Photography: Action Images
BIRD: Moyes didn’t inherit the greatest United team and needs another transfer window to get some deals done
BALL: Referees have a horrendous job that is getting harder and harder
DUNN: In the Merseyside derby both managers lost their tactical marbles
CASS: The doubts around AVB are driven by the media
HARPER: You need fire in your belly and ice in your head for a local derby
YOUNG: If Mike Riley apologises for every refereeing mistake he’ll be on the phone all the time
THE LATEST FWA Live, sponsored by Barclays, was held at Lumley Castle in Chester-Le-Street.
The panel comprised Simon Bird (north-east football correspondent of the Daily Mirror), Kevin Ball (Sunderland’s senior development coach), Andy Dunn (chief sports writer for the Sunday Mirror and FWA chairman), Bob Cass (Mail On Sunday), Steve Harper (who joined Hull City last summer after 20 years with Newcastle United) and Colin Young (Daily Mail). The MC was FWA executive secretary Paul McCarthy.
A variety of subjects was on the agenda, kicking-off with the good and bad of English football.
McCarthy: We’ve seen allegations of match fixing this week, we’ve had diving, apologies for referees’ decisions…surely there is something we can cherish from the Barclays Premier League and English football?
Cass: The test is when you have an international week and there is no Barclays Premier League on the Saturday. There’s a hole in everybody’s life. What do we do? I have to go shopping. We want our football on Saturday because it is such a terrific competition and the standard is so much better than it was 20 years ago.
Dunn: I was at a game last weekend, Everton v Liverpool, and I don’t think any other league in the world could give us a match like that. If the Kevin Mirallas challenge [on Luis Suarez] dominated phone-ins, then there is something wrong. It was a game that had everything. Both managers lost their tactical marbles to a certain extent, it was like Sunday morning football on steroids…you attack, we attack. Sometimes it’s a sweeping generalisation to say the Barclays Premier League is the best in the world, but I struggle to think where else you would get that intensity and excitement. We create this sort of passion and the players, no matter where they are from…there were probably only four of five local players, but everyone took it on board, what the derby meant. Yes, the ref should have sent-off Mirallas, but why don’t we just say what a fabulous game of football it was?
McCarthy: Do players get caught up in that type of atmosphere, Steve? You’ve played in north-east derbies…
Harper: You need fire in your belly and ice in your head. For Newcastle v Sunderland games, I thought the away derbies were easier because there is less pressure. To say the home fans wanted you to win is an understatement. At the Stadium of Light there’d be 48,000 and if you’ve got anything about you, you say: “I’m going to spoil your day.” You cannot help but get caught up in it though the best players keep their cool.
McCarthy: Do we in the media look for negatives too much? Andy spoke about the Mirallas challenge dominating a great Merseyside derby…
Young: It is inevitable in our industry because the way the game is covered means that every incident is picked up. We would not be doing our jobs properly if we did not question whether decisions are right.
Bird: As journalists we get caught in the soap opera surrounding football – the controversies and feuds between managers. What we miss as football writers is sitting back and marvelling at the pace, the athleticism and skill of the players, how tactics are evolving. We are privileged to watch such quality in the game.
Ball: I think you are right to report on these things, but because everything is so over-analysed, before long we could have a whiter than white game, a non-contact sport.
Dunn: The Wes Brown tackle on Charlie Adam is interesting. His red card was rescinded and we all knew it was a bad decision. From a referee’s point of view, I think they can be overloaded with guidelines and what they must do. The idea that if you use excessive force to win the ball and follow through it’s a red card…Wes had a bad first touch, but did he use excessive force? Well yes, apart from the fact he didn’t touch Adam.
Ball: I feel sorry for referees, genuinely. I think they have a horrendous job. In a high intensity sport they must make a snap decision in a split second and if they get it wrong they are criticised. Their job is getting harder and harder.
Cass: We are covering a match and as well as reporting on who scored the goals and things like that, we are now looking at how many mistakes the ref makes. Has he made a bad one? If he does, then he gets pilloried. We shouldn’t be looking at them all the time.
McCarthy: Mike Riley apologised to West Bromwich Albion manager Steve Clarke for Chelsea’s penalty the other week. Should he have done this? Has he made a rod for his own back?
Young: Gus Poyet spoke to Mike Riley about the Wes Brown sending-off. I don’t know whether he was opening some lines of communication to managers or whether he feels every time a bad decision is made he should apologise. If that’s the case he’s never going to be off the phone.
[Mike Riley, head of the Professional Game Match Officials Board, has had regular communication with Barclays Premier League managers over the past four years to discuss refereeing matters. West Bromwich decided to put details of his conversation with their manager on their web site].
Dunn: Mike was quite within his right to think Steve Clarke was not going to make it public. He wouldn’t expect managers to tell people what was said in a phone call. Do managers ring referees and say “I’m sorry my player tried to con you?”
McCarthy: Andre Villas-Boas is apparently a man on the brink 12 games into the season. There always has to be a crisis somewhere…
Bird: Speaking as someone who’s had 27 managers in 11 years in the north-east, we know the perils of instability and impatience. Tottenham need to give him more than 12 games. He’s got seven new players who need to settle in and it takes time to become used to the Barclays Premier League.
Cass: Who’s driven the doubt with AVB? It’s us, it’s driven by the media. He’s 11/8 to be the next manager to be sacked which is absolutely ridiculous.
McCarthy: But no one writes stories like this off their own back…
Cass: I don’t think he will get the sack. Martin Jol might because Fulham are near the bottom, but not AVB. Someone said they have three points more than at this stage last season.
Dunn: Statistically this is their third best start in a decade so there should be no major crisis. It’s not so much where they are [in the table], it was the last defeat [6-0 at Manchester City] that started it. You can buy all these players, but Spurs lost Gareth Bale, someone who won so many matches for them, who changed so many games individually. You sell him and replace him even with seven good players, you are still going to feel the effect.
McCarthy: Manchester United stood firm over Wayne Rooney and Liverpool did over Luis Suarez, could Tottenham have stood firm over Gareth Bale?
Bird: Would Bale have wanted that? The chance to join Real Madrid? Can you stand in the way of an £80m transfer? It’s a tough one to turn down for a chairman.
McCarthy: Have they spent the Bale money wisely?
Young: They broke their transfer record three times and the concern is that apart from Christian Eriksen, none has really set world on fire, but it is very early to make a judgment and say the fellow who has been told to to bring these players in should be sacked.
McCarthy: If AVB goes, shouldn’t the job of the one who did the deals, Franco Baldini [Spurs’ technical director], be on the line, too?
Dunn: A few weeks ago most of us were saying Baldini was a great appointment and was the person Arsene Wenger should’ve had to do the deals [at Arsenal]. We were lauding him for the deals he had done and saying how good his contacts were to make these deals happen. AVB will always have a problem in that a lot of people like Harry Redknapp.
McCarthy: Talking about the intensity on managers, it was not that long ago David Moyes was under scrutiny, but the 5-0 win over Bayer Leverkusen eased that situation.
Bird: United were right back to form in Leverkusen. Succeeding the greatest manager in the history of the Premier League means any trophy would be a success this season. He didn’t inherit the greatest Manchester United team of all time and needs another transfer window to get some deals done. I don’t think they’ll win the title [this season], but either Cup would ease the pressure and get him started.
Cass: We are too quick to praise and too quick to criticise. Moyes knows what Fergie’s left him and [winning] anything this season will be a bonus, though no there is no question he’ll win title in the next few years.
Dunn: I think it will be two or three seasons before comparison [with Ferguson] stops and for it to be David Moyes’ team
McCarthy: Is it the same in the north-east?
Bird: Bobby [Robson]did great job, but that was 10 years ago. There have been some good and bad managers at St James’ Park, some strange and egotistical.
Young: Some did not accept the ethos and history of the club. Ruud Gullit was extremely dismissive of the derby the day before the game. For two weekends of the season the north-east is the centre of national attention, the games live on Sky Sports. His attitude was reflected in his team selections
McCarthy: He has played in Milan derbies…
Young: That’s why he was dismissive of our derbies. He’d spend 10 minutes talking about the Milan derbies before ours.
Harper: He was dismissive of everything. Sam Allardyce came to Newcastle and tried to change too much too quickly. He plays percentage football. I couldn’t take a free-kick until everyone was in a ring around where the ball would go and ready to win the knock-down. His way was alien to the playing staff and the fans. Bobby and [Kevin] Keegan bought in to what the public wanted.
McCarthy: Will Jose Mourinho, who the FWA are honouring at our Gala Tribute Evening at the Savoy in January, recapture the magic of his first spell at Chelsea?
McCarthy: Thanks, Bob.
Cass: I don’t think he’s as hungry because he’s been so successful elsewhere. He came back because the fans wanted him and Roman Abramovich, who never listens to fans, did this time. I don’t think he’s the same type of manager he was first time round. He has just as good a team, but not the same motivation.
Dunn: I disagree. I see nothing less in his appetite and he has a point to prove. He was a failure at Real Madrid and was forced out of arguably the greatest club job in world football. He would have been hurt by that and has a point to prove.
Ball: I like him. He brings something special and if he thinks people don’t believe he’ll be a success that will drive him on.
NEXT TIME: What the panel think of Mike Ashley, Joe Kinnear, Ellis Short plus the inside track on match-fixing.