Age is no limit

Published: Wednesday, 26 October 2016

What a wonderfully unpredictable season we've got on our hands - so far anyway! And my title tip - Mourinho and Man Utd - are doing their best to make me look as much of a mug as I did last season after predicting Leicester would go down! 

How bad were they at Chelsea? Awful is the answer. And despite the fact that they got out of Anfield with a point last Monday, they weren't much better there. 

I read a piece by Mourinho this weekend where he was arguing that all he's got to do to win over United's fanatical support was 'win'. Wrong Jose. Yes, that's part of the formula, but managing Manchester Utd comes with a responsibility to understand the club and 'entertain' whilst winning. Nothing else will do. 

Right now there's a lot of re-building to be done, so I accept that it's a process, but on recent evidence Mourinho looks miles away from achieving either. 

They're missing Rooney for sure. Before you jump all over me, undertake this exercise for yourselves - look at the results with him his season - and compare them to the results without him. He's a leader. He's the captain. He makes things happen. 

And tell me this - what is Ibrahimovic doing to justify his selection that Rooney wasn't? Or Pogba? Or the dreadful, ponderous Fellaini? There's three major problems right there, but Ibra comes with a reputation, Pogba with a huge price tag, so I can understand Mourinho persisting with them, but Fellaini? United really should be charged with bringing the game into disrepute every time they play this lumbering, laborious neanderthal. He is hopeless. Embarrassing. He can't run and he can't pass a ball forward. He can't open up defences and he often can't keep his elbows to himself. He is NOT a Man Utd player, yet he gets in ahead of Rooney? I know Wayne was injured on Sunday, but he hasn't been. 

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Back in business.

Published: Thursday, 13 October 2016

Is it only me, or do we all feel the same about these international breaks?  I hate them. I shut down. The only thing I'm thinking about, from the moment the last P Lge ball is kicked and we stop, is 'when do we get going again?'

I know it shouldn't, but international football is starting to leave me stone cold. I'm not sure that players themselves aren't beginning to feel that way too. I've mentioned it before - playing for England now isn't fun. The Scots have had a kicking this past fortnight as well - and Wales. What is it about our Press boys? Why is there always so much negativity?

Answer me this - how much better were England without Wayne Rooney? The guys bullied Gareth Southgate into leaving him out - to what end? I was disappointed that Southgate buckled so easily under media pressure. At least Roy Hodgson took a couple of years before he started dancing to Fleet Streets' tune. Southgate wants to please everybody I know, but I thought he made the wrong call on Rooney.

Oh, and when the new England boss says 'I inherited a mess' who is he blaming? Big Sam, who only had 67 days to create that mess, or the previous regime, which Southgate was very much a part of? 

Briefly on the skipper - Rooney remains the only player England have that frightens the opposition. United blitzed Leicester without him - scoring four in 20 first half minutes - three from set pieces, which I suspect they would've done with Rooney on the pitch, but what happened v Stoke? I didn't read anything from the people who'd castigated him following the Leicester game admitting that he's not United's problem. I'll make a little prediction here - I'll bet Mourinho plays him against Liverpool on Monday night.

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You were Super - Spurs

Published: Monday, 03 October 2016

The air of invincibility around Pep Guardiola and his City team was blown away by Tottenham's tornado. What a game. I enjoyed it more than anything else I've seen this season.

Spurs were terrific and had Eric Lamela scored with that penalty  3-0 wouldn't have flattered them.

Double training sessions you see - that's the way forward! Wait until they lose one though - then double training sessions will be to blame again!

So what of City? Have they been found out, not just by Spurs, but also Celtic? Well, not exactly. I thought Guardiola was both magnanimous and relaxed after the game. He's right - City are a work in progress and all those who thought they title race was over because of the way they'd started now need to re-assess. It wasn't over before the Spurs game - and it isn't now. City hadn't won it - and they haven't lost it. I was pleased to see Guardiola smiling in his post match interview as well. Early on in the season I thought he was surly and rude when facing reporters post match. It's not an easy that - for either the manager or the reporter. The guys in the tunnel do a really good job - none more so than Geoff Shreeves and I'm pleased to see how well Des Kelly has taken to it at BT.

What point was Mourinho trying to make when he said the performance against Stoke was 'United's best of the season'?

Is he saying that what's been served up prior to the weekend wasn't very good? Was he trying to protect those that this week toiled without their skipper Wayne Rooney? Funny isn't it, after a really good 20 mins last week, when they got four goals against Leicester, three of them from set-pieces, the media buried Rooney. And this week when he wasn't on the pitch and Utd struggled - was that Rooney's fault as well? I come back to what I said last week, they're a much better side without Fellaini, but like City, they're a work in progress. As for Jose's claims? As he said - we're all allowed our opinions!

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Much ado about something

Published: Friday, 30 September 2016

I've waited all week, mainly because we've been promised fireworks all week. As it turns out The Telegraphs' explosive expose of the wrong doings in English football has turned out - so far - to be like a wet Guy Fawkes night. 

In fairness they certainly stirred things up early in the week reporting the 'sting' that cost Sam Allardyce his job. I said on the day that I was both disappointed with Sam and for him too. With him? Well, as he realised very quickly he really shouldn't have put himself in the position that he did - and not said many of the things that he did. I'm sorry for him because in trying to do a life long friend a favour he cost himself his dream job. By the way, why is it that in every report I've read in The Telegraph so far, Scott McGarvey's name keeps coming up. Why was he at every meeting that The Telegraph set up, both him and the Italian agent Pino Pagliara?

Having served Sam up on a silver platter were we told that eight P Lge managers - either working or 'resting' - would be exposed for taking bungs. So far - nothing. All we've had is two sacrificial asst managers, one - Eric Black - a really good guy, who was also trying to do McGarvey a favour. I don't know anything about Tommy Wright. Oh, and Jimmy Ffloyd, who as far as I can see, was looking to negotiate a fee for public speaking in the Far East. Don't we all want to get paid for the work we do? 

Now, The Telegraph might yet reveal something far juicier, but in the meantime, why all the hysteria? Gary Lineker wants the Police called in to investigate. Perhaps that's not a bad idea, but how far back do we go? Do we investigate everything from the early 80's when all our top talent was going to play in Spain and Italy? Those guys invented the brown envelope. Are we to believe all those deals were clean? 

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West Ham and Rooney get Hammered

Published: Monday, 26 September 2016

After six games last season West Ham were in the top 3 - and my  suggestion that their fans 'should be careful what they wish for' wasn't looking too accurate. Many a Hammer would regularly, and quite rightly, point out how well Slaven Bilic had taken to life as a coach in the P Lge and that my fears weere considerably wide of the mark.

After six games this season West Ham are in the bottom three and my warnings don't look quite so daft do they?

Look, I have no desire to open up old wounds with West Ham fans and I genuinely don't like to see the club struggle - it's a fine club that's contributed hugely to the English game down the years, especially for those of us of a certain vintage - Moore, Peters and Hurst were all heroes of mine.

What always disappointed me about the modern West Ham fan was how ungrateful he/she was to Big Sam. Hands up - Sam is a mate so of course I'll defend him wherever and whenever I feel I have to. I first got close to him back in 2008 when I worked in Qatar for the first time and he was hugely supportive of me and Andy when we were tucked up by Sky. Aren't you supposed to be loyal to good friends? I thought that was unwritten law in the East End - perhaps more so than anywhere else in London?

Sam didn't just save West Ham at the most needy point in their history, he first settled and then built the club back into a P Lge outfit. Bilic has never been shy of making that point. Sam made last season possible.

In warning that Hammers fans 'should be careful what they wish for' I was making the point that the old fashioned belief that their team should always play the 'West Ham' way was outdated and dangerous. You simply can't play 'nice' football in our league anymore.

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Don't panic Mr Mourinho

Published: Monday, 19 September 2016

It certainly hasn't been the best week of Jose Mourinho's career. All of a sudden all kinds of damning statistics are flying about.

Here's a couple - losing at Watford meant United had been beaten for a third successive match, in the Portuguese's worst run of results for 15 years, since he was in charge of Porto in 2002. I can think of a few coaches that would love a record like that!

It's now 15 defeats in his last 33 matches - described as 'an utterly damning statistic for a manager in charge of two high end clubs' in The Mirror today. How many of those were due to the unprofessional manner in which his players at Chelsea 'downed tools' to get rid of him at Stamford Bridge? My maths tells me 12, so the stat isn't quite as 'damning' as it reads.

Another headline screamed 'Just not special anymore' referring to both Mourinho and Rooney. Rubbish!  They both are.

Granted, after a very good start to the season, the last seven days haven't been great and because Mourinho makes himself such an easy target for the media when things go wrong, he's always going to get a kicking, but I have no doubt that he'll sort things out.

I do hear worrying stories of a little unrest amongst a few players and I understand that Antony Martial is not his biggest fan - nor Mourinho Martial's. That's certainly something to keep an eye on. Martial wouldn't be the first wide man that Mourinho has fallen out with would he? He's got some serious 'previous' with some very high profile names on that front.

Having said that, who hasn't got unhappy players at a club? No-one. It's generally those who aren't playing that make the most fuss.

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Special 1 Pep 2

Published: Monday, 12 September 2016

With both apologies and thanks to the sub editor at the Sunday Mirror that came up with the best headline of the weekend. It was so good that I had to nick it! 

So was the game. I really enjoyed it. Often those big matches get surrounded by so much expectation that they fail to live up to the billing. Not this one. It was a terrific game. 

Full marks to Guardiola. I wasn't convinced that he'd be able to take his style of football to Old Trafford and dominate for virtually the whole game. But he did - and City thoroughly deserved their win. For me, they were the better team. But - and it's a big but - United should've had a penalty and Bravo was a lucky boy not to be sent off. There's no guarantees that United would've scored with the pen, but the keepers reckless lunge at Rooney met all the criteria for dangerous play. He should've gone and I'm really surprised that Mark Clattenburg, who I believe is our best ref now, thought differently. Mind you, so did my mate Andy Gray, but he was wrong as well! 

I said Saturday on Twitter that I thought Mourinho had picked the wrong team. I'm pleased he's been big enough to come out and admit it. Not not only did he pick the wrong team, I felt that United were far too passive. They sat off for virtually the whole of the first half and invited City to run rings round them. And so they did. 

I still can't understand why. I really fancied United because I thought they would be more 'powerful' - typically Mourinho - but I also thought that playing at home they'd get on the front foot, like United teams of old, and steamroller City. 

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Honest Mark Hasley

Published: Monday, 05 September 2016

He was Jose Mourinho's favourite ref. The two became close friends and remain in touch to this day, although not quite on the same regular basis. 

Asked why Mark Halsey was his favourite, Mourinho replied 'because he's honest'. I could stop writing now. What else is there to say? Well, quite a lot actually. 

Mark has been a friend of mine now for more than 10 years. I too have found him to be nothing but honest and honourable. 

Why is this important? Let me quote from Andy Dunn's excellent column in the Sunday Mirror today 'And his (Halsey's) allegations - if true - render the Professional Game Match Officials Limited unfit for purpose'. 

Of course I'm referring here to the furore surrounding Sergio Aguero's ban for throwing an elbow at Winston Reid. Those who follow me on Twitter will know I broke the story that Aguero would be charged at 9.30 on Tuesday morning. My sources told me that ref Andre Marriner had told the FA that he handn't seen the incident. We have to take him at his word, but why didn't he see it? He was 10 yards away. He MUST have seen the incident surely - if not, what is he doing taking charge of such important high profile football matches? 

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Things will only get better

Published: Monday, 29 August 2016

Things will only get better. Admittedly, not bad if you're a Chelsea, United or City fan but I can't think of too many other clubs' supporters that will be too happy about what they've seen from their team so far this season. It's been an ordinary start hasn't it? But it will get better. I think the international break has come at a nice time. 

Actually, Hull City fans have got to be pleased with what Mike Phelan has done - but I can't imagine anyone on Humberside is expecting anything other than a long hard season. How good were they against United? I'm delighted for Mike. I really do hope that he gets the job full time - and a realistic chance of some kind of success to go with it. Success this season would be staying up. 

I tweeted Saturday that I thought we'd seen a 'title winning result' from United. How typical of days gone by was that - a Fergie time winner? United look strong. The 'fear factor' is returning. I don't think they played particularly well, but that's what made the outcome - and the manner of it - all the more impressive. Taking three points away from a game like that is what champions do. They wouldn't have done last season. In fact, I think they would probably have been beaten. They're my tip to win it and I'm more confident about that after the first thee games. 

City were 'smooth' for 45 minutes weren't they? Their football was a delight and West Ham could've been buried before half time, but credit the Hammers with a really good second half. They dusted themselves down and gave it a go and let's not forget how short of their 'big guns' they were. They'll only get better.

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Is possession 9/10ths of the law?

Published: Monday, 22 August 2016

Now I may have got this completely wrong - but ever since I first went to watch Coventry aged 4 - I've been under the impression that the purpose of playing football is to win. Right? We all agree on that?

How? Simple. Put the ball in the opponents net more times than they do yours. Yes?

If you can do that with a panache and excitement that gets supporters on the edge of their seats - job done. That's how United always did it under Fergie. It was breathless stuff. Of course, there were times when it didn't all come together, but no one ever left Old Trafford early, just in case. 

Now not every manager is as fortunate to have the tools at their disposal that Fergie did, so not everybody can play like that, but the purpose of the game remains the same - find a way to put the ball in your opponents net. 

Let me quote Pep Guardiola again - his own words from his autobiography 'I hate possession for the sake of it. There is no purpose to it. Barca didn't do tiki-taka'. No. They didn't. They hunted the ball down. The pinched it back early. They'd overload on one side before moving the ball quickly to the other and exposing defensive weaknesses. And they had three geniuses - Messi, Xavi and Iniesta, that made winning matches a whole lot easier. 

So this brings me onto the headline below. 

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