What a start Rom-e-blue.

Published: Monday, 23 August 2021

I spent last night trying to think of the last time I’d seen such a good performance from a proper No9. Lukaku was sensational at Arsenal. He bullied. He led. He caused havoc. He scored. It was uncomplicated and an absolute joy to watch.

It was Drogba-like. It was like watching Shearer at his best. It was a throwback and so enjoyable. Arsenal couldn’t get anywhere near him - and if they did he swatted them off like flies.

Post match Thomas Tuchel told us that it was exactly what he wanted - that he’d told Lukaku to go out and do what he did for Inter last season. Tuchel added that he didn’t want to complicate it for Lukaku.  ‘Just play’ he told him. Brilliant. The more I see and hear of Tuchel the more I like him.

Top marks to Chelsea. They identified what they wanted - moved quickly - paid the money - and got their man. In other words - all of the things that City are refusing to do in their pursuit of Kane. Just get it done if you want him City. You’re hanging the guy out to dry.

I said last week that I was encouraged by the attitude of so many teams on the opening day. I’ll say it again - it’s been a great start. It’s so refreshing to see teams going hell for leather to win games. Chelsea epitomised that attitude at Arsenal. They wanted to win - so they got on the front foot - and swept Arsenal away. What did Arteta’s team have by way of a reply? Nothing. Absolutely nothing - apart from one tippy tappy spell of possession in the second half, when it was all too late. The game has moved on guys. Thank goodness.

The next man in at Arsenal will have to recognise that. What a mess they’re in. What exactly is Arteta trying to achieve? Regulars know my view - he was the wrong choice. It was always going to be too big a job for him. I accept that he hasn’t had much help from people around him - but at the end of the day - it’s his neck on the line. If they lose at West Brom and City this week, he’ll be lucky to survive. My choice to replace him? Brendan Rodgers.

It was the perfect weekend for City. Coming off the back of the defeat at Spurs they couldn’t have chosen better opposition. They needed a team to turn up - open up - and not resist. Norwich were fodder. Why didn’t Farke do something about that? Why do exactly what Guardiola wanted? No wonder the City boss ‘enjoys’ the way Norwich play. What naivety. No. What stupidity Farke. That’s why they’ll go back down.

I was surprised United were so poor at Southampton. I expected them to roll Saints over. Instead - it was them doing the rolling again. Come on Ole. You say the game has degenerated into ‘Rugby’? Don’t make me laugh. What’s happened is that after all the antics from Fernandes/Pogba and co last season - diving every time they were sneezed on - it’s been decided that we’ve got to cut that out of the game. Does Solskjaer really believe Fernandes was fouled in the build up to Saints’ goal? No. I’m sorry. Fernandes waited. He wanted contact - he looked - he got it - and he fell over. No foul. Football is a contact sport. Lukaku proved how exciting the game can be when we recognise that. I can’t wait to see how United handle him. They won’t if they go round play acting and crying.

I was disappointed to hear Klopp moaning on the same subject. What did he want from Burnley? The sort of performance Norwich gave at City? It doesn’t work like that. Teams such as Burnley have to work for what they get. Their front two - Barnes and Wood - mess you about. That’s their strength. What is Klopp actually saying - that van Dijk and Matip aren’t up for a battle? Like Solskjaer - he’s scored an own goal talking nonsense like that. If I’m Lukaku hearing that I can’t wait to play them.

On another subject - I read at the weekend it’s been confirmed that 9000 people contracted Covid after the Euro final at Wembley. Are we surprised? I’m not. My beINSPORTS colleague - the excellent Matt Crichley - reporting from Anfield - told us that vaccine certificates aren’t needed to get into games. That there are no Covid precautions. None at all. That’s scary.

Arsenal seem to have been hit harder than most by Covid - but they’re certainly not alone. Newcastle have had their problems and Steve Bruce has support in some quarters in calling for all players to be double vaccinated. A week ago I’d have agreed with him, but then my son, Josh, had his first jab and was really ill. He collapsed and ended up in hospital for three days. He’s now on a heart monitor for a month. It was a scary time for him and his Mum. As a result I’m certainly more understanding of the stance some have taken not to be vaccinated. It’s a problem. And I don’t know if any of us have an answer.

What a great weekend

Published: Tuesday, 10 August 2021

What a great weekend that was. Brentford started it - underlining what we all knew - Arsenal are going nowhere. 

It was so enjoyable to see United doing what they used to do best. Apart from one aberration when he allowed Ayking to walk off him and equalise - Pogba was terrific. His pass to Greenwood won’t be bettered this season. Just one other small issue - which might develop - if Varane wants to wear No 4 shirt, which we’re told he does, then he should be given the jersey. Solskjaer should’ve told Phil Jones ‘have you pick of any number over 30 Phil. You’re not in my plans. You won’t play. I want that number back’. Solskjaer was weak - and it’s that I’m referring to when I say it might develop. He’s got to be more ruthless.

I loved watching Chelsea. That 3-0 in no way reflects how they destroyed Palace. They were awesome. Look at the talent they had on the bench - and they’ve got the big man to involve yet. It’s a bit too early to be crowing - but both teams more than justified what I said about winning the title in last week’s blog.

Liverpool were good as well. That was a banana skin - Norwich - in front of a packed house - first game back. Liverpool coped really well. Welcome back Van Dijk.

I’m going to leave City for a while. We’ll get round to them.

The Hammers more than suggested that David Moyes is right - that they can challenge for a CL place. They’ve got to land one to have a better season than the last. I hope they do. Moyes is a good man. An honest man. A football man. He’s been badly bullied and beaten up for too long now.

I don’t know what the Geordies will make of the game. I thought they were great for an hour. They entertained. They were bright. And they deserved something. Overall, I think the signs are good now that Bruce has got his main men available again.

Nothing has changed at Leicester. Vardy is still the top man - despite Rodgers correctly pointing out that the clock is ticking for him now.

Villa struggled a bit at Watford, but I’m sure they’ll get it right. Well done to The Hornets. They surprised me.

If Everton hadn’t beaten Southampton there would’ve been trouble. It was a ‘gimme’ on paper - a perfect one to start with for Benitez. Like Palace and Wolves - Saints were poor. Nothing I saw this weekend changed my mind about them all needing to be careful.

Brighton were brilliant second half at Burnley. Sean Dyche will be kicking his players because he knows the game should’ve been put to bed first half.

That’s everybody then - except Spurs and City. I was so pleased for Daniel Levy and Nuno. The latter looked as though he’d been boss there forever. It’s a really good fit. His players seemed to enjoy themselves - but Delli remains way off. He’s nowhere near the player he once was.

As for City? I expected it. Too clever again. My goodness - the first half was the worst of the weekend. Pass, pass, pass - sideways, backwards and out. I said after the Euros how I hoped that the high water mark of tippy tappyness had been reached. It seems it has for everyone - except City. Guardiola is in danger of being left behind by the ‘sweeping’ approach of the rest. City were slow. Sluggish. Predictable. And how they need a centre-forward.

We all know now that they want Kane. They need Kane more than they needed Grealish - so go and buy him. Stop trying to be smart. You‘ve unsettled the guy. You’ve told him you’ll buy him - so do it. Stop the games. You can’t leave him hanging any longer. What’s the difference between £120m and £150 for City? Guardiola has already spent £1.4b in his failed attempts to win the CL - so just get the deal done.

I didn’t expect anymore than we saw from Grealish. He’s a good player - let’s get that straight - but he’s going to have to re-learn many aspects of the game to play for City. He will slow them down when they start to get right - which they will. He’s got to get his head up and move the ball more quickly. And please Jack - stop falling over. There are no prizes for topping the ‘most fouled’ charts. Half the time he hasn’t been fouled - but over he goes anyway. The picture of him on the front of The Mail’s pullout today (Monday) sums him up - on the floor and squealing. The best way for him to ‘hurt’ the opposition is to stay on his feet and do what he’s more than capable of - create and score.

One last subject. And perhaps I’m missing something here. How on earth have the likes of Chris Foy, Peter Walton and co, got the temerity to congratulate themselves about the ‘softer touch’ of VAR? All you’ve done guys is what you’ve been told to do and what I’ve been saying you should do for two years. We don’t want every goal to be a crime scene. We don’t want your pedantic and idiotic pursuit of ‘perfection’. That’s an impossible dream. If VAR is needed - and it was to prove West Ham had scored at Newcastle - fine. Make your decision swiftly and then we can get on with the game.

For the PGMOL to be congratulating themselves because they allowed Fernandes’ third - saying ‘that would’ve been ruled offside last season’ is beyond ridiculous. We know. We told you last season to pipe down and allow us to enjoy our game without getting so busy. You’ve HAD to listen. You haven’t made changes because you wanted to. You’ve been TOLD to. Mike Riley should still stand aside. He made our game a misery for two years - and now he wants credit? Sorry Mike. No.

But it was a good weekend for the the guys on the pitch. I’ll bet they really enjoyed being back in control of their games. The ref should always make the big calls and know that they’ll get re-assuring support - not performance points docked because teacher Mike isn’t happy. Keep it up boys. And keep out of it VAR.

Sadly, I didn’t ever believe it was coming home.

Published: Monday, 12 July 2021

I wrote the headline to this piece with some irony. Regulars know I hate using that phrase. The song should be banned. Should’ve been banned before a ball was kicked at Euro 2020. I’ll explain why later.

It was all so inevitable wasn’t it? Not the outcome in the final, but the scandalous scenes from the mindless yobs who trashed Wembley Way, illegally broke into the stadium, took over disabled areas, stood recklessly in safety aisles - and all that after they’d raised London to the ground. Some of the memes we’ve all seen are disgusting. And these are the very same people that judge others on the social media - without a clue about the personal circumstances of tbeir targets. Doubtless they were the same people racially abusing the three penalty takers that missed. How awful it all looked. And I say that as a proud Englishman abroad. I’ve no idea what the 2500 UEFA suits that fraud Boris Johnson smuggled into England - trashing Covid regulations - actually made of it all. You might be interested to know that I write as I’m flying to Spain for 12 days because I can’t ‘come home’. I’m double-jabbed, PCR safe, but barred from entering my own country, without spending £1750, to enjoy being locked in the Holiday Inn Express for 12 days It’s an absolute outrage.

A word on that populist fool Johnson as well. What on earth was he doing sitting in an England shirt, that was pulled over his own shirt and tie? He looked like one of the yobs trashing Wembley. You’re the PM man. Dress like it. Look like it. Lead. And leave the ‘soccer’ to us.

The reason I mention the ‘suits’ is because the frightening scenes they witnessed won’t leave them quickly. England didn’t just lose the game on Sunday - they almost certainly lost any chance of staging the 2030 WC. Once again - a minority of mindless yobs - purporting to be England fans - spoilt it for the majority. It’s sickening. Try it in Qatar guys. I’ll look forward to that. You won’t find the Police standing back and watching where I live.

Not much of this will sit well with everybody - but again - I speak as an England fan abroad - watching with a distanced perspective. At home - It’s impossible to stand back from the hysteria stirred by the English tabloid press. ‘Ah, we just reflect the mood’, they always argue. No you don’t guys. You drive it. You’ve no idea how it pisses people off outside the borders of England. A case in point - football was never ‘going home’. Football doesn’t belong to England. It belongs to the world. I know. I know. The song is about irony and hurt. I get it. But, if you’re not English, you don’t. It smacks of arrogance. Of ownership. And the rest of Europe can’t wait to see England fail. It’s a tough enough job playing for the country. Why make it harder. I’ve said it before - drop it. Forget it. It’s of it’s era - but it’s well past it’s sell by date now.

What about the Sunday Sun front page? Harry Kane and the boys’ heads superimposed onto Bobby Moore and the boys of ‘66. No. Horrible. Arrogant. And it besmirched the memory of some genuine legends.

Of course, they weren’t alone. The Mirror did it. I love Mirror Sport - but their headline on Wednesday - it’s England v Italy* (*or Denmark). Wow. I know for a fact the Danes were furious. And had VAR not let them down, they might just have made England pay. Sunday’s officials were certainly ready for Sterling and Kane though weren’t they? By the final the Press had decided England were ‘streetwise’ and the Italians masters of ‘dark arts’. It was laughable.

I’m able to say all this because I’m in a perfect place to observe it. One of our beINSPORTS guests said to me ‘I’ve been away for some time now. I can’t believe how the U.K. has changed. (He meant England). It’s so divided. It’s so aggressive’. I haven’t been back for more than a year so I can’t comment - but I can ‘see’ what he means. Brexit has driven a dangerous divide down the middle of the U.K. It was always going to with mini-Trump in No. 10.

So let’s talk about the tournament. My verdict? Good effort guys. No more. Truth is - it was a wasted opportunity. England should’ve won it. You won’t read this elsewhere - but it’s true. They had home advantage. Home crowd. No travel (apart from the trip to Rome). But they only played in fits and starts. What happened to the ‘handbrake off’ football? Apart from quick starts and 10 minutes here and there, I can’t remember any. Watching them in the final I started to wonder if Jose Mourinho was in charge. Italy bossed England after the first 20 minutes.

I’m not convinced that Southgate ever had any idea what his best team was. Why all the chopping and changing? This was put down to ‘tactical nous’ by the Press boys. No it wasn’t. It was a mess. Find a team - like Italy - like most did - and play it. Play your best players. Why not build around Grealish? He’s the one the opposition fear the most. What happened to Foden - described by Guardiola as ‘the best player I’ve ever worked with’?Every change of personnel and system was passed off as ‘genius’.  But it wasn’t. For me it was an admission that we didn’t have a single X1 good enough. If a PL manager had been chopping and changing like it he’d have been pilloried.

There’s no doubt that England have made strides in the right direction. It hasn’t happened overnight and it hasn’t happened because of Gareth Southgate. It’s been a long process - starting with Howard Wilkinson’s decision to force PL clubs to run academies - and the FA to build St. George’s Park. Not that he’ll ever get any credit. The last Englishman to win the top league is now considered a dinosaur. But he’s not. Nor was he. He was a revolutionary.

There’s no question that Southgate is a nice man - but to win at the highest level that isn’t a tool required. He’s worked hard and thrown himself at his job. But I’d change it now - or what happened at Wembley will happen again in Qatar - but long before the final.

Talk to anyone that knows Mancini intimately and they’ll tell you that he’s arrogant. He’s dismissive. He creates division. But he’s a winner. He turned City into winners. His impact on that club was far greater than Guardiola’s. He turned a team of ‘nearly men’ into players that believed. All of a sudden they started coming first. His style wasn’t for everyone - and the big players eventually played him out. There’s no other explanation as to how they lost the Cup Final to relegated Wigan.

So it was nice for me to see him back at Wembley to bury that disgusting behaviour by his senior pro’s at the time. If it wasn’t going to be England - I’m glad it was Italy.

The whole tournament smacked of Southgate being just a bit too clever. Even the penalties were over thought. I felt for Rashford and Sancho - deemed not good enough to play a part in 120 minutes - but asked to go and make fools of themselves in a shoot out. Sorry. That was poor. So they were the best in training? So what? Your first touch of the ball on the night is a pen? No thanks. It was an impossible task. Too clever Gareth.

So in conclusion - I say again - it was good effort. A really good effort. But I can’t see England going any further with Southgate. It it was my choice I’d move heaven and earth to persuade Arsene Wenger to take it. He really could end all the hurt.

Steady as we go….

Published: Monday, 05 July 2021

Steady as we go. So far everything has gone to plan, so England can’t let it go now. As Arsene Wenger said on beINSPORTS just this week ‘England are super favourites’.

That’s not by luck either. Gareth Southgate has made some big calls and so far got them all right. So much of what I’m watching reminds me of 1966. As a wide-eyed 9-year-old what I watched from our holiday base in Cornwall was incredible. Majestic Bobby Charlton cruising through Portugal’s defence. Roger Hunt working a shift. Geoff Hurst crashing his way into the history books. Alan Ball running himself to a stand still. Sir (he should’ve been) Bobby Moore regally marshalling his troops. It was all there. And all those Union flags at Wembley. My goodness - that’s something that certainly has changed, - they’re English flags now - but it was a magical time all the same.

Sir Alf Ramsey went into the tournament predicting England would win it. It wasn’t arrogance - but belief. Mind you, none of us really thought they would. Ramsey was calm. And he made big decisions. None bigger than leaving a fit Jimmy Greaves out for Geoff Hurst. I didn’t understand all of that then, but getting to know Jim many years later, I got to understand how that decision cut him to shreds. Yes - far too late, all the boys got a medal - but it’s never the same as being immortalised as part of the starting X1. Greaves was Messi before Messi. A little genius. How could Ramsey leave him out? But he did, because he had a plan.

So many of these memories have come flooding back watching Southgate. He’s calm. He’s made big calls without flinching and he knows how much they hurt the individuals affected by them.

I don’t know if you saw him grab Jack Grealish on the whistle the other night. We all want to see Grealish in. And Foden wants to start, but Southgate has got a plan for every game and he’s sticking with it. He knows he’ll need Grealish if things are tight v Denmark, but I bet he’s not going to start him. So keep him onside. Keep him happy. Don’t ignore him. Clever.

Southgate also knows that England have to win this tournament now. Everything is going their way - results, the draw, home advantage - so stay calm and carry on. A semi-final defeat is unthinkable. Anything less than winning this tournament is failure. I said that last week. Southgate knows it, but he’s not showing it. So far, there’s no sign of the turmoil he must be feeling inside. Turmoil and excitement. Imagine forever being spoken of in the same terms as Sir Alf.

I’ve had a few people ask why I haven’t been more excited about England’s progress when I’m on tv. Let me answer that. I work for an Arab broadcaster. I front the ‘English speaking’ channel. We are NOT an ‘English’ channel. Therefore - as with everything here in Qatar - everybody’s tastes and loyalties are catered for. When we broadcast England mean nothing more to us than - say - Denmark. 😂. Especially if you have big Peter Schmeichel sitting next to you. 😂😂. If England beat the Danes - and perhaps meet Italy in the final - it will be a lot easier beating up Gianfranco.

It’s been a brilliant tournament. I’ve loved every minute of it - well, most minutes. Belgium’s chess matches have sent shudders down my spine. I repeat what I said last week - I really hope we’ve passed the high water mark of tippy tappy scientific football. Most teams seem to want to ‘play’ and it’s been so refreshing. The PL got stale as a result of the obsession with passing sideways and backwards. No more guys. No more. Belgium still seem to want to play like that, but Italy made them look old fashioned.

Congrats to Palace and Patrick Vieira. It’s good to see another black coach working at the top level. Slowly slowly, we might be making progress on that front as well.

And one last thing. Please - no more X-Liverpool players telling Evertonians how lucky they are to have Benitez at Goodison. No they’re not. Most don’t want him. The majority will tolerate him, but they don’t want lectures on how they should be feeling from across Stanley Park. It will end in tears. It always does with Benitez.

Southgate has failed if England don’t win the Euros.

Published: Monday, 28 June 2021

The team we can agree to disagree on. England fans have all got their own ideas of the eleven they would like to see start against Germany. The one thing not in doubt is this - England will never have a better chance to win the Euros. If they don’t - Gareth Southgate will have failed. And he should be sacked if that happens, not rewarded with another contract.

The draw couldn’t be kinder - and it’s only got better since England last played. The best teams in the competition are all in the other half and one has already gone. I’ve never been of the opinion that if ‘you’re going to win the competition then you’ll have to beat everybody anyway’. What nonsense. Not if somebody else beats them you don’t. And Belgium beat Portugal last night (Sunday). Either the Belgians or Italy go out next. England can plan for games against the likes of the Czech Republic, Denmark, Sweden or the Ukraine.

Granted, there is the matter of beating Germany before that. And that’s what worries me.

The hysteria at the 2018 WC started after group wins against Tunisia and Panama. Then Belgium beat us. There was the penalty shoot out win v Colombia followed by a comfortable 2-0 win v Sweden. Then Croatia beat us. And Belgium beat us again in the third placed play-off. So - the only two decent teams we played both beat us.
With respect (which usually means with no respect at all - and does in this case) Tunisia? Panama? Colombia?

Southgate and England have got it all on against Germany and to be honest, I haven’t seen anything at this tournament to make me believe that they can win the game. Two scratchy 1-0 wins v Croatia and the Czech’s - and the goalless draw against Scotland - haven’t filled me with optimism.

Behind the results are these facts. Coming into the ko stages England were the slowest team at the Euros in getting the ball from back to front. In fairness - if you like your football played ‘the right way’, Belgium were next on that list. It’s just that I like to see my football played like Italy under Mancini - and Liverpool in the PL. England’s lack of creativity is a recurring theme. It’s a huge reason as to why Harry Kane has struggled at these Euro’s and why Phil Foden looks nothing like the player that wears a Manchester City jersey. And this from the new ‘golden generation’ - who we were promised would sweep teams away - playing on the front foot. There’s been no sign of that.

Nine of England’s 12 goals at the 2018 WC came from set-pieces - four corners, two free-kicks and three penalties, two of which were won at corners.

Delve deeper and you’ll discover that England have played 11 teams from inside FIFA’s top 50 rankings since March 2019 and scored only 19 goals in 14 matches. Kane hasn’t scored a goal from open play in any of those matches.

So the reliance on set-pieces is obvious. Heaven forbid. Imagine Sam Allardyce spending as much time on the subject as Southgate has recently. 🤷‍♂️ I believe Southgate’a team against Germany will reflect the need to make the most of set-pieces, which is why Trippier will play at left-back. Mount starts if Covid protocols allow and so does Foden - which means Grealish doesn’t. Again - could you imagine the outcry if Allardyce were in charge and he named a team without the country’s most creative talent in it? Perceptions you see. Perceptions.
By the way - I hope I’m wrong, but if anyone can ‘win’ a foul it’s Grealish. And now that he’s wearing an England jersey - that’s ok. 🤷‍♂️  

I wish Southgate and England all the very best for the game v Germany, hoping that they don’t get too distracted by all the noise. It’s just another game. Go and win it.

Meanwhile Farhad Moshiri continues to take us all for fools. He and Alisher Usmanov, who’s really got the money, want Rafa Benitez as their next manager at Everton. They’ve done what all govts do when they have to bad news to announce - they leak over a period of time hoping that everybody will get used to the idea of what’s going to happen - so when it does the reaction won’t be as bad.

Evertonians are growing used to the idea that the PL’s most ruthlessly, selfish, ambitious individual will be their next manager - so I suppose the plan has worked to some degree. But the real issues are once again beneath the surface. It will end in tears. Benitez will once again pursue his own agenda - while wrapping it up as ‘in the club’s best interests’. That’s how he managed to con the paying customers at Newcastle - by creating a phoney war with Mike Ashley that he knew he would never win. When the time came - he left - for a ‘long term’ project in China.

Never mind that he managed Liverpool. His best days are long since behind him - and for me there are many better options. Moshiri has badly mis-judged this one. It’s not the die-hard Evertonian that he’s pissed off - it’s hard working staff at the club who don’t want to work with Benitez - and worse - legends from different eras at Goodison - who’ve recently been saying to me ‘I’m done’. That’s sad. That’s deeply sad. Trust me - it won’t be long before Moshiri is looking for the seventh manager he’s employed since arriving at the club. In many ways - this is going to prove a ‘costly‘  mistake.

Grow a pair Boris. Ipso facto.

Published: Tuesday, 22 June 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hang your heads in shame UEFA.

Published: Tuesday, 15 June 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do it your way Gareth.

Published: Monday, 07 June 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ramsey moved from wingers to a 

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

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

£832,417,363 - and counting

Published: Monday, 31 May 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where’s Scholes? And Giggs?

Published: Monday, 24 May 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arsenal? Fantastic finish. And hopeful signs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you next week.