Three Questions with The Times of London Chief Football Correspondent Oliver Kay

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Oliver Kay is one of Britain’s preeminent football journalists. As chief football correspondent for The Times of London, Oliver finds himself at the undepletable coalface that is Premier League narrative. He is also the author of a remarkable new book, “Forever Young: The Story of Adrian Doherty,” now available on AmazonHERE. In this edition of Three Questions, we ask Oliver about said book, Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge this weekend and how journalists in the UK evaluate Bob Bradley’s first game.

MiB: It is a Premier League drenched in narrative. Pep, Mourinho, Klopp, Conte …  and that’s just the managers. How have you experienced covering a season with so many storylines? And with so many options, how do you decide what you’re covering on a weekly basis?

OK: There are two parts to it. One is the build-up to the game. The other is the aftermath. The build-up will often focus on certain issues or context, which might be about the managers or a certain player or some particular tactical intrigue or something more historical. Then the match will take place and we will usually end up talking about something else entirely. You are certainly right to say that there’s a strong “narrative” surrounding the various managers, but what I have enjoyed this season, so far at least, a lot more of the analysis has been based on what those managers are trying to achieve football-wise than on their personalities (or our limited perception of their personalities). If it’s Mourinho v Guardiola, or Mourinho v Wenger, it’s not just “these guys loathe each other”. It’s also about two totally different philosophies.

MiB: This weekend. Jose Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge. A game rich in previous. But one that could be wanting when it comes to the actual football. Does Mourinho take a pragmatic approach and try to shut this match down from the jump? Or will the temptation of beating his former club lure him to the shores of entertaining football?

OK: You can always expect a pragmatic, cautious approach from Mourinho. And let’s be clear about this, pragmatism has served him bloody well over the years. If I was judging the various managers on the quality of football their teams have served up so far this season, I don’t think Mourinho would be anywhere near the top; for the money they have spent, I haven’t been impressed by United so far. But, faced with a difficult ten-day period – Liverpool away, Fenerbahce at home, Chelsea away, Manchester City at home in the EFL Cup – he opted for a safety-first approach at Anfield on Monday night and it went pretty much to plan. (I’m sure he would have happily accepted a 0-0 draw beforehand.) I’m sure he would be happy to take a similar approach at Chelsea. On Wednesday night we saw his great rival Pep Guardiola take Manchester City to Camp Nou and try to take on Barcelona at their own game. That is the difference between them. I love Guardiola’s approach, but there are times when it looks naïve. You would never accuse Mourinho of naivety – other things, yes, but not naivety. He will always manage to his strengths – and the interesting part of his challenge at United is that it’s not yet a squad that seems particularly well suited to his approach. At Chelsea he was always very good at winning the big head-to-head matches against rival teams. He could do with a win on Sunday – they have only won four Premier League games out of eight so far, and only one of the past five. But would he settle for another draw if he was offered it now? Yes, I expect deep down he would. Antonio Conte might feel similar about Sunday, so I’m not expecting a free-flowing game.

MiB: Here in America we are all wanting to view Bob Bradley’s Swansea debut, a 3-2 loss at Arsenal, as one of grit and refusal to capitulate to superior talent. Understanding that we might be slightly biased. How is Bob’s start being viewed in the UK?

OK: There have been plenty of suggestions that he only got the chance to manage in the Premier League because an American owner picked him. I understand this talk has caused some upset in the States. But it is true, isn’t it? It’s fairly obvious and fairly natural that certain owners, without a great experience or in-depth knowledge of the game outside of America, look to what they know. Bob Bradley is one of those coaches whose work over many years has rightly put him on the radar of  European clubs, but if you’re wondering which Premier League clubs have thought about hiring him prior to Swansea, you’re looking at Aston Villa under Randy Lerner (another American) and very few others. That’s just the way it works. Roman Abramovich was probably the only owner who would have considered appointing his mate Avram Grant in succession to Jose Mourinho in 2007; Roland Duchatelet, at Charlton, is the only one who would have appointed a succession of unimpressive Belgian coaches; a great example is when Gary Neville got the Valencia job, appointed by one of his business partners. If people are saying there was a jobs-for-the-boys aspect to Bradley’s appointment, it’s nothing new. Where is that perception of an appointment, the manager in question needs to make a strong start. To come back to that earlier word “narrative”, Bradley needs to get a few good results on the board to ensure that the narrative surrounding him – in the dressing-room and on the terraces, not just in the media – is a positive one. It’s far too early to make an assessment of Bradley’s suitability at Swansea. There was some encouragement in defeat at Arsenal, but it’s fixtures like this next one, at home to Watford, that will shape his and Swansea’s prospects.

MiB: Your book, “Forever Young: The Story of Adrian Doherty, Football’s Lost Genius” is a fantastic read – the true story of a young Northern Irish football prospect who was on the verge of stardom at Manchester United. He was hailed as a teenage prodigy on a par with Ryan Giggs, but a knee injury cut his career short and by the age of 26 he was dead. In a Premier League that is ever more star-soaked, what made you want to devote your craft to this particular story?

OK: In short, I wrote this story because I was utterly captivated by it. From the first moment I stumbled upon the bare facts that you just mentioned, I found myself thinking: ‘How on earth has this story not been written before? Why do people not know this? Is there something sinister behind it? What is the real story?’ And having started off with those basic facts, which seemed captivating enough – the teenage prodigy who doesn’t make it, due to injury, and dies at the age of 26 – I embarked on this five-year journey to find out everything I could about him. And what I found out was that Adrian Doherty was this amazing, extraordinary, incredible individual who, despite having such incredible football talent, was the complete opposite of what you would expect a Manchester United footballer to be. People told him he was going to be the next George Best. He was more interested in being the next Bob Dylan. He wore second-hand clothes, spent his free afternoons writing songs and poetry and on Saturday afternoons, when his team-mates were at Old Trafford watching United’s first team, he would take his guitar into town and go busking. Even while he was still a footballer at United, he spent a summer in East Village, playing his music in bars and trying to get signed up for a record deal. One of his team-mates Sean McAuley, who now coaches at Portland Timbers in MLS, described him as someone who “played football like Ryan Giggs and played guitar like Bob Dylan.” He was an amazing character with an extraordinary story and I’m still astonished, really, that it hadn’t been written until now.

WATCH: Hartford Athletic scores wild 90th-minute winner

Hartford Athletic goal
Photo by Williams Paul/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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It’s very rare in this age full of soccer on our screens that we catch a goal of unique ingenuity.

The USL Championship delivered the goods on Wednesday.

Hartford Athletic had blown a two-goal lead to Philadelphia Union II on Wednesday and was staring down a 2-2 draw when Danny Barrera swung into action.

[ REPORT: Spurs land Mourinho’s “top target” ]

Well, perhaps he lunged into action. Or flailed. On third thought, swung is good.

Heck, you pick the verb.

Barrera, 30, turned Philadelphia goalkeeper Mitchell Budler into a gift horse, reacting quickly to flick his back boot into the path of the keeper’s attempted outlet throw in the 90th minute.

The 81st-minute sub became the match-winning goalscorer off the play, which gives him two goals and seven assists on the season.

Hartford has 32 points and is a point off table-leading Tampa Bay Rowdies with one match to play. Second-place Louisville City is also on 32 points and Pittsburgh Riverhounds have 31.

Hartford may be able to look back at Barrera’s goal as the surprise three points that swung a title race in its favor.

Leeds – Manchester City: How to watch, start time, prediction, odds

Leeds - Manchester City
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Leeds – Manchester City: It’s been so far, so good for Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds in their return to the Premier League, but a visit from Man City to Elland Road is a stiffer test (Watch live at 12:30 pm ET Saturday on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

Leeds fell 4-3 to Liverpool on Opening Day but has since beaten Fulham and Sheffield United to sit top half of the table in this very young Premier League season.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Man City fell 5-2 to Leicester City at home last weekend after beating Wolves to start their PL season. A midweek clean sheet of Burnley shows that Pep Guardiola’s men aren’t dead, and the Catalan mastermind will relish the chance to match wits with a man he hails as a role model in Bielsa.

Guardiola once called Bielsa the best manager in the world.

“Winning titles helps to have a job next season but at the end of your life, what you remember is not the titles you have won, what you remember is the memories you have and whether the manager taught you a lot,” Guardiola once said when asked about Bielsa. “What we remember are the experiences and the memories, the players you have had, the managers you have had. Marcelo is at the top of the list. Absolutely at the top of the list.”


Team news for Leeds – Manchester City (INJURY REPORT)

Leeds will not have emerging star winger Jack Harrison, who is in his second season on loan to the club from Man City and ineligible to play against his parent club. Gaetano Berardi (knee), Adam Forshaw (groin), Pablo Hernandez (groin) are on the injured list.

Things are getting better for Manchester City, who got Aymeric Laporte and Bernardo Silva back in a midweek League Cup win over Burnley. Still out are Gabriel Jesus (undisclosed), Sergio Aguero (knee), Joao Cancelo (foot), Ilkay Gundogan (COVID-19), and Oleksandr Zinchenko (undisclosed).


What they’re saying

Leeds’ young goalkeeper Illan Meslier on keeping a clean sheet: “I’m happy because in the last game against Fulham I felt I could have saved the last two goals, but against Sheffield I saved two important chances and we arrived at half time at 0-0 which was important. It is just one game though, and we are focused on the next game now and then the one after that. For the spectators I think 4-3 games are better, but for the team and me it is better one-nil. We managed to do that on Sunday and win the game so it is all good.”

Man City boss Guardiola on new signing Ruben Dias: “We know Ruben Dias’s personality and I am sure he will be an incredible player for the next six or seven years. We’re very happy to have him. Our back four are now a young team. We start training tomorrow and get going as quick as possible.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

This line has probably become a lot tighter than it would’ve been in August since Leeds has burst onto the scene while Man City has been up-and-down (relatively speaking). Leeds is +675 to win at home and +440 to draw, while City is -290 to collect all three points.

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Leeds – Manchester City prediction

Leeds is a talented side and only getting better and deeper in terms of talent and experience. And Bielsa can plan for any opposition. But injured or not, City still has Kevin De Bruyne, Rodri, Raheem Sterling, and more. Man City 3-1.


How to watch Leeds – Manchester City stream and start time

Kickoff: 12:30 pm ET Saturday
TV Channel: NBC
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Manchester United – Tottenham: How to watch, start time, prediction, odds

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Manchester United – Tottenham: Jose Mourinho’s latest Premier League project waltzes into his previous stop when Tottenham Hotspur visits Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday (Watch live at 11:30 am ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Both clubs boast midweek wins in the League Cup, though Tottenham’s Thursday visit from Europa League foes Maccabi Haifa have complicated Mourinho’s planning for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Tottenham may have a new striker in the fold, with reports claiming the North Londoners have loaned Mourinho’s No. 1 target, Carlos Vinicius, from Benfica.

Meanwhile, Solskjaer has grown frustrated of answering questions on United’s transfer activity with days to go in the window.


Team news for Manchester United – Tottenham (INJURY REPORT)

Same old, same old for United, which is still dealing with long-term injuries to Axel Tuanzebe (ankle) and Phil Jones (knee).

Tottenham is still waiting for Gareth Bale to regain full fitness after a knee injury, while Heung-min Son is unlikely to play Sunday but manager Jose Mourinho was unwilling to completely rule the South Korean out.


What they’re saying

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Man Utd’s transfer activity“I can’t give you any news. We are working with what we have got. We have a big squad. If there is any update, we will let you know. I don’t comment on other teams’ players. I can’t concern myself with other clubs. I know the club is working well and hard to have a strong squad as possible. Sometimes speculation is there and we can’t control that.”

Spurs’ boss Mourinho on midweek League Cup win over Chelsea“We were ready to fight, I told you. I told the players before the penalties that they were magnificent in the second half, we made Chelsea look ordinary. The team waited for the right moment…. I have to think about three games at the same time but the players only thought about this game, they were phenomenal. Phenomenal.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Man United is -108 to win while visiting Spurs register a +290 odds to get all three points against Jose Mourinho’s former club. A draw nets the bettor +260.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Manchester United – Tottenham prediction

Tottenham’s looked the superior team in all competitions so far, though United’s stars have yet to really fire on all cylinders aside from Bruno Fernandes. The variables for this weekend, however, favor United. Spurs will have played Sunday-Tuesday-Thursday while United played Saturday-Tuesday. If Old Trafford was full of screaming fans we might expect a little more advantage for a home side, too. Son’s absence looms large, though, and that will tilt the scales from a 2-2 draw to a 2-1 Man United win.


How to watch Manchester United – Tottenham stream and start time

Kickoff: 11:30 am ET Sunday
TV Channel: NBCSN
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Report: Tottenham lands Mourinho’s No. 1 striker target from Benfica

Carlos Vinicius to Tottenham
Photo by Gualter Fatia/Getty Images
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If Gareth Bale doesn’t have “it” anymore, then Jose Mourinho’s gonna have other options.

Heck, even if he does.

Tottenham will soon announce the signing of Benfica striker Carlos Vinicius on a one-year loan and $50 million-plus option-to-buy after the season.

[ MORE: Champions League draw preview ]

Not to be confused with Real Madrid star Vinicius Junior, Carlos Vinicius is a 25-year-old Brazilian striker coming off a career-year in Portugal.

Vinicius scored 23 times with 13 assists in a breakout 2019-20 season, his 18 league goals tied for the Portuguese top flight lead with teammate Pizzi and Rio Ave’s Mehdi Taremi.

He’s also comfortable coming off the bench, scoring those six of his 18 league goals in substitute performances.

[ MORE: Mourinho on League Cup defeat of Chelsea ]

Football.London reporter Alasdair Gold says Vinicius was Jose Mourinho’s No. 1 summer target but the price tag was too high earlier in the window.

Vinicius used to belong to Napoli but twice went out on loan, one of those a 16-appearance, 2-goal campaign for Monaco in Ligue 1.

The player shares an agency with Cristiano Ronaldo, Ederson, Ruben Neves, Ruben Dias, and Matt Doherty.