A Q & A with Icelandic goalkeeper and Manchester City fan Gunnleifur Gunnleifsson

Gunnleifur Gunnleifsson  is an Icelandic goalkeeper who currently plays for Breiðablik, having spent most of his career with their rivals HK. Aged 39, he is still a key part of Iceland’s national team, having gained 26 caps. It is looking increasingly likely that he and his national team-mates will qualify for next summer’s European Championship finals. Gunnleifur is also a huge Manchester City fan, so I thought it a good idea to ask him a few questions about his life as a goalkeeper and of course about City.

Tell me a little about your early career. Did you always want to be a footballer, and were you always a goalkeeper?

From the moment I saw Rinat Dassaev, the goalkeeper of the Soviet Union in the 1982 World Cup, I knew I wanted to be a keeper. I started to train as a keeper 2 years before though, but at that moment I knew that to be a goalkeeper was all I wanted to do.

BT Sport, Football, pic: 1989, Rinat Dasaev, U,S,S,R, goalkeeper

 

Representing your country must be an amazing feeling. Do you remember getting your first call up, and your first appearance?

I think that being called up to representing your country in any sport is the biggest honour you can achieve in the world of sport. I got my call up in 2000, and played the last minutes against Malta, which ended 5-0 for us.

What is it like playing football in Iceland?

Well the pre-season is about 6 months long. We train from November to April and then the league starts in May and ends in October. Football is the biggest sport here in Iceland so everyone is looking forward to the summer here when the football starts for real.

Tell me a little about your current club Breiðablik? Was your move there controversial?

Breiðablik has the biggest youth system in the country. We have about 1600 kids who train with us – for example most of other clubs have about 300-400 kids.
About 3-4 kids go to play abroad every year from Breiðablik. Gylfi Sigurðsson my teammate in the national team and who plays for Swansea now, was with Breiðablik from 2003-2005 and then went to Reading.  As for myself, I was brought up at the other team in Kópavogur called HK who are in the first division now, and when I signed from FH then the champions of Iceland to Breiðablik in 2012, there was a bit of anger from HK . It’s water under the bridge now.

You’ve only played briefly abroad. Did you ever wish to play more in Europe or elsewhere?

I played for half a season in the Switzerland Super League in 2009 with FC. Vaduz and had a good time, but all through my career I have had lots of opportunities to play in Europe (i was even linked to United in 1998), but I have never had it in me to play professionally abroad. if i am honest I think I didn’t want to live away from Iceland.

Iceland seems to be punching well above its weight in international football, and regularly produces great players. Is there a specific reason for this, for a country with such a small population?

We had a breakthrough in the years after 2000 when we started to build football houses. That meant that kids now had an indoor pitch to train in the winter time. Since then football has exploded in popularity and we have lots of kids who are very promising coming up. The coaches here are also very well educated and that of course helps a lot. The coaches are very combined in teaching the kids that they can win against anybody and that sticks with you.

How does an Icelandic goalkeeper end up supporting Manchester City?!

I have always been a football fanatic. For example, I can even today name all the goalkeepers in every team in the 1982 World Cup, so I have always been addicted to football. When I was about 6 years old we could only see one game a weekend from England, and it was a week-old game. I have to mention that English football is hugely popular in Iceland and always has been. When I was 6 or 7 people supported Liverpool, Arsenal, Leeds, United, the usual suspects. And I too was becoming a United supporter – then I saw City play against Tottenham in the FA Cup Final, and I fell in love with the sky blue colour of the shirts. And through the next years I took everything I could from City. I even remember the years from 87-89 when players like Mark Seagraves, Nigel Gleghorn and Wayne Biggins played – I loved everything about Man City, and bought everything that I could that had the sky blue colour on it. My plan is to get all the shirts from 1981 to present – 1, 2 or 3 kits in every season. I am missing a few, and I have been looking for the 89 and 90 shirt but I haven’t found them.

Your son has an impressive collection of City shirts! Is he a huge fan?

I have collected City shirts from when I was a teenager and I have about 40 or something like that. My wife who is a United fan and I have 2 daughters 14 and 9 years old, and 2 sons who are 7 and 5. My sons are huge City fans and even can name which players has got what number, and we collect the shirts together now. We have for example an original Joe Hart shirt that Aron Gunnarsson of Cardiff got for us, and a Samir Nasri one that Gylfi Sigurðsson got. We also have a shirt number 12 from the 83 season – I don’t know who played in it.

shirts

You came over to Manchester earlier in the year to catch a match? Was it as enjoyable as you thought it would be?

Everything about the trip was fantastic except for the result. James Milner saved a point against Hull City. I took my older son with me for his first trip, and it is a privilege to get to do this with your son. We got very well treated in the Platinum box and the experience was fantastic.

As for City, it’s been a disappointing season. Where do you think it went wrong?

I don’t think it is a disappointment. You only have to look back 10 years or so and in that time we would have given our right arm for the place we ended in. We have to be realistic in that this will take time. No team wins always every time we will only get better and better.

How highly do you rate Joe Hart? I’ve had my doubts in the past, but he has clearly had a great season.

Well Hart is getter better every season. He is by far the best English keeper in the league, and I think he has his best years to come.

Apart from the obvious candidates, are there any other goalkeepers you really rate right now? Is Neuer the best of all?

I am a big fan of Gigi Buffon and in my opinion he is the best of them all. He has had a fantastic career and is a great leader on and of the pitch.

Is the English Premier League the most popular foreign league in Iceland? Who are the biggest English teams over there?

English football is like a religion in Iceland and has always been. The most popular teams are Liverpool, United Arsenal and the last few years Chelsea. I have seen more and more kids wearing a City shirt in the last couple years so we are also getting more popular here.

Finally, do you have plans for after you retire? Do you wish to stay in the game?

I have my coaching degrees and I have my goalkeepers’ academy here which is doing very well. I also have been doing a lot of TV work for the Premier League and Champions League which I like very much. I am also on the verge of renewing my contract with Breiðablik, and also hope that we will for the first time qualify for a big tournament with Iceland.
I will always be the biggest Icelandic City supporter and I am looking forward to all the glory in the coming years.

An Ode To James Milner

There was little surprise when it popped up on my Twitter timeline that he had officially gone, subject to a medical he can’t possibly fail. James Milner had moved on after five years, to pastures new, to sign for Liverpool, the lure of Champions League football not sufficient to retain a player wanting to play more often and more centrally. It had been the longest goodbye, that new contract never signed, the rumours of his next club constant and varied.

 

He will be missed, have no doubt about that. Not only are City seeping home-grown players away at a rate of knots, which will probably require the management to purchase English players they don’t really want to sign (at inflated prices), but City have lost a player valued at comfortably over £10m for nothing who will now have to be replaced, under existing Financial Fair Play constraints. No wonder that City tried so hard to keep him, though it is only a matter of time before a croissant-munching Sun journalist bemoans on the Sunday Supplement why City let him go, as Neil Ashton nods in agreement, recalling how City don’t play Englishmen so he was forced to go. He doesn’t justify being one of City’s top earners, but our management realised it was cheaper to overpay him than see him go and have to replace him at much greater cost.

 

Nor should we hold any grudges. City paid £24m for a player for the term of his contract, and any player is perfectly entitled to let it run its course and move on. If City signed someone on a free transfer you wouldn’t be complaining, and calls that he strung City along are drivel, and without any evidence. From what I have heard he really was torn between what to do in the future, and would have signed a new contract with City if he had felt that to be best for his career. It’s hardly as if he has done this for the money, especially after what City are reported to have offered him.

 

The key point is that City are losing a great squad player. James Milner was rarely injured. He was the consummate professional, a manager’s dream. Never in trouble, never causing trouble, never moaning, never letting a gobby agent act as a spokesman. James Milner never wore gloves during a match – he’d wear shorts for training in a blizzard. There is not one skill that James Milner is truly world class at, but there is not a single skill he is poor at- he’d probably even put in a good shift in net.

A tireless worker, he can pass, he can cross, tackle, and he proved himself adept in front of goal. Most crucial of all perhaps, his work-rate meant that when he was in the team, out wide, the full-back behind him was always protected. He made life easier for his team-mates, and allowed the more skilful of them the freedom to express themselves. He isn’t the greatest, but pretty much every squad in England would be stronger for his inclusion, as he could cover so many positions, and protect so many teammates.

  

For a while, I couldn’t understand the reasoning behind leaving. I wasn’t being blinkered or deluded, football has its own food chain, and unless you support the biggest club in the world (no, not them), there are clubs below and above you. And right now, a player with over 30 appearances a season for Manchester City should not be considering a move to Liverpool, who won’t be participating in the Champions League next season, nor in my opinion challenging for the title. But slowly, I saw his point of view, as his reasoning became common knowledge.
We know he wants to play centrally, like the Aston Villa player we signed all those years ago. City will never give him a permanent berth there, there’s too much competition, and whilst I am not convinced that it is actually his best position, he clearly thinks it is, wants to play there, and will naturally be swayed by a big club’s manager assuring him that he will play there, though with Brendan Rodger’s track record, I’d get something down in writing.
Secondly, he is the archetypal player who is desperate to play every week, and that trumps a big pay packet and perhaps even trophies. This is his last big hoorah, and he wants to play regularly, on his terms. Fair enough, especially if it helps add to his 53 England caps. Of course playing regularly is exactly what he has been doing in the past 10 months, he’s starred in as many league games as David Silva (though admittedly some were from the bench), but you suspect that with a busy transfer window ahead for City, he saw what lay ahead. Summer is coming, and with it less pitch-time for James Milner, and he never nailed down a proper 1st team place.

 

I just can’t get away from the feeling though that he has made a bad decision. Kudos to him for leaving and seeking a new challenge, and for taking a risk, but I just don’t see it as being a good move for him, I just don’t. As mentioned, he will get playing time in his preferred position, but unless you’re Lionel Messi or Ronaldo, he surely can’t have been promised to be picked every week, and if he has that sets a very dangerous precedent for Brendan Rodgers and his team, especially if he loses form and is still playing every week.

 

Anyway, this is surely a great signing for Liverpool, yes? Well I presumed so, but as I speak, Tony Evans is on Twitter, deriding the ambition of his club Liverpool for the signing. For free, it seems a steal, though it is never truly free with the signing on fee and the weekly wages, and Evans rightly pointed out that it does not say much for a team’s ambition if James Milner is one of your top earners. However, it is still a great signing if it is backed with other signings. I really don’t see how snapping up an England international on a free transfer can ever be considered a bad move. The worry will be that a central midfield pairing of Henderson and Milner has many things going for it, but it will hardly frighten their competitors.  

 

Still, the revisionism can now begin. Free of City’s shackles (as the ITV website bizarrely described his time at the club), now people may truly appreciate his worth, like they suddenly did when Gareth Barry left. Milner was always the scapegoat for England’s failures, and I hope one day that changes, for his sake. I hope he is fairly successful at his new club and has no regrets. City don’t need a James Milner to win trophies, but there will be matches when we would have benefitted from his presence, and will miss him now he is gone.
And so leaves another player integral to the most successful period in our history – we are left with the memories, from Manchester to Munich -all the best James Milner.

Football Journalist Q & A: Mark Ogden, Simon Mullock, Nick Miller & Rob Pollard

As another season drew to a close, I asked a few of our finest football journalists about the past season in the Premier League, both regarding Manchester City and their competitors. This is what they had to say…

Your general views on the Premier League season? A duller affair than previous campaigns?

Mark Ogden (MO): I think Chelsea’s flying start probably killed the campaign in terms of being a dramatic spectacle. City obviously moved level with them by the New Year, but once they got there, they seemed to lose momentum. Chelsea just kept going and the title race was as good as over by March, which is never a good thing.
Let’s be honest, last season was so full of stories – City winning two trophies, Liverpool almost winning the league, United in meltdown under Moyes – that it was always going to be a tall order for this season to match it for excitement and drama.

Simon Mullock (SM): Jose Mourinho is great copy for journalists, but the way Chelsea stonewalled their way to the title will have the Premier League big wigs praying that the Sky and BT execs who signed off on the new £5 billion TV deal have lost the receipt.
Mourinho’s Chelsea are the most boring champions since…well erm, Mourinho’s Chelsea. He is right about one thing though: City, United, Arsenal and Liverpool must share the blame for failing to mount a serious challenge.
With the title race over early, the other top-four places decided, and two of the three relegation slots filled before the final game, it was a dull, dull season.

Nick Miller (NM): Yeah, pretty tedious. It was pretty clear from months out who was going to win it, and who was going to occupy at least two of the top four spots (although I thought Liverpool would pip United for a while there), there haven’t been that many great games, even the best player in the league isn’t that exciting. Brilliant, obviously, but not like Ronaldo or Henry.

Rob Pollard (RP): Yeah, it was somewhat underwhelming. The lack of a proper title race was obviously the big drawback, but I do feel there’s a lack of quality in the Premier League at the moment and it needs addressing. The performances of the English teams in Europe only underlined that, really.

 

Does it matter if Chelsea’s style wasn’t the most exciting at times? Is such a claim even true?

MO: I’m not sure it is that big an issue. Chelsea still had players like Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas in their team and none of those can be described as lacking flair.
Maybe they just weren’t pushed enough by their rivals. Had they been forced to up their game to hold off City or Arsenal, then we may have seen more from them.

SM: It doesn’t matter if you’re a Chelsea fan. I’m of the opinion that football shouldn’t be a tickling contest, but do we really want the standard-bearers of the English game to play with such a snarl on their faces? Chelsea remind me of Don Revie’s Leeds side in their pomp. Feared, respected, but never loved. How can watching a team with players like Hazard, Fabregas and Oscar be such a joyless exercise?

NM: Not really. Mourinho’s not a boring manager but a very pragmatic one – he adapts to the situation. In any case, I’m one of those pricks who enjoys a really good defensive performance nearly as much as an attacking one.

RP: Chelsea are very pragmatic, which I think is something that shouldn’t be criticized too heavily. If they feel a point at home against one of their nearest rivals is enough, they go all out for that rather than risk losing the game. It irks Manuel Pellegrini, who’s much more of a purist, and I can kind of understand why, but the bottom line is it gets results. They finished eight points clear of City who dropped nine points to the three relegated sides. Perhaps if City had shown a touch more pragmatism, Chelsea wouldn’t have been allowed to run away with it in the way they did.
Having said that, the teams I’ve always most admired have been extremely attacking ones. Chelsea don’t, to my mind, come anywhere near the likes of the AC Milan side of the mid-2000s or the Barcelona side we all admire now.

 

Do you think Chelsea may dominate in seasons to come?

MO: No, because John Terry won’t go on forever and they will miss him in a big way when he retires.
Also, City are only a couple of players short of being a serious threat again. The same goes for Arsenal, if they find the players they need – but Arsene Wenger has had a blind spot about those type of players for the last decade.
As for United, they could go either way, depending on who they sign. I still think they have an awful lot of work to do before they can win the league again.

SM: No. City and United will spend heavily this summer and Arsenal must come good at some stage. It’s stating the obvious that Chelsea were the most consistent team, but they dropped plenty of unexpected points themselves. They got away with it because City fell off a cliff and Arsenal started the season in a sleep walk. A period of Mourinho domination would take English football into the Dark Ages.

NM: It’ll certainly be closer next season. Probably. Hopefully.

RP: No. They are very well equipped for success. Their academy is producing some seriously impressive players and they have a very clear, well thought-out transfer strategy, but City, too, have everything in place and they will like to think they can compete with them over the coming years.

 

Your team of the year? (4-4-2?)

MO: Courtois; Ivanovic, Demichelis, Terry, Azpilicueta; Sanchez, Matic, Silva, Hazard; Aguero, Costa.

SM: De Gea; Clyne, Smalling, Terry, Azpilicueta; Hazard, Matic, Silva, Sanchez; Aguero, Kane.

 

As for Manchester City, what do you think were the main reasons for such a disappointing campaign?

MO: I don’t think the World Cup helped, but you could argue that Chelsea overcame similar issues. Still, City had more players involved in the latter stages than Chelsea and I think it had a knock-on effect.
There has also been an element of City failing to truly strengthen last summer. They went for potential or experience, with nothing in between in terms of players in their peak.
Kompany’s form has been poor, Yaya has also been up and down, while Pellegrini’s tactics have become predictable.
There just seemed a general lack of motivation, which should be a worry.

SM: Last summer’s recruitment policy should by itself be a sackable offence – and I don’t blame Pellegrini for that. Yes, City were unfairly hampered by their FFP punishment, but Mangala, Fernando, Caballero, Sagna and Bony didn’t improve the squad, even slightly. I can only assume Mangala and Bony were bought with the future in mind, but the fact that City still managed to pay well over the odds at a time when they needed to be extra vigilant with the pennies doesn’t fill me with confidence.
City’s failure in the transfer market was then compounded by players like Kompany, Zabaleta and Toure looking like they have been asked to go to the well too many times.
But the big disappointment for me was that the likes of Dzeko, Nasri and Navas lacked the cojones to step up to the plate.
There also seemed a lack of motivation in some games (Stoke, Burnley x 2), Hull, Newcastle in the League Cup and Boro in the FA Cup) – and that is down to the manager.

NM: I think the players have got away with a lot of criticism – Yaya’s obviously got some, but people like Zabaleta, Nasri, Clichy, the strikers who aren’t Aguero, and obviously Kompany and Mangala have all been poor, or at least nowhere near as they could/should be. Pellegrini obviously takes some blame, but I’d say it’s as simple as lots of players having bad years at the same time.

RP: Loads. Their results against the lesser sides certainly harmed them, as did the lack of pace going forward, something that needs addressing this summer if they want to compete for trophies again. This group of players have been great for City but that’s twice now they’ve tried to defend their title and done so disastrously, which is a concern.

 

You may not want to commit – but do you think Pellegrini should go this summer?

MO: I actually think he should stay and it would do City great credit if he did. You can’t sack managers for finishing second.
Maybe he should be given a new contract to make him believe that he will be given the time to rebuild and take the team forward. The current situation of one year remaining on his contract will just lead to uncertainty.
I don’t think he is the world’s greatest tactician, but in two seasons, he has won two trophies and twice progressed to the CL knock-out stages.
Who knows? Had they been handed the route to the final that Juventus have had, City could have gone to the semis or even further.
It’s just the luck of the draw. But for Barcelona, United could have had two more European Cups on the honours list and, in a sense, City have only been denied greater progress in the competition because they have hit the same roadblock on two occasions.

SM: It would be a mistake if Pellegrini keeps the job by default. If City don’t think he will be the right man for the job this time next year then they should part company now. Not just for the good of the club, but out of respect to Pellegrini.
Serious clubs don’t tread water in the hope that they will land the golden boy at some point in the future. If Pellegrini is the man, then hand him a contract extension or risk a season of paralysing uncertainty.

NM: Depends if there’s anyone better out there. I’d replace him if Klopp fancied it, or if you could get someone like Simeone or Conte, but if not there’s no real point in changing for the sake of it. Oh, actually, Ancelotti – he’d be good. Yeah, ignore all that – get Carlo in.

RP: Not unless there’s a viable, long-term option who provides City with an upgrade, and I’m not sure there is one this summer, certainly not one the club wants. They’re desperate for Pep Guardiola, it’s that simple.

Do you think he will go? Is Pep Guardiola a pipe dream?

MO: I think Pellegrini stays this summer and no, Guardiola isn’t a pipe dream.
He has strong connections to City in Txiki and Soriano, but what I do think is a pipe dream is the perception that he will take the job just because his mates are in charge.
He will need a lot more than that to persuade him that City, rather than the likes of Arsenal, PSG or AC Milan are the club for him.

SM: I think Pellegrini will stay, but for all the wrong reasons. City clearly believe that Guardiola will eventually arrive as manager – and two Spanish executives have staked their reputation on it. My worry is that if or when Guardiola arrives it will be because he’s doing his two old mates a favour by slumming it in Manchester. The biggest mistake City could make is employing someone who thinks you’re beneath them, a bit like Robinho did.

NM: This summer, yes. Next, maybe not.

RP: You would have to assume the club have been given strong indications that he’s at least interested, otherwise the apparent strategy of putting all their eggs in one basket would be absolutely foolish.
He would provide City with many of the great things Pellegrini has brought, such as a continuation of the team’s attacking style, but he would bring a bit of excitement, too. Pellegrini has been seen, quite rightly, as somewhat dull and uninspiring in press conferences and so on, and perhaps City need a bit more than that to raise the profile of the club worldwide.

 

Is the age of the team as big a problem as some make out?

MO: Yes, because too many key players are in the same age group. If you want a warning sign of the future if the situation is not addressed, just think of the problems United have had with Giggs, Vidic, Ferdinand and Evra all going at the same time. That was terrible planning on United’s part and City cannot allow the same to happen. They need new blood alongside the old heads.

SM: I don’t think age was necessarily the problem this season, but the team has now definitely gone stale. Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Toure, Silva and Aguero were carrying the club three years ago. Another year on, though, and there does need to be an injection of youth, either from the Academy or through the transfer market. Top teams should really evolve, but City have got to the point where their poor recruitment strategy since 2012 means they now need perhaps five top-class signings all at once.

NM: I think we’ll see next season. The age isn’t necessarily a huge problem in itself – Kompany’s only just 29, etc – but if they’re all declining then obviously it’s a big problem. We’ll just have to see if this season has been a blip.

RP: Kompany got this right in his interview with Mullock earlier in the season when he said if City were winning, it’d be down to experience, but because they were losing, it was down to tired legs and an aging squad. Juventus have a similar aged squad and they’ve done well this season.
Having said that, it’s unsustainable. Youth and pace are needed this summer.

 

Where do you think the team needs strengthening this summer? Will City still be restricted, despite rumours of FFP changes?

MO: City will spend big this summer, but only within their means. The FFP relaxation is a bit of a red herring because Michel Platini is doing it because of concerns of the power of English clubs when the next TV deal kicks in next year. So if it is being devised to clip the English clubs’ wings, I don’t see it being too beneficial. But City want to run a sustainable model anyway, so they shouldn’t be worried. As for reinforcements, they need a decent left-back and two young, powerful midfielders.

SM: A Right-back, a centre-back, a central midfielder, an attacking wide midfielder and at least one striker. City swallowed the FFP pill last year and I’m told that the brakes will be off this summer. For Platini to look to relax the financial regulations now also shows what a con the whole sorry affair has been and I’d love City and PSG to take UEFA on in court to try to recover the fines they paid.

NM: I’ll ignore the FFP stuff because I still can’t quite get my head around it, but I reckon you need some pace in attack (up front or wide), someone to replace Yaya, another centre-half & maybe another holding mid, unless you’re going to persist with Fernando.

RP: As far as I am aware, the restrictions will be lifted and City fans can be confident of a big spend. The midfield needs reconstructing. I like Verratti at PSG and, as everyone knows, Pogba is a world star in the making. A striker will have to arrive if both Dzeko and Jovetic go, too. A left-back wouldn’t hurt either.

 

What has been your personal favourite moment of the season, both in your job and as a football fan?

MO: I think being in the Allianz Arena to watch Bayern hammer Porto 6-1 was the highlight, both as a fan and as a reporter. They were brilliant for half an hour and played football which was just beyond anything we have seen in the Premier League this season.

SM: I know it’s puerile, but Phil Jones doing his impression of the human centipede was a classic moment. If you want something a bit more serious then it has to be watching Messi, Suarez and Neymar take a wrecking ball to Guardiola’s Bayern Munich in the Nou Camp.

NM: Both the same, as it goes: Ben Osborn scoring the winner for Forest in the 92nd minute at Derby (https://youtu.be/iw3lF-Z4VSo?t=55m48s), about which I wrote a piece that made both my parents cry (http://www.inthetopone.com/2015/1/18/7689541/catching-the-dragon-derby-1-2-forest) – in a good way. Enjoyed all that.

RP: Personally, it was City’s win in Rome, which was a long-overdue, patient European display. City were much better than Roma and they showed it for the majority of the match. Watching Silva and Aguero play is also an absolute joy.
Professionally, interviewing Patrick Vieira, Colin Bell and Brian Marwood the day we were shown around City’s new academy was great fun.

 

As a football journalist, what are the most tedious and exciting parts of your job?

MO: Sorry Manuel, but those Friday press conference are the most tedious part of the job, simply because he shows no sign of wanting to engage in any conversation about anything. I think underneath the surface, there is an interesting football manager, but he never shows it and I don’t know why that is.
The best parts are turning up at big games, when there is an edge to the atmosphere and something at stake.

SM: 1: Waiting around for hours to ask players for an interview, only to be told to fuck off. 2: If getting paid to watch football doesn’t give you a buzz then you should indeed fuck off.

NM: There aren’t too many tedious or massively exciting parts to my job – it’s all a fairly steady level of ‘good’.

RP: Most tedious is having to read the comment section and my Twitter mentions. There’s only so many times you can be called a cunt before it gets incredibly boring. The most exciting is having an opportunity to cover the game and have a say. Simple as that, really.

 

And finally: how to fill a summer without football?!

MO: My last game will be June 14 and the first of next season will be July 17, so it’s a pretty brief summer!

SM: I’m delighted to say that my sports editor’s plan in this Ashes summer is to get me to cover some cricket.

NM: Cricket, baseball, books, going outside, talking to friends about things other than football, and endless transfer rumours. And then there’s all the football – Copa America, women’s World Cup etc. You’ll not get bored.

RP: I’ll be going on holiday to Chicago and watching tennis! The football will be back before we know it.

 

Bonus question if you support Notts Forest: (78% probability): Do you regret the Stuart Pearce reign?

NM: I really shouldn’t answer on principle because you called us ‘Notts’, but I’m a kind man willing to overlook these things. I didn’t want him as manager, but it was worth it for two moments: when he came out before his first game – I’ve never heard a noise like that at the City Ground – and the Derby win I mentioned before. I wish it had all been better, but those two made it worthwhile.

By way of an apology to Nick, be sure to check out his excellent piece about Pearce’s exit.
http://www.inthetopone.com/2015/2/2/7960863/so-farewell-then-stuart-pearce