Like everyone else I tend to look back at the end of a year and reflect. It has been a mixed 2013 for me.
The big disappointment was not being able to get Leeds United into the play-offs, and maybe the Premier League, something I really believed we had a chance of doing 12 months ago. A cracking win in the FA Cup over a strong Tottenham side – including Gareth Bale and all – showed what the team was capable of, but the squad lacked depth and the owners decided against investing in January, which might have put us in a position to win promotion.
Leeds are the biggest club I have managed, with a fantastic fan base, and I hope they can make that step this year. I believe I left them in good shape for a push. I’d changed the playing side of the club around, got rid of a lot of dead wood and built the base. I said to Brian McDermott when he took over he had to put icing on the cake, and try and get some money to do so. So far it looks to be going well. He has changed to five at the back to accommodate Ross McCormack in his best position, a free role with no responsibilities. Ross has repaid that faith with goals. It does restrict them a little against better sides, especially at Elland Road, which may be a problem as the season develops. But if David Haigh has an opportunity to put a consortium together I’m sure he’ll be successful. David’s not just a businessman but an enthusiastic Leeds fan too, so I’m optimistic for them this season.
If they do, I expect it will be with another of my old clubs as, despite their recent wobble, Queen’s Park Rangers look as if they are going in the right direction with Harry Redknapp. I’m sure anyone finishing above them will be promoted.
On the plus side, leaving Leeds meant I have been able to spend a lot of time with the family, enjoying a very rare summer off and my first Christmas without work worries since I was a teenager. I was also able to accept an offer to work with BT Sport. Unlike some of Sky’s previous rivals, BT is very well organised and in it for the long haul. I’ve been very impressed with the professionalism and enjoyed probably being the elder statesman of the football team.
I’ve also been doing Monday and Friday mornings with Alan Brazil on talkSPORT. Once again it’s not felt like working, it has been so enjoyable. I am finding I have to watch what I am doing otherwise I may as well be in full-time football again and, while I’m available if something interesting comes up to take me to the end of the season, I don’t want a long-term commitment at this stage in my life. Having said that, I’ve had some interesting proposals which have not quite got to completion – in spite of speculation yesterday I should add that Millwall is not among them.
I’ve also had my book, The Gaffer, published, which I am very proud of and has done well. I understand a paperback may be coming out soon so hold on to those book vouchers you got for Christmas.
My own presents included a lovely Christmas jumper from Amy and one of those machines I have been after for ages which allows you to print photographs taken on a mobile phone. And just for once there were no socks or pants at all.
It’s been a gripping year but owners have much to learn
I think it has been a good year for the game itself. We have a gripping Premier League, top and bottom, all our teams have improved going into the knockout stages of the Champions League, there are more women and children going to games, and love of the game runs so deep Portsmouth can get 16,000 crowds in League Two.
The main negative is that expectations have never been so unrealistic and a lot of managers are paying the price. It is getting to the stage where anyone who completes a full season becomes “long-serving”.
There can only be a few winners, but many of the newer owners, especially the foreign ones, do not appreciate that. They often come in with good intentions and a track record of success in business, but they do not know our game well enough and if they listen to the wrong people they end up making expensive mistakes. No owner could be more enthusiastic or well-meaning than Tony Fernandes at QPR, but even he has since admitted he knew nothing about the football business and if he had his time again, I’m sure he would do a lot of things differently.
If you are a manager with a new owner who has more ideas than knowledge, all you can do is get your head down and do your best, which is what Malky Mackay did at Cardiff. I covered their game at Liverpool and I’ve never heard fans back a manager the way Cardiff’s backed Malky. He deserved it as he has done a great job there. He’ll be disappointed now at the way it finished, but he’ll be a better manager for the experience and I’m sure he’ll be back in work with a new challenge before long.
I really enjoyed the atmosphere at Anfield. The surrounding area is still run down but I could tell on Friday night in the city that fans of both blue and red persuasion are really optimistic this year.
I know both clubs lost on Boxing Day but Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez have done a great job. Robbie has been a breath of fresh air. I always thought his weakness was defensive so the Everton job was made-to-measure for him as he inherited a great back five and can work his magic further forward. It is similar to when Arsène Wenger took over George Graham’s back four at Arsenal.
Chelsea were my favourites at the start of the season and as poorly as they have performed at times they are only two points off the top despite playing without a goalscoring striker. I expect Jose Mourinho will put that right in January, but Manchester City now look as though they might just pip them, not that anyone should write off Mourinho.
The bottom is anyone’s guess. I feared for Fulham and Sunderland, then they both won away, as did Palace, on Boxing Day. So perm any three from the bottom half.
Finally I would love to think that the coming year would bring us a little bit of success with our national team, even a quarter-final place for England in Brazil would be a success, but at the moment I’m afraid I’m not optimistic.
Blown off course by storms in the South-west
I’ve never seen anything like the storms we have had down here in the South-west. Even as I am doing my column we’re preparing for another one. On Monday I was due to go to a funeral in Nottingham. I’d not gone 100 yards before I found a huge tree blocking our road. It took five of us and a nearby farmer with his tractor to create a roadway through to enable people to get past.
The sports editor said, “You should have taken a picture.” I have to admit, as the rain poured down, running off my nose, leaking into my clothes and shoes, as we attached chains to the trunk so the tractor could drag it out of the way, that slipped my mind. In the end I found a chainsaw and we cut enough branches out to clear a path for people to get a car through.
To cap it all the weather on the M5 was horrific. By the time I got to Bristol I realised I would be at least three hours late for the funeral, so, sadly, I had to turn round and drive back home.
I hope New Year in Looe will be better for the fireworks show, and for wherever you are celebrating. On that note I’d like to wish all my readers health and happiness in 2014.