A disgrace - of UEFA’s making.

Published: Monday, 30 May 2022

‘It’s a miracle no-one died. A fucking miracle’. Not me. Not my words, but those of my mate Jason McAteer, who was witness to the shambles that shamed UEFA in Paris.A night that ended for the McAteer family with his wife being mugged for and his son getting beaten up by a gang of feral local youths.

I was 3500 miles away in Qatar - watching pictures on BeINSPORTS. My best source of ‘true’ info was from people on the ground, who were sending me text messages. There tweets as well - from well respected reporters. These people were watching a potential disaster unfold. Jason was amongst them.

I knew instinctively what was happening. I called it on-air. As UEFA’s mealy-mouthed excuses for it all were arriving by official channels, I knew it had nothing to do with late arrivals or forged tickets. It was an organisational issue. This one was down to UEFA. I didn’t have anything to go on - other than those texts and tweets - and instinct. Racing through my mind were the dreadful stories that I’d heard about Hillsborough. I’ve heard first-hand - not read or had stories told to me. And the 97 who died. As I’ve always said -  the Hillsborough ‘victims’ were those who survived to suffer the pain.

I’m thinking ‘here we go again’. And I also knew the first people to get blamed would be Liverpool fans. After what Margaret Thatcher’s govt. (and Bernard Ingham) had done to them, they were an easy and obvious target for neutrals.

McAteer had a birds eye view of it all in Paris. I’ll get round to the scandalous attack on his wife and son shortly.

McAteer was broadcasting for LfcTV outside the stadium - on a raised platform between the two security rings. I mention that it was ‘raised’ because he was close enough to hear appeals from people caught up in the crush. Close enough to feel as though he was in that crush.

The first security ring was to check for forgeries and stop the holders of those tickets from gaining access to the second perimeter. It’s standard practice - and works well if organised properly, but that requires enough staff to do the job. From what I’ve been told there simply weren’t enough staff on duty - stewards or Police.

Liverpool fans DID NOT turn up late. Nor were they drunk. That tired narrative was used by South Yorks Police and was later proven to be false. They were at that first perimeter ring in good time. McAteer saw them - in their thousands - as he went on air two hours before the scheduled kick-off.

His view is that there were too many fans for the authorities to control - so the authorities gave up. They closed the initial ring and allowed everyone to walk to the gates at the second ring. Noooooo. We’ve heard that story before as well. And inevitably the same thing happened.

McAteer was watching - there were too many people in one place, being tunnelled into smaller spaces. They were screaming at him to do something. But what could he do?  To be in that crush must’ve been frightening. I guarantee there wasn’t one Liverpool fan who wasn’t thinking about Hillsborough. Do you know - I’m getting angry as I write.

McAteer and his colleagues came off-air - largely because they couldn’t broadcast with those scenes unfolding behind them. As people tried to climb barriers to escape the crush - others climbed into the tv compound where it was safe. Cue the usual accusation - ‘Liverpool hooligans break into tv compound’. Of course they did. It was safer there. But out came the pepper spray and tear gas. What on earth were the French Police thinking? 

At BeIN we were getting news of a delayed kick-off and the inevitable reason given was ‘late Liverpool arrivals and forged ticket carriers’. Nonsense. I said so on the night. I knew a few of my colleagues were uneasy about my conclusions but I just knew it.

McAteer was whisked into the stadium with his colleagues through a tunnel for broadcasters. He was on the phone to his wife to make sure she and his eldest son Harry were ok. At this stage they were. They were shaken by what they’d seen and been on the fringes of, but they were ok.

‘Excuse’ No.1 was quickly withdrawn by UEFA. Our information now was that they weren’t now blaming late arrivals - and they’d re-opened gate ‘Y’ to allow people with genuine tickets into the arena. McAteer believes other gates may also have been opened but he can’t be sure. My question is ‘why were they ever closed?’ It really is a miracle no-body died. He’s right there.

Post-match it got worse for the McAteer family. And I’m certain they weren’t alone. Liverpool fans were left to run the gauntlet of marauding gangs, who were waiting for them outside the arena. Gone was any sign of the Police or stewards.

Lucy and Harry were making their way back to the official LFC ‘friends and family’ coaches when they bumped into the woman who’d organised the trip. She told them the arranged meeting place had changed because the coach for their party had been bricked, so it had been moved to a safer place.

At this point a gang of five burly feral youths emerged from the dark. They ripped Lucy’s blouse open and then off - leaving her standing in her bra. They pulled her screaming into the middle of them - inflicting some of the bruising pictured. This was no ‘alleged’ attack.

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Serious injuries inflicted on Lucy McAteer as she feared she was about to be raped.

Harry waded in. Lucy said she felt her arms being twisted and burned. I guess like an old fashioned Chinese burn that we’d inflict on each other as children.

Fortunately they eventually let Lucy go and ran off. Harry noticed her watch had gone and chased after them. Daft I know, but again - instinct takes over.

Because he was on his own he inevitably took a savage beating when he caught up with them and was only saved by a group of Madrid fans, who saw a lad in a Liverpool jersey taking a beating and stepped in to stop it.

McAteer was by now taking calls from his wife - who was naturally in bits. Then Harry called - totally lost. He had no idea where the coaches were. Fortunately he’d held onto his phone in the scuffle. He pinned his dad his location and the two met up.

Heading of the attack it reminded me so much of the gauntlet Liverpool fans had to run after their triumph in Rome in 1984 - the birthplace of Heysel in my view. I’m not excusing ‘85 but, in my opinion, Liverpool fans went prepared after what had happened 12 months earlier. The Heysel disaster wasn’t planned - and there are no excuses for it - but it festered after Rome and was a year in the making. Just my view - that’s all. 

The McAteer family drama wasn’t over yet in Paris. As they boarded an official coach - not theirs but the nearest one - it had been invaded by two ‘street lads’. They were quickly identified and kicked-off. How was this happening? Where are the Police? McAteer tells me there simply weren’t any.

The drama ended at 5.00 the following morning. He’d been advised to report the attack on his wife and son - and the theft of the watch - a substantial piece. Yea - with hindsight it’s obvious. Don’t wear it to the game. But if you’re with the official party you don’t expect the events that took place.

McAteer was sent to three Police stations. The first one was shut. He gave a statement at the second - and was then sent to a third. Why? Who knows? But as any Brit who has holidayed in France knows - it does. I know - but it does.🤷‍♂️

I’m pretty sure Jason’s story won’t be an isolated incident, that others will be heard in the coming days and weeks. I’m not suggesting for a minute that everybody in red was impeccably behaved in Paris. All football fans are a handful and Liverpool’s can be especially ‘creative’. No-one would deny that. But it’s both lazy and wrong to point the finger at the majority for what happened.

There were many more Liverpool fans in Paris than had tickets. A week earlier Rangers fans had swamped Seville. They travelled despite being asked not to. Their crime was the same. They wanted to see their team play - but they weren’t allowed to. Being close was the next best thing. Liverpool were allocated less than 20,000 tickets for a stadium that held 82,000. Rangers got 9500 of 43,000 available. This is nonsense.

In Paris they had a fan park catering for 50,000. Seriously! There’s your clue UEFA. Ticket allocations for finalists are scandalously small. This has got to change. And so has the pricing strategy, which means proper fans can’t afford to buy them. The game dies without supporters. Covid taught us that surely? It’s my greatest fear for the WC In Qatar - that not enough real fans will be there.

Liverpool FC are right. There must be an independent review of what happened in Paris. Anything less will result in the decades long cover-up initiated by the Thatcher govt over Hillsborough. The last thing UEFA will want is to be found culpable. Its too easy - and wrong in my view - to point the finger at Liverpool supporters.

I’m encouraged reading the big hitters in today’s U.K. press - who all appear to have drawn the same conclusions as me. This one was down to UEFA and the French. And it must never happen again. But how many times have we said that?

I can’t end without congratulating Forest. Steve Cooper’s team will be a welcome addition to the PL. What a job Cooper has done at The City Ground. Cloughie would be proud.

Well done City - but boy that was close.

Published: Monday, 23 May 2022

What a day. I don’t think we’ve seen anything like it. I’m not just talking about the title - but the race for 4th/6th and relegation. Eight of the 10 final day games had something riding on them and we showed all 10 on beINSPORTS - including unique split screen coverage as the drama unfolded at City and Liverpool. It was quite something.

It was also the 28th season that Andy and I had seen to a conclusion. We had an enforced two year absence of course - but I wouldn’t have missed that time at TalkSPORT for the world.

Congrats to City. The table doesn’t lie - unless VAR f***s up and doesn’t award Everton a pen that Mike Riley later issued an official apology for getting wrong! If Everton score - City come up two points short.

But we shouldn’t concentrate on that. It would’ve been a travesty if City had finished without a trophy. At times their football has been mesmeric. De Bruyne has been sensational week after week. So I’m glad they won it - but my goodness - Guardiola did his best to ‘overthink’ it again.

He started with the wrong team. What on earth was going through his mind when he named Fernandinho at centre-back and Stones at right-back? Fernandinho was responsible for Villa’s first goal - going far too deep because he was concerned about his lack of pace. He could also have gone for his foul on Watkins. I promise you - at the other end Mings goes for a challenge like that on Jesus.

Guardiola changed it at half time - bringing Zinchenko on - sending Cancelo to right back and restoring Stones on the middle. Was he brave to change it - or badly wrong to start as he did?

Putting Gundogan wasn’t ‘one of the great PL substitutions’. By the 70th minute Guardiola was desperate and had to throw everything at it. He didn’t have a choice. But it worked and it gave us some wonderful drama.

In 24 previous PL seasons Liverpool’s total would’ve been enough to win it. That gives you some idea of how good City have had to be. But - I guarantee you they’d swap places with Liverpool if they could. The one they want - they really really want - is the CL.

Domestic success for City (spend £1b under Guardiola) Bayern, Real or Barca, and until this season Juve, is taken as a given. It’s no longer enough. The real success for all the big teams is in Europe. That’s what a coach is ultimately judged on. Bayern have won 10 successive domestic titles, but as Nagelsmann found out this season - that’s not enough. That’s expected.

City will have to wait another year and maybe Haaland will be the difference, although it does concern me that Guardiola is already saying that he’ll need time to settle. Why? He was born in England. He speaks perfect English. He knows the culture. He’ll be surrounded by good players. It didn’t take Luis Diaz any time at all to settle at Anfield. 🤷‍♂️

I guess Guardiola is readying us just in case - with Jack Grealish no doubt on his mind. If I were Grealish I wouldn’t be making a fool of myself leading City’s celebrations. I’d have a glass or two and then start asking myself why I contributed so little so far.

Grealish doesn’t get into City’s best team. He didn’t get on the pitch Sunday. He started only 22 PL games this season - scoring three goals and making three assists. The goals came against Norwich, Leeds in a 7-0 thrashing and West Ham. For £100m it’s not very good is it? At any other club serious questions would’ve been asked by now of the coach - the money spent - and the player.

What a job Conte did at Spurs. Daniel Levy doesn’t get it right all the time (often!) but he got this one spot on. I hope Conte stays - but he doesn’t seem too sure. Perhaps it’s another stand-off in order to get what he wants again? The problem is Spurs have little or nothing to spend. It’s all going on the stadium.  

I can’t pretend I wasn’t gutted for David Moyes. He knows his team threw away a Europe League place at Brighton. Watching the final this past week must’ve hurt everyone at West Ham, because they know they should’ve been in it. I thought it might be a motivator for them, but sadly the opposite was true.

What unwanted stat did United achieve on the last day? They were the only team, along with Norwich, not to score. Ten Haag’s face at Palace told me he didn’t realise how bad it actually is.

I was pleased Leeds made it. It was too soon to lose them again. I’m certain they’d have gone had Bielsa been left in charge so the change was both smart and needed. Bielsa had run that squad ragged. They were shot.

I’m looking forward to finding out a lot more about Jesse Marsch. Now we’ll get to see what he’s really made of. Is he Ted Lasso or is he about to blaze a trail for other American coaches?

I got two of the bottom three correct in my pre-season predictions - but it wasn’t hard. Norwich and Watford were relegated before a ball was kicked. Unless either comeback with more ambition than just making up the numbers I hope we don’t see them back any time soon. It’s someone else’s turn.

Burnley are the architects of their own downfall. Sean Dyche called it. They didn’t invest last summer and now they’ve paid the heaviest price of all. With the takeover terms as they are Burnley are in big trouble. I can’t see Vinny Kompany wanting it now.

In conclusion - it’s been fun again. Our guys at beIN were sensational Sunday. I was proud of them - and proud also to have fronted another ground breaking programme. To our many many millions of viewers in MENA thanks for watching us. Andy and I will see you next Saturday for the CL final - and then it’s WC season when we’re back in August. That’s what we all came for. We can touch it now. It’s going to be a blast. I can’t wait. 

Give it a go Emma.

Published: Monday, 16 May 2022

So we’re in the final week and we still don’t know where the title is going - nor who’s going down with Norwich (good) and Watford (good).

West Ham were terrific against City - posing a whole set of problems that Guardiola’s team don’t like. They didn’t stand off. They weren’t scared. They competed from the first whistle - got in their faces and put the ball exactly where City didn’t want to see it - over the top of their high line and into danger areas. Brilliant. It’s not rocket science. It’s really simple, but you’ve got to have the courage to do it. West Ham were roared on by that fantastic crowd, in an arena it looks as though they come to enjoy. Well done Moysey. There’s life in the dinosaurs yet!

What a job Moyes has done at West Ham. How the Hammers must now regret the ‘Pellegrini years’. There must be a reason Moyes was fired to make way for Pellegrini - who went on to spend all that money. I can’t for a minute think what it might have been.  

Still - they had the courage to invite Moyes back when the money had all gone (somewhere) and they were still on their arses. Moyes has reminded everybody what a good coach he is. His buying has been fantastic. Bowen was a steal. And I’ve said all of this before so I’m not some kind of Johnny come lately.  As for the stadium - winning is the biggest reason their fans are comfortable in it. Winning solves an awful lot of problems.

But fair play to City, who were a different proposition second-half. For players like the majestic de Bruyne I hope they go on and win the title. It would be a travesty if they ended the season with nothing. Liverpool have still got a CL final to win!

Just one thing - what didn’t Antony a Taylor see when Dawson brought Jesus down? Jesus - he was looking at it - but it was left to VAR to make the call.

Because he’s from Greater Manchester was he thinking ‘I can’t give this’. Maybe. Probably not. But it was another appointment by the PGMOL that had huge risk attached. I don’t know why they do it. Well - I do. We all do. Because arrogance emanates from the top in that organisation.

What didn’t Michael Oliver see when Richarlison almost had his shirt ripped off his back before Brentford broke and Branthwaite ended up getting himself sent off? That was a pen. Lampard was right. But it wasn’t given because VAR didn’t believe it was. How long am I going to have to make this point before someone else joins in and we can change the protocol? VAR now referees games - not the match official. Why wasn’t Oliver invited to have a look himself and make up his own mind? Again - I’ll tell you why - because VAR plainly thought he hadn’t made a ‘clear and obvious’ error. It’s the wrong way round. VAR should be assisting - and letting the ref make the final decision, but it isn’t. It’s making all the big calls. It’s wrong.

The pen at Spurs is another example. I’m sorry - that’s not a pen. As Mike Jackson rightly pointed out - you can’t take an incident like that in isolation. Football will never be ‘black and white’. There are grey areas. There always will be grey areas - despite the insistence of some that technology can change that. No it can’t. It never will. Have we stopped arguing about decisions since VAR was adopted? No. We spend more time discussing decisions these days.

Barnes was nudged before he re-balanced and his arm came out as a result. Kevin Friend was looking at it. Like Taylor at West Ham - his view was clean. He must’ve taken penalty box buffeting into account - but was told by VAR to give it. Yes - in isolation the ball brushes Barnes’ arm - but decisions should never be made from freeze frames. Friend was obviously happy with his decision. He could ‘feel’ the game - but he was then told to alter it. I repeat what I’ve said all season - we have a right to hear this conversations at the monitors.

That call at Spurs was cruel on Burnley - who deserved better. Livelihoods are at stake when these decisions are made.

Oh. Anyone at Old Trafford yet realised that they dropped an almighty bollock by not appointing Conte?

Back to Goodison,  where my guess is Michael Oliver felt he owed Everton a pen when he pointed to the spot on half time. That was never a pen. Richarlison conned him going to the ground screaming. Oliver couldn’t have seen the offence - so he guessed. If he’d been invited to look at the view we all had - from behind the goal - he’d have changed his mind. But he wasn’t asked to check his decision. Surely that’s what the technology is for - to assist?

I really enjoyed the Cup Final - largely because VAR was like Victorian children - seen but not heard. We didn’t have an intervention and the game was better for it. Well done Liverpool - that’s two Cup final wins now - without scoring a goal. 🤷‍♂️😂

Whatever happens at Leeds is not Jesse Marsh’s fault. If Bielsa had been left in charge Leeds would’ve been relegated weeks ago. Bielsa left a team brutalised by his regime - absolutely shot - running on empty.

Marsh has done brilliantly to have Leeds in with a chance of survival. I’d save all three clubs if I had my way. It’s going to be tough losing one this week.

I get the frustration at Watford - but don’t blame Roy Hodgson. Blame the owner. Good luck to Rob Edwards - whose appointment should’ve been handled a lot better.

Jamie Vardy again underlined what Leicester have been missing. He had a much better day than his wife has had in the High Court since the Wagatha Christie trial started. What on earth is that all about? Who on earth has been advising Mrs Vardy? She mis-understood one of my tweets once and couldn’t resist having a pop. Whoever wins - my guess is she’ll be a lot quieter on social media going forward.

And congrats to Emma Hayes and her Chelsea team, who completed a domestic double Sunday. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Hayes. I’d like to think that she’ll be tempted to turn trail-blazer and take a job in the men’s game next. She should. What else can she achieve where she is? Give it a go Emma.

Man City meltdown that ended in the playground.

Published: Monday, 09 May 2022

Anyone that didn’t know how badly Guardiola took last week’s CL defeat only had to watch his post match interview Sunday. What on earth was that all about?

Look. I get it. I’ve seen enough of them. Post-match managers can be a little irritable and occasionally one daft question (or to be more accurate its usually a series of statements) too many sends them over the edge.

Klopp let himself down Saturday when he had a dig at how Spurs had set up. In fairness he recovered it a little when he admitted coaches have every right to make life as difficult as they can for the opposition - but he couldn’t ever send a team out like that.

That’s fine. But it isn’t the job of the opposition to set up so that Liverpool and City can play through them and score five or six. It’s why Guardiola loves Potter/Howe/Arteta and co. All the coaches that make life easy for his teams.

Anyway - back to the original point. I understand that frustration and disappointment can overwhelm a coach post-match. It’s a fractious time if things haven’t gone well. Klopp was disappointed and probably found himself saying something he didn’t really want to. That’s why he rowed back.

But listening to Guardiola took me back to the playground. ‘Miss - he doesn’t like me. Tell him. It’s not fair’. My goodness. Really? What? The Press don’t like City? And the country loves Liverpool? Come on. I can’t remember a time when Liverpool have ever been the neutrals darlings.

To suggest that the Press don’t want City to win trophies is laughable. No coach in the history of English football has ever been feted by a grovelling English Press the way Guardiola has. There have been times since he joined City that I’ve nearly been convinced that Guardiola invented football. It’s all ‘Pep this or Pep that’. Klopp is the one that has got a right to complain about bias if he wanted to go that route.

It wasn’t a spur of the moment thing. It had obviously been simmering for days since City’s latest meltdown. He knew what was likely to follow their defeat in Madrid. He doesn’t like criticism. He doesn’t like inquisitors having the temerity to question him about football. His sarcasm if he hears something he doesn’t like is also childish.

The bottom line is he’s come up short again. He knows it. It seems he can’t win it - despite the billions. One job in Munich - failed. But the coach working either side of his tenure did win it. One job in Manchester - failed.

Tuchel won it in six months with somebody else’s team. Di Matteo also.

I’ve heard the jibe ‘ah, but look how long it took Fergie’. Yea. But let’s not forget that he had to pick United up from the floor - create a scouting system, a training facility, a stadium - the lot.

Guardiola walked into all that. Done. And then spent a billion. They even changed the laws of the game to suit him so that he could stand players in the box at goal kicks. What more do you need?

Both myself and Andy have always believed that not having a centre forward would eventually bite him. It did. As Andy said on BeINSPORTS - if he’d had Harry Kane at the club he’d have won the first leg by four or five. Kane wouldn’t have missed all those chances. The tie would’ve been beyond Madrid.

But more crucially perhaps - he hasn’t got any warriors. He’s got lovely footballers. Beautifully gifted footballers. They are capable of weaving mystical patterns - but which of them can ‘dig’ a result out?

We haven’t seen the pictures because the host broadcaster was concentrating on replays of the first Madrid goal - but how in earth can you concede a second 50 seconds after the first - and you’re in possession with a re-start? It was scandalous how City capitulated. You’ve got the ball ffs. Keep it. Put it in row Z. Whatever else - don’t give it back to the opposition. Two in 50 seconds? You’d think it impossible.

But even then you’ve got £500m worth of talent on the pitch for another 30 minutes. They didn’t raise so much as a whimper.

It was Guardiola’s fault. He’d have taken the credit - so he has to accept the blame. It wasn’t anything to do with the Press wanting Liverpool to win it - or the rest of the country. Never mind - this time next year Rodney.

Here’s one to keep an eye on. What I’m about to say will be met with the usual rebuttals - big how many times have we been proved right in this blog?

I keep hearing Chelsea want to go again - and build an English spine through their team. The new owners will want to make a statement and this might just be it.

They need a centre-back. Harry Maguire? What would he cost? £40/50 million? I’m pretty sure he’d jump at the chance of a new start.

The obvious one in mid-field would be Rice. Kante has all but run himself to a stand still. Rice would be a perfect replacement. Would West Ham sell? Of course they will if the money is right. I’d give you £150m for him all day long. If Rice pushes hard it might not take that much.

So who do they go for up front? Tuchel wants rid of Lukaku - that’s pretty obvious. But to where? Who’s got the most out of him during his career? Correct - the guy at Tottenham. So if Conti can be persuaded to stay - and he fancied working with Lukaku again - what could Spurs do to get him? They wouldn’t want to pay anything like Chelsea did for him. So - what about a player exchange? Two players worth £50m a-piece?

An English spine at Chelsea I said. So Son or Kulusevski wouldn’t interest them at The Bridge. That leaves one option. Yep. England’s No 9. Let’s see. A modern transfer is difficult enough - but three of that size in one summer would be incredible. I keep hearing it though - which is why I’ve shared it with you.

What a hit Mollie - what a hit.

Published: Monday, 02 May 2022

There’s been some great escapes conjured up by Coventry down the years - but nothing - nothing like Coventry United’s.

Remember David Beckham’s iconic fk v Greece at Old Trafford? You probably haven’t heard of Mollie Green - but check out her goal for Coventry United at Watford. It was every bit as good as Beckham’s. Every bit as dramatic.

Here are the circumstances. She’s over the ball 35 yards from goal. The game is in the 7th minute of stoppage time. If she scores, Coventry stay in the Women’s Championship - and relegate their opponents. Hit the pause button on that.

Coventry’s season has been full of drama anyway. In January the club were eight minutes from being liquidated. Two days before Christmas everyone was told that they’d be losing their jobs and they there was no money to pay for the work they’d done in December.

The situation couldn’t been any bleaker. But then along came Lewis Taylor, chief executive of a Midlands-based energy company - Energy Angels. Talk about heaven-sent timing. He mounted a take-over bid.

Oh. Did I mention that the club were also docked ten points for going into administration? That left them on minus-four - 10 behind Watford.

Back to Watford, where Green is standing five/six paces behind the ball in the knowledge that her kick is likely to be the last time anyone on the pitch touches the ball. Just like Beckham at OT. But she didn’t bend it like Beckham - she crashed it into the top left hand corner - keepers right. To borrow a phrase from my mate - ‘what a hit Mollie. What a hit’. 😂😂. Check it out. It’s a stunning strike.

Brilliant. What a story. Very much in keeping with the traditions of my home City. Nobody in Coventry ever knows when they’re beaten.

I’m proud of the boys as well. Ok, so Mark Robins’ Super Sky Blues came up short - but what an effort. It’s been a great season. I’ll say again - Robins is one of the brightest and best coaches outside the PL. He’s done an extra-ordinary job cleaning up a wasted decade inflicted by SISU. He’s also correct to point out that just because we went so well this season there are no guarantees about the next. I believe there is hope now that we might make it back to the big time - something I never thought I’d see happen when we crashed into League Two. But we’ve got to keep hold of Robins. I hope he has ambition to complete the fairy-tale.

While we’re on the subject of comparisons - what about Jordan Pickford’s stop v Chelsea? For those of us old enough to remember - Gordon Banks v Pele at the 1970 Mexico WC? I can still hear the legendary David Coleman scream ‘Pele…..’ as the most famous player of all-time rose to head Jairzinho’s cross into the bottom corner. It was all the more dramatic because these were the days when overseas commentary sounded like it was being delivered into a tin can down a piece of string - and back to base. Wonderful. You always knew something special was happening when the commentary accompanying a match was like that.

Anyway - I’m sure you’ve seen it? Pele believes he’s scored. ‘No….’ as Coleman would say. ‘What a save….’ Somehow Banks had got back across his goal and clawed the ball away for a corner.  Legend has it that Bobby Moore, England’s skipper, told Banks he should’ve held it! 😂.

For me - Pickford’s save from Azpilicuta was every bit as good. As Coleman would’ve said ‘what a save…’. It looked impossible at first - but somehow - having missed the first shot - Pickford got back to his second post and blocked the follow-up. He didn’t just save vital points on the day - he might just have saved Everton’s season.

Regulars will know he’s not my favourite. He frightens me to death. He always looks a bag of nerves, but he worked that mania to his and Everton’s benefit on Sunday. Well played. Fantastic stop - and three massive points.

I hope the FA see sense and simply warn Richarlison about his future behaviour. I said on beINSPORTS that I thought he was a lucky boy. He should really have been sent-off for throwing that flare back into the crowd. It’s deemed a ‘violent act’ - but I don’t believe it was. It was a stupid act for sure and he should be warned. I know ignorance is no defence but he wouldn’t have been aware of the laws covering things like that. What he certainly wasn’t doing was ‘throwing the flare out of the stadium’ as Everton have claimed. Perhaps he was thinking about buying a tractor like our Tory friend Neil Parish? That’s right up their with his excuse!

It would be unfair if the FA enforce a 3-game ban and he missed crucial games now.

Norwich have gone then? Good. That’s six times now - and four straight after a PL season. They are the best argument I can think of for getting rid of parachute payments. I hope Watford go as well and that neither makes it back. It’s someone else’s turn.

David Moyes was correct. It was handball by Holding in the build-up to Arsenal’s winner. And it was a mistake to book Bowen. What was he supposed to do when he saw Ramsdale flying at him? If Ramsdale catches him with what was a ‘reckless’ challenge - he halves him in two.

Ok. Ramsdale didn’t connect with either Bowen or the ball - but he intended to. I know ‘intent’ has been taken out of the game - but Ramsdale was the guilty party here. If Bowen doesn’t take what they call ‘evasive action’ he gets badly injured. I can’t believe Mike Dean didn’t realise that.

That’s probably why he hasn’t got one of the ‘jobs for the boys’ that Mike Riley has been handing out recently.

The job that the former Shrewsbury and Tranmere manager, Michael Jackson is doing at Burnley got me thinking. Who are the real ‘super coaches’? Are they the guys at the top who can spend a billion or two chasing success - or are the real heroes people like Jackson, who keep it simple and produce miracles on diddly squat? All of a sudden Burnley fans are in for a ‘thriller’ between now and the end of the season. Good luck to them. I haven’t forgiven Mike Pace for turfing Dyche out - but it might be that he was right! Good luck to Jackson and the boys.

Everton’s mess is their own - not helped by bad calls. And good luck Erik ten Months.

Published: Monday, 25 April 2022

Let’s get this clear. Everton’s mess is 99% of their own making. This proud club are staring into the abyss because the owners have made one bad decision after another. No-one has ever been able to explain to me why Alisher Usmanov and Farhad Moshiri bought the club in the first place. There must a reason - but I’ve no idea what it is. Well - no idea that I could expand on here.

Anyway. It is what it is. Right now they’re my favourites to join Norwich and Watford in the Championship. And that’s sad. I hate saying it.

But - what if they go by just a point? A single point - one that could’ve been taken from the game v Man City? Even Mike Riley had to apologise for the calamitous error his staff made in that game when they failed to award Everton a pen. Of course - an award means nothing unless you score and there are no guarantees about that - but the odds are generally in favour of the taker. Score - and it finishes 1-1. A big big point should've been Everton‘s - and Liverpool would be top of course - because City would be two points short on their current total. Also worth considering eh? And to think - when they crow-barred VAR into our game they told us that ‘never again would mistakes be made that might see clubs relegated. Or denied prizes rightfully earned’. Really? What if Liverpool come up one point short again?

The reason I’m mentioning this is because Everton were also denied a stone-wall pen at Anfield. Not the one first half - which would’ve been a pen had Gordon not gone into a swallow dive. There was a stray leg offered - he had every right to go over it - but he made it all too dramatic.

No. I’m talking about the one at the Anfield Road end. Again - let’s be clear - Liverpool deserved their win. They were the better team. Klopp made smart changes - but how different might it have been had Everton scored first? We’ll never know - but it was a pen and Frank Lampard had every right to be disappointed.

On beINSPORTS Andy didn’t blame Stuart Attwell. He made the very reasonable point that Attwell didn’t have the luxury of the angles that we saw and with the first-half incident in his mind - he guessed.

Why is he guessing? He shouldn’t have to. We were told VAR would operate as an ‘assistant’ to the ref - not as his boss - which is what’s happening now.

All season I’ve argued that it’s wrong for the big calls to be made in the VAR bunker. I’ve revealed that Mike Riley has told his staff that he wants VAR to have the final say. Wrong Wrong. Wrong. This policy is flawed.

The match day ref should have the final say on big decisions.  VAR should be offering help. What Darren England should’ve done (VAR operator Sunday) is told Attwell that he might want to see other angles of it. If he had done - Attwell gives it. He’s got to.

But Riley is obsessed with the bunker making the calls. England obviously didn’t feel strong enough to ask Attwell to look again, so justice wasn’t done. VAR failed again. It didn’t ‘assist’.

England was only going to tell Attwell to look at it if he himself was certain it was a pen. Refs only go to monitors when they’ve been told to change their minds on a call. Anyone yet seen a ref this season stay with his original decision? No. Nor me. It doesn’t happen.

You don’t have to believe me that it was a pen. PGMOL liaison were furious that I revealed what they told us about it. Their view was that had it been given they wouldn’t have argued.

I still don’t know why they got so upset. What have they got to hide? We need more transparency. Fans have a right to know these things. We should be able to hear every conversation at the monitor. Why are the PGMOL allowed to operate as a boys club keeping thoughts and decisions to themselves? It’s our game as well. We want to know why decisions are made. If there’s nothing to hide - let us listen. If not - I can only conclude that there must be something they don’t want us to hear. Why?

So now we know. Football’s worst kept secret is out. Erik ten Months is confirmed in the most uncomfortable hot-seat of all.

I genuinely wish him well. I hope he gets beyond the 10 months or so that United coaches are generally given - a pattern set after the sacking of David Moyes.

Ten Months might turn out to be a stroke of genius by football director John Murtough and Darren Fletcher - but I have to wonder - what was the rush to appoint him? Not one of the other big clubs in Europe was chasing him. Not one. So why did United dive in headlong now?

As I write Poch looks as though he’ll be on the market. I still don’t believe Conti is in for the long haul at Spurs. There are so many other options. But it’s done. Ten Months has got his work cut out and I fear he’ll go the same way as the others.

I read this at the weekend - from Willem Janssen. I know. Who? He plays for Utrecht. He once played for VVV-Venlo, Roda JC and Twente. ‘Erik certainly made me a better player’. He said in an article in The Guardian.

He went on ‘his first sessions at Utrecht took some getting used to. He immediately demanded an extra training pitch, which the youth department was not thrilled with. All kinds of extra lines were applied on the pitch. In fact, the entire pitch was divided into sections. Everyone thought: "What are we going to do now?" But this way Erik could make clear exactly where you should be in which situation. He constantly stopped the game, which was annoying at the beginning. You were enjoying the game and then the whistle was blown again and Erik would say you were positioned wrong. But he also explained why you had to stand elsewhere’.

Good luck with that at Carrington Erik. ‘Er - Ronnie. You’re standing in the wrong position. You too Bruno. And you Marcus’. I think not. As I said last week - big players at big clubs are different. They need handling differently. They’re not impressed by white boards and crayons.

Mirror mirror….who is the greatest coach of all?

Published: Monday, 18 April 2022

It was the wicked witch in Snow White that first asked the question - and she never got the answer she was looking for. I got to wondering this weekend what that same mirror would say to Guardiola were he to ask. I don’t think he’d get the answer he - or his cheerleaders - would expect either. I’ve got a feeling the mirror would say ‘right now - Jurgen Klopp’.

The more you think about it the more obvious it becomes. Klopp is at the peak of his powers. His team are 11 games from immortality. He’s built a club back from hopeful - into powerful.

How good were they at Wembley? For 45 mins sensational. For the second half - competent and capable. Only for a couple of minutes at the end did they get anxious. They have the look of a team that believes anything is possible.

‘Anything’ might yet be an incredible quad. I still don’t believe it’s possible, but if City blink they’ll be all over them in the league. Thats the one that’s out of Liverpool’s hands of course.

Liverpool’s CL s/f draw is perfect. If City make it to the final as well I know which of the two teams will be more wary of the other. Liverpool’s ‘power’ is more impressive than City’s ‘passing’. It’s the final we all want. Bring it on.

Klopp oozes class in his interviews. I really don’t know how he does it - one after the other - very often with the most banal line of questioning from reporters.  But he gives the same time and courtesy to all. The same can’t be said of Guardiola - who still looks at inquisitors like they’ve got dog shit on their shoe if they have the temerity to ask a ‘football’ question. You can see his mind working ‘me - talk to you about football? Don’t be silly’.

Klopp is the opposite. You get the impression he’d talk all day if he had to. He reminds me so much of the man who built Liverpool - Shanks. You couldn’t stop Bill talking football. Looking back it’s sad that we guys at Radio City (Liverpool) used to try to avoid driving him to games when he did our co-comms because he’d make our ears bleed. So sad. What a disgrace really.

I’ve said this before - Klopp has made a far bigger impact on Liverpool than Guardiola has on City. Far bigger. Guardiola is still only winning what Mancini and Pellegrini delivered. Klopp has made Liverpool attractive enough to be able to sign the very best in the world. But he doesn’t. He keeps buying bargain gems and turning them into the best. And I thought that was supposed to be Guardiola’s strength? 

Foden is one that Guardiola has managed beautifully and he’s carefully matured him. But where are the others? City have got one of the best academy set ups in the world. They’ve got their pick of the best talent - so where are they? There’s nothing behind Foden.

Surely there’s a proper centre-forward at the club somewhere? There’s got to be. If there isn’t somebody should get fired. Why isn’t he - and City fans will know better than me who it is - banging Guardiola’s door down and demanding a chance?

An U23 c/f has got to be a better option than Grealish? Or Sterling. Or Foden. Or any of them. I repeat - the decision to buy Grealish - made no sense at all. He’s not a ‘City’ player. He slows things down too much. And I’ve seen no improvement in him during the time he’s been working with Guardiola. They needed a centre-forward. They still need a centre-forward. As Andy said Saturday, as we watched Jesus miss that glorious chance second half, ‘Kane would’ve scored that’. Those are the small margins that make all the difference - maybe only once or twice a season - but they make the difference.

Of course Guardiola is a top coach. His record says that - but he must be desperate to win the CL at City. It was the only job he had to do when he was appointed. So it was in Munich. I guarantee he’d take it and put the league down if that was the choice. 

Klopp is the one nurturing talent as all He’s brought one bright young thing after another into his side - Jones, Williams, Kelleher, Elliott - and they reckon there’s at least another six on the cusp.

Right now Klopp is the master of all he surveys. He’s the best. Of course, there’s a few twists and turns left in the season yet - and it might all go horribly wrong for Liverpool - but I’ve got a feeling they’re edging towards something very special.

I don’t share the anger at Burnley’s decision to sack Sean Dyche. I’m delighted for him. He should’ve got out of Turf Moor at least 18 months ago - maybe longer.

He’s been ‘punching’ with that club all the time he’s been there. Let’s not forget that he had them in Europe at one time.

In a straight fight between Burnley and Everton I’d still fancy Burnley, but now I hope not. I don’t like what I hear about what’s happening behind the scenes at Turf Moor. I’d like someone to take a very close look at the takeover and report back. Has it really happened? Dyche has been warning them all season long that they’d struggle without investment. He was right - and Alan Pace doesn’t like it. 

As I write (Monday) there’s still no news of a successor. What about Big Sam? He’d love to send Everton down. He’s rightly still sore after finishing 8th with them - but still getting the bullet. Or Agent Rafa? I guess he would love to send the Toffees down as well.

Dyche will be back - on his terms. His next choice is vital. It’s got to be a good one where he’s got a proper chance. He’s good enough. In fact - if we asked that mirror how good he was it might just give us an answer to surprise us all.

ten Hag? Not for me, but I’d like to be wrong

Published: Monday, 11 April 2022

In the end it changed nothing. And we didn’t find out anything new. But - what a game. What a wonderful game of football. If only it was like that every week.

Sadly it can’t be, because City and Liverpool are so much better than the rest. Well - at their very best Chelsea can mix it in that company, but the others are a long, long way behind. Manchester United are light years away, but we’ll come on to them.

I don’t think the semi-final this weekend will be as good. They’ll both make changes, and they’ll both want to win it. I just don’t think it will have the same drama attached, but I sure hope I’m wrong.

I watched the feast at The Etihad with half my thoughts on how United fans would be viewing it. Doubtless with a bit of envy? With anger for sure. Like the jilted bride - it should be them.

Ok, they’re having a bad time right now - but they’re still a special club They’re still ‘Manchester United’. The suggestion that the game between the current top two is now the greatest rivalry of all time is ludicrous. Of course it’s not. 

United‘s games against Liverpool will take some shifting from the No1 spot. They’re our two most successful teams. That’s why. Never mind the historical dislike born as a result of the building of the Manchester Ship Canal. 

On the subject of United - how poor were this current lot at Everton? Awful is the answer. But how long have we been saying that in this blog? I’m pleased Everton got the points - but there really was nothing to beat. Absolutely nothing.

We weren’t wrong to criticise Rashford here. Nor Ronaldo. Nor Pogba. 

Maguire can’t help not being very good. At least he tries and the fee wasn’t his fault. Nor was the £80m that United paid for Sancho his fault - but not trying is. I’m afraid he’s another one who needs to ask himself a few hard questions.

I’ll pose one. What exactly has he contributed to United’s season? Nothing right? Nothing at all. I had this conversation on-air with Andy last Saturday and he was fiercely defending Sancho. That’s fine. I’m sure others will - but let’s put this into context - Luis Diaz has been at Liverpool for 10 minutes and has been on fire. He’s already done more than Sancho has all season. I don’t buy into Andy’s argument that Sancho needs time to settle - and that he’s a ‘baby’ He’s 22 for goodness sake. He’s played in The Bundesliga and lived Manchester before. United have a right to have expected more from another massively over-hyped player.

Fred? Honest trier. Pogba? Waste of space. I repeat what I said last week - I wouldn’t have him anywhere near the club now. He’s stinking the place out.

Varane? Rarely fit. Shaw/Telles/Wan Bissaka/Dalot? It doesn’t matter. Take any two from four. None of them are good enough. McTominay? Good lad - but shouldn’t be able to get into a proper United team.

When Fergie left I said United were eight short. I got hammered for that, but they were. Time has proven that to be so. Despite spending £1b in the decade since - they still are.

Worse than any of the above though is the fact that Rangnick is making Solskjaer look like a genius. Our reporter Matt Crichley (top class btw) described Rangnick as a ‘lost grandad’ on beINSPORTS Saturday. I can’t think of a better way to put it.

And to think - he was greeted as the man who invented the modern game. He was the brains behind the hyper-press. He was the ‘coaches coach’. That’s what they told us. Except he wasn’t.

He conned us. I actually believed some of the things he was saying at first - but it was all puff. He can’t do the job. On paper - and PowerPoint - he almost certainly looks and sounds great. But that’s the trouble with these school teachers. They all do. Look at Bielsa - what did he do at Leeds that Marsch isn’t doing better already?

I’ve got a horrible feeling United are about to compound their appointment errors. Again - I hope I’m wrong - but I don’t believe ten Hag is the answer.

When I talk to people about him - like the Dutch pair Nigel de Jong and Ruud Gullit - two guys who should know - all I ever hear is ‘his attention to detail is first class’. So what? United don’t need that. They’ve had that in Van Gaal, Mourinho and Rangnick. ten Hag would be new Dave Sexton in my view. Football by numbers. Big players don’t want it - but if you’re going down that road, be sure you are stronger than they are - or they’ll chew you up and spit you out.

ten Hag might get the time to prove that he is - but United don’t have time anymore. Of all the teams at the top they’re the one that need things to happen now. They’re already way behind after a decade of waste.

United need a showman. Someone to walk onto the stage at OT and drink it all in. Someone from left field - like Ron Atkinson was. It was Ron who made the call to Chairman Martin Edwards when he heard that Lawrie McMenemy had turned the job down.

Ron knew his football - and he was perfect for United after the misery of the Sexton era. He knew United were different and needed his bravado. Big club. Big man. And he took them all on - even Busby, who resigned his place on the Board because he didn’t agree with spending so much on Bryan Robson. Atkinson didn’t care. He did things his way.

I’m not deriding Sexton. He was a terrific coach. He did wonders at Coventry with young players - but United is different. United need ‘big’.

I’ve got four on my list. Sadly Ronaldo made certain that Conte wasn’t going to get it. I’ve also heard that Conte’s penchant for changing his mind about days off and schedules didn’t impress the commercial dept. How on earth could they plan to satisfy sponsors demands if Conte changed his mind about training all the time? Heaven forbid that football would be the priority! Sponsors must be looked after. Mind boggling isn’t it?

I’d go for one of these - Luis Enrique. Ok, so he wants be in charge of Spain in Qatar. Let him do that. Appoint him and let him take over when the WC has finished. Rangnick is staying anyway isn’t he? (Watch this space - I’m not convinced he is).

Brendan Rodgers. He knows all about the PL - and managing big clubs. They don’t come much bigger than Liverpool and Celtic. Maybe United? I’ll let you argue that.

Players love Rodgers. Talk to anyone at Leicester right now about that.

But if you really wanted to stir things up - Mancini. He’s scared of nothing. He’s like Klopp and Guardiola. He doesn’t take shit from anyone and he doesn’t care who he upsets.

At City that formula worked as he turned them from nearly men into winners. We know that eventually the players did for him and downed tools - but that suited management. Their long term target was always Guardiola and having Mancini turn himself into a firm fans favourite wasn’t going to be allowed to happen. Getting rid of Pellegrini to make that appointment was always going to be easier than sacking a serial winner like Mancini.

He won’t get the job at OT - but he’d be a marvellous fit. He’s exactly what they need in that vipers nest of a dressing room.

So it’s looking more and more like ten Hag - and more football by numbers. Smaller and smaller budget numbers as well if United don’t qualify for Europe. Right now - would you back them to do that? Does ten Hag have the magnetism to persuade big players to join if they’re out of Europe? It’s bad enough being out of the CL That’s all going to be a factor. If he gets it I wish him well - but I don’t see it.

And finally - 3’45” seconds to disallow an Arsenal goal that was impossible to prove was off-side. It should’ve stood. We’ve got to stop trying to find ways to disallow goals.

And well done Anthony Taylor. Yes - he could’ve sent players off but a refs primary responsibility is to keep 22 on. Taylor did that and played his part in a classic.

I still miss you fella.

Published: Monday, 04 April 2022

‘I beg your pardon young chappie?’ You’d hear it every time he heard something he didn’t like. ‘I make you right fella’. This followed when he’d heard something he agreed with. ‘Morning fella’. Obvious.  We’d taunt him with a version of this one - we’d make out that his first words at a press conference would be - ‘morning fellas, but don’t quote me’. Of course it wasn’t quite like that, but he hated controversy - and any good impersonation needs a little exaggeration!

Ray Wilkins. I’m proud to say ‘my mate’. I said this on Twitter today, (Monday April 4) on the 4th anniversary of his desperately sad passing ‘I’ve lost too many good friends in recent years but this fella is still the one I miss the most. There isn’t a day goes by that I don’t hear myself mimicking him’. It’s true - whether it’s on the golf course, in a tv studio, a bar or just passing another mate. He gave us ‘Ray-speak’ - his own unique version of the English language.

He hated his early nickname ‘Butch’. The family gave it to him because he was a chubby baby. I guess you couldn’t today! He’d hate woke just as much mind you.

You knew when you’d pissed him off. He’d just look at you and frown - concentrate his eyes on you and stare. I’d always laugh - I couldn’t help it.

That was the thing about Razor - yes, lovely, lovely guy - but there was an inner steel. There had to be or he wouldn’t have touched the heights that he did. What a player. What a wonderful player - years ahead of his time.

It was Ron Atkinson that christened him ‘the crab’.  Ray’s view was ‘why waste possession with a hopeful ball into space? Keep it. Go sideways or back - but keep it’. Guardiola would’ve loved him.

I didn’t necessarily agree! I still laugh when I think about me and Andy taking him into the centre circle at Singapore Cricket Club. We were about to play a friendly against them - football of course. We told Ray ‘get your head up son - no sideways and backwards - we’ll be running that way (pointing towards the goal) - all you’ve got to do is hit us’.  I’m laughing again now. Happily, he did as well. Of course, he was brilliant. He always was and my goodness I called on him often enough to play charity games.

That inner steel I referred to - do you remember him trading punches with Graeme Souness in an England/Scotland game? He wasn’t going to back down. He could look after himself.

He got his revenge sometime later when they both played for Rangers. Graeme was manager - and as he came on as sub mid-way through another stroll, Ray quickly went round the other players and told them not to give Souness the ball. Graeme spent the last 20 minutes of the game chasing it They passed round him - over him - anywhere they could in order that he didn’t get the ball. He’d drop deep to pick it up from the keeper - but away it went again. Ray was that good he could control things like that. Souness left the field without getting a touch.

Post match Souness was furious ‘whose fucking idea was that?’ he ranted in the dressing room. The lads kept their heads down and ‘chuckled’. ‘Right, you’re all in Monday’, he said before storming out. I’m laughing again. I did that a lot around the little man.

It’s lovely to read so many warm words about Ray, but how I wish he was still here. I’m sure Jackie, Ross and Jade will be touched by the annual show of love for their husband and dad, but they know more than any of us how cruel it is that we lost Ray far too soon. Love ya fella.

A couple of things from the weekend. I don’t know if David Ginola has watched much football in recent years - I guess not. He wouldn’t be alone. Not everyone that’s played the game watches it during their career - or after. This is the only excuse I can give Ginola. David - Harry Kane is many things, but he’s not Maradona.

Marcie Rashford wasn’t ‘killed’ (horrible word to use) by Ralf Rangnick at the weekend. He lost his way many, many months ago. I wrote a blog way way back on this subject and came in for some stick then. And now?

Deli Alli hasn’t ‘mysteriously’ disappeared Graeme. He was the subject of another blog months ago. I’m afraid he’s gone. Poch, Mourinho, Nuno and Conte have all failed to get a tune out of him. Lampard will as well. Dele will never be the same again.

Fernandes can’t leap out of a tackle - and then complain that his team-mates aren’t putting enough into games. Lead by example Bruno. Words are cheap.

Another pundit reckons United’s players don’t ‘look as though they’re enjoying themselves’. Really Poirot? Good spot! That’s what happens when you ‘play by numbers’.

Rangnick wants 18 months to sort United out. With you at the helm I’m guessing Ralf?

Tuchel claimed a lot of Chelsea’s problems in the defeat by Brentford were down to the weather. ‘We trained in gloves on Friday’, he said. ‘Today it was warm’. Please. 😂😂.

Guardiola claimed the grass was long at Burnley. It can’t be. They’re all a standard cut these days thanks to Arsene Wenger - except City’s pitch, which is really tight. That’s their choice - but Guardiola can’t expect others to prepare a pitch to his liking.

And David Moyes is correct - there is no way that the FA Cup should offer a CL place to teams that have previously played in that competition. What next? Russian money supporting a Chelsea takeover? One of the groups is trying that sting. Let’s not dig down too far with the others eh? Or it’ll never happen.

It’s good to see England win ugly - and now it’s time for Southgate to make some big calls.

Published: Monday, 28 March 2022

It’s good to see England winning football matches - however they do it. There is no crime in winning ugly. in fact - it’s a very good habit to develop. Few big tournaments - domestic or international - are ever won by ‘nice’ teams, who play ‘lovely’ football.  

Yes - Barcelona developed a reputation for doing it. But they didn’t really. They knew how to ‘win’.  In Sergio Busquets they had someone who could mix it with the best. A real enforcer. Nothing got past him. If you did - he was stopping you anyway he could.  He didn’t take prisoners.

Barca we’re deceptive because they had a genius up top, who could win games on his own. I’ll never forget him destroying Arsenal at the Camp Nou in the 2010 CL 1/4-finals. He crafted four. He was unplayable. To this day it remains one of the best individual performances I’ve ever seen.

Spain didn’t have the luxury of being able to include him of course. With the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas and one of my all time favourites, Alonso, in they could turn it on, but they still needed Busquets to ‘impose’ them on other teams. The 2010 WC win is a great example. Remember - they only scored eight goals in the whole tournament and really had to ‘grind’ to beat a very good Dutch side in the final.

England struggled against Switzerland. I’ve read all the guff about how Southgate tweaked things at half time and got a better 45 out of them as a result. Did he? Or did he correct selection errors that he’d initially made?

Look. I like Southgate. He’s a nice guy and in a modern world when a coach is dealing with 22 or more delicate footballers - all with monstrous ego’s - being ‘nice’ can be a strength. But like pretty football - it’s only going to get you so far.

In the end you’ve got to be ruthless. Klopp is. Guardiola is. Tuchel is. Success usually follows. Southgate has got to develop the ability to make big decisions.

He can’t keep changing teams in order to keep everybody happy. ‘He left Rashford out of this squad’ I can hear some saying. ‘And Sancho’. So? Hardly brave was it? Blindingly obvious I would say.

At the Euro’s he got far too much slack. I kept reading that he was a cunning tactician because he would change his team dependent on the opposition. Nonsense. In the end it cost him. Find a team Gareth - and play it. Play it every time England have got a game between now and the tournament in Qatar.

And here’s your first big call - drop Pickford. He’s not good enough. This isn’t a recent conclusion - I’ve said it for some time now. I said it going into the Euro’s. In my opinion he was one of many reasons that England weren’t going to win it.

He makes me nervous. Imagine playing in front of him. You’d shit yourself. As a defender you’ve got to have total confidence in the guy behind you. That’s the last thing that Pickford inspires.

He doesn’t make my top 6 PL keepers. One who does isn’t even playing - Henderson. He’s better. Pope would be ahead of him in my view - but Ramsdale is the best available. Southgate has got to get him in and stick with him. Right now. Pickford has had his turn. He simply isn’t good enough at the very highest level.

The evidence is to be seen at Goodison week after week. If Everton want to stay up they’d be better off playing Asmir Begovic. I’m told, after an impressive game v Newcastle, he would’ve kept his place for the Cup tie at a Palace had he been fit. That might have forced Southgate’s hand. Watch this space and see what Lampard does at the weekend.  

Declan Rice gets better and better. I’ve no idea where he’ll end up, but whoever buys him will be getting a bargain at £150m.

Paul Pogba reckons he’s wasted five and a half years of his career at United. Those of us who watch him every week would agree. And United have wasted millions on a bang average imposter. How dare he? You can count on one hand the number of good games he’s had in a United jersey. I’ve seen some good players in United red down the years - he, definitely - isn’t one of them.

If I were running United I’d invite him to leave now. What’s the point of him
staying? He has absolutely nothing to contribute. United will be better off without him. Play someone who wants to wear that magnificent jersey. Who wants to be at OT. Who cares. Who’s proud to represent the club. Pogba makes my blood boil.

And finally…on another subject - well done United. It’s desperately sad that keeper Paul Wollston has had to retire at just 23 following extensive hip surgery. United have extended his contract by another season to allow him to complete his rehab. Top marks guys. And good luck Paul.