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.

Who goes first - Truss, Gerrard or Rodgers?

Published: Monday, 17 October 2022

Now this is going to be an interesting race. At the time of writing Liz Truss is still in post and I guess she’s the favourite to leave first - but don’t rule out Gerrard or Rodgers beating her to the line.

They’re both in big trouble now. I’m reading that Gerrard has two games to save his job. And it’s not the first time I’ve read that this season. Unless something dramatic happens now I’m told it’s over for him at a Villa Park.

If that’s the case I’m genuinely sorry that it didn’t work out. I hope it still does. I’ve always believed that we need players like Gerrard to continue their careers in coaching once they’ve hung their boots up. We can’t give our game up entirely to school teachers. So I admired Gerrard for giving it a go.

I mentioned in an earlier blog how I believed his fall-out with Mings had set the pattern for the season. He handled his decision to drop Mings really badly. I said at the time - if he’d called him into his office in May and told him to find a club I think most people would’ve understood that. It wouldve given the big fella time to sort himself out with another club. With the World Cup coming this is a big season for Mings and he obviously felt that he couldn’t sit on the bench for the first three months at Villa. As things have turned out, Mings has had games but Gerrard gave himself a problem he didn’t need when he embarrassed his captain on the opening day - although he was quick to defend Mings after his howler v Chelsea, but the damage to his relationship with Mings - and in the dressing room - had been done.

I also mentioned in that earlier blog that I’d heard his players didn’t like his rigid system. They complain that it’s too narrow - that they’ve got players better suited to width - but Gerrard has made his mind up that he wants his system in the club’s DNA and unlike our hapless PM - he’s not for turning. So be it. But perhaps a change wouldn’t be a bad idea?

I’d like to see him smile more. To get his players smiling. To make going to work fun. Maybe he does when he’s at the training ground - but I never feel there’s any warmth at the club. Big Ron was a master at embracing fans and making them feel good about their club. Steven struggles in that respect. But perhaps he’s like King Kenny. Dalglish has never shown his true personality to the cameras. He’s a funny man  He loves a laugh. Maybe Gerrard does too but I want him to show us that he does.

That Rodgers is under pressure is a disgrace really. And he was right to object to press suggestions post match v Palace that he was only in post because a massive severance package was protecting him. That’s nobody’s business except his and the clubs.

We know Rodgers is a good coach. And if it ends at Leicester he’ll get another good one. I’m not sure Gerrard will. Certainly not one that he would want. And the at would be a pity. It makes all the talk about Villa being his stepping stone to an Anfield return all the more ridiculous doesn’t it? There are no certainties in football.

And so to a 45-minute stormer at Anfield. I really enjoyed the second half, but I’ve got a few questions.

I thought Antony Taylor did really well. I liked the fact that he was prepared to let so much go. The game was better for it - so why didn’t Darren England, in VAR,  realise that? Why did he get involved and disallowing City’s goal? The foul Haaland was adjudged to have committed was nowhere near as bad as half a dozen others that Taylor let go. There was no need for VAR to intervene. Oh - why was the monitor half way down the tunnel?

If VAR had ruled the goal out because the ball was kicked from Alisson’s hand I would’ve agreed with that. He clearly had one hand on the ball as he came out - and the ball was on the playing surface. The law states that the keeper is in control of the ball when that’s the case. Alisson clearly made that point to the ref and he was right.

Klopp has got to be careful. I can understand why he was so angry after Salah and Silva went at it, but you can’t attack an official the way he did. We’ve got all sorts of problems with discipline in grassroots football at the moment and it’s plain wrong for someone of Klopp’s profile to behave the way he did. The FA would be setting a good example if they charged him further.

On that subject - what is Ashley Williams doing sitting in a MOTD studio? I’m sure you’ve all read the story. Ok - innocent until proven guilty - but he shouldn’t be working on tv until we know one way or the other.

Why was the Leeds game help up for 38 minutes whilst they fixed the technology? Does no-one care about paying fans in the stadium? Are we so reliant on technology now that we can’t play a game without it? What a joke. And don’t tell me that it was needed to sort out the mess at the end. I was watching 3500 miles away and could see that Bamford instigated that trouble. And that Gabriel’s response was petulant not violent. All it needed was for the officials to do their jobs properly.

As it did at Fulham. If Haaland was adjudged to have committed a foul in the build up to City’s goal, what about Ream’s pull on Fredericks? That’s a pen. It stopped Fredericks getting the ball. ‘Ah’ say VAR. ‘Ream let go’. So? What absolute nonsense. So did Haaland. The little tug affected Fredericks gate. He would’ve got the ball. The reason no-one is talking about it is because it happened in a game between Fulham and Bournemouth.

There was an assault in the West Ham game! Perraud is all over Soucek at an early corner. It’s a pen. Why didn’t VAR see it? David Moyes was right - get yourselves to Specsavers. I don’t mind the Saints goal being given, but Peter Bankes got himself into a really bad position in the build-up. He should know better.

Newcastle should’ve had a pen at Old Trafford. Wilson is fouled by Varane, who makes no attempt to play the ball. Pen. Simple. Again - what were they doing in VAR? And I don’t agree with Alan Shearer that Sancho dived. He got caught. Yes - he collapsed too dramatically, but there was contact.

So don’t get too carried away Mike Dean. One way and another this weekend was as bad as it’s been. If only the VAR trucks would fail more regularly and we could truly get our game back.

Klopp is right - Liverpool aren’t in this title race. But Arsenal are.

Published: Monday, 10 October 2022

So what did we learn from Sunday’s showdown at the Emirates? Only that Arsenal are definitely in this title race. We pretty much knew that Liverpool aren’t before they lost.

It’s been a big week for Arsenal. Wins over Spurs and now Liverpool convinced a few of us that they’ve got a chance. A very small chance because City are going to win it again - unless they implode.

Liverpool’s challenge ended when Brighton scored their third goal at Anfield the week before. Klopp said as much before the Arsenal game and The Gunners confirmed his view - aided and abetted by VAR and Michael Oliver. We’ll get back to that.

Arsenal deserved their win. They were clearly the better side. But what on earth has happened to Liverpool? It’s deeper than a sulking Salah being way off the mark. He couldn’t kick a steady arse right now. Why? I could understand a slow start if he’d got better. But he hasn’t. And we haven’t seen anything from him since the African Cup of Nations. Nothing. Klopp took him off Sunday - I wonder if he’ll consider not starting him in the next league game?

I still think Arsenal will come up short - but we need them to be nipping away at City. We need Spurs to keep winning as well, but watching them is really hard work. I said on beINSPORTS Saturday that if Mourinho was serving up what Conte is he’d be slaughtered. I’m not criticising Conte. He’s doing what he’s always done and Spurs need to be tougher, but when Mourinho did the same thing at Tottenham he was labelled a dinosaur. Conte is supposedly a tactical genius. 🤷‍♂️  

But let’s get back to Arsenal. They got all the big decisions. Saka is offside when he receives the ball in the build up to the first goal. He’s clearly offside. But let’s be generous and say VAR let it go because it was so tight. I’ve argued that when decisions are - the forward should always get the advantage so I’d be happy if the PGMOL have had a change of heart Except they haven’t . They missed it. How do I know? Because we asked the match centre for the proof that Saka was on. We wanted to see the lines they’d used to make their decision. They couldn’t provide them. Why? Because they didn't use them. If they checked it - they guessed.

Liverpool should’ve had a pen. Never mind that the ‘proximity of the ball to the arm was too close’. I’ve read arguments today that ‘it’s hard to fathom how Gabriel could’ve got his arm out of the way of Jota’s cross’ I’m quoting Martin Samuel. Nonsense. He moves his arm to the ball. It starts by his side - and Liverpool had two in the middle waiting for the ball. Pen. Nailed on.

And the pen Oliver gave Arsenal was a poor decision as well, but there was no way Darren England in VAR was ever going to tell him that he’d got it wrong. Oliver had a decision at Forest queried recently - when he gave them a pen - and I’m told that he let it be known in the following days that he wasn’t happy about being sent to his monitor. Oliver is now just about our most senior ref. There’s no way he’s going to have someone he considers junior to him questioning his decisions.

So a good win Arsenal, but any breaks that we’re going went their way.

What about the mess the match centre made of the goals that Antonio and Rashford scored? They were identical - but VAR allowed Antonio’s v Fulham - and later ruled out Rashford’s at Everton. Antonio has admitted that of course he’d handled the ball. The match centre told us they’d seen it but that the offence hadn’t led ‘directly to a goal’. What? It did. He scored.

The difference between that goal and Rashford’s at Everton was what? Either both should’ve stood - or both should’ve been disallowed. In fairness to Fulham, I’d say Scamacca was lucky as well. He didn’t celebrate his goal because he expected it to be ruled out. And so it should’ve been.  

What an achievement by Ronaldo - 700 club goals. He’s been immense. He’s been the best of his generation for me. As Andy said Sunday - what separates him from Messi is that he’s scored bucket loads of goals in England. Spain and Italy.

To give you some idea what an impressive haul 700 is - I was shown a tweet at the weekend from Tom Kundert. I haven’t checked it so I hope he’s right. Tom reckons that Haaland would need 43.2 goals/season for the next 15 years (when he’ll be 37) to get to 700. Amazing eh?

I’m glad that Ronaldo has settled down at United because he was in danger of spoiling it all with his sulking. He’s got to understand that he’s at the age now where he can only make cameo appearances. But if he can come off the bench and do what he did Sunday he’s still got a part to play.

As for the speculation linking Ronaldo to Inter Miami - I doubt it very much. He wears the wrong boots. He’s a Nike man. Miami are heavily involved with Adidas. If either of the two fading superstars is going to make that move - I’d say it would be Messi. He’s sponsored by Adidas. These big moves don’t get done too often now without a sponsor being involved.

Something completely different.

Published: Monday, 03 October 2022

I’d be flattered if it wasn’t so predictably shallow and basic. I’ve been off the U.K. broadcast scene for 10 years yet still some people at home use my name to try to sell articles - and now books.

How sad that somebody I haven’t seen for 30 years - and for whom I went out of my way to help start their career - feels the need to take the cheap and inaccurate option by smearing me – together with virtually everyone in the industry (including, it seems, the entire Sky business) – in her upcoming autobiography.

Producers, directors, cameramen, sound technicians, statisticians - everyone it seems - has either belittled her or tried to block Gabby Logan’s career. Except they didn’t. In fact, I can’t think of anyone who’s had more of a leg up, at the expense of others. A career in spite of herself - not because of herself.

Let me say this. I’ve dealt before with the incidents surrounding my resignation from Sky. I repeat - resignation. I was not dismissed. I’ve taken responsibility for my part in what happened. It’s more than time to move on. And I thank Sue Barker for her quotes in the Daily Telegraph today. 

The first piece in the serialisation of Logan’s book reads like a piece of first-grade fiction. According to Logan, seemingly everyone from a Sky Sports intern to Starbucks barista has somehow insulted her.

I’m sorry. I just don’t believe that. I know she has an axe to grind because Sky terminated her first deal, but I knew most of the people she goes after at SSN and my experience of them was totally the opposition to Logan’s. They were first class operators who found her very difficult to work with  

They gave her the nickname ‘Gabbler’. She always had an awful lot to say - not a lot of it very complimentary. In the end our guv’nor, Vic Wakeling, pulled the plug and refused to renew her first deal. I notice he didn’t escape her ire either. 

I first came across Logan when she was a local radio reporter in the North East. She sent messages saying she was interested in working in tv. I wanted to help her because she was the daughter of a Coventry legend - Terry Yorath - and I thought she was worth taking a gamble on. Around about the same time we got Kenny Dalglish’s daughter - Kelly - a role at SSN. Kelly has gone on to have a terrific career. We also got Bernard Gallacher’s daughter - Kirsty - a job after a request from Trevor Francis’s wife, who was a friend of the Gallagher family. 

Because I helped Logan get started, I felt a responsibility to her so I tried to get Wakeling to renew her deal - a bit like I did when he decided to let Jamie Redknapp go. I had success with the latter, but Wakeling was having none of my appeals to keep Logan.

The same thing happened to her at ITV. They let her go. I actually fixed Logan up with her first agent - Gary Lineker’s mentor - Jon Holmes. That relationship didn’t last long either. I’ve no idea why. I’d have to speculate. I’m not going to. I’ll leave it to you to join the dots. 

30+ years later, on the eve of a book launch, we’re all suddenly treated to “her truth”.

The majority of it doesn’t relate to me – but what does is largely nonsense. Her ‘business card’ story – I’ve never used business cards in my life. Her phantom flight, which I have absolutely no recollection of. How I was fired from Sky – incorrect.  Lawyers have been instructed.

On what she infers about others, rather than being specific, let’s just throw a load of mud - mixed with fanciful stories - and see what sticks.  Why she doesn’t name “Mr Well Known” and “Mr Rugby” – if there are serious allegations, they should be investigated.

Anyway, let me add some colour to a few of the stories she’s half told. The day before her interview at Sky, she called me and asked what she should wear. I couldn’t believe it. Why ask me? I said I had no idea. Perhaps it should be something she felt comfortable in? Her reply was exactly this ‘oh, leave it with me Richard - I know - sex sells’. I was amazed. She had no problem playing that card.

When she started, I warned her about getting too close to work colleagues. She had no problem in that area either – interested to see if that makes the book –but none of my business, I was never one of her ‘special’ friends. Nor did I deliver the taunt that left her ‘dying inside’. I was surprised to read that description, bearing in mind how Gabby’s family have been affected by real tragedy of that nature.

We all have our own grief. My family have quietly worked through ours – against a maelstrom of abuse, bile, death threats and humiliation – for 10 years and often daily, and the allegations are barely based on a grain of truth. 

So, if you don’t mind, I find reading Logan’s serialisation of smears very sad. 

As for Terry. Nothing will change my opinion of him. He was a warrior on the pitch. A Coventry legend. He’s been a warrior off the pitch as well. No-one should ever forget the part he played putting a community and a football club back together after the Bradford fire of 1985. Some of the things he saw must’ve been horrendous.  And I’ve no idea how you ever come to terms with the loss of a child. With a quiet dignity in his case. 

Tetchy players? It’s always been like that.

Published: Monday, 26 September 2022

It made me laugh listening to Graeme Souness rip into Jack Grealish last week. Well - laugh and disappoint almost in equal measure. 

We’ve spoken of Souness in a previous blog recently. I mentioned that I know what pushes his buttons. For example - ‘modern players’, as he describes them, drive him mad. What was it he said about them? That’s it. They’re ‘molly-coddled’. That’s what made me laugh. The bit that disappointed me was that Grealish later said he didn’t understand Souness’s problem with him. When I saw that I tweeted ‘that’s the problem Jack’. The problem is that he doesn’t know. He should know. I’ll get back to that.

I text Graeme a couple of times after he’d made his views known. ‘Agreed’ I said. He came back blazing about ‘modern players’ saying how they were all a protected breed. ‘Agreed’ I replied again. Adding ‘it’s always been like that’. I didn’t get an answer this time! 

But it has. Players have alway reacted badly to criticism. Always. I reminded him of the time Kenny Dalglish pulled me when I was a radio reporter on Merseyside.

In a report on a Liverpool pre-season friendly at Wrexham, I’d said ‘Dalglish scored Liverpool’s third with a rare headed goal’. That was it. Nothing too much to get angry about there surely?

Not for most people anyway.

But Kenny didn’t like it. I can still see him coming up the tunnel that led to the dressing rooms and boot room at Anfield. ‘Rare headed goal’ he said as he made a bee-line for me. ‘Rare headed goal? What about the header at….’ And he went on to reel off half a dozen he’d got in the last 100 years. 😂. King Kenny didn’t miss anything. He never did. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve taken late-night calls from him, when he managed at Liverpool and Blackburn, and he’d vent into the small hours about a throw had gone against him - or that a ball that been out before it was crossed and the opposition had scored. I’m exaggerating a tad, but it was always about something simple that had gone unseen and the worst part was that he was always right!

Souness once said to me that he’d had a thousand arguments with Kenny during the time they roomed together at Liverpool. ‘I didn’t win one’ he would say, making the point that Kenny was stubborn and impossible to shift once he’d made his mind up. I once told Kenny this and quick as a flash he came back at me saying ‘well he wasn’t very good at arguing then was he?’ 😂. Souness was right - you couldn’t shift him. You still can’t.

Except I was right about his heading prowess! It just didn’t feel like it at the time. I was a 20-year-old baby making my way and I knew I’d upset him. It was an awful feeling.

But it was a different time. It was kept in-house. No-one needed to know about it. For the most part reporters and players got on in those days. We’d all drink together. I was always with Ray Clemence, who presented a show for us on Radio City, which led to us spending a lot of time together. Clem was smart. ‘Never get caught with a pint glass in your hand’ he would say. ‘You can drink as many halves as you like’. Brilliant! This, of course, was in an era before beer came in bottles.

He got me into trouble with Phil Thompson. Well - him and Dalglish. Clem was conducting an interview with Kenny for his programme, when Thommo bowled in on us, and stuck his finger up Kenny’s nose - trying to disrupt the conversation. It was standard practice around Anfield when the players saw an interview being done.

Clem hated talking to Kenny because he was so sharp and would often make a fool of him. Clem - with the mic in his hand - described the scene on tape ‘and as we speak Phil Thompson has come in and stuck his finger up Kenny’s nose’. ‘Aye’ said Kenny, quick as a flash. ‘And he could pick his own with a boxing glove on’. We pissed ourselves. ‘If you put that in the show you’re barred’ barked Thompson. Of course I did. It was funny. Thommo was as good as his word. He banned me - and he was captain at the time. It hurt.

There was also the occasion when the Merseyside mafia got it. The mafia were the regional reporters for the national newspapers. They were Chris James (Mirror) Colin Wood (Mail) John Keith (Express) Mike Ellis (Sun) and Matt D’Arcy (Star).

The boys were joined at the hip. No-one wrote a story that the others didn’t have. That way nobody got into trouble. I’ve know them file each other’s copy - for different reasons - at different times!

On this occasion Liverpool were having a shocking pre-season. They were always bad pre-season because they didn’t care much about those games, but this time it was really bad. They were getting beaten everywhere. Chances were being missed and they were conceding far too many.  The boys ran stories suggesting that the era of dominance was over. I think it was the Mirror that headlined a piece ‘The Empire crumbles’ in big bold type. That put James in the sights of the squad.

When the season started Liverpool blitzed everything put in front of them. This sparked an angry response from the dressing room for James and the other guys. The players sent them a card - signed by them all - with the inscription ‘The Empire strikes back. Fuck off’. 😂😂 Graeme was one of them.

Different times. You couldn’t put that on Twitter today could you? And you couldn’t talk about it. Can you imagine the storm it would cause? But it makes my point that players have always been tetchy.

There’s certainly more opinions passed these days. Reporters used to write about what they saw on match days, not pieces expressing what they believe they should’ve seen and how a hapless coach had got it all wrong. Imagine what sort of response would follow from Graeme’s dressing room in those circumstances.

Reporters today are all self appointed experts - myself included! Employers want opinions that make for good sound bites. They love to count re-tweets, clicks and visits. They’re more important now than programmes!

But to get back to Grealish. What doesn’t he understand about Graeme’s criticism? It’s simple. He’s done nothing since joining City. No. That’s unfair - he scored an important goal at West Ham at the back end of last season in a 2-2 draw. City had been 2-down. If they’d lost the title would’ve gone to Liverpool for sure.

Not much for £100m is it? Villa secured the sale of the century when they sold Grealish. I’ve always said - wrong team. Grealish slows things down - holds onto the ball too long. That was Graeme’s point. That’s why he spends half a game on his arse. He doesn’t see things quickly enough.

What no-one has asked yet is why Guardiola didn’t know that. £100m? For a player that he says ‘doesn’t need to make assists or score goals’. Who is he kidding? What is Grealish on the pitch for then? Guardiola might as well play me. I’d give them fuck all as well.

Guardiola is often spoken of as a ‘genius’. He’s not. He’s good, but he’s also been lucky to have coached three big teams - where he’s always inherited good players. He’s wasted millions at City. Yes - he’s delivered trophies - significantly, not the big one - but so he should’ve done with the money he’s had.

Meanwhile Souness has said he’ll go on a night out with Grealish so they can kiss and make up. ‘But he’s paying’ said Souness. I told you he doesn’t like putting his hand in his pocket. 😂.