Ten times Phil McNulty got his football predictions very wrong

Tim Daniels Soccer

Phil McNulty’s predictions about Marouane Fellaini, Claudio Ranieri and Roy Hodgson were just a few he was left to regret

When journalists get it right we understandably congratulate ourselves on our expertise, foresight and pat ourselves on the back – but what about when we get it wrong?

In the spirit of fun and laughing at ourselves (or in this case myself), let’s have a look at 10 classic cases of the BBC Sport chief football writer’s crystal ball being very dusty.

We also want to hear when you have got it very wrong in terms of footballing predictions. Let us know via #bbcfootball.

Tipping Leicester City to go down – only to see them crowned champions

Claudio Ranieri lifted the Premier League trophy as Leicester boss in 2016

When Leicester City appointed ‘The Tinkerman’ Claudio Ranieri on 13 July 2015 their fate was sealed – or so I thought.

My Premier League predictions for the season 2015-16 not only lambasted the appointment of Ranieri but piled on the pain that was heading The Foxes’ way by tipping them for relegation.

Read these words and marvel at their inaccuracy.

“The appointment of Claudio Ranieri means I fear the worst. It is at best left field and at worst uninspiring and unwise.

“A charming man but perhaps one out of time with the Premier League having last worked there with Chelsea in 2004.”

So “out of time” in fact that he guided Leicester City to the Premier League title in one of the most remarkable stories in the history of British sport.

I was not on my own but it did not make the original claim any less embarrassing.

Pep’s Mahrez madness – or not, as the case may be

Liverpool and Manchester City fought out a magnificent title race last season – with Pep Guardiola’s side travelling to Brighton the final day needing victory to retain their Premier League crown.

All was well as they led 2-1 but something was troubling me, namely Guardiola’s decision to select Riyad Mahrez.

Obviously I knew best. Hence this tweet in the 62nd minute.

“Mahrez – who will now no doubt score – has been really poor today. Odd selection by Guardiola.”

Literally as fingers were lifted from the keyboard, Mahrez tricked a Brighton defender before unleashing a right-foot rising drive that tore past Brighton keeper Mat Ryan from 20 yards.

In this moment the title was won and even the flimsy safety net of suggesting Mahrez might score was no protection from the scorn.

The tweet received more than 1,500 “likes” plus requests for winning Lottery numbers.

Liverpool’s ‘perfect’ appointment turns into a shambles

Roy Hodgson was appointed Liverpool manager in July 2010

When Liverpool appointed Roy Hodgson as successor to sacked Rafa Benitez in July 2010 there was unquestionably a logic behind the decision.

Liverpool were a great club left in reduced circumstances by the dysfunctional American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett and Hodgson, at the time, represented a safe pair of hands with an imminent change of ownership on the way.

Hodgson had performed the unlikely feat of taking Fulham to the Europa League final, where they lost to Atletico Madrid in Hamburg, and had experience of taking charge of a European superpower at Inter Milan.

He had also just been voted the League Managers’ Association Manager Of The Year.

What could possibly go wrong – apart from just about everything?

My suggestion Hodgson was “perfect” for Liverpool was, in retrospect, a description that may only have suited those praying for the club’s demise.

Hodgson never came to terms with the job, albeit a difficult one at the time.

Liverpool were dumped out the Carling Cup by League Two Northampton Town at Anfield in September and The Kop was calling for their idol Kenny Dalglish during a home defeat by newly promoted Blackpool in October.

Hodgson was sacked by new owners Fenway Sports Group in January with Liverpool 12th and having won only seven of 20 league games.

Not “perfect” at all.

Many wrong predictions for the price of one

It was December 2013 and the request came to predict where the big prizes would be handed out and the big personalities would emerge by summer 2014.

To say the radar was a bit wonky is a generous understatement.

The World Cup would, of course, be won by hosts Brazil – a prediction slightly undermined by their historic 7-1 semi-final defeat by eventual winners Germany.

Jose Mourinho would celebrate his return to Chelsea by winning the Premier League. Well, apart from the fact Manchester City just edged out Liverpool, that was fairly near the mark.

Liverpool’s consolation, according to this soothsayer, would be winning the FA Cup. Congratulations, Arsenal – who came from 2-0 down to beat Hull City at Wembley.

Champions League winners? Why Bayern Munich of course. Well done Real Madrid for winning ‘La Decima’, their 10th win in the competition.

Personality of 2014 was called spot on. On entirely the wrong basis.

I picked Liverpool’s Luis Suarez for his football genius as he tore up up the Premier League in a blizzard of brilliance after serving a 10-match ban for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic at Anfield in the previous season.

He was the personality all right – but only because he left the World Cup in Brazil, and subsequently Liverpool for Barcelona, in shame after being banned from all football-related activity for four months for biting Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini in a group game.

But what’s this?

The law of averages suggest one prediction had to come true. Manchester City obliged by beating Sunderland 3-1 to win the Capital One Cup.

Fellaini Twitter tomfoolery

Manchester United signed Everton midfielder Marouane Fellaini for £27.5m in 2013


I was never convinced by the merits of Marouane Fellaini. Bit of a flat-track bully against the smaller sides but not much doing against the big boys.

As we know, the secret of good comedy is timing.

So what better moment to throw this contentious theory into the Twittersphere than four hours before Everton’s opening game of the 2012-13 season against a Manchester United side, bolstered by the signing of Robin van Persie, who ended manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s final campaign as Premier League champions?

I tweeted: “Took heavy flak from Everton fans for saying Fellaini does not influence enough big games – let’s see how he goes against Man. Utd tonight.”

Cue arguably Fellaini’s finest Premier League performance, terrorising Manchester United in all parts of the pitch and reducing makeshift central defender Michael Carrick and his colleagues to rubble.

And, just for good measure, Fellaini scored Everton’s winner with a towering second-half header before departing to a thunderous standing ovation from all corners of Goodison Park.

Being told to “stick that in your pipe and smoke it” was one of the more generous Twitter responses.

Liverpool will win the league – 10 years too soon

If there is one incorrect call that comes back to haunt on a regular basis, this is the one.

It was the start of the 2009-10 campaign and I had seen enough from Liverpool under Rafa Benitez to decide this was the season they would end a title wait stretching back to 1990.

Given the decade of mockery this call has brought since, it is worth adding some context. This was not a madcap notion based on little or no evidence.

Liverpool had finished second, only four points adrift of Manchester United, in the previous campaign.

It was the season of Benitez’s so-called ‘facts’ rant against Sir Alex Ferguson but also one where Liverpool had won 4-1 at Old Trafford and annihilated Real Madrid over two legs in the Champions League.

I did cover myself with these words: “Hopes have never been higher that the title will be reclaimed after a 20-year barren spell – but was last season the great missed opportunity or the primer for the Premier League crown?”

It was, emphatically, the latter but there was no going back as I finished confidently with the word “CHAMPIONS”.

The curse had struck.

Liverpool finished seventh, trophyless, Benitez was sacked at the end of the season and they still wait to win the title to this day.

Other than that, it was a stunningly accurate prediction.

Man City sack Hughes and appoint Mancini – now why would they do that?

Roberto Mancini led Manchester City to the Premier League title in 2012

It was December 2009 – and after much speculation, Manchester City sacked Mark Hughes.

I felt this was harsh as City were sixth in the Premier League, having lost only twice (too many draws, yes) and were in the semi-finals of the Carling Cup.

I also questioned the logic of City’s new owners in giving Hughes around £200m to spend, then sacking him when there was still reasonable cause for optimism.

In fact, many City fans agreed.

Not content with questioning that, I waded in on the appointment of his successor Roberto Mancini, claiming he had “appeared from nowhere and out of exile to move City forward”.

He had a good record in winning Serie A three times with Inter Milan and a decent one at Fiorentina and Lazio but was unproven in the Premier League.

While in the hole, why not keep digging?

“Time will tell if this is a wise move or a designer-manager decision by a hierarchy simply keen to have a bigger, more high-profile, name on the door.”

Time did tell.

Mancini guided City to their first major trophy in 35 years when they won the FA Cup in 2011, then their first title in 44 years with that Sergio Aguero moment in 2012.

Unwise words as Man Utd pull off a miracle

Prediction – or indeed criticisms – are never more dangerous than when you think you are on the safest ground possible.

Those are the times when you can loosen your tie, kick back and lay into a team and manager confident nothing you write will bounce right back in your face in short order.

Manchester United being played off the park by Paris St-Germain in the Champions League last 16 first leg at Old Trafford last season, a night when the 2-0 margin was hugely flattering to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, was exactly one of those occasions.

Safe in the knowledge there would be no coming back from this, who wrote that this kind of defeat was “the outcome of years of mismanagement at Old Trafford”?

Who wrote: “It would be optimism gone mad to suggest the second leg in Paris will be anything other than a completion of formalities”?

Yes, you’ve guessed it.

And there was plenty more – all of it looking very stupid when Marcus Rashford’s injury-time penalty gave United a 3-1 win in Paris and put Manchester United into the last eight on the away goals rule.

Spurs are not among Europe’s best – well not at first anyway

This was another case of going too early. Far too early in the case of Tottenham Hotspur and their place in European football’s pecking order.

Judgement was delivered after Spurs lost 4-2 at home to Barcelona in the Champions League group stage in October 2018.

In the same room at Wembley a year earlier, after demolishing Real Madrid 3-1, then manager Mauricio Pochettino announced: “We now not only belong with the best in England but in Europe as well.”

It was boldly announced on these pages (albeit after successive losses to Inter Milan and Barca) that Pochettino’s claim “no longer stood up to close scrutiny” and “it is stretching reality and credibility to suggest they are among the best in Europe.”

Turns out they were not so bad after all – especially as they reached the Champions League final.

Going too early on Unai’s Arsenal revolution

Unai Emery was appointed Arsenal manager in May 2018

Arsenal’s 4-2 win over Spurs on 2 December 2018 was a thrilling confirmation of everything the Gunners and their fans were getting from Unai Emery in the post-Arsene Wenger era.

Unai’s Arsenal took Spurs to the cleaners. The scoreline did not reflect the extent to which they dominated this game.

Arsenal were somehow 2-1 down at half-time. There was no real need for change but Emery changed anyway, introducing Alexandre Lacazette and Aaron Ramsey, who scored one and made one respectively as Spurs were overpowered. It was the work of a tactical master.

I got carried away – although was joined by thousands of home fans who chanted thunderously: “We’ve Got Our Arsenal Back”.

I wrote: “Emery has blown the winds of change through Arsenal like a hurricane. It is, quite simply, like watching a different team in a different stadium.”

Well it was then. And it was also part of a 22-match unbeaten run so positivism was not exactly out of place.

Emery – despite taking Arsenal to the Europa League final, where they were thrashed 4-1 by Chelsea in Baku – was sacked almost exactly a year later.

Under him, Arsenal fans did get their Arsenal back but it was the vintage none of us saw coming when Spurs were thrashed amid those scenes of joy.

Add another to roll of dishonour. Crystal ball in the bin.