What’s going on at Goodison?

Published: Monday, 17 May 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There maybe trouble ahead Spurs.

Published: Monday, 10 May 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published: Tuesday, 04 May 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published: Monday, 26 April 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A breakaway 12? We need jaw jaw

Published: Monday, 19 April 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Playing dead is now a plague and our hapless refs haven’t got a clue.

Published: Monday, 12 April 2021

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer doesn’t do irony. He doesn’t so funny either. You shouldn’t try Ole. It’s embarrassing. Sadly - he doesn’t do honest. He should definitely try that.

I’m tired of this subject. I really wanted to talk about something else today, but after what happened at Spurs I can’t.

Before we go any further. This is not anti-Manchester United nor anti-City. It’s not anti-Spurs nor anti-Liverpool. It’s anti-cheating. And before the scumbags pipe up - my private life is just that - private.  One opinion of any event doesn’t make it true - certainly not when you read it in the Daily Mail. And how sad is it that the first version of an event that we’re told is true is the one we believe? That’s it. No more. I’ve never commented beyond that and I’m not going to now.

So. I’m anti-cheating. We all are surely? What on earth was Solskjaer thinking when he went into that rant about his son not eating? I’ll tell you this - you can see in his face that he was initially going in another direction - but he pulled back knowing that it wasn’t a good idea. I’m guessing his daughter was about to get a mention.

Yes Ole - you’re correct. Son conned the ref - and his mate at Stockley Park. You had a perfectly good goal ruled out. You should and would’ve led at half time had it not been, because Spurs wouldn’t have scored. It was a joke.

But so it was when Rashford went down on the edge of the box just before that incident. And when our serial offender Fernandes collapsed with a scream clutching his foot mid-way through the second half.

Sterling conned a pen when on international duty recently. He’s almost as bad as Fernandes, Martial and Rashford.  Kane does it. As we know - Son does it. Mane used to do it until he stopped because Salah is on pens. Salah has done it too often, but not at Arsenal the other week when he could’ve gone down, but chose to score instead. Good on him on that occasion.

United are now nearing 40 penalties across two seasons. I’ll repeat what I’ve said before - that’s an impossible stat. Compare it to penalties given to Burnley, West Ham, Newcastle and West Brom, who I don’t think have had six between them. Hold on - there’s a theme here. I’ll come back to it.

My point about Solskjaer is simple. This weekend he was the biter bit. How on earth can he complain about players conning refs if he won’t stop his own team doing it? He sits - with a smug satisfied face - week after week watching the three amigo’s go over when they’ve been sneezed on. Fernandes did it in Europe last week. Oh, we shouldn’t forget Pogba, who was caught on camera earlier in the season bollocking Shaw because he didn’t take a dive in the box.

Enough. It’s a plague. I’ve been saying it all season. Players have to take the blame. Managers who don’t call them out are culpable - and our hapless officials haven’t got a clue.

I’m happy for VAR to look at incidents if the technology helps. Fine. Check the goal. We all saw what Son did - except the officials. Give the goal - and put Son on a charge. Monday morning slap a 2-game ban on him for ‘deceiving’ the officials. Whatever happened to restrospective action? I suppose the problem with that is that it would require our refs to have something of an idea of what is happening to our game. ‘McTominay wasn’t running naturally’. Please. Stop it. It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious. If coaches won’t put an end to this creeping farce - the answer is a panel of three x-pro’s - sitting on Monday morning and banning players for two games.

Did you work the link out above? Yep. All four clubs are managed by Brits - who won’t put up with the nonsense. It’s ruining our game. It’s time to stop it.

It was good to read Henry Winter finally calling it out in The Times Monday. Too many of UK Press won’t because they’re too close to the PL and PGMOL. If they rock the boat they don’t get fed tits bits. Grow some balls and call it as it is. We’ve got to remove Mike Riley before he inflicts anymore damage.

What about the pen Newcastle should’ve had? ‘Ah, but Tarkowski got the ball first’ say the PGMOL. What? He nearly took Longstaff’s head off. Of course that should’ve been a pen.

If getting the ball first is a factor - then why was Leeds’ Liam Cooper sent off at City? ‘He was endangering the well being of an opponent’ say PGMOL. Really? And Tarkowski wasn’t? It’s a nonsense. Two more errors that Riley will add to his ‘got it right’ column when he releases his own stats at the end of the season. Why is it that Riley allowed to police himself?

Well done Brendan Rodgers - who put principle before points at West Ham.
It would’ve been easy for him to ignore his Covidiots, but he took a stance that made Leicester’s job all the more difficult. It might ultimately cost him a CL place. I really hope not, and perhaps those who suggest a collapse is on the cards should stop to think before alleging that all too easy assumption.

And I have to say - brilliant Moysey. It’s not quite an achievement of Leicester proportions, but if Moyes lands a CL place this season it won’t be far behind. He’s done a monumental job in East London. If he makes the top 4 he’s got to be Manager of the Season.

And a final word for Steve Bruce. What a terrific win at Burnley. Newcastle aren’t safe yet, but I’m sure they’ll be ok.

Mike Ashley isn’t anybody’s favourite on Tyneside but he struck a blow for those in charge of clubs when he publicly backed his man recently. Those Newcastle players downed tools v Brighton. Ashley was having none of it. ‘Bruce stays’ he told them. The message was simple - ‘if you want to play Championship football next season - fine, but it’ll be with Bruce’. A draw v Spurs and Sunday’s win followed. Further message to Bruce - get them safe Steve and then get out of there. It really is as Graeme Souness described it - ‘the impossible job’.


Published: Monday, 05 April 2021

Thank you for your responses to last weeks blog re-Qatar 2022. Of course, there was the usual bigoted nonsense, but along with that, a great deal of constructive debate. That’s all that anyone here asks for. Keep an open mind, while the planning continues a-pace and Qatar gets ready to deliver the best World Cup of all time. One last thing on the subject - although I don’t agree with a lot of Amnesty Internationals criticisms, figures and conclusions, I accept that they are well intended, it is worth pointing out again that they haven’t called for the competition to be moved. That’s a fact that gets lost in all the noise.

Here’s one that I believe we can all agree on. And this slipped out almost un-noticed because of the fuss surrounding Qatar - how on earth did PL clubs’ manage to spend £272m on agents’ fees during the last Covid ruined 12 months? No. You didn’t mis-read that. And I didn’t mis-type it. £272m. How? Why? And when will this madness stop? I’ll say it again - £272m. And that’s about £10m more than the previous season.

Chelsea were the highest spenders with £35,847,222. City spent £30,174,615. United slightly less: £29,801,555. Again - how? Why? There isn’t a footballer on the plant wouldn’t walk to Stamford Bridge, The Etihad or Old Trafford to play for those clubs. And if there is - then I wouldn’t want him if I was Lampard (who was in charge), Guardiola or Solskjaer. It’s obscene, especially when so many of our clubs are screaming ‘foul’ because they’re in such a financial mess. Believe me, it’s only going to get worse because the bubble has burst. There won’t be the massive tv money to rely on going forward.

So why does this keep happening? Surely it’s not beyond the wit of those that run the game to put a stop to it? It’s rumoured that just to join a conversation about Erling Haaland, his agent, Mino Riola, wants a personal guarantee of £30m on the table. That’s just to talk. It was the same when he moved Pogba to Old Trafford. It’s madness. 

Obviously, it’s in his interests to keep moving players. That’s not right either. And do we think that United have had anywhere near approaching value for money as far as Pogba is concerned? Forget the £90m fee - I’d say they would’ve overspent if they’d stopped at Riola’s cut. It’s a joke.

So why is it that somebody, somewhere doesn’t put a stop to this nonsense? Perhaps the answer lies in the story I was once told by a big club Chief Executive.

He took a job in football having enjoyed a very successful time in corporate business, which can also be a murky world, but he told me he was amazed by the things he saw in football. He said he quickly realised that at some point he was going to end up spending some time at Her Majesty’s pleasure. ‘If I’m going to prison I’d like to know why’ he told me. Obviously that line was delivered with some humour and irony, but you get where he was coming from?  He decided to ask one of the game’s top officials ‘why?’. 

Before lunch he got the answer. A map of the world was taken out of a cupboard. It was as explained to him who ran what and where. He was told ‘it works, so let’s leave it alone’. Lunch followed and he went home even more baffled.

Is it really like that? I hate to believe that it might be. It’s our game. People who put their hands in their pockets - who have their pockets picked by football - deserve better.

Players at the top should wake every day and thank God for what they’ve been given. If they want an agent to take care of them - and let’s be fair, there are some very good guys out there as well, then let them pay for that service. In what other business does the employer actually pay the costs of an employees agent? It shouldn’t happen. So why does it? Why does football bleed money into the fat, bloated world of the super-agent? It really is time it was stopped.

Further down the ladder - how good is it to see a couple of clubs that had every right to feel hard done by when the curtain was drawn last season, knocking on the door of success again? Peterborough were denied a chance of getting out of League One after being replaced in the play-offs by Wycombe. That was on a points-per-game basis. Director of football, Barry Fry was furious. ‘I’ve been in the game 60 years,’ he said. ‘It’s the biggest disappointment I’ve ever had’. He added that Posh had been ‘cheated’. It was worse for Tranmere - they were relegated.

I don’t think either team was ‘cheated’. There wasn’t a perfect solution, but I felt for both clubs when the season ended early. I like Barry and my long term mate Mark Palios owns Tranmere.

As I write Posh are in the automatic promotion places. Tranmere slipped out of the top 3 in League Two this weekend, but they’re on the fringe. I don’t wish any team chasing harm, but I really do hope that Posh and Tranny get up. They deserve it after last season’s frustrations. Keep an eye on them.

Qatar 2022 protests – a cautionary note

Published: Monday, 29 March 2021

I’m all for protest. It’s often the only way to effect change. But let’s be sure our chosen protest is based on properly attributed facts; and that the protest is applied indiscriminately against all offenders.

Let’s also be sure that the protesters themselves aren’t publicly saying one thing, and quietly doing another privately when it suits and benefits them.

Because that’s not protesting – that’s hypocrisy; and it’s taking us all for fools. Much like an MP who protests for expenses reform, with a floating duck island in his pond. Or someone demanding the world switches to green energy, while driving around his/her private estate in a Hummer.  Do as I say, not as I do.

Before the usual mob descends on me having barely read beyond the first sentence (bigoted people don’t read full opinions, you see, one sentence is more than enough) – yes I live in Qatar. I’m a resident, not a propagandist or an apologist. This blog is completely independent - just like the podcast I do with Andy. No-one tells us what to say. No-one tells us what to do. In all the time I’ve worked in Doha never once has anyone tried to influence my opinion. Never once have I been told what I can or can’t say. That’s in stark contrast to my many years at Sky, where I was often told “just do as you’re told Keysie – James Murdoch could end up in jail if this unravels”. How many times do you think I’ve wished I’d ignored orders? Let’s also forget that an opinion from someone based in the place that’s the very subject of the debate might (in principle, but of course not necessarily) be valid. However the bigots will never have that, much better to have a trenchant opinion on somewhere you’ve never been. This country, my home, is an amazing place. It has gone through the developmental cycle of nomad-to-nationhood in the time since the world created email – just think about that, a cycle that takes most countries centuries (and based on the past 4 years I’m no longer sure where the US is on that scale). When the British Empire handed Qatar back to its people in 1971 it wasn't much more than another colonial backwater – dismissed as an Arab wasteland. Now, not only is it one of the leading sports centres in the world, it has become one of the world’s biggest trading hubs, with some of the most advanced educational and healthcare systems in the world, while having the most societally liberal norms in the region. Yes, booze is not a norm – that’s the religious choice of 1/4 of the world’s population, and the personal choice of many more. And to keep the Daily Mailers happy, they’re even going to have booze at the World Cup – why let local culture get in the way of lager louts trashing up a high street?

This has all come at an inexcusable cost. Arguing anything other than that is wrong – and it’s not a worker’s right, it’s a human right. In the course of the warp-speed evolution here, mistakes have been made; mistakes that can’t be undone. Every nation’s history is marked by these scars – many much bigger – just ask Germany, just ask Japan, just ask the “British Empire”. It’s thanks to the World Cup that these scars have been exposed in Qatar. So much has changed positively as a result. When I first visited Doha - to launch Al Jazeera Sport only as recently as 2008 - this was a very different place. And I simply couldn’t believe the changes that had been made when I returned in 2013. For almost a decade I’ve seen it develop and evolve and improve with my own eyes every day – you see I’m not living this place through algorithms; I live here, and I get out and about and I interrogate – I’m a journalist.

Can more be done? Absolutely and emphatically yes. And more will be done, that’s the way here.

However a few words of caution for the latest fury of protests against Qatar, led by Norway and Germany in the qualifiers.

First, be armed with the facts – that is the very minimum bar any genuine protester must meet, otherwise I question their agenda. Over the past month I’ve lost count of how many headlines and “opinion-leaders” and  “influencers” falsely quoted, or perhaps even manipulated, The Guardian’s 6500 figure as World Cup stadium deaths. That’s simply not correct – and it’s acceptable to say that that’s not correct, without disrespecting those who tragically did die in that way. The same factual amnesia and/or narrative manipulation applies to booze at the world cup (allowed) or LGBT fans (welcomed) or women-can’t-drive (utter bullsh*t) or the temperature in December (averaging around 23C – the only issue for the Final is likely to be rain and being naturally (not artificially) cold).

All these are facts – and facts are consistently overlooked when it comes to this country, yet inarguably relied upon as a defence when applied to others. In fact (!), you only have to look at the nonsense blockade that fractured this region recently, which was unceremoniously dropped overnight after 4 years when a sensible US President acknowledged it was all based on alternative facts in the first place.

Second, a protest is based on a point of principle and you can’t pick and choose them at your convenience – then it’s a flawed protest or an agenda. In Russia – a monumentally different scale of human rights abuse exists, both historic and continuing, but I can’t remember a single t-shirt at the Russia World Cup 2018? Human rights protests against China on behalf of the Muslim Uighurs – for years this wasn’t a la mode enough to protest. Where were your designer clothes made – I’d probably check, if human rights are the cause you're championing.

Third, a message for our obscenely paid football stars. If you want to become political lobbyists – that’s fine, make all the points you want in the world. But you can’t then be immune from the public scrutiny that political discourse is subject to – just because you’re a footballer. If you’re leading global campaigns about human rights, your third and fourth holiday homes in Dubai should be questioned. As should photos of you celebrating emergency surgery in Doha….‘human rights on and off the pitch’, but not in hospitals when you benefit? And selfies of you ring-side at the Joshua fight in Riyadh, or thumbs up in the F1 paddock in Bahrain. Didn’t support your team mate Mesut Ozil when he was harangued out of Arsenal for standing up for Muslims human rights? All too happy to take the pay cheque from Man City? I could go on. As I said before, floating duck islands aren’t a good look.

The players also might want to check Amnesty International’s position on Qatar 2022 – turns out it’s not to boycott the event. Another one of those facts pushed into the small print.

Over the years, I’ve lost track of the times I’ve invited colleagues from the Western press to visit here. I’ve even agreed to host and cover everything – on one proviso, I say: ‘tell the truth, tell people what you really saw’. Every time the answer is the same ‘I can’t do that Keysie. It won’t fit with the papers’ editorial policy’. I’ll leave that there – the scrupulous pursuit of the truth…and all that. Sadly England’s press pack has also never recovered from losing our 2018 bid – it’s still one massive conspiracy. I suggest they read the Garcia Report, all 350 pages of it (so should England’s bid team from back then).  

Anyway, here’s to more positive change and to the best World Cup in history.  A World Cup for the Arab world too – after all, football is for all, not just for the West.

By the way, some advice from a local. When you come here next December, you should know we fully celebrate ‘Christmas’ – so you can leave your ‘seasons greetings’ and ‘winter holidays’ t-shirts at home. Also, bring jumpers instead.

Is Mourinho a dinosaur? Yes. And like me, he’s probably happy to be so.

Published: Monday, 22 March 2021
Wow. Ollie Holt didn’t miss his target. Did you read his piece in the Mail on Sunday? If not - have a look before you read this.

Ok? Right. We can carry on. Let’s first say that Ollie is a top writer and is someone that I enjoy reading. He’s got every right to his opinion. We’ve all got one and I don’t mind throwing the odd hand grenade. Well - you’re right. It can often be an Exocet!  But Ollie unleashed ‘shock and awe’ in Mourinho’s direction. It was vicious. And I believe wrong.

I know he won’t mind me responding. None of us that offers an opinion can get upset when others disagree. It’s part of the game. None of us? Well, none of us apart from The Mirror’s Brian Reade, who pulled me up earlier in the season because I’d said I didn’t fancy James Rodriguez. Fine. Argue the point, but there was no need for the nastiness or the cheap shots that he included in his response. And who was right? Correct. I was. After a couple of good games in blistering sunshine - against run of mill opposition - James disappeared, as I knew he would. And Everton are better without him. I haven’t heard too much from Mr Reade on the subject for a long time.

Anyway. Let’s get back to Ollie’s piece. ‘The Special One? All Tottenham have got is a dinosaur in a designer coat’ screamed the headline. He then set out to dissect and destroy anything that Mourinho has ever done, including his short time at Spurs. I couldn’t help but think that he was still carrying a grudge of some kind following Mourinho’s time at his beloved United. But the more I thought about that, the more I wondered why?Mourinho divides opinion. I’ve had a pop at different times, but it’s hard to criticise what he achieved at a Old Trafford. Yes, he could’ve left in better circumstances, but two trophies and a second place finish? Solskjaer would kill for that - despite his view that ‘trophies are largely for ego’s’. What? Perhaps that’s why he wasn’t too upset about United’s cup exit at Leicester? No Ole. Trophies are for fans. And you’re judged by how many you win.

Isn’t it strange how people that want to insult ‘experience’ always use the word ‘dinosaur’. Of course, I get it. But it doesn’t hit the mark with me because I embrace it. Yes. I’m a dinosaur and oh how I wish I’d had all the experience that I’ve gained down the years when I started out. Dinosaurs must’ve done something right. They ruled the planet for 179 million years. Mankind has been around for just 300 thousand.

So let’s cut that nonsense out. Mourinho is a brilliant coach. His record is bettered only by Ancelotti. Mourinho has had success in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain. And given the tools he’ll have success again in England.

Fortunately Daniel Levy is still backing him. I say ‘fortunately’ because those who believe in old fashioned principles - that clubs should be run from the top down - should support that. There’s no question that Mourinho is struggling to win over one or two in the dressing room. It’s why the upcoming Carabao Cup Final - his best chance of silverware Ollie - he’s in the final for goodness sake - is critical. If he wins - he wins the battle - the dissenters can go. If he loses, then another club falls to player power.

Would Spurs’ players down tools for such a big game? They might. Those who were desperate to see the back of Mancini at City gave up an FA Cup final to Wigan. They knew an era of success was guaranteed anyway - so the best solution was to ‘out’ Mancini. The rest is history.  

But the same formula no longer applies. There isn’t the money in the game anymore. Only City can push on to more ‘guaranteed’ success. They’ve got the resources to do it. And they’d do it with or without Guardiola. Spurs are now like Arsenal were when they moved stadiums. They’re deeply in debt. Did anyone hear what Wenger said to us on BeINSPORTS about the decade following their move? He said he knew at the start of every season that he couldn’t win the title and that he’d have to sell a top player in order to keep the bank happy. He knew top four was all he could hope for. He delivered, but was hammered all the same. He kept the club afloat for goodness sake.

That’s what Mourinho has to try to achieve now - with an ordinary group - Son and Kane aside. A trophy would be a bonus. And it doesn’t matter who manages Spurs through this era - that’s it. That’s the extent of what’s possible.

It’s got nothing to do with being a ‘dinosaur’ and therefore being ‘out of touch’. We know now how the upcoming final will be played. Just as United now play - with Spurs sitting in and waiting to attack. That doesn’t make Mourinho old school - it makes him smart. What’s the alternative? Should he open up and get battered?

Has Klopp lost his touch because Liverpool have lost five home games on the bounce? Spurs have won more games than Liverpool this season. They’ve scored more goals and conceded less. They’re two points better off for goodness sake. No-one is suggesting Klopp’s time has come.

Is Guardiola not able to compete with the likes of Di Matteo, Heynckes, Ancelotti, Enrique, Zidane and Flick, all of whom have won the CL since he last did in 2011?  And he’s spent £1.04 billion trying to do it without Messi. His supporters will argue of course not.

Success doesn’t come in straight lines. It has to be earned. It has to be fought for. It requires a strategy and belief. There are no guarantees. Would I rather Mourinho worked in our league than anywhere else? Too right. And may the game always be played differently. If everyone bought into the tippy tappy ideals of some of the modern coaches - my goodness we’d all be bored shitless. There’s a place for everyone.

So, if you don’t mind Ollie, I disagree with almost everything you said. But I look forward to reading next week’s column. I always do.

Why I didn’t like Tuchel.

Published: Monday, 15 March 2021

I spent the first couple of weeks of Thomas Tuchel’s time at Chelsea wondering why I didn’t like him.

I had all sorts of reasons. Here’s an ‘ist’ straight away. He didn’t look like a football coach. I’ve no idea what a football coach actually looks like - but whatever it is, Tuchel wasn’t it. And that, despite the fact, that he’d already come second in an on-line poll asking ‘who is the Premier League’s best looking manager?’

For the record, Scott Parker won it. I’m a little surprised that Guardiola or Mourinho didn’t, but what do I know? The bottom six weren’t a surprise! Anyway. I had to get over his looks.

Initially I wasn’t too happy with his ‘technical’ post match interviews - but at least he was looking interested and was engaging - unlike Guardiola, who always looks like there’s a bad smell in the air any time someone has the temerity to ask him about football.  

Tuchel would talk of ‘finding spaces for the 10. Closing down spaces for their 6 to operate in’. I’m sure I also heard him talking about ‘half spaces and pockets’. He has all the modern day jargon.

Was it the way he dressed? His team selections? Nope. It was neither of those either.

In some quarters he was getting aggro for his lack of ambition. The bore-draw with United did him no favours. But wasn’t making Chelsea more secure what Frank Lampard’s critics wanted?
So I was running out of reasons.

Hold on. Here’s another ‘ist’ - he was German and he’d replaced a fine young English coach. Do you know what? That was it. That was his only ‘crime’. I didn’t like what happened to Lampard.

In his first interview he apologised for that. Damn. That stopped me in my tracks. Of course he was right. It wasn’t his fault. The job was available and he looked like a teenage schoolboy fulfilling every ambition he’d ever had after his first game. He had to take it.

He was fun. He smiled. He got a result. He’s since still unbeaten. He’s got players playing. This is what I’ve been getting round to - I like him. I like him a lot.

I like the fact that he took a gamble and signed only an 18 month deal. He’s right about that too. Chelsea will probably sack him after that time, so why worry about it?

I like his attitude to players. He’s binned Lampard’s ridiculous fines system - saying ‘I haven’t got time to police fines’. He trusts his players. He treats them like men. My guess is that they’ll respond like men.

After their huge spend last summer I had Chelsea down to finish 2nd behind Liverpool. That worked out well eh? Liverpool won’t finish top - in fact, thinking about it - now might be the time to bring out that old tweet claiming Everton will finish in front of them! Chelsea definitely will. And I believe in Thomas Tuchel Chelsea have got themselves a smart coach and really good guy. I wish him nothing but success.

On another subject, the PL are asking managers/clubs how to get out of the mess they’ve made of VAR. Are we surprised? It’s been a shambles from day one and it was no better this weekend. Here are three things to do to improve it straight away. One - sack Mike Riley. What exactly has he been doing for three years for us to find ourselves in this mess? Two - appoint full time VAR operators. Ex-refs, not current match day officials. Of course refs are tired. Mourinho is right about that. He wouldn’t have said it if someone hadn’t whispered it in his ear. Riley has presided over a drop in standards the likes of which we’ve never seen, but let’s at least allow the guys to do their jobs without the distraction of days and days in the Stockley Park bunker. Three - give us access to listen to the ref and Stockley Park speak to each other. We MUST be allowed to listen to those conversations. That’s the only way we’ll stop the chumocracy looking after each other and constantly covering up their errors. I’d love to know what Michael Oliver said to Stockley Park when he gave Arsenal that ridiculous penalty. My guess is ‘I’ve got this one covered. I saw it. It’s definitely a pen’. Well you didn’t see it Michael. You were right behind the incident. You guessed. Your tone said to VAR ‘don’t you dare overrule me’. None of us like to be wrong - but you were. It wasn’t a pen and VAR should’ve been allowed to do it’s job. You intimidated Paul Tierney. If we hear those conversations that can’t happen. Why is it that football fans are always in the dark and treated with such arrogance when they ask to be part of ‘their’ game. It’s not Mike Riley’s game. Or any officials game. Its ‘our’ game.

One other thing was was obvious from the North London derby - Gareth Bale has gone. He’s no longer the player he was and won’t ever be again. He lost all that pace and doesn’t seem able to get around the pitch anymore. Yes, he’s still got a raking pass in him. Yes, he’ll nick the odd goal - but he’s a liability defensively. If I’m Spurs I’m not wasting money making his move permanent.

And finally. What have Sheffield United done? It’s hard without all the facts, but on the face of it I’d say they’re mad. Think about it - who would you say was the best man to get them back up next year? Someone with experience of the Championship? Someone who’s been promoted out of that league before? Someone who loves Sheffield and Sheffield United? Of course - Chris Wilder. Mad. The decision to let him go is mad. But here’s a thought....

Qualifying on two of those requirements - having worked in the Championship and being promoted from it - with big club experience - available due to lack of interest (I was told there would always be a queue of famous clubs) - wanting a ‘long term’ project again - Saudi money - it’s got to be Rafa hasn’t it? It’s all there waiting for him.