I see Roberto Mancini brought City's players in yesterday to train, and they all spent last night in a Manchester hotel, before today's home game against Stoke. I guess that's the Italian way, and being new to the club he wants to get to know the players, but it's not my way.
I stopped dragging the players in on Christmas Day some years ago.
I just couldn't see the point in them sitting in the car for, what in some cases is a three-hour round-trip, for an hour's training, when they could spend the day with their families. I think it's more likely to affect their performance if they are training, or stuck in a hotel, when they could be with their kids. One day doesn't make a lot of difference. I've seen clubs where they have their players swimming at 8am, or boxing, but I've not seen many with fitter players than I have. It's not as if they get the day off completely. The fitness coach gives them some work to do, and they have to wear heart monitors to prove they do it. We've also made sure they can't just put the monitors on the dog - I'm not that trusting. If we don't get a result against Ipswich today I'll probably be criticised but we've won on Boxing Day the last two seasons.
For Sharon and me, yesterday began with breakfast in bed. Amy's now old enough to make breakfast, and William was the waiter. I couldn't have got better service in a hotel. We then got up, but only got out of our pyjamas to put on some new ones we all received as Xmas presents. I did also have to put on a special vest and goggles as William got a Nerf gun and had great fun blazing away at me. I'm just glad the fans haven't got them as it's a long walk from the dug-out to the tunnel at our place.
We just sat around, like most families did I imagine, watching TV, eating, and opening presents. We pulled a few crackers but William kept failing to get the middle bit. Then we heard a bang and turned round to see him pulling crackers with himself.
Sharon got all the best presents. The kids gave her a bracelet and necklace. I gave a silver tea service. It was a poignant present for me as my mum used to have one she was so proud of. When my parents died and we kids divided up their stuff, as you have to, it was the only thing I wanted. Now Sharon has one to pass down.
The most impressive present was the Aston Martin I bought Sharon. William asked her a few weeks ago what her favourite car was and she said Aston Martin. I said I'd buy her one for Christmas. I don't think she believed me, but I got one from Scalextric. I wrapped it up beautifully. Well, she never specified the size, and it's so convenient, you can take it for a run on the kitchen table. If I'm not in the dug-out this afternoon you'll know Sharon didn't appreciate the joke.
2. Hughes's sacking had Cooked-up feel about it
I suppose nothing really surprises you in football, and the prospect of Mark Hughes losing his job had been talked about for a while, but the manner of it left a nasty taste in your mouth. There was a distinct lack of class about it and everyone must have squirmed in the press conference when Gary Cook said he hasn't chatted Mancini up weeks ago, then the man himself said he had.
We all know that people tap managers up prior to dismissals, that is the way football is, but I was interested to read that Mark believed he had been stabbed in the back by Gary Cook, the chief exec, Brian Marwood, who is called football administrator, and Brian Kidd who had been development manager. Several papers mentioned that Mark's wife, Jill, glared at Kidd when she took her seat near him at half-time last week, and noted Kidd's remarkable rise just three months after Hughes sanctioned the appointment of his old United pal.
It's obvious Kidd must have known about his appointment before last week's game. It all made me think back to when I was managing Sheffield United in the Premier League and, despite one of two people giving me different advice, I took Brian Kidd on myself. As a manager you always hear one or two stories behind the scenes, and I was told a few things towards the end of that season, but it was not until I left and saw the remarkably quick appointment of Bryan Robson, assisted by Brian Kidd, that the pieces of the jigsaw fitted together. There are times in the game when I'm reminded of Tommy Docherty's words after Doug Ellis, his chairman at Villa, said he was right behind him. Doc said he told Ellis, "I'd rather have you in front of me where I can see you."
I'll be watching with interest how Mancini and Kidd develop over the next year. As Mark found out, money's not everything. Having stated he will be in the top four this May, then go for the championship next year, I had a wry smile to myself. I do that a lot when people say things like that. Talk is cheap, you have to do it on the pitch.
I'm sure Mark will not be out of work for long and will be able to enjoy himself again with a normal clubs who "only" spend £2-3m at a time (the lucky so-and-so). I thought about asking him to do job swap for a day a couple of months ago, but it never materialised. I can't see any chance of that with Mancini. The first time he walked down our tunnel and got some muck on a designer suit would be enough for him.
3. Swansea Monday then Wednesday on Friday
Christmas continues with a trip to Swansea on Monday. We've allowed five-and-a-half hours to make the journey. Then on Friday we head up to Sheffield ahead of our FA Cup tie with Wednesday. The travelling is the worst part of the job at this time of year. I can remember stopping at a hotel many a New Year's Eve. You try and find a hotel anywhere in the country that's quiet on New Year's Eve. If you do it certainly won't be a good one. We're out New Year's Eve but only at friends, and we'll be home long before midnight. I need a good night's sleep before travelling. I'll be expecting my players to be restrained as well. You do have to trust them to an extent, but you can tell within 10 minutes if a player has looked after himself. It can be a bit annoying though, if abstinence proves pointless. Once when I was playing at Scunthorpe, but living in Sheffield, I did all the right things, going to bed sober and early. The next morning I drove off to Scunthorpe only to hit a snowstorm half-an-hour out. When I arrived I was told the game was off.
4. Premier League's most exciting weekend
Last weekend was the most exciting ever in the Premier League and sets us up nicely for the Christmas programme. There was just one result after another with Portsmouth dominating Liverpool, Fulham annihilating Man United, then Chelsea struggling to get a point off an extremely spirited and unlucky West Ham.
How about all those penalties Mike Dean made Frank Lampard take? I can only assume my criticism of Leicester's encroachment in our game there, when Paul Gallagher, who scored on the rebound from Jules' save, was virtually patting the taker on the back as he shot, must have filtered through. The constant retakes did make me wonder whether, subconsciously, Dean may have been aware his view of Chelsea's penalty was far better than his linesman's. Watching the highlights I could not believe that once again a linesman, further away from the incident than the ref, could change such an experienced referee's mind.
And what a great result for Wolves to justify Mick McCarthy's team selection at Old Trafford. Two more wins and the fans will be talking Europe.
5. Players rally round for Christmas hospital visit
The weather we've had recently has been just like being back in Yorkshire: snow everywhere. The family have been sledging almost every day. It's not so much fun to work on though. One day only three of the lads made it into training, so I sent them home. Another, we trained on the snow. The following day we cleared a patch – the snow had kept the grass underneath soft enough to play on – and got a couple of hours in before the frost settled in and made it too dangerous. So I was amazed we got the game on last week. We haven't even got undersoil heating but the pitch was in remarkable condition. The groundstaff and YTS boys did a fantastic job.
I've had to requisition Sharon's 4x4 to get around. Away from the main road it's just sheets of ice. One journey was worthwhile: the Christmas visit to the children's ward at Mayday Hospital in Croydon. I said to the lads: "I want five volunteers". Twelve turned up. Footballers get a lot of stick at times but I could see going round the ward the impact they have. We even converted a Man U fan for half-an-hour so he could get a free poster. Seeing the kids, and realising they will be there for Christmas, makes you appreciate how lucky you are to be fit, healthy and playing football.
I doubt any charity has benefited more than Tottenham's after Harry Redknapp persuaded the squad to make a donation in response to their clandestine Christmas trip to Dublin. Harry will have been disappointed that they went behind his back but also thought it was a great amount to make for charity. Winning at Blackburn will have tempered his view too.
6. Window could be a busy one – for selling
The transfer window opens on Friday. Given our circumstances I'm not likely to be making many calls, but I do expect to receive a few. We've six or seven young players I know other managers will be chasing. In an ideal world Simon [Jordan] will be able to find someone able to buy the club and take it forward in the way he wants, enabling us to keep them, but if that doesn't happen I fully understand we may have to let a few leave. What won't be happening is we sell them all. I've been quoted saying every player has his price, but that's not just at Crystal Palace, it's every club. Even Manchester United sold Cristiano Ronaldo when the price became high enough.