I just had to comment on the big story of the week so far. Javier Mascherano, the captain of Argentina and an integral part of the Liverpool midfield decided he ‘didn’t want to play’ against Manchester City on Monday night. He decided that the club who pay his wages, his team mates, and the fans that idolised him weren’t worth his time and effort. What an utter disgrace.

I had liked Mascherano since he moved to England. He is ideal for the Premier League, strong in the tackle, fairly quick, and above all, he has ability on the ball. Yes, he can be a bit of a hothead, but all the best players have that ‘nasty’ streak (with the exception of Gianfranco Zola, clearly. I’m thinking Bergkamp, Cantona, Keane, Viera, Scholes etc).

However, he had seemed to learn from his red card at Old Trafford against Manchester United in 2008, and was one of Liverpool’s better players in a poor year last season. But all respect I had for him has gone following his show of complete disrespect to all around him. Firstly, he is disrespecting his fellow professionals. Players like Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, Liverpool boys who have dedicated their career to the one club.

Now normally, I’m not overly concerned about players being disrespected. I don’t care too much when we see the Press criticising players for their actions (or lack of) both on the field and off. However, these circumstances are entirely different.

Secondly, he is disrespecting the club. That same club who has given him the platform to play at the highest level, in the Champions League, and in the upper echelons of the Premier League. The club that pay him millions of pounds a year to do something that many of us would do for nothing.

And thirdly, he has disrespected the people who matter most to the game, without whom, football wouldn’t exist. Of course, I’m talking about the fans. Football managers of the past would regularly talk about the privilege of the players, reminding their players that supporters, especially in traditional working-class areas such as Liverpool, had worked hard all week in order to be able to go to football, and that the players had a duty to entertain them. Supporters deserved to see their teams give every ounce of effort they could muster, and if players weren’t prepared to do that, they should accept their fate in the reserves for weeks to come.

Can you imagine then what a Shankly, Stein, Busby or Clough would say to Mascherano? In excess of £50,000 a week, a good portion of that coming out of the pocket of the fans through their tickets, yet he has decided against playing for them? I think the first thing Shankly would have said would be “Tommy, break his legs” towards the legendary Liverpool skipper Tommy Smith the moment Mascherano walked back into training.

And of course, Mascherano is not on his own. Charles N’Zogbia is trying to force a move from Wigan through to Birmingham, and Asmir Begovic (who?) is another who refused to play for his club. This is just utterly wrong. To me, it’s like putting in a miserly bid for a house which is rejected, and then camping on their lawn until they accept the same miserly offer. It’s just not on.

Cesc Fabregas was in a similar position. He clearly wanted to leave Arsenal to return to his boyhood idols, Barcelona. However, he also understood that in order for him to do that, the two clubs had to agree a fee. As the two clubs couldn’t agree on a price, he had to stay at Arsenal. Did he go on strike and throw his toys from the pram? No, he has buckled down, worked hard, and prepared for the new season.

I hope that the managers of Liverpool, Wigan and Stoke are successful in acquiring players who actually want to play for their clubs rather than these mercenaries, but if not, I’d love to see all of them simply rot in the reserves for an entire season. Cases like this have to make Jimmy Hill wonder if forcing the game to end the ‘Maximum Wage’ law was really a good idea after all.

Of course, you have to ask how and why this can happen, and the answer is simple: the players have been ‘tapped up’. Now we all know that tapping up is against FIFA’s laws, so why are clubs who do it not brought to justice? Why are contracts not worth the paper they’re written on? We are going to see more and more strikes until FIFA take action to put the power back in the hands of the clubs.

Where’s a Bill Shankly when you need one?

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Apologies in advance, I feel a rant coming on as my nerves have been jangling for weeks now over the future of Notts County, and the facade of the Munto Finance era. Fortunately, it looks like the club has been rescued after Ray Trew’s investment, although our grand plan has to be culled.

Whilst some of us feel disappointed, angry or just plain broken-hearted over the whole affair, most of us are at least relieved that the club will live on. But Notts are by no way unique in their plight, and it is only a matter of time before one of the 92 clubs is officially wound up. But just how has it got so bad?

Well, the birth of the Premier League brought about a new era, with a bold ambition of becoming the ‘greatest league in the world’. Some would argue the aim was achieved (coincidentally, I wouldn’t. La Liga all day for me, but I can see the merits of both arguments) but at what price? The Premier League was to have more television coverage than ever before, more cameras, and ultimately, more money. And with it, the game officially moved from a sport into a business.

Now I’ve argued with people for years that football is more than a business. Indeed, I truly believe in the romance of the game. The idea that a tiny club can climb the leagues and survive with the big boys, or maybe sneak a cup win here or there, that fans of every club will one day have their day in the sun. Fortunately, there are some that agree with me. Others call me naïve or an idealist at best, or something I’ll not publish in a family friendly blog at worst.

I’ve had rants before about football ‘no longer being the game of the people’. Ticket prices in this country are getting to the point where they are simply disgusting, but that’s true in most sports. Indeed, I was quoted £120 for a Six Nations ticket recently, so it isn’t football alone. But now, the clubs themselves are truly suffering, and the recent court cases truly illustrate that.

Now the big issue here is that clubs are riddled with debt. Indeed, Manchester United, the biggest club on Earth, have a total debt of £716m. This is quite simply because when the Glazers bought United, they were able to buy them with borrowed money, which was financed against the club. As a result, the most profitable club of them all is hemorrhaging money. It is little wonder that United fans are so unhappy.

And then there is Liverpool. A club like United, purchased by American owners. Greedy American owners, at that. Another great institution of the English game, saddled with horrendous debt. Clubs like these though will never go under because there will always be somebody who wants to own them. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case with the less fashionable clubs.

Indeed, as well as Notts, Portsmouth, Southend and Cardiff are all finding themselves going through her majesty’s courts at the moment, and Crystal Palace may find themselves heading that way in the not-too-distant future. Now I hope that these clubs are rescued, I really do, as the last thing I want is for any club to go out of business. But we need to stand back and look at the game, and take off the rose-tinted specs Sky have so kindly given us.

I know this next sentence will get pelters but I really don’t care, so here goes. Platini is right. There, I said it. (Although if Platini was consistent then I think all of us would have more respect for him. What about Real Madrid’s debt, for example? But that’s for another time, let’s worry about English football for now.) I would actually support sanctions against clubs who spend too much of their annual turnover. Platini has suggested an idea that clubs should be banned from European football if they overspend. It is certainly worth considering if applied consistently.

I’d also suggest that the Football League and Premier League work together to drive debts down. It is fair to say that now the only way clubs can succeed is if they have a ‘sugar daddy’, especially if you think about small clubs. Gone are the days when clubs could work their way up the leagues on footballing ability alone. And this in itself is sad.

Indeed, we have managers in today’s game who would rather finish 3rd or 4th than win the FA Cup. I find this preposterous, but it is of course the entry into the Champions League and all it’s riches. But the ownership here has to be questioned. The Football League, Premier League and the FA need to ask potential owners what their intentions are when they come into the game. Are they there to make money (the Glazers) or do they wish to stabilise clubs and win trophies? Owners who come in with the intention of making cash, and without any real interest in the game should not be able to buy football clubs. Indeed, had there been a better ownership system, Manchester United would never have been bought. I do like to contrast United and Liverpool with Aston Villa, who have a fabulous owner. But I digress.

In summary, this ultra-capitalist era of English football will undoubtedly have casualties, but the powers-that-be need to act to minimise these casualties. It is time for a change in ethos, a time to ensure the future of the game, and a time for football to become a sport again, and not solely a cash-cow. In the process, they might attract the working man back to the ground, and stop the steady switch of the man in the street to becoming an ‘egg chaser’.

I never want to see my club in court again. I’m sure fans of Pompey, Cardiff, Southend and Palace feel the same way. We need action to ensure that’s the case.

As always, I’d appreciate your feedback.

Ah, Liverpool. Despite what Sky, The Sun, and most from Cornwall will tell you, England’s most succesful club. The third most succesful club in Europe, and one of the best supported clubs in the world. However, they’re a shambles, both in the board room and on the pitch. As ever, there’s a danger of getting egg on my face with this post, but hey ho, I’m going to plough on into it like a two-footed Paul Scholes challenge.

Despite the backing that Benitez has received from Hicks and Gillett publicly, privately I’m certain they’re imagining his head on the chopping block. However, the complete farce that is their ownership of the Reds already has them on the brink of expulsion, and the removal of Benitez will certainly see them in the abyss. Indeed, due to his close relationship with those on the terraces, Benitez is pretty much unsackable

While Hicks and Gillett still got on, they approached Jurgen Klinsmann about the possibility of taking Benitez’s job. This was met with fury from the Koppites, who adored ‘Rafa’ for his European Cup win, and the board rightly backed down. That being said, now is the time that any board should be considering the Spaniard’s position.

Out of the Champions League, out of the FA Cup and only just hanging on to the coat-tails of Manchester City and Spurs in the race for fourth, Benitez should certainly be clearing out his desk. Despite taking the club to two European finals and an FA Cup win, his team just don’t have the depth to sustain a title challenge when Torres and Gerrard are injured. In his time there, he’s allowed Bellamy, Robbie Keane, Peter Crouch, Jermaine Pennant and Xabi Alonso to leave the club, leaving his club desperately short in genuine quality. Many Liverpool fans have blamed the lack of investment from the owners for Liverpool’s weak squad, but keeping those five would have gone a long way to reinforcing Benitez’s team.

I get the impression a section of the support are at last turning against Benitez, many believing the final straw came against Reading last week. However, before Hicks and Gillett start rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of finally getting rid the bearded one, they should have a long, hard think. There are many more Liverpool supporters wanting to see the back of Hicks and Gillett rather than the ‘FSW’ (‘Fat Spanish Waiter’ to fans of other clubs) and the removal of Benitez will see a massive protest.

So where does this leave Hicks and Gillett? Do they stay at a club where they are despised, swimming in debt, unable to invest in the squad and slide into mid-table mediocrity? Or do they remove Benitez from his position, and then get forced out the club by 45,000 angry Scousers? Or do they sell up to an owner with the financial muscle to take Liverpool forward?

This wouldn’t be a problem to them if they hadn’t dragged the club into ridiculous debt when they purchased them. Much like the Glazer’s did with Manchester United, Hicks and Gillett put their own greed above the supporters of the club. The attitude of the Hicks/Gillett team was summed up last week by Hicks Jnr’s email to a fan concerned at his club’s slide. The staggering arrogance of Hicks Jnr led to him being removed from his position, and proved that the Americans really don’t understand ‘soccer’ and it’s supporters.

Unless, of course, your name is Randy Lerner. Despite his ridiculous name, Randy is the perfect chairman for a Premier League club. He has very quietly set about making Aston Villa a true force in the game, backing his manager with funds, and allowing him to build one of the most exciting teams in the country. At the same time, he’s ensured Villa’s future is secure, tickets are reasonably priced and he is loved by the Villa support.

The two different styles of ownership are night and day, a million miles from each other and I truly hope Villa sneak into the top 4 at the end of the season. I would be surprised if there aren’t a few Liverpool fans praying for a bad finish too, in the hope that they can use the anger that will inevitably bring to force Hicks and Gillett out the door.

Liverpool finishing out of the top 4 and United claiming a record-beating 19th title might just be enough. I wouldn’t fancy being a ‘copper’ in the North West that day though.

Steve Gerrard (this photo is the property of stevengerrard.net)

A few years ago, I found myself watching an episode of MTV Cribs, The Footballers Edition. For those of you who aren’t aware of MTV Cribs, let me elaborate. It’s a TV show where celebrities show you around their homes and basically show off their possessions, it’s very much like chav property porn. The reason I’m talking about MTV Cribs is because Steve Gerrard was on it (Jlloyd Samuel was also on that particular episode, apparently he’d persuaded a producer that he was actually a footballer)

Mr Gerrard showed us around his suitably palatial home and it was fairly standard, big screen TVs, flash cars and a rather lovely fridge in his kitchen. However, Gerrard then took us into his trophy room and a miracle happened I actually felt a bit sorry for him.

WHAT!! Sorry for Gerrard? How? Well, I’ll tell you. In Gerrards’ trophy room were two empty cabinets which took pride of place right at the end of the room. When asked about them, Gerrard replied that they were for the only trophies he hadn’t won yet, The World Cup and The Premiership. And that they would remain empty until he had won them. And then I think I might have caught something in his eye, a look of regret. Maybe it was the regret that he hadn’t moved to Chelsea when he had the chance, maybe it was the realisation that he wouldn’t win the baubles he so desperately craves at his current employers.

Let’s be honest, Gerrard isn’t going to win the World Cup and he isn’t going to win the Premiership with Liverpool. Liverpool, quite frankly, aren’t good enough, aren’t rich enough and aren’t big enough. Gerrard finds himself in exactly the same position that Matt Le Tissier found himself in at Southampton a few years ago, without a doubt the best player at his club, but lacking either the ambition or the courage to move to a better team.

Gerrard is arguably one of the best players in the game, but as long as he pulls on the red of Liverpool, he’ll remain somewhat unfulfilled.

Earlier this week, the government rejected Everton’s proposal to move to a new custom-built stadium in Kirby. This rejection was seen as a shattering blow by many as the club look to move out of the relatively dilapidated Goodison Park. However, just as many people are rejoicing at the decision which will surely ensure that the famous old club stays within the city boundaries.

Now, it would appear the Everton board are proposing a ground-share with their old rivals across the city. Despite how close the two current grounds are, a ground-share appears to be a controversial call, but in a time of financial crisis, is it not just good economics?

Ground-sharing is common on the continent, with Italy being the best example. If two clubs the size of the Milan duo can share the San Siro, surely anybody can share a stadium? Same goes for Roma and Lazio and the Stadia Olympico. Or maybe not.

Whilst economics would certainly play a part towards the building of the stadium, both Everton and Liverpool would be realistically hoping to spend the next 100 years in their new home. Of course, football grounds are more than just stadiums these days, with many being used to house concerts, meetings and banquets. In one stadium, both clubs would have to share these potentially huge profits, which is highly unattractive long-term.

However, surely the most important factor is the feeling between both sets of fans. On a recent survey, it is painfully evident that neither Everton fans or Liverpool supporters fancy sharing their home with the other, despite the relationship between both clubs being known as the ‘Friendly Rivalry’. Indeed, my own favourite thing about the game is seeing the two groups of supporters sat-side-by-side in the stands. That being said, the fans have made it clear they would neither welcome nor support having both clubs under one roof.

I think the issue here is the size of both clubs. In smaller cities, I think it is much more appropriate. Indeed, the city of Dundee has recently made a similar proposal. For anybody who is unsure on the distance between the two stadiums, they are both on the same street, literally a stone’s throw away. Neither club gets gates over 15,000, and so a shared stadium would be ideal. Indeed, United manager Craig Levein has suggested a brand new 20,000 capacity ground shared by both clubs would be brilliant, and he’s quite correct.

To expand on this, I believe it would be appropriate in many Scottish cities, and would perhaps provide much-needed revenue for clubs outside the Old Firm. A shared 30-40,000 ground for Hearts and Hibs would certainly help bridge the gap between the Old Firm. However, I do not believe that as a proposal many ‘big’ clubs would accept it. I’d be surprised if it was accepted in any English city, to tell you the truth.

Can you imagine the Manchester clubs, the North London clubs or the Old Firm in shared stadia? Neither can I. There is just too much to lose, and not least home advantage in local derbies. It is for this reason why i think the Everton board are barking up the wrong tree here.

Surely the Everton support will be even more against this than the move outside the city limits? I’d be interested to hear how you would react if your club issued the same proposal with your nearest-and-dearest.

As always, all comments are appreciated.

I started writing this blog yesterday. Yesterday being the day when no Premiership manager had yet lost their job, and also being the day the SIXTEENTH Serie A boss got the bullet. Of course, today being a new day, Paul Hart has been told to clear his desk so my blog twists in focus. Nevertheless, I shall plow on.

In my humble opinion, the step towards giving managers the required time to do their jobs is to be applauded. Statistics tell us that clubs who back their managers are generally more successful. Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger and David Moyes have all experienced rough patches in their club career. Indeed, legend has it Ferguson was an FA Cup defeat away from the boot as far back as 1990. Arsene Wenger survived a few calls for his head in the years after their Champions League Final defeat, and David Moyes suffered from a couple of relegation battles after Everton’s earlier spells in the dizzy heights of the league.

However, there comes a time when club chairmen simply have to say goodbye and goodnight. The sacking of Paul Hart was perhaps premature, coming only after a few months of his tenure. The same is not to be said of Rafa Benitez at Anfield.

I know, it may seem odd to many, and my understanding is the vast majority of Liverpool fans are firmly behind the bearded one. Indeed, the majority appear to blame the board for Liverpool’s current plight, which will not be aided by tonight’s Champions League result.

As a neutral though, I think the fans are wide of the mark. Yes, there are obviously board room issues, and Hicks and Gillette must have the same attraction to the Koppites as a turd on a stick. That being said, surely Benitez must take a share of the blame? After all, Benitez is the man who decides which players he wants to keep isn’t he? And he is the reason why Liverpool’s squad is now spread so thinly.

Benitez could have had a backroom team of Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles, and they’d still have been able to tell him allowing Robbie Keane to leave last January was a mistake. Ultimately, I believe it was that decision which cost Liverpool the championship. Now I understand he may not have played every week, and undoubtedly Torres was the far superior of the two. But winning the Premiership takes a squad, and it is for that reason why I think Liverpool will finish outside the top 4 this year.

Liverpool are so short up front, and without Torres, they are pretty impotent, with only Ngog of any note. Compare that to their immediate competition from Eastlands and White Hart Lane. City have Adebayor, Robiniho, Carlos Tevez, Santa Cruz and Craig Bellamy. Spurs have Robbie Keane, Peter Crouch, Jermaine Defoe, and Roman Pavlyuchenko. And that’s only when you consider forwards, it’s much the same throughout the squads.

I don’t care what any Liverpool fan says to me, the blame for this lack of squad depth can only be laid at Benitez’s feet. It would appear to me that his priority is still the Champions League, despite Manchester United equalling the league title record last year. The fact he has got knocked out of that before Christmas may force the board’s hand in the next few days. Failing that, a Merseyside derby defeat may be enough to turn the tide of support against him.

Then again, it could be his FA Cup moment. Wonder if he’ll be calling Fergie for advice…