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

May 20, 2014

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
injuries.
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
Rooney.

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
season?

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
knows?

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:
http://www.football365.com/faves/9246022/Stuart-Pearce-And-The-Fear-Of-Clay-Feet-And-Thighs-

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

Gary James’ excellent work can be found at http://www.manchesterfootball.org and his Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/GaryJames4
Also check his biography of Joe Mercer: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Joe-Mercer-OBE-Authorised-Successful/dp/0955812747/ref=zg_bs_1040524_25

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