All over. Leicester got absolutely nothing out of the day and their supporters went home probably wondering why they’d bothered to buy a ticket. My goodness it was a tough watch.

I’d have had a little more sympathy for Brendan Rodgers and his team if they’d been playing at The Etihad. But they were at home. And didn’t they notice that Haaland’s name wasn’t on City’s team sheet when it was handed in?

They looked scared stiff. But why? They’re a PL team - not a National League side. They’ve got good players. They won the FA Cup with a lot of them the season before last. They’ve been champions of the PL and the recent form had been good.

Pep Guardiola was right to ask James Maddison ‘why didn’t you play like the last 15 minutes the whole game?’ In revealing the content of their post match chat my guess is that Maddison was pretty pissed off that the game had passed and Leicester had been so passive. And I’ll bet he wasn’t the only one. What was the point of Jamie Vardy being on the pitch?

Look. I get it. You don’t set up to play City leaving huge gaps for them to exploit. You don’t want to take a good hiding and we all know that if they’re in the mood that’s often the case. But come on. What we saw at Leicester Saturday morning bordered on a disgrace. Their fans let them know it every time they ventured to the half way line - before turning back and retreating into their shell. Football is supposed to be an entertainment business.

I like Rodgers. He’s a good coach and I know very well what the plan was - stifle Haaland and maybe nick something later in the game if they were still in it. But Haaland wasn’t there. Are they so inflexible that they couldn’t change the game plan an hour before the match?

And they were at home - playing in front of their own supporters, who pay good money to be entertained. Fans don’t want to watch a brilliantly executed chess match that ends as this one did. Why not have a go? City hate that. They want things all their own way and Leicester gift wrapped the easiest 90 minutes they could’ve had. It was embarrassing - as well as dull.

Why not change at half time - why not have a go - without being reckless? I say again - Rodgers is a good coach so why didn’t he change it? It was terrible. If that’s the future we’ll kill the game. I’m glad Leicester got done.

Top marks to Leeds, who went to Anfield with a bit of devil in them and got their reward. In the position they were in you’d have forgiven them for doing a ‘Leicester’ on Liverpool - but not a bit of it. They proved that if you rattle the cages of the big boys you can unsettle them.

Brighton did it to Chelsea - who we discussed last week. They’ve been getting results, but what happened at the Amex has been coming. It’ll be fascinating to see how Potter reacts - and how long it takes now for that dressing room to tire of the tinkering. Raheem Sterling at right wing back? I’ll bet we never see that again. But, of course, that wasn’t the only problem. The honeymoon is over.

Spurs we’re terrific at Bournemouth after they’d done 2-down. Why can’t we see more of that? They’ve got good players as well. Why are they always kept in a straight jacket by Conte? There’s a time and a place of course, but not always.

And I’ve nothing but sympathy for Spurs after the way they were treated in the CL. It was a scandal that they thought they’d qualified for the group stages - only to be told after a five minute delay that they hadn’t. The decision was wrong - proving that VAR isn’t fool proof. The ball was nodded backwards - away from Kane. It ended up with him because a defender deflected it. The goal should’ve stood. Of course Conte was going to lose control and as a result he’s banned missing arguably the biggest match in Tottenham’s season. That isn’t right either. It’s a restraint of trade. How can the authorities stop him from doing his job?

I’m no fan of touch line bans in the modern world. What’s the point? Communications are so good now that Spurs will come up with a solution of sorts - but they shouldn’t have to. Fine Conte - and Klopp for his outrageous behaviour the week before - and send them out to do some kind of footballing community service. And donate the fine to charity.

Regular readers will know that it was a couple of months ago that we suggested Messi would be on his way to Inter Miami at the end of the season. I told you Adidas would fix it. There was no way a Nike-sponsored Ronaldo was ever going to Miami. And I’ve got a message for those of you who abused Phil Neville when the news emerged.

No. It would not be a ‘crime against football’ if Neville was coaching Messi next season. Neville is a good man. He’s done his time learning his trade and Miami have had a very good season on his watch. Sadly, I don’t think he’ll get the chance to work with Messi. My instinct tells me that Messi will already be planning who he wants at the helm. Players with the pull that Messi has don’t work with coaches they don’t fancy. If he’s going - he’ll decide who goes with him. Neville knows that.

Magpies are flying.

Published: Monday, 24 October 2022

I said in my first blog of the season that the debate over the ownership of Newcastle was over.  I know it won’t ever be for some - the same people that still find it hard to accept that the WC is being played in Qatar next month I suppose, but it is and Newcastle are owned by the Saudi’s.

Relations between Qatar and Saudi Arabia are far more convivial now - and the piracy of our product at beIN has ended. I guess we’ll never really know who was behind the theft!

So that said - isn’t it good to see the Toon in amongst the big boys again? I wasn’t sure if Steady Eddie Howe was going to be the right man to take them to the promised land, but I am now. He definitely is.

His team obviously enjoys playing for him. He’s grown into the job of managing a big club. That was one of my doubts - I wasn’t sure how deeply he was scarred after relegation with Bournemouth or if he’d been away too long. He’s put those concerns to bed as well. My last lingering doubt was whether nice guys can really succeed in the hurly burly, cut throat world at the top end of the PL. We haven’t got the answer to that one yet, but he’s certainly making a good go of persuading us that they can.

I thought they were terrific at Spurs. The first goal sparked a debate that‘s still raging, but I’m glad it was given. Lloris simply ran into Wilson when he knew he’d lost the ball. No foul, but I understand why some have argued that it was.

The second was a gift for Wor Miggy, but Newcastle forced the error. They set up as if they were expecting that kind of error from Lloris and they pounced once they’d forced it.

They should’ve had a pen for handball. What was the difference between the one we saw at Spurs and the award that Fulham got v Villa from Michael Oliver?  Ah - perhaps I’ve answered the question? Michael Oliver.

Not for the first time this season VAR let Newcastle down and that’s another reason why I was happy to see Wilson’s goal given. No team in the PL has had more VAR decisions go against them than Newcastle.

The other thing I said in that first blog was that if Newcastle weren’t the best of the rest than Howe would’ve failed. Right now they’re better than that. Although finishing in the top four will be a big ask - don’t rule it out.

They look solid. There’s goals in them. And they’re playing with a belief. You can’t say the same about Chelsea or Spurs right now. Who knows with United? They really do blow hot and cold, but they’re a work in progress - making small progress.

So why can’t Newcastle finish top four? I think the race is wide open. Good luck to them.

There’s another nice guy at Chelsea and I’ve got all the same doubts about his personality that I had about Howe’s. There’s no ‘devil’ in Chelsea anymore.

They’re neat and tidy - they’re big Brighton really. They’ll win more than they lose - many more - but I don’t see them putting big games to bed with the same efficiency that they once did. I can’t imagine a team led by John Terry - or coached by the likes of Tuchel or Mourinho - leaving the door open for United to nick a point as they did. Chelsea would’ve won that at one time. No question.

Klopp cost Liverpool at Forest. His team selection was all wrong. I know they’ve got injury problems and losing Tiago so late was a real blow, but you can’t then leave out Henderson and Alexander-Arnold. He had babies in mid-field and they weren’t good enough. They tell me that Henderson needs to be ‘managed’ these days. Maybe he does, but he’s only started eight games this season. Surely he’s got more in his tank yet?

We were right about Gerrard weren’t we? I was told last weekend that it was all over, which is why I couldn’t understand why he was in charge at Fulham. The message from the dressing room was very clear. Villa played with a freedom - and crucially width - as they swept away Gerrard’s era. I hope Steven learns from his first PL managerial experience and has another go - although I think he’ll have to take a club into the league for that to happen. I don’t think he’s going to get another PL job quickly.

I’m pleased to see Leicester winning again - but Wolves are in trouble. Big trouble. I wonder how Steve Davis felt when he was given the job until the end of the year because his chairman doesn’t believe there are any ‘outstanding’ candidates for the job. Thanks chairman. That’s a real vote of confidence.

Sadly we’ve got to give VAR another mention. Lee Mason had a shocker in the bunker as City beat Brighton. He got a first half hat-trick of wrong ‘uns.

Haaland is brought down by the keeper early on - it’s a pen. He fouled Adam Webster before scoring the second - and the decision to give City a pen when Silva went over was ridiculous. If that was a pen - why wasn’t Joelinton’s at Spurs? That was more of a pen.

I’d be surprised if Jesse Marsh makes it through the week. The only thing that will save him now is a sequence of games that sees Leeds go to Anfield and Spurs - with Bournemouth in between. The owners might feel it’s better to get those games out of the way and leave the new man - whoever that is - with an easier start after the World Cup.