Ref! On the cult of the manager

The candid thoughts of former Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

Evening lads,

So, all the best football managers in the world have now decided England is the place to be. And it’s the time of year when they can talk themselves up, as many are.

I noticed this about 18 months ago when Alan Pardew left Newcastle, where he hadn’t exactly set the world on fire, and went to Crystal Palace. And what did he say about his mission there, Dave, you remember? We discussed it at the time. That’s right, he said he was going to “teach them how to win football matches”. Like he was the first person to make that connection between winning matches and being successful. He cast himself in the role of Great Wise One. And he’s done all right there, he has “won a few football matches”, but his status as guru disappeared as soon as they lost one and kept losing them so it was clear they weren’t going to be the best side in the country.

But this is the time of year when managers can bang on about their philosophy – although they won’t be too specific about that because they haven’t actually got one. They’re just doing their best.

And now we’ve got Pep Guardiola, who has more claim than most to being a managerial genius, and he’s taken over a disgustingly rich club with a lot of top players. Manchester City, Baz. Well, disgusting in that that’s all it’s based on. People used to say that about Chelsea a few years ago, but they’ve achieved a degree of humility and therefore people aren’t so hard on them because they had such a rough time last season and nobody really knows why.

And Guardiola’s talking about the City players learning how he wants them to play. He’s had success from the start of his managerial career, so maybe either he is that good or he’s just been lucky. I mean, he wasn’t exactly short of talent at Barcelona and when you’ve got that many great players, you’re at an advantage, aren’t you? Yes, Baz, a considerable advantage – good word, your kids teach you that?

And then he was at Bayern Munich, who are so far ahead of the rest of Germany that, again, you’d have to be stupid to mess it up. But now he’s in England, where there is a bit of opposition. In Spain all you’ve got to do is beat Real Madrid a couple of times and steamroller the rest and you’re laughing.

But here, he’s got Jose Mourinho to contend with, a man with a point to prove. And Mourinho didn’t really big himself up that much at Chelsea, but now everyone else is at it, so he’s creating a mystique.

Cheers, Gary. I’ll have something new and exciting. Doesn’t matter what it is, just ask Derek what’s new and tell him why. Because we’re talking about new brooms, new ideas, mate, and I want to know Derek’s plans for the Duck and Peasant, see what his philosophy is and how he views the future.

Yes, I know that’s cobblers, but it’s an extension of the train of thought we’re on.

And at Chelsea you’ve got Antonio Conte, who we all know now because he was all over the Euros with Italy, looking smart in his dark suit and matching shirt and tie and building his image as the elegant tough guy. But can you get the best out of Eden Hazard and Nemanya Matic by shouting at them, which apparently he does a lot? I can see him getting a knuckle sandwich if he’s not careful. If John Terry was a few years younger, you know…

And who else, there’s Klopp at Liverpool who’s come out just about even after his first season, and now Ronald Koeman’s at Everton, where he is expected to do well, even though it’s a club built on former glories and in this day and age is no more of a football power than Southampton, where he’s just jumped ship from.

Have I forgotten anyone, Baz? Claudio Ranieri? No, he’s not bothered, mate. He’s had his miracle and he must have been expecting half the team to desert him, but they haven’t. Which might be a mixed blessing if it becomes apparent that the gift has left Leicester and with the same players they struggle a bit.

As ever, gentlemen, it remains to be seen.

 

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Ref! On the Capital One Cup final

The candid thoughts of former Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

Yes, Dave, of course I watched it. It’s a funny time of year to win a trophy and it’s the least important of the trophies, but, you know, it’s a cup final, isn’t it?

I wasn’t supporting either of them, actually. I don’t think any neutral really wants Manchester City to win anything, because they’re just not likeable. Same as Chelsea had to put up with for a few years; people were put off by the fact that it was all down to money.

You were supporting Liverpool, were you, Baz? I’ve got nothing against the club, mate, and it used to be good seeing them in Europe in their heyday, when they were exciting to watch, but now? No. It’s the fans, Baz. They’re unbearable. There’s no humility. They act like they’ve been on the top table all along, whereas they stopped being invited to the do years ago and they just sneak in the side door now and then.

Some decent players, certainly. Coutinho’s okay, isn’t he? He’s like one of the Chelsea boys, Hazard, Oscar and Willian, and Mata, of course. But poor old Coutinho’s all on his own. Not getting injured all the time like Sturridge, not blowing hot and cold like a lot of them. He does it week in, week out, but the rest of them let him down all the time.

I remember saying early in the season that they were top-heavy with strikers, but then the lad from Burnley, Danny Ings, got injured and Benteke didn’t impose himself on the scene. Sturridge comes back and drops out, comes back and drops out. And there’s Origi going “What about me? What about me?”

And they’ve got no consistency in the back four, plus Mignolet’s a bit sensitive for a goalie.

They can’t help it, I know. They’ve signed too many average players over the years. If Liverpool was a building you’d have to pull it down and start again from scratch.

Cheers, Gary, pint of cider, please. Why? Why not?

Funny questions that guy asks sometimes.

Anyway, not a bad game, was it? Something to do on a Sunday afternoon. Not that I’m short of action in that department at the moment, Dave, no. Had to get special dispensation, as it happens. Fortunately Jody does like sport so we watched it in bed.

The trouble is, as I said, when you don’t really want either side to win, it’s hard to enjoy it. So when City scored I thought “Oh, go on, then, let’s get it over with.”

Then Liverpool come back and you think, “Okay, let the poor sods have their day for once.” But it’s not the same as standing on the settee because you’re so excited.

I suppose penalties was the best bit, yes. You don’t like it when it’s your team, but when it’s somebody else’s problem, why not? And Caballero makes himself a hero for a day, which we can all get into. It sort of transcends sport.

Transcend, Baz, means… haven’t you got a dictionary on your phone? Well I have. Here…

 

 

 

 

Ref! It’s a man’s game

The candid thoughts of former Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

Fixture congestion, Dave. You’re right, there were a lot of people moaning about it at the weekend. Steve Bruce at Hull City, Pellegrini at Manchester City. No, I don’t think he was right to put out a weakened team to protect some of his stars for the Champions league in midweek. And his team of kids got stuffed 5-1, didn’t they?

No, you can’t do that. It’s a man’s game. Well, the men’s game is a man’s game, but I think you’ll find the principle applies to women’s football too. That’s not a bunch of Daisies and Tallulahs dancing around, frightened to get their knees dirty. They mean business, just like the men. They might not use the same expression, but they would express the same sentiment. It’s their job. And if it gets extra difficult at times because they have to play more often, they just have to get on with it.

Which brings us, Baz, as you say, to the whole issue of women’s sport. You see what looks like a football story in the paper or online but you don’t recognize the names. And that’s because it’s about Arsenal Ladies or England women.

You don’t think it’s right, then, giving equal importance to the women’s game when the standard is a lot lower. I’m inclined to agree with you, but for God’s sake don’t tell Jody I said that. Yes, that’s if you ever meet her. No, I’m not keeping her under wraps exactly, but I’m not bringing her down here on a Monday night, am I? It’s a blokes’ night, and the way to keep the peace at home is to make it clear that’s what it is. We don’t sit here looking at the totty and we certainly don’t go looking for it. But as soon as Dave goes home and says to Stephanie, “Oh, Col’s new girlfriend was there, she’s really nice,” we’re all in trouble. Either they’re going to be suspicious of our motives or they’re going to want to come along.

We can do all that socializing in the summer when we’re having barbecues rained off.

Cheers, Gary, I’ll have a spritzer. A spritzer, mate. Dry white wine topped up with soda water. Well, it’s alcohol, isn’t it? Just hasn’t got the calories of a pint of Guinness. Yes, she introduced me to it. And if it was good enough for George Best when had anti-alcohol implants, it’s good enough for me. Yes, they were supposed to make him violently ill if he drank alcohol, but he found he could slip a few spritzers through with no trouble, and bingo! Paved the way to his early death.

I hear what you’re saying, Dave. Is it wrong to only watch women’s football or cricket just to look at the women? Well what do you think they do when they watch men’s sport? If you’ve got a good knowledge of the terminology you can even comment on it without sounding sexist, so when your missus talks about how elegant Ross Barkley is when he’s shaping for a shot, she is disguising the fact that she’s imagining him shaping for a shot at her, bent over the sofa.

Sorry, Dave, not your missus specifically. You know what I’m saying. You watch a female midfielder pulling off a sliding a tackle in the mud and you can’t help imagining that she’d be quite good fun in the sack, can you? No, I mean it. You reckon it’s just me? Come on… Baz? Not you as well. I mean be honest.

 

 

Ref! Mis predicciones

The candid thoughts of Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

That’s right, Dave, I did indeed get away to the frozen north for New Year. Very nice, thanks. Very cold, Canada, although they were all telling us it was actually quite mild where we were, in Vancouver. They play football there, as you know. Vancouver Whitecaps, named for the snow-tipped mountains outside the city. Peter Beardsley used to play for them, in the NASL, and although that folded and eventually MLS started, the Whitecaps name still exists. No one I’ve ever heard of there now, mind you.

Didn’t miss much down here, did I? Van Gaal getting his knickers in a twist and reality beginning to call out to Leicester. You often find the second half of the season is very different from the first. Like last year, what people tend to forget is that Chelsea were red hot before Christmas but went into a slow dive after it, but they had built up such a lead that they could land the plane even with the engines failing.

It’s a metaphor, Baz, it sort of describes one situation by making you think of another. That’s right, and the engines were still knackered at the start of this season, exactly, but now they’ve had a good service and changed the oil and we shall see. And if we apply another, no not menopause, metaphor, to Leicester , they’ve been bombing down the M1 in an old Transit, passing all the flash Mercs and BMWs, but you can’t do that forever. Sooner or later they’ll pull in at a service station for a full English breakfast and when they go back out to the van it won’t start and when they do get it going it will be on three cylinders.

Cheers, Gary, you’re right, I do need a rest after that. Something English, my good man. Pint of your finest bitter beer, Sire. Have they got a local one? Pigs Tie? Yeah, go on. They must have confidence if they can call it that. And a bag of crisps. Cheese and onion, none of your fancy sour cream and bear-shit-roasted potato chips.

No, Dave, you don’t want my predictions for the rest of the season. Only a fool makes predictions, mate. But since it’s New Year, okay, Spurs win the Premier League narrowly from Man City. United finish mid table, just below Chelsea, and Leicester and Southampton scrape a Champions League place. Watford relegated along with Villa and Norwich.

And a happy New Year to all. May football be the winner, as long as your team does okay in the end.

 

 

Ref! On derbies and decisions

The candid thoughts of Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

Evening lads. I’m hot off the train from Manchester. Yes, the bore draw derby. It’s not surprising you get one of them now and then, though. The pressure, mate. You can feel it as soon as you walk in the ground. Even if you get there early, as the officials do, you can sense it.

The ground staff and the admin people, they’re giving you the old positive bit, but even they are a bit nervous. There’s a lot at stake – well, there was in this case. Not just what the media call ’bragging rights’, but this was two teams at the top of the Barclays Premier League.

You have to, Baz, you have to say Barclays, because sponsors put up the money for these things on condition that their name is linked to it at all times. So you don’t have to say Barclays, but someone like me has to, because I’m part of the whole Barclays Premier League family, if you like.

Where does a referee stand in that family, Dave? Well, I suppose we’re a respected uncle with a professional speciality that is called for at certain times and events. We’re a voice of authority, of reason, even. Without us it’s anarchy. In fact if referees didn’t exist they’d have to invent them.

Anyway, derbies, yes, the tension is all around. See young Bobby Madley got thrown in the deep end at Newcastle, where there was even more riding on it than usual, with Steve McClaren under pressure and Big Sam just installed at Sunderland.

And what does he get? A controversial sending off for an infringement that people could argue about till the cows come home.

The laws are clear but some are open to interpretation, Gary. Yes, a bit like the Bible, as you say. Thou shalt not barge people like thou didst in the 1950s, when the barge was about the most heinous of crimes but was perfectly legal, just frowned upon if you conceded a goal because of it.

Pint of Peroni, mate – no, that’s not open to interpretation. He’s a wag, isn’t he, Dave? It’s a pint, as defined by the weights and measures people – an English pint – and Peroni is the draught lager of that name. Yes, I suppose you could make it a pint out of bottles, but that would cost you even more, so only a fool would do that.

And the decision is going to be reviewed, yes. Can you imagine any other profession putting up with that? You’re in charge, you make a decision and it gets challenged. Exactly, Baz, bloody insulting. But that’s the way it is. It’s even worse in cricket, mate. They do it during the game, and not only that, the teams are encouraged to do it. They can make a certain number of reviews in each innings, so if you haven’t used up your quota towards the end it must be tempting to challenge a decision even though it’s obviously correct.

It’s transparency, which is a fashionable thing in all sorts of environments nowadays. Exactly, Baz, if something is transparent, you can see through it. No, it’s not the decision that needs to be transparent, it’s the process. Imagine the process as a box or a room, and the decision takes place inside. If it’s not transparent, you can’t see what’s going on. Yes, I suppose it has to be transparent for sound too, so you can hear any discussion. Is there a separate word for that? I don’t know, mate. I’m a football referee, not a bloody Professor of English.

Ref! On Rodgers and Newcastle

The candid thoughts of Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

That’s right, lads, I had the privilege of being the ‘man in the middle’ as you put it, at the City of Manchester stadium for City’s demolition of Newcastle. To tell you the truth, when a game is as one-sided as that, the problem is to keep your concentration. If you’re a fair-minded person you want to see a balanced game. You don’t want to see anybody get whipped 6-1, and apart from anything else you worry that you’ve lost count.

Newcastle, I don’t know, they’ve just been left behind, haven’t they? In today’s technological terms they need to shut down and reboot. They’ve tried everything – they even tried Alan Shearer as manager a few years ago, just because the fans think he’s God. They had to appoint him and let him fail so they could move on, but where have they moved on to? I know somebody was bound to give Steve McClaren another chance in England, but that’s the problem with the Geordies, they’re too sentimental.

Only they would have persevered with John Carver as long as they did, purely because he’s an honest-to-goodness local boy, and when they finally saw sense, they give the job to a nice guy who has demonstrated repeatedly that he’s not going to be successful in English football.

And now the poor sod’s got the weirdest haircut in the Premier League, with that little tuft at the front. Used to be a quiff and you can tell he’s still proud of it, but it’s like a bird standing on the beach when the tide’s gone out.

Fair enough, Dave, his follicular problems have nothing to do with his ability as a manager, and he’s endured enough ridicule, but you can’t help noticing, can you?

So who’s next up there in Liverpool? People are talking about Jurgen Klopp, who’s regarded as a bit of a guru, plus we don’t know that much about him, which is always good when you’re speculating.

Sam Allardyce is available but you can’t have that. Cheers, Gary, I’ll have a black and tan. You’ll have to explain to the barman, cos he’s only a nipper. Half a draught Guinness topped up with a bottle of pale ale. And then you can watch while he makes a mess of it – see you in half an hour, mate.

No, I reckon they’re going to go for someone really unlikely. Baseball coach with transferrable skills. Sir Clive Woodward. Nigel Clough. Drew Barrymore. They’re desperate enough, Baz, yes – you’re on the ball tonight, what’s the matter?

Jose Mourinho? Stranger things have happened, but nothing as strange as that. Abramovich probably can’t believe what’s happening, but when he leaves the denial phase he’s going to do something, isn’t he? He’s ruthless – they have to be, shady characters like him.

You know what I reckon? He was having it off with the doctor, Eva Carneiro. Then he got tired of it and told Mourinho to get rid of her.

Like Bill Shankly said, Baz, the only thing that surprises me is that I can be surprised.

 

Ref! On Grealish and Vardy

The candid thoughts of Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

That’s right, lads, I did Leicester-Aston Villa. It was a bit of a seesaw, cos, you know, Villa go 2-0 up and then Leicester come back and win it. Tim Sherwood was well pissed off, wasn’t he? He must have thought his season was really getting going when Jack Grealish scored.

I don’t know where he’s been, the Grealish boy. Maybe he’s only just sobered up after that skinful he had on holiday in the close season. They don’t seem to realize they can’t behave like their mates, because if JG’s Mate gets paralytic in Tenerife, nobody notices or cares, but if the lad himself does it, there’s every chance it’s going to get photographed and find its way to the British media.

But they’re only kids, Baz, fair’s fair. Look at Grealish himself. Baby face and his grandad’s haircut. The boy’s a child. And a couple of good displays last season and he’s got Roy Hodgson trying to make him commit himself to England, rather than playing for Ireland. No talk of actually picking him. He just wants to have the option, like Chelsea with all their players out on loan. Most of them will never play at Stamford Bridge, but if the club owns them, nobody else can.

Funnily enough, two they actually let go have turned out to be genuine talents. They had to buy Matic back for an inflated fee after he blossomed abroad, and now there’s Kevin De Bruyne, who’s gone to Man City of all people. So maybe their policy is right. Sign them and deprive others of the pleasure.

Cheers Gary, just a bottle of Grolsch, mate. No, a bottle, the draught’s not the same.

Anyway, I’m at the King Power Stadium – Leicester’s ground, Baz – and a nice little game it turned out to be. Nothing too naughty, nothing demanding from a reffing point of view, and that means you can enjoy it. It’s where I do a lot of my thinking, to be honest. One part of my brain is doing the job, running the game, and the other part is thinking.

Well, since you ask, Dave, what I was thinking was about Hodgson again. What does he see in Jamie Vardy that he keeps picking him for England? Nobody else thinks he’s more than an average lower-half-of-the-table striker. It’s not like he’s ever scored shedfuls of goals. Maybe he’s just an exceptionally nice bloke, because Roy does value that. It’s a good thing injury has kept Danny Welbeck out of the picture for the last year, or he’d have kept selecting him ahead of your Harry Kanes. And yet Vardy’s in there, as if Roy thinks he’s going to kick-start his career by gaining confidence at international level.

But you have to give people credit for being experts in their own field. Few know the intricacies of refereeing – and there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye – and I suppose international management is the same. Come to think of it, Roy Hodgson would probably have made a good ref.

Now now, Dave, oddball is not a nice expression. And you wouldn’t describe me like that, would you? I mean would you?