In his exclusive column for CaughtOffside, former Liverpool attacker Stan Collymore discusses some of football’s biggest talking points, including why Saudi Arabia has every right to host the World Cup, why the Man United job is too much for ten Hag, plus much more.
Ten Hag is on borrowed time at Man United
Manchester United got a massive get out and that’s the involvement of Sir Jim Ratcliffe.
For me, the problem with Erik Ten Hag is that if you go to a club like Manchester United or Liverpool, the two biggest clubs in English football, you have to be demonstrative, have an inner strength and a big personality.
Look at Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola. Does the culture at Liverpool and Man City sit on their shoulders like a heavyweight or do they stride forward with it under their arms?
When they lose two or three games they get a bit prickly and don’t suffer fool’s gladly. A bit like Roberto De Zerbi at Brighton. They’ve all just got ‘it.’
I don’t see major progression at Man United under ten Hag. Has he made average players good, good players very good and very good players into world class regulars?
There’s no Manchester United player significantly better than when they joined the club under ten Hag, and even Marcus Rashford has gone back to being famously inconsistent.
I think Manchester United are traditionally a club that won’t sack managers during the middle of the season, so I think they’ll wait and see whether he can get them another trophy before a parting of the ways before the Euros.
The Sandro Tonali situation shows how passive FIFA and UEFA are at tackling addiction issues
I was the first player to say I’m struggling with mental health issues, about 25 years ago, and my club at the time said ‘score a couple of goals and you’ll feel much better.’
I went to Roehampton Priory and after three weeks I got called back because I remember them hiring a counsellor for the players to go to and talk to, which I think was quite ironic.
If we fast forward 25 years, we’ve got things like the Sporting Chance Clinic where players can go for help.
It’s paid for by the PFA so a player would call them, explain their problems and you get help.
Should things be safer for the players these days, absolutely yes. They are exposed constantly to gambling sites, television adverts etc.
I think that the Premier League are certainly wealthy enough to be putting aside a significant chunk of money to be able to ensure that every player knows that there are additional services available to them and support for them in the same way that they know that there are Alcohol and Drug programmes.
FIFA and UEFA now need to look at where they’re getting their money from, and I would say to TV companies that ‘if you want to be an official broadcaster of the Premier League or the FIFA World Cup or any of those tournaments, you cannot post gambling advertising on your channels.’
You can lead the horse to water but you can’t make them drink. With the stigma that’s still in the game for anyone struggling, it’s important that the Premier League are a lot more aggressive in making it known that there are organisations available to help with addiction.
Title talk for Spurs, Newcastle or Arsenal is one for the kids
It’s the ridiculous nature of influencers being involved in football discourse too that’s led to talk about Newcastle United, Arsenal and Tottenham being potential champions of England.
We’ve never really analysed a season starting until eight to 10 Games in, and we’re still in that period so let’s just say Spurs, for example, have had a really good start. Nothing more than that.
They play Chelsea this weekend who are a work in progress and will only finish as a ‘best of the rest’ in seventh, eighth or ninth.
Newcastle haven’t found it difficult to marry up the rigours of a Premier League season with the Champions League but that may well come, Arsenal I still can’t get excited about and, in any event, Man City are still far and away the title favourites.
The current champions of England, champions of Europe and the FA Cup winners are just starting to go through the gears, have been champions in what five of the last six seasons, and some are already talking about other clubs being able to take their crown?!
We shouldn’t even really be talking about title contenders until at least February, March, April or May.
Influencers such as Salt Bae are turning the game into a ‘Football’s got talent’ show
This goes back to the World Cup and beyond. Influencers like Salt Bae, a guy who has literally made a career by sprinkling salt on steak, being able to infiltrate football circles – including getting on the pitch in the World Cup final – is what happens when you don’t get strong leadership.
You get corruption and you get people coming in that destroy the integrity of the game.
I have to jump through all sorts of hoops to get accreditation for tournaments for example, but now you’re getting people turning up as a one man band with a really cool little gimbal and tripod and because they’ve got 20 million followers, what UEFA and FIFA have done is almost allowed anyone that wasn’t working for a ‘legacy sports organisation’ into the building.
It’s like watching Britain’s Got Talent or America’s Got Talent. There’s got to be a backstory to everything.
For the youngsters, they love it and think it’s great but we are heading towards getting into very dangerous territory whereby, if we’re not careful, those of us that have a journalistic background, can speak eloquently about the technical aspects of a game, who are accurate and professional in our research and spot on in our presentation, are moved to one side for people that just shout at major sporting events just for clicks and likes.
We’re gonna get to a stage whereby a press box that only has a finite amount of spaces are populated by influencers ahead of serious journalists. We’re just going to end up with lots of people doing lots of silly things.
I was embarrassed watching IShowSpeed at the Ballon d’Or and I was embarrassed watching Salt Bae at the World Cup. It’s time that kind of thing was was frowned upon.
I’ll go to Saudi Arabia to form my opinion rather than being swayed by the media narrative
Let’s put this into context.
Before the Euros in 2012, the media said that no one who is black should go to Ukraine. That there’s loads of Nazis running around and it’ll be horrible.
I remember interviewing a young Nigerian sitting on a park bench who had lived there for seven years, firstly as a student and then had a job. He hadn’t seen this apocalyptic scenario that’d been painted by the US/UK media, so that was sort of anecdotal evidence.
For the World Cups in South Africa in 2010, Brazil in 2014 and Russia in 2018, if you read what was printed by some media outlets, it would’ve painted an abhorrent picture.
I was told to stay in the main football zones, ‘don’t go into the townships or you will get killed.’ So I went into the townships and chatted to people and saw how important that was.
They’re all very different cultures but they must be experienced. We can’t have a situation where journalists are making their minds up before they arrive in places and steering the narrative in that regard.
Let’s not forget, at the moment we are literally living through the COVID inquiry whereby a prime minister was talking about the death of old people as if it was just sort of unwrapping a lollipop.
The corruption that came with it – £37bn to friends and associates… Would we want journalists from other countries suggesting that we shouldn’t host a World Cup based on their own biases which they’ve read about in papers or online, rather than experiencing it for themselves?
The next World Cup is going to be in United States who’ve effectively been in a permanent state of war for virtually 100 years. There’s lots of corruption that goes on in the United States, lots of homelessness, there’s 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s prison population there. The amount of black people, brown people, Latino people that are in prisons in the United States are a massive concern to organisations like Amnesty International.
Are we going to take the World Cup away from the United States? No, because we think of the States as all Apple iPhones, Hollywood movies, freedom and liberty.
The Club World Cup in Saudi Arabia is upon us and I’m accredited but I’m gonna sit on it for a while and find out everything that there is to know about Saudi Arabia before making an informed decision.
The one thing that I won’t do before I’ve even been there is say all of the people there are bad, because I should have learned my lesson from the universally positive experiences I had in South Africa, in Ukraine and in Russia.
I was a very good example of somebody who went and asked relevant questions, rather than just sitting at home, on Twitter going ‘this is a really bad place.’
We we need to get used to the fact that, whether we like it or not, Saudi Arabia and Muslim countries – that have a very different cultural approach – are going to host an Olympics, a World Cup and big major events.
I’m gonna look at each country that gets a World Cup or a major tournament, and judge on the ability to have freedom of movement, the ability to talk to people and to get to know the culture a little bit better, before coming back with an opinion.