MARTIN SAMUEL: In anyone's language, Greaves was a fine goal scorer

MARTIN SAMUEL: In anyone’s language, Jimmy Greaves was a fine goal scorer… he thrived in Italy at the height of Catenaccio despite never wanting to be there in the first place

  • There are myths over Jimmy Greaves, the biggest being he couldn’t cut it in Italy
  • As a player he was prolific, scoring nine goals in just 10 games for AC Milan 
  • He thrived at a time when the defending in Italy was notoriously at its toughest 
  • But Jimmy the professional didn’t want to be there and knew he made a mistake

There are any number of myths about Jimmy Greaves: the biggest is that he couldn’t cut it as a player in Italy.

On the contrary, as a player, he was fine. He scored nine goals in just 10 league games for AC Milan at a time when Italian defending was notoriously the toughest and most uncompromising in the world. Catenaccio – door-bolt in English – a highly defensive strategy, was at its height.

So to put Greaves’ brief run into perspective, had he played the whole 34 match season, scoring at his rate of nine in 10, he would have amassed 30 goals – eight more than Serie A’s top goal-scorers for that campaign, Jose Altafini and Aurelio Milani.

There are several myths about Jimmy Greaves, but he was a fine player during his time in Italy

Indeed, between Antonio Valentin Angelillo of Inter in 1958-59 and Fiorentina’s Luca Toni in 2005-06, nobody scored 30 goals in Italian football. As it was, in Greaves’ year, just 11 goals put an individual into the season’s top 10.

So Jimmy the player was thriving. Jimmy the professional, however, did not want to be there in the first place. He knew he had made a mistake the summer he joined and tried to get out of the transfer.

The coach who bought him, Giuseppe Viani, fell ill and was replaced by Nereo Rocco, the authoritarian perfector of the Italian catenaccio system at Padova, who clashed with his striker constantly. Greaves was back in England before Christmas.

Greaves (R), despite not wanting to be there, hit nine league goals for AC Milan in ten games

Some 35 years later, the captain of that Milan team, Cesare Maldini, was appointed manager of Italy, who were due to play England in their World Cup qualifying group. The newspaper Jimmy and I worked for thought it was a good idea to reunite the pair.

So out we went. Jimmy’s aversion to air travel meant the interview was being done as a day trip – late morning out, early evening back, no time to think, no time to waste.

We were on a coach to the terminal when a stranger pointed at Jimmy. ‘I know you,’ he said. Jimmy smiled politely. ‘Remind me,’ said the man. ‘Who are you again?’ ‘I dunno,’ replied Jimmy. ‘You’re the one who knows me.’ An absence of ego afforded him no interest in broadcasting his fame or his mission to his fellow passengers.

Maldini met us in the centre of Milan and the pair got on swimmingly, although with the same language barrier that was no doubt among the many complications in 1961. ‘Yimmy’, Cesare remembered, didn’t much care for training but spent a lot of time polishing his ‘Yaguar’. 

The players would be working, ‘Yimmy’ would be – he mimed the methodical burnishing of a shiny red bonnet.

Greaves (C) dazzled as a player but knew he made a mistake in moving the summer he joined

It came at a cost, Jimmy recalled. He mimed the stack of money he was due each week – it actually equated to £140 – and how it was reduced almost daily by fines. 

‘I had to score,’ he said. ‘I needed the win bonus to break even.’ He remembered sitting patiently on the ball waiting for play to restart during a 21-man brawl in the Milan derby. ‘I just let them get on with it,’ he said. ‘I got fined for that, too.’

One day, Jimmy seized on an idea he thought might result in some good publicity. ‘There were these girls who were always about outside the training camp,’ he said. 

‘They would watch training, wave and call out to the players. So I was driving in one morning and I got a few of them into the car. I thought they could meet the team, have their pictures taken, it would be good publicity.’

This is how Milan’s star striker came to pull into work with his Yaguar full of excited local prostitutes. ‘Cost me a fortune, that did,’ said Yimmy. But they still didn’t sack him. You won’t get away with that if you can’t play.


A lot of people can get very upset by Gary Lineker’s opinions. They don’t like him talking about Brexit, about immigration, about the placement of refugees. This is strange because, as a citizen of the United Kingdom, he is entitled to his view on all of these subjects which affect him, his children and the society in which we live.

It is more than likely, however, that Lineker will never have to make the judgement call that fell to David Moyes in the last minute of West Ham’s match with Manchester United on Sunday. Lineker has never been a manager and is never going to be a manager. 

So he doesn’t know what it is like to get a penalty with the final kick of the game, to look along the bench and see the club penalty-taker sitting there and a comparative novice standing over the ball.

And neither do those of us in the press box. So maybe it is time to cut Moyes a bit of slack and not judge too harshly the decision he made to bring on Mark Noble, and stand down Declan Rice.

It is time to cut David Moyes some slack and not too harshly judge Mark Noble’s substitution

Noble had scored his previous 10 penalties for West Ham. He last missed on December 14, 2016, against Burnley. Rice has taken two penalties in his West Ham career, and missed one – the last, against West Bromwich Albion in May. 

In a world in which we are increasingly in thrall to the power of statistical analysis it seems bizarre that Moyes should be decried for valuing the facts above gut instincts about players entering cold. So he went with his proven penalty-taker, the man who would have simply been handed the ball by Rice had he already been on the field.

And then Noble missed, for the first time in almost five years. Those, like Lineker, who described Moyes’ decision as ‘baffling’ are unfair. Ultimately, it depends on whether the ball goes in the net. 

If David de Gea goes the wrong way – as he has done frequently, given he last saved a Premier League penalty on October 5, 2014 – Moyes has made the smart move.

And what of those who argued that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should have removed De Gea before he failed to stop 11 Villarreal penalties straight, as Manchester United lost the 2021 Europa League final?

Noble (centre) was brought on to take a late penalty against Manchester United but missed it

Is Solskjaer now a genius for keeping De Gea on against West Ham, rather than turning to Tom Heaton on the bench? After all, it was the last kick of the match. Going down to 10 men would not have troubled Manchester United.

So Solskjaer is now right for doing exactly the same thing as he did against Villarreal, when he was wrong. And Moyes is wrong for doing exactly what Sir Alex Ferguson did in the 2008 Champions League final, when Anderson was brought on in the fifth additional minute of extra time, took a penalty cold, scored and his manager was hailed as a motivational genius.

Eric Dier comes from nowhere to take England’s anchor penalty against Colombia, scores, and Gareth Southgate is bold and insightful. Bukayo Saka misses and he is a fool for heaping pressure on one so inexperienced. It’s post-cognition. After it’s happened, everyone sees it coming.


Good on John McEnroe for refusing to apologise for the comments he made about Emma Raducanu at Wimbledon. Nothing he contributed was wrong, or judgemental or demeaning, and all of it came from a position of wisdom and experience.

‘I meant exactly what I said,’ insisted McEnroe, referring to his commentary on Raducanu’s extreme distress under enormous pressure in her debut Grand Slam. ‘I tried to relate it in a small way to my experience when I first went to Wimbledon, also at 18.’

He added he thought his views were uncontroversial. Raducanu and her team certainly thought so, acting on his appraisal and addressing those infant problems magnificently.

Yet still wilful misinterpretation continues. ‘Raducanu has very much silenced those critics,’ sniffed Martina Navratilova. ‘I said that at the time “STFU” because you don’t know what you’re talking about.’ 

Except McEnroe did. That is why he is paid the big bucks. For the analysis and insights the others are too scared or shallow to give.


One of the reasons Jonathan Van-Tam and other medical experts spend endless hours countering misinformation around Covid and vaccines is that so much is allowed to go unchallenged.

Take the views of Ravi Shastri, India coach and the man whose book launch is suspected to have contributed to the Covid outbreak that gave this summer’s tourists the chance to scoot for the border and the IPL.

Shastri was asked if he feared being made a scapegoat for the curtailed series. ‘They tried to make it that way,’ he said. ‘But I wasn’t worried because incubation probably takes weeks.

Ravi Shastri could have got Covid at his party or been contagious then, despite his explanation

‘There were about 250 people there and no one got Covid from that party. I’ve not got it at my book launch because it was on August 31 and I tested positive on September 3. It can’t happen in three days.’

But Covid incubation does not take weeks. We know this. That is why healthcare professionals set quarantine periods at 10 days. We also know infection can happen in a matter of days and in extreme cases as little as 48 hours after contact. 

The average incubation is five days, meaning Shastri could have got Covid at his party, or certainly been contagious then, having contracted the virus previously. 

Yet, too often, we let distortions or outright ignorance pass unchallenged. The first casualty of letting everyone tell their truth is the truth. And where Covid is concerned, it truly matters.


Not so long ago a player could make the England team even from outside the starting XI at his club. Certain clubs, anyway. Those in the elite were considered so strong, it was normal for England players to be on the fringe. 

Danny Welbeck couldn’t always get in for Manchester United but he was a regular for Roy Hodgson. That has changed. The debate around whether this current England group would win the Premier League is now valid. 

So if Callum Hudson-Odoi cannot make Chelsea’s team, it also suggests he is short for England. 

If that sends him into the arms of Ghana before the 2022 World Cup, so be it. Gareth Southgate has long insisted he will not compromise on this issue and it has done him little harm to here. 


Incredibly, it is still being debated whether Manchester United are better with or without Cristiano Ronaldo. So far, he has scored in every game he has played in all competitions and amassed four goals in three matches. 

Indeed, if he continued scoring at his current rate in the Premier League alone, he would finish with 52 goals. It will not happen because he surely cannot play every game or score three goals every two matches. 

Yet are we seriously saying any club might be better off without a 50 goal per season striker? Indeed, would we even be having this conversation were it any player other than him? It’s ridiculous. 

It is ridiculous it is being debated whether United are better with or without Cristiano Ronaldo


It is possible to see both sides in the stand-off between Pep Guardiola and Manchester City’s supporters.

To begin with, any club that averaged 28,273 in 1998-99 while in the third tier has loyal followers. 

Having said this, a crowd of 38,602 for a Champions League game against RB Leipzig is disappointing, particularly when City’s previous game in the tournament was the final and their last European fixture in front of a home crowd was on November 26, 2019, versus Shakhtar Donetsk.

What a setback it would be for the ambitions of the club, then, if 10 trophies won since the days when they were playing the likes of Macclesfield, Chesterfield and Wrexham, added less than 10,000 to their hardcore support.

The concern from Manchester City fans was that Pep Guardiola’s words left them open to jibes

Indeed, if fewer than 39,000 are inspired by Champions League football, one wonders how many Manchester City would carry into League One these days? Would they still be able to pull that 28,000?

Yet the supporters’ main concern seemed to be that Guardiola’s comments left them open to the taunts of rival fans, who mock the number of empty seats visible on Champions League nights. 

And, yes, football is expensive and some people still do not feel safe in crowded spaces, and the animosity between City and UEFA is well known.

Even so, if offence is being taken at jibes from without, surely the best way to answer them is to get a mate and go, rather than turn on the man whose football often delivers the best value ticket in town.


An unsolicited email invites the nomination of a candidate for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Unsung Hero Award 2021. 

As ever, my vote goes to anyone who sits through this self-congratulatory snooze-fest without kicking the television in. 

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