Dull. Deadly dull.

Published: Friday, 28 April 2017

That has to be the worst Manchester derby in living memory. There could be one I've missed but I don't think so. And I've been watching them a long time now - all the way back to City's famous 5-1 on the ice. It was just awful wasn't it?

So who or what was the blame? Well, I don't entirely blame Mourinho, but if he's still setting his team up to get results like that this same time next year then I do think some serious questions will be asked about the direction he's taking the Manchester United in. I'm holding back on any judgement because he might yet deliver a fantastic season for United fans. There's already one trophy in the cabinet - a great chance of another - and 4th or better is a really good possibility now.

I'm not making excuses for him because I hate to see a game played as it was last night - especially by Manchester United. Parking the bus like that goes against every natural instinct of United fans, but if the outcome this season is as I've suggested above - everything will be forgiven.

I can't make any excuses for Fellaini though. What sort of fool is he? I light heatedly suggested on Twitter, as he walked off, that United should be charged with bringing the game into disrepute every time they play him! Look - let's get this straight,  he's obviously a good player. He's an international footballer for goodness sake and I'm sure there are many teams he would do a competent job for - but United? Not for me. He is the embodiment of everything that's wrong with them on nights like that.

As for City, well - what can you say? At the beginning of the season I wrote that I believed that this was going to be Guardiola's first REAL test as a coach. It has been hasn't it? And he's failed the audition. For the first time, without a team to bully the opposition with the very best players in both Spain and Germany, he's come up short. It could yet get worse - what if they don't finish in the top 4?

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Making a Joey out of Barton.

Published: Thursday, 27 April 2017

Two football stories broke on Wednesday - one had me shrug my shoulders with an air of nonchalance - the other had me spitting mad.

I was in no way surprised to hear that another raid had been had been organised on football clubs' offices, this time by HM Revenue and Customs pursuing a criminal investigation into tax fraud. It was around a decade ago that City of London police staged similar raids, but they were looking into the murky world of bungs. Do you remember? There was an early morning raid on Harry Redknapp's home. The Pompey owner, Milan Mandaric, was arrested so were Birmingham's owner and MD, David Sullivan and Karen Brady and the offices of Newcastle were raided as well as those of Pompey and Rangers. The outcome of investigations led to nothing. Will it be any different this time? HMRC had better come up with something to justify the frenzied activity of the week.

I'm not 'hoping' this goes away. Quite the contrary. Yes, football contributes hugely to HMRC coffers - billions in fact - and far in excess of many multi nationals that work the system to their benefit, but if the game mirrors society, then there is much the game could do to clean up its act.

Are we to believe that George Graham is the only manager ever to have taken a bung? To date he's the only man convicted of having done so - largely as a result of tax investigations. Of course he's not, but as long as the game continues to excite us, create its enormous wealth and sells as it does around the world, no-one is going to be too bothered.

Here's a true story. When Keys and Gray were on the radio I identified a guest I really wanted to talk to. We didn't know each other too well so lunch was organised. As the drinks flowed this is what he said to me 'I knew when I got into football I'd eventually go to jail, but I wanted to know why! I arranged a meeting with some of football's top brass to ask questions and find out'. He was making light of a serious subject. Coming from industry he just couldn't believe some of the things he was seeing pass across his desk. In London he was told 'it works - let's go and have lunch'.

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Cherish the game

Published: Wednesday, 12 April 2017

I'll give them six months'. That was Sir Alex Ferguson's verdict on Sky Sports chances of success after being awarded the first contract to cover 'live' Premier League football back in 1992.

Six months? We knew why he said it but we were determined to prove him wrong. I think we did that - but it wasn't without a fight - often with both hands tied behind our backs! It certainly didn't help when Fergie refused to talk to us from about the October of the first season - and then subsequently banned us from speaking to any of his players. Our crime? We pointed cameras at him as he flew into a frenzy on the touchline at QPR when a decision went against United! Whether the ban - as United went on to win their first league title in 26 years - was to help him make his case that we would fail we'll never know!

To succeed we needed to show off our national game in all its glory - and many different colours. We were also selling subscriptions - without which we couldn't afford to pay the huge amounts of money back into football that funded it. In that sense nothing has changed. We needed football. Football needed us. Our aim was the same - to make a success of it all.

I think everybody achieved that. Radio flourished - 5-live was born. TalkSPORT followed soon after. Newspapers created weekend pull outs and gave more column inches to football than ever before. Footballers started earning more money than they'd ever dreamt of. Young men became multi-millionaires in the blink of an eye. We respected what they did and they respected what we did. We all benefitted.

Andy Gray invented a new way of analysing football. He helped educate a generation. There had never been anything like Monday Night Football before. The show itself was the brainchild of our Executive Producer. Andy Melvin. Its purpose was to 'analyse' football. Simple.

We weren't into getting players banned for misdemeanours on the pitch - and my goodness there were many times we could've done - no, we wanted to give football a place to show itself off - so, we 'analysed' football. Simple.

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What about plan B Pep?

Published: Thursday, 16 March 2017

Well the hysteria of the original tie is long since forgotten eh? Not by me. I remember well all the headlines lauding Pep Guardiola and Manchester City. At last - Guardiola had found the formula. This is how football should be played. What an exhibition. City swept Monaco aside.  Nothing could stop Guardiola now. Er - yes it could. And yes it has.

I agree, the 5-3 at The Etihad was a fantastic exhibition, but that's all it was. It wasn't really a step towards the quarter finals. For me, it was the very reason why City wouldn't make the quarter-finals. You can't play football like that against the big boys and hope to succeed. It was suicide.

I admire Guardiola and his record tells us he one of the very best. One of..... Everybody that knows him tells me he's a nice guy. That he's fastidious in his work. That he BELIEVES in what he does. All fine - but I've said it before - how often is a man's greatest strength also his greatest weakness? Guardiola won't change - but in order to succeed at City he's going to have to.

He doesn't have the best three players in the world in his team anymore - as he did at Barcelona. He doesn't have the best two wide men and the best centre-forward and goalkeeper in the world anymore - as he did at Bayern. Other than Aguero, who he doesn't want, he hasn't got anything like the best in any position anymore. What he appears to me to have is 'plan A' and only 'plan A'. He wants to play - all the time - with a belief that if the opposition get three - City will get five. Oh, wait a minute..... 

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Inexplainable and scandalous

Published: Wednesday, 08 March 2017

'Inexplainable and scandalous' said Arsene Wenger after Arsenal's latest humiliation. Lay aside the slight English mistake - that was the least of the horrors to come out of the Emirates last night (Tuesday) - just what was Wenger referring to?

If he meant the pre-match demonstrations calling for him to go then I agree. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Look - I fully support the right of the paying public to have their say - I do about how SISU are destroying my club Coventry - but there is something unedifying about Arsenal supporters getting involved in protests. It just doesn't sit well with me. This is 'The Arsenal' - a club with long standing traditions for doing things 'right'. The Arsenal are a classy outfit and I can't remember any other time in their history when I've seen such a thing. And let's not forget they're protesting about Arsene Wenger- somebody for whom I have the utmost respect. The guy is also a class act and he will for some time be Arsenal's most successful ever manager. He's a legend. Whether I believe it's time for him to go is another matter - I'll get round to that.

Back to the 'inexplainable and scandalous'. Was Wenger referring to Arsenal's performance on the night? If he was - he was right again. It was a shocker. It hasn't been good in recently and, I say again, I completely understand the frustration that surrounds The Emirates.

Actually we know exactly what Wenger was referring to. He was slating the Greek ref, Tasos Sidiropoulos, who first awarded Bayern a pen, booked Koscielny and then decided to send him off on the advice of his assistant behind the goal. We can argue all day about whether we thought it was a pen, or whether the new 'double jeopardy' rules applied, once the ref had given the pen, he was right to send Koscielny off on the basis that a 'clear goal scoring opportunity' had been denied. Crucially, he was also well within his rights to change his mind. And get used to it Arsene - we're going to see plenty more of this going forward.

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Stop the bleating. He had to go.

Published: Friday, 24 February 2017

Come on. Enough. Stop the bleating please. Dilly ding. Dilly dong - Ranieri has gone - and not before time. Leicester are in crisis and he's to blame. If he's not - why did he get all the credit for winning the title last season? The re-moaners can't have it both ways. 

I last blogged on this very subject about two weeks ago. The surprise to me is that Leicester gave Ranieri the time they did this season and allowed things to fall apart so dramatically. 

Here are one or two facts surrounding a charismatic man who charmed us all the way to the most extra-ordinary title win of all time. 

I said in my last blog that the real architect of last season's triumph was Nigel Pearson. He was - him, Steve Walsh, who recruited the talent, and Craig Shakespeare, who coached the team. Fact, as Rafa might say. 

Pearson guided Leicester back from oblivion to the big time. All right, they initially struggled to adjust to life in the Premier League, but what a finish they had to that first season back - seven wins from the last nine - and the greatest escape of all time was complete. It was Pearson that had every right to be 'disappointed' about the decision to sack him - and a lot more than Ranieri. 

The players didn't want Ranieri as his successor. Fact. It was with that information that I predicted they'd go down the following season - believe it or not, having spent a lifetime on the fringes of the game listening to what's happening within it, I have gathered useful information. It's my job. Where I can I share it with you in these blogs. 

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Here's why Leicester are struggling.

Published: Monday, 13 February 2017

I've read an awful lot on why Leicester are struggling this season. Apparently it's because they 'over celebrated' last season's title success. Nonsense.

Others believe it's because N'golo Kante was sold. Nonsense. His absence hasn't stopped them from progressing to the last 16 of the Champions League, although there is no doubt that he's been missed. He's a terrific little player. Any team would miss his non-stop running and uncanny ability to break up opposition play.

So it must be that the boys have downed tools? Nonsense. No they haven't.  Ranieri has 'tinkered' too much then? Nonsense. Is it that he's fallen out with too many people?  Nonsense.

Here's what I believe the problem is. They are simply not very good. What we're seeing now is just about what they are. They're two points better off than they were when they went on that fantastic run of seven wins in nine games to save themselves under Nigel Pearson, the real architect of last season's success.

And before you Leicester City fans start screaming 'Sky Blue Scum bag' let me explain myself.

After battling to safety under Pearson  - and it was without doubt the greatest escape of all time - no-one, absolutely no-one could foresee what was going to happen the following season. 

Pearson was sacked that summer wasn't he? I expressed serious doubts about Ranieri's appointment, going so far as to predict they'd  go down without Pearson's big presence and organisational skills.

Read more: Here's why Leicester are struggling.

Waking giants...

Published: Thursday, 02 February 2017

You know, I'm fairly certain I can hear the sound of waking giants all the way from Leeds and Newcastle, here in Qatar. Wonderful isn't it? Two of our most famous clubs, two 'proper' football clubs as Graeme Souness might say, at last - stirring.

Regulars know that Rafa the Gafa isn't my favourite. I've said many times that I believe he only manages for himself - for his own cv. Proof had to be the time he took on the Chelsea job (as revealed by yours truly and denied even by his closest confidantes!) after everything he'd previously said about the club and its fans. He'd take over at United if the price was right. I've argued often about the out-dated concept of 'loyalty', but some things you don't do.

That said - can I also repeat what I wrote when Benitez stayed at Newcastle last summer? I was both a little surprised, but also delighted for Newcastle fans, because whatever else, Benitez was the right man in the right place at the right time. He gave Geordies hope again and, so far, he's delivered.

Newcastle is a monster of a football club. I love it and I love everything about that football mad City, although I've always said that it's about

350 miles too far north of London for me! The Toon's rightful place isn't just in the Premier League, it's mixing it with the big boys at the top.

The trouble is, it's owned by a very ambitious man, who knows plenty about how to squeeze every last drop of sweat out of his workers, but not much about football.

For too long Mike Ashley and his small group of 'yes' men have run the club into the ground. Do you remember a gentleman called Tony Jimenez? The world eventually found out what a few already knew when he hitched his wagon to The Toon.

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Grandstand II? Why not?

Published: Wednesday, 01 February 2017

I know. I know. I keep promising a more regular flow of blogs - then I go and get distracted! I'm sorry.

At the end of a bruising week I'm sitting in the garden enjoying reading the arguments for tue return of a sporting icon - Grandstand. I'm talking about the excellent Gabby Logan's idea that it's time this giant was brought back to life. As someone who worked on it (albeit a bit part) and later was hell bent on destroying it - why not? I'll explain the above in just a moment.

What a wonderful way it was to spend a wet, winter afternoon - in front of the fire watching Grandstand (that was when we could afford the coal!) The racing was never my favourite, so after Sam Leitch had presented Football Focus I'd often go over to ITV for an hour or so to see what Richard Davies (Dickie in later years!) had to offer. Log rolling from Canada would fill time - for those working on World of Sport - and those of us at home! When the wrestling came on I went back. Funny - it was only the commentator Kent Walton who didn't know the bouts were timed so as not to run into ITV's results service!

Life was a lot simpler. I was from the generation that caught the back end of Eamonn Andrews fronting Grandstand. The brilliant David Coleman followed. Wily 'Arry Carpenter would often help out. Say what you like about Frank Bough, but what a class act he was once he sat in the chair. There followed the genius that was Des Lynam and the unflappable Steve Rider. I was delighted when they gave Sue Barker a go. How Sky went onto regret allowing Sue to cover Wimbledon for the BBC while contracted to 'us'. We knew she was a class act. We made her. The Beeb discovered how good she was that summer. She never came back. Good decision Sue!

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If you want loyalty - buy a dog.

Published: Sunday, 15 January 2017

'He's on a fantastic contract, the highest paid player in the club's history. He signed it. Now he wants a move and feels Everton are a big club, so there's nothing we can do. West Ham are a big club in our eyes, but he feels otherwise'. Harry Redknapp Manager West Ham - March 1997.

The players' response to the stinging criticism above was this 'I had to do this. As all players know, if anyone gets the chance of a big club, he must take it'.  Slaven Bilic, West Ham - March 1997.

I'd like to take the credit for digging out the above explosive quotes, but I've lifted them from David Hills fantastic column 'Said and Done' in The Observer. I should say 'aptly named column', because all the fuss over Dimitri Payet's behaviour this past week now is!  Forget the moral posturing Slaven, there's nowhere to hide now.

Look - I like Bilic. I think he's a good guy and with Payet's enormous help he delivered a fantastic season for the Hammers last time out, but the 'love in' between Payet and his army of adoring fans at the Taxpayers Stadium was never going to last.

Time and again last season the question was asked 'how come he's 28 and only just surfaced on the big stage'. Now we know.

No-one at West Ham should be surprised by his behaviour. He threw a hissy fit just like this in order to leave Marseille for Upton Park! Have  we all forgotten so quickly Marseille issuing a robust statement to condemn the 'reckless demands' made and the ultimatum issued Payet and his agent expressing 'surprise that negotiations with another club had been opened' - without their permission?

Come on. Let's get real. Transfers are a dirty business - if you want a player you do everything you can to turn his head - which is exactly what West Ham did to get Payet. To a lesser extent - aren't they doing that right now to unsettle Jermaine Defoe? Sunderland haven't publicly said as much - yet - but privately they know that's exactly what's happening.

Read more: If you want loyalty - buy a dog.