18 of football's most embarrassing predictions ever

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Here at FourFourTwo, we were left rather red-faced last summer when Wycombe Wanderers beat Oxford United in the League One playoff final. It's not that we didn't wish Wycombe well - on the contrary - it was that 12 months prior, we'd predicted the Chairboys to finish 23rd out of 24 in the division. Oops.

You can imagine the stick we got on social - and fair play. Wycombe manager and nicest man in football Gareth Ainsworth took the forecast brilliantly, however, pinning up the copy of the magazine in his office as a visual aid to spur his team on and prove the doubters wrong (that's us, lads). 

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But we're not the only ones to make mistakes. As Wycombe showed us, it's especially embarrassing if you're over-confident and supposed to know what you're talking about...

1. Charles Dayot vs PSG

Don’t worry, we’d never heard of the mayor of Mont-de-Marsan (a pretty town on the edge of the Gascogne national park in south-west France) either. That was until he said he'd “eat a rat” if PSG didn’t reach the Champions League quarter-finals after beating Barcelona 4-0 in the first leg of their last-16 tie in 2016/17.

Good to his word, after Sergi Roberto’s 95th-minute winner, Dayot chowed down on some rodent in front of the town. Good lad.

2. Mark Lawrenson vs Bolton

Before rat-eating mayors came Lawro and his lip-tickler of doom. When the BBC pundit condemned the Trotters to an immediate return to Division One at the beginning of the 2001/02 season, a four-strong group of Bolton fans – including FFT’s very own Gary Parkinson – challenged him to put his famous 25-year-old moustache where his mouth was.

Sam Allardyce’s side stayed up and Lawro had his tache shaved off at a fancy London barbers for charity, despite the proud Prestonian’s initial fears that his two-year-old son Sam wouldn’t recognise him. Lawro’s top lip has remained naked ever since.

3. Pele vs everyone

Where do you start with the three-time World Cup winner’s barmy sooth-saying? To date, O Rei has predicted an African winner of the World Cup by 2002 (nope), Colombia to win USA 94 (finished bottom of the group, defender Andres Escobar tragically shot dead back home) and Nick Barmby to be a world star to rival Roberto Baggio by 1995 (he was playing for Middlesbrough).

Perhaps best of all, however, was: “Nii Lamptey is my successor,” after watching the future PSV, Aston Villa and Coventry forward star at the 1991 U17 World Cup for Ghana.

4. Dietmar Hamann vs Leicester

“Can’t believe Leicester appointed Ranieri,” tweeted the former Liverpool midfielder just after Don Claudio took the King Power reins in July 2015. “Great club, great fanbase but I’m afraid MK rather Old Trafford season after next.”

Fast-forward 12 months: the Foxes were Premier League champions and MK Dons had been relegated. Come on, Didi, who in their right mind would have predicted Leicester to go down?


5. Alan Hansen vs Manchester United

The granddaddy of them all. “You can’t win anything with kids,” became a catchphrase which has followed the former Liverpool defender ever since he predicted a tough season for Manchester United after an opening-day 3-1 reverse in August 1995.

“Aston Villa, at 2.15pm when they got the teamsheet, it’s just going to give them a lift and it’ll happen every time he plays the kids. He’s got to buy players. It’s as simple as that. The trick to winning the championship is to have strength in depth. They just haven’t got it,” proclaimed Hansen on Match of the Day.

Those 'kids' were David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Phil Neville and Nicky Butt. By the end of 1995/96, Mancester United had won a Premier League and FA Cup double.

6. Terry Venables/Jeff Powell/Jimmy Greaves vs Crystal Palace

Depending on who you believe, one of this venerable trio – the Palace manager, the Daily Mail journalist, the ex-pro pundit – were first to hail the recently crowned 1979 Division Two champions as the forthcoming “team of the '80s”.

Left-back Kenny Sansom soon left for Arsenal, Venables to coach Second Division QPR and Palace were relegated in 1981, not to be seen in the top flight again until 1990. Oh dear.

7. Ian Holloway vs Huddersfield

“I haven't seen much progression from the club during the back end of last season,” wrote professional caricature Ian Holloway in predicting that the Terriers would finish second-bottom of the 2016/17 Championship. “David Wagner is pretty inexperienced and if results turn, then they may struggle to turn things around.”

Sure enough, the German-American proceeded to mastermind Huddersfield’s play-off triumph. “By the way, Ian Holloway, all the best for next season,” winked Wagner during the Wembley celebrations. 

(From 1:45)

8. Kevin Keegan vs David Batty

In fairness, ITV commentator Brian Moore didn’t leave Mighty Mouse much warning as Keegan’s former Newcastle charge David Batty ran up to take the deciding penalty when England faced Argentina in the last 16 of the 1998 World Cup. Say “yes” and risk being wrong, or say “no” and doubt your player’s ability.

“Do you back him to score?” asked Moore, with Batty mid-run-up, “Quickly – yes or no.” Keegan was positive. You can guess the rest.

9. Henry Winter vs Newcastle

Fair play to the then-Telegraph chief football writer for fronting up to a promise to swim the Tyne (its width, not length; that would be excessive) if fireplace-vomiting Newcastle supremo Mike Ashley backed manager Alan Pardew with a new contract. An eight-year deal inked in 2012, Winter donned his cozzie, raising money for the Bobby Robson Foundation, and was greeted by a Magpies towel and note from Pards.

“The first two-thirds were a doddle and I thought: ‘This is OK, a nice gentle paddle across the Tyne,’” Winter said. “But then suddenly the current hit and it was like the fast lane of the motorway.”

10. Uli Hoeness vs England

“How are England going to win in Germany?” parped the former international and Bayern Munich general manager as the two old foes prepared to do battle in September 2001 for World Cup qualifying. “It hasn't happened for 100 years. I have no doubts whatsoever that Germany will quite clearly thrash England. They will easily qualify for the World Cup with this match.”

For 12 whole minutes it looked like he might be proven right. Carsten Jancker put the Germans ahead, but a Michael Owen hat-trick plus goals from Steven Gerrard and Emile Heskey secured a 5-1 England win.

Both teams qualified for the following summer’s World Cup, Germany reaching the final. And that’s the real quiz.

11. Andre Villas-Boas vs Arsenal

When Spurs won the North London derby to go seven points clear of the Gunners in March 2013, their Portuguese manager was in bullish mood.

“We are on an upward spiral in terms of confidence and they are in a negative spiral in terms of results,” he beamed. “To get out of that negative spiral is extremely difficult.”

Spurs lost their next two matches to Liverpool and Fulham, while Arsenal won eight of their remaining 10 games to finish one point ahead of their local rivals and in the Champions League places. Gareth Bale joined Real Madrid that summer, and AVB was out of job by December. That’s some spiral.

12. Alan Ball vs Martin Phillips

A fleet-of-foot teenage winger for Exeter, ‘Buster’ Phillips was the hottest of properties in 1995. Manchester City manager Ball certainly thought so, boldly proclaiming that he “would be the first £10m player” after parting with £500,000 for the Grecian.

Phillips struggled to make the City first team, leaving for Portsmouth after three years and eventually becoming a Plymouth Argyle legend. Albeit for a little less than £10m.

13. Stuart Pearce vs Dennis Bergkamp

The Evening Standard may not have covered themselves in glory with their infamous “Arsene who?” headline after Monsieur Wenger arrived at Highbury, but props go to Stuart Pearce a year earlier for an epic diss of Dennis Bergkamp.

“He made no impression at Inter,” trumped Psycho in 1995, “so the guy is now trying a different country in the hope it might suit him better. I would have taken Stan Collymore ahead of Bergkamp, even for £1m more. Liverpool have got a better deal than Arsenal.”

The Dutchman went on to win three Premier Leagues and three FA Cups with the Gunners, earning a statue outside the Emirates in 2014. Collymore is still waiting for his at Anfield.

14. Malcolm Allison vs Europe

Fedora-loving maverick Malcolm Allison was never short of a soundbite or two. “We’ll terrify the cowards of Europe,” hicced the tired and emotional Manchester City assistant manager just after the Blues won the First Division in 1968.

They were subsequently knocked out of the European Cup first round by Fenerbahce, losing 2-1 in Turkey after a goalless first leg at Maine Road.

15. Brian Clough vs Jan Tomaszewski

With England needing to beat Poland at Wembley in October 1973 to qualify for the following year’s World Cup, Old Big 'Ead took aim at keeper Tomaszewski, calling him “a circus clown in gloves”. Many of Clough’s ITV pundits were wary of such a prediction, and “the clown” duly produced a string of impressive saves to secure the 1-1 draw Poland needed to qualify at England’s expense.

“He hurled himself arms, knees and bumps-a-daisy all over his penalty area like a slackly strung marionette,” wrote Frank Keating in The Guardian.

Poland went on to reach the last four of the World Cup, undone only by winners West Germany. “The ugly duckling became a swan,” Tomaszewski later told FFT. “Anyone bold enough to survive the ordeal of Wembley – fans, atmosphere and expectation – can survive anything. How did the pressure of the World Cup semi-final compare to Wembley? Like driving a Skoda after a Mercedes.”

So there, Cloughie.

16. Terry Venables vs Lionel Messi

Messi header Man United

All the talk before the 2009 Champions League Final was the fight for supremacy between Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona’s Messi.

“Messi is wonderful on the right but Ronaldo is terrific on the right, the left and through the middle as well,” said Venables on Sky Sports pundit duty. “He also scores goals with his head, which Messi couldn't do even if they put a top hat on him.”

Los Cules won 2-0, Messi’s 70th-minute header – having escaped marker Rio Ferdinand – providing the cherry on the cake.

17. Bernie Slaven vs Middlesbrough

So confident was Slaven that his beloved Boro would lose at Old Trafford in December 1998 that he declared: “I would go as far as to say I would flash my bum in Binns shop window. It's not a pretty sight.”

When Boro duly won 3-2, Slaven bared all in the department store. And you thought the sight of Gary Lineker in his pants was bad.

18. Peter Higgs vs Burnley

Times were hard for the Clarets in 1980, as they dropped into the third tier for the first time in their history. Burnley Express sports editor Peter Higgs, however, sensed opportunity and boldly declared that he would walk to the Clarets’ first away game of the following season if they didn’t finish in the top six.

Finishing the 1980/81 season eighth, Higgs was no doubt distraught to learn that Burnley would visit Gillingham – 260 miles away – in August 1981. They lost 3-1, but at least Higgs raised plenty for charity en route.

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Andrew Murray is a freelance journalist, who regularly contributes to both the FourFourTwo magazine and website. Formerly a senior staff writer at FFT and a fluent Spanish speaker, he has interviewed major names such as Virgil van Dijk, Mohamed Salah, Sergio Aguero and Xavi. He was also named PPA New Consumer Journalist of the Year 2015.