Quadruple? You’re having a laugh. And Haaland looks fed up

Published: Tuesday, 07 March 2023

That didn’t take long did it? Less than a week of celebrations and the wheels are off again at OT.

Well - that’s according to the newspapers that I’ve been reading this morning. There’s an angry reporter and pundit on every sports page I turned.

I get it. Of course I do. United were awful - and they committed the ultimate sin of giving up. None more so that their irritating captain Fernandes - but what have I always said about him? If he’s not scoring penalties - which he was every week until we alerted everybody to his and Pogba’s antics - he doesn’t offer enough. Anyone that compares him to Paul Scholes needs their head examined. Fernandes exposed himself at Anfield and I agree with Chris Sutton in The Mail  - he should never wear the armband again.

It was an amazing afternoon. I seem to say it every week, but just when you think you’ve seen it all something like that happens.

A word on Liverpool shortly, but let’s deal with United first. It’s tempting to weigh in like everybody else but I’m not going to. Although no-one could’ve predicted what happened I believe something like it was coming.

They are NOT the real deal. They’ve been getting away with a lot recently. Read last week’s blog when I said that they hadn’t played well at Wembley. Their best players were defenders. If Newcastle had scored in a very good opening 30 minutes they could’ve easily won that game.

It’s been heartening to see Rashford back in form, but his goals have been papering over cracks. There is no question that Seven Hag (I know, but it’s funny) has been making progress, but it’s been nowhere near as much as has been hyped. Talk of quadruples was nonsense. Absolute nonsense.

United are a work in progress and trophies are not ‘for ego’s’ as Solskjaer once claimed. They are evidence of the ability to win and supporters want to see their team do that. United have achieved that again.

So let’s not get too carried away by what happened at Anfield. Shambles? Yes. Capitulation? Yes. Embarrassing? Yes. But it was a one-off surely? Now comes the real test though. How do United react? Can Seven Hag get them ‘playing’ rather than sitting and waiting to mug the opposition with Rashford’s pace?

A quick word on the manager. He strikes me as very keen to take credit when things go well, but it’s always somebody else’s fault when they don’t. This time his players were ‘unprofessional’ and ‘didn’t stick to the plan’. In other words - don’t blame me guv’.

I’d have rather heard him say ‘it’s a one-off. It won’t happen again and it certainly won’t spoil the work that we’ve all been doing’. That would’ve been enough. Take it on the chin as a collective. He’s the one complaining that United ‘didn’t stick together’ but he’s distancing himself from it.

After all, it’s his decision to keep playing Wout Weghorst. It’s not Weghorst’s fault, but he has to be the worst player I’ve ever seen in a United jersey. He’s a bang ordinary No9, who couldn’t get in a struggling Burnley team, but what on earth possesses Seven Hag to think he’s a sumptuous 10? One who can ‘wear the tuxedo’ as the Americans say. Come on. It’s a joke and the manager has got to give up pretending that Weghorst has got something to offer. He’s not a ‘pressing monster’. He doesn’t ‘make runs’ because he can’t run. And he doesn’t score goals. You can’t start him - push Fernandes left and leave £80m Sancho on the bench. Too clever Erik. Far too clever.  

Finally Antony. Somebody has got to help him. All he’s got right now is a step over, roll the ball, step inside and try to find the bottom corner. Alisson was waiting for him all afternoon. He’s a one-trick pony and far too predictable.

Liverpool were terrific. They answered every question that’s been asked of them recently,  but Klopp isn’t daft enough to think they’re back. In an adrenalin fuelled atmosphere two of his ageing mid-field were fantastic, but Henderson and Fabinho can’t play at those levels every week anymore. Klopp has got to recruit in that dept. Elliott surprised me. Perhaps there is a player in there after all? And congrats to Salah, who has got to hit those heights every week again now if Liverpool are to make a CL place - and maybe turn round the tie against Madrid? Who knows? Well - we all do really! But why not dream a little?

As Nunez grabbed two more my mind went back to an early season blog I wrote when I said I really fancied him as a player - and that he might be a better long term bet than Haaland. The way the Norwegian started the season made that call look a little foolish, but I’m beginning to wonder if I wasn’t right after all. And notice I said ‘long term’

Haaland was magnificent early season at City. And he’s still picking up the odd goal here and there, but the power seems to have gone. The appetite. The hunger. Remember when he was banging in hat-tricks every week? Now it’s bits and pieces, but I don’t blame him.

He is awesome. He’s got everything you would want in a No9, but Guardiola is both frustrating and wasting him. If possession is your god - and it is Guardiola’s - then the coach will be happy with ‘team’ performances. If you live off goals - and the service to prove you’re the best at that difficult art - Haaland must be pulling his luxurious blond hair out. He needs chances. He needs balls into areas where he can utilise his strength and speed. It’s almost as if City want to starve him of those things.

He cut a very frustrated character again at the weekend. Are we seeing history repeat itself? Remember when Guardiola signed Zlatan at Barca, but couldn’t work out a way to get the best out of him? So he sold him after a season. Ah - there were ‘personality issues’ I’m always told. Of course there were. Zlatan quickly got fed up being starved of what he needed.

Was it just a co-incidence that Haaland’s agent, Rafaela Pimenta,  was talking so glowingly about Real Madrid last week? It’s the ‘dream’ move for players she said. I wonder.

What are we going to do for Motty?

Published: Monday, 27 February 2023

John Motson. The voice of a generation. Perfect. That was the best description of the legendary BBC commentator that I read last week. As I’m writing I still can’t believe that he isn’t still with us.

I don’t really have much to add to the thousands of lovely words that have already been written. I think it’s all been covered. He was a terrific guy - not the best footballer I’ve ever played with - but he tried! 😂.

He was a central figure in the commentators X1 that a lot of us used to play for - shuffling about at full-back but totally committed - just like he was to everything that he did - but football came first. My memories of Motty make me smile.

Sadly the PL did nothing last weekend to mark his passing. I know we can’t stop for a moments silence - or tribute with applause - every time someone passes - but come on - we should have done for Motty. The guy is a legend.

We did when Brian Moore passed. Quite right too. Moore has a seat at the top table of broadcast legends. Motty joined him last week but we didn’t make much of it. There were isolated tributes - I loved what Palace did in the 77th minute of their game v a Liverpool - and there were others - but too few. It should’ve been a collective thing. And it’s not too late. Let’s do it properly next weekend eh?

I don’t suppose too many of you noticed that Bernard Ingham also passed last week?  I know it’s ‘Sir’ but I don’t refer to him like that. For his family I’m sorry. Losing a loved one is always a terrible event, but there won’t be too many tears shed for Mr Ingham in Merseyside.

He was described by Charles Moore in the Daily Telegraph as ‘the finest spin doctor a PM ever had’. A very generous description - one that I don’t share. He was once press secretary to Margaret Thatcher.

Those close to the Hillsborough disaster know him only too well. It’s never been proven, but it’s generally accepted that it was a call from Ingham to editor of the Sun, Kelvin McKenzie, that led to the infamous headline ‘The Truth’ on that papers‘ front page in the days following the tragedy. It was a disgustingly inaccurate headline.

So what was his motivation? Ingham was desperate to ensure that no blame for the events at Hillsborough that day were going to be attributed to the South Yorkshire Police, who Thatcher had needed to break the miners strike of 1984/5. She felt indebted to them for the part they played in smashing the strike - and ultimately destroying the entire industry. She was forever grateful to them and wasn’t going to have their reputation sullied over what happened at Hillsborough. 

What Ingham did led to years of frustration, lies, hurt and cover-ups by both Police and Tory govts. I’ve always said the ‘victims’ of Hillsborough were the families who lost loved ones. They had to pick up the pieces and fight for the truth. In the end they got that, but they never got justice. There’s a whole lot more I could say, but let’s leave it here. I’m sorry for Ingham’s family - but he was not one of the good guys.

Well done United. Job done. But as my mate Andy Gray pointed out on beINSPORTS - they didn’t play well. Not that you have to in a final - you just have to win  - but, again, as Andy pointed out - their best players were all defenders.

That says a lot about how Newcastle played. I felt for them. At times they were terrific. They opened really well and were the better team before United scored. They should take pride from what they contributed to the day and I hope it won’t be long before the wait for a trophy is over.

Eddie Howe has built carefully and is well ahead of schedule, but Newcastle are going to need better players all over the pitch if they’re going to join the really big boys. But as we know, everything is now possible at St James’.

Chelsea? There’s not a lot left to say is there? It’s an on-going shambles. Does anyone know what Graham Potter is actually trying to achieve? I have no idea. Nor do his players.

The relief at West Ham was palpable. Well done Moysie. One thing though - please be careful David when suggesting managers’ shouldn’t be adversely questioned whilst in a job because criticism can affect their mental health.

A lot of work has been done - is being done - in this very sensitive area - all of it very worthwhile. It’s complex subject so I don’t think we should deflect or blur the edges because we don’t like being held to account. As someone almost destroyed by public criticism I know what I’m talking about. I too have had death threats - but I’ve never treated them seriously and I don’t think Potter did himself any favours playing that card in his press conference Friday. I repeat - I hear you guys - but please be careful.

If Sean Dyche didn’t know what he’d taken on he certainly does now. And what a week Everton face - Arsenal and Forest away. These two games could define their season. They’ve got to get something from them or I fear the trap door is going to start opening.

Javi Garcia made a great start at Leeds - but it’s too soon to start talking about him as their saviour.

It’s beginning to look like Saints and Bournemouth are going - so it’s one from the rest down there.

A final word on the VARce at Spurs. The officials on the pitch had it right. There was no need for VAR to get involved. I thought we’d dropped this nonsense? Don’t get busy guys if there’s no need.

Super Marcus Rashford

Published: Monday, 20 February 2023

There isn’t a more lethal or consistent striker operating anywhere in Europe than Marcus Rashford right now. And I’m delighted for both him and United.

It was this blog that first pointed out his struggles on the pitch some 18 months ago. I got a fair bit of stick for it as well. Even a work colleague, whose opinions I value, said to me ‘I’m embarrassed about the way you’ve gone after Rashford’.

I took on board what he was saying, but I hadn’t ‘gone after Rashford’. I simply pointed out that his numbers and goals had fallen off a cliff.

Rashford is clearly a nice guy - with both a conscience and an interest in many things away from football. He’s done startling work on the matter of school meals for the under-privileged and was rightly honoured for his efforts with a MBE.

I didn’t have a problem with any of that. How could you? He embarrassed a blustering, lying Boris Johnson, who was PM at the time, at every turn. What’s not to like about that?

No. It was the things I was hearing about his ‘people’ hoping to make capital from it all and create ‘brand Rashford’ that bothered me. They were a distraction. The plan was a distraction. Everything about it was doing exactly the opposite to what they were trying to achieve.

I said then - and it’s proven to be the case - the best way to promote brand Rashford was for him to start doing what he gets paid for - scoring goals. That way everybody would be talking about him. And? We are.

It’s great to see him back in form and blasting United into this title race.

If ten Hag has done anything to help Rashford it was in getting rid of Ronaldo. Surely the debate about the stroppy self-centred superstar is now over? Yes - he got goals after re-signing for United but rarely were they significant goals. He was a pain around the club and he suffocated the life out of players like Rashford. Here’s the proof - with Ronaldo starting games at United, Rashford scored eight goals in 19 games. Now Ronaldo has gone it’s 16 in 17 - 10 in 10 in the PL. Obviously there are other factors, but those stats don’t lie.

I’ve always said the PL needs a strong United. They’re stirring. And that’s good news.

I’m constantly being asked what I know about the proposed takeover. The answer is ‘nothing’. I don’t want to know either because anything I might be told would be compromising. My opinion is that the club would flourish under Qatari ownership. It’s fun watching Ian Herbert and the Daily Mail do all they can to stir unrest about a Qatari bid - a bid from a ‘god forsaken place’ to quote Herbert from his column last week. Herbert and his colleagues are hating the prospect of United being owned by Qataris.

Jim Ratcliffe seems to be a serious bidder. Just a couple of thoughts on him though that I haven’t read much about.

Ratcliffe owns the petrochemical company INEOS, whom Greenpeace have got plenty to say about.

According to Tom Hopkinson, in the Sunday Mirror, Greenpeace claim INEOS’s links with several sporting institutions are designed to distract from the damage the company’s business practices are doing to the planet.

He quotes a Greenpeace spokesperson as saying ‘Accepting a bid from Ratcliffe would be an awful own goal for United. Petrochemicals giant INEOS is just the latest fossil fuel company trying to use a popular sport to distract from their climate-wrecking business’. It’s hard to argue.

Qatari detractors say ‘look at what they’ve done in Paris’. Yea? Look at what they have done - they’ve turned an ordinary team into a multi-billion euro business employing thousands of locals, whilst putting the team firmly on the international stage, competing on equal terms with Madrid, Munich, United, Barca and anybody else you care to mention. It hasn’t gone quite so well for Ratcliffe owned Nice has it? Talk to anyone about that project and they’ll tell you what a mess it’s turned out to be. They were once considered the best run club in France. Not now. Btw - I wouldn’t want Dave Brailsford, who now serves as INEOS director of sport, anywhere near a sports project that I supported.

I wonder if Paul Tierney is going to follow Lee Mason out of the VAR bunker this week? What a howler Tierney and ref Stuart Attwell committed by not sending Marcel Sabitzer off. That was a horrible challenge on Wout Faes. ‘How it was not looked at is incredible’ said Brendan Rodgers. It was Brendan, but it was decided in VAR that it was ‘reckless’ not ‘dangerous’. When an accomplished assassin like Graeme Souness says it was intended - trust me - it was intended. It was a scandlous challenge and because no action was taken on the day - Sabitzer wasn’t even booked - the FA should look at it this morning and charge him. (Monday).

Well done Arsenal. What a response to the defeat by City. This really could be their year.

How can Graham Potter survive Chelsea’s latest meltdown? Surely only as long as it takes to get Mourinho out of Roma? A situation complicated by the fact that he’s now got them in one of the CL places.

I’m afraid the Potter experiment has failed. I’m sorry that it has, but he’s clearly out of his depth. Todd Boehly should put him out of his misery. If Potter gets out now he’s £8/10m up on the start of his season and there’s a really good job waiting for him at Southampton, where he’d be better suited.

And a final word this week has to go to Dickie Davies - Richard Davies as he initially was when he first went on air at ITV. It was John Bromley (head of sport) and Jimmy Hill who decided that he should be called Dickie - because there was more razz-ma-tazz about it. Dickie - a lovely man and a brilliant broadcaster.

His passing marks the end of that golden era of sports broadcasting - Coleman, Moore, Bough, Carpenter, Gutteridge, Wolstenholme - giants all of them.

I remember meeting Davies in the London Brasserie Langan’s some little time after Sky started to break up the old ITV-BBC duopoly. He was delightful ‘don’t let them burn you out’ he advised me. Sadly I didn’t listen. They did. Thanks Dickie - for that advice, but as with the other guys I mentioned - for filling my childhood with great sport and providing me with the ambition to try to follow you all. Whether I succeeded others will judge. RIP legend.

Did anyone ever really believe VAR would end the arguments?

Published: Monday, 13 February 2023

Let’s start with something positive to do with VAR. Top marks to Howard Webb for having the balls to admit VAR got it wrong at Arsenal and Selhurst Park - where Brighton were the victims of a ghastly mistake.

It’s never easy to accept decisions when your own team has been wronged. But it makes it a damned sight harder when officials gang up and refuse to admit their mistake.

That’s the world we lived in under Mike Riley. He was an incompetent weak ref before being appointed top ref at the PGMOL. Like every schoolboy who’d been bullied before finding their way into a position of power, Riley exacted his revenge at the PGMOL. It was his way or the highway - and he wanted the last say on everything. Even when Sheffield United scored a perfectly good goal at Villa - that we all saw was in - Riley came up with some nonsense as to why VAR couldn’t intervene and give the goal. Bournemouth were relegated as a consequence - not Villa, who should’ve been. So much for VAR ending mistakes of ‘enormous consequence’ as we were promised.

Lee Mason was in VAR watching Arsenal v Brentford. He got it wrong. Toney’s equaliser shouldn’t have stood - if you believe in finding ways to disallow goals. I don’t. I don’t know why we look so closely at marginal offsides. Whatever happened to giving the forward the benefit of the doubt when it’s tight? Anyway - if you do believe in making it harder to do the hardest thing on the field - score - then the goal should’ve been disallowed.

My mate Keith Hackett, who was once in charge of the refs, called for Mason to be sacked in his column in The Telegraph. I disagree. I actually feel some sympathy for the guys in VAR. I always have.

I’ve said this many times - watching football on tv is an art form. It takes years to understand what you’re looking for and why. It’s nonsense to believe that you can be a ref one day and sit in a bunker watching a tv the next. It’s different. Very different. I know Mason is full time VAR now. So is Mike Dean and that’s a move in the right direction. VAR operators should all be full time. I’ve also said that from day one. But it still takes a long time to adapt to watching football on tv.

If Mason were to be sacked what next? No-one would feel comfortable in that bunker. They’d all be on edge and too afraid to get involved. There’s an argument that that wouldn’t be a bad thing but we couldn’t operate like that.

I don’t like VAR. I never have and I never will. It’s ruined our game, but it’s not going away.  So we have to work out the best way to use it and Howard Webb needs time in order to do that. He’s admitted errors this weekend and I trust him to make it better.

Only this is for certain - those who promised that VAR would end the on-field debates were either naive or dishonest - perhaps both.   

Oh - did anyone hear the howls of protest from Arsenal when Saka looked like he might have been offside in the build up to Martinelli’s opening goal v Liverpool? No. Nor me. Remember - VAR told us The lino didn’t flag and the cameras weren’t calibrated properly, so the onfield decision of goal stood because they couldn’t prove Saka was offside. I could. I could see he was. Oh - Riley was in charge then.

There are many more examples of how VAR got it wrong proving, I suppose, that even with the technology decisions even themselves out across a season!

Who advised Guardiola to come out swinging in his press conference last week? My goodness - what a mess he made of his defence of City - in the face of 115 charges from the PL relating to their conduct. The first thing he said was wrong - City weren’t found ‘not guilty’ after they appealed UEFA’s charges to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Yes - a two-year CL ban was overturned, but only because it was ruled that a two-year statute of limitations had passed and UEFA were denied the right to press charges once it had. But City were still fined. You don’t get fined if you’re innocent. The PL don’t have such restrictions to worry about. Their charges will have to be answered - in full.

So Guardiola was wrong about that before going on to arguably libel 9 PL teams and naming Daniel Levy as responsible for pursuing the charges. If I was Levy I’d ask Guardiola to prove that claim in court.

Then came the Sunday’s take on it. Their reporters get an embargoed time with the coaches all on their own at those press conferences. Tv and the dailies can’t touch what they’re told. Guardiola’s argument to them was that City weren’t responsible for Gerrard’s slip. Come on. Nah nah na nah na. Pathetic.

What should’ve happened is that somebody in authority at City should’ve told Guardiola to avoid talking about the charges at all cost. Keep it simple - well, as confusing as his team selections - but as simple as he could. Football only.

Klopp wants us to blame him for Liverpool’s decline. I did last week. I will again. I repeat - you can’t put the decline on FSG’s toes. Klopp is responsible. He’s to blame for letting an ageing side get too old to be fit for purpose. Ok Jurgen?

It didn’t take long for us to be right about Nathan Jones did it? Just a week. I told you in my last blog that Southampton would make another change. They had no choice. But this time you can blame the owners. Whose idea was it to employ Jones? Does that individual escape without criticism? He shouldn’t - and he shouldn’t be anywhere near the process of finding the next coach.

One last thing. I was delighted to read today than Newcastle will wear their famous black and white stripes at Wembley in the Carabao Cup final. Good decision. Do you remember they they changed into their Saudi national kit for the game at OT? I know why teams do it - especially Newcastle - but there’s nothing like watching your team play in their proper kit on big days out. So black and white stripes it is. And I have to admit I hope they win it. They’re long overdue.

You can run - but you can’t hide City.

Published: Monday, 06 February 2023

For anyone that’s been following the saga, today’s announcement of charges levelled at City by the PL comes as no surprise. It’s something we’ve constantly referred to on beINSPORTS since Der Speigel published documents from football’s wiki-leaks cache first discovered by hacker Rui Pinto.

City have done everything in their power to frustrate and block the PL’s enquiries - including claiming that the info gleaned was inadmissible because the emails that condemned them were ‘hacked’ and ‘taken out of context’. Rubbish.

They used this excuse when they went to the Court of Arbitration to overturn a two-year CL ban imposed by UEFA. Then they successfully argued that the breaches were either ‘not established’ or ‘time-barred’. The PL were not under the same constraints when it came to pursuing their enquiries.

So what now for City? Well, it’s not too long ago that Rangers were relegated to the bottom tier of Scottish football - without due process - for far fewer offences than the 100 City have been charged with. Is that precedent? Should City be relegated if found guilty of the most serious offences? Stripped of titles? Don’t expect a speedy outcome but it’s all possible nooooooowwwww.

And do we think Guardiola will be at City at the start of next season? Even without this latest development I’d argue not.

There is something clearly not right at The Etihad. The unrest has been brewing almost as long as it’s taken for these charges to materialise.

Issues with Cancelo we are now very much aware of. Where is Foden? What about Phillips (or is he still too fat Pep?) Why isn’t Laporte playing? He’s City’s best centre-back. Why didn’t de Bruyne start at Spurs? A sniffer dog would be kept pretty busy in that dressing room right now.

And what’s all this nonsense with the ‘inverted’ Lewis? It’s this obsession as much as anything else that’s disturbed City.

Look at the goal Spurs scored. City are over-playing as usual. They get jumped all over. Lewis isn’t strong enough to resist the press on the edge of the box. Spurs are in. Kane scores once they take Akanji out - whose got the full width of the box to defend because Aki is at left-back, where Lewis should be. If Aki is where he should be - at left centre-back - Kane probably doesn’t score.

The knock on effect - with City in possession - is that Walker is too scared to go. De Bruyne is ineffective because he’s having to provide the width - last season he took 24% of his touches on the wing - now it’s 35%. And he’s without a goal in 12 appearances.

The service for Haaland has dried up. He didn’t get one touch in Spurs’ box. Not one - all game. It’s as if City have reverted to type and he’s now got to adapt to them - rather than them adapting to him, which appeared to be the case early in the season.

Regulars know that Guardiola isn’t my favourite. Why does he have to complicate things so much? Why try to be so clever? Why look at his inquisitors from the tv broadcast companies like they’re a piece of shit on his shoe? He’s contracted to talk to them - but he shouldn’t bother because it’s always very evident that he can’t be bothered.

Sean Dyche proved that football is a simple game. Well played mate. What a start. All of a sudden Evertonians are looking forward to next week’s derby. And with good reason.

Liverpool’s problems are not dis-similar to City’s. What a shame that Klopp appears to be doing his best to impersonate Guardiola in his post match press conferences now. What was that about at Wolves - blanking James Pearce from The Athletic because he doesn’t like what Pearce has previously written? Pathetic. There’s only one winner when a coach falls out with the press - and it’s not the coach.

My guess is Klopp will walk. Not now - but if they’re knocked out of the CL by Real Madrid I think he’ll be gone before the start of next season.

Liverpool are way off. A shadow of what they once were - and it’s no good blaming FSG. The downfall is Klopp’s responsibility. He didn’t start the re-build soon enough.

That was one of Fergie’s greatest strengths - that he would rip apart successful teams. What were Liverpool thinking keeping Milner, Henderson and Firminho? Tiago is past his best - not that I was ever a fan He was the wrong player at the wrong club at the wrong time. He slows Liverpool down. In fact, the entire mid-field is too old or not good enough. Robertson is past his best. Whoever is in charge next season has a massive job on his hands. Do we believe Klopp is up for it? I don’t.

How long do we think Graham Potter has got? I can’t think that Mourinho would be making as much noise as he is (sorry, his advisors are) if he didn’t think there was a chance he might get another crack at Chelsea. Watch this space.

What about Nathan Jones? Can he cling on? What a bizarre press conference he held post match Saturday. It wouldn’t surprise me if Saints didn’t make another change before the end of the season.

Well done Steve Cooper. Forest are edging to safety. I always said I thought they’d get enough points at home to cling on for another season. I still think they will.

There’s always a surprise struggler. For me - it could to be Palace. They’ve won just one of the last eight - a run which hasn’t really been talked about because there’s a lot going on elsewhere - not least at Leeds, who’ve won only two in 17 - losing ten in that sequence. How long has coach Marsch got? Interesting times eh?

Brilliant Brighton. And get Reidy back to Everton.

Published: Monday, 30 January 2023

Brilliant Brighton. What a ride their fans have been enjoying these past few years. And I couldn’t be happier for them.

Brighton was a regular haunt of mine in my late teens and early twenties. My eldest sister lived there and every other weekend I’d make the trip to see her from my London base. I loved the place and I’ve had a soft spot for the city of Brighton and Hove - to give it the correct title - ever since.

An old Coventry stalwart - Chris Carlin - played and managed there - so that helped me cement an affection for the club and a trip to The Goldstone Ground as a young reporter was always a treat. I felt like I was going home on many subsequent visits. My most recent was in 2018 to see my Super Sky Blues get turned over in an FA Cup tie. It’s fair to say I was none too pleased with the result - but my host, Darren Bloom, was his usual ebullient and generous self. It was a lovely day out.

Tony is a dream of an owner. He picked Brighton up off the floor. They’d had a miserable time following the closure of the Goldstone in 1997. Trips to Gillingham were followed by home games at the Withdean Stadium. I went there to watch Coventry as well.

There are other heroes to mention, apart from Bloom - Steve Coppell for instance, who worked miracles at the club - but in the end what’s happened is down to Tony and his brother Darren.

I wasn’t too happy when they sacked Chris Hughton and I told them so. But they were right. Graham Potter took it on and now Roberto De Zerbi is doing the same. Roberto who? we all asked. Appointing De Zerbi was a brave call. It’s also quite an achievement to keep selling your best players and yet remain competitive. Arguably get better, which is what Brighton have done.

It’s a well run club and I hope they go on to win the trophy this year. I was at Wembley in 1983 when Jimmy Melia’s side - Robinson and ‘Smith must score’ - took United to a replay. They came up short turn then.

I’d love to see them go one better now - but it’s a big call. Only Leicester and Wigan have broken the dominance of the big 4 in the last decade - so it can be done - but it’s a big ask. When it gets serious the big boys tend to come out to play and make life intolerable for the rest.

Not that Liverpool will be doing that this season. What on earth has happened at Anfield? Nobody expected such a calamitous meltdown, but Andy Robertson is right - it’s only getting worse.

I’m not going to suggest that Klopp should go - but this all falls at his door. He should’ve seen it coming. That’s what the best do. It’s what made Fergie great. He’d dismantle teams at the peak of their powers. He knew exactly when to do surgery. And that’s why I’ve always been convinced he knew he was leaving a bang ordinary team behind when he retired. This painful decade for United has only served to underline what an extra-ordinary period his time in charge was. I’ve always believed Fergie knew what he was doing when he walked. His previous record at re-building tells you that. I’m not a fan - but I’ve also always said he was the best ever. Guardiola isn’t in the same class.

City are still in it of course and I hope they continue to want to win it. I hope Spurs give it a go. Eddie Howe missed a trick when he named a weaker team and got dumped out in round 3. I know he’s a whisker from a League Cup final - but there are no guarantees. United’s hunger to win that is just as strong as Newcastle’s. I’m sorry Forest fans - the s/f is over. You know it is. But why didn’t Howe give it a go in the FA Cup? Strange.

Klopp puts a huge part of Liverpool’s demise down to chasing too many trophies last season. He might be right. His team look tired. But I hope what’s happened doesn’t deter others from having a go at trying to win all the prizes.

One way to keep the big clubs attention is to drop replays. We don’t need them. They’re an out-dated old fashioned throw back to an era when football was very different. Times change. Going to penalties at the end of extra-time is a much better way to sort things out.  ‘Ah - but you deny the little clubs money and glory’ say the critics of that idea. Really? Ask Wrexham what they would’ve preferred Sunday. They might be in the hat on their own for the fifth round now. What a climax that would’ve been to what was a terrific game v Sheffield United. The Hollywood ending that most are bemoaning we didn’t get.

Welcome back Sean Dyche. Everton dodged a bullet when Bielsa said ‘no’. What planet does that guy live on? He wanted to take the under-21’s before stepping up to the first team in the summer? I hope Everton didn’t pay for his flight if he muted that idea before coming to London. Mad. Completely mad. So was Moshiri for going down that path in the first place.

Dyche is a safe pair of hands. Lampard did the job he was asked to complete last season - and I’m sorry to see him go, but it was inevitable.

It’s going to get tight again - but Dyche will get a Everton out of trouble. The first decision I’d make would be to get Peter Reid involved at the club again. Reid is a blue legend as we all know. An Everton die-hard. It’s going to get bumpy for Dyche. If he had Reid about the club to explain what was happening he’d keep the hard core fed-up faithful on board. Sadly they’ve lost respect for Graeme Sharp after recent events.

Reid wouldn’t pull any punches. He’d tell it straight. He worked as a loyal lieutenant to Tony Pulis at Stoke - and Paul Cook at Wigan. I was surprised Sam Allardyce didn’t turn to him during his time in charge at Everton. Reid would be a breath of fresh air around Goodison and no threat to anyone. Think about it eh Sean?

Haaland is incredible but he doesn’t make City more dominant. And Arsenal are ready.

Published: Monday, 23 January 2023

It was The Beatles that sang about ‘eight days a week’ and a whole lot of love. Right now Arsenal fans couldn’t be more in love with Mikel Arteta. 

The last eight days in Arsenal’s week have proven beyond doubt that not only are they in this title race - they are the firm favourites and really should go on and win it. It’s theirs to throw away.  

They’ve passed every big test so far. Winning at Spurs was impressive enough, but the manner of the win over United was arguably more so.

I didn’t see panic when they went one -down. They calmly constructed a lead. And would’ve kept it but for a Ramsdale howler from the corner that led to the wee man’s goal. What a header that was. Brilliant. And to be fair to the keeper he’d made a magnificent save just before that.

The winner was deserved. There was never a doubt in my mind that Nketiah was on-side. Straight away you could see Wan Bissaka had played him on. The full-back handed Nketiah his first as well. The defending at the 2nd post was awful. No - it was Zinchenko who looked off to me. We’re told not, but I’m not sure what technology they‘ve found in the bunker that wasn’t available when Wolves got their ‘winner’ at Anfield in the Cup. I backed Stockley Park over that one but I’ve got my doubts now.

A Twitter follower later told me that Zinchenko hasn’t been caught off-side all season. I haven’t checked - but if that’s true its really impressive for a raiding full-back. Bearing in mind that Guardiola started with Laporte at left-back against Wolves I wonder if he’s regretting selling Zinchenko to Arsenal?

If I’m Arteta nothing else matters now. I don’t care about Europe - all I want is the title. Let the other chasers get caught up with European games - especially City - who will concentrate more and more on the CL if they’re still adrift further into the season. As I said last week - it’s looking like a ‘Leicester’ season. There isn’t the same quality of challenge that we normally see. This could yet be a one-off chance for Arsenal to nail the title

After another hat-trick I read today that the debate over Haaland at City is over. Does he make them stronger or not? No is the answer and I’ll make the case in a moment. Haaland is phenomenal - but when the the world’s cleverest (and smug) coach going to realise that, with the Norwegian in his team, he’s got to change his style of play? He’s got to get the ball to him more quickly.

Against Spurs, City struggled in a lifeless first-half. They came out in the second 45 - went longer and quicker and blew Tottenham away. Ederson even got an assist for the fourth goal.

At their best City can be breathtaking. But when they play as they did v Wolves - and in the first 45 v Spurs - they’re dull. I was bored Sunday and I’m sure I wasn’t alone. If I was a City fan I wouldn’t pay £100 to watch that. For 39 minutes it was a snooze fest. Then a right footed player turned up on the right hand side of the box and knocked a beautiful first-time cross onto Haaland’s head. Haaland snapped it up. Simple. Why do City have to complicate everything?

Why is England’s best right-back sitting on the bench watching a kid play in his position - drift into mid-field every time he’s passed the ball back or sideways? What’s useful about that? Clever though eh? Guardiola has come up with another cunning plan. Walker is dynamite on that right side and is missed when he doesn’t play. 

I’m guessing Lewis is picked to provide extra numbers in mid-field and make up for the fact that Haaland won’t come back to help out. Last season City didn’t have a proper No9 and everybody put in an extra shift to make up it. But do City really need numbers in mid-field for a game at home v Wolves? Come on. It’s nonsense.

So - does Haaland, who is an exceptional player, actually make City more dominant? No I said. And here’s why. Only so many goals can be scored. He’s got 25 so it follows that the others won’t get as many Gundogan had five by half way last year - it’s only two this.  De Bruyne had five - it’s three this. Mahrez had five - four now. Silva seven - just two now.

Last year Sterling had five. Alvarez has four. Foden has seven this year against four last.  The ‘rest’ this season have scored six - last year others had scored 15 - 17 if you count two own goals.

As a team things balance out, 45 points with 53 goals scored this season, 47 points and 53 goals last season at the half-way stage. There we have it - City are two points worse off. Haaland is a brilliant goal scorer but his numbers don’t make City more dominant. What he might be though is the difference on a big CL night. That’s what he’s really been bought for.

A couple of other conclusions from the weekend - United aren’t ready, but they are definitely making progress - and so are Newcastle, but they’re not in the title race either. Eddie Howe knows a CL place finish and a Carabao Cup win would still add up to a dream season. In fact - I’d give up a CL finish if I could swap it for guaranteed silverware. We all know that Newcastle fans are desperate for a trophy.

Having had a little go at City I should add that Liverpool/Chelsea was also a bore-fest. I still find it hard to read a table that sees them in ninth and 10th respectively. It’s amazing. Stuck on 29 points each I can’t see either making the CL. They both need to hit a rich vein of form - and right now neither looks likely to do that.

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

Published: Monday, 16 January 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Owner Todd - you’ve f****d up.

Published: Monday, 09 January 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

United need a centre-forward. How about Kane?

Published: Tuesday, 03 January 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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