How will Gerrard fare without his right-hand man?

It will be interesting to note how the respective campaigns for Aston Villa and Queen's Park Rangers transpire over the course of next season.

The latter appointed Michael Beale, Steven Gerrard's first-team coach of choice at Rangers and latterly Villa Park, as their new manager last week to replace the outgoing Mark Warburton, himself no stranger to the hot seat at Ibrox.

The 41-year-old Beale had made no secret of his desire to take on a top job for himself in the past, saying just last year: “One hundred percent I want to be a manager one day but I have a very unique idea of where I want to be a manager. I don’t just want to be a manager in the Football League, I want to be a manager within Europe and in different countries. I am just exploring and learning with this game. So I don’t feel the need or the urge to rush off and be a manager.”

Everyone's allowed to change their mind, of course, but taking on the QPR job sounds a bit like a compromise on Beale's behalf. The beneficiaries are likely to be the Championship side. Beale was given warm plaudits by Jurgen Klopp when he left Liverpool to become assistant manager of Sao Paulo in 2016, the German saying: “He is a very serious person and I'm sure he thought about it. It's a big adventure for sure. He did a wonderful job here and we worked really well together.”

Villa have been active early in the summer transfer market bringing in Diego Carlos from Seville, Boubacar Kamara from Marseille and making Philippe Coutinho's transfer from Barcelona permanent.

However, it is no secret that Beale was viewed as the real coaching power behind the throne during his time at Rangers and while the Gerrard-Beale axis has hardly been a revelation despite a promising start to their tenure in the Midlands, it will be interesting to observe how the former England captain fares without his trusted lieutenant beside him in the Villa dugout.

A chance for Clarke to experiment

It's very much a case of after the Lord mayor's show for Scotland at Hampden on Wednesday night as Armenia visit on Nations League duty.

Given the lethargic performance of some Scotland players in last week's play-off against Ukraine, it should provide Steve Clarke with the perfect opportunity to give playing time to some of the fringe members of his squad – even if this does represent the start of the European Championship qualifying process for 2024.

Armenia are ranked 92 in the world and had won just one international in 12 matches, prior to Saturday's 1-0 victory over the Republic of Ireland in Yerevan.

That should mean starts for those on the periphery of Clarke's squad such as newly-promoted Nottingham Forest defender Scott McKenna and Aberdeen's Lewis Ferguson. Experimentation should be considered in the striking positions - namely Ross Stewart and Jacob Brown - especially given the listless performances turned in by Lyndon Dykes and Che Adams in the defeat by Ukraine.

A hard one to swallow for Dallas

Andy Dallas took something of a risk leaving the relative sanctuary of League Two when he departed Cambridge United for Solihull Moors last summer. The 22-year-old former Rangers striker had spent the previous season on loan at Weymouth and could have been forgiven for thinking that he might be in danger of disappearing off the radar had he stuck around for too long in the National League. Nevertheless, impressed by their training set up and the progressive thinking of the club, Dallas told himself that it would not be long before he was returning to English football's fourth tier – alas following yesterday's defeat over Grimsby Town in the play-off final at Wembley that dream ended in agony. The optimist would say that based on this year's exploits it is surely only a matter of time before promotion is secured but as Dallas himself warned earlier this year: “The teams pushing for promotion in our league would be comfortable in League 2. There's not too much between the levels - but it is a hard ask to get out of this league.”

Golf's rebels putting money over morals

This column is old enough to remember the original rebel cricket tour to South Africa in which Graham Gooch, John Emburey and Geoffrey Boycott plus a couple of has-beens and never-would-bes defied the International Cricket Council by playing in the Apartheid state.

On the table was filthy lucre, a particularly tempting incentive given that cricketers were paid a pittance back in the days before central contracts and full-blown professionalism.

Which brings us to the Saudi Arabian golf league which pulled off something of a heist last week when it announced that Dustin Johnson, the world No.13 and Graeme McDowell, himself a major winner, had signed up for the controversial LIV Golf Series – and all of its sportswashing connotations. McDowell called it “a compelling opportunity” and referred to himself as a “business” carefully ensuring he inserted all the right noises about being the “right decision for me and my family” with significant riches on offer.

For a man who has won just under $20m in career earnings that all sounds rather euphemistically like putting money over morals to me.

Where now for Murray?

Andy Murray was asked by journalists if he had taken inspiration from the run of Rafael Nadal to another French Open crown and the performances of another thirtysomething Marin Cilic in reaching the last four. “Some inspiration,” he replied with a note of caution.

The 35-year-old skipped Roland Garros this year to concentrate on his preparations for Wimbledon and was knocked out in a Challenger event at Surbiton on Saturday – a performance that will clearly be viewed as a blow to those preparations and hardly comparable to the exploits of Nadal and Cilic. In cherry picking which events he is concentrating on over the summer months, Murray has followed a path set by Roger Federer who has – with some success - had to manage back and knee injuries in the way that the Scot has to measure his own workload in the light of his hip surgeries in 2018 and 2019.

However, if there is a seed of optimism for Murray as he targets Wimbledon it wasn't witnessed at the weekend in an event he last played in when he was 18 – where the three-time Grand Slam winner was beaten by the world No.84 Denis Kudla.


The total number of sets Rafael Nadal has dropped in French Open finals on his way to racking up his record 14 singles titles victories at Roland Garros.