"Many managers have done well in League One and League Two without being offered this kind of opportunity."
"Paolo has certainly talked the talk by saying he would bet everything he has on Sunderland beating the drop. Now he needs to walk the walk."
"I don’t know anywhere near enough about his political values to judge him on them, so I will judge him on the job he does as a football manager."
I was very fortunate that my career lasted 17 years as a pro but having retired at the age of 35, I had to think about what was next for me and have been privileged to have worked in the media since.
But for thousands of youngsters it will not be the same as they are not offered professional contracts and dismissed at the age of 18.
This week I hosted an event at the new FA training facility at St. Georges Park and felt inspired to write about the day.
It was organised by the League Football Education (LFE) which is a partnership between the Football League and the Professional Footballers Association (PFA), with the Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust.
Originally it was an event to support footballers completing their apprenticeship - the stats show that 60% of them won't be offered a professional contract upon finishing the programme.
It has since grown to include other sports and is based on supporting athletes coming out of their performance sports.
Rugby, athletics and particularly football were well represented and indeed 68 of the 72 Football League clubs were in attendance and around 1200 athletes in total throughout the day.
60% of footballers completing their apprenticeships don't make it
From the football side it is scary to think that so many players will fall by the wayside and leave their respective clubs in the summer at the age of 18 and not know what their next step is.
The lucky ones who are rewarded with a deal may well be in the same position next year.
Incredibly, the average length of a footballer's career is just seven years. Whether that be because of injury or being released it isn't a long time, so provisions have to be made for life after playing.
The message is that whether at 18, 19, 25 or 35-years-old it is important to have a contingency plan and think about your future.
At St George’s around 65 different exhibitors such as universities at home and abroad, the construction industry, fitness training, and the army, were on hand to give advice to these youngsters.
They spoke to them about their next steps and maybe if their sporting career doesn't go in the direction they would like and offered them an alternative path in a field that interests them.
Tom Reece sadly has recently had to retire from the game at the age of 28 and is now studying to become a doctor which will take six years!
We were very lucky that the keynote speaking panel consisted of some top athletes with a huge variety of sporting paths.
Dame Kelly Holmes (double Olympic gold winner), Dougie Freedman (Bolton manager), Tom Rees (ex-Wasps and England rugby international) and Sarah Hunter (England Women's Rugby international) were all able to share their own personal stories to hopefully inspire some of these youngsters to respond to some of the setbacks they will have and come back stronger from them.
For instance, Tom sadly has recently had to retire from the game at the age of 28 and is now studying to become a doctor which will take six years!
The LFE do a brilliant job in managing the apprenticeship scheme. It is a two-year programme which offers either an NVQ or BTEC qualification and a coaching qualification by the end of it. This should help an individual if they aren't successful in securing a pro contract.
An event like this wasn't available when I was 18 and shows that development has been made in helping to educate young sportsmen/women about life after sport and I hope that the many individuals that attended went away having taken something from it.
It was a pleasure to meet so many committed and positive athletes and pass on any advice I possibly could. My only wish being that every single one of them could become a professional sportsperson.
I realise that is impossible but hope that today has been a help if indeed they are not fortunate enough to pursue a career in sport.
Swans' pace and quality will ultimately be decisive
From Bradford to ballboygate, there’s no doubt the Capital One Cup has delivered memorable matches this season.
Now it’s the turn of the FA Cup to provide the drama. Will this weekend’s fourth round games offer a repeat of the giant-killing exploits of round three, where non-league Macclesfield and Luton defeated league opposition?
I have picked out three matches with the potential for shocks.
Brighton v Arsenal
I am going to the Amex on Saturday for the first time and am really looking forward to my visit. I am a big fan of the way the Seagulls try and play and with fellow purists Arsenal coming to town, I expect a really good football match.
Brighton have lost only six times in the Championship this season (the joint lowest in the division) and of course knocked out Premier League opposition in the last round.
At times they have been guilty of not killing teams off though and as a consequence have drawn too many matches but if they are more clinical in front of goal then they are in with a real shout.
Having been drawn to play Bayern Munich in the Champions League, you would think that this would represent Arsenal's best chance of breaking their trophy drought.
They are capable of playing some scintillating stuff at times, demonstrated by that devastating spell against West Ham the other night, but have been far too inconsistent.
The Gunners are at their best when they play at a high tempo and press the opposition higher up the pitch and with Jack Wilshire playing in a more advanced midfield role, they have someone to trigger that side of their game.
Wilshere's performance will have a big bearing on this match, so if Brighton are able to keep him quiet, it will give them a far better chance of advancing.
Millwall v Aston Villa
Millwall have recently lost loanee Chris Wood to fellow Championship side Leicester and that has coincided with a slight dip in form.
However they remain ninth in the League and the New Den is without doubt an intimidating ground to visit. They have lost only two of their last 17 games in the FA Cup on home soil and with a vociferous home crowd backing them, it will surely test the nerve of a youthful Villa side lacking in confidence.
Paul Lambert’s men are under real pressure after being dumped out of the Capital One Cup and currently sit just a place outside the relegation zone in the Premier League.
I feel at the moment that they lack a bit of leadership on the pitch with key men such as Richard Dunne (injured) and Stan Petrov (illness) not available. They are also extremely vulnerable at set-pieces and from crosses into the box and that is something I expect Millwall to target.
QPR v MK Dons
These sides met in the third round of last year’s competition and it took a Danny Gabbidon goal in extra time of a replay to settle the outcome in QPR’s favour. I think it might be just as tight an affair this time around.
Harry Redknapp has done a really good job of steadying the ship at Loftus Road and they have become more difficult to beat – as yet they have not tasted defeat in 2013!
But the priority is to stay in the Premier League. With that in mind and a game at home to Man City in the league next Tuesday, I would expect Harry to make a number of changes which might just disrupt them.
Likewise the MK Dons have a fixture next Tuesday at Yeovil and are very much in contention for promotion from League One, but the players will see this as a chance to shine on a bigger stage.
They have some very good individuals who are capable of playing at a higher level and they will be keen to prove that is the case.
Karl Robinson is a much sought-after manager and the Dons recently turned down an approach from Blackpool to speak to them about their vacancy.
That sent out a good message to the players and fans alike and after beating Sheffield Wednesday in the last round to reach this stage for the first time they will be keen to go a step further yet.
It was clear handball. But the rules of football dictate that there is one person authorised to stop the game and award a free kick. And that person is not Luis Suarez.
I think he knew he’d done it, the way he smashed the ball into the net and then looked straight at the linesman. I also don’t think he did it on purpose, not like Maradona or Thierry Henry.
Cheating is one thing: I can’t stand diving and I’ve called on many occasions for retrospective punishments for those who try to dupe a referee. Trying to get the rub of the green is another and as a player you are always told to play to the whistle which is exactly what Suarez did.
I know that probably in every game I played I asked the referee to give a decision in my favour when consciously or unconsciously I knew I’d had the last touch before the ball rolled off the field.
You can’t blame players for that. What would I do in a situation like today’s? I don’t know, you never know until you are there but I do know that it’s irrelevant whether it’s an FA Cup third round or a World Cup final if you’re a professional player.
So do we have to allow players like Suarez to get away with it? Absolutely not, but the answer is not giving individuals morality lessons but giving officials the tools to tackle the problem.
Video technology, like that used in rugby, could have cleared up the ‘goal’ in no more than a minute.
That’s what we should be clamouring for, not some kind of modern day village stocks to vilify professionals who are put under intense pressure to deliver every Saturday.
PS Another question that needs tackling is a clarification of the handball law. The idea of intent is impossible for referees to judge. Maybe it’s time to say if the ball hits the arm or hand it’s a foul, at least you could be consistent that way.
I predict the winners and losers of 2013
Halfway through the season, a new year has started and it’s the time for me to predict who will win what come the end of the campaign, and anything else that may happen over the course of the year. So here goes…
At the start of the season I felt Manchester City would be too strong for the rest but the signing of Robin van Persie has tipped the balance heavily in United’s favour. Seven points clear, a superior goal difference and City and Chelsea still to visit Old Trafford means I have to go with the Red Devils.
But it’s no guarantee - they are vulnerable at the back though and last year lost an eight point lead with six games left.
Tip: Manchester United
1. Manchester United
2. Manchester City
Promoted from the Championship
David Moyes has been at Everton now for 10 years and as yet hasn’t won any silverware. The closest he came was the FA Cup in 2009 losing to Chelsea 2-1. The Toffees start their campaign at Cheltenham on Monday night and maybe this is the year Moyes breaks his duck.
Capital One Cup
It’s very difficult to look beyond Chelsea. Swansea are a great side to watch and capable of a surprise in their semi-final, but over two legs the London side should be too strong.
I would also expect Aston Villa to win the other semi against Bradford. Chelsea recently thrashed Villa 8-0 so I really can’t see past a first trophy for Rafa Benitez at Stamford Bridge.
Barcelona are the favourites with some justification. They have won three of the last seven finals and have the best player on the planet in Lionel Messi.
However, we saw last year that they can be stopped and there are no shortage
I really like the look of Borussia Dortmund. A youthful, energetic team with the star quality of players such as Mario Gotze and Marco Reus. They are a brilliantly run club with no debt or rich billionaire owner and would like to see them go far in the tournament. But, I’m sticking with Barca though as long as Messi stays fit.
This is a competition that not enough teams take seriously. I would like to see it return to a non-seeded, two-legged straight knockout tournament that doesn’t allow Champions League failures to enter.
There are a few sides that really want to win it though and one of those are Tottenham. Andre Villas-Boas has won this trophy before with Porto and consistently picked strong sides in the group stages. They have a tough draw though against Lyon and then most likely Inter Milan, so they will have to do it the hard way if they are to win it.
Other predictions for 2013
Jose Mourinho will be back in the Premier League – at Manchester City.
Gareth Bale will join Real Madrid for a fee of around £40 million.
Retrospective punishment for diving will be introduced for the start of next season.
Marouanne Fellaini will get a radical haircut to rival Steven Pienaar (we can only hope!)
No doubt the majority of the above will fail to materialise but it would be interesting to read your views as to what you think will happen in 2013.
Finally may I take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy new year.
My last week's predictions again weren't bad and I managed to beat MSN Sport editor Rob Jones by four points. So I'm now beating him by a single point over the season.
Let's see if I can extend that lead this weekend with some cracking games to look forward to...
12.45pm Sunderland v Tottenham
Only a few weeks ago rumours were circulating that Martin O’Neill was on the verge of quitting the Stadium of Light. Almost from that moment there has been an upturn in results and Sunderland have now won three of the last four including a terrific win over the champions Man City.
Spurs and, in particular, Gareth Bale were brilliant against Villa on Boxing Day and will take some stopping. If they can re-produce that level of performance then I don’t see Sunderland being able to cope with them.
@MattHolland8 - Sunderland 1-2 Tottenham
@MSNSportRob – Sunderland 0-1 Tottenham
3pm Aston Villa v Wigan
After crushing defeats in their last two games it is imperative that Villa get a draw at least from this game. And they will fancy their chances against a Wigan side that now occupy a spot in the relegation zone after picking up just one point from their last six games.
Confidence will be low in both camps coming into this game but both will feel it represents a great chance of gaining three vital points.
@MattHolland8 - Aston Villa 1-1 Wigan
@MSNSportRob – Aston Villa 2-1 Wigan
3pm Fulham v Swansea
Fulham have had a really poor run winning just one of their last 11 but Martin Jol will have been pleased to see Bryan Ruiz make his comeback from injury in the draw with Southampton.
Swansea on the other hand have been in better form and played really well against leaders Man United just before Christmas. They could be without leading scorer Michu though and that would be a huge blow.
@MattHolland8 - Fulham 2-1 Swansea
@MSNSportRob – Fulham 2-2 Swansea
3pm Man United v West Brom
United are seven points clear at the top and scoring goals for fun yet their porous defence will be giving Sir Alex a few headaches going into the second half of the season. He can’t keep relying on his strikers to get them out of trouble. Having said that going forward they are superb.
West Brom had a welcome win over QPR and have the quality to cause United problems but I don’t think they’ll score as many as the Reds!
@MattHolland8 - Man United 3-1 West Brom
@MSNSportRob - Man United 2-1 West Brom
3pm Norwich v Man City
When Man City were beaten in the Manchester derby they responded by producing one of their best displays of the season against Newcastle and I expect them to come back strong again here. They simply can’t afford to lose any more ground in the title race.
Norwich suffered defeat on Boxing Day, albeit against a resurgent Chelsea and they will no doubt prove stubborn opposition for Man City. They have already beaten Arsenal and Man United at Carrow Road but I think the extra quality that Mancini’s men possess will tell in the end.
@MattHolland8 - Norwich 1-2 Man City
@MSNSportRob - Norwich 0-3 Man City
3pm Reading v West Ham
Reading have been more resilient in their last couple of games, conceding a late winner at the Etihad and then getting a much needed clean sheet against Swansea on Boxing Day but it has taken something away from the attacking part of their game.
West Ham will be rested after their fixture with Arsenal was postponed and have Carlton Cole available having won his appeal against the red card he suffered against Everton. They do still have a few injury concerns though so I fancy Reading to get another point.
@MattHolland8 - Reading 1-1 West Ham
@MSNSportRob - Reading 1-2 West Ham
3pm Stoke v Southampton
Stoke were hugely impressive on Boxing Day against Liverpool. They passed the ball really well and the victory has seen them rise to eight in the Premier League. They have a very good defensive record as well so I can’t see beyond a home win.
The Saints do have players capable of testing the Potters but look like they will have to make do without influential skipper Adam Lallana again which is a huge miss for them.
@MattHolland8 - Stoke 2-1 Southampton
@MSNSportRob - Stoke 1-0 Southampton
5.30pm Arsenal v Newcastle
A long trip south is not ideal for Newcastle after late heartache in the defeat at Old Trafford. They played well in that game but got nothing and it will have taken a lot out of what is a stretched squad at the moment. The future of Demba Ba is an issue that won’t go away either and the Gunners are one of the clubs reportedly keen on him.
Arsenal got a rest on Boxing day and that may prove pivotal in this fixture as they look to build on a recent good run which has seen them win their last three league games.
@MattHolland8 - Arsenal 2-1 Newcastle
@MSNSportRob - Arsenal 3-1 Newcastle
1.30pm Everton v Chelsea
This promises to be a cracker. Everton are one of the two teams (the other being Stoke) yet to be beaten at home in the league and sit just two points behind Chelsea. They were also successful in appealing Darron Gibson’s red card and will feel they can give the Blues a really tough game.
Chelsea have been excellent since their return from the Club World Cup and have shown little sign of fatigue from the trip. They may have to settle for a point though from this one.
@MattHolland8 - Everton 1-1 Chelsea
@MSNSportRob - Everton 1-2 Chelsea
4pm QPR v Liverpool
January can’t come quick enough for both these clubs. Harry Redknapp will be desperate to ship a few out so he can bring a few in, although he will he be boosted by the news that Adel Taarabt hasn’t been selected for the Africa Cup of Nations.
Liverpool appear to be on the verge of bringing in Daniel Sturridge amongst others and that will be welcome news for Luis Suarez who really needs help up top. At the moment you’re not sure what you are going to get from one game to the next with the Reds so this is a tough one to call.
@MattHolland8 - QPR 2-2 Liverpool
@MSNSportRob - QPR 1-1 Liverpool
I wouldn't want a midseason break over Christmas
My initial thoughts on the Christmas schedule for the Premier League teams this year is that it’s not too bad. The main dates of the matches are the 22, 26 and 29 December and 1 January.
That’s four games in 11 days which with the size of squads these teams possess nowadays should be absolutely fine.
With Arsenal's match with West Ham on Boxing Day being postponed due to the tube strike, both Arsene Wenger and Sam Allardyce will be ecstatic that their players can that extra recovery time.
No doubt you will see a lot of changes to the starting line-ups throughout this period from all teams...which makes your fantasy football selections very tough!
As much as people say you should be able to play every day and be unaffected that is just not the case.
Most clubs in the top flight use a system called Prozone whereby every pass, how far you have run, how many tackles you have made, how many sprints you have done etc, is monitored.
There will more than likely be a significant fall in each individuals statistics for the second game in a 72-hour period.
So what’s it actually like to be a footballer during the festive period?
To be honest it’s business as usual. Throughout my career I think I only had one Christmas Day off. That was when I was at Bournemouth under the stewardship of Mel Machin. I think he felt sorry for us as we were away at Crewe the next day, which meant a 6am departure from Dean Court!
If I was playing at home on Boxing day then my typical Christmas day would be to get up early with the kids (sometimes having to wake them up) to open the presents and then head off to training about 9.00am.
It would normally be a short sharp session of about an hour and then return home around 1pm to have lunch. Of course, I had to be careful what I ate and drank and certainly no alcohol could be consumed!
Sometimes managers would want you in a hotel on Christmas night to make sure players adhered to the rules so if that was the case it would mean returning to the ground early evening to go to the hotel.
"When you think about the many heroes of our armed services that don’t even get home it puts things into perspective."
If we were playing away from home on Boxing day the schedule would be slightly different. We would probably have most of the day at home before training late afternoon and then off to the hotel afterwards.
To be honest, I don’t think many players minded being in on Christmas day for training. It’s part of the job and getting out of the house for a kickabout when there was more than likely chaos at home wasn’t particularly a hardship.
And when you think about the many heroes of our armed services/nurses etc that don’t even get home/work all day it puts things into real perspective.
There have been calls in the past for a winter break in the football season and maybe a couple of weeks off would benefit the players to re-charge their batteries and allow for one or two niggles to heal, but I wouldn’t want to see it over the festive period.
Invariably the crowds are bigger with great atmospheres at the matches and it’s also a great tradition. If there was to be a break I would prefer it to be in January.
I remember one Christmas when my children were stuck for ideas in choosing me a present. I said not to bother and that a goal and a win the next day would be just fine.
It was during my time at Charlton and we were playing Chelsea at the Valley. We won the game 4-2 and I managed to get on the scoresheet. It was the best Christmas present ever!
I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a fabulous Christmas and, if you are going to a game, that your team can deliver you three points!
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