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Yaya Toure Is Not Moving On – So City Fans Need To.

Relax everyone. Yaya is staying and it seems it was never in doubt. We can move on, secure in the knowledge that one of the world’s best midfielders will be strutting his stuff for the Citizens next season. What’s more, he wants to see out his contract and be at the club for a long time. As a result of his pledge, a few of us probably feel a bit stupid after slamming him constantly for the past two months, eh?

Well not quite. You’d have to be pretty naive to think Toure has not had a problem with City at any point this summer. His agent might be another of the type that like to stir, make spurious claims and generally unsettle their clients, and god knows plenty of his type have passed through City’s doors down the years, but there is no smoke without fire on this occasion, especially as his agent is such a close friend that Yaya named one of his children after him. Seluk is not some loose cannon making bold statements without the consent of his client.

So what did happen? You can type on a facebbok group page as many times as you want that he is a spoilt
mercenary, he owes the fans, he is paid a fortune, he should shut up, who does he think he is, he is dead to me, sell him, buy Pogba instead, why didn’t he quell the rumours, why ruin the celebrations, what is his problem, he needs to grow up and so on ad infinitum, but none of us knows what really happened.

My completely unsubstantiated, shot-in-the-dark, wild stab at the truth? Yaya, like many top footballers, is a precious soul. As subsequent missives have suggested, he doesn’t feel appreciated as a footballer – a cannibal, injury-feigning cheat winning Player of The Year awards ahead of him probably didn’t help. If he wasn’t black he’d get more adulation. If he wasn’t African, he and his national team would get more respect. This feeling of not being appreciated and loved then spread to his employers, who probably hadn’t realised they had a player requiring special attention. His agent was instructed to test the water about a possible change of career, a tactic used to engineer his move to City from Barcelona, a tactic that the agent seemed to dabble with every summer. Maybe this wasn’t done to get a move, but another new contract. Hey, it works for Wayne Rooney. The problem is, Yaya Toure’s cakegate moment was due to his 31st birthday. Not many clubs want to pay huge wages and a large transfer fee for a man in his thirties. It seemed Yaya’s options were limited, especially as it wasn’t long since the last shiny new contract. Thus Yaya and his agent back-tracked quicker than Liverpool’s open-topped bus.

And so, Yaya appears on Sky Sports News very briefly to mumble something down a telephone line telling us all he is disappointed by the speculation, speculation that he started. His reputation is still tarnished with many fans. What rankles most is that this was all so unnecessary, coming at a time as we all celebrated a double. There’s few things more unsavoury than a player and his unlicensed agent publically playing out a spat with their employers. If he has a problem with City, at least have the decency to sort it in private, rather than leaving cryptic messages in the public domain and getting your representative to talk utter drivel on Sky Sports News. Of course, footballers do not live in the same world as us, and do not think about the consequences of many of their actions. This whole saga was played this way deliberately, and was calculated by Toure and his camp for reasons we can’t verify, but they soon seemed to have realised that City’s hierarchy don’t stand for this sort of crap anymore. They decide who goes and who stays, not the players themselves. In addition to this, I doubt Yaya Toure is losing too much sleep at the thought that a few fans are not impressed with his actions over the summer – he won’t be aware of any anger. Hopefully he doesn’t have a Bluemoon subscription.

BUT. Yaya Toure’s younger brother died this summer. Some City fans seem to struggle with the magnitude of this. This was no sudden occurrence – he had fought cancer for some time. As Yaya Toure helped City fight for the title, he knew his brother was dying. As he celebrated the title triumph and jetted off to Abu Dhabi, he knew his brother was dying. As he flew to Brazil for the World Cup, he knew his brother was dying. And as he participated in the World Cup with Kolo, their brother passed away, aged just 28. This didn’t seem to matter too much to some fans when assessing the actions of Yaya Toure. Far more important than the death of a sibling was Yaya’s failure to assure needy football fans on the internet. I can’t begin to think what has been going through Toure’s mind over the past few months – so much to deal with, and I am not sure how I could have coped myself. He has been through hell, and I doubt we could all act like perfect human beings in such circumstances. The club knew this, and had offered extensive support over previous months – they knew to keep their counsel and try and resolve any problems quietly and efficiently.

So basically – cut him some slack. Not much maybe, but some. Personally, I couldn’t care less how much of a brat he may or may not be if he continues to perform on the pitch – if his performances wane, then it becomes a problem. Don’t cheer him, don’t chant his name, don’t consider him a legend, who cares? This is the guy who scored the winner in the semi-final of the FA Cup against United, the match when City truly arrived and everyone knew our name. He then scored the winner in the final to bring City their first trophy in a generation (the Thomas Cook trophy does not count). He scored a goal at Newcastle that to me was as important as THAT Aguero goal. His 20+ goals last season from midfield was vital in regaining the title. If he doesn’t have the diplomacy or respect of Kompany or Zabaleta then so be it. Carlos Tevez may never be a legend at City either (however you define such a thing), but both were vital in making this club what it is today. Toure is staying, he is not moving on – as fans, we need to do the opposite, and support the team as an exciting new season approaches. We all have short memories – a derby-winning goal and the summer saga will be a distant memory.


You can buy my Manchester City 2013/14 Season review book here:

Or at the National Football Museum, Urbis.

The Premier League v The Bundesliga: The Shocking Facts

From some time in 2013…….

Warning: the following article may contain many, many lies

As Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund swept all before them in the Champions League, there has been much debate about the merits of the Bundesliga, especially compared to the money-obsessed English Premier League. Having compared the two leagues, the differences make for astonishing reading. Here is how the two leagues compare:

Most Bundesliga season tickets cost under £100, and include free transport, as many bratwursts as you can eat (currywurst available on request), and a half-time massage. Free entry on the day can be secured with a cheeky wink and a winning smile at the turnstile (subject to availability, terms and conditions may apply).
In England, fans have to pay just to get the chance to buy tickets. Tickets prices average a month’s wages, and a hot dog costs more than a flat screen TV. Children get a 10% discount.
Soon German fans will experience this for themselves. Apparently a burger meal at Wembley will cost Dortmund fans more than a 30% stake in their own club.

Bundesliga actually comes from the Bavarian word “bundleschnak” which loosely means “a league for families who go through life together as one, united in spirit, the soul of its fans carrying the spirit to its glorious ends, and all for five euros”.
The English Premier League was named for commercial profit. It is always sponsored by the highest bidder, usually a nasty bank.

Under German law, a policeman is not allowed to touch a football fan at any time, nor use threatening or insulting language. The law came about after the infamous trouble at a Schalke v Hamburg game in 1986, when a policeman was alleged to have raised his voice to Schalke fan Ernest Schmidt after Schmidt complained to bar staff that his 10 cent Pils did not have a sufficient head on it. Schmidt explained that “I was shocked by the tone in his voice and was emotionally scarred for years. I still struggle to sleep, and have violent flashbacks”.
The policeman in question was fired, as were many of his superiors, in a scandal that rocked Germany. Schmidt’s Law was brought in soon after.
In England, the blood of football fans often lines the streets, usually due to little more than relieving a bladder in someone’s geraniums.

German football abhors foreign ownership. Clubs are on average 94% owned by the fans, who meet regularly to thrash out policies, transfer deals and to plot the way forward. There are rarely disagreements. Board members must have been born within 5km of the ground (as the crow, or “luftlinie” flies), must pass a test on German history, and also look brilliant in lederhosen.
Most English clubs are run by charlatans and shadowy foreign cabals out for personal gain, or on the run from the law. Any potential owner would have to have committed either well-documented war crimes or brought down a whole country’s economy in order to fail the “fit-and-proper” test.

German football is a breeding ground for young talent. The race is on to emulate England’s production line that has churned out the likes of Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley and Phil Jones, and there is a real optimism in Germany that they too can produce the “neu Duncan Edwards”.

Yes, there are fences around the pitch at many German grounds, but this was at the insistence of fans, so they could hang up their coats should they underestimate the in- ground temperature, and because it helps prevent stray litter blowing onto the bowling-green pitches.
English fans often carry out pitch invasions whilst under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and many players are often left fearing for their lives, especially if they’re playing Leeds.

On average, German grounds are filled to 102% capacity. Fans usually arrive 4 hours before kick-off to practice their choreographed swaying, which can often be seen from space. The songs speak of harmony and desire, plus biting social satire.
English fans sing “where were you when you were s**t?” and question Arsene Wenger’s sexual practices. Such chants would carry a mandatory life imprisonment sentence in Germany (see also the Benelux countries and Albania).
Most English grounds are rarely full, and last season’s Premier League champions Manchester City often play in front of 20,000 empty seats. Fans also often leave early as they are all alcoholics.

German fans are often reimbursed if their team does not perform to the desired level. Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness often reimburses fans from his “secret” account. Players drive many of the poorer supporters to matches.
After a bad performance, English clubs bring out a commemorative shirt and bombard fans with emails urging them to purchase it.

German teams are always set up to play attractive, attacking football. There is no German phrase for “parking the bus”, but there are phrases for “beautiful counter attack” (versplickenschnidt), “flowing football” (dasistsprecjenlievenschautt) and “entertaining score draw” (michendiestenbittestock). It is illegal to play more than four defenders at any time, and the average Bundesliga game in the 11/12 season had 12.4 goals.
The Premier League contains Stoke City.

And the Bundesliga is clearly more competitive than the Premier League. Yes, at time of writing Bayern had built up a 20-point lead at the top of the table, but this was due to a nasty bug that crippled the players of many other teams for two months, an isolated incident that allowed Bayern to capture their 23rd title.
English football is a closed shop for competition, where money talks, except for Manchester United who have grown organically like their German counterparts.
Despite all this, Uli Hoeness recently expressed his fears that the Bundesliga was becoming less competitive. To help level the playing field, Bayern purchased Dortmund’s best two players.

And finally, sponsorship. English clubs will have anything sponsored in a desperate attempt to make money. Even a minute’s silence was once sponsored by a library. German sponsors are just there to lend moral support and business advice, and all free of charge.

So as you can see, the English Premier League has got a long way to go to match the organic, fan-owned, cheap, passionate, organic, competitive, democratic, organic Bundesliga. We have a lot to learn.

Manchester City Season Review now available at the Football Museum

These Charming Men: Manchester City 2013/14 Season Review is now available to buy at the National Football Museum at Urbis, in Manchester.

Re-live another amazing season for Manchester City as their new Chilean manager Manuel Pellegrini and his holistic approach to football saw City secure a domestic double, capturing another last-day title victory whilst breaking goalscoring records along the way. With thoughts on every match and a look at the issues that forever surrounded the club, the book charts the journey from the start of the post-Mancini era, the highs and lows of the cup competitions, the difficult start to the season and the nerve-wracking title run-in that culminated in the clouds breaking as the trophies were paraded around a very blue Manchester city centre.

Three Bumper Bundles of City Slurs
Football In The Bible
City’s Squad Value
The A-Z of City Legends
The A-Z of City Villains
An Open Letter To Txiki Begiristain & Ferran Soriano
Two Open Letters to Ed Woodward
Harry Potter & The Theatre of Dreams
What Has Happened To City’s Departed Stars?
End of Season Q & A with Oliver Kay, Jonathan Northcroft, Simon Mullock, Gary James & more..

And much more…..

The book can also be purchased on Amazan in paperback and Kindle, and older Season Review books are available in both formats, priced at just £1.53 on Kindle.

World Cup Review: Part 1 – The Group Stages

The tournament started with a riot of goals and riots in the streets. Protests around social conditions were followed up with protests over Adrian Chiles’ presenting skills, which resulted in the studio being pelted with rocks. Welcome to our world, Brazil.
Matters came to a head when Chiles presented a show in shorts and flip-flops.

Brazil got the obligatory homer referee for their opening game against Croatia and the goals continued to flow until Iran and Nigeria ruined it all not only by failing to score, but by providing the tournament with its first draw after five days of games.

FIFA themselves were embroiled in scandal, as is their natural state of existence – and as usual they swanned about the host country like royalty. Sepp Blatter was carried around in a sedan chair as specially chosen children from the favelas fanned him with gold-plated coconut leaves, whilst all the FIFA delegates relaxed in 5-star hotels, ate only the finest food and wines known to humanity and took advantage of the many spurious laws that FIFA impose during a world cup competition. These included:

• Sepp Blatter to be addressed at all times as “your excellency”.
• A masseur to follow three steps behind FIFA delegates at all times.
• Budweiser to be the only alcoholic drink to be consumed by Brazilians during the month of June.
• The FIFA logo to be projected by laser onto the moon for the duration of the competition.
• Bendy hot-dogs branded illegal as they went against “the ethos and ideals” of the FIFA family.
• Set times for tides.
• A 75ft statue of Sepp Blatter to be erected outside the Maracana made entirely from hardened zero-fat cottage cheese.
• All team kits to be one matching colour (oh hang on, that one’s true)

The truth is not far from that. After all, FIFA has trademarked nearly 200 words and phrases for its exclusive commercial use. However, for once the locals have fought back. Having served up acarajé (a dish made from peeled black-eyed peas formed into a ball and then deep-fried in palm oil) in the old stadium in Salvador for many decades, the sellers were shocked to be excluded from the vendors selected for the new stadium. So they started a high-profile campaign to force FIFA to allow the custom to continue. And they won.
During the six matches at the stadium, there will be six acarajé sellers on the stadium grounds. A ripple effect from this victory means local customs are now being accommodated in and around World Cup More than 16,000 people signed a petition. Local politicians, stung by the demonstrations, became visibly more careful of local sensitivities. In the city of Recife, eight tapioca sellers (a pancake made from the cassava plant, typically served with cheese, meat, chocolate or fruit) will be based just inside the entrance to the shiny new stadium. Take that FIFA.

It was another horror show in the commentary boxes of Brazil. Jonathan Pearce started it off, struggling to deal with the concept of a ball crossing the goal-line and the use of video technology to show this, the ball crossing the line a central concept of the sport since its birth in the 19th century. Do catch up Jonathan. To make matters worse, after a national outcry and questions asked about his competence in the House of Commons (and on Mumsnet), Pearce exacerbated his error by continuing the theme in his next commentary by continuing to claim that the technology had not worked and had created a controversy.
We should have left him on Robot Wars.
Things weren’t much better elsewhere. Some executive had the bright idea of inviting Robbie Savage into the commentary box, where he had a tendency to shout a lot and sound exasperated at every missed pass. Then of course there was Phil Neville, who single-handedly sent a nation to sleep with his vocal cords. He did us all a favour as England succumbed to Italy.
The worst of the lot though, again, was Mark Lawrenson, who in the early days of the tournament seemed to be residing under a canal bridge judging by his on-screen appearance. Eventually he got his s**t together, but once more Mark seemed rather inconvenienced at being paid handsomely to commentate on a match in the Maracana.

The questions over Wayne Rooney’s place in the team/fitness/hair provided the most tedious narrative of the campaign, making Wesley Sneijder/Manchester United transfer speculation seem almost exciting in comparison. In the end he was of course ok and nothing more – fancy that.

A knackered-looking Spain bowed out after just two games, their performances so bad they were on the plane home before England. Not long before however, as England limped out after a 2-1 defeat to Uruguay and the world continued to bemoan the lack of Englishmen in City’s title-winning squad. In the end, it was the England players’ lack of gusto when singing the national anthem that did for them. I mean, there were Ivory Coast players literally crying during their anthem.
Ivory Coast went out in the group stages.

With Harry “honest as the day is long*” Redknapp spreading rumours that some players couldn’t even be bothered playing for their country, Ian Wright very sensibly suggested that each of those players should have to phone the parents of a soldier killed in Afghanistan to explain themselves.
“Hi, is that Mrs Smith?”
“Erm, yes..”
“Sorry to bother you, but this is Andros Townsend, I pulled out of an England friendly against Peru last year to be with my heavily-pregnant partner and I’d like to apologise profusely and explain my actions.”
“Right..erm..I’m not sure this is really relevant to me, and it’s not a good time to be honest….”
“Yes I appreciate that, but I think it a fitting punishment for my indiscretion that I explain to a complete stranger why I did what I did in full and I think it fitting I explain to someone currently grieving who has no interest in football whatsoever…”
“Hello… Mrs Smith…hello…”

There is obviously no downside to this idea, and I can’t think of any way it could backfire. I also happen to think the moon is made of cheese and Piers Morgan is a bloody nice chap.
(* an Arctic winter day)

Scapegoats were needed of course for England’s abject failure, but on this occasion the choice was too wide to zero in on one person and there were no relevant vegetables to super-impose on Roy Hodgson’s head. Thankfully redemption came, and it came in the form of a gritty 0-0 draw with the pre-tournament favourites Costa Rica. The England players could get on that plane back from Rio with their heads held high – the bulldog spirit had shone through and we almost had a penalty. Sadly the passion presented by the players was not replicated back home, a solitary person turning up at the airport to greet our heroes’ return, and she may have been waiting for someone else.

City’s players haven’t had the best of tournaments, Dzeko Mk II out in force for the tournament though he was robbed by yet another incompetent linesman in the game against Nigeria. David Silva looked knackered but Fernandinho took just a couple of minutes to show his manager what the rest of the world already knew – he’s a tad better than Paulinho. By the end of the match against Cameroon, he had become the first City player to score at the tournament, a historically rare occurrence for City players (remember Niall Quinn’s?).
By the end of the group stage, half of City’s contingent were on their way home, half survived to fight another day. The survivors were soon reduced by one however as the patently unfit Sergio Aguero was effectively ruled out of the tournament.

Ex-City rejects players littered the tournament. Demarcus Beasley appeared for the USA, whilst gorgeous Giorgios Samaras, fresh from Eurovision glory, kept his nerve to steer Greece into the knockout stage. There was Nigel De Jong of course, who managed to kick no one in the chest this time around (the day is young, so to speak). Add to that Jerome Boateng, Felipe Caicedo, Kolo and others I may have forgotten (deliberately).

The Toure brothers were hit with a fresh blow after Kolo had shaken off malaria with their news that their younger brother had passed away after a fight with cancer. They bravely stayed on at the tournament. This wasn’t good enough for some people, and nor would it have been good enough if they had flown home. The knives were out for a man that had said something unsuitable having just lost his younger brother. Compassion is in short supply in the modern world. The truth will out and accusations and opinions can then be formed, but now is not the time.

But on the whole, this was a tournament full of joy. Such was the joy at participating in this wonderful tournament that players were throwing themselves to the ground at every opportunity, overcome with emotion. The crowd was even more excitable. A camera panning on a fan’s painted face was enough to cue mass hysteria and scenes reminiscent of a royal wedding, their team losing 4-0 to Iran now a mere irrelevance, replaced by seven seconds of fame. The true stars were of course the England fans and the reason was simple – they refused point-blank to participate in any Mexican waves.

As for the officiating, it was poor, poor, poor.

Luis Suarez encountered more hunger issues as he nibbled on Chiellini’s shoulder as Uruguay dumped Italy out of the competition, the buck-toothed nutcase clearly under the impression that chiellini is a delicious pasta dish from Bologna. That was not dandruff on the Italian’s shoulders, but shaved flakes of Parmigiano-Reggiano. That’s nothing short of entrapment.
As a result of his subsequent four-month ban, Suarez has now been banned for 34 matches since 2010 without having received a red card. His ban from all football activity means he cannot even play Superstar Soccer on his HTC One. Brutal.

In the end the group stages were less about skill winning through than teams profiting from playing in cooler climes than others. Of the eight teams that played in Manaus for their 1st game, seven lost the next game. European giants (and England) fell at the first hurdle, and the world prepared for the excitement of the knockout stage with no outstanding candidate for the ultimate prize.

But first – Friday 27th June. Black Friday. Nothing, no football, not a thing.

The day football died.


You can buy the author’s Manchester City Season Review books here (and one very old work of fiction):

Book Review: Looks Like Scunny Next Year by David Mooney

“It was one of those things that was instinctive. Even now when I look back and see it, and I see my celebration, it was nothing I could have done before or done afterwards or re-enacted. It was just plain ecstasy, relief… for the actual goal itself, I can’t remember a lot about it.”

David Mooney’s book is a look back on that famous day in 1999 when City came back from the dead to win the Division Two play-off against Gillingham, released on the 15th anniversary of what was (then at least) City’s greatest escape. The title refers to what Joe Royle said to his assistant Willie Donachie as Gillingham’s second goal went in. Scunthorpe has just won the Division 2 play-off final.

Each chapter is dedicated to a player involved on that fateful day. David Mooney travelled far and wide (and even abroad on one occasion) to see the players in person, with only one player interviewed by phone, the USA a bridge too far. As a prelude to that though a chapter looks at the dark days that lead to that day and the 1998/9 season that panned out how no one could have predicted.

The book succeeds in recapturing the many moments from that amazing day that have lain dormant in my brain for so long. The sea of blue down Wembley Way, the weather that followed us from Manchester, the despondency followed by unbridled ecstasy from those last ten minutes, then the general feeling that we would not mess it up after that. The book also made me realise how little I remember of the actual match. The various chances mentioned have long since left my memory, my recollections limited to an early penalty appeal, the late flurry of goals, the Dickov slide, a handball in extra time and some of the penalties that preceded Nicky Weaver’s manic celebration. This book fills in the gaps.
It also mentions many anecdotes from the day that I wouldn’t have otherwise known, such as Paul Dickov’s secret post-goal slip on the Wembley turf (secret as sadly no camera picked it up).

Inevitably a book of this nature does run the risk of repetition, but this is generally avoided as it doesn’t just look at the one day, but at each player’s time at City as a whole, and their lives since. This adds greatly to the book as it is as rewarding as reminiscing about the day itself to know what has happened to the group of players, from Lee Crooks journey to Afghanistan as an RAF gunner, to Andy Morrison at Airbus, Richard Edghill working at a primary school in Harpurhey (and at City too) to Tony Vaughan, who works in form concrete. We know a few of their exploits of course, but many have left our daily lives in the subsequent years and their career paths show what a different world they live in compared to the stars of today.

Just as inevitably, you will have your own favourite chapters as some players have more obvious appeal than others, but some of the most interesting stories can be found from the “lesser” players. As for the Goat, it was good to see he is back in the country and working towards his UEFA licences. And for the record, he is quite clear that his winner in the semi-final 2nd leg against Wigan was not handball.

What is clear from the accounts is the high esteem that Joe Royle was held in, not just as a manager but as a man. There is a sense of desire to succeed for him and a portrayal emerges of a great team spirit at the club during his tenure, even when things weren’t going smoothly. Joe himself provides a foreword for the book and is interviewed in the final chapter. The players all seem to sing from the same hymn sheet – they knew they weren’t the greatest, but they had a common desire to succeed and to drag City back to the “big time”. It also provides a fascinating insight into the players’ own evaluations of their individual careers, in a period when there was no social media and when everything a player did was not public knowledge within the hour. You feel that Royle’s successor Kevin Keegan was not held in quite such high esteem, though the players do not stick the knife in and it is understandable that this disparity exists as many moved on and were surplus to requirements once a new manager came in and started splashing the cash.

Overall this is a fascinating and unique book that is well worth a read for any City fan, young and old. It reminds us all of where we as a club have come from and brings back fond memories of an amazing day. Hearing from those involved that day is a great trip down memory lane.

You can purchase the book via the following link:

Manchester City Season Review Books Available at Half-Price on Kindle

My Manchester City 2011/12 Season Review Book (“This Is How It Felt To Be City”) and my 2012/13 book (“Missed Goals”) are now available on Kindle for just £1.53

The 2013/14 Season Review book is still available as normal on Kindle and paperback. For all books, click this link:

These Charming Men: Manchester City 2013/14 Season Review – Available in Kindle & Paperback

“Huge admiration. His calmness and maturity won City that title. He set the right tone in the run-in, when the heat was on, and he showed great consistency, reassuring the players after the difficult start to keep playing in the same way. In press dealings he’s a gent – and not afraid to say what he thinks.” Jonathan Northcroft on Manuel Pellegrini.

Re-live another amazing season for Manchester City as their new Chilean manager Manuel Pellegrini and his holistic approach to football saw City secure a domestic double, capturing another last-day title victory whilst breaking goalscoring records along the way. With thoughts on every match and a look at the issues that forever surrounded the club, the book charts the journey from the start of the post-Mancini era, the highs and lows of the cup competitions, the difficult start to the season and the nerve-wracking title run-in that culminated in the clouds breaking as the trophies were paraded around a very blue Manchester city centre.

Three Bumper Bundles of City Slurs
Football In The Bible
City’s Squad Value
The A-Z of City Legends
The A-Z of City Villains
An Open Letter To Txiki Begiristain & Ferran Soriano
Two Open Letters to Ed Woodward
Harry Potter & The Theatre of Dreams
What Has Happened To City’s Departed Stars?
End of Season Q & A with Oliver Kay, Jonathan Northcroft, Simon Mullock, Gary James & more..

And much more…..

Buy the book on Kindle now:

And in paperback:

Commentators: Much Ado About Nothing

Commentators. I have a theory about them – a theory which basically states that Kenneth Wolstenholme has got a lot to answer for and it’s entirely his fault that I dislike so many of the current crop of those who comment on the beautiful game..

Wolstenholme’s “they think it’s all over” quote from the 1966 World Cup final was a spur of the moment comment that gained international fame, book deals, was sampled in hit records and even got its own TV show.

Wolstenholme had previously been established as the BBC’s authoritative voice of football and went on to cover the climax of five World Cup championships and the finals of 16 European Cups and 23 FA Cup finals besides dozens of internationals.
He was proud that he had produced a timeless piece of broadcasting and coined a phrase that has entered English folklore. But this was tinged with a hint of regret that the words had overshadowed the rest of a hugely successful and ground-breaking career (though he used the phrase for title of his memoirs, so wasn’t too upset, clearly).
Over on ITV, Hugh Johns was the “the other voice” of the 1966 World Cup final. At the same moment, to a much smaller audience, Mr Johns was concentrating more on the striker’s hat-trick as he told ITV viewers: “Here’s Hurst, he might make it three. He has! He has… so that’s it. That is IT!”

I like Johns’ commentary. It does the job for me. The problem is no one remembers his words. And now every commentator does not want his Johns moment, but his Wolstenholme moment. It seems sometimes that every commentator wants fame and a legacy of a piece of beautiful prose at a key moment in a key match. And no Clive Tyldesley, anything to do with “that night in Barcelona” doesn’t count. So rather than comment on what’s happening on the pitch, commentaries have become a competition to see who can say the most dramatic, prose-soaked comment. I am still scarred by a Portsmouth match commentated on by Peter Drury a few seasons gone, where Drury felt it apt to continuously refer to Portsmouth’s financial problems by quoting Shakespeare. It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times, you see!

Oh hang on, that’s Dickens.

But as Piquione volleyed in the second goal, I thought to myself that it was a far, far better thing that he did, than I have ever done; and I couldn’t help think that it was a far, far better rest that he went to than I have ever known.
Drury would have worded it so much better though.
“What can Portsmouth do in this second half? If football be the food of love, play on. To sleep, perchance, to dream, for the Pompey fans have discovered that all that glitters is not gold. O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me, and Utaka’s missed an absolute sitter there! Lord, what fools these mortals be. Thoughts, Craig Burley?”
“Well, youse got to say he should’ve buried that, the lad’s gonna be disappointed not to hit the target.”

A new breed of commentators emerged a few years ago, each of whom seemed to have their own “angle”. Commentating well was deemed not to be sufficient anymore.
For Drury this meant prose and intellectual nonsense, Alan Green’s was to criticise everything, and Jonathan Pearce’s “angle” was to SHOUT VERY LOUDLY about everything, because even a throw-in early in the game had its own little frisson. Stick to Robot Wars Jonathan.

Now I have no problem with commentators doing research before a match – they should be doing, it’s their job, not that this has concerned studio pundits or many co-commentators. What I can’t stand is the need to crowbar statistics in and more than that, the need to crowbar puns and catchphrases that they have been working on, as if they have just completed a six-week tabloid headline-writing course.
Jonathan Pearce has said that 90% of his job is research, but only 2% of that will be used during a match. That’s how it should be. Less is more.

It wasn’t all this way – it’s easy to get nostalgic, but Davies, the old Motson (by which I mean the young Motson) or Wolstenholme did not attract the ire that their modern counterparts do. Maybe that is just a result of modern media whereby anyone (even me) can broadcast their views to anyone who will listen. All you had in the old days was Barry Took on Points of View.

And then there’s Alan Green. It’s very fashionable to have a go at Alan Green, so that’s what I am going to do.
Now he has his supporters of course, who argue quite simply that he is one of the few commentators to “say it as it is”. I am not sure what they mean by this, but presumably, they mean he whinges, moans and criticises everything before him. So in other words, they think football is rubbish. He certainly seems to think so – if he does enjoy the beautiful game, he certainly hides it.
At one Champions League final, for which he was being paid handsomely to watch, his first thought was to moan about how awful the commentary position was.
For an England international, within three minutes of the match kicking off he had moaned about the weather (sorry we couldn’t sort that out for you Alan), the new England kit, banners around the edge of the ground (he doesn’t like them, like most things), and two attempted tackles/passes by England players.
It’s all subjective of course, but even I know there are good commentators. Generally those that stick to describing the action, give you a rounded-picture of the match, and keep matters in perspective. I’ve no doubt it is not an easy job, but it can be done well. What I don’t need to know, because I don’t care, is what the commentator thinks about City’s wealth, banners around grounds, Mexican waves, football kits, the weather, managers, the price of tuna in supermarkets or the quality of hamburgers at Villa Park. I’ll form my own opinions, thanks. You’re there to describe the match – I’m well aware tuna is ridiculously expensive nowadays.

But despite Green, radio seems to have got it right more than television. Radio 5’s football coverage is generally excellent, and it is TV that seems to struggle. With radio commentary, you are required to stick to the script and describe what is happening, as you are the eyes. With TV, commentators seem to think that silence is evil, and must not be allowed. I couldn’t disagree more. You could turn the sound off, but then you’d lose crowd noise too.

So I would argue that the memorable moments, on and off the pitch are spontaneous moments that cannot be rehearsed and planned in advance. Going back to that glorious day, and it got me wondering how Drury would have covered that 1966 World Cup Final finale.
“And here comes Hurst, sprinting up the pitch. Could this be it? Geoff Hurst, ask not what England will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man! Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty! Goal!”

As for Alan Green?
Green: “Some people are on the pitch. Oh this is disgusting, absolute disgrace. Ban them for life, no one wants to see this, animals, what are they thinking, shame on you, shame on you! I am embarrassed to be British, this is shocking, are they looking for a fight, they might be, idiots, absolute idiots, oh dear oh dear, ruined the game for me, shocking.”
Jimmy Armfield: “Hurst has scored by the way, 4-2, hat trick for him, England have won the World Cup!”
Green: “Have they? Oh but it’s been overshadowed for me, it really has…oh, and now everyone’s doing a Mexican wave, they really should be shot. Lamentable.”

Hugh Johns had the right idea.


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Football In The Bible: Part 2

Genesis & Exodus

In the beginning there was earth and Sepp Blatter.

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech, and this language was football. As people moved eastward, and westward they found a tax haven in Zurich and settled there.

But the LORD came down to see the people. “Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” And thus some called it soccer and some picked up a squashed ball and called that football.
So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, even to Qatar.

They said to each other, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with two towers that reach to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” And this was Wembley.
And great rivers of urine would flow down the aisles during competition.

And the LORD added, as he was a chatterbox and a bit lonely: “As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.”

And one woman named Jordan did take this command seriously, and she did multiply and she begat many men.
And Dwight of York(e) did make an eventful journey through Jordan.

When Yorke was 25 years old, he became the father of Harvey. And after he became the father of Harvey, Yorke lived 100 years and had other sons and daughters and begat many women of glamour.

When Jordan had lived 24 years, she became the mother of Harvey. And after she became the mother of Harvey, Jordan lived forever and had other sons and daughters.

But first she begat Teddy from the town of London, and Dane of Bowers, who was on another level. Then she begat Warren the gladiator, who was ace.
And the LORD did proclaim: “Awooga.”

When Jordan had lived 27 years, she became the mother of Junior Savva Andreas Andre having previously begat Gareth at the heavenly gates and Peter of Andre. And after she became the mother of Junior Savva Andreas Andre, Jordan lived forever and had other sons and daughters.

When Jordan had lived 30 years, she became the mother of Princess Tiaamii Crystal Esther Andre having previously begat Alex Reid and Peter of Andre. And after she became the mother of Princess Tiaamii Crystal Esther Andre, Jordan lived forever and had other sons and daughters.

When Jordan had lived 33 years, she became the mother of Jett Riviera having previously begat Leandro Penna and Peter of Andre. And after she became the mother of Jett Riviera, Jordan lived forever and had other sons and daughters.

When Jordan had lived 36 years, she became the mother of Chardonnay Dame Butternut S’quash Bianca Precious Price having previously begat Kieran Hayler and Peter of Andre. And after she became the mother of Chardonnay Dame Butternut S’quash Bianca Precious Price, Jordan lived forever and had other sons and daughters.

And after naming her 5th child, the lord did ask “Are you ******* serious?” and Jordan doth reply “yes I am.” And so it was thus.

Yet whilst Jordan populated the earth and spread the seed, a tribe with no history sought refuge and a place to stay two thousand and three years after Christ.

The LORD’S cityzens did say unto him, thou shalt build me a council house to dwell in: for I have dwelt in a mis-shaped house since the day that I brought up the blues unto this day. And I sat on uncovered seats and I was wet.
The lord spaketh: I will ordain a place for my people , and will plant them, and they shall dwell in their place, and shall be moved no more, except for European games and stadium expansions;

And a man named Bernstein did predict: He shall build me a house, and I will establish his throne for ever, and due to a market-fair sponsorship deal, it shall be named the Etihad.

Bernstein travelled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Beswick. The LORD appeared to Bernstein and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him and he called it the B of the Bang. But it did fall apart and speared three people, so it was destroyed by fire and cranes and rust.

Now there was a famine in the land, and the people did not see a single goal for months. So Stuart of Pearce brought forth Beanie and he did see an upturn in fortune and all did rejoice, occasionally.

And out of the wilderness came three wise men.

These wise men brought gifts. Gold, Frank’s (in cents) share of the club and more.

And the lord did apologise for the previous line. And the three wise men were Sheikh Mansour, Khaldoon al Mubarak, and a joker whose name the LORD has forgotten who was soon despatched to the shimmering deserts of the east.

There was great joy amongst the cityzens and this joy was purchased with petrodollars. But it was non-organic joy and this provoked wrath in others.

But then the red tribe came to the fore with the greatest attacking threat seen since the birth of the glorious game, which was a thousand years and nine hundred and ninety years with two more years after Christ. #ynwa
1992. I’m trying to say 1992. Why didn’t people talk normal in those days?

But the author did digress. Then the LORD said to the cityzens, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? You must believe.” And the Lord did log into Twitter and create the believe hashtag, and so it was that it was trending in Manchester, as was #fighttotheend, #mercenaryyaya and #sellgarciai’lldrivehimtotheairportmyselfifihaveto.

And a great man led the tribe to greatness, and he was named Stevie G. And the people spake on the mount, saying that glory was his destiny and fitting, in this year of all years. But with magnificent spoils in sight he did slip and the man of sheep did take the ball and place it firmly in the onion bag.

And Stevie G spake to the lord, for he was distressed and he said:
Hear me, lest otherwise they should rejoice over me: when my foot slippeth, they magnify themselves against me. For I am ready to halt, and my sorrow is continually before me. For I will declare mine iniquity; I will be sorry for my sin.
But mine enemies are lively, and they are strong: and they that hate me wrongfully are multiplied and have fine voice when signing songs about me.
Make haste to help me, O Lord my salvation

And the tribe walked on, and they walked on, with no hope in their hearts, and the bus that was without roof did reverse into the garage, and there was much beeping and there was also much weeping and silences of sixty seconds at the surrender #ynwa

But the messiah spoke to his people and he did say: “People, we made a great journey. This year I doth hand out no envelopes, as our warriors did capture the hearts of a nation, and of all neutrals. From Newcastle, which is by the brink of the river of Tyne, and from the city that is by the river, even unto Birmingham, there was not one city too strong for us: the LORD our God delivered all unto us: except for the crystal palace. And Chelsea. And the cityzens of Manchester. And I proclaim now – next year will definitely be our year.” #ynwa

And lo(l), they captured Ricky Lambert #ynwa

And there was sadness around the land, in studios from the north to the south, from the west to the east. From the Lawrenson tribe to the Hansen tribe to the Rush tribe to the Thompson tribe to the Owen tribe to the Fowler tribe to the Redknapp tribe to the Hamann tribe to the Reade tribe to the Green tribe – across the land a great sorrow spread like pestilence and consumed all those in suits of shells #ynwa.

And the chosen one brought the united tribe out of Europe with a mighty hand. And thus he was exiled to the wilderness as united aspired to be like the cityzens. In exile was where he did fight in wine bars. And he did transgresseth by wine, as was the United manager way.

And into exile followed Micah, Les’cott and the milliner and Rod’well.

And there was great mourning and anger at the Daily Mail, as Neil of Ashton asked what this meant for the country’s team. And he thought it was bad.

The Book of Figures

But then a great cloud covered the east of Manchester, a plague sent from the east. And the lord did say:
I send a curse, if ye will not obey the commandments of UEFA your god, but turn aside out of the way which I command you this day.

For if ye shall diligently keep all these commandments which I command you, to do them, to love the UEFA your God, to walk in all his ways, and to cleave unto him; then will the LORD drive out all these penalties from before you, and ye shall possess greater solvency.

And ye shall observe to do all the statutes and judgments which I set before you this day, for these commandments have come from above, from David of Gill, from David of Dein from Arsene of Wenger and from Karl Heinz of Rumenigge. For they doth protect their interests at your expense and it must be so for these are the rules.

For the wicked plotteth against the just, and gnasheth upon him with his teeth, saying financial fair play is just. The sheikh did laugh at him, for he seeth that his day is coming.

The wicked G14 have drawn out the sword, and have bent their bow, to cast down the poor and needy, and to slay such as be of upright conversation. Their sword shall enter into their own heart, and their bows shall be broken. And the red devils, led astray into the wilderness by the chosen one, shall reap what they sow. The wicked borroweth via debt and leverage and payeth not again: but the righteous showeth mercy and giveth, both in trophies and pukka pies and city square and holistic ways.

The Book of Bumps

And Brian of Marwood hastened into the tent unto Sarah the lady of the canteen, and said, make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth. For it be Yaya’s birthday and thou hast forgotten amidst the celebrating of the great title. Go forth and knead, for he is needy.

And they gave him a piece of a cake of figs, and two clusters of raisins: and when he had eaten, his spirit came again to him: for he had eaten no bread, nor drunk any water, three days and three nights. Nor had he been sung to nor even had the bumps. And he was not happy as he felt unloved. And he went to his advisor and he did tell him to arrange him an escape.

Then Mansour said to Kolo, “Where is your brother Yaya?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s agent cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth and be sold to QPR.”
Kolo said to Mansour, “My punishment is more than I can bear.”
So Kolo went out from the scousers’ presence and lived in the land of London, east of Bath. And his keeper Harry, who was inflicted with cockneyness, did proclaim he was triffic.

And the agent said unto Yaya, depart, and go up hence, thou and the people which thou hast brought up out of the land of east Manchester, unto a land flowing with milk and honey: for I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiffnecked people with great facial hair: lest I consume thee in the way.

And when the people heard these evil tidings, they mourned: and no man did put on him his ornaments nor on the back of his shirt.

And the people did slate Yaya on Twitter. But then Yaya did backtrack quicker than a Liverpool parade bus and did say he was mistaken as his advisor did find no suitor in the land of Catalans, and the people did worship Yaya once more and they did proclaim: “when you are of thirty and two years, we will not forget. And there will be cakes and balloons and streamers and a party with fish and bread. And so it came to pass, that there was a party with cakes and balloons and streamers and Yaya was happy for another year as he had six hundred extra shekels of gold by weight.”

And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory. And the people did shake their hands low and high and did sing him his song.

The Book of Cups

And every four years we shall celebrate this holy kicking of the pig’s bladder with a competition. And the lord did command that only certain words would be spaken from competition beginning to competition end, and these words were the best a man can get, always coca-cola and impossible is nothing. Just do it spoke the LORD.

And Wayne Rooney did place the ball into orbit from twelve cubits, and the ball did travel through the heavens for 40 days and 40 nights before landing in Argentina. And Wayne was distraught and appealed for leniency. And he was taken to one side and he was reassured and he was introduced to an ad man from Domino’s and everything was peaceful.

And Jesus did feed the five thousand. And he did walk on water. And he did perform many miracles. And great plagues were brought down on the people. And the earth was flooded. And Adam did speak to a snake. And Phil Jones and Chris Smalling and Tom Cleverley did lead England to glory in the competition of each four years.
And the LORD did take the author of the bible to one side and he did say “you can’t put in that bit about Jones, Smalling & Cleverley, for the people with think the book too far-fetched.” And thus the author did replace their story of glory with a tale about the sea parting in two.

Book of Epilogues

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way.

He is ever merciful, and lendeth; and his seed is blessed. He is Vincent Kompany.

Depart from evil, and do good; and dwell for evermore said the lord, and he did so.

The lord spake: the righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein for ever, or at least until the tenancy expires.

And the rest, as the LORD did say, was history…..

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Journalist Q and A: Oliver Kay, Mark Ogden, Jonathan Northcroft, Simon Mullock, Nick Miller and Gary James

After an exciting Premiership season, I asked a few football journalists their views on the season just gone, from City, to Suarez to Financial Fair Play and more. This is what Mark Ogden (Daily Telegraph), Oliver Kay (The Times), Simon Mullock (The Mirror), Jonathan Northcroft (The Sunday Times), Nick Miller (football365,com, The Guardian, ESPN and more) and Gary James (Manchester City historian) had to say:

Your brief views of the Premiership season just gone?

Mark Ogden (MO): It had everything really, with the exception of a final day surprise or bit of drama that had people on the edge of their seats.
Obviously, the title hadn’t been resolved in City’s favour, but it felt
like a formality and Norwich were down bar the counting, so nothing
really happened on the final day which created a memory like Aguero’s
goal did a couple of years ago.
But the season had loads of stories, with the best one arguably being
the meltdown at Manchester United. It lasted all season and, when you
are so used to watching a club win and bounce back, it was an
interesting new angle to cover.

Oliver Kay (OK): Dramatic, unpredictable and entertaining, with a lot of very good football – much of it from City. It makes such a difference when you have a proper title race. Ultimately, the best team won. They weren’t quite flawless, but they were the best all-round team.

Jonathan Northcroft (JN): A 9/10 season in terms of the competitiveness and unpredictability of the competition. But only a 7/10 in terms of quality. Liverpool and Manchester City played some exceptional attacking football at different points of the campaign, but showed sizeable faults – Liverpool defensively, City in their early away form. They were a worthy 1st and 2nd but there was no dominating, truly outstanding side: from 2004-09 English clubs were the best in Europe, dominating the Champions League and to become champions of England required world class standards. You couldn’t say that’s the case at the moment. Good as Liverpool and City were, Arsenal’s 2003-4 side, Chelsea’s 2004-6 team and Manchester United from 2007-9 would have won last season’s Premier League easily. Great entertainment, twists, turns – and lots of goals in the 2013-14 competition though.

Simon Mullock (SM): It’s been the best Premier League season ever – despite lacking the final-day drama of 1995 and 2012. At various times, City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal all looked unstoppable and to have four teams in the running for so long made it unique in the Sky era. There was a nice contrast between City and Liverpool going on the attack and Chelsea beating them both home and away with disciplined (dour) defence and counter-attack.
In the end, City are champions because they had the best balance of any team in the league. Despite what Richard Scudamore thinks, it was also refreshing to see a title race that didn’t involve United.

Nick Miller (NM): I think it’s the funniest season I can remember. Liverpool losing it so spectacularly, United not so much imploding but slowly collapsing like a poorly-constructed meringue, Mourinho is always pretty funny, mostly down to how cross he makes people, Kostas Mitroglou, Tim Sherwood. I could go on.

Gary James (GJ): Amazing of course. Thinking about everything except City for a moment it has to be good when so many teams are able to challenge for honours, top four places and also to avoid relegation. When I was a kid in the late 70s Liverpool were fairly dominant, but it still felt like any of about six teams could win the League (teams like Forest & Villa did and City came close) and that’s what we now have again to some extent. This year’s top 4 all took points off each other and, when you add in rivalries with London clubs, Everton and United, it’s easily possible that teams normally associated to be outside of the top four could sneak into it in future years if results go their way. I said in my Big Book Of City in 2009 that the takeover would open up the so called Big Four and that instead of making it five teams challenging it could easily become six or seven. That’s how it feels we’re now heading.
Thinking about City specifically… What can be better than winning the Premier League again? Twice in three years and when you add into that our other two finishes since 2011 then it’s clear we’re the most consistent team of recent years. This is our era now!

Did you agree with Suarez winning two player of the year awards,
considering his past indiscretions?

MO: I voted for Yaya Toure in the Football Writers’ award, but I can’t
argue with Suarez winning either of them.
He has had a brilliant season and I think his past indiscretions are a
reason why he actually won both awards.
You cannot fault the guy for turning his career around after the Evra
and Ivanovic incidents. He could easily have gone off the rails, sulked
after not being allowed to leave Liverpool and just played for a move,
but he did the opposite.
If a guy makes a mistake and redeems himself on the pitch as Suarez has
done, then he deserves recognition.

OK: I voted for him for the FWA award – and that was after asking myself if it was “right” to do so. I wouldn’t have voted for him in 2011/12, no matter how he performed, because that award is meant to be about “precept and example”, not just performance. But because his behaviour has been much improved (if still a long way short of angelic), I was happy to recognise his performances, which were incredibly good for the most part. I know some like to follow the Mourinho argument that these awards should go to a player in a team that wins something, but that’s not the idea at all. It’s an individual award. With due respect to Toure and some other very good contenders, I thought Suarez was the best individual.

JN: Yes. He’s a truly special player. A colleague put is best: other top players are capable of one or two jaw-dropping moments per season. Suarez gives you one or two every game. His 31 goals – a joint PL record for a 38 game campaign – were amassed despite his ban and the fact he doesn’t take penalties or, indeed, all Liverpool’s free kicks. Amazing.
I’m not a fan of bringing ‘indiscretions’ into PoTY awards. In an ideal world, maybe a player’s character and standards of behaviour could be considered but in the real world players are human beings and flawed – and you could go through a list of the previous PoTY winners making moral cases against them, on the basis of things they’ve done.
That said, in very serious cases of misbehaviour – like racial abuse – it would be invidious to reward somebody, no matter how well they played. I wouldn’t have given Suarez player of the year in 2011-12 but this was 2013-14 and, not only did he play brilliantly, he behaved – and showed improvements in terms of calmness etc, which should also be recognised.

SM: I think everyone deserves a second and even a third chance. Suarez had a fantastic season and has obviously redeemed himself in the eyes of a lot of his peers and members of the Football Writers’ Association. But I didn’t vote for him because when the going got tough, he reverted to type. When Suarez found himself shackled by both City and Chelsea, his only answer was to start diving in an effort to win penalties and free-kicks and to get opposition players into trouble.
The citation for the FWA award says “by precept and by example” and while I suppose diving is better than biting or racially abusing people, it’s still cheating.
The bottom line was that Suarez scored 31 goals – none of them from the penalty spot – after being banned for the first six games of the season, so I can see why he won both awards. But I think there were more deserving players out there.

NM: There’s an argument to be made that he shouldn’t have even won it based on purely his play given that he disappeared/didn’t score in so many big games. Still, he probably deserved it, and that sort of thing should only be judged on play, rather than a moral aspect. Plenty of bad people have won it before, and as a man with a shelf full of Morrissey records I can’t really say someone with iffy views on race shouldn’t be recognised for their art/sport. Just don’t use the ‘redemption’ word.

GJ: Ignoring his past indiscretions, I still didn’t think he deserved the FWA award this year. The PFA award is different because it’s voted by the player’s peers so I tend to think that they’re aware of contributions that I personally am not aware of because I don’t play professionally, and although I still disagree with his selection I can’t really debate that one. The FWA award is supposed to be about someone’s all round contribution and that includes respect, demeanour and many other attributes as well as playing. Past winners like Joe Mercer, Johnny Carey, Stanley Matthews, Tony Book, Bert Trautmann… I could go on, but they won the awards not because they scored a lot of goals or had not been as lacking in discipline as the previous year, they won the award because they were great footballers and superb role-models or ambassadors. We all know that Yaya should have got this, but to be frank Vincent Kompany would also have been in the top three if you were thinking about being a role-model.

Your manager of the year?

MO: Tough one to call. Pellegrini won two trophies in his first season in
English football and did what Mourinho did in his first spell at
Chelsea, Brendan Rodgers took Liverpool from seventh to second and Tony
Pulis did fantastically well at Crystal Palace.
All success stories in their own right, but dealing with different
demands and pressures. Steve Bruce has also had a great season at Hull.
But the guy who wins the league is the guy who wins the league, so you
would have to give it to Pellegrini.

OK: Apologies, but I agree with the LMA — a toss-up between Rodgers and Pulis. When you’re trying to evaluate a manager’s performance, it has to be relative to expectations and resources. Those two far exceeded expectations, doing things that few (if any) thought were possible with those teams. Pellegrini? He did roughly what was expected and demanded with that squad. It’s impressive that he did it in his first season, after a sticky start, with his team playing some very exciting stuff at times, but you would struggle to convince me that it is a better managerial performance than what Rodgers or Pulis did – or, for example, what Pellegrini did with Villarreal when people were sneering that he couldn’t be a top-class manager because he hadn’t got the trophies (in Europe) to show for it.

JN: Brendan Rodgers. Pulis and Pellegrini did great jobs but what Rodgers managed – taking a side from seventh to within a game of being champions – was more special. He improved players, played great football, developed talent, showed tactical innovation and handled the weight of expectation and history that’s upon Liverpool.

SM: I’m torn with this one. If it was going to a manager at the top end of the table, then no doubt Pellegrini should have won it. Title, Capital One Cup, brilliant attacking football, the way he healed the squad after Mancini. And the fact that he exudes sheer class. I don’t think there is another manager in the game who would have waited to shake hands with Liverpool’s players after the disappointment of the defeat at Anfield. He’s proved nice guys can be winners.
The only other candidate for me was Pulis at Crystal Palace. Taking what was nothing better than a Championship squad to mid-table was an incredible achievement, whether you like his style of football or not.
I was surprised by the League Managers Association. Apparently, Pellegrini wasn’t even in the top-four and there were gasps of disbelief at the annual dinner when the nominations were read out and his name was missing. There has only been one foreign winner in 21 years – Arsene Wenger – so something isn’t right.

NM: Tony Pulis: magician

GJ: Manuel Pellegrini of course. Two trophies in his first season, meaning that he is by far the most successful manager in his first season that either Manchester side have had. All those issues that people said Moyes had – a new club, players used to certain ways, philosophy different etc. – Pellegrini also had. Moyes, apparently, didn’t have enough time to buy the right players, well he was appointed before Pellegrini! So, all of this adds up to a great achievement. My gut feel is that all the player & manager awards were voted for before the real end to the season was clear and that at the time people were formulating their ideas of who to vote for Liverpool looked like they’d walk away with the title.

I’ve seen it mentioned many a time that City should have won this
league more convincingly? Do you agree?

MO: Yes, but they probably would have done had Aguero and Kompany not
missed so many games due to injury.
It makes me laugh when I hear Arsenal fans talking about injuries
costing them the title, as though they are the only team to suffer
It’s how you deal with those setbacks and Arsenal fell short again.

OK: I would go further and say that they should have won the past three league titles. This squad is by far the strongest in the Premier League and one of the best in world football – and I wouldn’t say that of the teams they were competing with this season or the Manchester United team who beat them to the title in 2013 and 2011 and ran them so close in 2012. City’s is a squad that, in my opinion, should be getting 90+ points every season. This season, with a new manager and with Kompany, Silva and Aguero all missing at important times, it was more difficult to get to that level and it was noticeable how much better their record was from mid-November onwards. With Pellegrini now having got used to his players and to English football, they should be perfectly capable of winning “convincingly” next season, but it’s rarely quite so easy in reality unless you’re one of those teams that is more than the sum of its parts. I don’t think City, for all their quality, have reached that point yet.

JN: Yes and no. Yes in the sense that City are the best side in the country by a bit of a margin. In the last five games of the season we saw that – the squad is bursting with top players and Pellegrini is a very fine manager, so when you look at it that way the title should have come straightforwardly. However this was Pellegrini’s first season and new players were bedding in. It was going to take time, so the poor start was understandable. After the first 11 games City were seventh but what came after was a sustained run of champion form. City gained eight points on Liverpool, nine on Chelsea, 11 on Arsenal and 21 on United (or thereabouts – this off the top of my head, check the stats!) That’s “convincing”.

SM: No. Other managers were given transitional or settling-in periods, so why not Pellegrini? Early-season problems away from home were due to the fact that the team were asked to play a completely different way than under Mancini. High line, both full-backs bombing on, Fernandinho having to cover defensively on his own to enable Toure to get forward. Four defeats in the opening six away games suggest that there were definitely teething problems.
Add to that prolonged absences of Kompany, Silva and, especially Aguero. Only Arsenal had injury problems to the same extent as City – and look what happened to them.

NM: Probably. But I wouldn’t waste a huge amount of time arguing the case.

GJ: Not when you consider what happened at the other clubs that expected to challenge AND changed their managers. Liverpool and Arsenal were the two ‘steady’ clubs who, we were told at one point, right at the start of the season would gain most from the issues that City and Chelsea would face. We were also told that Moyes’ knowledge of the Premier League would give him an advantage, so overall no. Obviously, the squad City have is what most focus on, but that old argument about how much has been spent is a false one because, as we all should know, City were still playing catch up and so how much City paid for players who don’t appear often shouldn’t really focus minds. Instead the media should focus on starting elevens and, if the maths we heard were correct MUFC’s team for the Old Trafford derby that lost to City was more expensive than City’s.
This season is comparable with 2011-12 – then Tevez’s situation and the African Cup of Nations limited our 1st team during January disrupting our momentum, this time injuries impacted our great run. But we came back strong again when almost everyone was available for selection.

If you have had dealings with Pellegrini, what are your views on him?

MO: Nice guy, decent man, but from a media point of view, massively dull.
The Manchester journalists had dinner with Pellegrini and Txiki
Begiristain at Christmas and it was great. Txiki is a character, full of
stories, but Manuel is much more reserved. He is shy, basically, but he
really is a likeable man.
His job was to win trophies for Manchester City, not cultivate the
media, so I am not complaining about his approach.
But we do miss Mancini’s quotability at times!

OK: The only dealings I’ve had with him so far have been official press conferences, which are invariably very low-key, lacking much by way of insight. But there’s a tendency among journalists to describe Mourinho’s press conferences as “box office”. Personally I much prefer managers to produce “box office” football than “box office” press conferences.

JN: Huge admiration. His calmness and maturity won City that title. He set the right tone in the run-in, when the heat was on, and he showed great consistency, reassuring the players after the difficult start to keep playing in the same way. In press dealings he’s a gent – and not afraid to say what he thinks. I warmed to him when he was asked why he didn’t shake Mourinho’s hand at Stamford Bridge. “Because I didn’t want to,” he said. More honesty like that from managers please….

SM: Mancini at City was a hack’s dream and a press officer’s nightmare because he had an opinion on everything. Pellegrini is very cautious in front of the TV cameras and the dailies don’t get much out of him because of that. The Sunday pack are able to speak to him privately in a separate room, away from the cameras, and he does relax a bit more. He’s still pretty straight with his answers and won’t be led into issues he doesn’t want to address. But we do get to see his sense of humour a bit more and he is quite a dry bloke. He hinted that he had a bit of a temper in his younger days and I’d bet it’s spectacular when he does lose his rag. But he is a genuinely nice fella with no obvious agendas other than to play great football.

NM: Never had any dealings, but he seems like a man who would be smashing company over a nice glass of red.

GJ: Not really enough to form a strong opinion. But he does feel like a guy who will let his players do the talking. A bit like Tony Book as manager – he’s got the knowledge and experience and when allowed to focus on football matters he quietly delivers success.

And if you have had time at the club, has there been a different
atmosphere to last season?

MO: Absolutely. It was joy-less last season, everybody had a face on them,
from players to staff and you could tell that it was an unhappy place
and split dressing-room.
It’s a much happier place now, Pellegrini has brought calm, but the
only danger is that the club is lacking in characters.
Aguero, Yaya and Silva are all great players, genuine world stars, but
they lack the box office status of Tevez or Balotelli or, Suarez or

OK: Totally different. It was a volatile atmosphere with Mancini in charge, in dispute with everyone, and with players like Balotelli, Tevez and Adebayor. I know a lot of City fans at the time tended to react to reports of tension by suggesting that either (a) this was normal or (b) it was healthy tension, but no it wasn’t normal and, according to pretty much everyone at the club, it wasn’t healthy. Although there is a challenge to try to keep the English players involved and happy, it actually feels like a stable club now.
One other thing I’d mention regarding City is that pretty much everyone I know there, across various departments, loves working for the club. They’re quite evangelical about it. Far more so than other clubs, in my experience.

JN: Yes. More assurance. More the sense of a grown up and harmonised football club.

SM: Definitely. I really liked Mancini. I know the fans will never forget what he did and I hope the club don’t try to airbrush him out because he was exactly what City needed at that time – an absolutely ruthless winner. But the atmosphere towards the end of last season was poisonous. You don’t have to be loved to be a successful manager, but you do need to have the trust and respect of the players – and that had gone completely.
I went on the pre-season tour to Hong Kong and the change was unbelievable. The players actually wanted to stop and talk about the new season without being pressed into it by the media team. It’s also noticeable that the players praise Pellegrini without being prompted by a question. The common words you hear are “calm” and “respect. The way he handled Hart earlier in the season was a master class in management. Mancini would have stuck the boot in by criticising the player in public; Pellegrini just took him out of the firing line without making a drama of it.

GJ: There’s definitely a more positive feel. I also sense that ambitions have rocketed in recent months and that the club really is now becoming established as a power. Before this season we all hoped it would happen and the management were putting the right people and resources in place, but now the success on the field is matched by the success off it. Best thing is that few in the game have yet realised that this is still only the start!

City’s Financial Fair Play penalty – fair? A good deterrent?

MO: It’s difficult to say really until we know what Uefa have done to the
other clubs.
A £50m fine seems very harsh, but until it is placed in context
alongside the other penalties, you can’t really judge it.

OK: It’s certainly a strong deterrent. But as for whether it is fair, I don’t think FFP is geared towards fairness or towards creating the level playing field that Platini and Uefa were talking about when they first raised the concept of “financial fair play” (lower case) in 2008. I dug out an old Platini quote the other day where he said that he wanted FFP to stop those who want to “come into football to make money”. Instead, the establishment clubs persuaded Uefa to turn it into something that would stop another Chelsea emerging. It’s actually a rule that encourages and allows investors to come into football to make money. I don’t like FFP at all. It was meant to be about eradicating financial excesses and inequalities, but instead it has ignored most of them and focused on the one thing that Bayern, Real Madrid, Milan, Manchester United, Arsenal etc were all terrified of, which was big-spending outsiders threatening the elite. I don’t particularly sympathise with City over the punishment because they have broken rules. Where I sympathise with them is over this portrayal of them as the bad guys and the establishment clubs as the good. I don’t think the case at all.

JN: No. I don’t think the FFP rules are being used the way they should be. For me, they were set up to stop clubs over extending themselves and going to the wall – not to curb benefactors and investors. City have owners who want to build for the long term, care about leaving something positive in East Manchester as an area and have kept ticket prices down. What’s wrong with that? Other clubs who pass FFP have £1000 per year season tickets, or owe £500m thanks to leveraged buyouts. I’m not sure what ‘wrong’ FFP – as it’s now being used – is trying to right.

SM: I’ve got no problem with FFP being brought in if it’s to prevent clubs going out of business. That’s not the case with the regulations as they stand now. Even Platini admitted they have been designed at the behest of powerful clubs like Bayern, Milan and United to protect their position at the top of the game. I’m still yet to hear how attempting to fine a club £50million for allegedly overspending is the best way to promote financial prudence. We don’t even know how these decisions are made and we should all be suspicious when there’s no transparency. I’ve got to say, some of my colleagues in the press have written some absolute shite about FFP without challenging its legality or morality. Thankfully, Martin Samuel has produced some great arguments against it – and a few more influential columnists are finally starting to follow his lead.

NM: I’m going to plead the fifth on this one because I don’t know enough about it and every time I try to read up on it my head starts to shut down. I think it’s the same part of my brain that won’t allow me to understand how to play poker.

GJ: If you want something to stop wealthy businessmen investing in potential then yes it’s a good deterrent! The real issue is debt and football clubs living beyond their means like Portsmouth, Bradford, Leeds etc. That’s what should be tackled. I find it ridiculous that within about 4 miles you have two leading Premier League clubs – one owned by a businessman who has taken millions out of the club to fund his family’s life and other interests leaving the club in serious debt, while the other is funded by a businessman who is pumping billions into the club and surrounding area/community which in turn will help the game develop, yet it is the investor who is punished. Ridiculous. Clearly there needs to be safeguards against owners taking money out or putting clubs in serious debt, but investment should not be punished.

What one thing would you change about the modern game?

MO: Not a problem that City have to worry about – or United for that
matter! – but playing the Europa League games on a Thursday night is a
total waste of time.
Get it back to Tuesdays and Wednesdays and people might be interested
in it again.
It just feels like a pointless competition. When City and United played
in it two years ago, I was at Ajax v United and what should have been a
game between two of Europe’s most successful and historic clubs felt
like a testimonial because it was shunted onto a Thursday night.

OK: The way that so much is being dictated by ownership. I’m not really referring to City here. I’m referring mostly to the way that clubs have been hawked around to the highest bidder and, in a number of cases, ended up in totally unsuitable hands. City got lucky – and you might well argue that they deserved that break after the previous four decades – but other fans have seen their club being trampled all over, causing the kind of damage that they might never recover from. Leeds, Blackburn, Coventry, Birmingham and Portsmouth, to name but five, have suffered terribly. And with the culture in football right now, where so many clubs seem so desperate to keep the status quo, it might become very hard for those other clubs to recover.

JN: The same thing they all say – diving. I still haven’t heard a convincing proposal as to how to do that though.

SM: Drums – in fact, musical instruments of any kind – should be banned from football grounds. I’d also make it a flogging offence if players wear boots that aren’t black. My kids say I’m miserable. I say I’m a traditionalist.

NM: I’d like to introduce some sort of revenue-sharing provisions in a similar way to American sports, but I imagine it would be completely unworkable. Also, get rid of goal music.

GJ: The dominance of the Premier League in terms of money, attention and the media. Of course, City will benefit from all of this but we must never forget where we’ve been and how difficult it would have been to come back had the gulf been as wide as it is today. I’d also change seeding in Europe – aimed at protecting the big clubs. I get why they do it, but it feels that it should be based more on current merit not your history – the Champions of the main leagues should be number one seeds and head groups if seeding is to be used, not in pot 3 or 4.

What’s been the best/most enjoyable single moment in your job this

MO: Watching Cristiano Ronaldo score a hat-trick for Portugal against
Sweden in the World Cup play-off in Stockholm last November.
It was one of those nights when you felt like you had witnessed a great
at the very top of his game.

OK: As enjoyable as it has been, I would like to think the best moment is still to come. A World Cup in Brazil, whatever the talk about travel and logistical chaos, is something to relish. It has been looming on the horizon all season, but now it finally feels real.

JN: The raw excitement of football never leaves you. For me going to the Vicente Calderon to watch Atletico Madrid v Chelsea. One of the great atmospheres in the world game…and about to be demolished so being there was a privilege.

SM: I did a one-on-one interview with Wayne Rooney and as part of the piece we had to pose for pictures together in front of a huge poster of him celebrating scoring the overhead kick in the derby a few years ago. With a big grin on his face, he nudged me, asked me if I liked the picture and said they’d dug it out especially for me. I told him he shinned it.

NM: I was in the press box for Spurs v City and was about ten feet from Sergio Aguero’s thighs. If it wasn’t a night game and the sun was out, they would have blocked it out.

GJ: Being able to watch and note another season of success for future use in my next (or next after that) book.

And the worst/least enjoyable moment?

MO: Watching United lose to Olympiakos in Athens, knowing that the next day
would be a nightmare in terms of finding out how long the Glazers would
put up with David Moyes. Not much longer, as it turned out.

OK: Being stuck in the car park at Crewe station for an hour at 3am after getting a lift back from an England match at Wembley. The exit barrier wasn’t working and, despite the best efforts of British Transport Police, I couldn’t get hold of anyone to sort it out. It wasn’t great fun.

JN: Too many hours on the motorway.

SM: Seeing close up how the racial abuse Yaya Toure was subjected to in Moscow really hurt him. I was stood a couple of feet away from him in the mixed zone when he spoke about it and to see this giant man close to tears really hit home.

NM: It’s not football but sitting in a freezing living room in England covering the fourth Ashes Test was fairly grim. Particularly when I started to hallucinate due to lack of sleep on day four.

GJ: Seeing how everyone jumps to conclusions when the occasional result goes against us – the Sunderland game is a good example. The mood that followed suggested City were a crisis club once more but in truth everything carried on as before and it turned out to be a point won rather than two lost. I hope we can all exhibit a more stable approach next season.

Any good news item in football that didn’t get the coverage it deserved
during the course of the season?

MO: Not that I can think of. Football gets so much good press, but people
in the game are quick to moan when it goes negative.
The best stories are those which just happen and not those that are
spoon-fed by PRs wanting to tell you how great the latest community
initiative or charity event is.
Just do the good stuff and don’t chase the plaudits. Otherwise, people
will think you are doing it for the wrong reasons.

OK: I did like the story of Markus Rosenberg, who left the entire contents of his house to charity when he was released by West Brom. But players do a lot of good work with charitable foundations etc. I think some of them could and probably should promote them more in cases where they want to raise awareness as well as money.

JN: Tens of thousands of selfless acts at grassroots level, never to make the papers.

SM: The Premier League gets a lot of criticism – plenty warranted – but the Christmas Truce Tournament, which sees Academy teams play against clubs from Germany, Belgium and France in Ypres, is a brilliant initiative. It’s something I think deserves a lot more coverage.

NM: I think the amount of coverage football gets over the media it’s almost impossible for anything to be under-reported. That said, even though it has been well covered, I don’t think it’s been truly appreciated in England how incredible Atletico’s season has been.

GJ: Perhaps instead of the focus on Greg Dyke becoming the new FA boss more time should have been spent on the achievements of David Bernstein’s brief period in charge – and that may have helped raise the ridiculous age discrimination policy of the FA (in direct contrast to its own history as well when age was viewed as a positive – both views out of place of course!).

Finally – your tip for the World Cup, and if you like, an outsider tip?

MO: I can’t see anybody stopping Brazil in Brazil. And in terms of an
outsider, I think England might do better than expected. They will get
through the group and then face a decent run to the quarters, so who

OK: I’m split between Brazil, Argentina and Spain. I’ll say Brazil, even though I’m well aware it’s nothing like the most talented of Brazil teams. Not very original, I know. I didn’t want to say Belgium or Colombia as outsiders, because it’s too obvious, but the fact is that the draw gives those two a decent chance of getting to the quarter-finals. The same applies to whoever wins Group E – France, Honduras, Switzerland or Ecuador. If France get their act together, they could do quite well. As for England, I can’t help going back to my gut feeling when the draw was made, which was that they’ll find it tough to get out of the group.

JN: Brazil to win. Chile to shock their group opponents and go on a run.

SM: Belgium to win it, Chile as dark horses.

NM: Tedium alert: Brazil. I think Italy will do better than most expect.

GJ: England and England!

And a final question for (Nottingham Forest-supporting) Nick Miller:
Are you happy with Stuart Pearce as the next Forest manager?
A rather thorough answer can be found here:

Thanks to all who took part and made the blog……

Gary James’ excellent work can be found at and his Facebook page at
Also check his biography of Joe Mercer:


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