The Joe Royle Column

AS much as I despise the play-offs I can't deny that last week there was only Cardiff who are unlikely to make the play-offs and at the same time are not in any relegation problems.

AS much as I despise the play-offs I can't deny that last week there was only Cardiff who are unlikely to make the play-offs and at the same time are not in any relegation problems.

That for me is the biggest recommendation for the system as for me the whole thing is money driven. I'm a bit prehistoric in my views about how football should be played and run and if the fans like it then I have to listen and they certainly like the excitement right to the end of the season.

But I just feel sorry for the team which finishes third and it is quite possible, although not this year, that they can finish eight or ten points clear of the team that goes up.

That said, I will gladly put my feelings about the play-offs aside and take one of those places and take our chance to get promoted.

The other down side is the season finishes three weeks later than everyone else and you have less time to prepare for the Premiership and can't decide pre-season games, fitness programmes or make approaches for players.

That said, I'm in the big minority and I know it.

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WHILE I can see the sense in talk of a two-tier Premiership, I'm not totally sure how it would work. I would have to see the full ramifications of having a two-division Premiership and what financial aspects are involved.

On the face of it if the money at the top were more widely spread that would make sense.

Sides in the second tier of the Premier League would probably be better prepared for dropping down into the Nationwide League and it would not be such a huge drop.

They would be able to plan and prepare a bit earlier. The whole thing would be a bit more graded and not such a shock.

Frugality is clearly the watchword throughout football now, as is seen at the transfer deadline now where there is hardly any activity, unlike in the past where I have sat by my desk up until a minute to five on deadline day with deals still being done.

Someone would have to be pretty silly to get themselves into such financial straits again after the examples of Bradford, Sheffield Wednesday, Leeds United and, to a lesser extent, Derby and ourselves.

The real gamblers this season would appear to be my old club Manchester City, who have spent around £50m in a bid to get into Europe, or even a foothold in the top half.

They have to stay up and I believe they will but they are looking over their shoulders.

Everybody has been saying for 20 games they are too good to go down but the lessons of the last time at City and those of Sheffield Wednesday tells everyone there is no such thing as 'too good to go down'.

THERE have been interesting developments in the red half of my home city with a big money man, Steve Morgan, looking to underwrite a share issue at Liverpool FC and possibly take the club over.

In turn the Liverpool board have said thanks but no thanks but it will be fun to see if it ends there.

The company Steve Morgan owns is a big building firm in the city but I don't know how much money they have or what would be involved.

Liverpool have always been a friendly club who keeps things in-house. They have always done things the 'Liverpool' way, even though things have changed in terms of training under Gerard Houllier after years of the methods adopted by Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan, and even Roy Evans although Graeme Souness tried to change things perhaps a little too quickly.

Whether they would break tradition by eventually allowing new money into the club only the board really know.

I know the people of Liverpool are disappointed in how they have fallen behind Manchester United, in particular, and then Arsenal and now Chelsea.

They still see themselves with a great history and want to be back in a situation where they can pursue those days again.

That said, they have still spent an awful lot of money. Gerard has won six trophies in his reign and has spent in excess of £100m. Liverpool is a massive brand name around the world, in particular in Scandinavia, Ireland and the Far East. I'm sure they are not short of money but everyone will have taken heed at the lesson learnt at Leeds, who tried to join the platinum group and virtually bust themselves doing so.

But it also shows how far the top three have pulled away from the rest. Liverpool, a massive club with a great history, are nearer in points to the bottom three than Arsenal at the top.

That will hurt the Anfield fans and the hierarchy.

ONE of the most important relationships at a football club is between the chairman and the manager and it appears at Oxford United things are not well. For Ian Atkins to announce that he is going to take over at Bristol Rovers in the summer would indicate there is a problem at Oxford.

Without knowing the details of the contract it is difficult to say too much but I doubt the chairman Firoz Hassam has a one-way option whereas he can say if I want you to stay then you will.

Very seldom these days are contracts one way so options are usually down to either the club or the manager saying enough.

But if the manager and chairman are not getting on, as locking Ian Atkins out of the ground and bringing in Graham Rix appears to indicate, then a parting of the ways is probably best anyway.

TALKING of managers, Claudio Ranieri gains more dignity every day by the way he continues to handle the situation. Someone at the club should say something to Claudio and if Roman Abramovich is not going to then chief executive Peter Kenyon should say whether he is going to be backed or not.

It can't be nice for Claudio and the team to go into each game, whether to progress past the quarter-finals of the Champions' League or try and win the Premiership, where they have the best chance apart from Arsenal of winning the league, with this going on every day.

THIS may sound a little incestuous as we try not to use this column for Ipswich Town matters but what a great day for the Academy again last weekend.

Not just our boys here but I sat down at the weekend to watch Newcastle play Charlton and there were Titus Bramble and Darren Ambrose. We know, of course, that Kieron Dyer is also up there and it is another pat on the back for Bryan Klug and the boys who do such a great job here.

We are in the position where parents want to bring the kids here, irrespective of our current league position, because they know they are going to get the right treatment and the right coaching.

Everyone knows about our 'B-force' in Darren Bent and Dean Bowditch who each scored a hat-trick last week and they are a great advertisement – not that our Academy needs it with the reputation it already has. That is why we get so many scouts at Academy games, never mind first-team matches.

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