Grow a pair Boris. Ipso facto.

Published: Tuesday, 22 June 2021

I hate missing our regular Monday get togethers. I’m sorry I didn’t file yesterday, but I’ve got a very good reason. I was on the golf course with Gianfranco Zola. No. Sadly, I didn’t win!

It’s a long standing 4-ball from the time Gian spent a year working in Qatar. For a long time he just couldn’t beat me and Andy - whoever he partnered. He’s good by the way - very good. He plays off six. I’m hopeless, but Andy can play. But anyone who’s come up against us will tell you’re we’re a formidable pairing. A lot of our best work is done on the tee - and approaching a green that’s asking the opposition a few tricky questions! Having said that - it’s not our fault if the opposition are listening to our conversation is it? Time and again Zola was putting a few quid in our hands for lunch, before beating a hasty and angry retreat home! But we got spanked yesterday. I thought I’d chosen his partner well. Jason McAteer can be a little fragile if you get inside his head - but we accepted Zola’s ‘no talking’ challenge and paid a heavy price as a result. 😂. Well played boys. It was fun.

Let’s get round the the serious stuff then. What a good tournament these Euros are turning out to be. The football has been terrific. For the most part, teams are on the front foot trying to win games - not passing sideways and backwards to the point of sending us all asleep. Italy have led the way. They’ve been brilliant. If England can’t win it - I repeat what I’ve been saying - I hope the Italians do.

The first ko games might bring a bit more caution, but I’m really hoping that we’re beyond the high water mark of passing tedium. If Italy win this tournament with their exciting brand of high tempo, forward thinking football, it’ll set a trend that we’ll all ultimately be grateful for.

What a pity young Billy Gilmour tested Covid positive. What a start he made to his international career v England. Probably for the first time in his life he was a giant! He should have a fabulous future. Good luck to him.

Sadly his ‘positive’ test exposed how daft England have been. Why on earth aren’t the players vaccinated? Gareth Southgate has told us that he suggested that they should be in March. My only surprise is that it took until March for someone to mention it. Why aren’t they? It’s crazy.

I hear what the anti-vaxers have got to say on the subject and I respect their argument - but surely they’ve got to come into line with the majority - for the sake of the majority?

I’m double-jabbed and have been for three months. In Qatar - If you’re not - you’re not getting out. We’ve got a very sensible system whereby you’re welcome in shopping centres, restaurants, bars - anywhere you like, as long as you’re carrying proof of vaccination. We’ve currently got 75 cases in ICU and 127 under acute care. That’s it. Which strongly suggests that it’s a policy that’s working.

I’ve heard all the arguments about ‘infringements of civil liberties’, but what it it that govts all over the world don’t already know about us? And I’ll be honest - I was scared of Covid - that was another reason to get the jab for me.

I’ve got underlying health problems. In fact, it’s four years to the day (Tuesday June 22) that I underwent life-saving open heart surgery. Every day now is a bonus. Yea, the eagle-eyed amongst you have noticed that I’m a pound or two heavier than I used to be! I could always stop taking the tablets that keep me alive and lose the excess, but I don’t think that would work out too well. I’d get very thin. 😉.

Anyway. I digress. Why aren’t top footballers vaccinated? Of course they’re going to be susceptible. They’ve all got families and mates that are constantly mixing elsewhere. It’s crazy. But as Southgate himself said - ‘the horse has bolted now’.

What we can ensure is a careful end to the tournament. Why is the British govt trying to accommodate 2500 UEFA VIP’s? Why are UEFA demanding that they do? What’s changed between the time that fraud Johnson said ‘no’ to their CL requests and now? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. So why refuse the request previously and fudge it now? We all know why - because someone has whispered in Johnson’s ear that England need home advantage to win it. And he wants to be part of that. No. I’m sorry - if the U.K. is still vulnerable to Covid then it’s got to be a firm ‘no’. How can Johnson deny the English freedoms at home - and stop us from flying abroad - and yet capitulate to the demands of a few of football’s big wigs, that want to ride rough shod over all his Covid protocols? Too many people have hurt during this pandemic - lost loved ones - given up too much - to watch now as a few suits turn up to see a couple of football matches.

I haven’t seen my family for more than a year. If I want to fly home 2 hours after the tournament ends I’ve got to lock down for 10 days (plus a day on arrival and one at the end - which is something no-one talks about) at a cost of £1750. It’s an outrage. I’m double jabbed. I’m as safe as houses. I live in a country where Covid is negligible. Grow a pair Boris. Stop lying. And do the right thing. Ipso facto.

In the meantime - continue to enjoy a very good tournament. Joining us on beINSPORTS for the ko stages will be Peter Schmeichel and Arsene Wenger. I’m looking forward to spending time with both.

Hang your heads in shame UEFA.

Published: Tuesday, 15 June 2021

So now we know. The three choices UEFA gave Denmark weren’t choices at all. They were threats. What a disgusting, mis-placed, crass piece of poor organisation and mis-management.

We know because Peter Schmechiel told us on ITV’s GMB. My guess is that he’s got a pretty good source in the Danish camp so his info is spot on.

Here are the choices the Danish team were given - given to a group of guys that had just witnessed something from a horror movie - not a football match. 1. You play on tonight. 2. You come back tomorrow and finish the game. 3. You forfeit the match 3-0. My goodness. Really? And you want the guys to make a call on that? What an absolute disgrace. I’m as angry about it all today as I was watching it all unfold on Sunday night. UEFA owe Christian Eriksen, his family, the Danish football team and the country as a whole, a deep and meaningful apology.  

Let’s remind ourselves of the circumstances. The guys have ‘lost’ one of their mates. A father. A son. A partner. A person - not a ‘player’. A human. And what happened to Eriksen is a stark reminder to all of us how fragile life is.

They’ve behaved impeccably. They draw looka defensive ring around their mate to block prying eyes. They know what’s happening. They know they ‘lost’ Eriksen before their medical team performed a miracle. They’ve seen his partner Sabrina Kvist Jensen in pieces. Watching it unfold was difficult enough. Being part of it was a nightmare.

There was a time I was convinced that we’d lost Eriksen forever. We didn’t know. Only they knew. The body language told its own story. What was actually 1 hour and 40 mins felt like forever. A dribble of information started - pictures on the social media - vague speculation - and then the things we were hearing all started to point in the right direction. We all heaved a huge sigh of relief. Wow. Wonderful.

But then news comes that it’s ‘game on’. I couldn’t believe my ears. No. Surely not. This has to be a sick joke. No chance. No-one could play a football match after what we’ve all seen. After what the players have witnessed. No. I don’t believe it.

Our beINSPORTS studio was split. I wasn’t moving from my position. For me it was a ‘NO NO NO’ - even if the players had said they wanted to play That was a point Andy made and I got it - but my argument was that they shouldn’t have been put in a position whereby the decision was theirs to make. Mental health has to be the overriding factor. Who cares about the game? End it. Give the teams a point a piece. ‘Ah, but the regulations don’t allow for that’. Bollocks. Change them. Extra-ordinary events require a flexibility and touch when decisions follow.

Ruud Gullit sat with his hands on his head staring at the ceiling. He didn’t move for a good half hour. He didn’t say a word. Gianfranco Zola couldn’t talk. Andy and I were doing what we could - but when I looked at him I knew what he was thinking ‘are we really watching this?’ It was an impossible watch - but we had to stay with it. We had to be part of what was happening and let the events unfold in real time. It was unpleasant work - but it wasn’t about ‘us’. It was about accurately reflecting what we were seeing. It was football’s 9/11.

So we were transfixed. Shocked. We were all thinking about Fabrice Muamba - a lovely man who Andy and I have had the pleasure of spending time with. We were watching him tweet. We knew what he was going through. For him - there couldn’t have been anything more painful. And what were UEFA doing? They were threatening the Danes. Play it - or lose it.

Even going back the next day was unthinkable. The team hotel was 45 mins away. Can you imagine the scenes in the team coach if they’d left for the hotel? Or the night they would’ve had - haunted by what they’d seen? Or the preparation the next day?

We witnessed 50 minutes of football that I didn’t want to watch. That none of us wanted to watch - but UEFA felt we had to - presumably for the ‘Integrity of the competition’. What nonsense.

No wonder the Danes are receiving special counselling. Some of those boys will never be the same again. You can’t ‘unsee’ things. Look at Daley Blind’s reaction 24 hours later. He wasn’t there. But he’s had his own health issues and he knew better than most what it must’ve been like for the Danes.

No. The time for macho, old fashioned masculine attitudes to the sort of distress we all witnessed, should be long gone. UEFA got this one horribly horribly wrong.

Happily Eriksen is on the mend. The pictures of him in his bed with his thumb up are the best images from the tournament so far. It’s why UEFA will get away with their crass decision - and I know they’re moving to shut people down. But we shouldn’t allow them to do that - if only because we need to be sure they won’t ever make the same mistakes again.

Incidentally, Peter Schmeichel will be part of our Euro 2020 coverage on beINSPORTS when we get to the ko stages. I’m looking forward to spending time with him. In the meantime - best wishes to Christian Eriksen, his family, those guys that were closest to it all - and the Danish people. And not least - to those that performed a miracle. We all witnessed one the other night - except UEFA it seems.

Do it your way Gareth.

Published: Monday, 07 June 2021

The first thing to do is wish England, Scotland and Wales all the very best at the Euros. Allow me the usual plug - all the games are live on beINSPORTS and we’ve got a stellar line-up of guests - including Gianfranco Zola, Arsene Wenger and Ruud Gullit. 

England’s ambition must be to win it. I don’t know what constitutes success for the other two - they’ll work that out for themselves. What’s for certain is that it’s great to see Scotland back on the big stage and Wales, of course, can point to the last tournament when the experts start writing them off again. Good luck guys - all of you. Now bear with me. I’ll get to the point I want to make shortly. 

What a great read David Moyes’ piece in The Times was at the weekend. Here. If you missed it - enjoy…..https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/why-throw-ins-and-back-threes-will-be-crucial-at-euro-2020-2hh97c9lr?shareToken=3589890ba65fdb3673d86fe3052a3975

I thought Moyes was great on ‘harmony’ - keeping training light and fun at this difficult time. His analysis of set-pieces was excellent - but I think we’ve always known how important they are. Sadly England’s specialist set-piece coach, Gary Neville, got them all wrong in 2016 - do you remember Harry Kane taking corners? My goodness. And it was no better at the other end where Iceland capitalised on some equally baffling marking decisions. 

I smiled when I read Moyes on throw-ins! I was never convinced by Liverpool’s use of a ‘specialist’ throw-in coach - but maybe I was wrong. The stand out argument appears to be that teams have to be careful when taking a throw because they’re down a man at that moment. Maybe - but it’s only for a mili-second if they are. Change is coming mind you. I know that because I’ve had the conversation with Arsene Wenger. It won’t be long before we’re kicking the ball in from the defensive half. Trust me. It’s coming. 

False nine’s was a good section. But I think we all know that system doesn’t work. Had City played a proper 9 in Porto they might have had more than one attempt on target in the game. And look at their results towards the end of the season when Guardiola played without a 9. Nope. It’s not for me. 

Moyes asks if coaches might be moving away from the modern trend of having keepers playing out from the back. What he’s really saying is that he knows it is - thank goodness. 

If you read the whole piece you know there’s only the section left. And this is the bit that leapt out at me. 

Moyes points out that Serie A and La Liga were both won this season by teams who predominantly play back threes. Chelsea won the CL like it. Belgium play it. And City do a lot. 

So here’s my point. Why has it taken so long for us all to realise that the system works? Why do we find it acceptable now? Is it because Guardiola has played it? Yes. It is. That’s the reason. It really is because foreign coaches have made it acceptable - yet we were first. England played like it under Glenn Hoddle in the late 90’s and he got pilloried for it. 

We discussed it on our podcast (Keys and Gray) with Glenn. Have a listen…..

Hoddle wanted to slow the English game down. He wanted his team to keep possession - play from the back. He played three with Rio Ferdinand as the pivot. And as he explained in the podcast - that allowed him to get two at the top end - whilst not getting out numbered in mid-field. 

Go further back and you’ll find that Kenny Dalglish would sometimes play it during his first spell at Liverpool. His three were Lawrenson, Gillespie and Hansen. He had Nicol and usually Steve Staunton as wing-backs. He too got slaughtered. It was seen as a defensive five when he used it. 

It’s taken us all these years to understand - and an effective use of the system by a ‘genius’ at City. Just think - where would we be today had we been accepting of Hoddle’s vision when he was England manager? Perhaps we’d be no better off - but……

So my message to Gareth Southgate is ‘be brave’. Southgate hasn’t started this tournament well in that respect. I mentioned it last week - naming four right full-backs was a nonsense. He bottled that decision. It’s strange how circumstances have helped him out. Perhaps there’s an omen there. Let’s hope so. 

History tells us that it’s usually only the brave that succeed. Alf Ramsey didn’t finish as he started in ‘66. I know. I know. Talk of success in ‘66 feels like a lifetime ago - but it’s still the only success England fans can refer to. 

Ramsey moved from wingers to a 

4-4-2 and took pelters for it - more so when he preferred Geoff Hurst to a fit magician called Jimmy Greaves. It worked out ok though didn’t it? Ramsey knew what he wanted and wasn’t deflected by press criticism. He also didn’t have that daft song (you know the one) to pile extra pressure on. Please guys - leave it alone this time. I know it’s all about irony - but the rest of the world doesn’t see it that way. It translates as arrogance outside English borders. Drop it now. 

Let’s get behind England but not with the drama of previous tournaments. Let’s not ‘expect’ that they win this tournament. A good start won’t guarantee that. A poor start doesn’t automatically mean that they won’t. Let’s stay calm and offer meaningful support. Oh - and don’t listen to people like me Gareth! Do it your way.

£832,417,363 - and counting

Published: Monday, 31 May 2021

The more I read Saturday morning (May29) the more I became convinced that Chelsea would win the CL.

Regular beINSPORTS watchers will know that I’ve been tipping them to do it since the arrival of Thomas Tuchel -123 days ago. Wow. 123 days. Now that’s what I call genius. To win the CL in that short space of time. There’s something about him - his dynamism I guess - that’s always impressed me.

I’ve said it before - I wanted to dislike him because he’d taken Frank Lampard’s job. That’s how daft we can all be when it comes to football and our favourites. But - as Mourinho would say - from minute one - I was sold on him.

He’s always happy to talk. He strikes me as humble, but he’s certainly nobody’s fool.

He got Chelsea looking ‘strong’. Everything about them was powerful. It was as if their season only really started when he swept in.

N’Golo Kante rightly got all the plaudits after a massive performance against City, but someone who epitomises this Chelsea side is Antonio Rudiger. He couldn’t get into a Lampard team, but right now he’s arguably the best defender in the world. And I’ve been saying this for quite some time as well.

He’s a giant in that defence. The block to stop Foden scoring said everything about him. He would die for the cause. It’s that kind of leadership that rubs off on everybody around him.

I said last week that Chelsea needed two things to be sure of having a chance of winning it - Kante and Mendy - but I should’ve mentioned Rudiger.

Chelsea oozed determination. I wasn’t surprised to see that. Perhaps they’d read Saturdays newspapers? If I’d been Tuchel I’d have pinned them to the dressing room wall. Honestly. Talk about mis-placed adulation. It was a Guardiola love-fest. Most of the guys had City not just winning it, but winning it at a canter, before going on to dominate for another decade. Do you remember the one they were predicted to boss the year they last won the title? No. Nor me. They didn’t. And they won’t now either.

Guardiola has spun a web and somehow trapped most right minded football people in it. How? I just don’t get it. I never have.

Yes. He’s a serial winner. His teams ‘play the right way’. Perhaps that’s why he has so many disciples? I’d rather watch Leeds or Liverpool, but each to their own.

Guardiola should win things. He inherited a fabulous Barcelona side from Frank Rijkaard. It would’ve been impossible not to continue winning with Messi at his peak.

He won everything available in Germany. But everybody does. You can’t judge a Bayern coach on domestic success. That’s a given. The one they wanted was won by Heynckes and Flick either side of Guardiola’s time there. 

He’s carried on winning everything that City had previously won before he arrived at the Etihad. It’s been done with a swagger - and some performances have been sublime. But he hasn’t won the one thing he was employed to win.

I warned on Twitter Saturday morning that there might have to be some industrial sized egg wiping going on. And so it proved. City’s arrogance lost that final. They believed what was being written. They too thought they only had to turn up. As we know, they were wrong.

This is what drives me mad about Guardiola. In contrast to Tuchel, he always gives the impression that he’s doing you a favour during interviews. He looks down his nose sniffily frustrated that he’s got to waste his time with people that don’t have his football intellect. The crying because he’d decided to let Aguero leave was pathetic - and quickly exposed by Aguero’s brother - who told us all ‘Guardiola never wanted Sergio at City’. We knew that. It was obvious when he tried to frustrate him out soon after taking over. And again at the end of Aguero’s time there.

Why didn’t he start him against Chelsea? Too clever you see. Guardiola later talked about exposing ‘half pockets’ and ‘fake full-backs’ - ‘inside outs’ and ‘half presses’. How about ‘a hungry centre-forward that scores goals’?

His selection in mid-field was just as baffling - especially knowing that Kante was going to boss that area again. We all knew that, so play your ‘professional foul’ master to stop him. But no, no Fernandinho until it was too late.

City are good. Very very good. But their coach didn’t invent football and the sooner he stops believing he did the better. More than team selection, as I’ve said, the attitude was all wrong again.

So what next for Guardiola? Well another few hundred million spent in the summer will invigorate everybody at the Etihad. And Guardiola will soon pass the billion pound spend since taking charge at City. Record points totals - domestic trebles - another title - none of it really matters. Any good coach could do that with the same tools as his disposal. The one City want still eludes them. Guardiola was appointed to win it. He hasn’t.

Well done Brentford. It’s great to see them up. They’re a club that does things their own way. They don’t ‘follow the crowd’. I haven’t been, but the new stadium adjacent to the A4 looks fantastic. They’re a welcome addition to the PL and I believe the 45th different team to play in it.

It’s admirable that they’ve stuck by their beliefs, but I’ll say this. I don’t know who or how - but they’re going to need more than they’ve got to survive. That’s one thing the ‘crowd’ have proven down the years.

Where’s Scholes? And Giggs?

Published: Monday, 24 May 2021

We did it. There were times I was unsure. I didn’t know whether starting was the right thing. At times I didn’t know if we’d finish. But we did - and to those that made it happen we should say ‘thanks’. Well done all of you. And when when we start again next season let’s hope we’re back to normal.

Well done City as well. From a worrying position before Christmas they walked away with the title. But now comes the real test. Guardiola just has to win the CL. There can’t be anymore excuses. £1.04b spent at Munich and in Manchester, since his last CL win in 2011, means it’s time. He won three of nine consecutive titles that Munich have amassed. Heynckes delivered the CL. So did Hansi Flick. He didn’t. He hasn’t at City. That’s what he was brought in to do. It’s time he did.

City go to Portugal in great spirits. It’s Chelsea that have got the problems. They look tired. And without Kante they’re less than half the the team we expect to see. Kante has got to be fit. And so has Mendy, who I guess was taken off at Villa as a precaution?

I warm to Jurgen Klopp every time I see him. I’m delighted Liverpool made it into the top four. I think the last few months have been good for Klopp. After an express-train ride of success at Liverpool, it’s been a sobering time for him. But he’s always honest and the CL needs Liverpool as much as they need to be in the competition.

If you’d told Brendan Rodgers he could have fifth - and the FA Cup - he’d have snatched your hands off. Yes, it’s disappointing missing out again, but Rodgers knows it’s been another fabulous season at Leicester. Hopefully next time Brendan.

United’s remarkable achievement of going a season unbeaten on the road has largely been ignored. It shouldn’t be. Solskjaer has made steady progress at United and I hope now that he goes on to win the Europa League, and then admits that he was wrong to say ‘trophies are for egos’. No they’re not. They’re for fans. Enjoy your night Ole.

West Ham? Brilliant. Manager of the Year? David Moyes. I couldn’t be more pleased for him.

The one big black mark on the season is VAR again. It remains a disgrace. Our match day refereeing isn’t good enough and the guys are no better when operating VAR. They lie. They make excuses for poor decisions all the time. Mike Riley has got to go for things to get better.

We ended as we started - with a nonsense decision at Leicester. Kane handled the ball before Spurs got their third. He handled it. A goal followed. Disallow it for goodness sake. Don’t cover up another error by saying ‘Kane had a few more touches after the incident so the handball didn’t lead directly to a goal’. Ffs. Yes it did. Bale scored. And that goal cost Arsenal a place in Europe.

It could also have cost Leicester a CL place. Who knows if they might have scored - much as Liverpool did at West Brom? It’s not good enough. We were told the stakes are too high these days for costly errors to be allowed. Really? And let’s not forget that Villa stayed up last season as a result of a goal no-one in black saw. It’s a joke. Go Riley. Let somebody have a go that knows what he/she is doing.

We covered Spurs last week. I can only say I remain convinced that there’s trouble ahead.

Arsenal? Fantastic finish. And hopeful signs.

Leeds? I repeat when I’ve said on beINSPORTS. Their return has been so good that I expect to see them surrounded by the teams they’ve finished amongst. I mean that. It’s as though they’ve never been away. And I love watching them. I’d rather watch them than City.

And so we come to Everton. Everton - 10th. Beaten 5-0 at City as their talisman posted pictures on Instagram from his private plane as he flew home Saturday. Couldn’t he have waited 24 hours and gone with the team to City? Show a bit of solidarity? ‘Injured’ they tell me. Again? How? He only started 21 league games. And do you know how many he finished? Seven. That’s all - seven. No. Not for me. If Everton have any chance of re-joining the elite they need players who are committed. James isn’t.

And I’ve come to the conclusion that Ancelotti is a lucky boy. Progress? Well he’s finished two places higher this time round, but let’s be honest - Everton are going nowhere. Big Sam finished 8th and got the sack. My solution? Nuno. Do it now.

Well done Villa. And Newcastle - who finished with a point more than they got last season. Did Rafa ever amass 45 points? 😉.

It’ll be interesting to see what direction Palace chose now. Wolves have got to be careful as well.

Saints flatter to deceive. Hassenhuttl will hang on - but I’d change it. Brighton can say they’ve ‘edged’ forward but Sean Dyche won’t be happy. As for the bottom 3 - they got what they deserved. Fulham were naive, West Brom lacked any kind of ambition and the Blades were an accident waiting to happen once the owner got busy.

The Hall of Fame has been fun. Strange for me as well - bearing in mind I was the host when Alan Shearer and Eric Cantona were inaugurated into the original version 15 years ago! It’s another thing everybody has forgotten about.  

Eventually, I’m sure all the right players will be welcomed into this new version. But how hasn’t Paul Scholes been mentioned yet? Ask anyone who played with or against him and they’ll tell you he was the best ever. And Zola - who was voted by fans as Chelsea’s best? Where is he?

I’m also uncomfortable about the decision to ignore Ryan Giggs. He’s the most decorated PL player of all time. On that basis he’s got to be in. I know why he’s not. We all do. Look - if Giggs is found guilty of the charges he faces then the law should deal with him harshly. Striking a woman is abhorrent. But right now Giggs is innocent. And even if found guilty should that verdict tarnish his playing career? Perhaps he should’ve chosen to leap into the crowd in full public view - and attack a spectator? That incident could easily - and perhaps should’ve - ended in serious criminal charges. Had the FA not been run by a United fan at the time, it might well have done. But we’ve conveniently forgotten about Cantona’s sins. Racists are ignored. Where is the line?

Nothing will ever erase the memory of Giggs flying down that wing. He was sensational at times. Unplayable at times. Isn’t that what gets you into a Hall of Fame with your peers?


See you next week.

What’s going on at Goodison?

Published: Monday, 17 May 2021

A lot of this is going to hurt. A big piece of me will forever be on Merseyside. It’s where I grew up as a broadcaster. I have huge respect for all three clubs! As much as I enjoyed watching Liverpool sweep aside everything and anything put in front of them - I loved spending time with the guys at Everton. What a great club. What good people. David Moyes was spot on when he coined the phrase ‘The People’s Club’.

I was in at the start of the ‘Kendall years’, but had gone to Manchester before it got really exciting. Pity. I’ve always regretted not being there to see it all come together.

There are few better grounds to be in than Goodison when it’s jumping. If I had my way I’d re-develop. I don’t buy the argument that it can’t be done. Of course it can. They said that about Anfield and look what’s happened.

A whole host of my friends are blue noses. Sadly Andy King isn’t with us anymore. He loved Everton. And ‘Everton’ loved him. I shared a few great memories in a FaceTime call to Australia with Mike Lyons recently. Big Joe Royle is a good mate. And I’ve lost count of how many times Reidy has got me out of a hole down the years. At beINSPORTS there’s Andy, Producer Brian and Elton Welsby’s boy Chris. Toffees are everywhere. But they’re not happy right now. And nor am I.

What the hell is going on at Everton? It doesn’t get any worse than losing at home to the bottom club - who’ve been relegated for weeks. A season that started with so much promise has fallen apart. Anyone other than Carlo Ancelotti would’ve been out on their ear this morning.

Let’s quickly follow that up. The guy is a legend. He’s the ‘daddy’ of the super-coaches. He’s done it all. But he’s at the wrong club. He’s always been at the wrong club. He was the perfect fit for Arsenal - a steady presence, able to handle big names and he would’ve eased the club back in the right direction. I’ve said this all before - Arteta was the right man for Everton - someone who’d had a touch of the ball at Goodison, who understood the club and could learn on the job as he re-built from the bottom up. Everybody would’ve been growing at the same pace.

Ancelotti has been papering over cracks. It’s not his fault. Of course he was going to take the job. He wanted back into England and Everton are a big club - but a big club that’s lost it’s way.

Sadly there’s nothing right now to attract top stars. The money has dried up - not surprisingly when you look at what’s been wasted. And here’s a fair question - has Ancelotti actually improved the team?

I’ve been right about James from day one. He’s can’t run. If he could he wouldn’t. Play him right and he’s a liability. He won’t defend. Play him in the middle and players run round and off him. Yes, he can slip a nice ball through occasionally - and his trade mark ‘searcher’ from right to left can be effective - but not all the time. If you haven’t got people to put a shift in for him he’s a luxury in a team that needs to graft. And I couldn’t believe it when I heard commentator Tony Jones tell a world-wide tv audience that Ancelotti had ‘wanted to rest him for the remainder of the season’ so he’d be fit to play for Columbia at Copa America. What? Do they pay his wages? He’s only made 21 starts this season - playing 1,764 minutes - mostly in the sunshine. Come on Carlo. He’s taking the piss.

There’s no pace in this Everton side. Apart from Calvert-Lewin, who I’ve always liked, there are no goals. There’s no width. And to start with three centre-backs - at home v Sheffield United - wow. Surely they should’ve been set up to rip the backside out of Sheffield? Get on the front door - camp in their half - hit them with a few bombs early? Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

I keep hearing that Bramley Dock will happen. I don’t know. I’m not convinced. As I said earlier - I wouldn’t do it anyway. Spurs are about to spend a decade or more paying off the loans on their fabulous new home. It’s beautiful. But what exactly has it done for them? Are they looking like a team that’s going to be able to mix it with Europe’s best because they play in a fine stadium? They’d have been better off staying at Wembley. I discussed this last week. Oh - Kane by the way. Put a cheeky tenner on him going to City this summer. £100m.

Everton might yet make Europe. That’s progress for sure. And maybe Evertonians will accept that - despite the great expectation from a season that started so well. The only thing that the players and management should be grateful for right now is that Goodison has been empty all season. The home form has been dross. Only West Brom and Sheffield have lost more home games. That changes this week. Evertonians can be unforgiving critics. I hope history repeats itself. I hope Ancelotti can do what Howard Kendall did - but I’m beginning to have my doubts.

There maybe trouble ahead Spurs.

Published: Monday, 10 May 2021

More than a week on and still nobody has explained to me where we’re going to get the next set of multi-billionaires to replace those that currently own the big six. And Manchester United fans appear to be on a suicide mission.

I’m almost certainly not the only person to be hearing of the plans for Thursday night. Brilliant guys. Keep it up. Make life as difficult for your team as you can ahead of the Europa League final. How has Solskjaer got the cheek to be complaining about fixture scheduling when it was United’s own ‘fan’ base that rioted last Sunday and caused the game v Liverpool to be re-arranged?

And this past weekend came the news that the Manchester-based The Hut Group has pulled out of a £200m training kit sponsorship deal. That’s right - Manchester-based. An employer of people living in and around Manchester. Brilliant. You couldn’t make it up. Gone. A chance to put the name of the company front and centre world wide. Gone. The chance of expansion. Gone. The chance of new jobs. United’s ‘fans’ have been celebrating this news. It’s staggering. What next? Oh, I know. I can hear it now. ‘Let’s see how quickly we can stop the flow of money through the club. The Glazers will get the message then’. Be careful what you wish for....

Spurs aren’t without problems. I watched the defeat at Leeds wondering where they go next. Of course Ryan Mason was correct about the nonsense of disallowing Kane’s goal - and the result might have been different had it stood, but my thoughts went beyond the game. What’s next for Spurs?

Kane goes. That’s for certain now. And he’ll go with the blessing of Spurs fans. They know he’s finished his shift. And what a shift. That creates £90m to spend. Or does it? I couldn’t help but be reminded of what Arsene Wenger told me recently during an interview on BeINSPORTS. I know some of you are regulars - but forgive me - this is for those who haven’t read this blog before.

We were discussing the last decade of his time at Arsenal - the post Highbury years. I couldn’t believe it when he said ‘because of the stadium debt I knew every season that we couldn’t complete for the title (and here’s the bit that nearly had me fall out of my chair) and at the end of that season I’d have to sell my best player to keep the club afloat’. Wow. Staggering. Looking back - how well did he do to keep it all going - deliver CL football - and three FA Cups in his last four seasons?

Spurs have got a similar decade ahead of them. They might have a new coach lined up - but I’ve heard nothing. As nice a guy as Ryan Mason is, they can’t possibly give it to him. Top four has gone now - and not just this season. I’m with Glenn Hoddle, who doesn’t see them as a top six team anymore.

I’ve also been thinking about where else there might be vacancies? West Brom? Palace? Maybe Leeds? Newcastle? Arsenal? Brighton if Potter moves onto a bigger club? It’s going to be interesting.

If Sam goes I’d replace him with Valerien Ismael. What a job he’s done at Barnsley - although you’d struggle to get him out if they come up. And they might.

Paul Warne obviously knows what he’s doing - despite the fact that Rotherham didn’t survive. In the end a small squad and too many games did for them. Wycombe failed gloriously. I think Gareth Ainsworth is a star. It’s worth noting that if the EFL find Derby guilty of financial irregularities Wycombe could yet stay up.

Mark Robins has to get a mention. He’s done an incredible job at Coventry. I’d hate to see him leave, but he too deserves a bigger one.

Lower down there’s Karl Robinson. I can’t believe that he’s still waiting for his big chance. After a terrific first season at Oxford, they were toiling this time round, but he quietly crept into play-off contention and then nicked a place on the last day. I’m delighted for him.

There’s a clutch of good guys in League One - Grant McCann, Darren Ferguson, Neil Critchley, Lee Johnson, Michael Appleton, Danny Cowley, Nigel Adkins and Paul Cook. In League Two what about the jobs done at Cheltenham, Cambridge, Bolton, Morecambe, Newport and Forest Green?

There’s a lot of talent out there. Some have had a go and it hasn’t quite worked out - but that shouldn’t stop them getting a second chance. Others are still waiting. Oh - I should’ve given Lee Bowyer a mention when talking about the Championship. He had a huge impact at Birmingham.

Good luck to all the guys involved in the play-offs and better luck to everyone’s favourite 2nd team on Merseyside - Tranmere - when it all resumes again. They came up short this time and I feel for everybody at the club. It’s been a frustrating couple of seasons at Prenton Park.

Enough Gary. I want to watch football matches not riots.

Published: Tuesday, 04 May 2021

Enough Gary. I want to watch football matches not riots. Plainly no-one at your primary employer has got the courage to say anything to you - so let me.

It really is none of my business who owns Manchester United, Arsenal, Valencia, Salford or Sheffield. With the exception of Salford, nor is it yours. Nor is it Jamie Carragher’s, Rio Ferdinand’s, Jake Humphries or Gary Lineker’s. Our job is simple and privileged. Our job is to call football matches. It is not our job to instigate riots. And make no mistake, what happened at Old Trafford on Sunday was a riot. And a disgrace. I hate to think what the reaction would’ve been had Liverpool fans been to blame.

It was NOT a peaceful demonstration. One Police officer has been left with life changing injuries. He could’ve been blinded after being attacked by a thug wielding a broken bottle. Five more Policemen were hospitalised after scenes described as ‘reckless and dangerous’ by Manchester’s assistant chief constable Russ Jackson. The FA and Premier League have opened investigations into the ‘violent and criminal’ invasion of Old Trafford. Their words - not mine. As Graeme Souness put it ‘someone could’ve been killed today. A village idiot could’ve taken somebody’s eye out with the flare that was thrown at the tv gantry’.

I’ll tell you what happened - but I still don’t know why. A group of people purporting to be Manchester United fans staged a dangerous blockade of city centre hotels before breaking into Old Trafford through sacred territory emboldened by others - X-players - who should have known better.

What was it all about? Was it a protest against the ESL? No. But some would have you believe that? Was it a demonstration about the ownership of Manchester United? No. But some would have you believe that. It was a show of frustration that United are no longer the dominant force in English football.

The Glazers are not for me. But Sir Alex Ferguson never had a problem with them. ‘I am comfortable with the Glazer situation’ he would say. ‘They have been great’.

He also said ‘I think there are a lot of factions at Manchester United that think they own the club. They will always be contentious about whoever owns the club’.

United won four league titles and one European Cup when Fergie worked for the Glazers. They’ve since added an FA Cup, League Cup and a Europa League title. Since Fergie left the Glazers have spent the best part of £1b on transfers. So are they to blame for the lack of success? Or have others wasted that money?

If the protest was about the ESL then why have City fans not been out with their own wrecking ball? Or Chelsea fans? Or Spurs fans?

What we witnessed Sunday was frightening. It has no place in society, let alone football. It was also in stark contrast to the classy way David Beckham showed his support to United fans when he picked up a green and gold scarf on his return to OT with Milan in 2010.

At beINSPORTS we were lucky enough to have Arsene Wenger in our studios last weekend. With my Arabic colleagues - like so many - he was championing the right of supporters to have a say in how their club is run. That was until he came into our studio and I reminded him that for the last 18
months of his time at Arsenal he ignored fans pleas to leave! He wasn’t so keen on pressing his argument then.

Who did Peter Lim - the owner of Valencia - speak to before appointing the English coach that presided over the most catastrophic period in that clubs history?

How many fans representatives are on the Board at Salford? Was anyone asked about the appointment - and subsequent sacking five months later - of Richie Wellens? Those close to a Wellens speak of constant interference upstairs - demands on how training should be run - and even who should’ve been playing. To my knowledge the Glazers have never interfered in either of those areas.

That’s the problem when you get too busy. Whilst you’re manning the barricades in one place you forget that you’re guilty of all the same things you’re campaigning against elsewhere.

The ESL failed. It failed because Paris and Munich refused to join. Had they done - it would’ve happened. The noise didn’t change anything. Nor did the British govt - whose posturing now is at odds with the pressure they put on United to pull out of the FA Cup in
1999, because World Cup votes were at stake.

It’s time now for healing. The six English clubs involved in the proposed breakaway have all signed contracts with EUFA pledging not to go it alone again. The rest haven’t - which tells you that they are determined to bring about change - as we’ve said here for weeks.

Those of us in the media with influential voices have to understand the responsibility that comes with that privilege. We have to be careful about the language we use. We can’t call for fans to go the grounds and ‘rip out owners’. We must not talk about ‘murder’ when discussing football - or ‘famines’ or ‘mobilising’. All this is incendiary - and on a weekend when we all decided to come off social media platforms to make a stand against bullying and racism. You couldn’t make it up.

Let’s for a moment pretend the Glazers decide to sell. Who is going to replace them? And what would their intent be? It would be exactly the same as the Glazers - to run a successful business. The same goes for Arsenal, Chelsea, City, Spurs - and football is business now, whether we like it or not. And one other thing - where are we going to find enough billionaire owners to go round?

There’s no going back to the days of cloth caps - when the local butcher owned our favourite club. I’m old enough to remember Louis Edwards getting pelters because of the way he ran United. And his son, Martin. So nothing has really changed. As Fergie said ‘fans here will always be contentious - whoever owns the club’.

We’ve got the best coaches working in our league for a reason. And the best players. We’ve enjoyed an unparalleled time in our sports history - funded by the same people that we now criticise.
As I’ve said many times in this blog - be careful what you wish for.

United are currently looking for a Chief Exec Gary - give it a go. Show us all how it should be done. And please don’t tell me you couldn’t work for the Glazers. You once did - and pocketed millions from doing so. That was the time to make your voice heard.

I don’t ever want to see a repeat of Sunday’s riot. I repeat - I want to watch football matches. I want to watch the best league in the world continue to flourish. I’ll continue to call it as I see it - frustrated by referees, disappointed by some performances, exhilarated by others. I’ve been drawn into debates about the current owners of the club I support. Like ‘fans’ of other clubs we’re all allowed to moan and complain. That’s part of the fun, but sparking riots is not on my agenda. Nor should it be anyone else’s.

Luke Shaw - on £190,000 a week? A WEEK. Here’s your problem – when the pyramid turns into a Ponzi.

Published: Monday, 26 April 2021

What an extra-ordinary seven days. Jose Mourinho gets the sack and no-one noticed! That was until Spurs turned up at Wembley directionless, hopeless and with his immediate successor looking totally lost - like the Under-11’s coach in charge of the seniors. In any other week Mourinho’s sacking is front and back page for days. Not last week. He got lucky. What a demise.

We all know why it wasn’t front or back page news. I think we called it spot on here. I’m certain change will evolve, but not in the way the ‘denier in chief’ and widely-accepted lunatic Florentino Trump would have us believe. Listening to the President of Real Madrid trying to convince anyone that will listen, that the ESL is still ‘on’ is like Trump bellowing ‘Stop the Steal’ from The Capitol in his last desperate days. An insult to everyone and everything to do with football.

No. The ESL in this guise is finished. Three years in the making - dead in 48 hours. Why? Not because of all the noise - but because Paris and Munich stood firm and refused to join. Forget Perez’s midnight hour suggestion at one point that both clubs ‘weren’t being invited’. Not only were they and the documents prove it, but they were subjected to the most intense inferno of lobbying to buckle and join in the final hours on Sunday. Had they joined - then the project goes ahead – every single card in the pack (and, from what I’ve been reading, possibly Bojo and co. too – christ that man doesn’t have an honest bone in his body). Anyway, the fortitude of PSG and Bayern was one of the gravest mis-calculations Perez made.

Nasser Al-Khelaifi - President of Paris and newly elected chairman of the European Clubs Association - led the resistance. He was the king pin they needed – and he didn’t fall. What a six months he’s got ahead of him now.

Al-Khelaifi summed up his feelings in the statement he released last Tuesday morning (April 20 2021) - “Paris Saint-Germain holds the firm belief that football is a game for everyone. I have been consistent on this since the very beginning. As a football club, we are a family and a community; whose fabric is our fans - I believe we shouldn’t forget this. There is a clear need to advance the existing UEFA competition model, presented by UEFA yesterday and concluding 24 months’ of extensive and collaborative consultation across the whole European football landscape. We believe that any proposal without the support of UEFA - an organisation that has been working to progress the interests of European football for nearly 70 years - does not resolve the issues currently facing the football community, but is instead driven by self-interest. Paris Saint-Germain will continue to work with UEFA, the European Club Association and all stakeholders of the football family - based on the principles of good faith, dignity and respect for all.”

There we have it – particularly the last sentence.  Perez and the Dirty Dozen wouldn’t know dignity and good faith if it hit him in the face.  All these PR apologies of recent days – if these snakes could have got away with it, they’d have made statutes of themselves outside grounds and already be on their yachts in the Maldives.  

Now Al-Khelaifi has tough job of trying to fix the problem. But what is the problem? Is it simply that COVID has decimated football revenues? That the majority of the big clubs are teetering on the brink because of the pandemic? No. Of course it isn’t. They’re in big trouble because of their mis-guided belief that the gravy train would never run out of track. Well it has. The pandemic, mass piracy and the gross mismanagement of some clubs (Perez take note) are the cause of all this – and it’s turned the football pyramid into a quasi Ponzi.

Here’s the problem. In the same week that Manchester United wanted to be part of the ESL because they saw it as another way to draw down massive money (as I’ve said before – follow the money behind JP Morgan, I’m pretty sure it’s sandy) I turned a page of the Daily Mirror yesterday (Sunday) to read that they’re set to offer Luke Shaw a new deal - worth £190,000 a week. A WEEK. That’s right. Luke Shaw – an earnest but ordinary full-back - £190,000 a week. Are they mad? He’s still got two years left on his old deal - which is worth £150,000. This is out of control.

There isn’t another industry that has such blatant disregard for the rules of finance. Billions pour into the game. Billions. Clubs rip fans off every which way they turn, with replica kits, replica training kits, massively expensive season tickets, overpriced pies and pints - you name it - it’s a scam.

Premier League clubs alone paid agents fees of £272m last season. Why? There isn’t a player working for the big six that wouldn’t walk from the furthest point on the globe to do so. Why do clubs need to pay agents? Why don’t players pay agents?  Why do clubs pay exorbitant wages? Shaw would play for United for £50,000 a week - still far more than the annual average wage in the U.K.  

Last week the British govt got busy on the issue of the ESL. Why? Because they saw an opportunity. No-one understood what was happening - least of all Oliver Dowden - but it was a popular thing to do. What this space with BoJo – first, Cumming’s reveals that BoJo got an aide to try pressure the Premier League into a different Newcastle takeover position, all for his chums that we stealing all of UK sport. Now there’s more than a whiff in the air about his initial support for the breakaway Super League – you couldn’t make this stuff up.

I’ll tell you what also needs a clean up – other govts around Europe, in Spain and Italy especially - that give massive tax breaks to clubs and allow players to earn ‘netto’.  Ronaldo - the first footballer worth a billion dollars - isn’t in Italy for any other reason. It stinks. It’s wrong. Stop it.

That’s where I’d start I’d I were trying to fix a few things. I’d sit Europe’s top clubs down and lay it on the line. There HAS to be an agreement about this - and one that sticks. Can it be done? Don’t hold your breath.

Oh. And in finishing - it’s time to go time Harry. Your team were hopeless against City and it’s not going to get any better. In fact, it’s only going to get a whole lot worse as the bills for the stadium start piling up. Spurs’ 48 hours in the ESL are over - and so are their days in the top 4.

A breakaway 12? We need jaw jaw

Published: Monday, 19 April 2021

One thing is for certain - change is coming; and change is positive. Its progress. But, it shouldn’t be rail-roaded, bullied and briefed through by a cabal of elites – let alone failing elites who are trying to bail themselves out - and without a moment to consider who really pays the bills - fans.

I refer you back to my blog when I discussed Project Big Picture – the first suggestion that change was coming. I was one of the very few (when it was first announced – not one of the retro-fitted flip-flop opinions that came a few weeks afterwards) that saw a lot of sense in it. It wasn’t all acceptable – far from it - and it wasn’t all going to happen – nor should it. But there were a lot of things about it that I felt could be considered and perhaps accommodated in order to satisfy the demands of the Big 6. And pause right there – before you get ready to lynch - the majority of us might not like them – and have no association with them – but we’ve got to accept that, in some ways (not every way), they are Box Office. They disproportionately drive PL sales overseas, year on year, country by country. They’re the teams the world wants to watch – the shirts that youngsters from all four corners of the globe want to wear. With them, we’re all stronger. The collective parts make a whole – but the bigger parts are more of the whole. So let’s find a way to make them happier and have them stay at home.

Saying that is not a sell-out. It’s a solution. It’s also sensible. The big clubs are going to have their own way - one way or another.

The Super League is their answer. I can’t see it possibly happening – you don’t disenfranchise every single stakeholder group in sport (and world political leaders) in a matter of hours – like the remarkable few hours of yesterday evening – and survive.  But I’m certain of this – eventually change is coming.

Why? The big boys are in trouble – so we’re all in trouble. I’ve said it before - the media rights bubble has burst. They’ve all overspent - on transfer fees and wages. None of them - not one of them - planned for the COVID disaster that has decimated them, nor the piracy pandemic (long-COVID) that’s slowly corroding the entire sports economic.

None of us saw COVID lurking – but a few of us have felt and said for years that the gravy train was running out of track, precipitated by piracy. And that’s happened.

So what now? Well - it’s panic stations isn’t it? They’re all desperate - and desperate people do daft things. Perhaps signing up to a Super League is one such daft thing.

Or is it? What actually do we know about their plans (ever seen such a world-defining plan without public plans?!)? Who’s behind it and what are their true intentions? Does Gianni Infantino – who must be driven mad by the fact that the CL is the biggest club competition in the world and he has no part of it - have a back-channel open to the breakaway clubs? (if so, that’s absolutely scandalous – no comment from FIFA at the time of writing – curious, given it’s a world-defining moment). What about the execs who are on boards of federations, who are - seemingly - actively undermining those very same federations - then saying it’s nothing to do with them? Where is the consideration for the average fan in all of this?

However back to change being progress. It isn’t just for financial reasons that I’ve always believed we were heading for ‘evolution’. This ‘revolution’ isn’t entirely unexpected either – that happens when you don’t do evolution, which is why we are where we are today. I’ve talked about it before - with venues worldwide - games being played on a Friday evenings in neutral venues - New York, Beijing, Mumbai, Riyad, Sydney, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo. Who knows where? The creep of the commercial giants. The ‘evolution’ I thought more likely was because of the number of big clubs now in the hands of American owners. Americans don’t get promotion and relegation. They don’t get a ‘pyramid’ system. They don’t get why big clubs should feed the little guys. All they see is spreadsheets - and where to get the next big deal from. Richard Scudamore, the former Chief Exec of the PL didn’t care less who owned our clubs - as long as his TV bonus came in at the end of every cycle of contracts. He now sits in his sprawling American mansion – no doubt chuckling at all this. Perhaps advising the breakaway 12. He walked away a hero to many - but I never knew why.

Where will this end? If you burn all your bridges, you end up on an island. With no-one on it. And it will be interesting who resigns over the coming days and weeks – duplicity never ends well. As an aside, I’m proud that PSG has been a giant amongst men – it’ll pain some to say that I’m sure, but enormous credit where it is due. Maybe UEFA will retrench and call the 12’s bluff – it would be tempting. But perhaps good sense will prevail and UEFA will be able to satisfy some of the reasonable demands of the 12 – keep the whole as a whole, with all its parts. I hope they do - but if they do, be sure that it won’t be the end of the matter. We’ll be back here again for sure. I repeat what I said in my blog referenced at the top – there is no point opposing change simply because it doesn’t immediately help us. Sometimes you need to give a little to get a little – even if you can’t quite see it. One thing is for sure - ranting about stripping titles and arguing for revenge on the 12 won’t work. As Winston Churchill once said ‘jaw jaw is better than war war’.