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


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.

Three key questions for USMNT in March


The United States men’s national team returns to competitive action with an interim coach at the wheel and a spot in the CONCACAF Nations League finals still uncertain.

The Yanks clobbered Grenada at home in their first CNL group match but could only manage a 1-1 draw with El Salvador thanks in no small part to a sloppy pitch and a red card. The USMNT was also down several first-choice players including Christian Pulisic and Giovanni Reyna.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]

The U.S. will be favored to advance and will hope to be in the catbird seat following Friday’s match with Grenada at Kirani James Athletic Stadium in St. George’s.

Grenada lost 3-1 to El Salvador away but drew Los Cuscatlecos at home and need to beat the visiting U.S. to qualify for Gold Cup.

But the USMNT’s aforementioned 1-1 draw with El Salvador looms large: Even if the Yanks were to falter in Grenada, they’ll be the Group D winner by beating Los Cuscatlecos on March 27 in Orlando.

Three key questions for USMNT in March

1. Center forwards still needed, but is there anyone ready for the task? The Nos. 1, 2, and 3 non-Reyna-related question for Gregg Berhalter when the World Cup ended was why he chose his center forwards, how he used them, and why they didn’t score goals. Haji Wright was the only CF to score at the World Cup and that was the first center forward goal in six USMNT matches. Jesus Ferreira scored four the previous game, but that was against Grenada and the FC Dallas star has three more goals in his 15 other caps. And Timothy Weah, a danger up top when called upon but often a wide man, is injured and will miss the international break.

So where will interim coach Anthony Hudson turn against Grenada and El Salvador?

World Cup cut Ricardo Pepi is back and so is Daryl Dike.

Meet the candidates and their forms:

  • Pepi, 20, is on loan at Dutch side Groningen from Augsburg. He started off hot with Groningen and has nine goals, though he’s scoreless in his last three matches.
  • Dike, 22, is fit and firing for West Bromwich Albion, where he’s scored four times in his last five Championship appearances, all starts.

This is one of those “prove it” camps, with Christian Pulisic and Giovanni Reyna among those helping to cue up chances for their center forwards. If you’re not gonna get the job done against Grenada and El Salvador, you’re missing the boat.

2. Who steps into the Tyler Adams role? Tyler Adams has unflinchingly been Leeds’ most consistent and steady player in a year of tumult, and he’s proven the same time and again in a USMNT shirt.

But he’s not here!

So there will be no “MMA” midfield of Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah, and Adams. The first two pieces are here from Leeds and Valencia, but it’ll be a third piece to complete the trio. Luca de la Torre of Celta Vigo and Alan Sonora of Juarez have been called into camp and Johnny Cardoso is the most defense-minded of the bunch if the team is to go “like-for-like.” Cardoso, 21, is starting for Internacional in Brazil, who trails only Gremio on the Gaucho table.

3. What’s the state of mind? Look, the “youth soccer” and “extremely childish” incident has made for plenty of discussion online, but the U.S. group seemed plenty bonded after Giovanni Reyna’s World Cup camp incidents had happened but were yet to be exposed by Gregg Berhalter at a “private” speech.

So, in theory, Reyna will arrive back into a USMNT camp in need of consistent effort and good attitude but as a member of the fold. The problem may be that the fold thought it left the World Cup with Berhalter either returning as head coach or with a search being conducted for a new coach.

It turns out, it’s only mostly the latter; Berhalter remains a candidate for the U.S. job and has been in Europe to see his “former” players. His assistant, Anthony Hudson, remains in charge of the first team on an interim basis and who can really know how much input Berhalter may currently have on the group.

All of that said, the USMNT is better than both of its opponents, regardless of venues, and should look superior to them even without Adams and Weah. Should is still pretty conditional, so let’s see what statement comes out of these two games in the favorites role, because it’s going to be quite a while before the Yanks are a clear underdog again.

Italy vs England: How to watch live, stream link, team news


England will begin their EURO 2024 quest the same way they finished their heartbreaking EURO 2020 campaign: facing Italy, now two-time champions of Europe, on Thursday.

[ LIVE: EURO 2024 qualifying scores – Italy vs England ]

The two European giants faced off in the 2020 final (in the summer of 2021) at Wembley Stadium in London, and it was the Italians who triumphed in the penalty shootout after playing to a 1-1 draw after regular time and extra time.

Italy and England are joined in Group C by Ukraine, North Macedonia and Malta. The sides that finish 1st and 2nd in the group will qualify for next summer’s tournament in Germany.

[ MORE: USMNT upcoming schedule – Nations League, friendlies, Gold Cup ]

Here is everything you need for Italy vs England. 

How to watch Italy vs England live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 3:45pm ET, Thursday (March 23)
Stadium: Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, Napoli

Italy squad

Goalkeepers – Gianluigi Donnarumma (Paris Saint-Germain), Alex Meret (Napoli), Claudio Carnesecchi (Cremonese), Wladimiro Falcone (Lecce)

Defenders – Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Matteo Darmian (Inter Milan), Francesco Acerbi (Inter Milan), Emerson Palmieri (West Ham), Giovanni Di Lorenzo (Napoli), Leonardo Spinazzola (Roma), Alessio Romagnoli (Lazio), Rafael Toloi (Atalanta), Giorgio Scalvini (Atalanta), Alessandro Buongiorno (Torino)

Midfielders – Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain), Jorginho (Arsenal), Nicolo Barella (Inter Milan), Bryan Cristante (Roma), Lorenzo Pellegrini (Roma), Matteo Pessina (Monza), Sandro Tonali (AC Milan), Davide Frattesi (Sassuolo)

Forwards – Domenico Berardi (Sassuolo), Gianluca Scamacca (West Ham), Vincenzo Grifo (Freiburg), Wilfried Gnonto (Leeds), Simone Pafundi (Udinese), Mateo Retegui (Tigre)

England squad

Goalkeepers – Jordan Pickford (Everton), Fraser Forster (Tottenham), Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal)

Defenders – Kyle Walker (Manchester City), John Stones (Manchester City), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Eric Dier (Tottenham), Kieran Trippier (Newcastle), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), Ben Chilwell (Chelsea), Reece James (Chelsea), Marc Guehi (Crystal Palace)

Midfielders – Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Declan Rice (West Ham), Kalvin Phillips (Manchester City), Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), Conor Gallagher (Chelsea)

Forwards – Harry Kane (Tottenham), Jack Grealish (Manchester City), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Phil Foden (Manchester City), James Maddison (Leicester), Ivan Toney (Brentford)

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The Anfield Wrap on Liverpool ahead of U.S. tour: ‘They are in a new phase’


Liverpool are still in the hunt for a top four finish but Jurgen Klopp is now in charge of a big rebuilding process as the Reds are in ‘a new phase’ as they transition from the German’s first seven years in charge.

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That is the view of Neil Atkinson from The Anfield Wrap (TAW) and it will be intriguing to see how Klopp reshapes his playing philosophy, adds to his squad and how it all slots together over the next few years.

TAW are bringing their show to North America with their ‘TAW Live’ tour taking place from Wednesday, Mar. 22 to Monday, Mar. 27, with shows in Toronto, Detroit, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington D.C.

TAW host Neil Atkinson joined Brad Thomas and Drew Dinsick on NBC Sports’ Soccer Pub to discuss what he thinks of topsy-turvy Liverpool this season and what their identity could become in the future.

Klopp has ‘never had to do this’ before

“I think this is the key question for the next phase of Jurgen Klopp,” Atkinson said. “He has never had to do this before. He’s done seven years at Mainz, seven years at Dortmund and he’s now done seven years at Liverpool. Jurgen has signed his new deal and is staying until 2026 and now what he’s got to do is transition this football team in a way he hasn’t had to do in the past.

“I think that is an interesting challenge. Sides get used to the way you play and players themselves can become a little bit stale and there is also you yourself and how you see the game and how you’re going to interact with the game as a manager. I don’t think he’s had to do this in any of his other jobs. He’s done unbelievable jobs everywhere he has been, including Liverpool, but this is a new phase.”

Transition has arrived for the Reds. But what will it look like?

“The key question for Liverpool is Liverpool are clearly in transition, that is clear and apparent. That happens to a lot of sides and some sides manage to change and stay at the top, Liverpool haven’t managed to succeed in that. Last season they were beginning that process and last season you saw a bit of transition from Liverpool but not as much as you’ve seen now and they haven’t managed to stay at the top and the Champions League this campaign.

“What is it moving to? Is it simply different players? Or is he looking to change his approach a little bit? Is he looking to add creativity to the side? What does that come at the expense of? I think that is a key question. On the whole I feel like talk of Liverpool’s overall demise is vastly overstated. I think it is a side that will right itself. There have been injury issues this year, I don’t think a number of the players and coaching staff have had their best season by any stretch of the imagination, but I think they will come back strong.”

Top four finish essential this season

“I’m of the view that as long as they can find a way to a top four finish then I feel they will summer strongly and they will be able to come out of the other side and we will really be able to see what the next phase of Jurgen Klopp’s blueprint is. I am absolutely certain he has a blueprint and has a way he wants this team to play and knows which players he wants to keep and move on. I think we will see that again in the summer and Liverpool come again. But it is important for Liverpool to come top four.”

New deadline looms for Manchester United bids


A new deadline is looming for potential new owners of Manchester United, as our partners in the UK at Sky Sports say the deadline for second offers is Wednesday, March 22.

They add that up to eight bids are expected, while INEOS owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe has told The Wall Street Journal he won’t pay a ‘stupid price’ for the Red Devils.

The Glazer family continue to explore either the full or partial sale of the Premier League giants.

It has been widely reported by ESPN and Sky Sports that two bids, one from Ratcliffe and another led by Qatari Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani, are the frontrunners as the Glazers look at all of their available options.

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Over the last few months the American family have been seeking potential investors in Manchester United and they have not been short of suitors.

Presentations have been taking place between potential new owners and investors and the Man United hierarchy over the last few weeks.

The latest updates

Two bids have now taken center stage as they arrived before the first, well-documented, deadline.

One is from INEOS owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe, who failed to buy Chelsea last year but was always said to prefer a bid for his boyhood club Manchester United.

“How do you decide the price of a painting? How do you decide the price of a house? It’s not related to how much it cost to build or how much it cost to paint. What you don’t want to do is pay stupid prices for things because then you regret it subsequently,” Ratcliffe told The Wall Street Journal.

Another bid is led by Qatari Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani, who is seeking full control of the club and is the chairman of Qatar Islamic Bank as his father was the former prime minister of Qatar.

The Glazer family bought United in 2005 for $1.4 billion and it is believed they are now asking over $7.3 billion for a full sale of the club.

Statement from INEOS

Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s INEOS confirmed they have ‘submitted a bid for majority ownership of Manchester United’ and went into more detail on their plans.

“We would see our role as the long-term custodians of Manchester United on behalf of the fans and the wider community. We are ambitious and highly competitive and would want to invest in Manchester United to make them the number one club in the world once again.

“We also recognise that football governance in this country is at a crossroads. We would want to help lead this next chapter, deepening the culture of English football by making the club a beacon for a modern, progressive, fan-centred approach to ownership. We want a Manchester United anchored in its proud history and roots in the northwest of England, putting the Manchester back into Manchester United and clearly focusing on winning the Champions League.”

Statement from Qatari bid

The Qatari bid, led by Sheikh Jassim, promised that their offer is ‘completely debt free’ and they want United to become ‘the greatest football club in the world’ during their stewardship of the club.

“The bid will be completely debt free via Sheikh Jassim’s Nine Two Foundation, which will look to invest in the football teams, the training center, the stadium and wider infrastructure, the fan experience and the communities the club supports.

“The vision of the bid is for Manchester United Football Club to be renowned for footballing excellence, and regarded as the greatest football club in the world.”