Give it a rest Rafa.

Published: Monday, 13 September 2021

Let’s first wish Harvey Elliott a speedy and full recovery. What a talent he’s looked. I said (Saturday)to Andy on beINSPORTS ‘he’s made himself undroppable’. He had. And I’m certain he will again.

For me, no blame attached to Pascal Struijk. Ref Craig Pawson didn’t see a foul either, but rightly stopped play as soon as he realised there was a problem. Top marks for that, but from that point he let himself down. Struijk should never have been sent off. I’d be surprised if Leeds don’t win an appeal. Emotions were running high - especially Jurgen Klopp’s - but he shouldn’t have been on the pitch berating Pawson. Was it co-incidence that Pawson produced a red card straight after guiding Klopp back to his technical area? We’ll never know for sure.

I asked our guys to check with the PGMOL match centre who advised Pawson to show red. Twice - not once but twice, because I couldn’t believe the first answer - we were told It was Andy Madley, the 4th official. Twice we were told it wasn’t referred to VAR. That really surprised me because my understanding is that with any red it’s protocol for VAR to look at it. ‘No, not so’ we were told. ‘It was Madley’s call’.

This morning I read Mark Clattenburg in The Mail and he’s insistent that it was Darren England and VAR that made the decision. Someone is telling porky’s again guys. I’ll never let up on asking - so get your stories straight eh?

Anyway. As emotional a scene as it was - it doesn’t mean that the correct decisions shouldn’t be made. Klopp shouldn’t have been on the pitch and It wasn’t a red. If we allow managers onto the field of play every time they see something they don’t like we’re on a slippery slope. The FA should censure Klopp.

The game was terrific. And Liverpool were awesome. They’re back to their best and it’s good to see. Leeds should beat more than they lose playing as they did - but they’ve got to be careful. It could yet turn into a long season.

Who said this? ‘My life as a manager has normally been with teams where we did not have too much money and we had to sell players to bring in players. As I have said before, we are lucky to have owners who want to spend money and we have to find a way to do it properly’.

This guy has managed Valencia, Liverpool, Real Madrid (for 6 months) Inter (for 6 months) Chelsea (temporarily) Napoli and Newcastle - where he spent £102m on 18 players before a successful tilt at the championship.

You’ve got it. I know you have. As we all know, he left Tyneside for a ‘long term project’ in China, (where they print money) but was back after 18 months looking for a job. The one he got surprised a few people - but not me. He’d been trying like a bear to get it for years. I hope he does it well because he’s with a club I like a lot - but come on Rafa. You’re having a laugh. Never had money?

At which of the above list of teams didn’t he have money? He’s always had money. The problem has been that he’s always wanted more money - more than the owners of those clubs would trust him with.

Now he’s in the last chance saloon he’s got to behave. There isn’t another one for him after Everton - so he isn’t looking to fall out with the owners like he did Mike Ashley.

Where I do have some sympathy is that by Everton’s recent standards he’s had only buttons so far. David Moyes worked with both hands tied behind his back at Goodison and it looks at though Benitez will have to.

A small fortune - £450m - has pumped into Everton in recent seasons. By whom isn’t clear. Farhad Moshiri fronts the operation - but whatever the source - I don’t see the flow continuing.

In my part of the world it’s not a surprise to hear that someone is hawking a football club about looking for money. On the day I arrived here - eight years ago - I bumped into a mate, in a bar, who was looking to construct a deal to sell Man Utd - not that he had a mandate to! I’ve heard Liverpool mentioned - in fact - you name a club and there’s an accompanying story of someone trying to sell it. Few are ever true. There’s lots of sellers - but no takers.

But my ears did prick up recently when a friend of mine told me he’d been offered Everton. The price - £500m and a guarantee of £500m to finish Bramley Dock. The figures seemed realistic so I asked a few questions. My conclusion was that it was a bonafide offer. It was turned down - but it suggests that the current owners of Everton want out. Whether that’s good news or not I don’t know. Of course, a denial is only to be expected - but whatever the truth, I can’t see Benitez getting the same flow of money that he’s generally had elsewhere. It’s back to the future for Everton - to the days when David Moyes worked miracles year after year. I wonder if Benitez has got the stomach for a frugal ‘long term’ project?

Ronaldo - a romantic signing or the last piece in the jigsaw?

Published: Tuesday, 31 August 2021

I’ve spent all day thinking of things to write about other than Ronaldo - or Cristiano as half the world knows him. For Madrid fans there’s only one Ronaldo and it’s not the one United have just signed. Anyway - after the stunning events of last Friday it’s impossible to discuss anything else.

I’m a fan. I’m a huge fan of Ronaldo’s. I’ve always said - of the two incredible talents that we’re privileged to have watched this past decade - him and Messi - he was always my favourite.

In my opinion, what gives him the edge is that he’s conquered three of the five big leagues. He’s never ducked a challenge. He’s been awesome. The header that he got, when he was in the air for what seemed like a week, was a stunner. Only he could’ve scored that goal. He’s led his country with distinction and smashed almost every club football record that you can think of. And I’m delighted that he’s going to be playing in the PL again.

But there’s no use pretending - he’s not what he was. Will he still score goals? Of course he will. Is he the missing piece? No. And his presence at OT might have the opposite effect to the one their punters are all dreaming of. I’ll get back to that.

He’s already had the effect the Glazers wanted. The share price was up 8% Friday. Facebook and Instagram followers were up by a million. When they’ve worked out what number jersey he’ll wear, they’ll fly out of the door. It’s a brilliant piece of business by the owners - which is something that, so far, has escaped the attention of United fans. It’s everything that they’ve been protesting against. It’s the Glazers printing money for themselves again. I don’t have a problem with that. People don’t buy big football clubs to lose money, but there is still a belief among fans - and mainly United fans - that they should.

The way the deal was done was classic cloak and dagger. I can’t think of a transfer that’s been done so quietly since Southampton signed Kevin Keegan in the 70’s. That one took the breath away. This was the modern day equivalent. But it bothers me why it was done.

There’s no question that Ronaldo was going to Manchester City last Friday lunchtime. That’s when Fergie, Fernandes and Ronaldo’s old neighbour, Rio Ferdinand, got involved. Calls from all three helped change Ronaldo’s mind. Two hours later he was United’s. 

I know I’ve played fast and loose with the time line there - but it happened pretty much like that.

The point is - he doesn’t appear to have been on United’s radar. There’s nothing to suggest that Solskjaer and his coaching team had put a long term plan together to bring Ronaldo ‘home’. It was more a deal motivated by blind panic that Ronaldo was about to join the noisy neighbours. That’s no way to go about planning. Or building. 

What does Solskjaer do with him? How does he fit him in? Who makes way? Whose progress is stunted by Ronaldo’s return? Who takes pens? Who takes free-kicks? I know it sounds silly - but it’s often these little things that cause friction. Fernandes won’t want to give them up. Ronaldo definitely won’t step away from them.

Ronaldo is a superstar. He knows it. He’ll most likely bring with him all of the things that Fergie hated about David Beckham - and why he ultimately sold him. It could end up another circus.

I’ve said that I fancy United for the title this season - before Ronaldo was signed. He’ll scores goals. He’ll have a huge impact in some games. And I repeat - it’s great to have him back in the PL - but I’m not convinced that he wouldn’t have been better off going to The Etihad - and that United might have been better off encouraging him there. ‘Returns’ very rarely work out.

What a start Rom-e-blue.

Published: Monday, 23 August 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a great weekend

Published: Tuesday, 10 August 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published: Monday, 12 July 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steady as we go….

Published: Monday, 05 July 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published: Monday, 28 June 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grow a pair Boris. Ipso facto.

Published: Tuesday, 22 June 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hang your heads in shame UEFA.

Published: Tuesday, 15 June 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do it your way Gareth.

Published: Monday, 07 June 2021

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

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

What a great read David Moyes’ piece in The Times was at the weekend. Here. If you missed it - enjoy…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ramsey moved from wingers to a 

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

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