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The Footballers" Football Column – Luther Blissett: Gianfranco Zola has established Watford as a force really quickly

LUTHER BLISSETT: People say Watford have exploited a loan 'loophole' but Zola has established us as a force really quickly


10:56 GMT, 13 March 2013



18:15 GMT, 13 March 2013

Luther Blissett

Luther Blissett played more than 500 games for Watford and helped them to promotion from the fourth division to the top flight between 1975 and 1982. He won 14 caps for England, scoring a hat-trick on his debut at Wembley. Blissett also had a spell in Italy at AC Milan before playing for Harry Redknapp at Bournemouth and short loan at Ossie Ardiles’ West Brom in the early 1990s. In his debut Footballers’ Football Column he looks at Watford’s promotion challenge, defends the club's controversial loan signings and looks at racism in the game….

Footballers Football Column with Luther Blissett

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I’m very pleased to see Watford challenging at the top of the Championship. For all the years I have been associated with them, they have been successful club. Either challenging for promotion or the top spot, so it is great to see Gianfranco Zola’s side continue that tradition.

When they whole takeover by the Pozzo family came about, there were people who were worried that their Watford was going to drastically change.

And yes, there have been changes, but there is a long-term plan and the success we are having this season so far has been welcomed by everybody. It has opened a few people’s eyes and even the sceptics have come round to thinking, ‘Wow this is amazing.’

On the up: Marco Cassetti and Almen Abdi have helped Watford become promotion challengers

On the up: Marco Cassetti and Almen Abdi have helped Watford become promotion challengers

Loan star: Ikechi Anya is one of the players on loan from Grenada who have helped Watford into third

Loan star: Ikechi Anya is one of the players on loan from Grenada who have helped Watford into third

Hornets are buzzing: Matej Vydra's 20 league goals have been crucial for Watford

Hornets are buzzing: Matej Vydra's 20 league goals have been crucial for Watford

It has been great for the town and everybody connected with the club and hopefully they can carry on and see the job all the way through to the Premier League.

There has been a lot of talk about the way the club have operated in the transfer market and particularly the loan signings from Serie A side Udinese and Spanish club Granada who are also owned by the Pozzo family.

But the talk has only really come about in the last month or so since we played Crystal Palace and Ian Holloway spoke about it. But we are two-thirds of the way through the season and they have been here since the start, so why is it only an issue now

Giampaolo Pozzo

Gianfranco Zola

Working together: Watford owner Giampaolo Pozzo and manager Gianfranco Zola are aiming for promotion

More from The Footballers' Column…

The Footballers' Football Column – Martin Allen: There is nothing wrong with Harry taking his squad to Dubai… I took my players to France but only let them play Monopoly and Pictionary

Steven Reid – The Footballers' Football Column: Liam Ridgewell went to a Justin Bieber gig… he didn't even have the excuse of taking his kids – he went with one of the other West Brom lads!

Curtis Davies – The Footballers' Football Column: I knew I'd score against Blackpool, I always get goals when I play the B-teams

The Footballers' Football Column – Mark McChrystal: I haven't given up hope of winning my first full cap… And don't judge James McClean unless you know him or understand Northern Ireland

Ruud Gullit – The Footballers' Football Column: German teams are doing better in Champions League because they have homegrown players… English clubs have too many overpaid foreigners

The Footballers' Football Column – Brian Clark: Newcastle's 28m super scout on discovering the Ameobi brothers… oh and a chubby lad called Gascoigne

The Footballer's Football Column – Carolyn Radford: Life in non-League It's all fast cars and 70-year-old club secretaries

The Footballers' Football Column – Zesh Rehman: The best manager I played for was Chris Coleman at Fulham, but Robbie Fowler will go onto be a top boss… he has great man-management skills


The opportunity was there for Watford to sign these players on loan, the rules allowed the club to do it. People are calling it a loophole now because Watford, in their eyes, have benefited from it, but the interpretation of the rules is the most important thing and the owners have looked at it and thought that this would be a good way of establishing Watford as a real force in this division really quickly.

When the takeover happened and the links with the two clubs were made clear, it as one of the fears among the fans that we would not see any of our own players and the club would lose its identity, but the blend has been very good between the home-grown players and the loan players.

You have the skills and the technique of the players who have come in and then you have the understanding of what the Championship is all about, plus their own ability from the home-grown players, so it has been very good.

It is a case of now trying to carry that on into the Premier League, if we get there, then trying to build on that and be able to hold our own in that league and become an established Premier League team.

I believe we can win promotion and I have felt that way since around October time. Our away form has been phenomenal, so if we can get our home form to match that then I think we have a very good chance.

Gianfranco Zola has done a great job. I speak to fans at game and they are blown away by the style of football we are playing at the moment.

The football they are producing and the quality of players we have at the club has really struck a note with the supporters and you just hope that it is the start of something big.

If Watford are promoted, it will be interesting to see if we will be playing against QPR and my old manager Harry Redknapp. QPR’s win over Southampton a few weeks ago was massive, not just for the points but for the belief it has giving them, they will now be thinking, ‘We can do this’.

They still have an awful lot to do and they still are relying on other teams dropping points, but the belief is there.

I played under Harry at Bournemouth at the beginning of his managerial career and I don’t think he has changed in that time.

The thing that struck me about him when I played under him is that he is very good man manager.

He does not take the training sessions. He is like a chef, a chef will get all the right ingredients to make a dish work, Harry is the same, he is very good at getting the right players together and then the coaches put the finishing touches in place.

Starting out: Luther Blissett played under Harry Redknapp at Bournemouth

Starting out: Luther Blissett played under Harry Redknapp at Bournemouth

Still the same: Blissett says Redknapp has not changed during all his years in management

Still the same: Blissett says Redknapp has not changed during all his years in management

But Harry makes sure all the right pieces are there and guide them in the right direction.
That is Harry’s biggest strength, being able to spot the pieces of the puzzle and put them together.

Talking of managers, I was very pleased to see the appointments of two managers last month, Paul Ince at Blackpool and Chris Kiwomya at Notts County. It is a step, only a small step, in the right direction for black managers in this county.

When I think back to when I started playing at the end of the 1970s, I knew wanted to be a manager, so I took my first coaching badges at 17 to give myself the best possible chance to be a manager when I finished playing.

I always believe a job should be given to someone based on their ability, not the colour of their skin or who you know someone who knows someone. Football has been like that for too long and too many managers have got jobs based on that.

Dream debut: Blissett scored a hat-trick for England during the 9-0 win over Luxembourg at Wembley

Dream debut: Blissett scored a hat-trick for England during the 9-0 win over Luxembourg at Wembley

Luther Blisset of Watford

Luther Blissett, AC Milan

Making his way in the game: Blissett made his name at Watford before moving to AC Milan

I have not been a fan of something like the Rooney Rule but if it gets black mangers an interview where in the past they were not getting that opportunity, then it is a step in the right direction. I used to send off applications for jobs and occasionally I would get a letter back saying they are looking for someone more experience.

I used to wonder how much experience the people who were sending letters to me had How many games had they played I have played in different leagues and in different countries and then when someone tells me I don’t have the experience is an insult.

What about the first person who managed a football team, the first person who managed a big business What experience did they have You learn on the job but you have to be given that chance first time by someone.

Chris Kiwomya

Paul Ince

A step forward: Blissett was pleased Chris Kiwomya got the Notts County job and Blackpool appointed Paul Ince

I watch Match of the Day and I hear pundits talk about certain players and say: ‘He’ll make a great manager when he retires’ and I just think ‘Why Because you know him and he played for the same club as you’

That is their premise. How many of those pundits have ever said that about someone like Ince or Sol Campbell You hear them tipping certain players, but it is never a black player.

It is not the pundit being racist or prejudice, it is because it is not in their psyche to see a black manager. It is an unconscious thing. That needs to change.

That said, the problem with racism is better now than when I started playing in the 70s. Racism was a problem then, not just in football but in society, there were TV shows like Love Thy Neighbour in which racism was normal.

Time to move on: Blissett says racism was worse in football and society in the 1970s when shows like Love Thy Neighbour were on television

Time to move on: Blissett says racism was worse in football and society in the 1970s when shows like Love Thy Neighbour were on television

Kevin-Prince Boateng

Kevin Prince Boateng

Doing the right thing: Blissett praised Kevin-Prince Boateng for walking off when he was racially abused

Staying on: Samuel Eto'o was racially abused while playing for Barcelona but was persuaded not to walk off by team-mates and officials

Staying on: Samuel Eto'o was racially abused while playing for Barcelona but was persuaded not to walk off by team-mates and officials

I was abused at every stadium I went to, not just by fans but by opposition players as well. At 17-18 it had an affect on me.

But when I was in Italy at AC Milan it was bad as well, but they are making some progress, after all they were the first players to walk off the pitch.

Kevin-Prince Boateng was abused in a friendly game playing for AC Milan
and he booted the ball into the crowd and walked off, I thought it was
brilliant. And what made it better was that all his team-mates went off with him. That was fantastic.

Not dealing with the issues: Blissett would like to see the authorities really clamp down on racism rather then fine players like Nicklas Bendtner for showing a sponsor's name on his pants

Not dealing with the issues: Blissett would like to see the authorities really clamp down on racism rather then fine players like Nicklas Bendtner for showing a sponsor's name on his pants

Years ago Samuel Eto'o was going to do
the same thing when he was playing for Barcelona and he was persuaded by
his team-mates to stay.


When I was a player at Watford, Graham Taylor created a family club and encouraged us to help in the community.

have lost members of my family to cancer. So if I am able to do
anything to help raise money or awareness then I am more than happy to
do so. It is something that everyone will be touched by.

UK men are currently living with the disease, and every year over
40,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer that is unbelievable.

along with Prostate Cancer UK, who are The Football League’s official
charity, we are doing a bike ride from London to Amsterdam and keen to
get fans to come along and join us and raise money, it will be an
amazing experience. I need to get on my bike and practise, it is the
saddle soreness I need to get used to more than anything, but I am
looking forward to it.

CLICK HERE to find out more about the London to Amsterdam bike ride.

If those players at that time had walked off then it would have sent a massive message out across the world.

Players have to realise they are in a very powerful position. If you were abused like that in any other profession, nobody would think any ill of you walked away, so why shouldn’t footballers do the same

The people who run football always go on about ‘the beautiful game’ and make a point of respect in the game. Where is the respect for the players who are abused like this

It is all well and good having T-shirts with ‘Respect’ on them and it ticks a box for the authorities. But when it comes to actual incidents they are the ones who have to take firm action, they just walk away from it.

Yet they will fine a player like Nicklas Bendtner for showing his pants with a sponsor on them. It’s madness.

Where were the UEFA officials at the U21 game when the England players were being abused in Serbia When you look at the people who run the game and they decide to punish the players who have been abused for the last two hours, as they did with the England players, then it shows they have no idea what racism is.

These people who run the game really need to get some education and learn about racism.

David Moyes could quit Everton if no Champions League

Champions League or bust for Moyes as Everton boss ponders future at Goodison



22:30 GMT, 29 December 2012

Everton manager David Moyes is seriously considering ending his 11-year association with the club after the season if they don’t qualify for the Champions League.

Having established his reputation as one of the best managers in England over a decade, Moyes feels this year represents his best chance of a top-four finish since 2005, when Everton were knocked out in the Champions League qualifying stages by Villarreal.

The Scot, whose side face Chelsea on Sunday, believes Everton must take advantage of a relatively weak Premier League to break into the elite, with Tim Howard, Phil Jagielka and Leon Osman at their peak.

Up in the air: David Moyes has six months left on his Everton contract

Up in the air: David Moyes has six months left on his Everton contract

He wants owner Bill Kenwright to back him with two new signings in January. But Moyes knows it will be hard to keep his squad together should they fail in their top-four quest.

‘It’s easier to attract top players if you are in Europe, particularly the Champions League. I think it would help to keep Marouane Fellaini. The only reason then for him to leave would be money. That’s why if you want to keep your best players you need to give them European football.’

Fellaini, who completes a three-match ban for butting Ryan Shawcross of Stoke, is being watched by Chelsea and clubs in the cash-rich Russian League, and failure to finish in the top four could see the likes of Fellaini, Ross Barkley and Leighton Baines go to balance the books and also leave Moyes seeking a new challenge, possibly abroad,.

Moyes has just six months left on his contract and has not had talks about a new deal. Regularly overlooked for top jobs in England, the only feasible opportunity left at home is at Manchester United, which would depend on when Sir Alex Ferguson chooses to retire.

Moyes is more likely to follow the route taken by former England manager Steve McClaren, who went to coach in Holland and Germany.

Heading out Marouane Fellaini has been linked with a move in January

Heading out Marouane Fellaini has been linked with a move in January

Moyes is a keen student of European football and knows it may offer a better route into the Champions League than he will get in England. He has already expressed a wish to manage in Germany. He is the third-longest serving manager in the Premier League behind Ferguson and Arsene Wenger.

Everton could leapfrog Chelsea into third place if they win today but Moyes accepts there is a huge chasm between the two clubs in their long-term prospects, particularly when Roman Abramovich can splash out 35million on an exciting young player like Belgium’s Eden Hazard.

‘We knew all about Hazard through (international team-mate) Fellaini but it was always going to be biggish cash for us. We’ve had a few like that, I can tell you,’ said Moyes.

‘Can you measure Everton against Chelsea I think there would be an unfair advantage somewhere in there. I don’t think we have spent as much here on players when you include outgoings as they have in pay-outs for managers.

Europe calling: Everton hope to gatecrash next season's Champions League

Europe calling: Everton hope to gatecrash next season's Champions League

‘Everton supporters realise we have a different model. Tottenham have proved that you can get into the top four. We had a nibble at it in 2005 but it’s not been consistent enough.'

Moyes knows, if Everton can qualify for the Champions League, the long-term prospects for the club would alter dramatically.

He said: ‘Last January we needed 5.5m to turn it around. I would hope if we make it to the Champions League we will be getting far more than that.

‘It would help us for the next couple of years and that would help me keep Everton’s progress going. What worries me is keeping the progression going. If we are lucky enough to make the Champions League, we could try and make another step up the ladder. What would you get for getting into group stages 10m- 20m

‘That could change a lot that would happen here.’

David Beckham: No PSG offer, says Carlo Ancelotti

Non merci, Beckham! PSG chief Ancelotti denies move for outgoing LA Galaxy ace


19:30 GMT, 20 November 2012



19:52 GMT, 20 November 2012

Paris Saint-Germain have denied making an offer for David Beckham.

The former England captain has been linked with a move to the mega-rich French side after announcing he's leaving LA Galaxy next month.

But manager Carlo Ancelotti has denied interest in Beckham.

Bend it like Beckham: PSG have denied interest in the LA Galaxy star

Bend it like Beckham: PSG have denied interest in the LA Galaxy star

No move: Ancelotti has denied making an approach for Beckham whom he worked alongside at AC Milan

No move: Ancelotti has denied making an approach for Beckham whom he worked alongside at AC Milan

The former Chelsea manager said on Tuesday: 'We haven't made an offer, good luck to him.'

PSG have emerged as the early frontrunners for Beckham's signature.

Speculation surrounding his next move is already gathering pace and Ancelotti – who worked with Beckham at AC Milan in 2009 – was thought to be keen to reignite a bid for the midfielder's services after he turned down a move to the French capital last year.

David Beckham

Time's up: Beckham wants to 'experience one last challenge' before hanging up his boots

Where next for Becks


The A-League are desperate for more high-profile signings to follow the likes of Emile Heskey and Alessandro Del Piero. Seven of the 10 top-flight clubs have been linked with the midfielder.


The Becks factor would be a massive PR boost in the run-up to the 2014 World Cup finals and the 2016 Olympic Games.


Another country looking to promote their domestic competition. The signings of Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba show they mean business.

Paris St Germain

The money-bags French club thought they had signed Beckham 12 months ago after agreeing to pay him 670,000 a month but the deal was never signed.

New York

Becks may decide to stay in America so his wife can pursue her fashion career. Their three sons are also settled in America.
so his wife can pursue her fashion career

Leyton Orient

Could his last challenge be to try and take his hometown club to the Premier League

The 37-year-old is in line to end his six-year Galaxy stay in style as they defend their title against the Houston Dynamo on December 1 before seeking to extend his playing career elsewhere.

He told the Major League Soccer website: 'I've had an incredibly special time playing for the LA Galaxy, however, I wanted to experience one last challenge before the end of my playing career.'

Although Beckham had an option on his contract, signed in January, for another year with the Galaxy, his decision to leave is no great surprise.

Football Federation Australia last week claimed they had been approached by the former Real Madrid and Manchester United star's camp with a view to the player spending a short stint in the A-League, though his spokesman described that as 'rubbish'.

Perth Glory – one of the clubs to express an interest when the links with Beckham going Down Under first emerged – were quick to go public again this morning, tweeting: 'David Beckham has confirmed the MLS Cup final will be his last game for the Galaxy. The race is on.'

Melbourne Heart have also confirmed they will try to lure Beckham to the A-League club. Chief executive Scott Munn said the club planned to offer the midfielder a 10 week contract worth around 1million but they faced competition from Perth Glory plus others from around the world.

Munn told Fox News: 'We're putting forward an offer, it's compelling and the opportunity is here for him to come here. 'That is absolutely legitimate. Let's let David get through next week, play the final of the MLS and hopefully he'll have a win. Then I'm sure he'll assess every offer.'

China, the United Arab Emirates, Paris, England and even Brazil have been mentioned as potential destinations but wherever he goes, it will bring to an end an eventful career in MLS which saw the midfielder become the face of a new era for the sport in North America.

Mark Hughes confident over QPR future ahead of El Sackico

Hughes remains bullish about QPR future ahead of 'El Sackico' against Southampton



17:30 GMT, 16 November 2012

Mark Hughes emerged from a barrage of questions about his future to insist he is still the right man to turn things around at QPR.

Hughes' men will try to secure their first Barclays Premier League win of the season at the 12th attempt on Saturday when they welcome Southampton to Loftus Road.

Despite a glut of summer signings – some of them from such glamour clubs as Real Madrid and Inter Milan – Hughes has failed to spark his team in to life.

In the spotlight: Hughes chats to the press on Friday

In the spotlight: Hughes chats to the press on Friday

Saturday's game against Saints has been dubbed 'El Sackico' given the current predicament of both managers, and Tony Fernandes' claim on Twitter last week that QPR “must win” the six-pointer against the south-coast club, who are one point above rock-bottom Rangers.

But Hughes insists he retains Fernandes' backing and the Welshman is adamant that he can drag the Londoners away from the foot of the table.

'My future doesn't hinge on this match,' Hughes told a press conference.

'People shouldn't under-estimate the changes that have gone on at the club and I have been a big part of that.

'I have had great support from everyone. That doesn't just get swept aside because we are in a difficult situation.

'It is because of that work we have done before that sustains you and allows you time to get through this period.

'The club has moved forward in a massive way since I came in the door through the work I and my staff have done.

'Everyone is pulling together to take this club forward.'

Hughes brushed off claims that Fernandes' tweet amounted to an ultimatum.

Struggling: QPR sit bottom of the Premier League

Struggling: QPR sit bottom of the Premier League

'I don't think it has been reported in the right context,' the Welshman said.

'I don't think he was saying it is a must-win game.'

Hughes has put on a bullish front for weeks now at his weekly press conferences despite the fact that he has not been able to bring Rangers fans the win they have been yearning since they were thumped by Swansea on the opening day of the season.

But at Friday's conference Hughes' was more defiant than ever about his ability to arrest Rangers' alarming slump.

Hughes has been criticised for his apparent failure to instil discipline and concentration among the squad while some of the big-money imports are yet to live up to their billing as top-class players.

The former Blackburn boss admits he did not expect QPR to start the season so badly, but he still thinks he is capable of delivering success.

'No-one anticipated this run would go on as long as this, but we are still in an early part of the season we still have a lot of games to play,' Hughes added.

'The only way we change (our bad run) is by winning games and that's our intention at the weekend.

Basement battle: Southampton have also started the season slowly

Basement battle: Southampton have also started the season slowly

'When you have a bad period the focus comes on you and people will ask questions.

'But I'm very confident I can answer anyone who comes here and questions how I prepare my teams, how we train and the intensity which we work at.'

QPR fans have become used to false dawns this season. Their team have promised to deliver wins on countless occasions, but they have not delivered despite some games against meagre opposition.

The table dictates that they will have no better chance of claiming victory than tomorrow's game and Hughes is convinced his team will finally end their wait for a win.

'My expectation is that we will get the three points tomorrow and we will start the long road back,' Hughes said.

'We have been in this position too many times. We can't keep on saying that we played well and our performances have merited more, because we need to step up to the plate and take maximum points.'

Manchester United loanee Fabio is fit to make his return from a two-month hamstring injury lay-off, but Hughes could be without striker Bobby Zamora, who has a hip problem.

Arsenal plot move for Yoann Gourcuff

Don't you need a striker first, Arsene Wenger to target Gourcuff in January



06:49 GMT, 5 November 2012

Arsenal are reportedly lining up a bid for Lyon midfielder Yoann Gourcuff in January, a year after their previous efforts were rebuffed.

The attacking midfielder has long been a target for boss Arsene Wenger and the Frenchman hopes to take advantage of Lyon's financial plight.

President Jean-Michel Aulas revealed last month they may have to let some of their star names leave.

Wanted: Arsenal are keen to sign Lyon player Yoann Gourcuff (right)

Wanted: Arsenal are keen to sign Lyon player Yoann Gourcuff (right)

‘We’re planning to sell two or three players for a total of €30million,’ Aulas said. ‘If he (Gourcuff) returns to the highest level and he wants to go, then there could be a transfer.'

And that could happen as soon as the January transfer window, reports the Metro.

But Arsenal fans will surely question the sense in signing another creative midfielder given the form of summer signing Santi Cazorla and the return of Jack Wilshere.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott can also provide a threat in that part of the field but it is in attack that the Gunners are struggling.

Arsenal have mustered just 15 goals in the Premier League this season, the lowest of any club in the top seven.

League leaders Manchester United, who beat Wenger's side on Saturday, have notched 26 goals and Chelsea 22.

New signings Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud have enjoyed mixed fortunes since joining in summer with the latter struggling in front of goal while Podolski has not scored in the league since September.

Gourcouff meanwhile has struggled to fulfil his potential after starring for Rennes early his career. His form in France earned him a move to Serie A with Milan but he struggled to make an impression.

Misfiring: Olivier Giroud (left) has yet to find his form for Arsenal

Misfiring: Olivier Giroud (left) has yet to find his form for Arsenal

Former France international Eric Di Meco hopes the 26-year-old can rediscover his form.

'Having done what he had at Bordeaux, I expected him to move to a team challenging for titles that he would help become champions,' Di Meco told RMC Sport.

'Gourcuff is not someone who leads a team and takes them to the top, like Lyon are asking of him. He doesn't have the mentality to do that, but if he has a coach that trusts him and if he is in a good environment then he can flourish.'

Paul Lambert wants more Aston Villa signings

Lambert already seeking new Villa additions despite summer spending spree



15:44 GMT, 2 November 2012

Big money move: Benteke cost Aston Villa 7million

Big money move: Benteke cost Aston Villa 7million

Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert admits he needs to further bolster the strength of his squad.

Villa brought in nine new signings during the summer at a net outlay of 21.7million – the fifth-highest of any Barclays Premier League club during that transfer window.

It took the transfer outlay of the midlands club to a net 70million during the past five seasons under owner Randy Lerner.

But Villa are still stretched in certain departments and currently have four centre-backs on the injury list in Richard Dunne, Ciaran Clark, Nathan Baker and Chris Herd.

When asked about his transfer plans, Lambert said: 'The squad needs to get bigger as well. That is important as well. That's normal.

'Everyone has to have competition for places. That is vital.

'It is like the centre-halves situation. We lose Ciaran and Nathan and have to put Matt (Lowton) or Chris (Herd) back there.

'It shows you are short in certain areas and you have to improve the squad which we will try and do.'

Show me the money: Lambert wants to bolster his squad in January

Show me the money: Lambert wants to bolster his squad in January

Lambert is convinced Villa are heading in the right direction despite winning only one of their opening nine league matches.

He said: 'This was never going to happen overnight. A lot of people just expected us to come in and see a real change in fortunes.

'There is certainly progress, you can see that, but you want to keep going until you think “we're there”.'

Manchester City close to signing former Barcelona director of football Txiki Begiristain

City closing in on deal with former Barcelona director Begiristain as Chelsea and Spurs lurk


17:18 GMT, 25 October 2012



17:20 GMT, 25 October 2012

Manchester City are close to persuading former Barcelona director of football Txiki Begiristain to join the club.

In a move which will spell re-organisation behind the scenes at Eastlands, the 48-year-old is ready to team up with his friend, City chief executive and former Barca vice-president, Ferran Soriano despite been courted by Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea.

He will take up a technical director role which will give him responsibility for recruitment and will also look to bring in former Johan Cruyff adviser Joan Patsy.

Join me: Chief executive of Manchester City Ferran Soriano, pictured, could greet his old friend Txiki Begiristain at the club

Join me: Chief executive of Manchester City Ferran Soriano, pictured, could greet his old friend Txiki Begiristain at the club

Begiristain is also a close ally of Pep Guardiola and, following City’s performance against Ajax in the Champions League, the appointment will only further speculation that under-fire coach Roberto Mancini will be replaced by the wily Spaniard.

However, Guardiola is determined to see out his year’s sabbatical despite the likes of Chelsea, AC Milan and Bayern Munich also all maintaining an interest in his next move.

Begiristain, who was an attacking midfielder for John Toshack’s Real Sociedad and Barcelona’s ‘Dream Team’ of the early 1990s, spent seven years as director of football at Barcelona before leaving in 2010.

He was responsible for bringing in the like of Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o and Dani Alves while maintaining the development of La Masia programme which spawned talent such as Lionel Messi.

Coup: Begiristain was responsible for bringing in the likes of Samuel Eto'o (left) at Barcelona

Coup: Begiristain was responsible for bringing in the likes of Samuel Eto'o (left) at Barcelona

Clash: Roberto Mancini has clashed with football administrator Brian Marwood over this season's summer signings, including Javi Garcia (left)

Clash: Roberto Mancini has clashed with Brian Marwood over this season's summer signings, including Javi Garcia, above, and Jack Rodwell, below left

Clash: Roberto Mancini has clashed with football administrator Brian Marwood over this season's summer signings, including Jack Rodwell (left)

His arrival would also change responsibilities for football administrator Brian Marwood who has clashed with Mancini over player recruitment.

Tottenham were very keen for Begiristain to join and he was interested in a move to London but a move to City will underline his belief that they are building the right project to dominate European football.

Celtic chief scout John Park is among other contenders for the role at Tottenham.

Northern Exposure: Alan Pardew and Greg Abbott are worlds apart… but dream is the same

Pardew and Abbott are worlds apart… but dream is the same


11:30 GMT, 2 October 2012



11:33 GMT, 2 October 2012

A lot can happen in eight seconds in football. So what can you achieve in eight years

Managers dream of the contract Alan
Pardew has just signed. It is Pardew's task to make the dreams of
Newcastle United fans come true.

And he has eight years. Eight years.

Big deal: Newcastle have handed eight-year contract to Alan Pardew

Big deal: Newcastle have handed eight-year contract to Alan Pardew

All managers like to claim some sort of autonomy when they take charge of a football club, but in reality those days are gone.

I had the privilege of visiting Carlisle United last week, spent a day with laughaholic Greg Abbott, as we did back in the days when he was Hull captain and part-time boss of Hunsworth Under 10s.

But there is a deadly serious side to his work too, and the daily financial difficulties he battles with Carlisle wouldn't function without his prudence. But his orders come from above.

It's the same for Pardew at Newcastle, as it was at Reading, West Ham, Charlton and Southampton. Now he has longer to deal and play with it.

Chief scout and fellow eight-yearer Graham Carr's astonishing record in the European transfer market means that when he recommends a player, the entire game listens, never mind his manager and the board. The scouting network could not be more boxed off.

Training day: Carlisle manager Greg Abbott

Training day: Carlisle manager Greg Abbott

Slowly but decisively, Pardew eked out Chris Hughton's warriors, and quickly built his own team spirit, assuring through the immense leadership of Fabricio Coloccini, that his new players bought into it. Getting the ball to Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba helped, but Newcastle cruised to fifth last season and finished above Chelsea.

So hopes are high on Tyneside, although it is a difficult task replicating that success, never mind emulating it.

There weren't too many new signings in the summer, when fans were looking for splashing of cash from Mike Ashley, but Pardew and his bosses have emphasised the importance, and cost, of keeping their squad together.

The new campaign, with the additional European sideshow, has been dogged but far from dazzling. But by grinding out results now, they are building the foundations of more to come. Ba's goals have helped. This season is boxed off and being dealt with.

Now he can look elsewhere in the club, pinpointing youth development last week.

Carlisle training session on a pitch at the back of Brunton Parkin

Carlisle made about 50,000 from the 13,000 who turned up to watch Spurs last week. A full house at White Hart Lane would have earned them about five times that amount, maybe more. That was how much their peers at Stevenage, Crawley and Leyton Orient made from their away cup exploits last season.

No surprise that those three clubs have circulated that money in their wages department to make them serious contenders this season. Abbott meanwhile has to rely on freebies and recommendations from his contacts.

He said: 'I used to argue and haggle with agents but now if they start messing about with figures, I just say “that's what we can afford, so forget it' and we move on to the next target on the list.”

Carlisle have three or four good young players – and look out for keeper Mark Gillespie and lanky striker Mark Beck – and I asked Greg, if he had the money, would he invest in an academy first

He pointed over to the Brunton Park ground and said 'No. I'd love to but it has to be out there first. That's what matters.'

It's what matters at every club.

But with eight years at your disposal, a decent budget and owners looking to invest in the cream of North East talent, Pardew has at his disposal the opportunity to help build a club from the base, take a real hands-on approach to the youth system and really build his football club.

Cattermole must tackle reckless streak
Lee Cattermole of Sunderland

I sat down with Lee Cattermole (right) two weeks ago. And I believed him.

He said he wanted to cut out the daft lunging tackle which had cost him so many yellow cards, and reds. He knows the one, I didn't even have to mention it, and he had his own target. And I believed him. But when the red mist descends on poor old Lee in the heat of battle, he tends to forget the other 70-odd yellow cards which have been thrust in his direction in Sunderland colours.

He is an honest lad, a bullish, old-school, annoying-to-the-opposition, like Marmite, love him or hate him, pushy, demanding, infuriating, likeable, hard-working, daft, intelligent, English, kind of footballer, we don't see enough of them in the Premier League nowadays. We won't be see much of them. Sorry but it is a shame.

But he is Sunderland captain and while he is definitely maturing and growing into the role, his lack of discipline means he is out of the Wear-Tyne derby, following his red card at the end of the last one in which he'd earlier made an ugly mark.

And if Martin O'Neill is losing patience with him, which he undoubtedly and very publically is, then he is on the very precipice of a pretty long plank.

When we met, he had this observation on the captaincy. 'Listen I have never, ever worried about that,' he said. 'It is something you press guys have said since I was made captain and with everything I have ever done wrong.

'I don't want to name names but a lot of other lads get booked or sent off and no one says anything. But if it is Lee Cattermole it is a big issue and they say “he is losing the captaincy”.

'When I was made captain I thought I didn't need to change because I was captain for what I am but it is a bigger role than I thought at the time. There is so much more to it goes on behind the scenes . . . I am still learning but I do think I'm getting better.'

He's right on all those fronts. But unless he can learn to deliver his own promise to cut out the daft challenges and cards, he'll be handing it over to John O'Shea permanently.

And that would be a real shame for Cattermole, and Sunderland.

He might miss the Tyne version of the derby but Cattermole should be back for the game against his former club Middlesbrough in the Capital One Cup later the same week.

You wait for one derby…

It's a shame Boro didn't get a completely level playing field with a home tie, but they have nothing to fear after their heroics in the FA Cup draw last season. O'Neill knows Tony Mowbray's side deserved to win that day.

And even more so than that side, this is a team closer to Mowbray's vision now, and moulded by him from the mess left by Gordon Strachan. They are in the Championship shake-up early on, but have yet to shake off the inconsistency which hindered them last season.

The one advantage of travelling to Sunderland is they can do so without a care in the world. They are not expected to win, Mowbray can name his strongest side, but also use it as a motivation for the rest of his squad. It was that freedom that gave them the edge last season and O'Neill knows that too.

The Sunderland manager barely tinkered with his team against Morecambe and MK Dons, demonstrating his serious intent in a competition he has enjoyed success, so Boro can expect the full force of his squad, and an eager full house at the Stadium of Light.

And whatever the outcome of the game against Newcastle, that will add extra spice.

A great week to look forward to up here, with the added bonus that the North East definitely has a representative in the quarter-finals.

Just don't ask me who it will be.

Arsenal aren"t scared to spend, says Arsene Wenger

We are not scared to spend, says Wenger as Arsenal boss defends transfer policy



12:17 GMT, 27 September 2012

Arsene Wenger maintains Arsenal are not scared to spend money – but will always do it 'in the right way'.

The Gunners' parent holding company are set to post their latest set of financial results on Thursday afternoon, which are understood to again show a healthy operating profit and considerable cash reserves.

The joy of six: Arsenal romped to victory over Coventry on Wednesday

The joy of six: Arsenal romped to victory over Coventry on Wednesday

Those will be further boosted by the
24million sale of former captain Robin van Persie to Manchester United,
although also offset against the summer signings of Lukas Podolski,
Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud, who scored his first Arsenal goal in
Wednesday night's Capital One Cup win over Coventry.

Wenger believes the continued positive financial situation at the Emirates Stadium is 'very pleasing', but does represent a delicate balancing act between stability off the pitch and consistency on it.

'We want to spend our money in the right way. We are not scared to spend the money,' said Wenger.

'With some clubs we can't compete on certain players – and for the rest, we only want to bring in players who add something to our squad and give a chance as well to the young players we have.

Cash-flow: Wenger defended Arsenal's transfer policy on Thursday

Cash-flow: Wenger defended Arsenal's transfer policy on Thursday

'We have good players, because to buy one more, we have to get one out.'

'Our numbers are good,' added Wenger. 'Under the actual circumstances this is quite positive because the whole (global) environment is not positive.

'We are very lucky because we have a good support and the income of our gates is very high.

'We have to maintain that by keeping our fans happy and to continue to manage well in the way that we do it.'

Tim Sherwood set for Balckburn Rovers return

Sherwood set for Rovers return with Blackburn ready to finally conclude Kean's reign



21:30 GMT, 26 September 2012

Blackburn will make a formal approach to Tottenham this week in the hope of persuading Tim Sherwood to become their new manager.

Sherwood, who captained the club to the Premiership title in 1995, is the man Rovers want to restore stability once Steve Kean’s departure has been finalised.

Sherwood, 43, is keen to move up the ladder after four years as assistant first-team coach at Spurs.

Familiar face: Tim Sherwood was at Blackburn for seven years

Familiar face: Tim Sherwood was at Blackburn for seven years

It looks unlikely that he will be considered for the role of director of football alongside Andre Villas-Boas at White Hart Lane, with Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy still hoping to tempt Barcelona’s former technical director Txiki Begiristain with a 2million-a-year offer.

Blackburn legend Alan Shearer could also come into contention for a return to Ewood if his old teammate turns down the opportunity.
The club’s Indian owners will finally axe Kean after accepting that keeping him on has manager has rebounded on them financially.

Attendances are down 40 per cent despite Blackburn’s promising start to the season and the team are still without a shirt sponsor. It has also emerged that current match day revenue does not even cover the wages of summer signings Jordan Rhodes, Danny Murphy and Dickson Etuhu.