With a quarter of the season gone - where are the Manchester clubs?

Published: Monday, 23 November 2020

It’s hard to believe isn’t it? A quarter of the season has been played already. And where are the pride of Manchester ? The former manager of relegated Cardiff and Molde has announced his clubs’ season ‘starts now’. And the other would’ve been sacked had it been anybody else. His team are 13th. I repeat - 13th. It’s staggering.

Is Solskjaer serious? ‘Our season starts now?’ What? Two weeks ago he suggested United were ‘getting better because we’re on course to beat last seasons total of three wins in our first 10 games’. Come on. It used to be nine wins from 10 - and even that wasn’t good enough. Had it not been for VAR and a bucket load of free penalties it would be a whole lot worse than four wins in 10.

They should've lost again at the weekend. The Baggies were robbed - but as Martin Samuel pointed out in the Mail ‘Never mind. It’s only West Brom’. Between them David Coote (yes, him) and Peter Bankes had a nightmare. Of course The Baggies should’ve had a pen. And United should not. We can argue all day about whether Darnell Furlong handled the ball (don’t worry - VAR will sort these things out) but it shouldn’t have been given because there was a foul in the build up. That’s what VAR should’ve been looking at - not Darnell’s alleged infringement. But as Samuel points out - ‘no social media frenzy this weekend involving United fans - so that’s ok’. What a joke. Incidentally - it really isn’t funny anymore how many pens United are getting.

One other thing that will annoy United fans - have a look up the table. Have you seen who’s in 8th place? Yep. The Chosen One. His team have already played City, Liverpool, Spurs, Leicester and Wolves. His spend since going back to West Ham is minimum. Buttons. But he might just be building something a bit special by West Ham’s standards. Now wouldn’t that be an IRONy!

Let’s not pretend. The former manager of relegated Cardiff and Molde is not the man to manage Manchester United. Granted, there are many problems those in the know will tell you about behind the scenes, but that shouldn’t be an excuse. United have to make a change. I know for a fact that Mr Ed has spoken with both Pochettino and Allegri. So what’s he waiting for? If he doesn’t move soon both will be working again. Perhaps it’s because he knows he can’t afford too many more throws of the dice himself?

Draw your own conclusions about what’s happening at City. I’ll just say this - has any coach ever spent more money and not delivered his primary target? And does anyone think they’re nearer to it this season than in previous years?

I saw Jonathan Wilson in The Guardian applauding the decision to give Guardiola a new contract - suggesting he can now build his ‘second great team’ at The Etihad. He didn’t build the first one Jonathan. Kompany, YaYa, Aguero, Silva, de Bruyne, Sterling - all the big players - they were all at City before Guardiola. How much has he spent since? Well - £500m on centre backs - and where are they now? How many teams did Fergie build - whilst still winning titles?

Have a quick look at the Championship table now. Notice anything? Correct. One and two both went down last season - and Watford are hovering with intent in 5th - two points off the pace.

Rick Parry, EFL chairman is correct. It’s not a PL of 18 clubs that would kill the dreams of those outside - or the team finishing third in the championship playing off against a PL side - it’s parachute payments. The three that went down left with money in excess of £100m. That has to give them an unfair advantage the following season. They can keep their best players - pay wages far in excess of others - even if they are half of what they were the previous season. It’s wrong. It’s got to change. I refer you back to my arguments in favour of Project Big Picture. Too much of that plan was too good to dismiss as quickly as some did.

The debate about five subs goes on. Did you notice how many Guardiola used v Spurs? Two. Just the two. And one last time out v Liverpool. Klopp used three v Leicester - one was Minamino in the 89th minute. These two are demanding a change back to five subs. Why?

And in closing - I return to my argument about letting us listen in to conversations between match day officials and Stockley Park. I watched David Coote as he went to the monitor at OT. You can see him clearly say to Peter Bankes (VAR) ‘are you telling me that’s not a penalty?’ Bankes shouldn’t be ‘telling’ him anything. He can ‘suggest’ a review - but decisions on the pitch are for the match day ref only. I won’t go any deeper into the decision - or the one at Villa, but when Peter Walton comes out against Stockley Park then you know something is seriously wrong.

I repeat the charge that refs are being ‘told’ what decisions to make as they go to the monitor. If I’m wrong - prove it. Let us listen to the conversations. What have they got to hide? It happens in other sports. It’s happening in Australia’s ‘A’ league. There is no case against the idea. Educate us. Help us. Let us listen in - fans and broadcasters alike. I ask again - what have you got to hide Mr Riley?

Roy Keane. He became what he despised.

Published: Monday, 16 November 2020

I remember the day well. It was Old Trafford and we were all very excited because our best fixer (actually our only fixer at the time!) Geoff Shreeves had persuaded Fergie to allow us to have Roy Keane as a guest.

We’d come a long way from the first season when Fergie had banned us from any access at United, from about the October of our debut season, because we’d had the temerity to show him throwing his toys out of the pram on the touchline at QPR.

The ban actually worked in our favour. We got to know some really good guys - Denis Law, Bill Foulkes and of course Besty - who I knew anyway but not as intimately - as United stormed to their first title in 26 seasons. That summer Fergie called our senior producer, Andy Melvin, and asked if we’d take his boy - Jason - on the staff! You couldn’t make it up.

Fergie was wrong. I’ve said this before - we always operated on the basis that anything that happened in the arena was fair game. We had a rule that we would never point a camera down a tunnel - that was off limits. That was footballs ‘office’ and we had no place there.

Anyway. I digress. Roy Keane. Now we were being trusted with his captain.

As he sat down I explained that our attitude to football was always to try an accentuate the positive. I remember saying ‘if a game is shit - people know that themselves. What I need to know from you is - how can this get better?’

We didn’t have the luxury that Alan Hansen and his mates had at the BBC. Alan used to make me laugh ‘for me, I wouldn’t watch this is it was being played in my back garden - ball’s in the back of the net!’

Fine. The BBC are the only organisation in the world that know what income they’ll have year on year. We were a commercial organisation doing our best to promote our national game. That’s not to say we didn’t call it honestly - but why spend fortunes on a product and then kick the shit out of it? I know Arsene Wenger feels that about the way tv companies conduct their business these days. I don’t get it either.

Anyway. Keane looked back at me with an icy stare. I could see the devil in his eyes. The only other time I’d seen that same menacing look from a guest was when Mick Harford joined us at Luton. I remember thinking ‘don’t mess about tonight fella. Keep it straight’. We loved a laugh in that studio. It’s what made it - like any happy dressing room.

We were always very much aware that if we were going to criticise then it had to be done constructively. That we could offer both explanation and education. Andy Gray did that better than anyone else - and he’s still doing it. Teams and their managers back then were so sensitive. I can only imagine what would’ve happened If we’d ever called Gary Neville a ‘car crash’ and an ‘idiot’. And there were plenty of opportunities!

You can see where this is going can’t you? What a disgrace Roy. Cheap. Even by your standards. How would you have described your assault on Alf-Inge Haland - an incident that would’ve seen you arrested anywhere other than on the pitch?

I know why they do it these days. It’s all about ‘hits’. Young tv execs wrongly encourage it. Why do bang ordinary defenders - who had many bad games - always want to tell us why a goal shouldn’t have been scored? Why can’t they sometimes accept that not every goal can be stopped? And where would we be if it was? This is something that Andy has preached all his life. It’s probably because he was a forward and knows what it takes to score a goal - the hardest thing to do on a football pitch.

Again. I digress. We all remember Keane in 2008 hammering me - saying ‘he’d rather go to the dentist’ than be an analyst - actually, I’ll use the word I hate ‘pundit’ - because few actually ‘analyse’ anything these days.
He added that I sold ‘something that was built purely on hype’.

He also once said ‘there are ex-players and ex-referees being given air-time who I wouldn’t listen to in a pub’. Quite Roy. And you’re now one of them.

His barbed jibes might have more impact if his managerial career had been anything to get excited about. But it wasn’t. At Ipswich it was a ‘car crash’. Sunderland wasn’t much better and let’s not get into what he left behind when he  finished as Ireland’s asst. manager. I know a few of his ex-team mates were furious that he was welcomed back into the fold after he’d walked out on them in Japan. I know. I know. Mick McCarthy sent him home - but Keane wanted to go.

As for his comments about Kyle Walker - well it comes as no surprise to me that Manchester City have lodged an official complaint with Sky Sports. I don’t have to defend Walker Look at his career. A car crash? An idiot? I don’t think so.

Today’s ‘pundits’ need to be careful. In the U.K. we handed over a product that made multi millionaires of all of them. We did that on the back of supporting them as players. Of supporting the game I love. After all these years I still enjoy watching it. I’m proud of the way that we cover the product on BeINSPORTS. We must be doing something right. We’re still going and the channel is in everybody’s ‘most watched’ across 23 countries in our part of the world. That’s some going.

My advice is this. Everybody on that pitch has a bad day. You all did - some of you a lot more often than you care to remember. Mistakes happen. That’s often why goals are scored. But they’re also scored because sometimes it’s impossible to stop them. Enjoy our game. Stop trying to destroy it. Respect it.

Chuffed to bits for Rodgers and Mourinho.

Published: Monday, 09 November 2020

Take look at the top of the PL. First and second are two guys that have been pilloried by journalists down the years - me included. But I was wrong and now I couldn’t be more pleased for Mssrs Rodgers and Mourinho. I really hope one or the other finishes top this season.

I’ve got to hold my hands up and admit I’ve been a bit harsh on Rodgers. He’d waited a long time before getting his revenge a couple of months ago. Well - I say harsh. As I’m writing I withdraw - I wasn’t all wrong - but fair play to Brendan for giving me a wrap over the knuckles when we spoke recently.

He was kind enough to speak to me and Andy during the first lockdown. Before we started he reminded me that I’d had a little go at him for leaving Steven Gerrard out of a CL game at a Real Madrid. It made me laugh. He’d noticed. He’d waited. And he went in high! Good man.

The puzzling thing was - why had he waited so long? Look - I know he’s not everybody’s cup of tea because he can be a little verbose - but he’s always been good to me. When he left Liverpool he came out to join us in Qatar on BeINSPORTS and we had a fantastic few days. He was great fun and couldn’t have been more compliant. He did everything we asked of him.

I’ve talked about the car journey that we shared back to his hotel before. He explained how he had to be really careful about the next job he took because it was going to make or break him. We discussed Arsenal - which I still think would’ve been perfect for him - but he didn’t mention Celtic. As it turned out he couldn’t have chosen better. From being someone who couldn’t win trophies he got greedy and won everything - again and again. I’m sure the timing of his departure must haunt him - but he’d earned the right to decide when to go.

I also wasn’t sure about his decision to take the Leicester job. I used to call them ‘Chelsea light’. Like the West London club their dressing room was brutal. It chewed managers up. I couldn’t see the boys embracing Rodgers’ style. I was wrong again!

Last season ended badly and of course it led us all to conclude that Leicester’s time with the big boys was over. Not a bit of it.

The recruitment at Leicester has been fantastic. Sales of players has been even better - and still they’re winning. In fact, who else right now can boast wins over Guardiola (and that was a proper spanking) Bielsa, and ‘mini me’ (Arteta)? I suppose we should also add Numes to the list. Rodgers has gone in against all four and walked away with the points. We’re told these are some of the best coaches Europe has to offer. So where does that rank Rodgers?

When Mourinho was with us in Qatar I asked him ‘any regrets about Manchester United?’ ‘Yes’, he said. ‘Taking it and not leaving at the end of the second season’. Looking back now he can’t really regret having taken it - but he should’ve gone at the end of the second season. All the signs of what was to come were there. Klopp was right when he said recently ‘If I was smart I’d have left last season’. Timing is everything.

I had a pop when Mourinho started behaving like a spoilt schoolboy again. But he knew what he was doing. He played his way out. He knew it was the final nail when he left Pogba out for three consecutive games. He did it on purpose. Job done.

The relief at the club was palpable and the former manager of relegated Cardiff and Molde initially benefitted from that. But I’m afraid United are what they are - a big club in terminal decline. I don’t believe anyone is going to turn them round until the things we don’t see are corrected. Behind the scenes United are light years away from the rest.  But let’s not get distracted.

On leaving, Mourinho was described as a dinosaur - whose best days were behind him? Why? Largely because he believes in playing a different way to Guardiola - thank goodness.

At Spurs he’s been criticised for letting them be too ‘Spursy’. Also for winning ‘ugly’. You can’t have it both ways. I said last week - there’s something special going on at Tottenham - and the majority of the players know it. I wish them all the success in the world. It’s overdue - and for Mourinho any triumphs now will be the sweetest yet.

Meanwhile, Guardiola continues to toil - complaining bitterly about not being able to use five subs. You only used one at the weekend man - so what’s the problem? Klopp had a little moan up as well - and he only used two.

Oh - and there is no way in the world Jesus meant his cheeky little turn. You only had to look at his face when asked - he knew it was a mis-control - but top marks for reacting the way he did.

One last thing. If you care about football outside the top league then listen to the most recent episode of KeysandGray The Podcast. We spoke with Rick Parry, Chief Exec of the EFL. His thoughts were fascinating. Change is coming - whether we like it or not. I embrace the need for it to happen. Have a listen. And then tell me who the dinosaurs are.

Salah is tops on the ‘scream-ometer’

Published: Monday, 02 November 2020

We had this conversation on BeINSPORTS. I said to Andy ‘so which team is playing better than they were last season?’  

Liverpool? No. United? No. City? No. Arsenal? Not really. So that leaves Chelsea and Spurs. Of course, I’m referring here to the teams that can seriously mount a title challenge. As well as Everton started, I don’t think anyone really believes they can stay the course. The same applies to most of the other early season front runners - but I’d make Wolves an exception. I don’t think they can - or will - but they might. Confused? Sorry. But you get what I mean? They just keep surprising us. So maybe!

I had Chelsea down to finish 2nd in my pre-season predictions. Nobody takes those calls too seriously - unless you suggest  Everton might give Liverpool a serious run for their money - then the red half of Merseyside spend all their waking hours abusing you. 🤷‍♂️🤷‍♂️

I had Liverpool top - and they’re still my favourites. They’re winning games, despite not playing anywhere near their best - but they’ll need more going forward.

Chelsea are getting better every week. I wasn’t sure what Frank Lampard was trying to do in the first few games - but they’re settling now and looking good.

It’s Spurs that I’m most pleased to see emerging as a force. I didn’t have them in my pre-season four because I wasn’t convinced Mourinho could get enough of his squad to buy into the way he works. It looks like he might’ve done though. He’s got plenty of good players and the dissenters don’t appear to be damaging the mood. I see a real determination about them. I think the boys that are with Mourinho know they’re onto something.

I’m chuffed for the manager as well. I haven’t always been a fan - but having spent time with him here in Qatar he won me over completely. Don’t listen to those who tell you he’s past his best. That’s an opinion based more on hope. Mourinho is a winner. He’s everything that Spurs have rarely been. Believe guys. This really could be your season.

It’s a damned good job that Gareth Bale came up with the winner v Brighton or all hell would’ve let loose. I’ve seen some bad calls from our refs over the past 18 months or so but I’ve never seen one as ridiculous as Graham Scott’s when he decided Solly March hadn’t halved Hojberg just before Brighton’s equaliser. I’m sorry - what did he see? Or rather not see. It was a foul in real time and Scott was looking at it. It was a foul when he was asked to review it - and it was a foul after he had. It was a foul - full stop.

Scott left the pitchside monitor telling Harry Kane ‘I think he got a touch of the ball..’ You ‘think’ Graham? Really?You can’t ‘think’ when you make a decision. You have to be certain. It was a foul. Mind you, I’m sure Stockley Park would’ve come up with some nonsense to justify the decision had it affected the game. Do you remember Tammy Abraham getting a kick up the arse at Norwich last season? That was a foul, but it wasn’t given. Norwich nicked the ball - just like Brighton - and scored. We were told the goal was good because Chelsea had had the time to ‘re-set’. So Spurs must also have done - and on that basis, why was it even referred to VAR? It’s a joke. They make it up as they go along. Someone is also reading this blog - or was it simply a co-incidence that a ref stuck by his original decision having been to a monitor? That’s the first time it’s happened this season. I said last week that I was waiting for an example - but you chose the wrong one guys.

Oh, by the way Mssrs Scott and Moss. It was a foul by Kane on Lallana - he made a back. And Brighton should’ve had a pen. It’ll be interesting to see if Scott gets a game next weekend. My guess is he could well he ‘rested’. He had a shocker - and VAR wasn’t any better.

One last thing - a plea to those who play the game - please lads - stop the screaming. We knew it was a growing trend because we could ‘see’ it when there was a crowd. Now we can hear it. Salah’s murderous howling was embarrassing. He’s not alone - but he’s one of the worst offenders. He was lucky not to be booked for simulation. With him challenging for top spot on the ‘scream-ometer’ are Mane, Rashford, Martial, Fernandes and Pogba. Is that why United have had so many pens again this season? They’ll doubtless justify it on that basis - but it really isn’t good. Cut it out.

Why is our refereeing so bad?

Published: Monday, 26 October 2020

I don’t want to spend too much time on this - I’m bored with the whole thing but I repeat what I said on BeINSPORTS this weekend - we’ve got to hold Mike Riley and the PGMOL to account. It’s really important that we do. So here goes - again.

Somehow referees have elevated themselves to being the most talked about element of a football match these days. Why? How? I’ve said this before as well - do you remember when we used to say ‘the ref had a good game today - I hardly noticed him’. As Mourinho might say ‘not anymore’!

When is somebody going to do something about the ever declining standard of our refereeing? It can’t go on. Please. Please - for goodness sake. Help us. We’re becoming a laughing stock.

Did you see what Mario van der Ende said last week? ‘Who?’ I can hear you ask. He’s a retired Dutch ref that went to two World Cups during a glorious 15-year career. He was always regarded by those in the know as one of the very best.

He said he was ‘astonished’ to see Michael Oliver allow Jordan Pickford to ‘escape without sanction’ in the derby game. He added that he can only believe it’s because English referees ‘apply the laws of the game differently at home and abroad’.

‘When English referees go to the continent they stick to the laws of football. But as soon as they go back to their own island they use their own rules’. he said. Note the distinction between the reference to ‘laws’ and ‘rules’. He’s right. We have our own ‘rules’ in the PL - on our island.

Van der Ende again ‘when I saw how Michael Oliver refereed the game between Italy and Holland he was astonishingly good. But they make different decisions in England’.

At last. It’s not just me - or Keith Hackett or Mark Halsey - the only two genuinely honest X-refs who comment on the game. What they see must drive them mad.

One last quote from Van der Ende. ‘We used to call what Pickford did a “foul with contempt of death”. I can’t believe Oliver didn’t show a red card.

‘And I have no idea why VAR didn’t step in. There was all the time in the world with Van Dijk on the floor injured’. Quite.

I’d love to know what Mr Van der Ende made of Harry Maguire’s head lock on Cesar Azpilequeta. My goodness - was there ever a more obvious penalty? This time the man in VAR was Stuart Attwell - who gave Michy Batshuayi a significantly softer pen at Palace the weekend before. The inconsistency is staggering.

Why was Arsenal’s goal v Leicester disallowed? It shouldn’t have been. No-one was interfering with Schmeichel. The keeper knew it. His defence knew it. No-one complained. Why didn’t Michail Antonio get a pen when he had his legs taken away clean through on goal v Man City?

Why are refs not being asked to look at monitors in situations like these? How can Attwell make two such starkly different decisions one week after the other? Why hasn’t a ref visited a monitor and stood by his original decision?

Is it because Mike Riley is still making all the decisions remotely? He lost the battle on sending refs to monitors - so is he trying to have the last laugh? Is he telling refs what their decisions should be as they approach a monitor?  I believe he is. Prove me wrong Mr Riley. Like Australia’s ‘A’ League - let us listen to your conversations. Why not? I’ve argued this before. What have you got to hide? Help us. Educate us. Let us all listen in to the decision making process - broadcasters and fans alike. Why are you scared? Or have I already answered my own question?

Enough. Let’s talk football.

I’m so pleased to see David Moyes smiling again. Here’s a man that’s been beaten black and blue since leaving Everton. It’s all history now so there’s no point dwelling on it. Moyes is a good man. An honest man - a good footballing man. He’s right when he says he’s now got a club now that might just be the last with genuine potential to make a significant impact in the PL. That is if the owners - and Karen - back him and let him get on with the job. Up until now they’ve always thought they knew better than anyone that they’ve employed. They didn’t. They don’t. Oh - and let Moyes do the buying.

In conclusion - a word about one of the very best broadcasters the U.K. has ever seen. I wonder what Frank Bough would make of the eulogies I’m reading following his passing this weekend?

I didn’t know him - but I used to watch him - in awe - when I worked on Grandstand in the late 70’s. He was good - very very good.

His career ended prematurely. We all know the story but as Frank himself said ‘I’m not a wicked man, nor do I mean any harm or evil to people. I’ve made mistakes but everyone is entitled to do that’. Sadly, he wasn’t. I never wavered in my admiration for Frank as a broadcaster - so I find it galling now to see so many crawling out of the woodwork saying so many nice things about him. It’s too late guys. Where were you when he needed you?

One of his crimes, of course, was the use of cocaine in an era when it was frowned upon. These days it’s almost a required ‘must’ in LE, print journalism and in tv sports departments. There’s another irony.

RIP Frank. You truly were one of the greats. You - Coleman, Davies, Moore - what an era. None was perfect - but all were brilliant.

PGMOL dig another hole.

Published: Monday, 19 October 2020

I’ll get round to the PGMOL’s latest self inflicted mess in a moment - but first - a far more pressing issue for the PL.

It’s something that’s been creeping up on all of us - without anybody realising - thank goodness.

Am I the only person that looks forward to Monday’s PL reflections from Conor Moore and Darren Farley far more than listening to the guff that the real guys trot out post match? Here - listen for yourself to Moore’s      latest observations. 

How good is that? Klopp - brilliant ‘for sure’. Ole - ‘we’re backkkkk’. Lampard is like Charles Jolly’s Laughing Policeman and Jose - ‘reeespect’ Conor. Farley’s Brendan Rodgers is sensational. Shut your eyes and listen and it really could be him - ‘he’s a beautiful human being’.

I love it. Honestly, I’d rather listen to it because you know it’s what the guys are really thinking. The real thing is so anaemic now that it’s hardly worth bothering. And that certainly is the case pre-match. Those interviews are even worse. It’s not all the fault of the guys asking the questions ‘you’ve made 2 changes - what’s your thinking?’ - it’s as much the fault of the FA who jump on the coaches/managers the minute anyone says anything that’s worth hearing. Why can’t managers tell us what they really think? Viewers pay a tidy sum to access the game - even more now in Covid U.K. - and yet you’re not allowed to hear what your coach really thinks, because he’ll be hit with a disrepute charge. It’s nonsense. The people bringing the game into disrepute are those that stop us being a part of an honest debate - one that fans have a right to access.

It’s the same with the PGMOL. What a mess they’ve made of the incident at Goodison. I haven’t wavered from my view - Pickford’s challenge was a disgrace - and it merited a red card. I said as much on BeINSPORTS the moment I saw it. Any player that lunges at an opponent in challenging for the ball from the front, from the side or from behind using one or both legs - and here’s the critical bit - with excessive force or endangers the safety of an opponent - is committing an act of serious foul play. Never mind that Van Dijk may have been off-side - which he wasn’t - that’s a smoke screen.

That Michael Oliver saw it - and we are asked to believe he did because there will he no retrospective action - is bad enough. That the assistant and the fourth did nothing is a disgrace. That David Coote at Stockley Park didn’t view it borders on negligence. And that the PGMOL have tried to cover up their incompetence again is pathetic. Coote used the words ‘check complete’ when only checking to see if Van Dijk was off-side. Incredible. Stop digging guys.

There’s one simple way round all this - let us listen to the conversations that are being had. I’ve argued this before. Why not? What have they got to hide? It happens in Rugby and Cricket. We were told that’s why VAR was needed - because it worked so well in those sports - so let’s use it as they do.

I’ll tell you why not.  My guess is that although refs are now looking at monitors - they’re being told what decision to make as they jog across to the touch line. There still hasn’t been an incident of a ref standing by his original decision when checking the monitor. Again - why not? If I’m wrong - prove it Mike Riley. Let us listen in - all of us - fans and broadcasters. It’ll help educate us. It’s no good sending out pasty’s like Mssrs Foy, Walton and Gallagher to try and cover up the incompetence. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again - things won’t get any better and until Riley is removed from his post.

Was Mane off-side? Was he hell. Again. Incompetence. As I’ve said from day 1 - it depends which frame you use to decide. Do you use the one as the ball arrives at the passers’ feet - is controlled - is leaving - or has left in a blur? Bin the lines. If it’s not obvious with the naked eye - then it’s not offside.

There is one interesting piece of news I’ll share with you. I’m told that technology is catching up and next season we’ll know ‘automatically’ if a player is off. It’s a system that Collina and Wenger have been working on and it’s all but ready to go. But - next will come the argument over what exactly is off-side. We all know Wenger wants to change the law so that any part of a forward level with a defender - ie - his trailing foot - is onside. That really would be a dramatic change - giving forwards at least a metre advantage in a chase.

Of course, all this in the pursuit of perfection - which isn’t possible. We don’t want perfection. We’re happy with ‘grey’.

What we want is honesty. So - Mr Riley - let us hear your conversations - and if a coach or manager has something to say that adds to the viewing experience, let’s hear that. Why not? I can’t think of any good reason. In the meantime we’ll have to rely on Moore and Farley. And you’re doing a fantastic job guys.

My take on Project Big Picture.

Published: Tuesday, 13 October 2020

It’s another of those stories where it’s difficult to know how to start. It’s also annoying because I like to go my own way with a blog - but I can’t ignore this.

English football is up in arms. And so is the Tory Govt. Actually, let’s start there. Get back in your box Oliver Dowden. How dare you? Whatever the debate right now it has absolutely nothing to do with you.

Dowden is a chancer. As Culture Secretary he represents a Govt that believes in free trade - a free market - and all that is good in liberal conservatism - whatever that is. To be honest, I’ve no idea, but I hear a lot about it when it suits people like the Culture Secretary to lecture us on it.

Is this the same Oliver Dowden that was doing all he could over the summer to desperately wave through a certain football takeover, despite the prospective purchasers stealing billions of pounds of commercial rights of the UK creatives industries for over 3 years. Funny that….

Is this the same Mr Dowden whose Government over recent months has been patronising and insulting everyone in arts and culture to re-train into IT? Funny that…after an IT error meant 16,000 coronavirus cases were missed in the Government’s daily figures.

Is this the same Mr Dowden that has been demanding over recent weeks that the PL share their riches with the pyramid? Yep. Well that’s funny…because that’s the idea here, Mr Dowden.

You know the thing about age is that it brings with it a whole lot of experience and perspective. We’ve been here before you know. I’m reading all the same things that I was in 1991 - when setting up the PL was being discussed and, with it, a pending Doomsday. The world didn’t quite end - but for the majority football writers back then it was apparently about to if the ‘big boys’ set up on their own. Well? Exactly. Oh - most of writers are saying exactly the same things again! And live football on tv didn’t kill the game. And Sky didn’t fold after 6 months. And we did attract the biggest names on the planet into the English game. And the Premier League is perhaps one of this country’s greatest ever exports.

So even though it seems to be the only way people operate on Twitter these days, how about we stop the blind incessant outrage over Project Big Picture and actually pause to see if there’s anything in it that could be useful.

The first thing I’d say is that football has to evolve. Evolution might sound like revolution to some – those in the ‘if it ain’t broke’ camp. But it’s not, it’s simply evolution – if you wait until something is broke to fix it, au revoir. And in any event most of the things in United/Liverpool’s wish list have been discussed many times.

An 18 team PL? That was the original idea. We got down from the initial 22 - but there’s room for another reduction isn’t there? Why not?

Two up from the Championship - with teams finishing third, fourth and fifth entering a play off series with the 16th placed PL team. That’s almost how it used to work. More drama and tension – sounds good to me.   

The abolition of the League Cup and Community Shield? I’m ok with that. No-one takes the LC seriously anyway.

The abolition of parachute payments? Absolutely. It’s outrageous that a team finishing 20th right now can go down with a bigger prize for failing than the team winning the Champions League. The money also distorts the Championship and I agree that it would discourage clubs from gambling recklessly on promotion.

Instead there’s a 25 per cent revenue share on offer. We’ve been here before as well. The last time this was discussed the Football League clubs turned down 20 per cent. They’ve regretted it every day since.

Also suggested - the capping of away tickets at £20 and subsidised travel. That’s a ‘yes’ from me. Safe standing? As someone close to the Hillsboro disaster - I’m uneasy about that.

A later PL start? Yep. Ok. This allows for more lucrative friendlies. Well, it’s either that or even more discussions about a Euro Super League.

I don’t have an issue with suggested player loan regulations. Again - what’s the better idea - that or ‘B’ teams being operated by PL clubs?

FFP regulations in line with UEFA. That’s a big ‘yes’.

The creation of a new women’s league independent of the FA and PL. Why not – let’s at least explore it – as long as it’s properly funded which is critical?

I do have a problem with the big six needing only six votes to make changes. I’m not a fan of Ken Bates, but in fairness, he more than anyone, fought for the one club one vote system back in ‘91. I’d be sorry to see ALL the power shift - but I suspect it’s coming anyway.

It’s too late for us to start complaining about what foreign club owners want to do with our game. We opened that door a long time ago. The X PL Chief Exec Richard Scudamore didn’t care too much who owned what - as long as the tv rights kept going up. I feel sorry for Richard Masters - who’s inherited his mess.

The question was never really ‘why are these guys buying our clubs?’ Surely it had to be ‘what do they intend to do with them?’

Please don’t tell me that the Glazers were long time United fans. Nor that John Henry grew up supporting Liverpool. The Fenway Sports Group have done a fantastic job at Anfield - but why? Have they done it so they could hold the CL trophy? Of course not - they’re businessmen. They bought Liverpool to make money. All the foreign owners have bought in order to make money. And there aren’t too many more ways to make it from the domestic pot. They’ve got to go bigger. They’ve got to think ‘world’. That’s where the money is now. That’s why they want the pre-season tournaments and friendlies. That’s why they want a more lucrative CL.

Ironically the 39th game might have satisfied some of them - but even that idea seems outdated now.

How long, I wonder, before games are being played all over the world on a Friday night - Real Madrid v Liverpool in China? Barcelona v Utd in Qatar? Juventus v City in New York? Paris v Bayern in India? This is where it’s going you know. Just ask the NFL fans at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and Wembley last year, or the NBA fans in Paris this January. There’ll be a Super League playing live games for the highest bidders.

I know it sounds fanciful and I’ve heard the argument - ‘what about the fans?’. Well - what about them? These clubs now have more ‘fans’ all over the world than pack into their grounds on a weekly basis. Owners will argue that they’re taking their teams to ‘see their fans’.

I’m not suggesting this will happen anytime soon - but we will ‘evolve’ there. It’s inevitable. In the meantime - I believe we should look to embrace the best change that we can get from the latest proposals – rather than lynching. I made the mistake back in ‘91 of believing a PL would only be ‘Division One’ in disguise. Rick Parry and others assured me it wouldn’t, that a PL would look very different. The rest is history - and Parry is back on the scene to help guide more change. If only we’re ready to listen for a moment, not immediately lynch.


Who’d bet on Pep staying?

Published: Monday, 05 October 2020

Well that caused a bit of a stir didn’t it? The reaction was extra-ordinary. I’ll share it with you.

I’m not talking about the spanking United took - which could easily have happened at Brighton the week before - or the seven that Liverpool somehow shipped at Villa. No - I’m talking about my throw away line that Guardiola could do with asking Big Sam how to get his team to defend properly. I actually added ‘or Roy Hodgson - somebody that knows what they’re doing’.

I was talking with Andy on beINSPORTS. Oh - the Podcast is back by the way - and available on whatever platform you download yours from. As ever - my mind wonders as I write and I digress. But check it out.

So. Guardiola. My point to Andy was simple - and I’ve made it here before. How can any coach spend £400m on defenders - largely centre-backs - and not make any of them better? None of them. Some aren’t even at the club now - and half those that are I’m sure they like to give away. It’s been one failure after another. And Guardiola is supposed to be a ‘super-coach’. In any other business - profligate waste like that would see a line manager sacked. Maybe even a line of managers all the way to the top of the company. It’s scandalous.

Guardiola gets away with it because he’s surrounded by all the people he would wish to be at City - and because there’s no doubt he’s delivered some beautiful football for us to watch. What he hasn’t done - in either Munich or Manchester - is deliver the one trophy he was employed to win. You can refer back to previous blogs for more on that!

Right now City look a bit of a mess. Guardiola was buying more centre backs right up to the time the window shut - whilst leaving others, that he bought in the summer, on the sidelines at Leeds. My mind is wondering off the subject again -another question - how can a club that’s spent billions be short of a centre forward? And why isn’t there one coming through the ranks?

At different times this season City will rip teams apart. But will they still do it to the big teams? That’s how we judge a side - or an individual - on what they do in the big games. James Rodriguez has had a very good start at Everton - but they haven’t played anybody yet. I’d ‘expect’ a player like him to make an impact in the sunshine against second rate opposition. For me - the jury is still out. I’ve been more impressed with Allan. I hope you’re taking notes Mr Reade. I trust you’re also enjoying this blog - and thanks for the mention.

Anyway - Guardiola and defending. Or rather - his inability to make a defender better - or his team ‘solid’.  I couldn’t believe it when what I’d said started trending on Twitter. Of course, a comment like that is always going to stir the die-hards up so the inevitable abuse was going to follow. But - it was when I started getting messages from PL managers - including a late night whats app from across the pond - that I realised I’d hit on something. It seems half the PL have been thinking the way I do. The most common message was ‘spot on’ - time and again.

As much as Guardiola has been able to able to impress those of us who write - those of us who watch - he hasn’t been able to persuade a whole host of his fellow coaches that he invented football.

No-one has ever doubted that City have been a delight to watch at times. The way they held Liverpool off in their last title season was incredible - but they had Vincent Kompany in that side. A player Guardiola didn’t buy.

‘Ah, but he didn’t play in many games’ you’ll hear people say. True. Just the big ones - and he settled those. Same with David Silva last season. Again - I refer you to previous blogs on Guardiola and his spending. I don’t want to get too deeply into it all here.

Another question - why hasn’t Guardiola signed a new contract? I don’t usually stick my neck out with predictions unless I’ve heard something. This is genuinely just a hunch. I don’t believe he’s going to. If he was going to stay - again I ask - why hasn’t he signed a new deal? It can’t be because the financials don’t work. He’s already the highest paid coach in English football history. It can’t be because he hasn’t been allowed to sign players. It certainly isn’t ‘because I have to earn it’ as he said recently. What does that mean? Is he saying he’s so far failed in the job that he was brought in to do? If so - that makes me right again. No - it can’t be for any of the usual reasons. So sign Pep.

My guess is he walks at the end of the season and turns up some little time later in Paris. I’m amazed that Thomas Tuchel is still in charge there. I thought he’d get the sack after the CL final. If he doesn’t start winning a few games soon he still might - but it makes sense to me to keep Tuchel in the job until the owners can make the change that they have always dreamt of.

I could be very wrong. I remember the whole world telling me how wrong I was when I announced that Guardiola was next in line at City a full 18 months before he took the job.  I had good information then so I knew it was going to happen - I repeat - this time it’s just a hunch.

What a weekend it turned out to be. Absolutely incredible. There hasn’t been one like it. There never will be another like it.

The game at Villa Park was a one-off. I was delighted for Villa mind you. Jurgen Klopp spoke really well on the whistle. He didn’t make excuses - he was honest and he took it like a man. Good on him.

But the result At Old Trafford should frighten the life out of United fans. Just as I said Mr Reade as Fergie retired ‘United are eight short’. Again - I got hammered. But they were. Van Persie’s goals covered up a multitude of sins and proved that one player can win a title. Fergie went at the right time and so did David Gill - and David Moyes inherited a mess - top to bottom.

The demise at United reminds me so much of the pain Liverpool inflicted on themselves post Dalglish in 1990. They just kept getting it wrong - throwing bad money after bad. United are making all the same mistakes - and more.

I’m sorry - but step one in any recovery HAS to be to appoint a manager that will tempt big names to join United again. The former manager of Molde and Cardiff isn’t going to do that. Solskjaer looks lost in headlights every time I see him. His appointment was wrong - as I said at the time Mr Reade. Another present. You’re welcome my friend.

How many of the current United team can get better? Rashford can. Fernandes as well. And Wan-Bissaka. Anymore? No. That’s it. The rest are already at their peak or past it. That’s really concerning.

More surgery is required - and this time it’s got to include Mr Ed. He’s way beyond his sell by date. Do you know who I’d put in? Gary Neville. Gary knows the club. He knows how business works and he’s realised that he isn’t a coach. So why not? He really couldn’t do any worse. If United don’t make some serious changes there’s only one way they’re going now. This time it’s critical.

Football isn’t science - it’s art.

Published: Monday, 28 September 2020

What a mess. What an absolute mess. All in the pursuit of perfection. And that’s impossible. It simply isn’t achievable.

I’ve never known a time when football ‘people’ have been so unified. The new handball interpretations are a nonsense. So say Glenn Hoddle, Alan Shearer, Steve Bruce, Jose Mourinho, Roy Hodgson Andy Gray, Mark Halsey - if I named them all I’d be here all day.

Who should we blame? Well certainly not the guys in the middle. They’re just following instructions. They don’t like what’s happening either. How do I know? Look at their body language when they leave the pitch. They’re as bemused as the rest of us and we even have an example of a ref saying as much this weekend.

Kevin Friend awarded Everton the penalty that eventually won the match at Palace. From impeccable sources I’m told that he shared his views with the Palace coaching staff after the game. He didn’t think it was a pen - but having been invited to the monitor to have a look - he gave it.

Now. There’s two things here. Based on the nonsense that we’ve been enduring he was correct. But - he didn’t think it was. So what changed his mind. Is there something more sinister at work here? I’m beginning to think there is.

A season of pressure - mainly from us at beINSPORTS - led to a change in the way we use VAR in the PL. Refs are now asked to look at pitchside monitors when there are ‘subjective’ decisions to be made. Quite right too. The ‘match day’ ref HAS to have the final decision on these things.

Initially I bought into this - not thinking for a moment that Stockley Park were still interfering. Can you think of a ref that’s been invited to a monitor actually standing by his original decision? No. You can’t - because it hasn’t happened. Why? Well - based on what Friend said - I can only think that refs are still being told from the bunker what they should be doing. If so - this is outrageous. Based on what we know of their guv’nor Mike Riley’s ‘control freak’ personality I wouldn’t put it past him.

Why did Chris Kavanagh overturn his decision to give Brighton a pen when Pogba clearly brought Aaron Connolly down? Because Simon Hooper, who was watching in the bunker, told Kavanagh that Conolly had ‘initiated the contact and that it was a dive’. Really? I don’t think so. And what if he had ‘initiated’ the contact? That’s his job in that situation - to get across a defender in the box. Had Kavanagh made a ‘clear and obvious error’? No. He hadn’t. So why was he asked to look at it again? And if it wasn’t a pen - why then did Michael Oliver give Leicester two at City that were identical? Of course it was a pen. Kavanagh should’ve stood his ground. Or was he told to change his mind?

I’m certain the PGMOL will argue to the contrary - but I’m not convinced. Of course, there’s one very easy way for us to be sure - that is to air the conversation that’s taking place. Why not? It happens in other sports. We’ve got VAR for that reason. Let us ALL hear what’s being said - not just sneaky broadcasters who are listening in. You know who you are...🤷‍♂️🤷‍♂️ 

I’ve never wavered from this view - football didn’t need VAR. I know we’ve got it and I know it isn’t going away - but our game didn’t need it. Football is art - it’s not a science and we shouldn’t try to make it so. There are grey areas. There always should be grey areas.

We were told that we needed technology because too much is at stake now. Nonsense. Villa are only with us this season because technology - goal line technology and VAR - failed. The point they got against Sheffield United was the very point that kept them up. It’s not their fault - and I know they got 8 more after that game - but what happened is no different to the example I’m always hearing ‘Bolton went in 1997 because a ‘goal’ they got against Everton wasn’t given’. They eventually went on goal difference but would’ve stayed up had they got a point at Chelsea on the last day of the season. To add insult to injury - Everton stayed up. Had Gerry Taggart’s goal against them in the September been given the roles would be been reversed. We can’t cut it both ways.

The madness we’re watching at the moment is an extension of the lawmakers desire to deliver something that’s not achievable - perfection. I repeat - that simply isn’t possible. Even with technology we’re still arguing about decisions - the Brighton pen being a very good example. That’s how it should be - so why do we need VAR?

Another development on that front this week was the news that Pierluigi Collina and Arsene Wenger are close to perfecting a technique that will allow technology to call offside decisions. How do I know that? Because David Dein, one of the arch exponents of VAR, said as much in a presentation to SoccerEx. Heaven help us.

But let’s finish how we started. Who do we blame for the mess that the new handball regulations have inflicted on us? David Roland Elleray is the answer - X PL ref and the current Technical Director of IFAB. The same ref that gave Sky three different reasons for disallowing a Chesterfield goal at Old Trafford in the FA Cup semi-final against Middlesboro. Three reasons - all before he left the ground - and not one of them stood up to examination. The decision almost certainly cost Chesterfield a once in a lifetime chance to play at Wembley. 

Elleray hated tv and refused to ever to talk us again. He made a fool of himself That day and he’s doing it all over again. Stop it. Stop him. Please - this has all gone too far.

PL is full of good players now

Published: Tuesday, 22 September 2020

I really enjoyed Ian Herbert’s piece in The Mail today (Tuesday) on the number of goals being scored in the PL.  It was very well researched and quite thought provoking.

It’s raining goals at the moment. Before the Wolves/City game Herbert told us that right now we’re seeing 3.71 goals per game compared with 2.7 for the entirety of last season. Let’s enjoy it while we can, but that’s not to say the first figure won’t change dramatically during the season. It’s very early days.

The over-riding conclusion is that it’s because the ‘fear factor’ has gone. Because there aren’t any crowds players don’t feel intimidated. The article goes on to tell us that 16% of goals in the opening two weeks have come in the first 10 minutes. No crowd? No problem.  Players are far more relaxed. Well - some players.

I was having a conversation about this very thing with Nigel de Jong on BeINSPORTS. How many times down the years have you heard people say ‘you know, he looks world class in training - but he can’t do it on match days’?

Nigel’s point was that there are players making an impact in games that you might not usually expect to see. They’re now full on ‘Monday to Saturday’ players. This isn’t something that we want to see long term mind you. Top players thrive on crowds - and that’s why we need crowds back - although I fully understand that won’t be any time soon. It’s the top players we go to see. We want them inspired to perform for us. The other lads can go back to doing it ‘Monday to Friday’!

I hate the empty stadiums. I hate the canned crowd noise. I know why it’s there - in case we hear a player or a coach swear. Heaven forbid. Wouldn’t that be awful - especially on a sports channel? When it happens broadcasters go into meltdown - immediately offering apologies. Why? I’m watching a sports channel. That’s exactly where I would expect to hear colourful language.

Any UK show with Jonathan Ross on will be full of ‘f***s’. The word passes for humour in the light entertainment world it seems. It’s the same with any Keith Lemon/Leigh Francis show. And you can hear it across Dave any time of the night and day in dozens of repeats. I couldn’t believe it the other week when Lemon’s Celebrity Juice show was headlining the fact that Philip Schofield used the word c**t. Honestly. I was staggered. So it’s ok for LE - but not sport?

As usual - I digress! I thought the Chelsea game desperately needed a crowd. Liverpool were good - but a full house at The Bridge would’ve helped Chelsea.

It’s not only players relaxing in their new environment. Does anyone think Martin Atkinson would’ve awarded that penalty at Old Trafford had 76,000 been screaming down his neck? I suspect not. Not that he should’ve done - there is no way in the world it was handball.

That’s something we’ve got to sort out. I pointed out last week that Michael Oliver’s award at Anfield was ‘wrong’ in law. I was correct. Why the PGMOL don’t just admit to mistakes I don’t know. By defending Oliver they went on to have to make further errors - but Oliver wasn’t going to get caught twice - which is why he correctly turned down West Ham’s appeals for a pen. The one given to Southampton was a joke. So was Palace’s. And Chris Wood’s goal should never have been given.

On the credit side - I’m delighted to see ‘match’ officials being invited to monitors and making the final decision on subjective matters. This is all we were asking for last season. Mike Riley could easily have changed his mind about the way we were operating but he was too arrogant and VAR was a shambles as a result. It’s better now. Thank you FIFA. What we need next is for our officials to start making correct decisions.

It’s no secret that I don’t like VAR. We didn’t need it - but I’ve always understood that it isn’t going away. It was never going to deliver a game where every decision was agreed by us all. It’s just changed the things we argue about. Chris Wilder was furious after two big calls went against his team at Villa. I happened to agree with Graham Scott on the Egan sending off - but I thought Targett should’ve gone when he conceded the pen. There’s no way he tried to ‘play the ball’ so double jeopardy shouldn’t have applied. See - it’s not possible for VAR to deliver Utopia and get everything right. Thank goodness. We don’t want to watch a game sanitised by technology.

One final point. There’s nothing worse than a broadcaster forgetting he/she is in front of a mic who starts screaming about a perceived injustice to ‘his/her’ team. De Gea moved off his line before he saved Ayew’s pen. Ok - it was only a couple of inches - but if a forward strayed that far off-side he’d expect to be pulled up. I’m afraid that’s the law - and VAR did it’s job on this occasion. No amount of partisan shouting was going to change that.