The World Cup-No hype this time-Sterling

The World Cup-No hype this time-Sterling


My last Birmingham Mail column of the season on June 6th

It is a sign that a major tournament is close when our national newspapers start printing negative stories about players who will represent England. It really is a truism that we “build them up only to enjoy knocking them down again”. On the end of it this time is Raheem Sterling who has been heavily criticised for having a tattoo of a firearm on his leg. To be honest I don’t like the prevalence of tattoos on footballers anyway and probably one of a gun is not the smartest thing to do.

However when you hear why he had it done it is easier to understand he said “"When I was 2 my father died from being gunned down to death I made a promise to myself I would never touch a gun in my life time, I shoot with my right foot so it has a deeper meaning and is still unfinished,". That explanation, if he needed to give one, should be enough but oh no! The holier than thou brigade are demanding he be dropped from England World Cup squad if he doesn’t have it removed etc.

Now had he been caught with a real gun in his possession I would also be shouting for him to be dropped from Gareth Southgate’s World Cup squad? But for having what is described as “body art” no way- it’s time for some people to get a grip and give the boy a break.

It is his body and if he wants to cover it with lots of tattoos then that is his choice and as long as they are not homophobic or racist then we really should leave the young man alone.

I would much rather see him criticised for his pathetic dive that earned him a yellow card during England’s friendly with Nigeria. I found that more reprehensible than a tattoo of a gun. Talented as he so obviously is Sterling has a history of diving and it is probably part of his footballing mind-set to cheat the opposition and referee whenever he can to win a penalty.

However Video Assistant Referee replays in the World Cup will mean he has to change that mentality and change it quickly or he could find himself banned for crucial England games.

While talking about the World Cup I see a lot of criticism of the England Head Coach Gareth Southgate because he did not appear to be excited about the tournament during his press conferences. From that I assume they mean he is not banging the drum about how well they are going to do etc.

He is spot on to not feed the media with headlines as we have had all that pre-tournament hype and ballyhoo far too many times and yet subsequently failed to deliver when the action got underway. He came across to me as cautiously optimistic that they would give a good account of themselves. It is his job to prepare the players to perform as best as they can and not to be a World Cup marketing executive for the media.

Personally and like most supporters I can see them qualifying from the group stages and, to be honest, so they should along with Belgium, however I am not quite so optimistic from thereon in. I believe reaching the quarter finals is the best we can hope for but would not be surprised to see them go out in the round of sixteen.

I really hope I am wrong and that the team surprises me and everyone else who will be rooting for them in front of TV sets all over the country.  

The amount of players coming into the Premier League from, what would have been in the past been called lesser footballing nations, have in fact ended up strengthening those national teams which is why in my opinion there are so few easy games internationally. Just look at how well Iceland did in Euro 2016!

Most of their best players are playing in the best/toughest league in the world The Premier League while others are in the German Bundesliga, Spain’s La Liga or France’s Ligue 1.

This has not only strengthened their national teams but in my opinion has contributed to weakening the England team.

If as expected England get through the group then they will face either Columbia, Japan, Poland or Senegal. On the face of it Japan look the weakest but even they have players playing in England, Germany, Spain and France.

You don’t have to be a genius to see that the strongest teams are Brazil, France, Germany and Spain. In my opinion the winner will be one of these four and I am going for Brazil and if not them then France.

If picking a winner was only this easy sadly it isn’t and as we know only too well in football anything can happen and usually does. Good luck to Gareth Southgate and the England squad. As one who watched England win the World Cup in 1966 (On the telly) I can say without any fear of argument it’s been far too long sadly I fear the wait will continue for some time yet especially while the love of money continues to dominate every decision made in the game in this country.

The richest domestic game in the world! but not for the fans!

The richest domestic game in the world! but not for the fans!

Steve Bruce is preparing his players for the richest domestic game in world football the Championship Playoff Final on Saturday as his Aston Villa team face Fulham for the right to play in the Cash Cow that is the Premier League. It is worth around a guaranteed minimum of 160 million pounds for the winning team even if you don’t win a point, a throw in or a corner in the Premier League.

I am sure most of the player’s agents and wives will already be thinking about Premier League wages with the agents preparing to ask for new deals for their players.

However that all becomes secondary to fans, players, coaches and manager as the occasion and challenge gets closer by the day. For the supporters it’s certainly about the glory of reaching the Premier League to play against the best teams in the country. On the day they won’t care a jot that a win would see them promoted to become Premier League bit part player for the top six teams in fact just an extra in the soap opera that is the top flight league. Because winning promotion is success and they will celebrate that together on and off the pitch.

I have covered 3 play-off finals at the Millennium- in 2001 I saw Walsall beat Reading then in 2002 I saw my own team Blues beat Norwich and then 2003 I saw Wolves beat Sheffield United 3-0.

At Wembley in 1993 I watched West Brom beat Port Vale while I also saw West Brom Lose to Derby County in 2007.

The Championship Play-off Final is indeed a wonderful emotional roller coaster ride of an occasion that you never forget especially when your team wins. However Wembley or the Millennium are the loneliest of places on earth for losing teams.

In my broadcasting career I have witnessed both sides of that particular coin. In 2002 the delirious joy of Blues fans after beating Norwich and then in 2007 when Baggies fans left the stadium in tears after a dismal defeat to Derby.

It’s a lot less stressful to be promoted automatically especially as Champions as I am sure Wolves fans will agree however to do it through the play off final is a far more enjoyable occasion for supporters even if they suffer loads of stress, nerves and emotional overload.

But there are no guarantees that a team will win the final so I would imagine Steve Bruce would rather be mowing his lawn having won automatic promotion than going through the emotional wringer he most certainly will on Saturday; unless his team wins then the champagne will be flowing.

However for any team the real problems start when you win promotion especially through the playoffs because you are weeks behind every other team in recruitment for the Premier League.

What I have never got to grips with is that winning promotion through the play offs gets you a trophy but winning automatic promotion in second place doesn’t?

Respect is a two way street

Respect is a two way street

It was more than interesting to hear a former player talking about West Ham showing James Collins no respect by telling him he was not getting a new deal at the club by e mail.

Now I agree this is no way to do it and you should always look someone in the face when you are telling them bad news.

However to hear footballers talk about respect when most don’t respect their clubs, their team mates of even the clubs fans makes me cringe.

As soon as there is a sniff of more money, and despite being under contract, they begin a campaign to weasel their way out of clubs. That shows scant respect for their club or their own integrity as they were more than happy to sign the contract in good faith.

As we have seen at Chelsea players can just down tools and get managers the sack where is the respect in that?

People say that’s the “game” today and yes I understand that even though I don’t necessarily agree with it.

Players also cheat each other, supporters, and referees while spending 90 minutes trying to win penalties and get opposition players sent off-yes I know that’s the game today!! But for the love of God will someone please tell me where the respect in in that behaviour.

So when ex-players and ex-managers start bleating about players not been shown respect pot kettle and black springs to mind.

It's players who in reality decide if a manager goes or stays.

It's players who in reality decide if a manager goes or stays.

Common sense prevailed at West Bromwich Albion who eventually appointed Darren Moore as their new Head Coach. To be fair to them they waited until the season was over and then acted quickly. I have often thought that the chairman pulls the trigger when firing a manager or Head Coach but in reality its the players who actually put managers out of work.

In the case of the Baggies I believe it was the players got him the job by the way the responded to him during those six games. Add to that the overwhelming support from the fans and to be fair it was really a “no brainer”.

Darren will manage with exactly the same attributes he showed as a player wearing the navy blue and white stripes, hard work, passion, desire, and honesty. And he will demand that his players show those qualities as a minimum every time they pull on the shirt. Those that don’t I suspect won’t be around very long.

The hard work starts now for him as it does for Garry Monk at St Andrews with recruitment being the key to the club achieving whatever goals are set.

When signing new players I am sure all managers and Head coaches pay just as much attention to character as they do to ability because they know they will have to rely on them when the going gets tough.  That is why I have always believed it to be right that any Head Coach of Manager should be totally involved in the recruitment of players with them having the final say. After all if you are going to be sacked for results it might as well be for your own decisions rather than anyone else’s.

A big plus is that Darren knows the championship and what it takes to get promoted having done it on a few occasions.

Blues: never in doubt-was it?

Blues: never in doubt-was it?

My column from Weds Birmingham Mail

Blues surprisingly finished a healthy 5 points above the relegation trapdoor on what was an amazing exciting emotional day at St Andrews. However to continually flirt with relegation and leave it to the last day is without doubt a danger to your health.

It was a brilliant result against the inform Fulham who arrived with 18 wins and 5 draws from their last 23 league games. Fans will talk about the goals but form me I will always remember a watching a young inexperienced Wes Harding seeing off the much talked about and highly rated Fulham star Ryan Sessegnon. Wes did not give him a kick and played with a maturity that belied his years and experience-remember he has only played 9 games since Garry Monk gave him his debut in March.

Scouts from Bayern Munich, Dortmund and other top European clubs were at the games to watch Sessegnon-what a waste of a trip that turned out to be. Seriously though Sessegnon is a top player but I bet he has not had a harder opponent this season than Harding. Well done to Wes who to cap off the season also won the Young Player of the Season award at the ICC on Monday.

Garry Monk was absolutely spot on when he said after the Fulham game that the culture at Birmingham City has to change from continually fighting for survival into a winning one. It was music to the supporter’s ears especially when he added that anyone who did not want to be part of that or did not buy into it would not be at the club.

He now has to be given the tools and wherewithal to ensure that change of culture takes place. He made it clear that his talks with the board were positive.  

I have noticed a change in the mood around St Andrews since the appointment of Garry Monk! It’s now one of positivity despite the league position. This comes from having a manager that knows exactly what he wants to do and what is needed for him to achieve it.

At the Player awards dinner at the ICC on Monday evening the 700 fans showed they believe in the manager by giving him a standing ovation as he spoke.

What on earth will we have to talk about without the nerve wracking, gut wrenching last day drama? Hopefully the playoffs. I am off to get rid of the Valium.