Who are the best and worst football commentators in 2014/15?

Football commentators are responsible for being the direct link between match and TV screen, but which ones are the best and worst?

Last year I gave my top 10 best and worst commentators or co-commentators but there have been plenty of changes in football broadcasting since then so here is an updated top six for the 2014/15 season.

We’ll start with the good ones (they are a dying breed)…

  1. John Murray – BBC 5Live – new entry for 2014/15

There are plenty of people who believe that commentating on the radio is the hardest job of all because the listeners cannot see the match. What Murray does so effectively is to call a game so snappily that the listener feels as if they are watching every pass unfold. The pace with which he commentates is exciting and all the while he utters few mistakes, meaning Murray propels himself to number six on the 2014/15 list as a new entry.

  1. Martin Fisher – BBC & CBC – new entry

As someone who gets the scraps on Match of the Day, Fisher has made a name for himself as an emerging commentary talent. He is one of the more frenetic commentators but that certainly helps bring a dull game to life and, with his matches often being towards the end of the show, he manages to engage the viewers well. Gradually Fisher is being recognised as a good commentator and was rewarded when Canada’s CBC channel picked him as one of their commentators during the 2014 World Cup – a richly deserved prize.

  1. Darren Fletcher – BT Sport – new entry

As the mainstream broadcasters rested on their laurels and fell behind in popularity, BT Sport were busy cherry-picking the commentators they knew would help get their new channel off to an excellent start. Fletcher, who had previously worked for BBC Radio 5Live, has made the transition to TV look seamless with his concise, clear and precise calling of BT Sport’s handpicked Premier League matches.

  1. Gary Neville – Sky Sports – new entry

Despite being more at home as a pundit as opposed to a commentator, Gary Neville is still one of the better callers of the unseen happenings during a game with his best observations usually made on tactics and defensive positioning. What lets him down is the fact he is too patient to have his say, often waiting until the lead commentator has finished speaking or when a there is a break in play.

  1. Danny Murphy – BBC – new entry

With regular stints on Match of the Day as a pundit, few would have predicted the success that Murphy enjoyed crossing over to the co-commentator’s microphone during the World Cup. Murphy freshened up the commentary by making quick observations and crucially saying them as soon as he had the chance, rather than the usual co-commentators dithering after a TV replay. This, added to his insightful, relaxed and often humorous reading of the game has made him a valuable addition to the BBC. Let’s hope he retains his co-commentary role when the BBC host live FA Cup matches this season.

  1. Steve Wilson – BBC – up 3 places on 2013/14

If ever there was an all-rounder’s position in football commentary, Steve Wilson would fit in nice and snug. He has picked up the mantle of statistician guru from John Motson, makes very few mistakes and is a very good reader of the difficult decisions and situations in games. What Wilson does spectacularly well is to keep up with play, often meaning he is more concise. Another of his talents is to let the sound of goal celebrations do a lot of the work for him. What helps him do that is a David Coleman-like announcement of the score, such as “1-0!” All things considered, Wilson is the yardstick as the most complete commentator out there.

Now we move on to the worst commentators. You’ll never guess who’s top…

  1. Guy Mowbray – BBC – up 4 places on 2013/14

It continues to baffle me why the BBC persist with Guy Mowbray. His outdated, cliché-ridden and mistake-laden commentary is evidently good enough for the BBC as he was given the World Cup final. He has in the past wished injury on Ignazio Abate during the 2012 Euros and has been guilty of blatant sexism while commentating on women’s FA Cup matches. In mitigation he is responsible for the occasional brilliant one-liner, but his overall commentary leaves a lot to be desired.

  1. Sam Matterface – ITV & Talksport – new entry

ITV are grooming Matterface for big things, but his commentary should not have warranted a space on the World Cup airwaves this summer. His disinterested style, coupled with a knack of stating the obvious, has been boring ITV viewers ever since he came to prominence. Talksport are the other unfortunate beneficiaries of Matterface’s commentary and, when you compare him to the BBC 5Live team, you can see why he works for Talksport. Finally, this is perhaps his worst line ever: “Well here we are above Goodison where there are some lovely fluffy blue clouds.” Get the picture?

  1. Niall Quinn – Sky Sports – new entry

Quinn gets the occasional gig on Sky Sports when they have a triple-header of live games on Sunday. Some football fans would argue that that is still far too often to endure Quinn’s nightmarish co-commentary which regularly underwhelms and irritates. Offering close to no technical insight at all, Quinn is shamefully biased – particularly in matches involving Manchester City and Sunderland – two of his former clubs.

  1. Andy Townsend – ITV – same position

Along with Mowbray, the other long-term commentary mystery is Andy Townsend. Why ITV  have continued to partner him with Clive Tyldesley is unknown, but if football fans had their wish he would disappear far quicker than he could give some insightful commentary. Perhaps ITV just keep him for the publicity? Or maybe it’s the fact he chooses to sit on the fence with almost every debatable decision? Either way, it doesn’t look like Townsend and his lack of flair will be going anywhere soon.

  1. Phil Neville – BBC – new entry

With the BBC receiving 445 complaints about his commentary of England’s 2-1 defeat against Italy at the World Cup, Neville’s drab style is clearly not agreeable. He also has a hard act to follow as Gary, his brother, has been a revolutionary pundit for Sky Sports. Phil’s monotone and sleep-inducing style did not endear himself to very many people but, in fairness, he looks more at home as a pundit rather than as a co-commentator. One infamous tweet of his came after the community shield when a second-string Manchester City side were beaten 3-0 by Arsenal: “Put Aguero, Kompany, Zabaleta and Hart in this City team and they will look different.” Amen to that, Phil.

  1. Michael Owen – BT Sport – new entry

We finish on a bad note with Michael Owen. With no previous commentary experience, BT Sport elected to bring in Michael Owen as the co-commentator for their new Premier League coverage last season. That was an ignominious mistake. So bad is Owen’s commentary he often trends on Twitter when he commentates, with one of his awful lines being: “It’s a good run but it’s a poor run, if you know what I mean?”. Owen’s commentary is full of obvious conclusions, mis-pronunciations and a lack of knowledge. But the last words have to go to the man himself, who once quipped: “To stay in the game, you have to stay in the game.”

  • You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89
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2014 World Cup: The true cost of Brazil 2014

With just two matches to go in the 2014 World Cup there is one question on the world’s lips: ‘Has it been worth all the money?’

Brazil’s staging of the World Cup has been the most expensive in history – and even then over a third of the proposed improvements to transportation have been scrapped or abandoned.

At a conservative estimate of $14bn, Brazil 2014 is almost $8bn more expensive than the previous record, set by Germany in 2006.

Critics in Brazil have scoffed at the $14bn estimate and say it is likely to cost 300% more, with retired Brazilian footballer Romario, now an MP, saying the eventual cost could be $46bn – a figure he named “the biggest theft in history.”

These figures illustrate a growing disparity, as has been the case in staging recent sporting ‘mega-events’, between the estimate and the eventual cost.

Seven years ago, when Brazil won the right to host the 2014 World Cup, a picture of recovery from underdevelopment and a forecast of accelerated growth was painted by then president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

In reality though, this was never going to be the case within such a limited time span.

Spending on the World Cup has seen the order of priority first extend to stadiums, airports and then transport.

The 12 stadiums themselves have cost $3.6bn to either build or renovate, several of which will struggle to recoup that expenditure as they host lower division teams with small attendance figures.

Brazilian airports have been given a long-awaited refurbishment to accommodate the 600,000 people who flew in to watch the tournament and the three million flying internally between venues.

But overall infrastructure improvements have suffered most as Brazil struggled to get the stadiums and airports ready for the World Cup. Just 36 of the 93 major projects were completed on schedule, and the country now faces a massive task to be ready in time for hosting the 2016 Olympics.

Amidst all the focus on these costs, there is good news economically.

The Brazilian government has estimated that over 710,000 permanent and temporary jobs have been created with additional research suggesting that fan spending could total $13bn.

Yet Brazilian banks remain cautious.

Excellent interest rates of 11% continue to benefit savers, but the ballooned prices aimed at the World Cup’s thousands of tourists has contributed to an inflation rate of 6.52% which could hit Brazilians hard in the aftermath of the tournament.

In addition to the spending, there have been more damaging stories emanating from Brazil during the World Cup.

Mass protests, sparked in 2013 by a raise in bus fares, have been commonplace while unsightly favelas – some hold up to one million people – have been uprooted to provide a more pleasant background to the venues.

In Rio, where Germany will clash with Argentina in the final on Sunday, drug gangs control several shanty towns, holding residents to ransom and treating them in an authoritarian manner.

There is also the crime rate to consider, with Rio believed to have the 19th-highest crime rate across the world’s cities. The Brazilian government pledged $900m towards security measures during the World Cup and reports of violence have been scarce.

At stadiums, South American fans were largely to blame for breaches of security.

A total of 20 Argentinean supporters forced their way in to the Maracana stadium in Rio during their country’s match against Bosnia, while in Chile’s match with Spain, 100 ticketless Chilean supporters also forced their way in to the same stadium and damaged the media centre, with 85 fans being detained.

Tragically, in the construction of some stadiums, eight workers died in accidents. Another worker died three days before the World Cup when a monorail collapsed in Sao Paulo.

The most recent disaster occurred in Belo Horizonte, where an overpass collapsed killing two people and leaving 22 others injured.

So, while the economic projections are encouraging for the future, there are still many discontented Brazilian people.

Some Brazilians wanted the $14bn spent on the World Cup to be ploughed into the country’s education and healthcare systems – this was a key aspect of the many protests before and during the tournament.

There is still a huge amount of poverty in the country, with some favelas controlled by rampant drug cartels and riddled by violent crime and corruption.

The staging of the World Cup itself however, has been a big success with viewers voting the 2014 World Cup to be the most exciting ever.

The tournament also produced shock results such as Holland’s 5-1 thrashing of reigning champions Spain and the 7-1 destruction of host nation Brazil by Germany.

FIFA have also been successful, controversially, as their $2bn investment looks set to reap commercial revenues of $4bn with the governing body reinvesting $20m into legacy projects throughout Brazil.

Whichever way the spotlight shines money could have been spent on other areas, but that is the case with every major sporting event.

Despite the huge expenditure Brazil, already a rapidly developing economy, will eventually benefit from the money invested in their new airports, transport links and infrastructure – even though some stadiums might not recoup the money spent on them.

The true cost of Brazil 2014 might never be known, but in general the country is expected to widen the disparity between rich and poor – and that is perhaps the most telling cost of all.

You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

2014 World Cup: What makes a ‘good’ World Cup?

Throughout the current 2014 World Cup, TV presenters, pundits and commentators have been referring to the tournament as one of the best in history.

Those opinions provoke the obvious question “what makes a good World Cup”?

If a ‘good’ World Cup is judged solely on goals, France ’98 would come top of the pile with 171. Brazil 2014 is currently on target to smash that with 140 goals scored and a healthy 14 games remaining.

Goals, though important to the enjoyment of a football match, are not the lone gauges of whether a World Cup is ‘good’ or not.

Historically, World Cups with a large dose of controversy are often remembered more than those that pass without incident.

For instance, would the 2010 World Cup in South Africa be as memorable had it not been for a tetchy final marked by Nigel de Jong’s ‘kung-fu’ kick on Xabi Alonso and referee Howard Webb’s decision to show a yellow card instead of red?

Or will Luis Suarez’s bite at Brazil 2014 be the defining memory of the current tournament?

A ‘good’ World Cup could also be measured by the amount of magical and dramatic moments, such as Gordon Banks’ incredible save from Pele at Mexico ’70 or Roberto Baggio’s penalty shoot-out miss against Brazil in the 1994 final.

There are obviously hundreds of similar moments that won’t get a mention, but viewers will often point towards a perfect storm of goals, controversy, super saves and drama as being a good indicator of whether a World Cup has been ‘good’ or not.

But, despite all those components, the most telling aspect of a ‘good’ World Cup is the atmosphere.

If the fans are not enjoying themselves, if there is a lack of singing in the stands or if the host nation is eliminated in the group stage then history dictates that that World Cup would be deemed an anti-climax.

For instance Spain ’82 would be a candidate for a forgettable World Cup as it is rarely mentioned by experts as being anything other than ordinary.

Spain were knocked out in the second phase, while reigning champions Argentina and their arch-rivals Brazil also fell at the second hurdle.

The Spanish heat may have been a direct cause of a lack of action on the pitch, but also an uninspiring set of fixtures coupled with a shortage of excitement did not help the tournament in any way – only Paolo Rossi could realistically claim to have created any lasting World Cup memories.

Perhaps no atmosphere of a World Cup however, is as intense as the one in Brazil this summer.

For months before it started and in some parts while it is still running, Brazil had witnessed dozens of angry protests about the excessiveness of the spending of money allocated to accommodate the World Cup.

Yet the football-loving people of Brazil have combined to mask those protests and channel positivity through the veins of the country with their passion and love of the game.

Some 200,000 people crowded along Copacabana beach yesterday to watch Brazil defeat Chile on penalties to reach the quarter-finals.

The World Cup is the greatest prize for the majority of Brazilians in a continent which sees football as a religion.

The result is a festival-like environment at almost every World Cup match to have been played so far, and by any reckoning Brazil 2014 will be remembered as a ‘good’ World Cup – and potentially the best of them all – no matter what happens in Rio on 13 July.

You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

2014 World Cup: Ten young stars to watch out for

Can you hear the sound of the world’s biggest carnival yet?

When it wheels into the newly-built Arena Corinthians on June 12 over one billion viewers will be gripped by World Cup fever.

Home nation Brazil will take on Croatia in Sao Paulo to begin the month-long festival of football.

Of course, there is much expectation and pressure on the Brazilian team to win on home turf and there have also been well-documented clashes and protests surrounding the judiciousness of the finances released by the Brazilian government to host this magical tournament. (There will be more on that in a later blog).

To help get your football juices going this blog will be the first of ten special World Cup blogs to supplement your enjoyment of the greatest sporting event on the planet.

Blog number one previews ten of the best young footballers to feature at the World Cup this summer.

To qualify, there are two criteria: A player must be aged 23 or under and must be making his World Cup debut.

So, let’s start the countdown. Who is set to be the brightest young talent of the World Cup?

10. Fabian Schär – Switzerland, age 22, centre-back (5 caps, 3 goals)

Perhaps a surprise inclusion at ten on this list, Schär is arguably one of the most exciting defenders in the world. His aerial ability from set-pieces is allied to an instinctive reading of the game and his impressive pace serves him well when faced with one-on-one duels. Recent performances for Basel in the Europa League suggest that Schär excels on the big stage and will be in contention for a starting place in Switzerland’s first game against Ecuador.

9. Mario Götze – Germany, 21, attacking midfielder (27 caps, 7 goals)

Undoubtedly one of the best German talents, of which there are many, but will he get a regular starting spot in Brazil? The competition for places in the German midfield could hinder Götze’s chances of making a big impact on the tournament but he has proven his goalscoring prowess at international level despite being in and out of the Bayern Munich side this season.

8. Son Heung-Min – South Korea, 21, attacking midfielder (23 caps, 6 goals)

After an impressive season with Bayer Leverkusen, Son will be carrying the affection of South Korea on his shoulders. Son usually plays just off the lead striker but such is his versatility and talent he can switch positions across a forward three and is also deployed on the wing. Son’s flexibility rids South Korea of a rigidity which had plagued their game in recent years but with their new hero they should be a threat to Belgium, Russia and Algeria in group H.

7. Adnan Januzaj – Belgium, 19, attacking midfielder (0 caps, 0 goals)

At just 19, Januzaj is part of a youthful and promising Belgium squad in Brazil. A long wrestling match between several countries is to blame for his lack of international experience but, after opting for Belgium, manager Marc Wilmots has wasted no time in including the Manchester United star in his plans. With the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin Mirallas and Kevin de Bruyne ahead of him in the pecking order Januzaj could make a significant impact coming off the bench against tiring opponents with his jinking runs.

6. Ross Barkley – England, 20, attacking midfielder (3 caps, 0 goals)

Barkley’s place on this list is dependent upon Roy Hodgson giving him the playing time many onlookers are craving. The precocious young talent has drawn comparisons with Paul Gascoigne but his technical ability stretches far beyond that of Gazza’s. Even if Hodgson prefers to be conservative in Brazil he is set to make substantial contributions when coming off the bench, particularly with his energetic and creative game.

5. Paul Pogba – France, 21, central midfielder (8 caps, 1 goal)

An authoritative and commanding presence in midfield, Pogba is very much in the Yaya Toure mould of footballer. He can rampage forward and score goals as a stellar season at Juventus has proven. Doubts still remain about his mentality but bearing his age in mind that is a problem he will overcome with maturity and should that process happen this summer he could be France’s star player in Brazil.

4. Mario Balotelli – Italy, 23, striker (29 caps, 12 goals)

Commeth the spotlight, commeth the maverick. Balotelli relishes attention and a World Cup in Brazil presents him with an opportunity to display his skills in the biggest arena of them all. His superb performances at Euro 2012 saw a coming of age for the rebellious striker and he has built upon that with some assured displays at AC Milan. He will be the spearhead of Italy’s attack versus England but can he control his temper to replicate his Euro 2012 showing?

3. Thibaut Courtois – Belgium, 22, goalkeeper (15 caps, 8 clean sheets)

Some may be surprised that a goalkeeper makes third place on this countdown, but Courtois will be one of the stars of the tournament. His potential is staggering and his acclimatisation to Spanish football with Atletico Madrid at a young age has been exceptional. A series of assured displays coupled with some outstanding saves shows why Chelsea paid €9m for him when he was just 19.

2. Eden Hazard – Belgium, 23, winger (43 caps, 5 goals)

A world-class talent but inconsistent with it, Hazard has the chance to exorcise his critics with a memorable display in Brazil. His tally of five goals in 43 games for Belgium is underwhelming but after enjoying a spectacular season for Chelsea there are signs he could flower into an international star this summer as part of a dangerous Belgium team.

1. Neymar – Brazil, 22, forward (47 caps, 30 goals)

There has been no expectation as high as this on any player in history. A home World Cup in a land where football is a religion. It seems made for Neymar and all his astonishing skill, but can he deliver under such a burden? His goal-laced performances at the 2013 Confederations Cup would offer a resounding yes to that question, even after an unconvincing opening season at Barcelona. Despite that, the Brazilian team is built to utilise his incredible talent with some tipping him to earn the Golden Boot. Could this tournament belong to the darling of Brazil?

You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

The Manchester United conundrum

It seems that some people think solving the Manchester United conundrum is as easy as flying an anti-David Moyes banner over Old Trafford.

Others believe it to be a task that will require more than a £100m splurge in the summer transfer window to complete.

Whichever way Manchester United’s current plight is observed, you can’t help but wonder where it all went so wrong.

Perhaps the most startling difference between the 2012/13 title-winning side and the current 2013/14 squad is the defence.

Nothing has changed in terms of personnel yet it looks completely dysfunctional.

Having watched several Manchester United games this season from the comfort of a local pub, it has even appeared to be frightened, almost paralysed with fear.

This was so devastatingly demonstrated by Manchester City’s bludgeoning of their arch-rivals in the very first minute at Old Trafford on Tuesday night.

City swarmed forward and fizzed around the United defenders as if their legs had been soaked in a concrete bath. They were motionless, scared and lacked aggression.

David Silva danced around two United defenders with embarrassing ease, before Samir Nasri’s simple shuffle and shot hit the post and fell straight to Edin Dzeko who tucked the ball away with the sort of unchallenged freedom strikers can only dream about.

Who would replace this ailing defensive unit, then?

Unfortunately for David Moyes, summer signings will be hard to come by.

Not only is the World Cup a traditional obstacle in transfer dealings, but the cunning Old Trafford executives have arranged a pre-season tour of the United States just weeks after the final in Rio.

This means that not only will world-class players be recuperating on holiday and therefore be unavailable to negotiate with, but any prospective signing would not have the chance to integrate with the squad.

Manchester United’s troubles don’t end there.

In midfield they lack energy, creation and combativity. Marouane Fellaini has so far proved to be a dazzlingly questionable signing, while Juan Mata has failed to make an indelible impact since his £37m January move from Chelsea.

Tellingly, both new signings have failed to score since their arrival at the club.

Moyes has been very active on scouting missions throughout the winter and has reportedly had Sporting Lisbon’s holding midfielder William Carvalho scouted 12 times.

Carvalho would be an ideal fit at United but the English champions are not his only suitors – and there Moyes faces another problem.

It is becoming harder and harder to believe that world-class players and those of similar potential would choose United as their next club over another one such as Barcelona or Real Madrid.

Moyes could do much worse than blooding the promising Nick Powell if his pursuit of Toni Kroos is fruitless, but it would be a blow similar to the failed chases of Thiago Alcantara and Cesc Fabregas if Carvalho decided against a move to Old Trafford.

Would Manchester United’s under-fire manager then be forced to panic buy as he has apparently done with Fellaini and Mata?

All the current criticism of Moyes is not only misinformed, it is premature.

The Scot has barely had a chance to construct his own side, allowing the new recruits to gel and then getting them to play in the manner he wants.

Therefore he should be judged midway into the 2015/16 season, when it will become clear if his forthcoming transfer strategies have worked or not.

If he is to succeed he can afford no repeat of his previous transfer dealings. That said, the World Cup barricade might prove to be his maker.

Then there is the spectre of European football.

Before the home game against Aston Villa, a five-point gap separates United in seventh and Spurs in sixth. The final Europa League place is awarded to sixth place with a Champions League spot all but mathematically beyond United.

If United do miss out on European football they could struggle to attract the biggest names to the club – and that is a focusing chastisement of their deficiencies this season.

Given all his current challenges, and the ones that inevitably lie ahead, Moyes will be hoping that he is afforded the time he needs to reconstruct a side so alarmingly in decline – and with a six-year contract in hand it is logical for him to be given it.

Who are the best and worst Premier League chairmen and owners?

As Jonathan Swift, the author of Gulliver’s Travels, once said, “It is in men as in soils where sometimes there is a vein of gold which the owner knows not.”

Worryingly, this quote could apply to several Premier League chairmen this season after a series of controversial and seemingly unwarranted sackings.

Latest of them all is the fiasco at Cardiff City, where manager Malky Mackay was finally put out of his misery by the oblivious Vincent Tan.

However, Tan is just one of a number of Premier League club owners to have shown little remorse in pursuit of good results and ‘better’ performances.

How long will it be before the Premier League’s managerial environment mirrors the Latin American one?

Only this year, Mexico employed four different managers in six weeks to get them to the World Cup finals.

Supporters of that cut-throat strategy will argue that it worked as Mexico made it to Brazil this summer, but opponents to it will point towards an apparent culture of ‘short-term’ gains where good results coincide with spiked player performances – brought about by a need to impress the new manager and therefore gain a regular starting slot.

Either way it’s clear that long-term stability, reputation building and familiarity are the best recipes for club growth – certainly in English football. With that in mind, who makes the top five best and worst Premier League chairmen/owners?

I’ll hit you with the good first:

5. John W. Henry, Liverpool owner and chairman

Liverpool fans across the country rejoiced when Henry made a bid for Liverpool in 2010. He was eventually successful and replaced the embittered and faltering Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. as owner shortly afterwards. A billionaire businessman, Henry built up a rapport with Reds fans when appointing club stalwart Kenny Dalglish in 2011. He then backed Dalglish by granting the £57.8m spent on Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll after Fernando Torres’ £56m sale. The Suarez transfer is undoubtedly the best of his reign so far, and plans to renovate Anfield rather than move to Stanley Park are also proving popular. It seems he has no intention of enjoying the headlines and has the club’s best interests to mind – which is perhaps the ultimate sign of a good owner.

4. Sheikh Mansour, Manchester City owner

Love him or despise him, Sheikh Mansour’s billions have overseen a huge change in fortunes for the club historically seen as the second-biggest in Manchester. Rival fans have offered jibes of ‘can’t buy class’ and ‘Man-cash-ter City’ but the transformation of the club has been so comprehensive that they have usurped United as the giants of Manchester on current form. Mansour has also funded an investment in young talent and a symmetry with Barcelona’s youth academies which will benefit them in decades to come. Overall, it’s hard to see how else City could have reached their current level if Mansour had not delved into his pockets.

3. Bill Kenwright, Everton chairman

Kenwright has gradually increased his involvement with Everton, which peaked in 2004 when he became the club’s majority shareholder. He has been on the board since 1989 and supported the Goodison Park club as a boy. He is also an astute and loyal chairman in terms of managerial appointments, having enjoyed an 11-year stint with David Moyes at the helm and replacing him with Roberto Martinez, himself a loyal and passionate boss having stayed with Wigan through good and bad spells. Everton have not always had the budget to spend on transfers, but that is not a concern when wise purchasing and faith in young talent are among Kenwright’s beliefs.

2. Huw Jenkins, Swansea City chairman

Swansea are in safe hands with Jenkins as chairman, not least because of his tight purse strings. This summer he admitted that the idea of spending £12m on one player – Wilfried Bony – made him uncomfortable, but a recent history of transfers suggests he likes to pay little for more. Michu for £2m and Pablo Hernandez for £5.5m are cases in point, while manager Michael Laudrup could also be included on that list having done a superb job since taking over last summer. But Jenkins should be credited with saving the club from failure in the Football League, having cleaned up the club’s finances. Swansea now boast multi-million pound profits and also won the league cup last season under Jenkins’ guidance.

1. Peter Coates, Stoke City owner and chairman

It’s not often that a Premier League chairman has two bites at the cherry, but in the case of Peter Coates that much is true. A lifelong fan of the club, even having trials with them as a player, Coates will always have their best intentions at heart. His first tenure as owner lasted eight years until 1997, when he stepped down after protests from fans. However, Coates then set up bet365.com in 2000 and took ownership of the club again in 2005, showing loyalty and support to Tony Pulis who managed the team for seven years – a rare tenurial stint. Coates clearly knows how to run a big operation and his preference for British managers must also be welcomed in the modern game. His absence in the headlines is also good news for the club and, taking everything into consideration, Coates has done an extremely good job.

Now the bad:

5. Malcolm Glazer, Manchester United owner

Possibly the least-popular man in the red side of Manchester, Malcolm Glazer’s takeover of the club piled hundreds of millions of pounds worth of debt into the Old Trafford outfit. In his defence he has always committed the necessary funds for big transfers, but that is largely due to the club’s ever-expanding sponsorship portfolio. Fans continue to worry over the rumours that the Glazer family is withdrawing funds from the club. The bottom line is that Glazer’s incumbency has been a shady one and fans are reluctant to trust him.

4. Ellis Short, Sunderland owner and chairman

One of the motifs of bad ownership is the regularity with which managers come and go. In Ellis Short’s case, since he assumed full control of the club in 2009 he has sacked three managers which is a healthy – or unhealthy – ratio. In particular, the appointment of Paolo di Canio caused a stir given the Italian’s constant flirtation with controversy, but in Gus Poyet he seems to have finally made a decent change. Short has also been criticised for his handling of Martin O’Neill, who was widely considered to be a success at Sunderland having saved them from relegation in his first season in charge. It is that type of impatience which earns Short a place on the bad side of this blog.

3. Assem Allam, Hull City owner

Another hugely controversial owner, Allam has done little to enamour himself amongst Hull’s home support. His proposal to Americanize the club’s “common” name of Hull City to Hull City Tigers has been met with widespread anger in the footballing community but Allam is showing little sign of relenting. It is effectively a marketing tool, but Hull’s hardcore support continue to resist by singing ‘City til we die’. Allam, in typical mood, suggested that they could “die as soon as they want.” Has there been a more charming owner?

2. Mike Ashley, Newcastle United owner and chairman

Ever since downing a pint in amongst Toon fans during a trip to the Emirates, Newcastle owner Mike Ashley has been a figure of fun in the footballing world. His popularity was initially high after appointing Kevin Keegan as manager, but his decisions ever since have proved extremely unpopular. Notably, his friendship with Joe Kinnear – who later became manager – and Dennis Wise, who worked closely with Keegan, were negatively received. After Keegan resigned, he put the club up for sale but never enticed a buyer. Other recent controversies include changing the name of St. James’ Park and reappointing Kinnear in a director of football role. Ashley’s tenure is a fine example of how not to run a football club.

1. Vincent Tan, Cardiff City owner

The king of the worst Premier League owners, Tan’s every action has been divisive and infuriating for Cardiff fans. Changing the club crest and kit colour was viewed as heresy by Bluebirds fans, but Tan’s ill-advised moves have not stopped there. He removed the respected head of recruitment Iain Moody and hired Alisher Apsalyamov – a friend of Tan’s son who, embarrassingly, had no previous footballing experience and worse still, was placed on work experience with the club at the time. Up until today Malky Mackay was in charge but, after a tumultuous public row, he was sacked. Mackay’s sacking was the end of a two-week conflict which came about after an email sent by Tan ordering Mackay to ‘resign or be sacked’ was leaked to the media. Despite great support from colleagues and supporters, a 3-0 loss to Southampton spelled the end for the affable Scot. Cardiff fans will be wondering when Tan’s spell at the club will end, too.

  • You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

Who are the best and worst Premier League referees?

One of the most asked questions in football is, “Who’d want to be a referee?” – only someone capable of ignoring volleys of abuse hurled at them from all parts of the pitch, and a good amount from the stands. And the dug-outs. And those perched in front of a TV.

Newcomers to football might wonder why these referees, who give up their Saturday afternoons to officiate in the biggest games, actually put up with all the insults.

It could be because they get a great deal of protection from the sport’s governing bodies.

For instance, five years ago the FA started a ‘Respect’ campaign which was broadened by UEFA and FIFA, but which, like so many other schemes, has done little to mollify those who shout at officials with Neanderthal-like ferocity.

UEFA and FIFA have even refrained from publishing referee statistics, i.e. the number of yellow and red cards they have awarded in a given season, to further protect them from the bitterness that they so often encounter.

However, it is also said that the mark of a good referee is to go through a game virtually unseen. So who are the best and worst referees that Premier League fans have the pleasure of watching?

The good ones are up first:

5. Martin Atkinson (26 yellows, 1 red in 2013/14)

Fans can readily expect a good level of consistency from Atkinson, which is a quality so often desired by commentators around the country. His calm demeanour and the fact that he is also one of the more experienced referees currently officiating in the Premier League means he is a safe bet for the more explosive matches.

4. Mark Clattenburg (34 yellows, 0 reds)

A couple of years ago, Clattenburg would not have made the good list. His former tendencies to be erratic and inconsistent in big matches were key pieces of evidence on that front. However, after serving an eight-month ban for breach of contract he has enjoyed a renaissance. Now seen in high-profile games and aided by stronger and more accurate officiating, Clattenburg is one of the country’s top referees.

3. Howard Webb (29 yellows, 0 reds)

Up until the 2010 World Cup final, Howard Webb might have been recognised as the best referee in the world. However, the feisty nature of that match coupled with his decision not to send Dutch midfielder Nigel de Jong off for a ‘kung-fu’ challenge on Spain’s Xabi Alonso has tarnished his reputation somewhat. As a result, the FA has shared around the highest-profile matches more recently, despite Webb maintaining a level of respect from players that is rarely enjoyed. Is that because he’s a policeman?

2. Chris Foy (23 yellows, 1 red)

Steadfast and commanding, Foy finds himself high up on this list. Although recently developing a reputation for shyness in awarding penalties, Foy is a very capable referee who rarely makes glaring errors. Foy, 51, is currently in his eighteenth season as a professional referee and has worked his way up from the Football League to the top flight.

1. Andre Marriner (40 yellows, 4 reds)

Although card happy this season, Marriner has improved his officiating and is now considered to be one of the top referees in the FIFA family. The pinnacle of his career to date was the 2013 FA Cup final, where he became one of the few referees to show a red card in the final, after dismissing Manchester City’s Pablo Zabaleta for a reckless lunge. That he was chosen to officiate that match is evidence of the quality of his refereeing and could be in with a chance of travelling to Brazil next summer.

Now the bad…

5. Anthony Taylor (32 yellows, 2 reds)

One of the youngest referees in the Premier League, Taylor visibly lacks the experience required in big games. Unfortunately for him, he fails to assert his authority in matches, and players are often seen howling at his decisions. That he is rarely picked for games involving the top-flight’s largest teams suggests the FA lack confidence in him at this stage of his career.

4. Mike Dean (34 yellows, 2 reds)

Guilty of awarding soft penalties and often too card happy, Dean is also notorious for his inability to let games flow and is perhaps fond of the sound of his whistle. Despite his shortcomings, Dean is an experienced official and regularly oversees derby matches and other high-profile fixtures.

3. Phil Dowd (43 yellows, 0 reds)

In the past, Dowd was a figure of fun for his bulging waistline, but must attract praise for lifestyle changes that have helped him lose weight. Sir Alex Ferguson was one of the leading critics of his fitness, once remarking that Dowd was often found too far behind play to make key decisions. Dowd’s style also irritates, especially his snarling approach to on-field conversations and a whistle-happy tendency.

2. Jonathan Moss (33 yellows, 2 reds)

Moss, much like Taylor, has a lack of experience at the top level and consequently is prone to making decisions which are often inconsistent. He has twice been the specific subject of criticism on Match of the Day this season, and was guilty of a nightmare display in Crystal Palace’s trip to Old Trafford where several highly contentious decisions went against the Eagles – notably the dismissal of Kagisho Dikgacoi after Ashley Young’s dive.

1. Michael Oliver (44 yellows, 1 red)

To coin a popular phrase, Oliver is a ‘bottler’. A measure of a referee is their ability to withstand the heated atmosphere and pressured environment of top-flight football and, on many occasions, Oliver has quivered in the face of such requirements. He is, nevertheless, highly-regarded by the FA and has overseen his fair share of big matches. In mitigation, he is very young and will only improve with more experience, but has perhaps been promoted too soon into his career – and that is sorely evident.

  • You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89