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EXCLUSIVE Jeff Stelling Interview: Balotelli, Tévez, Soccer Saturday and Champions League

27 Jun

Jeff Stelling is the hugely popular host of Soccer Saturday, Countdown and, from the coming season, Sky Sports’ Champions League Football. Here, I spoke to him about his career in the media, thoughts on Soccer Saturday and his views on all things Manchester City.

View From A Blue: How did you break into the media?

Jeff Stelling: My first job was at the Hartlepool Mail when I was 18. I eventually broke into radio and then television, firstly at the old TV-am, and started working as a freelance at Sky in 93. I arrived for a day and have been there ever since.

VFAB: Is it something you always wanted to do?

JS: I told my headmaster when I was 12 that I wanted to be a journalist. He was not impressed. But I can’t think I would be much good at anything else.

VFAB: Soccer Saturday, in theory, shouldn’t work – the viewer is looking at four men who are looking at TV screens – what do you think is the key to its success?

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EXCLUSIVE Clive Tyldesley Interview: Mancini, Tévez, Balotelli and Transfer Targets

9 Jun

Clive Tyldesley is one of the top commentators in the country, leading ITV’s coverage of the FA Cup and the Champions League. Here, he gave up his time to talk to me about his career, football in general and his thoughts on all things Manchester City.

View From A Blue: In all your years of commentating, has there been any standout moment?

Clive Tyldesley: The obvious answer, and I know this won’t go down too well on your blog, is the 1999 Champions League final. The reason it’s the obvious answer is that Brian Moore retired in 1998 after the World Cup, and I had taken over, having returned to ITV from BBC in 1996. It was important I did well that season, as there were a few others who were gunning for the role, and here I was, a relative unknown, commentating on such huge matches.

We had an audience of nearly 20 million at the moment United pulled it back from 1-0 in the final, so in my first season as first choice, if I had messed up that night, they would never have trusted me with a game of that magnitude again. And I got the scorers right and apparently said one or two things which United fans remember. That night really cemented my place as a commentator and it meant that I went into the following season as ITV’s first choice.

The first ever TV commentary I did was City 5 – 1 United in 1989, and you could say the same about that game in terms of importance to my commentating career.

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MAN CITY v Man Utd – PREVIEW – View From A UNITED Blogger (Part 2)

16 Apr

As part of the build up to Saturday’s game, I asked Chris from the Man United blog Can They Score a few questions. Here, he covers City’s season so far, who he would like to sign for United, gives his prediction for the game and more.

View From A Blue: How would you assess City’s season so far?

Personally, I think it has been a disappointing, but nonetheless useful, season for City so far. I thought, with all your summer investment, you would have capitalised on Chelsea’s poor mid-season form and taken 3rd place but that hasn’t happened. Similarly, I was surprised to see you struggle so much in the Europa League but maybe that’s only to be expected, considering the fact your squad is still coming together. Either way, the experience can only help you in Europe next season. Overall, its seems to have been a season of missed opportunities but rest assured, you’ll have many more to come.

View From A Blue: In a couple of year’s time, do you see City as serious challengers for the title?

If you can maintain some stability and somehow make it past the FFP rules, it is inevitable you’ll challenge for the Premier League title in the next few years. ‘Hopefully’ you’ll start refining your squad, rather than overhauling it (with some more sensible purchases than Kolarov and Balotteli) because it must be near-impossible for Mancini to build team spirit at the moment, with all the politics and instability off the field.

View From A Blue: If you could buy one City player, who would it be?

Strangely, I think Sir Alex could unlock Balotelli’s potential and turn him into a world-class player. However I don’t think his talent would justify the inevitable disruption he would cause. As well as the fact, a partnership of Rooney & Balotelli would result in a higher cumulative goal tally, per season, than the combined IQ!

Realistically, despite the fact you have a wealth of talent in your squad, I’d only like one of three players from your squad; Hart, as England’s #1, to replace VDS for the next 15 years; De Jong, to add some tenacity to our midfield when needed, or Silva, to ‘replace’ Ryan Giggs.

View From A Blue: Are you confident for Saturday?

Only a few players unavailable, 7 wins in 7 games, you bet I’m confident!

View From A Blue: Where does winning the FA Cup rank on your list of priorities?

With the Premier League & Champions League still in our sights, some may this fixture isn’t important but I would beg to differ, the Treble is still on! From now till the end of May, every match for the Reds is huge and of equal importance. Admittedly, we all know Sir Alex is desperate to knock Liverpool off their perch domestically and, equally, eager to win his third European Cup but this is a Manchester derby at Wembley- does it get much bigger?

View From A Blue: How big a miss will Wayne Rooney be for United, considering the form he’s in?

Wayne has undoubtedly been in scintillating form recently (back to his best?) but people forget how well Dimitar Berbatov carried us through in October & November when Rooney had his transfer saga and Chicarito was only featuring from the bench. Obviously from your point of view, it has to be an encouraging factor but we’ve been also been boosted by the injury to Carlos Tevez, which has evened the tables somewhat. Would I rather have available? Of course I would but crucially I think we have adequate replacements- do you have good enough replacements for your captain- I’m not sure.

View From A Blue: Who will be the key players from each side?

Obviously, it’s easy to focus on Balotelli & Hernandez as the key players for each side but I think this semi final will belong to the keepers and their centre-backs. From your point of view, you need Hart to have a great game and Lescott to find some form. From our point of view, we know what to expect from Van Der Sar but we can’t be sure how Rio will play, simply because of his recent injury record- he’s been excellent since his return but two games in a week may stretch him to the limit.

View From A Blue: And finally, the big one – your prediction?

I’m going to go for a United win. I reckon you’ll nick a goal on the break, maybe Silva to compensate for his miss at Old Trafford, but I fancy Valencia against Zabaleta and Nani against Richards/ Boyata. Considering the danger I think our wide men will pose, and the forwards we have to convert their chances, I can see us winning by a goal or two- dare I say we have too much momentum not too?

MAN CITY v Man Utd – PREVIEW: View From A UNITED Blogger

15 Apr

As part of the build up to Saturday’s game, I asked Doron from the Man United blog Stretford End (http://www.stretford-end.com/blog/) a few questions. Here, he covers City’s season so far, who he would like to sign for United, gives his prediction for the game and more.

View From A Blue: How would you assess City’s season so far?

Hard one. I think it has to be deemed a success so far. More than £150m has been spent on new players over the duration of the season and it’s impossible to make that work straight away – a squad needs time to gel. Therefore I think any expectations associated with winning the league this year would have been a bit premature. The aim is surely Champions League qualification and between yourselves and Spurs no one seems to really want it but right now it’s City in 4th and that’s all that counts, so yes, to date it’s been an adequate season.

The disappointing thing in my opinion was the Europa League campaign – obviously it was a source of amusement to myself – but in truth it probably represented a great chance to win a trophy which when it happens will be a weight off many a shoulder. That said if you focus on Europe, the league form may suffer.
 
There are plenty of individual positives – players who have stood out and shone; yet also plenty who haven’t. Yet, it’s the team, not so much individuals where frustration must lie. There have been too many silly defeats (particularly away from home) and 14 points from 48 dropped at home is also too many to be challenging right at the very top just now, especially given how tight the league is. Similarly City’s results in the ‘big’ games haven’t been up to scratch – I can understand that setting up not to lose can see 1 point won rather than 3 lost but sometimes you have to take the gamble and go for a win. I think part of that ties in with a lack of ability to be flexible in a system – it’s the same criticism I have of Wenger and Arsenal – they only really play one way… there isn’t really a plan B.
 
Obviously there is still potential for a trophy depending on the Saturday – so all in all, it’s a job well done without being exceptional.

View From A Blue: In a couple of years time, do you see City as serious challengers for the title?

In a word, yes. It may even happen next year. You can’t spend that much money on good footballers and not be a serious contender. The conundrum comes if City qualify for the Champions League next year – how seriously is that competition then taken? Take it too seriously and you can lose sight of the league focus; don’t take it seriously enough, and what’s the point in qualifying?! I think Spurs have shown a bit of naivety in the competition this year but it’s worked for them because of the way they play, City would have to take it much more seriously I think. But yes to title challengers – a few less silly defeats this year and you’d be there already.

View From A Blue: If you could buy one City player, who would it be?

Haha, interesting question. Two ways of answering this – first is who do I think is City’s best player regardless of what United need and the second is based on what area I think United would most need to improve. So regardless of the United squad, if I could take one player it would be probably Silva but with Kompany just behind. In terms of what do United need and who could I have, I actually think I’d take Adam Johnson – United could do with some more wing competition and I think Johnson is a solid footballer.
 
View From A Blue: Are you confident for Saturday?

No! I tend to become quite pessimistic before big games like this (oddly the exception was the Champions League ties vs. Chelsea). I don’t like it when United are the clearly perceived favourites for such a big game and I do think the loss of Tevez whilst big, has been blown out of proportion a bit. Don’t forget we have a tricky game away at Newcastle on Tuesday night and I’d always prioritise the league ahead of the FA Cup, that said I couldn’t stomach the thought of City going to the final having beaten us!

View From A Blue: Where does winning the FA Cup rank on your list of priorities?

It’s a third but in my book, not by much. The league comes first every single year – there’s no doubt it’s the hardest competition to win of the three. Then comes the Champions League which requires fortune and luck. Then the FA Cup. I’m a big FA Cup fan and I would love to win it, nearly as much as the Champions League actually – the league and cup double is almost the classic success story, in the 90s it was considered the ultimate achievement. It’s a shame we’ve not won it in so long.

View From A Blue: How big a miss will Wayne Rooney be for United, considering the form he’s in?

Huge miss. Just huge. It will be very intriguing to see how Fergie sets us up as I think 4-4-2 with Berbatov and Chicharito will be too attacking given how City will (probably) set up. I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of Park/Anderson/Giggs playing in that number 10 role that Rooney’s played in lately. But like I hinted before, in many ways it’s not a bad thing he misses it as he’ll be fresh for the Tuesday against Newcastle.

View From A Blue: Who will be the key players from each side?

For City there’ll be a lot of responsibility on one of Balotelli or Dzeko to deliver now Tevez is out but I think the key to winning may come behind them. I’d say Kompany and Yaya Toure are the key men – they provide the spine of the team, are powerful and have had excellent seasons. For United, I guess it depends just what rotation system Fergie goes for. I’d probably pick out Nani and Valencia, I think both could cause problems for City’s full backs. Scholes would be the other one to pick out – he’s not played much lately but still has the ability to control a game and in a more than like 3 man central midfield he could be vital.

View From A Blue: And finally, the big one – your prediction?

I tend to wait until after the pre-match press conference to give any prediction but for now I’ll go with simply a very narrow United win, possibly in extra time or on penalties.

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