I’m ‘special’ - and ‘player power’ got me sacked.

Published: Saturday, 16 February 2019

Before you read on - watch the following.  Watch it all and listen to it carefully. Listen to Cloughie tell us he’s ‘special’ - and how neither he nor Don Revie disputed the suggestion that ‘player power’ cost Cloughie his job at Leeds back in 1974.....  

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=iTiIdbDBmZc 

Fantastic isn’t it? And what about the end when Austin Mitchell asks Clough ‘who would touch you with a barge pole now?’.  As we all know - Forest did, where Clough created both a dynasty and went on to fulfil his ambition of winning the European Cup - twice. 

Jimmy Armfield replaced Clough at Leeds. He was a popular choice with the players and he was in charge as they made their way to the European Cup Final in 1975. I’ve phrased it that way on purpose. He was ‘popular’ but he was only nominally in charge. The very same dressing room that had seen Clough off was now playing for ‘itself’. Giles, Bremner, Hunter, Lorimer - they were doing what came naturally under Revie. Anyone with a memory of the 1975 final knows they were robbed - but let’s concentrate on domestic matters. 

Leeds finished 9th that season. A pattern of disappointment followed - 5th, 10th, 9th, 5th 11th, 9th - and finally relegation. All this as Clough took charge at Forest and started to break up the old order again. He got them out of League 2 - won the First Division title the following season - seemed to win the League Cup every season - and the European Cup twice. 

Why does any of this matter now? Because history has a habit of repeating itself and I can see it doing so at Manchester United. 

To be fair - Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has done a fantastic job since taking over from Mourinho. No-one can dispute that. But - the Spurs game aside - if he could’ve hand picked his own fixtures he wouldn’t have chosen much differently. Then came last Tuesday night - when United were blown away - at Old Trafford - by a team so much better than they were - and a team missing two of its star names. 

It was embarrassing. At the very least it was a reality check for United fans. How do I know?  Because my son is one! 

It underlined how far away United are from the top table now. Isn’t this what Mourinho had been saying? Look - like everyone else I’d tired of his games at United and I was amongst those advocating change so I can’t argue differently now. He master-minded his exit brilliantly. Do you remember me saying that months ago and my ‘friends’ at the Daily Mail jumping all over me? I said Mourinho was asking to get the sack. Anyone disagree now? It was funny how the down table subs at The Mail changed their tune when their top writers started saying the same thing 😂🤷‍♂️

Mourinho was with us at beINSPORTS some little time after United sacked him. He was great company. He took criticism as well as demanding acclaim! Mind you, I do wish that I’d had the freedom that Austin Mitchell enjoyed with Clough and Revie - in an era when no-one had thought about ‘gagging orders’. There was a lot Mourinho told us that I can’t share with you - which is a shame. A great shame. 

But as I watched the other night I started to think about what he’d said regarding that second-placed finish the season before - ‘one of my greatest achievements with that group’ he’s argued. More and more I think he’s right. The truth is United aren’t very good are they? And without the talisman from the previous season - Ibrahimovic - there wasn’t a big enough character at the club to demand dressing room discipline. 

Solskjaer might yet deliver top 4. He could even deliver a trophy (at the time of writing they haven’t played Chelsea) but is he going to be the right man to take United forward from here? Can he attract the big names required to make them better? Is he strong enough to upset his big stars - something that he hasn’t had to do yet? 

I’m not for a moment suggesting United are in the same kind of terminal decline that Leeds found themselves in - but the days when their fans could expect a trophy or two from every season are gone. Their era of total dominance is over. 

Chief Exec Ed Woodward has got a massive decision to make now - and it could end up being his last. If he gets it wrong again he’ll have to go and there are plenty of candidates circling wanting his job - van der Sar, Schmeichel and inevitably Gary Neville. 

These are fascinating times at Old Trafford. Before you start tweeting your aggressive replies to the above - pause. Lay aside your deep bias. Just think for a moment. Consider this. What is it that history can teach us? Correct - that we should never forget the lessons that history can teach us. 

Why Graeme Souness was correct....

Published: Tuesday, 05 February 2019

Have you seen this? I posted it on Twitter and Instagram....

Click Here

Brilliant eh? Just hearing his voice sends shivers down my spine. He was why Liverpool were always my 2nd favourite team as I grew up. Listen to it again before you read on....

Other than that razor sharp, gravelly, mesmerising Scottish accent - do you know the best thing about it? Correct - it’s simplicity. He’s right. Absolutely right.

Football is a very simple game - largely unchanged. The goals are the same size. The pitches are better, but largely the same size. The ball is better, but the same size. And here’s another fact, no matter what era , the successful football teams will always have had the best players.

It isn’t about 4-2-3-1’s. 4-4-2’s. 4-3-3’s. 4-1-2-3’s. My goodness, listening to today’s modern co-comms makes my head hurt. Within 3 minutes of a game starting they’re explaining game plans, telling us what’s going wrong - who’s ‘isolated’ and why. It’s nonsense. I’m forever grateful that I live and work in a part of the world where I can enjoy listening to the excellent Andy Townsend and Jim Beglin. They’re both quality - keeping things simple.

Before I go on, let’s get all the abuse out of the way from the keyboard cowards - who aren’t going to like much else in this column. ‘W****r’. ‘Sexist’. ‘Hairy prick’. ‘Adulterer’. And ‘disgraced’ - that one is especially for my friends at the Daily Mail. There we are. Done. Now maybe we can have a sensible debate.

That’s the thing about football - it inspires debate. We all have an opinion. We’re all allowed to have an opinion. There’s nothing better than listening to a ‘debate’ about football - or in my case - steering one. I’m so lucky that I’ve done it for an awful long time now.

That’s why I was really sad to see my mate Graeme Souness in trouble at the weekend. His crime was to question Alex Scott - an excellent contributor by the way, about her use of the phrase ‘low block’. I’ve done it. I’ve laughed in studios about guests use of this phrase. It means ‘defending deep’ as Graeme pointed out. He’d have done the same if he’d heard it used by anyone - male or female.

I repeat what I said earlier. Football is a simple game - and simple usesge of words should be associated with it. Have you ever walked into a pub and heard someone say ‘Aguero got a brace today’? No. Nor me. You’d more likely hear ‘Aguero got 2’. What is a ‘lateral free-kick hit with tension’? You’ll hear modern coaches - male and female - say that. What is it? As Reidy would say ‘it’s a good diag’. What about ‘percussive vertical football’? I’m lost here. I have absolutely no idea - but I keep hearing it. ‘Inverted full-backs’. ‘False 9’s’. ‘Gegen press’? I know that - it’s winning the ball back high up the pitch. Liverpool always did it. Ian Rush would trigger their press. If he closed a full-back or centre half Souness and Dalglish would pounce. If they were too stretched Rush would be told not to go. What about ‘abstract reasoning’ and ‘perceptual intelligence’? ‘Synchronicity and geometric movement’. Honestly - I’ve no idea. ‘Playing through zone 14’ - I know that one - they mean ‘the edge of the box’.

Ask yourself - how many times have you used any of those phrases when you’ve played at the weekends? I know the answer - never. And how much has the game you play today changed as a result of what we’re told has ‘moved on’ on tv. Answer? Nothing.

That Liverpool side I refereed to is the best team I’ve ever seen play football - ‘control, pass, move’ that was the mantra. ‘Get it, give it, go’. Does that sound familiar? Correct - Guardiola’s Barcelona - and now City - do it. There’s nothing new. What about Bill Nicholson’s ‘push and run’ Spurs? Catterick’s ‘School of Science’? Greenwood’s ‘Academy’? It’s all been done before.

All Graeme did was ask - ‘please justify what you’re saying’. The whole idea of a tv studio is to spark debate around a football match and it shouldn’t matter what gender a guest is. If you make a statement - justify it. If we can’t have a debate we’ll soon be like the US - where everybody gets a timed 30 seconds and we all move on.

I’ve said many times before - I don’t understand why everything these days has to be hammered. I don’t know why domestic broadcasters pay millions for football rights and then destroy the product every weekend. Cherish it. Care for it. Love it. We all need it.

Let me finish by saying this - next to Andy Gray - Graeme Souness is the best ‘expert’ working in tv - and by a million miles. He talks - we all listen (well, I don’t. There’s little I like more than winding him up!) He’s won everything as a player and manager. He’s got an opinion that’s worth listening to. He can justify anything he says. He’s been there. He’s done it all. He’s bossed games - he’s stood in technical areas - he scrapped with the best on and off a pitch.

I have no problem with tv evolving as it has. So it should. That’s something that can change. I’ve changed it. But studios are to be mixed gender that shouldn’t mean a man is frightened to offer an opinion because he’ll be branded as ‘sexist’. What nonsense. We can all have an opinion. The keyboard cowards aren’t right because they make the most noise. My science teacher always told me that it’s the ‘empty vessels that make the most noise’. That hasn’t changed either.

At last Rafa - something to shout about

Published: Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Let’s try one last time to have a sensible conversation with you Geordies.

I’ll start by repeating what I’ve always said - great club - terrific supporters. Both are unique in many ways. When we first started the Premier League project there was little we liked more than a trip to Newcastle. Again - I’ve said all this before - we were treated wonderfully well by Sir John Hall. We’d always have dinner the night before at Wynyard Hall talking football, philosophy and as the night wore on - complete nonsense with King Kev, Sir John and the 2 Freddie’s - Fletcher and Shepherd. It was brilliant.

You knew what you’d get on match day as well - a vibrant, exciting afternoon watching football that would ebb and flow, keeping you on the edge of your seat until the final whistle.

Keegan’s teams played with all the enthusiasm that he exuded as an individual. It was fun. It was a wonderful era and it deserved a better ending.

Sir John was at the heart of it all. He loved it - but as the wheels came off the project his reputation and ideals were trashed - as so often is the case. Few, of any, ever liked Freddie Shepherd. Fred was a really good friend of mine. He died having never recovered from what he believed to be the treachery of the sale to Mike Ashley. He was on a hospital bed - fighting for his life - when the deal went through. But let’s not forget how he was treated by Newcastle fans. Nothing was ever enough, despite the millions that he invested and once he’d sacked Sir Bob - well that really was the end. I loved Bob. We got on well, but Freddie was right - it was time - for many reasons that never became public - and nor should they.

I remember the relief when Mike Ashley took over. Now - let me say again - other than one trip on his plane from Newcastle to London - when he told me he was going to give Alan Shearer the manager’s job - and one evening in a Newcastle pub with the then chairman Chris Mort - I don’t know Ashley. I don’t approve of many of the things he’s done at the club - but the bottom line is - it’s his club and he can do as he wants. He can run it as he wants. It’s his.

I don’t like the owners at Coventry. They’ve ruined our club. We’re only a handful of games from not having a stadium to play in again. We play in League One. We played in League Two last season. We don’t know what Mark Robins feels about SISU because he never complains. He gets on with his job - doing his best in really trying circumstances. Lee Bowyer does the same at Charlton. There are deep problems at Sheffield United - but Chris Wilder simply gets on with his job. It’s the same at Wednesday. Gary Monk has got his hands tied at Birmingham, but what a good job he’s doing. It’s been chaos at QPR for years. How about Swansea? Cardiff? Wigan? The list is endless. There are problems for managers all over the country. What about what McCoist went through at Rangers?

I don’t read about the guys managing these and many other clubs ‘threatening to walk’ every 10 minutes. They simply do the job they’ve got to the best of their ability. They all know the rules - you really can walk if you’re unhappy - unless you’ve got to pay the owner £6m to get out of your contract - an owner that picked you up after you’d been sacked after 6 months in your last two jobs.

Newcastle are not going to compete with the top 6 in the PL any time soon - no matter who the owner is. The ‘big 6’ have gone away from the rest now. Do you remember the Venky’s taking over at Blackburn promising Champions League football in exchange for a £5m investment? It was laughable. Oh, and there’s another manager getting on with his job - Tony Mowbray - and look what he’s got to put up with.

Unless a ‘country’ buys Newcastle their supporters can forget about the Keegan/Dalglish/Robson year’s. They’re over. And let’s once again point out - Ashley has had Newcastle for sale for years now, but no-one wants to buy it. (yet!)

So what can Newcastle fans expect? Indeed - demand? I’d say a Cup run - minimum. That would excite everybody. Why not? For goodness sake - Newcastle aren’t going down, so why did Benitez make 11 changes at Watford and toss off another campaign? That isn’t Ashley’s fault. If he interfered with team selection and demanded a Cup run all hell would let loose. By the way, Palace are still in the Cup. They’ll expect to win at Doncaster - then a 1/4-final beckons. Their supporters will be on fire at that prospect. Why not Newcastle? It’s a disgrace that they’re out. There’s no reason they should be out. King Kev would never have allowed that. A Cup run won’t see Palace relegated. The momentum they get from it could easily see them finish top half.

Rafa wants money. He’s had money. He had £102m and the biggest budget in the Championship to get Newcastle back into the PL. Chris Hughton had nothing like his funds but got Brighton up - as he did Newcastle when he was in charge.

Spending money isn’t the answer to PL success. Are West Ham any better this season after a £100m spend last summer? Are Bournemouth?

Mike Ashley won’t ever win any popularity contests in Newcastle. Nor will I. For some reason Benitez continues to weave spells that have the locals transfixed by some of his nonsense. Now he doesn’t have to pay Ashley £6m to walk - he can do just that - or serve up a few more nights like Tuesday’s against City and return Newcastle to the days when James’ Park was jumping every week.

It’s too late for a Cup run this season. Next time round winning silverware should be the priority - whoever owns the club and whoever is managing the club. It’s too good a club for one man to try and convince us all that it would collapse without him. No it wouldn’t. No it wouldn’t.

Thats another fine mess you’ve got into Ole.

Published: Wednesday, 19 December 2018

What on earth is going on at Manchester United? Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer. Really?

How many more times can Ed Woodward get it wrong? I don’t know Ole. I’m told he’s a lovely guy. He’s a legend at United that’s for sure - but what else about the former Molde manager, who had a disastrous spell in charge of Cardiff, qualifies him to take over from Mourinho? The answer is - nothing. Absolutely nothing.

We’re talking about Manchester United here - arguably the biggest club in world football. I know it’s only temporary - but why? It’s a staggering decision. Have they given up on the season totally?

At Cardiff Solskjaer had 30 games to save them from relegation. He won 9, losing 16. That’s it. That’s the sum total of his ‘senior’ managerial career.

‘Ah, he’s one of us’ United fans will say. So was Wilf McGuiness. And I don’t wish to be unkind - but Mike Phelan? I do know Mike. He’s a great guy, but his time has come and gone.

What I’m watching now smacks of the same decline that followed Busby, with the club following one bad decision with another. I’m not saying it will end the same way, but once rot sets in it’s very hard to cut out. This happened at Liverpool as well and it’s taken 28 years for them to get it right - in and off the pitch. They’ve got a structure in place now that is delivering top to bottom.

How United fans would love to have Klopp on their side. He’s a force of nature - right out of the Fergie mould. It’s too late if course. Too late for Guardiola. Pochettino is the man they’re closely linked with - but Real want him. That will be a fascinating tug of war if Pochettino really is the one they want. And it will say a lot about their ability to still get what they want. And let’s not forget - right now he’s Tottenham’s manager. He might just fancy carrying on at Spurs. In which case, that would make Mourinho right - no longer can United buy ‘the best’ at other clubs. It’s ironic he used Spurs as an example. Or was it? Did he know something?

I wonder if United let Fergie stay too long? In every respect United are now playing ‘catch up’. And the problem with trying to catch up is that everybody else around and about you will push on and make progress at the same time as you’re chasing them. Perhaps United should’ve started modernising sooner?

I’ve said before that United’s dominance of English football is over. They’re now ‘one of the rest’. I’ve seen it before. They were under Big Ron and for the first five years of Fergie’s reign. These are frightening times for United fans.

So what would I have done now? If I knew I’d got Poch in the bag and was simply waiting if have appointed Laurent Blanc. He’d have taken it. I’ve heard from sources that have checked.

He’s ‘one of United’s own’, so that the emotion covered. He’s hugely experienced. He’s a winner. He’s a modern coach, with all the same beliefs about playing the way United used to. His Paris teams were a joy to watch, but they also had muscle. He knows the PL and he knows all about PSG. How useful might that have been at the next round of the CL? He’s also someone Pogba would’ve loved to have played for.

United have also spoken to Zidane. After meeting in Paris two months ago, they made him an offer this week that he was unsure about. His preference is to start work in July - if the job is still on offer. I don’t blame Woodward entirely for missing out here - but what a statement that would’ve been - putting in a 3-time CL winner, whilst as the same time re-structuring the club - like Liverpool - top to bottom. Perhaps he should have locked Zidane in a room and refused to let him out until he said ‘yes’.

Ole couldn’t say ‘no’ - but he’s walked into a job that’s far too big for him - and United have made another fine mess. I wish him well - and all the luck in the world. He’s going to need it

Qatar - the mighty atom that dared to dream

Published: Tuesday, 18 December 2018

When asked ‘why Qatar?’ My reply is always the same ‘why not Qatar?’

On this day (December 18) in 2022 the World Cup Final will be played in the country that dared to dream. As an Englishman, nothing will give me more pride if my team is in that final. How good would that be? The country I was born in, playing for the greatest sporting prize of all, in the country I now live in and have grown to love.

There are so many mis-understandings about Qatar and this part of the world. I find that most ‘experts’ on this State are those that shout the loudest and have never been here. They are on most subjects aren’t they?

Crime? There isn’t any. In the five years I’ve lived here I’ve never once locked a car - or my house. Everybody has a bed. Unemployment is unheard of. Despite the best efforts of some of its neighbours to adversely affect it, the economy is buoyant. At this time of year the weather is gorgeous. And the golf is great!

‘Ah, but what about the workers?’, I hear you scream. ‘What about workers rights?’. Fair point. I’m not going to pretend that things are perfect on that front, but I can tell you that a lot has changed in that respect. Progress has sometimes been slow, but progress has been made. Sustainable change can’t happen overnight. If things are to change forever then progress has to be ‘managed’ and change has to be permanent. That’s what’s happening.

‘Ah, but they bought it’.... How many times have I heard that? One enquiry after another has cleared Qatar of any wrong doing. What has been exposed are the back stories to 2006 and 2010, but there’s never too much of a fuss made about those awards. Why not? The anger about Qatar is based on England’s failed 2018 bid, jealously and dare I say it, racism at times.

For me, there is no good reason why Qatar, an Arab country, shouldn’t host the World Cup. ‘But it was supposed to be played in the summer’.... I’ve heard that a lot too. Yes, the award was made on the basis that it would be played in June and July. The Qatari’s were well aware of that and planned accordingly. Every stadium would be air conditioned. Trust me, the technology works. It’s fantastic. The decision to move the tournament was made by FIFA.

Why not play it in December? Players will arrive here in peak fitness, not at the end of a draining domestic season, carrying knocks and on the brink of injury. For that reason alone this could be the best WC ever.

Other countries don’t share England’s anger about 2022. Every time an English journalist whines on about what a disgrace the award was the majority of the rest of the world shrugs its shoulders. It’s hard to express the depth of feeling people have about what is perceived ‘English arrogance’. Take the outdated anthem ‘Football’s Coming Home’. Is it? ‘Home’? Where is football’s ‘home’? I’ve argued with Geoff Shreeves about this since last summer. The song fired up the Croats that’s for sure. They’ve said as much. Paul Pogba has made his point about it. No. Football does NOT belong to England.

I’m aware that the song is based on ‘irony’ and mocks English failures since 1966, but that’s not the way it’s ‘heard’ by people overseas when it’s played. If I was Gareth Southgate I’d insist it was never played again. It inspires the opposition more than anything else does. It smacks of arrogance. There’s simply no point.

The last overplayed criticism of Qatar is that there’s no football heritage here. That’s not true. They’ve had a professional league here since the 70’s - around the time that the Brits shipped out and gave the country independence. Let’s not dwell on the Colonial interference eh? ‘Since the 70’s? Is that all.....’. Could someone perhaps remind me of the heritage in the USA when they won the WC in 1994? Correct. There wasn’t one, but look at it now. And they’re back for more.

Football in this part of the world is a way of life. Manchester City have Arab owners. So do Paris. Barcelona, Bayern and Roma have all been touched by Arab money.

We could argue all day about whether football should be a ‘business’. It is now, that’s the bottom line. There’s no going back.

As for me, I know very well that I’ll unleash another barrage of criticism for the above, but this is how it is from my perspective.

I’ve known these guys since 2008, when I first worked here. They’re loyal and grateful. For the first time in my life I work in an environment where people appreciate what I do. I’ve made many friends here.

I’ve been quiet lately because I’ve been tinkering with my book, which I won’t now publish until I’m finished. Reading through it I realised that I've always worked in an environment where people didn’t like what I did. Breakfast TV for example. Those of us that started what’s now the norm were trailblazers. Inadvertently we gave you Piers Morgan (sorry!).

No-one wanted Sky Sports to succeed. I’ve said this many times - Fergie gave us six months - and when we passed his prediction date he banned us from having anything to do with his first title success. Maybe that was just a co-incidence! What we achieved at Sky was remarkable.

And now I find myself fronting the English language service for a massive broadcast organisation whose tentacles touch all parts of the globe. I’m chuffed to bits to be doing it all over again. It’s an absolute pleasure.

And I make no apologies for whole heartedly supporting Qatar 2022. I repeat, this tiny Nation dared to dream. They’ve promised to ‘Deliver Amazing’ four years from now. I know they will. The Arab world deserves an event like this. I hope everybody in this region sees the sense in that and joins in. So I’ll leave you as we started on this subject - Qatar 2022 - why not? And come on England....👍🏼

I obviously can’t finish without mentioning Mourinho. He’s got what he wanted. He’s out. He’s been trying to get out for six months or more. A huge cloud has been lifted at Old Trafford. I got it wrong. I thought he was a perfect fit - but what a shambles he made of it all. He lost the players months ago. He lost the fans more recently and he lost the Board on Sunday at Anfield. Manchester United is a fantastic football club. Ed Woodward has one more role of the dice. I genuinely hope he gets it right. If he doesn’t then he’s got to go next time. ‘An enemy of football’ Ramon Calderon, the X President of Real Madrid, once called Mourinho. I’ve got bad news Ramon - he might just be heading your way again. 🤣🤣

A Statement

Published: Sunday, 02 December 2018

Enough. This outrageous character assassination has got to stop. Here are some facts. My wife has been in remission from cancer for 7 years. We battled the initial diagnosis together and she handled - and continues to handle her recovery - bravely.


Lucie Rose is NOT my daughters friend. They met twice - once in Qatar when I asked her and her friend to look after Jemma on a night out. It went horribly wrong. Lucie later went to see Jemma in London to see if she could help with her addictions. Sadly she couldn’t, but she wanted to try. That’s it. I don’t consider 2 meetings to be enough contact to be described as a ‘friend’. 

Sadly my daughters problems have haunted our family for 15 years or more. Those that know us well would tell you that we have tried everything to help her. We’ve spent in excess of £250,000 on rehab. I have never come up short on family matters.
Jemma’s issues are at the core of my marriage break-up. My wife and I disagree on her treatment. Quite simply - I refuse to ‘enable’ her with her problems any further. Those with addictions will understand what I mean.


I’ve stayed quiet these past few years - despite an onslaught from ill-informed social media cowards and the pride of the great British Press. How can anyone at The Sun - owned by an organisation that is rotten from the top down - pass judgement on me? And that newspaper is not alone in its inaccurate tiresome assassination attempts on me.


Enough now. Leave me alone to deal with personal family issues that are in no-ones interests to hear about. One day I will reveal everything that happened when I left Sky. For now, let’s leave it at this - I resigned on a matter of principle accepting that some felt that was the correct thing to do after the initial incident. I did my time. I re-built with the help of some fantastic employers both at home and now in Qatar. I repeat. Enough. Leave me alone.

Sorry. Buck this idea.

Published: Thursday, 15 November 2018

Has football finally lost the plot? Two hundred and fifty grand per club - totalling a good-bye gift of £5m for Richard Scudamore, the outgoing Chief Executive of the Premier League. You can not be serious.

Why? Somebody please tell me why? Look, I’ve known Richard for longer than he’s been at the Premier League. We’ve played a lot of golf together. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been invited to birthday parties/drinks at his house. At different times he’s been a good mate - although I am still waiting for him to call and ask me how my heart surgery went! As I was about to go under the knife I was amazed to discover that Richard had previously been on the same operating table! I heard from many people during my period of recovery - Graeme Souness obviously, but also David Murray, the former Rangers owner and my long time mate, the late Ray Wilkins (I still miss you fella. You left a big hole).  But never Richard, although I had taken time to call him and tell him what was about to happen to me. I can’t pretend I wasn’t disappointed I never heard from him again. 

 

I was quickly on the phone when he found himself engulfed by similar issues to those which Andy and I had faced at Sky. He was in bigger trouble, but there was no appetite to bury him. I was pleased about that. 

Let it also be said that Scudamore has done a fantastic job steering the Premier League for the last 19 years. Almost single-handedly he’s made it the most financially stable and most watchable league in the world. I know both those things split opinions, with some believing that he’s done more than anyone else to take the game away from the man in the street. I can’t complain about that. At Sky we were at the forefront of that process, before Scudamore had even been heard of. 

It’s reported that Scudamore has earned £1.9m/year for his work - plus bonuses. Conservatively, let’s say he’s £20m better off than he was when he took the job. He worked hard for his money and I have no problem with someone being rewarded for being the best. Scudamore has been that. But a £5m going away present? £5m? £250,000 from each Premier League club. Stop and think for a moment what that kind of money would do for grass roots football within a 5 mile radius of those clubs. 

 

How many times down the years have we seen lower league clubs go bust - needing a million here or a million there? Did the Premier League ever lift a finger to help any of them? No. Never. 

The ‘present’ is the idea of the Chelsea Chairman, Bruce Buck. Has he completely lost the plot? Do Premier League clubs have so much money that they can throw it about like this? It’s madness. It’s an insult. 

If they want to buy Scudamore a present, have a word with somebody at Hublot and get him another fancy watch. A watch -  isn't that what retirees have generally received down the years? Rarely a Hublot, but he’s worth it! 

There are also calls today for Scudamore to receive a New Year’s honour. People with short memories are pushing for that. Fine. That won’t cost any money. 

Knowing Scudamore as I do I’m staggered that he hasn’t already said ‘no thanks’ to the idea of the ‘leaving present’. It’s obscene. 

 

Here’s an idea. Let every Premier League club let in real fans for nothing - to the tune of £250,000 - the next time they play a home game. If you’re one of those who believe the game has been taken away from the man in the street - let that be Scudamore’s legacy eh? A present. A ‘thank you’ for your tolerance. Sorry Bruce - you’ve got this one badly wrong and football should Buck the idea. 

And to think about the fuss that was made about honouring a modern day hero like Rooney with a match for charity. You couldn’t make it up.

So far so good.....

Published: Monday, 08 October 2018

So as we break for the second time this season, I think we’re beginning to get some idea of how the season is going to unfold.

It’s still very early, but we’re beginning to see some patterns emerge. Of course, there’s enough time yet for some real drama to unfold somewhere - and it will - but there’s some ‘shape’ about the PL now.

The three at the top have been terrific. I expected to see City and Liverpool there - it’s Chelsea that have surprised me. I thought it would take Maurizio Sarri a lot longer to get his team going, but they’ve flown out of the traps. There’s one very good reason why as well - Eden Hazard, who I reckon is the best player in Europe right now. I suppose that might also make him the best player in the world! If that’s the case, then he’s done exactly what Joe Cole told me and Andy he would when he came on our talkSPORT radio programme back in 2011. Joe was playing with Hazard at Lille and said to us ‘the kid will one day be the best player in the world’.

Hazard has been fantastic this season - playing where he always should’ve done - up top causing havoc with his pace and fast feet. Watch how quickly he manipulates a ball. How smartly he gets a shot off with so little effort. He’s clinical. Brilliant. And he’s one of those that you know WILL score when he gets in one-on-one. How Joe must wish he’d been given that role when he was at Chelsea - but Mourinho had him doing what he demanded of Hazard - getting up and down and putting a shift in defending. What a waste.

Anyway, we’ve got 3 unbeaten, with Arsenal and Spurs right on their heels. I’m still not sure what to make of The Gunners. Yes, they’re on a fantastic run, but let’s not forget, they lost their first two - against Chelsea and City - and they haven’t really had a test since. Look, Emery is obviously having an effect, but they still look soft centred to me. Let’s remain positive though - they played some wonderful stuff at Fulham and Ramsey’s goal was a joy - from back to front. His gesture on scoring was interesting. Did you see it? He opened his arms and looked totally puzzled. Was it a message to Emery? Almost certainly. What are Arsenal thinking letting this guy walk away for nothing at the end of the season? It’s madness. A committed, professional, one-club man is so rare these. In Ramsey, Arsenal have got one - and they don’t want to offer him a new deal? It’s crazy.

Spurs have made their best start to a PL season - but I still think they’ll end up being the ‘nearly’ men again. They haven’t got the numbers required to mount a serious challenge.

Despite the win Saturday, United are still in a desperate mess. You know my feelings on Mourinho. I’m so disappointed because I really thought he’d deliver at Old Trafford, but he’s done what he always does. The place is toxic and it’s all his fault. I had my say in my last blog, so let’s leave it there.

Bournemouth have been brilliant so far. What a job Eddie Howe has done. When will someone trust him with a big club I wonder? And Wolves - they’re a great watch right now. Both clubs should finish top half.

Leicester are in and out. So are Watford and Everton, but you can see signs of progress at Goodison. They still desperately need a front man though. As we know, Watford made a really bright start, but we might just have seen the shape of things to come at the weekend.

Burnley are better without the distraction of Europe. I know Sean Dyche said he wanted to have a go at the Europa League, but quietly I reckon he’s pleased to be out of the competition.

Brighton should be ok. Chris Hughton will have set a ‘point a game’ target and they’re spot on again. It was a ploy that served them well last season.

Palace need a result at home or I fear Roy Hodgson will come under the cosh. Mark Hughes will find himself under pressure as well if he doesn’t sort out Southampton’s home form. They were poor v Chelsea. There was no energy. No fight. No ambition. This isn’t all Mark’s fault - there’s been a ‘drift’ at St Mary’s now for quite some time. It is Hughes’ job to sort it out though.

The Hammers are interesting. When they’re at it they’re very good, but I still fear it’ll be a long season. Spending money doesn’t guarantee anything. I would add this - they’re much better with their skipper, Mark Noble, in the side. What a terrific leader he is. A ‘proper’ player as Graeme Souness might say! The problem is that he can’t get about anymore. I mentioned this early season - it means he can’t play alongside Jack Wilshere. He can’t run now either, so you can’t have them both in the same team. Jack’s injury must’ve come as something of a relief to Pellegrini, but what does he do when he’s fit again? I wouldn’t play him. Simple.

Fulham have got to be really careful after Sunday’s beating. Jokanovic needs to find a system that works in the PL. I get the feeling he’s still searching, but time is against him.

Cardiff are down. So are Huddersfield. And that leaves Newcastle. They won’t go down. I was pleased to see Benitez make that same statement this weekend. Fair play to him - they had a really good go at Old Trafford and who knows how it would’ve turned out had they been awarded the pen they were due at 0-2. It was a stick on. As we saw at Anfield - there are no guarantees from the spot, but I’ve said this so often, when you’re in the backyard of the big boys you simply want what you’re due. It was a pen. I’m sure 0-3 would’ve seen them win the game.

One last thing. Why on earth was Antony Taylor in charge at Old Trafford? He lives in Altrincham - 6 miles from the ground. Not for a minute am I suggesting that he was biased - but he’s open to the allegation of favouritism isn’t he? Why did the PGMOL made such a daft decision? There are plenty of other refs who could’ve done the game. I’m confused by the decision making. The PGMOL once stopped Graham Poll taking charge of a game at Arsenal because he lived in Tring - 30 miles away. What’s the policy guys? We all need to know.

Man dis-United

Published: Tuesday, 28 August 2018

It’s over Jose. It’s time to go. You’re kidding yourself now. You’ve lost your players, the club is a mess and if you think the support of a couple of hundred fans at The Stretford End is public backing?  You’re wrong. 

As the ‘glum one’ stood in front of those fans applauding I honestly thought he was saying ‘thanks, and goodbye’. Perhaps he was. Perhaps he was expecting the axe to fall Monday night? Unless something changes dramatically and quickly it will. It’s only a matter of ‘when’. 

I didn’t see the brave, bold, adventurous performance that Mourinho talked about. I didn’t see a team that deserved a two-goal half time lead. I listened to my beINSPORTS colleague Andy Gray make the very accurate assessment that a half-time draw was about right. Yes, Lukaku missed a sitter and a very good chance to bury a header, but Spurs should’ve had a pen - Jones pushed Moura over. It was a pen! 

Anyway, by the end United weren’t just beaten, they were mesmerised by Spurs and their only answer was the familiar Plan B - drop it on Fellaini’s head. 

I told you last week that Mourinho had lost his players. They don’t skip about a playing surface as Spurs did - or City and Liverpool do - they look like they’ve got divers boots on. There’s no life in them. It’s Manchester United - but not as we knew it. Nothing like it. 

And as Mourinho left the arena, pausing to applaud that handful of fans - later claiming that he had the backing of ‘the best judges’ - perhaps he hadn’t noticed that Old Trafford was half empty before the final whistle. I’ve never seen anything like it. United fans leaving before the final whistle? No-one would walk out of that stadium before ‘Fergie-time’ because they knew impossible was nothing on so many occasions down the years. 

Read more: Man dis-United

No way Jose

Published: Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Well that’s another one I got spectacularly wrong! I remember writing that I believed Mourinho and Manchester United were a ‘match made in heaven’. In fact, I was so sure about it that I had United to win the title in his first season at Old Trafford. Er - wrong. And wrong again!

My reasoning was that Mourinho had been the course before. I reckoned that Guardiola would need a year to adapt, but once he had there would be trouble for the rest. So, I’ll claw back a little bit of respect there!

I just couldn’t see how Mourinho could fail. He’d got a job he’d always coveted. He knew the Premier League. He was smiling again and he was going to get backing from United - to date £401m of it.

He hasn’t failed entirely. He’s won trophies. He returned United to the Champions League, but not with a smile or a swagger, it’s all been done with a growling, snarling aggression.

I don’t have a problem with ‘effective’ football. There are many different ways to play the game. If you’re Sean Dyche you’ve got to ‘grind’. You’ve got to work damned hard for everything you get. Nothing comes easy. But that shouldn’t be the case at United. Never the case at United.

There’s no fun anymore at Old Trafford. It’s hard watching United. They’re slow. They’re laborious. They don’t frighten the opposition these days. At the weekend Brighton were the better team. They were better in every position.

Mourinho sat brooding. His players largely ignored him.

Read more: No way Jose