Why is our refereeing so bad?

Published: Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Apologies first that we’re a day late with this week's blog. I spent the entire afternoon yesterday (Monday) with a long time friend that I hadn’t seen enough of in recent years.

So here we go. I’m depressed that talking about referees has become so common for all of us. Why on earth has this happened? How is it that referees have elevated themselves into a position where we’re talking about them more than we do the greatest game on the planet? It’s outrageous. I remember well the days when we’d congratulate an official on his performance because we hadn’t noticed him.

I’ve had an extra day to think about this. My conclusion is that they are now so bad that it’s impossible to ignore them. Honestly, I hate saying that, but after another shambles, both on the pitch and in the VAR bunker last weekend, how can anyone disagree?

I give you Mr David Coote. Here’s a man who recently failed a FIFA fitness test - along with Andy Madley. Granted - they both have subsequently passed - but, what does it say about the way we handle refs in the PL if they’re not fit enough to gain FIFA credentials?

Worse - last weekend Coote didn’t even have to run about. All he had to do was look at tv monitors (replay after replay) and come to the conclusion - like everybody else watching real time - that Tottenham’s Giovanni Lo Celso should’ve been sent off at Chelsea. No ifs. No buts. No maybes. Off. His challenge was clearly a red card offence. It was a career ending stamp. It was violent conduct. How hard can it be? What did Coote think he saw? ‘There was nowhere else for his foot to come down’ we were originally told. Please - I’m still laughing. Never mind trying to get onto the FIFA list - this man should never work again. He’s a danger. As Frank Lampard said - ‘it’s not good enough for the PGMOL to admit they were wrong’. Who made that decision anyway? Why don’t they tell us? And why was it made? Was it simply because the social media caught fire? My guess is Mike Riley was once again hanging about in the VAR bunker - as he is most weeks - wanting to make the final decision on everything, when he realised the gravity of the mistake.

Lampard was angry because he’d stood in the same place the previous Monday and watched Harry Maguire almost castrate Michy Batshuayi. That should’ve been red. The VAR bunker decided there was no case to answer. Really? How? I wonder what patsy-in-chief Peter Walton would’ve made of the challenge had he been working? Was it? Wasn’t it? ‘Hold on - I’ll wait until somebody tells me’. Honestly. Its pathetic. I’ve mentioned it here before - I was a huge fan of Dermot Gallagher’s - but not anymore. His credibility is shot as well. So too the other PGMOL apologist Chris Foy. Walton’s indecision was final at Chelsea. Why are these guys employed?

Let’s not forget how bad it got for Coote as he went onto make a mess of the game at Leicester. Why was he allowed anywhere near it after what happened at Chelsea?

If you think I’m being harsh - I’m sorry. These guys wanted VAR, promising to take us to a utopian land where they would get everything correct. They haven’t. They won’t. All it’s done is underline how bad our general standard of refereeing is - and who do we have to blame for that? You got it - the aforementioned Mike Riley.

Riley was a weak ref. Average at best. I’ll never forget him desperately trying to get Ashley Cole to give him his name in a match at Spurs one night. ‘Turn round Ash. Show me your shirt’ you could see Riley saying. Cole didn’t. Cole wouldn’t. Why for goodness sake? Riley knew his name, yet here he was trying to assert his authority but making himself look daft into the bargain

Riley got his job because he is a ‘yes’ man. Richard Scudamore appointed him to succeed the excellent Keith Hackett, largely because Riley would do as he was told. Scudamore was tired of trying to get refs to do his bidding. He failed with Philip Don, so he went. Hackett was never going to be told what to do. So, of course, he went.

Look at Riley’s record. He’s responsible for this VAR farce - stubbornly refusing to let referees use pitchside monitors. It’s Riley that’s given the PL two interpretations of handball - one for forwards, so they can find another reason to disallow goals, and another for defenders. This only happens in our league.

It’s Riley that refuses to use VAR to see if a keeper has moved from line in a penalty situation. We leave it to the ‘on-field’ officials. There’s something of an irony in that eh? And this only happens in the PL.

It was Riley that allowed the excellent Mark Clattenburg (a World Cup final ref) to cut short his career in England because he was so frustrated by the PGMOL leadership. So too Howard Webb, another World Cup final ref. Because of Clattenhurg’s ‘retirement’ we didn’t have one official at the last World Cup. It’s embarrassing.

Philip Don lost his job because Scudamore - and the clubs- were unhappy about the number of yellow cards flying around during his era. He didn’t do much else wrong - but he went. So how does Riley hang on?

This is a man that Scudamore was warned he shouldn’t employ. There’s a reference in Mark Halsey’s book ‘Added Time’ to a conversation Halsey had with Scudamore when the former PL chief admitted Riley was the wrong man - but he went ahead of employed him anyway.

As much as anything, it was this revelation that led to Halsey being black-balled by the PL and the PGMOL.

It annoyed both organisations deeply when they read a different passage in the book about Halsey being told to change his mind on the infamous clash at Stoke between Ryan Shawcross and Stephen Nzonzi. Stoke and Blackburn fans remember it well. Halsey didn’t see anything wrong with it, but was told by Riley at a subsequent refs meeting, that he should’ve shown red. Riley added that Halsey would be getting a call from the FA to ask if he would ‘change his mind’ if he saw the challenge again. Halsey said ‘no’,  Wrong answer. The ref added that he wasn’t very happy about being bullied over the incident either. I’m not telling tales here. It’s all in Halsey’s book. Read it for yourselves. It was Halsey being typically honest.

The book caused Halsey all sorts of problems. Despite originally being given permission by the PGMOL to write it, they subsequently withheld his exit package - a 5-figure sum - when he retired. The money would’ve allowed Halsey and his wife Michelle, who’ve both been cancer victims, to live the rest of their lives in relative comfort. We might never know who cost Halsey his job at BT Sport, but I’ve got a good idea. They now employ Peter Walton!

I mention Halsey because what happened to him is a modern day football scandal - made worse when you consider that Scudamore walked away from his very well rewarded job with a £5m pay off.

Halsey and Hackett are now the go to men if you want a no holds barred, straight forward, honest opinion about refereeing. Both should be involved in the VAR bunker. It’s a waste that they’re not. The same goes for Roger East and Lee Probert. Both retired last season and were told they were not good enough to operate VAR. But David Coote is? And I’m not singling Coote out because he had a shocker last week - I am genuinely concerned about the direction our refereeing is heading in whilst good men sit idle. These guys should be encouraged to become VAR specialists. Let the match day refs do their jobs - ‘assisted’ by VAR - which is how it works everywhere else in the world.

I’m keeping some gun powder dry because I’m assured change to VAR is coming - it will have to or the PL are going to lose their IFAB licence to operate it - but it will count for nothing if Riley isn’t removed from his post.

And if you enjoy both listening to and reading Mark Halsey - who was punished for his honesty - join me in my crusade to right a dreadful wrong. Let him and the PGMOL know what you think. They HAVE to pay him his exit package even if they don’t take him back into the fold.

And by the way Mike - you’d be amazed at how many of your current refs are constantly in touch with me about their frustrations. Why? Because I air them.

Sent from my iPhone

I had to - my thoughts on City’s ban

Published: Monday, 17 February 2020

Where to start? That’s the problem. There are so many different aspects to the Manchester City case.

What I know for sure is that I don’t want to see sanctions from the PL that would lead to City’s on-field achievements being expunged from the record books. I’m not Guardiola’s biggest fan - I think that came across pretty clearly in my most recent blog on the Spaniard - sorry, the Catalonian - but what his Manchester City have given us has been nothing short of breathtaking at times. Only United fans have failed to enjoy watching them and that’s understandable. You know my view - Guardiola has failed in both Munich and Manchester (so far) to deliver the one trophy he was employed to win, but the football has been joyous at The Etihad (can we still call it that?).

I know this isn’t a very strong argument - and there are many that will offer the alternative view - that they couldn’t have done it without the financial skulduggery that was going on - I get that, but none of it is the fault of the players employed to deliver the dreams. They did their bit with flair, brilliance and honesty. Although I’m not convinced Guardiola can argue the same mitigation. No - let the records and the trophies stand. City’s fans parted with their money believing in what they were being sold.

Are UEFA right to go after City? Yes. One hundred per cent. You can argue all day long about the merits of FFP, but it’s a waste of time doing so. City signed up to the rules. They knew what they were doing. No-one held a gun to Begiristain or Soriano’s heads Far smarter brains than mine will eventually decide - but right now it would appear that the management at City knew exactly what they were doing and wilfully decided to find a way to circumvent the rules. They got caught, so now they have to face the consequences.

Regular beINSPORTS watchers will know this is a story Andy and I have been talking about on K&G for many many months. What always surprised me was how little the rest of the UK press wanted to do with ‘Footie-leaks’. Time and again I spoke to friends back in the UK and asked ‘Why the silence?’ It seemed only Rob Harris, the excellent AP reporter, was prepared to ‘follow the money’. When he questioned Guardiola about these matters after the Cup Final last May it was as though he broke the code of ‘love Guardiola’. His line of questioning was frowned upon by the rest of the room. You could feel the dis-satisfaction. He was right though  And he was right to go after the story. I hope you’ve had a good week Rob.

Anyway - K&G. Almost weekly we’d speak to reporters at Der Spiegel. Some of the things they told us were mind blowing - but where were they getting the info from? Someone mentioned the name Rui Pinto to me. I went on line and dug about. He wasn’t a secret, but no-one was talking about him outside of Germany. And it was evident he’d seriously pissed off people in Portugal, his country of birth.

I don’t want to get too deeply into the story - it’s all available on-line - but it bothers me that as UEFA congratulate themselves on a job well done - the source of all their information is languishing in a Portuguese jail facing 90 separate counts of hacking, sabotage and fraud. He failed as recently as Thursday - 24 hours before City were nailed - with an appeal.

Amongst the allegations is the serious matter that he tried to extort a ‘generous donation’ out of Sporting Club of Portugal of between 500,000 and one million euros. If they paid - Pinto and his company,Doyen, would ‘lose’ some of the documents that would embarrass Sporting. We don’t know. It’s a charge unproven. What we do know is that City wouldn’t have been in the dock without Pinto’s information.

Here was the problem the British press had with the story. It’s City’s main line of defence as well. Can we use ‘stolen’ information to convict wrong-doers? I don’t know the answer - but my feeling is that it’s no bad thing if we use information- however it comes to light - to hold arrogance and rule-breakers to account.

City’s problems have delighted many - not least La Liga’s President Javier Tebas. But - again, I’d like to know where the line is when you’re ‘bending’ rules. Is it ok for Real Madrid to sell a square metre of their training ground to the govt for millions? It turned out it wasn’t and Real had to buy the land back - for a euro. That must’ve hurt!

Is it ok for the Spanish govt to treat Real and Barcelona as ‘special cases’ offering huge tax advantages to both clubs? It’s not really is it? If I was Senor Tebas I’d pipe down. It’s always been the case - don’t shine the torch to brightly into the corners of the room. Do we think everybody in Italy plays by the rules?

We won’t know the outcome of City’s appeal for some time yet - and here we go again - but, what if? Jonathan Wilson’s column in The Guardian today (Monday) makes for a fascinating read. What if - FIFA jump on this and manipulate it to their own end? What if City feel they don’t need UEFA? What if FIFA can offer riches enough to fill the void of a European ban with their own creative ideas and tournaments? What if....?

I don’t believe that route is one many other would follow, but football hasn’t stopped evolving since 1992, when the PL was set up. It remains the model that the rest of football would like to smash. So, what if.....?

West Ham - a car crash.

Published: Monday, 03 February 2020

‘Is it not even vaguely puzzling that Karen Brady is held up as a paragon of business virtue yet she runs a car crash of a football club?’ Not my words, but a tweet posted last week by the brilliant Ollie Holt.

Well? He’s correct isn’t he? Ollie has often written about Ms Brady. He’s not a fan. Check his work out online. Another article headlined ‘The Comical Ali World of Karen Brady’ will leap out at you. It’s another masterful piece. Unlike the majority of today’s sports writers Ollie isn’t a West Ham fan, so you’ll get a whole lot more sense and honesty out of him.

I hereby have to declare a mild conflict of interest. I don’t like Ms Brady either. We used to get on quite well but (under instruction) she had too much to say about my departure from Sky. Most of her views were inaccurate but she went onto abuse me with the most vile and inaccurate slurs. Her behaviour was scandalous. I’ve never responded and I’m not going to now. I’m saving it.

Ms Brady once claimed that her toughest battle in football was fighting sexism. Nonsense. Who cares about the sexuality of a Chief Executive, Chair, club owner or Board member? If she/he is good at what she/he does - fine. But - if they’re not they should expect criticism whether they are male or female. Or whatever other gender they maybe.

I called Ms Brady out on the shambles surrounding Avram Grant’s sacking. She f****d it up. Do you remember? One minute he was waving goodbye knowing full well he’d lost his job - the next he was back at work with West Ham denying they were sacking him. But they were. They were replacing him with Martin O’Neill. I’ve talked about this before - Graeme Souness and Big Sam had also been spoken to. How do I know? Because they both asked me my advice about taking it. What none of us knew then was that O’Neill had been offered it - Souness and Allardyce were insurance policies, who subsequently both said ‘no’ - but Ms Brady’s problem was that O’Neill changed his mind and decided not to take it. So - what else could she do but tell Grant to carry on? It was a shambles and had her Dad, Terry Brady, made such a pigs ear of the situation I’d have called him out too.

I’ve made myself very unpopular with West Ham fans down the years - but only by telling the truth. The trio that run your club have let you all down. It’s a mess. How David Gold has got the brass neck to ‘like’ a tweet referring to West Ham fans as ‘morons’ I don’t know. Hang your head in shame David and remember that you too are a West Ham fan.

Here’s my take. West Ham is a wonderful football club with glorious traditions trashed in the modern era. My first footballing hero was Bobby Moore. He must be turning in his grave. Having said that, I also believe that a lot of Hammers fans have an unrealistic view of what their club can achieve - perhaps fuelled by the current owners.

West Ham are NOT going to play Champions League football any time soon. Certainly not by buying fading 28-year-old Frenchmen for £8m on three-year contracts that are never renewed. And not by spunking £100m in panic on feint-hearts who don’t give a damn about the club. Who buys these players Mr Sullivan? And Manuel Pellegrini? Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

No. West Ham should hope to finish in the top half and enjoy the occasional Cup run - just like it always was. Big Sam knew that. Big Sam delivered half of that equation. Given time he would’ve had a go at a Cup as well.

I genuinely hope West Ham don’t go down again - largely for David Moyes sake. David, of course, master-minded the last great escape before being fired. Oh well.....

A couple of other things. Newcastle fans should hope that the group wanting to buy their club can pull things together by mid-February. They’re still at the table. And it’s not the Saudi’s. I was pleased when Steve Bruce cooled that nonsense. Well - it’s not the Saudi’s right now although it is fair to say they they’ve been ‘sniffing’ around.

Remember the ‘experts’ talking about an era of Manchester City domination a couple of years ago? It was Andy Gray that poured scorn on that. How right he was. I read today that some now believe City need a reboot and are seven players short. Will Guardiola be around to under-take that task next season? I’m not convinced.

I’m not getting into the VR mess at Spurs. I think you’ve all sussed the PGMOL out now. I’m told change is coming. It’s coming largely because the PL have been told they’ll lose their licence to operate VAR if it doesn’t. They have GOT to adopt IFAB protocol. It’s that simple. In making these up coming changes can I once again suggest that Mike Riley, the head of the PGMOL, be one of them? He has got to go if football in England is ever to recover from the arrogant mess that Riley inflicted on us. Only then will the healing process really start. I can’t wait to read my Twitter responses. Enjoy.....😂😂.

Klopp is correct. And give the Ch Exec’s job to Red Nev.

Published: Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Jurgen Klopp is one hundred per cent correct. He needs a break. His team need a break. And how can the FA argue any differently?

For years the FA have wanted a mid-season break and I’ve been a big supporter of the idea. It’s a must for modern day footballers. I’ve never quite understood the argument that it will help the England team because there aren’t too many Englishmen playing at the very top end of English football! Surely it’s more likely to help every other nation in the world - most of whom are represented in the PL now? Anyway, we’re miles behind the rest of Europe in handling the needs of the modern day player. Let’s be specific - the top end footballer.

We ask too much of them. At the last count I think there were 119 suffering injuries as a result of the madness of the Christmas and New Year schedule. Kane, Vardy and Rashford are amongst the high profile casualties.

I’m not suggesting the crazy holiday schedule was entirely to blame but it was certainly a factor. The real problem is the constant expectation of these young men. When do they ever properly rest? I don’t care how fit they are. How good the quality of care is. What their dietary care is. What the maintenance is - eventually the constant demands will take a toll on even the best.

We HAVE to find a way to make room for a complete break and not the mish mash that we’re stuck with this season - 10 on one week - 10 the next - unless there are Cup replays. What a nonsense.

The only answer isn’t popular with the smaller clubs, but it’s got to happen. We’ve got to drop Cup replays. And we should go straight to pens at 90 minutes. Who really wants an extra 30?

If you think this undermines the integrity of the competition let me tell you - you’re wrong. However much we try to convince ourselves differently the FA Cup no longer matters to the majority. If you want to win the PL you’re not interested. If you’re chasing a European place you’re not interested. If you’re trying to avoid relegation from the PL you’re not interested. If you’re trying to get up from the Championship you’re not interested. If you’re trying to stay in the Championship you’re not interested. So that’s just about every team in the top two divisions. And it will be won by one of the top six - again.

if you want to encourage the odd ‘upset’ make sure the PL teams all play away from home in Round 3.

The glory days of a Hereford beating Newcastle - a Wrexham beating Arsenal - a Leatherhead beating Leicester - they’re gone. It won’t happen anymore. So adjust. Change. Oh - and drop one of the Lesgue Cup semi-final legs. All that would make a difference.

And so to the mess at Old Trafford, which is something I’d promised myself to move on from, but I’ve got one last thing to say on the subject.

Mr Ed has got to go. How long have I been saying that for? And how long ago did I suggest that Gary Neville was positioning himself for the job? 

He didn’t exactly say that he wanted it last week, but he took a first very public step towards getting it when he called for Woodward to be sacked He’s right. Woodward’s position is untenable. You can’t keep making the costly mistakes that he has and not eventually have to answer for them.

Woodward has presided over a period of constant demise at United. He’s spent a billion chasing players while appointing and sacking three managers already. Solskjaer will be the fourth. This can’t go on.

Neville is the answer. He does big business deals. He’s got advice for almost everybody in their chosen profession. He’s United to the core. He knows what players want. And his coaching days are over. As he discovered for himself at Valencia - he’s not a coach nor is he ever going to be.

But he is a leader. Anyone that can take a squad of England players to the brink of refusing to play for their country must have extra-ordinary powers of persuasion.

Woodward’s time was up before the terrible decision to appoint Solskjaer full-time. Of course what’s happening there is Ole’s fault. He’s making the decisions about playing style and buying and selling - but the decision to put him in was madness and Woodward needs to be called to account. Ask yourself this - the same question I’ve posed often - when United appointed Solskjaer which other PL team would’ve done that? The answer is not one. None. No-one. So what made Woodward think it was a good idea?

He’s good at deals but hopeless when it comes to understanding football. Neville knows both and he wouldn’t be the only X-pro from United now operating on the business side. Look at the job Edwin van der Sar is credited with doing at Ajax.

United fans shouldn’t be making vile threats to ‘kill’ Woodward. They should be demonstrating to get him out - and get Red Nev in.

Predictions? Who’d be so daft....?

Published: Tuesday, 21 January 2020

If I could get all my predictions right you wouldn’t be reading this now. I’d have done the lottery when I lived in the UK and f****d off a long time ago.

Predicting is a dangerous business. I’ve been haunted by mine that Everton might finish about Liverpool two/three seasons back. Liverpool fans have never let me forget it. What they don’t seem to remember though is that I predicted a title win for their team last season - and went again this time round. Well done me!

The reason for the ‘Everton’ tweet was simple. My mate Steve Walsh was doing some of the buying there at the time and I wanted to show support. He was caught up in a three-way tussle for power and not getting his way on a lot so I weighed in on his behalf. Sadly it’s all gone horribly wrong at Goodison, but at the time there wasn’t a lot between The Toffees and Liverpool. Would I like to see Everton chasing prizes and European football again? Of course I would. The mess they’re in after such big spending is a travesty. How different it might have been had Bill Kenwright not been chasing vanity signings and Koeman hadn’t been buying players that weren’t good enough through his own agent . What we do know is that if they’d trusted Walsh and had a more co-ordinated transfer policy they’d have been more effective in the market.

Anyway. That’s one that went spectacularly wrong. It hasn’t stopped me offering support to mates mind you and nor will it. I was happy to nudge United along encouraging them to get the Harry Maguire deal done on behalf of a mate. And I’m delighted that I stuck my neck out and gave Steve Bruce my unequivocal support. I’m still waiting for the Toon bullies that disagreed to admit they were wrong but I’m not holding my breath!

And so to a couple of other predictions that I made pre-season. I said Norwich would struggle. I had them down to finish bottom. There’s a fair way to go in this season yet - but where are they?

I had Bournemouth down as one of my three to be relegated. This wasn’t a simple rash guess - it was based on the way they finished last season. From the start of last January they won only three games of 18 played. Relegation form - but they got away with it because the early part of the season went well. Now they’ve lost 10 of their last 12 and haven’t scored in their last four. As I mentioned last week - all that after a £234m spend in the four and a half years that they’ve been in the PL. They're in free fall. Jeff Mostyn has a bid decision to make. I’d make a change before it’s too late. Eddie Howe needs a new challenge. Bournemouth need a lift. Call for Big Sam before the window closes. He’s good - but he’ll need more than they’ve got down there to get them out of trouble.

So, that’s two correct right now - but, of course, there’s plenty of time for both clubs to get out.

My third call for the drop was between Brighton and Crystal Palace. I did add the rider that Palace would be ok if they held onto Zaha. I was making these predictions before the August window closed. He’s so important to them, as he showed at City. In one explosive moment he changes games. There aren’t that many payers that can do that. Villa’s Jack Grealish is another. There’s a confidence about him now. An arrogance. That’s good because he knows he can deliver. I’m sure he’ll leave at the end of the season, and I still believe Villa will have enough to stay up. Both can move on productively if that happens.

Palace have got enough now even if Zaha leaves in this window - but what about Brighton? Nobody at The Amex should be anything other than concerned about the rest of their season. Again - as I pointed out last week - they’re still two points and one place worse off than they were a year ago. They had the fight of their lives to stay up then.  It’ll be Interesting to see if Graham Potter is still splitting centre-backs and trying to play out when it gets a bit tight from March onwards.

I’m pleased with my call re-Sheffield United as well. Not for a minute did I think they’d struggle.

I’m also interested to see a few more people agreeing with me that Jurgen Klopp has had a dramatically bigger influence on his club than Guardiola has had at City. If you’re not a regular let me explain. So far Guardiola has won nothing at City that the two previous managers hadn’t. Klopp has ended 30 years of hurt at Anfield. He’s also won a CL, which Guardiola has still failed to do without Messi. Here’s another prediction - you’ll hear more about this elsewhere going forward!

I said VAR would be a nightmare. That it wouldn’t add anything to our game. Anyone care to disagree? We’re edging towards the correct use of the system now - only because IFAB and FIFA have warned the PL about the way we use it - but it’s still far from workable. Ask yourself - how many times should a match day ref have gone to a monitor this weekend to check his own decisions? We’ll get there - but Mike Riley will be dragged kicking and screaming towards acceptance. When he has been he should quit - or be fired if he won’t walk.

One change I would be happy to see - and I predict isn’t far off from being adopted - independent time keepers. It’s a MUST. How can Michael Oliver take 3’10” to adjust equipment during the first half of Watford’s game and then add on only two minutes? This happens week after week with VAR as well. We’re being short changed. What’s wrong with somebody else taking this task from the ref?

So there we have it. As my old boss at tv-AM, the genius Aussie Bruce Gyngell, used to say ‘no-one else will give you credit for what you do - so make sure you do yourself’. Good on ya Bruce!!

The Right Way...?

Published: Monday, 13 January 2020

I exchanged messages with a PL manager last week. We were discussing the smoke and mirrors which the modern game exists behind. It ended with him saying ‘there’s so much fake news these days’. He’s right, but it’s how it is now. Football has evolved. The media has changed. It’s life - nothing is forever - it’s how it should be, but it is still quite hard to get your head round sometimes.

Here’s an example. I read today (Monday) that ‘Inter Milan have made Christian Eriksson’s agent an offer....’. Amazing. Clubs used to make each other offers - then agents were involved in the process! Not anymore, as Mourinho might say. 

Everybody has an opinion that can be expressed now. Again, nothing wrong with that. It should never be the case that the man/woman that shouts the loudest should be lauded and regarded as the only person fit to pass a judgement. Noise doesn’t equate to quality.

When Andy and I started working at TalkSPORT I was told ‘we want to hear what you think’. That flew in the face of everything I’d been doing previously. But it was liberating. I enjoyed it. I’ve continued to grow opinions ever since - I like shaping this blog, returning to a form of journalism and communication that remains king, despite all the changes - the written word.

But I’m always conscious that no matter what I believe I will bow to experience. I didn’t play. Andy did. I’ve always been grateful that I can turn to him and ask - ‘what’s it like to win the title? What’s it like to score the winning goal in a cup final? What’s it like to score in a European final - in fact, every final you played in?’ I can also ask ‘what’s it like to be relegated?’ 😂😂.

My point is that no matter what we believe - and I repeat - of course we can all have an opinion, only when you’ve been there and done it can you express a view with the confidence of experience.

When I started out journalists would report on the match they’d watched  - a young pup like me would provide the ‘quotes’ after scuffling about in and around the tunnel after games. The ‘desk’ would weave the report and quotes together. Simple stuff. Factual stuff.

Now journalists are experts in everything. I read a piece in The Mirror last week which explained the genius behind Arsenal’s win over Manchester United. I read that ‘Arteta’s tactics - pointedly similar to Guardiola’s possession-centric, high pressing aesthetic at Manchester City - were too complex for the United players to get to grips with’. Really? What exactly does that mean? Are Arsenal’s ‘group’ all members of Mensa? Are United so thick as a collective that they don’t know how to do their boots up? I read about ‘inverted right-backs’ and ‘flat threes in the middle’. I won’t bore you with the rest of it. I was bamboozled reading it so no wonder United couldn’t play against it. I did wonder what happened to this cutting edge science in Arsenal’s 1-1 draws against Bournemouth and Palace and in the defeat to Chelsea before I text Andy and asked him to try and give me some idea of what it all meant.

Seriously. What nonsense, but it’s how it’s gone. There’s no reason at all as to why the author shouldn’t express his view, but he must accept that he’s also open to analysis.

The article’s conclusion was that Arteta tries to play football ‘the right way’. What exactly is that? At Bournemouth, playing ‘the right way’ has seen Eddie Howe’s team lose nine of their last 11. They’re in big trouble four and a half years after breaking financial fair play regulations to get into the PL - and after spending £234m in their time in the big league.

Graham Potter’s brave new world at Brighton saw him rewarded with a contract extension after half a dozen games. What a relief it was to see Brighton shrug off the suffocating cloak that Chris Hughton had imposed. Potter plays football ‘the right way’. Just one thing - at this same stage last season Brighton were two points better off and one place higher - although they had scored a goal less. They’ve conceded exactly the same number of goals. Smoke and mirrors. And why the contract extension? I’ll tell you why - so that Dan Ashworth could justify the decision he made to get rid of Hughton. #fakenews.

Times change, but let’s not get too carried away with the belief that football was invented by Pep Guardiola and the way he enjoys watching the game played is the only way that it should be. There is no ‘right way’. There are ‘different ways’ thank goodness. There always has been. There always will be.

What has evolved is how we absorb it. How we’re fed it. But let’s not take that too seriously either. Only my late Mum stopped watching TV-am and Sky Sports when I left their employment. Nobody switched off 5-live because Pougers wasn’t presenting Sports Report last weekend. Change is necessary and can’t be stopped. We should do all we can to encourage today’s Vloggers/Bloggers/writers - but remember that you can’t buy experience and someone that’s done it - been there as it were - will always have a more valid opinion than the rest of us amateurs.

VAR shambles is now a full blown crisis

Published: Monday, 30 December 2019

Well you can’t say I didn’t warn you. And what was simply a shambles has become a full blown crisis. Mike Riley and his team of half trained amateurs are reducing the best league in the world to a laughing stock. VAR is not working. It hasn’t brought anything positive to the game. It won’t. It can’t.

Riley continues to puff his chest out trying to convince us all that VAR has been an unprecedented success. That only four wrong calls have been made all season. Forgive me - every time I mention that ridiculous claim I fall about laughing. Hold on.....I’ll be back.

Ok. That’s better. Four mistakes? Please. There’s very nearly four in every game.

What is the point of VAR - or VR as I call it? It is VR. We have ‘video refs’. They make all the big calls in the Stockley Park bunker. It’s nonsense.

This is something else I’ve been banging on about - to the point of almost total boredom. Now, it seems, the penny has dropped. I messaged four different PL managers this weekend who all agreed that I’d been correct on this all along. Then Nuno Espirito Santo said exactly the same thing. And Klopp. Stop it. It’s ridiculous. Still we’re the only league in the world operating like this. Why? So Riley can have full control of all the decisions making? And on that basis he should take full responsibility for the mess and quit. I’ve said this before as well. He simply has to go. Only then will we have a chance of sorting this mess out.

I call his VR watchers ‘amateurs‘ because that’s exactly what they are. I’ve spent 35 years watching football on tv - working with the best ever - Andy Gray. He’s still the best. He was the first talking about 25 frames/second therefore proving that the technology can’t be accurate. Which frame do we use to check off-side? The one when the ball is on the foot? The one as it leaves? You become used to watching the game differently when you’ve been at it as long as we have. Every time the PGMOL trot out some nonsense to justify a decision we can prove them wrong. I wouldn’t expect to be given a whistle and to ref a game. That’s for experts. Leave watching tv pictures to experts. You can’t ref a game from screens.

What about these daft lines they put on to ‘prove’ players are off-side? They’re not accurate. They can’t be. The technology isn’t that good - even the PGMOL accept that there’s got to be a ‘margin of error’ and yet they fail to factor that in when trying to find a reason to disallow another goal because an arm pit, a toe or a long nose is offside. That’s not why VAR was brought in. It was to correct things that were obviously wrong - like Willy Boly’s handball goal at Molineux last season. Like Henry’s in the WC qualifier against Ireland. Things that hadn’t been seen in real time. When Gianni Infantino tried to tell me Maradona’s goal would’ve been ruled out by VAR my response was - ‘it should’ve been anyway. The only two people in the stadium that didn’t see it were the lino and the ref. Or perhaps they did see it and ignored it?’ He didn’t like that, but it’s true. Ask any England player on the pitch that day if that’s how they felt and I’m sure they’ll tell you ‘yes’.

We’ve now seen 31 goals ruled out by the ‘anti-goals Police’ this season - 21 of them for ‘offside’. It’s complete madness. Scoring goals is what teams work at doing. Goals are what we pay to see. We should be looking for reasons to give them. There are some ‘pundits’ that remain convinced we need VAR and believe it’s working. ‘The lines prove players are offside. And what’s the alternative?’ Simple. Do as MLS does - use the naked eye. If a player is obviously offside we shouldn’t need VAR - but it’s not going away now - so use the naked eye. Give the forward back the age old view that he/she should have the advantage of ‘doubt’.

We at #beINSPORTS have led the way on VAR discussions - from our original warnings that it would add nothing to the game - right through this weekend when a fully blown crisis evolved.

Where is Richard Masters, the ‘by default’ new MD of the PL? He hasn’t muttered a word. Is he too scared? Is he not able to because his predecessor Richard Scudamore, who once talked of ‘big titted broads and gash’, is still hanging about protecting his man Riley? Not a word. The silence is deafening.

All over the world people are asking ‘what’s happening in the PL?’ What was once the ‘greatest’ league in the world has been reduced to laughing stock. Is that what we want? Really?

We can’t even celebrate goals anymore. How sad that it was Klopp that admitted he doesn’t bother. This can’t be right.

The decision makers are too proud to admit they got it wrong, so VAR - or our version VR - will stay. But they’ve got to sort this mess out. Oh - if you think I’m a smart arse because I called it - don’t listen to me - read Mssrs Halsey and Hackett. They’re the only two calling it as it is because they’re not on the PGMOL payroll. The rest are all paid patsies. They do as they’re told.

I can’t believe I’ve spent all this time venting - so how about we talk about the football?

Welcome back David Moyes, although how West Ham have got the bare faced cheek to invite him back I don’t know. They dumped all over him 18 months ago. Dig the blog out that I wrote then and check out the abuse West Ham fans poured all over me. I’m not going to say it - but......

What a job Nigel Pearson is doing. I’ll repeat last week’s prediction - he’ll get Watford out. Those falling into danger would appear to be Bournemouth, where Eddie Howe has so far got away with blowing a fortune for no return - but, of course, he plays the game the ‘right way’, so that’s ok. No. Pearson does. He wins games.

Brighton also play the ‘right way’ now. But be careful down there. I want Villa out of the drop zone. They’re a ‘proper’ club and the league needs them. Norwich will go. I’ve said that all along.

Anyway - have a great New Year. My resolution? To keep calling for Mike Riley to go. Join me. We want our game back.

Swap Ancelotti and Arteta

Published: Monday, 23 December 2019

The first thing to say is ‘welcome back to the PL Carlo’. For me, he’s the daddy of them all. What hasn’t he won? Where hasn’t he managed? He’s done the lot. More than that - he’s a good man. I know that because my friend, the late great Ray Wilkins, had nothing but admiration for him. He loved his time working with Ancelotti at Chelsea.

Do we remember how it all ended? Yep - in the tunnel at Everton after Chelsea had been spanked. Roman Abramovic had sacked him before he’d even left the ground. What a lovely irony then that Ancelotti is back in the English game at the place where it ended so shabbily last time.

Not that Ancelotti cared too much. He went on to earn a small fortune in Paris, Madrid and Munich - where he kept on winning - before returning to Italy at Naples.

Naples? That decision raised a few eye brows - and not just Ancelotti’s stray left brow! I’m not being clever after the event, but those of us who had doubts about that move were eventually proven correct. It just never felt like an easy fit.

That’s my reservation again with Everton. I wish him all the luck in the world and I desperately hope it works. Everton are a fine club and a big part of me admires the fact that they’ve gone out on a limb and appointed the Italian, but it doesn’t feel right.

I’ve always felt that Ancelotti is a man with star dust in his pockets. That extra added magical ingredient that he sprinkles around big clubs. This is different. This is a massive build from the bottom up. It’s a project. If he’s up for it - and Farad Moshiri is going to back him - then fine. But I can’t help feeling uneasy about it all.

His first signing has to be a statement. It’s got to be the equivalent of Robinho joining Man City. It’s got to be a player that will convince others to join. So who? Christian Erikssen? Jack Grealish? Aubameyang? Zlatan? The truth is - I don’t know. It’s not easy is it?

The first one will be expensive. They’ve got to throw everything at whoever it is - and then keep going. Then go again - and again.

There’s no doubt that Ancelotti has the gravitas to entice big players to Goodison - but..... It’s a big but - will they fancy it? And will Ancelotti fancy getting his hands dirty? I’ve got nagging doubts.

I think he was better suited to what Arsenal needed. I’ve said time and again that I don’t believe there’s too much wrong there. Ancelotti would’ve got big players firing almost straight away. He’d have added the star dust I mentioned earlier. Perfect.

In a strange way Mikel Arteta will have the same issues as Ancelotti when it comes to signing big players. On the plus side he’s got location, location, location on his side. Playing and living in London is what they all want to do now. City’s money and Guardiola is a powerful draw - so is Klopp’s charisma - but are the best players going to sign for United anymore? Are Everton anymore attractive? I think we know the answer. Will Arteta have the charisma to persuade top names to join him?

Getting Arteta out of City was always going to be a problem if he knew he was getting the job after Guardiola. The minute he knew that wasn’t going to be the case, then Arteta was up for a move and I think he’d have been perfect for Everton.

Liverpool fans won’t thank me for saying it - but I’ve always believed that Everton are a special club. It’s different. Don’t ask me to explain it because I can’t. But it is different and that’s why I’ve always said that whoever was managing the club needed to understand that first and foremost. It’s why I’ve always said that he also needs to have had a ‘touch of the ball’ at Goodison. Who were the successful managers in the modern era? Kendall and Royle. David Moyes got it from the minute he walked in the door and announced that he was proud to be taking over ‘the people’s club’. That’s why he was the exception to the rule.

Arteta would’ve been perfect - building from the ground up. Building slowly. Carefully. Thoughtfully. Buying players to be part of a ‘project’. No vanity signings.

That’s my big fear with Ancelotti - that Moshiri has got his big name coach, but is the Italian the ‘right one’ - let alone his ‘special one’? Only time will tell - but I really do wish both clubs had appointed the other man.

I thought the weekends football was largely underwhelming, but I was chuffed to bits for Nigel Pearson. Here we go - prediction time - he’ll keep Watford up!

Well played Super Frankie Lampard. Chelsea needed that - but forcing Mourinho into system changes and handing out a lesson on his own patch? Brilliant. Mind you - Antony Taylor was hopeless. Absolutely hopeless. He missed everything. Why did he need VR to award Chelsea a pen? It was so obvious in real time. We all called it. Why did he need VR to send Son off? He was looking at the incident for goodness sake. Mike Riley will be congratulating himself claiming VR got it right. Of course it did. It could hardly fail - but it wasn’t needed.

Conversely it was needed when Spurs should’ve had two penalties for fouls in the box. Where was VR then? Sleeping? Were they making a cup of tea? The system remains seriously flawed - but worse than that the standard of our refereeing has slumped dramatically under Riley. Where are the Howard Webb’s? The Clattenburg’s? We’re a million miles from producing world class officials again.  

It took a while, but in conversation with Gianni Infantino here in Qatar last week, I eventually got him to concede that the PGMOL are mis-using VAR. As we’ve been saying on beINSPORTS all season - the match official HAS to have the final say. Infantino was in total agreement   That’s why I differentiate between VR - video reffing as the PL does - and VAR. Riley has got to stop being so stubborn and join up with the rest of the world.

A final word for Mike Keegan on The Mail. If you’d had your life trashed - scum bag national newspapers breaking into your sick Mum’s house for quotes and an odious campaign of hate orchestrated by your former employers - you too might keep a little. bit of anger in your back pocket. For the record - I’ve never been happier.

Guardiola - hit or miss?

Published: Monday, 16 December 2019

‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’. Brilliant. And the answer from John Cleese as he sat round with his fellow rebels from The People’s Front of Judia was pure genius. It’s still funny. Many different versions of the question still get asked today.

So - ‘what has Pep Guardiola ever done for us?’. The question, of course, requires an answer.

His achievements at Barcelona are without question. He won everything time and again. And he won with style. He won with a brand of football that had us all drooling. Barca were sensational during that period. But - he had Messi. And the footballing microsurgeons would argue that he inherited a team that Frank Rijkaard had built. A Rijkaard team that had started winning trophies again before Guardiola succeeded the Dutchman.

How often is it the case that a man’s greatest strength can also be his greatest weakness? That’s true in many other walks of life. Take Messi. Wonderful footballer. For some - the best ever. His talent is without question. I watched him tear Arsenal apart single handedly one CL night. He was unplayable. But - and there is always a but - those closest to Barca will tell you he’s a difficult boy to handle and popular myth has it that Guardiola tired of his demanding behaviour. So he left.

Next stop Bayern - with one objective - win the CL. Remember, he got the job in the December/January of a season that was shaping up to be ok under Jupp Heynckes, but nothing more. What an irony then that Heynckes went on to complete an incredible treble, which included winning the CL! That really left Guardiola with nowhere to go. He won titles and cups - but didn’t get near the one thing that he was employed to deliver - the CL. So - hit or miss?

I’ve no idea. I didn’t see enough of Bayern to make any kind of decision. Ok, he missed out on the big one - without Messi - but there are some who believe what he did during his time in Germany laid the foundation of their WC win 2014, although what Joachim Low would make of that, again, I’m not sure.

Next stop was City of course. And he would’ve been there 12 months before he took it had it not been for us at beINSPORTS. You’ve got to have a grasp of the politics of the region I now live in to understand that. The deal was done around about January of 2015. I said so and so my did Arabic colleagues at beINSPORTS. That was enough to send City’s Abu Dhabi based owners into meltdown. There was no way they were having their thunder stolen like that - so Pellegrini was very publicly given that contract extension but the buying of Guardiola’s targets started.

We’ve marvelled at some of the football played by his City. It’s been joyous. Resisting Liverpool as they did last season was incredible. Winning a domestic treble had never been done. There’s been De Bruyne’s grace. Sterling’s fleet of foot. Aguero’s goals. Kompany’s leadership. Silva’s magic. But.....

The holy grail at City is the CL. They haven’t been close under Guardiola. Ok, so they were ‘unlucky’ last season. So we’re a few other teams. City haven’t even made a final. Nor has Guardiola - without Messi. Today’s (Monday) last 16 draw doesn’t make the job anymore inviting this season.

Back to those microsurgeons. Yes, there was the unprecedented treble, but have City won anything that they didn’t under the previous two managers? No, they haven’t. It was Mancini that laid the foundation stones. He turned City from the team that won ‘cups for cocks ups’ into winners. Into believers. Into believing that they could adapt to adversity and get over the line. Agueroooooooo. I rest my case.

City have gone backwards. There’s no excuse for not being able to cope with injuries. Not when you’re the richest club in the world. Not when you’ve got the best part of £100m worth of central defenders that you’ve bought but now don’t fancy. Same with the left-back.

I’m hearing that Guardiola is all but done at City. The smart money says he’s off to coach Beckham’s Inter Miami and will be in charge of the US national team in time for the 2026 WC. If that’s true - does he leave City a hit or a miss?

Well done again Big Dunc. If he keeps producing results Everton will have to give him the job - but it would be a mistake in my opinion. They need more than raw ‘passion’ (a word I hate). Dunc got a tune out of tue Toffees again at OT, but what he did to Moise Kean wasn’t just unnecessary, it was unforgivable. Shame on you big man.

As I write it looks as though Mikel Arteta is in the box seat for Arsenal. If it’s his I wish him well. Arsenal are drifting - rudderless - and an appointment needs to be made quickly. My ideal man would be Carlo Ancelotti - a serial winner with ALL the big clubs. He’s experienced. He knows how to handle big players. He’s a class act. He’s available. I don’t see an argument for not giving him the job. If they don’t, Arsenal’s loss would be Everton’s gain - if they could persuade the Italian to join them. I don’t get the ‘dither and delay’ at Goodison. They’ve shaken hands with David Moyes, but have now backed off. Why? For Ancelotti - ok. For Duncan - not for me.

And today’s stunning stat to finish with. Stats can tell you anything you want depending on how you read them - so make of this what you will. Manchester United are one point worse off than they were at this time a year ago when they sacked Mourinho!!

Improbable - yes. Impossible - no.

Published: Monday, 09 December 2019

He couldn’t - could he? It’s improbable. But impossible? Well, that’s what we said when Leicester mounted their last title charge.

Right now Liverpool are red hot favourites. City are out of it - trust me on that. There is absolutely no way they’ll come back from a 14-point deficit. No way.

Last season they resisted Liverpool’s relentless march with gritty determination - a fair slice of good fortune, and with a real belief that they couldn’t be beaten over the line. They were good. Very, very good.

But I don’t see that same grit now. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if they haven’t been sussed. Plan A is glorious When it works - beautiful to watch - but I’m not seeing Plan B. Everton used Plan B to great effect on Saturday, but could City do that? I think we know the answer.

So they’re are out for me, leaving them with the perfect chance to have a run at the CL. That’s the holy grail at The Etihad. Just as he was in Munich, Guardiola was brought in to win it. He failed in Germany (without Messi) and he’s so far failed in England (without Messi)

I’m not deriding the successes that he has had, but between them Mancini and Pelegrini won the same trophies. Guardiola’s job was to win the big one. It still is. And I would add this - if he wants to win it this season he’s going to have to get his team in much better shape by the time the CL resumes than it is now. And this from the man that told you he was going to City 18 months before anyone would admit it - don’t rule out this being his last season. Inter Miami calling......

So, to explain the way I started. Improbable? Well, unlikely you’d think. But impossible? Absolutely not. Leicester City are bang in this title race.

Be frightened Liverpool. Be very very frightened. I mentioned it in passing last week, but now everybody connected with Liverpool has got to consider the nightmare scenario that it’s Brendan Rodgers that denies them their first title win in 30 years. Wouldn’t that just be the greatest irony of all time? The man sacked to make way for Klopp derails the best chance they've had since Kenny Dalglish won it in 1990.

I thought Liverpool would win it last year. I felt that if they didn’t they never would, but the CL win concentrated minds and I see a real determination about them to get the job done. I’m sure they’re going to win it. But.....the bogey man isn’t going to let them ease up. I can’t wait for Boxing Day when the two meet. If Rodgers wins that one then it really is game on.

I was chuffed to bits for Big Dunc. What a great way to start - maybe even make the best pitch he could for the Everton job full-time. I’m not convinced that would be the right decision, but I’m certain it was the correct thing to bin Silva. Dig out my blog from the time he was appointed at Goodison. You’ll see I didn’t fancy him then and nothing ever changed. He was a chancer. He always got out of town just before being found out - but not this time. I don’t think we’ll see him again in England.

Welcome back Nigel Pearson. I’m so pleased he’s back in. He’s a great guy, who I don’t think ever really gets the credit he deserves for the part he played in the re-build at Leicester.

We’ve spent a fair few hours with him at beINSPORTS in the time that he’s been out and I can promise you he’s a ‘football’ man to the core. He can be a little ‘left field’, but it takes all sorts!

Pearson’s comeback tips the balance of power in the PL back in the Brits and Irish favour. At the weekend 11 of our boys were in charge. I’m criticised for a lot - especially my call that the Brit pack be given some of our top jobs. It’s important that we’re well represented for many reasons - but the biggest has to be that our guys need to know there is no ceiling on what they can achieve if they decide to go into coaching.

And you knew I was going to mention it - what about Brucey? Newcastle fans must be hating what he’s doing! He’s proving that not only Rafa can manage that club. He’s 10 points better off than the Toon weren’t this stage last season - and there’s not a hint of turmoil behind the scenes. I had hoped one or two of you serial abusers in the North East might’ve had the good grace to withdraw some of your vile abuse. No - I’m kidding. I knew you wouldn’t but I do hope the rest of your season continues as it is now. Oh - and you never know, Santa might yet have a surprise for you. 👍🏼👍🏼