1. People criticise Roy Keane, but it's money well spent if Sunderland stay up
This year, more than ever before, transfer deals seem to have gone out of control. Players are going for two or three times their proper value, which begs the question: "What is their value?" As with everything else, it is what somebody will pay.
This week especially, people are prepared to pay over the odds. If a team start badly, a manager will try to plunge into the market one more time before the deadline closes.
I found last year was far more difficult than previous transfer windows. When you've been promoted, as we were at Sheffield United, you need to bring in more players than teams which are already in the Premier League, but before you know where you are it is 1 September.
The last-minute shopping is tough because teams know you are desperate for their players. Last year we were after Joleon Lescott along with Everton. I thought £3.5m-£4m would be sufficient. In the end the fee was approaching £6m. My next choice was Claude Davis. I valued him about £2m. Because I had no other options by then we ended up paying £3m. At least the Blades got their money back when they sold him to Derby this summer. In Rob Hulse's case I thought he was worth £1.7m max. I ended up paying £2.5m. He proved to be worth every penny. Everyone knows we were not the same after he broke his leg.
Roy Keane is now in the position I was in. People criticise him for the amount of money he paid for Michael Chopra and Kenwyne Jones, but who is to say those players will not be the pieces in a jigsaw that keeps them up? If they are it will make their transfer fees seem like peanuts. The support that Niall Quinn and his backers have given him has been fantastic. I think it helps that Niall has played there, and knows what an atmosphere the Stadium of Light can generate.
The money does not just impact on the Premier League. Just as the top four seem to have their own league in the top flight so do the relegated clubs in the Championship. The teams with the parachute payments have spent all the big money. Look at my old club. They spent £4m on James Beattie, with the wages that come with such a signing. That simply was not possible the last time United were in the division.
Had we stayed up we'd have been looking for about three or four players, people like David Nugent. I'd already spoken to Joey Barton's agent to say we'd be interested if Manchester City were prepared to let him go, as they did to Newcastle.
I think Chelsea have been shrewd, they've not thrown money about but kept much the same squad, which means they have the advantage of all knowing each other. Among the teams that might be at the other end of the table Wigan's Chris Hutchings has made some good signings, players like Michael Brown, whom I know well. Lawrie Sanchez is relying on his old Northern Irish players. It will be interesting to see if they have the quality. They have to raise their game every week now, not just every now and again.
2. One that did get away, six times
After two weeks of book signings I was determined to get away for a week or two, so we're still in Scotland. We spent a few days at Tobermory on the Isle of Mull. It's the location for the BBC TV kids series Balamory so I've had "What's the story in Balamory? Wouldn't you like to know! boom boom," coming out of my ears. We had a super time. We took a boat out and saw some porpoises, seals, and birds. We even saw some shags!
We also had a fabulous meal at a restaurant called The Anchorage where Jason, the chef and owner, provided us with saucepans full of mussels in sauce with loads of garlic. We started eating them and half an hour later the pile did not seem to have gone down at all. They seemed like magic, self-replenishing saucepans.
Last week we went mackerel fishing. I bought William and Amy some rods. If I'm honest, I never in my wildest dreams thought they would catch anything. I gave William his rod, he started fishing, five minutes later and he shouts, "Got one, dad". I thought it was a bottle, or some seaweed, until I saw this mackerel jump up. He caught six. I was trying my hardest and I had three. We just threw them back. I'm not into bashing them and cooking them. So it might have been the same dopey mackerel William caught six times.
Trying to beat William at mackerel fishing reminded me of playing tennis against my eldest son, James. I always beat him until about 18 months ago. We played one set and he beat me. It destroyed me mentally: I took it as a sign I was getting old.
As I write this column, we've moved to the beautiful island of Gigha. The sea is lapping over my feet and I can look either side to a golden sandy beach with no one else on it. Legend has it the Queen once sunbathed here.
The kids have taken their tops off and are running around in their pants getting wet through. Isn't it funny how kids never seem to feel the cold?
3. Scottish football feeling bonny
When I was coming up here a few years ago there was a real depression about the football scene. The national team were struggling and the club sides not doing well in Europe. Well, what a change. The achievements of first Walter Smith, and now Alex McLeish with Scotland have created a sense that things are on the up and the clubs are prospering too. On Wednesday I watched the second half, extra time, and penalties of Celtic's qualifier. It was quite funny because half the bar were Rangers fans and half Celtic. I got the feeling the Rangers fans would not be disappointed if Celtic went out. As well as the old rivalry it makes a real difference in income if only one team from a country gets through. I got quite involved in the game and even I jumped up when Artur Boruc saved that last penalty. I was so pleased for Gordon Strachan.
As Craig Gordon said after moving to Sunderland, the players in the Premier League do things much quicker but there are good players up here like Shunsuke Nakamura. Having watched them over the last few years I'd love to see Celtic and Rangers in the Premier League. Unfortunately I don't think it will happen in the foreseeable future.
4. I wonder what is around the corner
The kids start school next week so we're travelling home today and I'll soon be twiddling my thumbs at home. The horrible thing about being out of work in this game is that someone else has to get the sack before opportunities arise. There's already been casualties and I've had a few calls from journalists about vacancies in Scotland and England. I've told them all the same, there's been no enquiries, but you never know what is around the corner.Reuse content