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December 13, 2010
Posted by Mark Lomas on 12/13/2010

Manchester City fans were left spluttering into their cups of tea on Sunday as revelations that Carlos Tevez wants to leave Eastlands emerged.

'Doing a Rooney', the Argentinian handed in a public transfer request, before then blasting his club's handling of the situation, before denying he had a problem with everyone at the club. Why can no high-profile player just be happy in Manchester?

In a fairly uncompromising attack on Tevez, Sam Wallace at The Independent is among those in the press urging City to stop appeasing and mollycoddling their captain and just let him go.

"When Carlos Tevez joined West Ham on the last day of the 2006 summer transfer window with Javier Mascherano – in arguably the most extraordinary episode of illegal transfer-dealing of the last decade – it fell to Alan Pardew, who was the manager at the time, to try to explain it.

"When I met the players I didn't have to sell West Ham United to them," Pardew said. "They knew all about our success last season and our style of play as the Premiership is shown on TV in South America every week."

Unfortunately for Pardew – who it turned out was just as bewildered as to what Tevez was doing at Upton Park as the rest of us – he could not have sounded less convincing had he been standing in Green Street market behind a suitcase of reconditioned mobile phones.

Tevez has made a habit – sometimes unintentionally, sometimes not – of making managers and clubs look daft. In his wake as he has shimmied and feinted his way across English football in the last four years is a trail of rows and fall-outs. Yes, he is a good player but he also comes with a health warning as to his potential effect on a club's sanity.

West Ham? The club had to agree £21m in compensation for breaching the third-party rules on player ownership over Tevez's deal. Manchester United? His provocative gestures to the Old Trafford directors' box were followed shortly by the most rancorous cross-Manchester transfer in history. Manchester City? He wants out."

December 10, 2010
Posted by Mark Lomas on 12/10/2010

The not-so-shock appointment of Alan Pardew as Newcastle manager was confirmed yesterday and the former West Ham and Charlton boss cut a very lonely figure in his first press conference. Perhaps fearing an in-person backlash from the media, having already been roundly lambasted as murmurs of Pardew's arrival grew louder, the Magpies hierarchy were notable by their absence at St James' Park on Thursday.

It is a position Pardew is likely to experience more frequently should Newcastle face rocky times ahead, and Henry Winter at the Telegraph believes that the new manager's most important task is getting a group of players on side who are still distraught by the departure of the cruelly axed Chris Hughton.

"The man that the Newcastle United fans simply do not want as manager walked up to St James’ Park, knowing the uphill battle he faces to win friends and games here.

After signing a 5½-year contract, Pardew sat in the room where Sir Bobby Robson used to hold court, where the words of Kevin Keegan once had audiences spellbound, and where Alan Shearer articulated the dreams of a Geordie nation. It was a room where the popular Chris Hughton detailed Newcastle’s steady progress under him until he was so callously dismissed.

Entering a chamber packed with so many memories of adopted and local heroes, Pardew must have felt he had walked into an ambush. Brutally, he made the walk alone. Neither the Newcastle chairman, Mike Ashley, nor the managing, director, Derek Llambias, bothered to ride shotgun for their controversial new appointment. They left Pardew to take the heat. Alone.

Having overseen 527 games, the 49 year-old is no ingenu but rarely can a member of his trade have stepped into a dug-out that so resembles a bunker. The former manager of Reading, West Ham, Charlton and Southampton has no chance of succeeding on Tyneside unless he first gets a resentful squad onside.

Knowing the players mourn for Hughton, Pardew has already phoned Kevin Nolan, the captain and heartbeat of the team, and will address the players this morning. “It’s very important I calm their fears down,” Pardew said. “I’d like to think the players will grow to respect me.”

Players are professionals, employees on lucrative contracts and their anger over the treatment of Hughton will eventually subside, especially if Pardew handles dressing-room sensitivities adroitly. Mispronouncing his predecessor’s name as “Houghton” drew sotto voce sighs from the small band gathered in the room.

“Chris is a gentleman,” said Pardew, tackling head-on Geordie Grievance No 1. “I’ve not spoken to Chris but I probably will put a call in. I’ll give it some time because he will be hurting. I know he would have been genuinely well liked in the dressing room. I have to follow that. But there’s a different personality in that dressing room now. I wouldn’t say I am more confident. I just have a manner that can sometimes upset people. I’ve upset players in the past.”

Usually a self-assured character, Pardew was almost deliberately humble. He understood the supporters’ anger just as he did the players’. “If there are protests for Chris on Saturday against Liverpool, I have no problem with that – that’s the fans’ right. I hope any protest doesn’t last too long. It’s not about me after all, it’s about the club. We’re going to need a lot of help against Liverpool.”

December 9, 2010
Posted by Jon Carter on 12/09/2010

Alan Pardew is not likely to get a very warm welcome in the cold north when he is paraded in front of the Newcastle fans and the Times' George Caulkin warns that he won't have a very long honeymoon period in charge either.

Alan Pardew is already facing a battle to win over players and fans at St James's Park after an appointment that has surprised many.

Alan Pardew will be confirmed as Newcastle United’s manager this morning, but his will be a marriage without a honeymoon. After a brutal few days that have left players and supporters bruised and bemused, the club will make their latest tilt at the long term, yet they can expect only short-term hostility.

If this is the answer, many will wonder at the point of the question. The abrupt dismissal of Chris Hughton, a man who retained the respect and affection of the dressing room and was instrumental in repairing a fractured relationship with the fans, has threatened everything.

Newcastle have been a delicate coalition since their relegation from the Barclays Premier League last year and now it has been disbanded. What is more, it has been disbanded willingly.

That, of course, is not Pardew’s doing. The 49-year-old was at Slaley Hall hotel in Northumberland last night for discussions with Newcastle’s hierarchy and, given his association with Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias, it is safe to assume that there was little to fret over. His contract with be lengthy — stretching for five years — and a £500,000 salary will be heavily incentivised for avoiding relegation.

Newcastle are fond of Peter Beardsley, the reserve-team coach, but Pardew hopes to name Ray Lewington, Fulham’s youth development manager, as his assistant and Andy Woodman, of Charlton Athletic, as his goalkeeping coach. Their first task would be to re-energise a first-team squad that coalesced and rallied at Hughton’s prompting. Footballers are pragmatic, but the unit has been shaken.

In a recent interview with The Times, Andy Carroll, the Newcastle striker, spoke about Hughton. His words were effusive and sincere. “Chris has brought everyone together,” he said. “It’s like you’re coming in to see your best friends every day, everyone’s so close. We go to the cinema together, share lifts, go for food. It’s down to him. He changed everything around.”

It was born of adversity, but as Newcastle strained for promotion, supporters witnessed something rare: players who, whatever their ability, brought honour to their shirts and fought for the cause. A team. At last, a team. In turn, it restored a link between pitch and stands, which had been frayed by the failings of too many athletes of deep wealth and shallow commitment.

Hughton was liked. He brought patience and a sheen of stability. It meant that after demotion, the treatment of Alan Shearer and Kevin Keegan, the plan to hawk the stadium’s naming rights, Joe Kinnear and Dennis Wise, and so many other miscalculations, despair at the owner could be put to one side. That was the coalition. That is what has been jeopardised.

Ashley and Llambias, his managing director, are not demons. They are three-dimensional figures who have intriguing ideas about football and this week’s events should not be viewed as wanton destruction. They have a logic - they had concerns about Newcastle’s home record under Hughton, who they viewed less as a natural manager than a coach - but it is a logic that can feel desperately illogical. In a season that, as far as Hughton and most rational observers were concerned, was all about consolidation, they have invited pressure upon themselves. It must be remembered that Ashley’s funding has kept Newcastle solvent and their aim is to create a self-sufficient business, but their timing is perplexing. Football may be a business, but emotion still lies at its core.

His colleague Oliver Kay also thinks the appointment is a bit odd, and actually gambles with the stability of the club.

Legend has it that when Sir John Hall made the call in early 1992 that shaped the most uplifting period in his club’s history, he told Kevin Keegan that “there are only two people who can save Newcastle United and we’re speaking on the telephone right now”.

Somehow it is hard to apply the same sense of poignancy to the tawdry series of events that is expected to conclude today with Mike Ashley appointing Alan Pardew as the sixth manager of his 3½-year tenure at St James’ Park.

Whether their eyes met across a crowded blackjack table or it was something altogether less seedy, this is not a last desperate tilt at salvation but a gamble that has already turned the air toxic on Tyneside.

The best managerial appointments are those that energise clubs in need of inspiration. That is what happened when Keegan went to Newcastle nearly two decades ago, with the side facing the threat of relegation to the old third division. It is what happened when Sir Bobby Robson arrived in September 1999 and restored the credibility and sense of excitement that had been lost in the immediate post-Keegan era.

The Newcastle of 2010 were not in obvious need of invigorating but they do now after Chris Hughton’s unedifying dismissal on Monday. Ashley needed to produce a rabbit from the hat, to pull off a coup that would restore the optimism that followed Hughton out of the door, but instead he has pinned his hopes on a mate who was sacked by Southampton, of npower League One, this season.

To paint Pardew as a managerial misfit is unfair because, during his time at Reading and the vast majority of his spell at West Ham United, he worked wonders. However, you fear for him now. If Roy Hodgson feels that he has had to overcome prejudices at Liverpool this season, the scepticism that awaits Pardew on Tyneside is on an altogether different scale.

Why is so much of this about what the supporters think? Because, at Newcastle of all clubs, it matters. The chemistry at St James’ Park is in some ways similar to that at Anfield, where passion, fervour and anxiety transmit themselves from the pitch to the terraces and back again. Their supporters ask for nothing but commitment and the possibility to be able to dream.

Newcastle’s performance levels have fluctuated wildly as expectations and self-belief have ebbed and flowed over the 18 years since Keegan’s arrival. Perhaps that was Hughton’s problem, that things threatened to become too stable and predictable in mid-table, but Pardew’s immediate challenge will be to banish the air of negativity that the events of this week have brought.

When Hall signed Keegan 18 years ago, Newcastle had nothing to lose. The appointment of Pardew is a far bigger gamble.

December 7, 2010
Posted by Tom Adams on 12/07/2010

The press are up in arms about Newcastle's decision to sack Chris Hughton on Monday, and rightly so.

Universally respected by his players, Newcastle supporters and figures from across the world of football, Hughton has been cast aside despite leading the club to the Championship title last season and taking them to 11th place in the Premier League.

The general disgust for the behaviour of Newcastle owner Mike Ashley is best expressed by The Guardian’s Richard Williams, in a piece entitled “Just another dismal decision from Mike Ashley, a disgrace to football”.

"So Mike Ashley has now seen off five managers in just under three years as the owner of Newcastle United. Perhaps he is in a race with Milan Mandaric, who went through six managers in his three-and-a-half years at Leicester City. These people are a disgrace to football.

“To suggest that trust and continuity once bound a club and its community together is to sound like a hopeless romantic, drunk on nostalgia. And of course managerial sackings are not something that started to happen only after the Premier League came into existence. But all the available evidence suggests that the ability to make a decision and stick to it, maintaining faith even in difficult times, is more effective than a restless desire to use decent, gifted, experienced men like Chris Hughton as disposable lightbulbs.

“Ashley can, of course, do exactly as he likes, having been willing to sink more than £200m of his own money into the club. But it is probably fair to say that had Ashley run his Sports Direct business in the way he and his cohorts have run Newcastle, there would never have been the £200m in the first place.”

Williams concludes:

“Perhaps the hardest to manage of all England's leading clubs, Newcastle are built on legends and myths. Sometimes the owners and the fans find it difficult to differentiate between the two, and the task for a manager in the current era is complicated by a dressing room that has long given the impression of resembling the Augean stables. Given the club's inherent volatility, Hughton performed a great deal more creditably than his employers, whose bad decisions are now so numerous that it is hard to imagine them ever making a good one.”
December 5, 2010
Posted by Tom Adams on 12/05/2010

After England's abject showing at the World Cup vote on Thursday, the recriminations continue in the national press.

Writing in The Observer, the ever-excellent Paul Hayward produces an impassioned piece that lambasts FIFA and longs for a more romantic appreciation of a once-great competition.

According to Hayward, FIFA's conduct in awarding the 2018 competition to Russia and 2022 to Qatar has sullied the World Cup.

"A lot of us loved the World Cup a bit less by Thursday night. The bond we thought would survive all shocks and violations slackened. Without the store of glowing memory we might feel like letting go.

"Old world arrogance is not the love wrecker. As FIFA delivered their double coup of Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022) football's communal carnival was cast as the private possession of 22 plutocrats. The World Cup has been stolen: appropriated by unaccountable empire builders who pick it up and drop it across the world for reasons that have nothing to do with custodianship and plenty to do with Fifa gain.

"Have I been cryogenically frozen for the last 30 years, you cry? Is this news? Well, yes. The 'football family' has never been one you would be glad to see moving in next door. The world governing body long ago mutated from administrating to deal-making as federations and their continental clusters snatched at the vast new wealth from television deals and commercial 'partnerships.'

"But this is something else. This is FIFA demanding detailed technical reports and then ignoring them. This is Russian political influence and Qatari petro-wealth smashing aside all considerations of fairness and fan participation in favour of hidden agendas. None is harder to fathom, by the way, than Geoff Thompson, England's representative in Zurich, whose glassy passivity was so aptly juxtaposed by the conniving all around him."

Hayward concludes:

"What is the World Cup meant to mean? The shirts, the fascination with each country: the buttercup yellow of Brazil, the dark brilliance of Argentina, the new Spain, English ineptitude, French mutinies, the excitement of pinning up a wall-chart, camper van tours, making new friends, watching games in bars in the host nation and feeling a small part of the unfolding narrative. This is the World Cup – not FIFA. One day we will take it back."
December 3, 2010
Posted by Jon Carter on 12/03/2010

It's no surprise that now England does not have the chance to host the World Cup until 2030 at the earliest, attention has turned to FIFA. Daily Mail journo Martin Samuel kicks things off in usual fashion:

The World Cup is a competition that is, essentially, forged in corruption, which is why it goes to countries that are essentially corrupt. Countries that will over-ride their tax system, their money-laundering laws and, in the case of South Africa, even ride roughshod over their constitution.

It is almost amusing that the lickspittle leader of England's bid, Andy Anson, now rails at the duplicity of FIFA executive committee members, having spent the last year selling reality down the river by by calling any criticism of football's governing body unpatriotic.

Now, reading between the lines, the England 2018 message is that the FIFA ExCo is populated by chisellers, liars and, quite possibly, crooks. We know, thanks. This is what we have been trying to tell you.

The Sun employed former England boss Terry Venables to write a scathing attack on world football's governing body. He just about managed it without breaking into song.

MAYBE we should not be that surprised Russia got the vote to stage the 2018 World Cup. After all, FIFA and the KGB are just about the last two secret organisations on the planet.

Because when it comes to a political intrigue, espionage and a good old-fashioned bit of cloak and dagger, those in charge of football's governing body would certainly give Russia's secret service a run for their money. How else do you explain yesterday's announcement in Zurich?

If you had given the script to the director of the new James Bond movie, he would have turned it down and accused it of being too far-fetched.

England beat The Living Daylights out of their rival bids, but were still met by Dr No. Unbelievable. And, if we're being honest, unjust.

The Daily Mirror went for Robbie Savage, who made good use of the word 'gutted' when putting forward his opinion over the decision.

They played the Fifa anthem when Sepp Blatter strode out on stage yesterday. But they really should have played the Neil Diamond song that starts: "Money talks..." The best bid has lost. The billionaire oligarchs of Russia and the oil billionaires of Qatar have won.

I'm gutted for your kids and my kids that they won't get to see the greatest tournament on earth staged here until at least 2030.

I'm gutted that English (and hopefully Welsh) fans who want to go to the World Cup will now have to travel to two of the most expensive countries on Earth to do so.

I'm gutted for my old Manchester United youth team-mate David Beckham, who spoke so eloquently on behalf of his country.

I'm gutted that Becks, the PM and the future king only lasted one round. Even Audley Harrison did better than that.

I'm so gutted I can't even get excited by the thought of topping up my tan in the Middle East in 2022.

Probably the only one not so gutted is Kate Middleton, who now won't have to include Sepp Blatter and Jack Warner on the front row of the wedding photos.

Even the Daily Telegraph's Henry Winter claims FIFA should be ashamed...

“We were stitched up,” confided a member of the England bid team. “The Prime Minister was stitched up. He thought he had a number of votes locked down.” He didn’t. For all the hours put in by David Cameron, for all the glad-handing by David Beckham and Prince William, England managed just one vote, along with that of Geoff Thompson.

England went out in the first round; even Fabio Capello’s side reached the second World Cup stage in the summer. The annus horribilis was complete.

Recriminations abounded on a day of dismay for England and shame for Fifa. Some within the England team pointed to Fifa’s ire over Monday night’s Panorama, believing it to be the reason why the accused Jack Warner turned against them. Others just fulminated privately about Fifa, about the decision to go for Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022.

Some logic can be detected in Fifa thinking over the land of the Great Bear, which has never hosted the World Cup and boasts a past footballing pedigree in Lev Yashin and current stars like Andrei Arshavin, whose emotional speech here on Thursday was genuinely moving.

Yet the real scandal in Fifa-ville was the decision to award the 2022 tournament to Qatar, a soulless, featureless, air-conditioned, cramped place with so little connection to football it required hired hands like Pep Guardiola. It was as if Fifa was saying “to hell with the fans”. Qatar 2022 will be a joyless experience for supporters.

November 27, 2010
Posted by Jon Carter on 11/27/2010

Love him or hate him, Arsène Wenger has commanded the respect of the Premier League for what he has done at Arsenal. However, the Guardian's Barney Ronay wonders if there is a feeling abroad that the Arsenal manager may have gone – or may be on the verge of going – a bit mad.

Something important seems to be happening at Arsenal and, like everything else there, it seems to be happening around the towering centrepiece of the manager, Arsène Wenger. Wenger has been emitting puffs of cautionary smoke for some time now and fresh tremors appeared again this week after the unfortunate – but also strangely unsurprising – Champions League defeat by the Portuguese third‑raters Braga.

There was a sharpness to reports of Wenger's testiness afterwards. Among some Arsenal fans there is even the same sense of bunched and tearful frustration you might feel with an increasingly stubborn and militant aged parent who inexplicably refuses to understand about the internet or mobile phones or to be twinkly and unflappable and discreet like the aged parents in daytime TV adverts for low-interest loans that can consolidate all your debts into one low monthly payment. The phrase "lost the plot" has even been cautiously trotted out. So far we have danced around this, but I might as well be the first to say it openly. There seems to be a feeling abroad that Wenger may have gone – or may be on the verge of going – a bit mad.

This must be introduced with the obvious caveat that all football managers need a bit of madness in them. After his retirement as Liverpool manager, Bill Shankly would leave his matchday seat in the stands 10 minutes early and take up a raised position near one of the empty stairwells, perhaps on a ledge or a set of railings, in order to declaim and wave and gesture in pious fashion more effectively when everybody else came filing out. This was considered entirely normal. Alf Ramsey celebrated Ipswich's league title by sitting in furrowed silence until everybody else had left and then performing a solo late-night air-punching lap of honour around a darkened Portman Road. Don Howe would train Arsenal's 1971 Double winners by repeatedly shouting the word "Explode!" at them while they ran up the steps of the Highbury stands – and yet he remains a porkpie-hatted emblem of sobriety.

These days it isn't so much managing that brings out the madness. It is going on television. Roy Hodgson was once notable for his air of calm. Greater exposure at Liverpool has left him looking strangely wild-eyed and haunted, prone to leaping about wearing an oversized padded sports coat with teeth clenched and hair flapping, like some habitually-imploding rogue 1970s detective in a Granada TV series called Roy's Game or Hodgson!

Every manager reacts to these pressures differently. Before this season Ian Holloway would often pretend to be mad for tactical reasons, an affectation that has now dissolved into something more rabidly convincing. At Wolves Mick McCarthy flaunts a certain telegenic madness, affecting the thrillingly windblown hairstyle of a quixotic New York tug-boat captain.

It is different with Wenger. There has always been a suspicion, even during his early flush of success, that madness would one day claim him, that this would be his flaw. It is partly a physical thing. Wenger has peculiarly long arms and legs. Aloof in his touchline rectangle, cloaked in his floor-length quilted gown, he seems to be always on the verge of some burst of frighteningly angular expressiveness. There is also a sense that we have never quite forgiven him for turning up and making us all look so dim and retrograde all those years back, parading his oversized spectacles, inventing pasta, and suggesting a single glass of sparkling mineral water as an alternative form of recreation to leaping up and down in a lager-fuelled circle inside a wine bar called Facez.

The thing about Wenger's low-level madness is that it is very specific. This is the madness of the ascetic and the idealist, one that narrows with age. Wenger has only one way, interpreting all he sees through the prism of frictionless, nimble-footed, free-market Euro-Wengerball. Life has become very simple. If his team loses this is now due to some imperfection in the footballing universe, a failing in his opposition or in the game's administrators that has allowed this ideological catastrophe to occur. Such all-consuming zeal can be deeply seductive. There is a sense that his opinions on everything – on whimsical west coast acoustic coffee shop music, or supermarket own-brand yoghurts – will all be robustly, even angrily infused with this galvanising belief in supra-national sideways-pinging soft-shoe spreadsheet football.

There is a beauty, as well as robust economic good sense, in his absolute one-note convictions. Wenger has gambled all on being right, on refusing, for example, to spend jarring sums of money on an essentially unexciting, non-shirtsleeved, unspiky-haired goalkeeper with a tedious expertise in catching footballs. He remains convinced that the world will ultimately bend his way. And perhaps it already has a little. Wenger will take the journey into the promised new world of Fifa fair-play rules and revenue-based austerity with an ideology in hand and a set of self-drawn maps. He may or may not be allowed to get madder from here. But for the mad-curious neutral it would fascinating if he could be proved right just one more time.

November 20, 2010
Posted by Dom Raynor on 11/20/2010

It's still difficult to get away from the England's post-mortem in Saturday's newspapers but an excellent interview with Aston Villa manager Gerrard Houllier is a worthwhile distraction.

Houllier is now just another onlooker as his former club Liverpool lurch through something of a crisis but the Frenchman harks back to his days at the club with alarming honesty - admitting he made mistakes and bought some bad players towards the end of his tenure.

Speaking toThe Daily Mail's Matt Lawton, Houllier tells how his post heart surgery tenure affected his previously "indestructible" team.

"Gerard Houllier agrees. Agrees that the manager who guided Liverpool to six trophies, who revitalised a club in dire need of his French revolution, was a very different animal to the one who limped on after the ‘accident’ that nearly killed him.

Agrees his players worked under two very different men in his six years at Anfield. While the original version was untouchable, in his words ‘indestructible’, the one who had suffered a dissected aorta was seriously wounded and tired.

So exhausted, in fact, that his judgment became impaired. He admits for the first time, in what is his first major interview as the new manager of Aston Villa, that he did make poor signings.

Just as he admits that the reason for his departure from Anfield was because his employers no longer ‘trusted’ him.

‘I think Rafa Benitez had been lined up to replace me for some time,’ he says.

But as he sits in his smart office at Villa’s training ground, wearing a broad smile having just welcomed Robert Pires to the club, there is not a hint of bitterness in his voice.

Partly because the good memories still far outweigh the bad, because of players like Carragher, and partly because he can appreciate why Liverpool made the change. His mistake, he concedes, was coming back too soon. Far too soon.

It was while watching his Liverpool team play Leeds in October 2001 that the accident happened. But after 11-and-a-half hours of major heart surgery that followed that day, he was back at his desk within five months.

‘For an operation like that, I probably needed 11-and-a-half months off,’ says Houllier. But I came back sooner because we were at a critical stage of the season. We were trying to progress to the latter stages of the Champions League. We were in the title race.

‘I spoke to Phil Thompson and I thought, “If I can make five per cent of a difference it has to be worth it”. We still finished second in the Premier League. But in the March I felt dead. I was so tired.

‘Maybe if I had waited another four or five months it would have been different. I wasn’t right. I think some of the signings I made weren’t good, because I was tired. I made better signings at Lyon, that’s for sure.'

He believes it was not until he was at Lyon, guiding them to a second successive French league title, that he completed his recovery, five years after the accident."

November 17, 2010
Posted by Tom Adams on 11/17/2010

Looking ahead to England’s friendly against France on Wednesday it is clear that the selection of one man in particular has grabbed the newspapers’ attention. Unsurprisingly, given his history of misdemeanors, that man is Andy Carroll.

As Henry Winter rather ungenerously points out, “Andy Carroll has made more court appearances than international appearances”, but his colleague at the Daily Telegraph, Alan Smith, instead chooses to focus on the striker’s qualities as a player.

“Once it became clear he was fit, there really was no other choice. Andy Carroll simply had to play against France. Why? Because England haven't been able to call on a centre-forward like this for a very long time.

“You can talk about Peter Crouch, Emile Heskey and Bobby Zamora. You can go back to Alan Shearer, Teddy Sheringham or even Gary Lineker - all of whom served their country in different ways - but none offered quite the same qualities as the big, bustling, rumbustious striker currently giving Premier League defenders one hell of a tough time.

“For a start, Carroll is massive. I mean, seriously big. Not as tall as Crouch, admittedly, but certainly twice as wide and someone who, crucially, jumps his full height. Not every player can do that, but Carroll can due to the power in his legs, not to mention a muscular top half more than capable of wrestling opponents out the way.

“Given the right service, that could be a formidable combination at international level, just as long as he doesn't end up constantly conceding fouls to clever defenders well versed in winning free-kicks.”

Smith concludes:

“Not that we're talking about the finished article. There are plenty of rough edges still to knock off. However, what we can say with certainty is that Carroll has potential. The potential to do extremely well for England.”
November 15, 2010
Posted by Jon Carter on 11/15/2010

The Daily Mail's Martin Samuel picks through the bones of Chelsea's defeat to Sunderland and claims Carlo Ancelotti offers hope amid the Roman Abramovich ruins.

November 9, 2010
Posted by Dom Raynor on 11/09/2010

Andy Carroll's expected call up for England's clash with France next week has prompted Fleet Street's scribes to ponder the moral dilemma that surrounds the troubled striker's probable selection.

Carroll's Newcastle United team-mate Joey Barton claims the FA need to forget about simply selecting 'goody two shoes' players and keeping sponsors happy and simply pick the men that can win matches. And while we’re not sure the likes of Ashley Cole, John Terry and Wayne Rooney can be called 'goody two shoes' we get the point.

Should a young talent be denied and England cap because of his wayward ways off the pitch? Well it hasn't prevented many of Carroll's predecessors from being given their chance, writes Henry Winter in The Telegraph.

"Capello's captain for next week's friendly with France once missed a drugs test, his vice-captain was charged (and cleared) of affray, three others of a light blue persuasion recently enjoyed some refreshment with Scottish freshers while two others of a royal blue hue have endured particularly foul headlines. The Temperance Society All-Stars it is not.

Into this moral maze of a Wembley dressing room steps Andy Carroll, clutching loads of baggage with the cynics trumpeting that he should be right at home. Put politely, the Newcastle United No 9 likes a night out.

Carroll's mooted call-up incites two debates, the first a long-running one about parents' hopes for those who wear the England shirt to behave with at least a modicum of decorum. England do offer good role models in James Milner, Theo Walcott and others but some of their colleagues would require extra time at confessional.

A newer debate arises with Carroll's arrival. An individual apparently not close to the front of the queue when the quality of self-scrutiny was handed out, Carroll could be tempted to believe that a questionable lifestyle off the field is no barrier to the ultimate honour, an England cap."

But there are not just moral issues surrounding Carroll's selection. Writing in The Guardian, Kevin McCarra expresses concerns about the quality of a player who has only played 11 Premier League games.

"It is likely that Carroll will collect his first senior cap for England in next week's friendly with France. Such a sudden rise is, all the same, a little unsettling. While his tally of 19 goals last season was creditable, Newcastle were then in the Championship. Capello himself showed a lingering scepticism towards Carroll when he omitted him from the squad and instead gave a debut, as a substitute, to the 33-year-old Kevin Davies in last month's match with Montenegro.

Carroll's worth lies to some extent in scarcity value. The quality of England's leading clubs seems to have dipped. Chelsea, for instance, may have been majestic on the domestic front last season but they were defeated home and away by Internazionale in the last 16 of the Champions League. Liverpool had been eliminated in the group phase and neither Manchester United nor Arsenal got beyond the quarter-finals.

It is now claimed that Chelsea want to buy Carroll. Whatever the substance to the story, there is a sense that clubs who no longer have the means to overhaul an entire team are hoping more than ever for an impact player with the gifts to transform a match. Fernando Torres was the embodiment of that, when he got behind a suddenly disoriented John Terry to score the first of his goals in Liverpool's 2-0 victory over Chelsea on Sunday."

November 8, 2010
Posted by Jon Carter on 11/08/2010

We have wondered what has been holding Liverpool back of late. Transfer talk over their big stars? Roy Hodgson? All that takeover stuff? Actually... it seems all they need was Dirk Kuyt to return, as David Pleat explains in the Guardian.

It is only in retrospect that a possible defining moment emerges. But the changes that Roy Hodgson made, whether by accident or design due to injury (Glen Johnson) and availability (Dirk Kuyt), gave Liverpool the opportunity to play with a system that showed Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva in the best light. Fernando Torres, too, enjoyed the day.

I recall a situation in 1986-87 when at Tottenham Hotspur. Because of the transfer of Graham Roberts to Rangers, an injury to Tony Galvin and the need to negate Glenn Hoddle's down side, a 4-5-1 system was born that glowed for the whole season. Liverpool, I feel, may have done similarly at Anfield yesterday.

Kuyt lacks guile but his work-rate is often wasted, in my view, parading the touchline on the right side. Lucas has struggled to win admirers when trying to contain midfield runners and Gerrard, certainly the dynamo, needs to be both central and deeper so he can defend and attack when the opportunity arises.

Raul Meireles and Maxi Rodríguez, who have acclimatised slowly to Premier League football, were put to better use on the outside of the five-man midfield rather than further infield.

Kuyt was the most important figure in this hardworking display, particularly in the second half when they had to quell the tide of sharp passing attacks from Chelsea. When possession changed hands the Dutchman quickly moved into a position where he could help to stifle the influence of Mikel John Obi in the centre of Chelsea's midfield. He appeared to have three lungs as he worked and challenged, always putting team before self.

Although Chelsea had plenty of possession, Liverpool were strong and solid and must have given Hodgson great heart. At Fulham he had a system that replicated the way Liverpool played yesterday. In this rearrangement Jamie Carragher went from right-back to centre-back where he is far more comfortable because he does not have to face too many passing options from the advanced positions he is forced to take up when playing at full-back.

When the ball was wide Carragher and Martin Skrtel made sure they stayed firm on the edge of the area and were always in good positions to intercept typical Chelsea-style low crosses

Hodgson may have been quietly bewildered this week at the US owners' judgment in their choice for their director of football but he will have made several important points with this vibrant display.

Meireles and Rodríguez are yet to shine, but they still did an important job denying Branislav Ivanovic and Ashley Cole advanced attacking positions. This was important, too. Crucially, it was the industry of Kuyt when Liverpool lost possession that helped Lucas and Gerrard do their work with such efficiency.

November 7, 2010
Posted by Robin Hackett on 11/07/2010

With Manchester City having suffered three straight defeats and reports of dissatisfaction among the players growing increasingly common, there are those who believe Roberto Mancini could be on his way if his side suffer a defeat to West Brom.

With a worse record than his predecessor, Rob Draper, writing in the Mail on Sunday, believes Mancini is in very, very serious danger of losing his job if they can't see off the Baggies.

Roberto Mancini today begins a week that will define his reputation in England.

Put starkly, less than a year into the job and after three successive defeats, the Manchester City manager's job is on the line.

Discontent among the most expensively assembled squad in the Premier League is only one of the problems the authoritarian Italian must address.

Some players are baffled by his tactics and his team selection. Others are angry over training methods which they contend are ill-suited to an English winter.

Mancini has had to contend with arguments between the millionaires in the dressing room and gross indiscipline off the pitch. One first-team player is said to have been repeatedly drunk out of hours, resulting in a severe warning over his future conduct being issued by the manager.

On top of all that, the man who is perhaps the most important component in Mancini's team, the talismanic Carlos Tevez, has only just returned from a trip home to Buenos Aires, a visit which, it is believed, was ordered by the club because they feared the Argentina striker was in danger of burning himself out.

While City's chief executive Garry Cook and chief football administration officer Brian Marwood have backed Mancini, the Italian will be under no illusions about the fate awaiting him should the next seven days and three matches not go City's way.

Defeat today at a resurgent West Bromwich, followed by setbacks against bitter rivals Manchester United on Wednesday and Birmingham next weekend, will almost certainly make Mancini's position impossible.

Cook and Marwood are vulnerable, too. They appointed Mancini, controversially, last December as successor to the rather more popular - and, in terms of results, more successful - Mark Hughes.

Mancini's record at this stage of the season - 17 points from 10 matches with three defeats - is inferior to that of the man he replaced. After the same number of games last season, Hughes had collected 19 points with just one defeat.

Six weeks later, he was sacked and Cook and Marwood brought in Mancini. Little wonder Cook and Marwood are said to believe their futures depend on Mancini's ability to revive City's season.

November 4, 2010
Posted by Tom Adams on 11/04/2010

Liverpool’s appointment of Damien Comolli as their new director of football strategy on Wednesday appeared to catch the English press on the hop, so the broadsheets have been scrambling around for reaction.

The very idea of the director of football is a contentious one in the Premier League of course, with figures such as Dennis Wise (Newcastle), Gianluca Nani (West Ham) and, one that is often overlooked, Franco Baresi (Fulham) enjoying little success.

But Comolli brought a number of good players to Tottenham - most notably Gareth Bale - and writing in The Indepdent, Ian Herbert explains why the Frenchman was targeted by NESV.

“No one had predicted Damien Comolli's appointment, news of which first started leaking out in France yesterday afternoon, though Liverpool's decision to appoint him fits with all we have learned so far about John W Henry and his vision for his new club.

“Comolli is close to Billy Beane, the maverick baseball coach whose statistics-driven success with the Oakland Athletics was consigned to print in the book Moneyball. Henry tried to hire Beane when he took over the Boston Red Sox and is as much an admirer of his methods as he is of Simon Kuper's and Stefan Szymanski's book Soccernomics, which applies science to football. Henry is also fascinated by Arsenal, having spent time at the club before he bought Liverpool. Comolli was Arsenal's European scout between 1996 and 2003.”

He concludes:

“Henry will want Comolli to help Hodgson find young players, rather than those like Christian Poulsen and Paul Konchesky who were signed this summer. Henry sees the new financial fair play regulations, limiting clubs' losses if they are to be admitted to European competition, as a vital part of the new landscape. That's why he sees a big future in Comolli finding young talent for Liverpool, mirroring the Red Sox model. Henry has a very precise plan and he is wasting no time developing it.”

In a blog for The Telegraph, Duncan White explains why Liverpool could not have timed the appointment much better.

"Gareth Bale and Luka Modric turn in world class performances to soundly beat the European Champions; Damien Comolli is appointed Director of Football Strategy at Liverpool. Everything is connected. Comolli brought Bale and Modric to Spurs and there is no doubt that his legacy has been reassessed since he departed under a cloud two years ago."
November 1, 2010
Posted by Tom Adams on 11/01/2010

The controversy of Nani’s goal for Manchester United against Tottenham continues to demand column inches in the English press on Monday morning, but there is one man who is playing down the row.

The Independent’s James Lawton apes Jon Stewart by mounting his own Rally to Restore Sanity, claiming the incident had little real impact on the game, or the season as a whole for that matter.

“West Bromwich Albion once scored a goal to damage Leeds United's title chances severely from an outrageously offside position. Everyone went berserk, especially the fans, and there was a subsequent ground closure. Now that was a real firestorm, one that suddenly crackled in the memory when Luis Nani scored, whatever the rights and wrongs of the circumstances, a truly ludicrous but decisive second goal for Manchester United.

“The trouble with this was that, as full-blown controversies go, it was lacking a crucial element. No one really had much reason to care. Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp made the best show of it, declaring that referee Mark Clattenburg was guilty of a massive cock-up and that the match had ended farcically. But even he seemed to accept, implicitly, that a season could hardly have been said to have been changed when the United player, having moments earlier fondled the ball after being denied a penalty, bounced to his feet and popped the ball into the net after Spurs goalkeeper, Heurelho Gomes, ignored the first law of the football catechism: play to the whistle.

“As Redknapp conceded, the chances were United would have won anyway. This was a conviction that could only harden around the disappearance of Rafael van der Vaart in the second half – and the absence of the injured Jermain Defoe, who might just have exploited the sheer intelligence of the £8 million steal-of-the-year Dutchman and his side-kick, Luka Modric.”

David Pleat also steers away from hysteria to deliver his considered view on the tactical battle waged at Old Trafford. In The Guardian, Pleat praises United for their success in keeping Gareth Bale quiet.

"The margin of Manchester United's victory on Saturday might have seemed hard on Tottenham Hotspur, but the home side's ability to nullify Gareth Bale, the visitors' most likely source of an equaliser, in the latter stages actually made this win feel comfortable.

"The introduction of Paul Scholes for Dimitar Berbatov ensured there was less space to exploit in the centre with another of the home side's substitutes, Wes Brown, playing his part in driving Bale infield into the muddle. Those latter stages contrasted with much of an open game, with the likes of Rafael van der Vaart, Luka Modric, Berbatov and Nani enjoying the space between both sides' backlines and front. Through the first half it was attack and counter-attack, with creative talents relishing the room that was on offer.

"But Tottenham could not maximise the advantage and, after the break, United closed tighter with their lead established. Van der Vaart consequently saw less of the ball with Spurs starved of creativity. Scholes's introduction with 26 minutes to play allowed the hosts to mirror the visitors' 4-5-1 system, a show of respect that congested the midfield and allowed the home side to control the centre more easily.

"Bale, alone, posed a real threat on the counter-attack but Brown, introduced as United tightened, had clear orders to force the Welshman infield, blocking his opponent's sprint on the outside."

October 29, 2010
Posted by Robin Hackett on 10/29/2010

Despite steadying the ship at Newcastle and leading the club back to the Premier League after the incredible Keegan-and-Kinnear season, Chris Hughton still finds himself under pressure at Newcastle.

Louise Taylor, writing in the Guardian, believes Hughton remains very much on trial at St James' Park.

Despite leading his team to the Championship title last season and steering them to their current position of ninth in the Premier League, Hughton has found himself the subject of intense, if unfair, speculation that defeat at home by Sunderland in Sunday's north‑east derby would lead to his dismissal.

Things became so heated that within minutes of an essentially reserve Newcastle side losing Wednesday night's home Carling Cup tie to Arsenal 4-0 the club issued a statement, albeit unsigned, reaffirming their support for Hughton. "Chris is our manager and will remain our manager and it is our intention to renegotiate his contract at the end of the year," it said.

The statement was in response to three home league games in which a solitary point has been collected from meetings with Blackpool, Stoke and Wigan and the decision of bookmakers on Wednesday to suspend betting on Hughton's possible departure. It was intended to kill a fog of rumour swirling around Tyneside.

This gesture has proved only partly successful. It is rare in England for managers in the final year of their contracts to have not renegotiated an extension – or at least switched from a fixed-term arrangement to an annual rolling deal – by autumn so the gossip will not disappear entirely until pen is put to paper.

The feeling within football is that Mike Ashley, Newcastle's owner, has not properly recognised the sterling work his manager has done during a time of budgetary restraint on Tyneside and that Hughton deserves a longer deal and a higher salary than at present, which has been reported as being around £300,000 a year. Most people outside the game would regard that as a king's ransom but it remains extremely low for Premier League circles.

A longer security of tenure would undeniably strengthen Hughton's authority in a dressing room in which he remains unanimously popular with his squad. Similarly, while Geordie fans were slow to warm to him, they are now solidly behind Alan Shearer's successor, preferring to blame the board for the team's shortcomings.

October 28, 2010
Posted by Dom Raynor on 10/28/2010

The fight to host the 2018 World Cup has descended into a war of words between Russia and England. Russia's opening snipe at the high crime level in London were reported to FIFA and their rivals responded by describing the conduct of England as "absolutely primitive".

There are other candidates hoping to host the tournament, with joint bids lodged from Spain/Portugal and Netherlands/Belgium, but it is the Anglo-Russian spat that dominates the headlines, but that is not necessarily a good thing.

The increased media coverage comes off the back of claims of corruption and vote-rigging at FIFA by the UK press that has left world football's governing body in an uncomfortable position. And writing in The Guardian, Owen Gibson wonders if Britain's media might just lose the 2018 World Cup bid for England.

"The British media is not guaranteed a warm welcome in Zurich this week. In the wake of newspaper revelations about the World Cup bidding process, and paranoia about an ongoing BBC Panorama investigation which has been contacting Fifa executive committee members with difficult questions, the atmosphere is jittery.

Journalists entering the Baur au Lac hotel, the hub for the increasingly frenetic lobbying and networking that will characterise the final weeks of the campaign, attract the odd suspicious glance from some of the Fifa executive committee members huddled in corners. Bid executives are increasingly paranoid, even when speaking off the record.

The revelations in the Sunday Times concerning the two Fifa executive committee members, Amos Adamu of Nigeria and Reynald Temarii of Tahiti, who are now provisionally suspended along with four other Fifa officials, have revived familiar questions about the impact of the British media on England's chances.

Other bidders have seized a line of argument that they believe may weaken England. Russia's bid has made continued references to its belief that the British media has focused on the negative aspects of its bid. That also fed into the attempt yesterday by Vyacheslav Koloskov, not a formal member of the Russian bid team but a key figure in lobbying on its behalf and well known to many senior Fifa figures, to escalate the row by saying "their journalists are provoking members of the committee".

Senior sources close to the England 2018 bid are confident the gravity of the Sunday Times allegations have outweighed any sense that it will reawaken the nervousness that many executive committee members and Fifa officials feel about the prospect of eight years of intense scrutiny in the run up to an English World Cup. They believe that the negative impact on rival bids will outweigh any downside but others are convinced it will not play well for England."

October 24, 2010
Posted by Tom Adams on 10/24/2010

The Sunday papers are predictably full of Wayne Rooney analysis, but to be perfectly honest we are sick of that sorry saga.

So it is instead to The Observer and Paul Hayward that we turn, as he waxes lyrical about two British stars making the headlines for their performances on the pitch.

After starring roles in the Champions League this week, Hayward sees a bright future in both Tottenham's Gareth Bale and Arsenal's Jack Wilshere.

“Tottenham's Brazilian goalkeeper thinks Gareth Bale, the team's rising Welsh midfielder, could play for the land of joga bonito, which sits nicely with a thought some of us had at Arsenal on Tuesday night. Jack Wilshere, an 18-year-old Englishman, plays like a 25-year-old Spaniard.

“While the Wayne Rooney show was unfolding along came two bursts of light to show there is a life beyond the Manchester United refusenik's rampant sense of entitlement. British football becomes ever more money-addled. The Liverpool takeover saga morphed effortlessly into the Rooney yarn. On the pitch, though, there were a couple of good reasons to think the British game is still capable of producing high-class footballers and not just dysfunctional celebrities.

“Wilshere, first. Beyond the tender age on his passport, there is no credible reason for Fabio Capello not to start with him when England play France at Wembley next month. The maturity of his performance against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League was such that Gareth Barry, who plays in more or less the same deep midfield position for England, must have turned pale in front of his TV screen.

“The next night Bale, a revelation since converting from left-back to left-midfield, tore through Maicon, the world's most capable right-back, to score a hat-trick against the European champions. A caveat is that Inter were already 4-0 up when Bale launched his one-man counter-surge. Still, San Siro was electrified by Bale's audacity and gift for execution. You could sense every major club in Europe jolting awake and wondering what it might take to extricate him from Spurs.”

Hayward concludes:

“Despite its centrifugal insanity, British football does produce players with skills that are the rule rather than the exception in more sophisticated countries. Northern Ireland yielded Best and Scotland bestowed Kenny Dalglish. Bale and Wilshere, the north London neighbours, are a long way from those heights but they are what football here needs more youngsters to be, which, paradoxically, is un-British. More Brazilian, more Spanish.”
October 21, 2010
Posted by Mark Lomas on 10/21/2010

On a morning that would usually be reserved for a round-up of another exciting night of Champions League action - not least ten-man Tottenham's brave efforts in fighting back to lose by just one goal, in a 4-3 defeat at Inter Milan - there is only one man who continues to dominate the headlines.

And the same newspapers that dragged Wayne Rooney's name through the mud by revealing and reitierating sordid details about his private life last month, appear to have turned on him again - certainly, it is difficult to find any corners of the media clamouring to support the Liverpudlian's decidion to very publicly open and depart through the Old Trafford exit door.

First to step up is Jeff Powell at the Mail, whose opinions about Rooney are clear to see as he accuses the England striker of treating the Manchester United shirt like an oily rag, only fit to wipe his hands - left slimey after his attempts to climb up football's greasy financial pole.

"The red shirt that has been worn with such pride and ferocity of competition by Duncan Edwards, Denis Law, Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona and David Beckham has been treated like a oily rag by Wayne Rooney.

Imagine the reaction, too, of Sir Bobby Charlton, great player and now the great ambassador of the United cause, upon hearing the swaggeringly arrogant statements from the money-obsessed Rooney machine.

Did this great football club ever fail to satisfy his ambition or his bank account? How can Rooney play for United and Ferguson again after the arrogance of his statement yesterday evening?

If Ferguson's emotions were troubling him the day before, how would he have reacted yesterday tea time, hours before a European encounter, as Rooney's statement was played out across the airwaves?

A day earlier, in one of the function suites deep inside Old Trafford, disappointment at the ultimate betrayal was etched deep into that familiar face. I will tell you this, though. Do not write him off. If his rivals are hoping this will be the breaking of the great man and part-time racing owner, they are backing the wrong horse.

Rooney has disgracefully turned his back on his manager and mentor; a football warrior who has transformed the young forward from a teenage prodigy into a global superstar."

Elsewhere, Jamie Jackson in the Guardian reveals the extent of United fans' anger at the whole Rooney saga - after speaking to some furious supporters at Old Trafford.

"Coleen forgave you, we won't." The first anti-Wayne Rooney banner unfurled at Old Trafford last night signalled the opening response to what many Manchester United supporters view as the ultimate betrayal by their favourite adopted son.

As United fans vociferously chanted support for Sir Alex Ferguson, there seemed little doubt about where their loyalties lie. After Rooney had said before kick-off that he wants to leave because the club lacks ambition, there may be no forgiveness from some supporters.

The choruses of "Gary Neville is a Red, He Hates Scousers" might have been aimed at Rooney, who hails from Liverpool, though the song has also been a confirmed favourite throughout the golden years, when the striker was still the darling of the Theatre of Dreams.

If the 24-year-old, who currently has a genuine ankle injury, was watching on TV he would have also heard some support from those inside Old Trafford, on an evening of oddly ambivalent moods.

While another banner pleaded with Rooney to go anywhere but to Manchester City, the overriding emotion among fans before filtering into the stadium had been disbelief. "I was shocked, it's come out of the blue," said Beverly Bishop, who sees around 15 games a season. "Honestly, I believed him when he said that he was going to stay at United for life. Maybe I shouldn't have done, but I did.

"I hope it's not just the money, which is what everyone is saying, as I didn't think that of him. Maybe we were wrong."

Her mother, who was also at the match, had no wish to hear Rooney claim that United have lost their ambition. "I'd like him to say he didn't mean it and he's been really stupid," Barbara Bishop said.

"It was quite moving what Sir Alex Ferguson said [on Tuesday], he's been quite hurt by this and I agree with most of what he had to say. In a way, I wish Rooney was playing because I would just like to see the reaction," she added. "I think there will be two different reactions. A lot of people will think, 'You little bastard.'"

But, also in the Guardian, is a rare piece of support for Rooney - as Paul Wilson sides with the former Everton striker, whose claims he believes can quite easily be substantiated.

"Absent in spirit from Old Trafford and absent in person, Wayne Rooney at least gave his erstwhile public something of himself with a statement issued around two hours before kick-off. The timing alone must have angered Sir Alex Ferguson, but what of the substance of Rooney's remarks? Can Manchester United really be said to lack ambition and are they now so financially hamstrung they can no longer compete in the transfer market?

A glance at the teamsheet for the Bursaspor game would suggest the answers might be yes and yes. Federico Macheda up front and Bebé alongside Gabriel Obertan on the bench hardly sent out a message of strength to the rest of Europe and, even if Ferguson had attacking insurance in Dimitar Berbatov and Javier Hernández, one of those strikers is only just starting to show his true capabilities and the other is only just starting. Take Rooney out of the equation, as United found to their cost at the business end of last season, and the frontline begins to flatline.

While that may not be entirely Ferguson's fault, it is not down to Rooney either. One could argue that the player is being entirely consistent in his reasoning, having chosen United over Everton precisely because they could match his ambitions. Now it appears they cannot, either in terms of buying top players or the unstated matter of paying astronomical wages, and it is difficult for Ferguson to counter that argument because it is precisely what the fans have been saying for the past few years."

October 20, 2010
Posted by Dom Raynor on 10/20/2010

Apparently some fella called Wayne Rooney wants to leave a club called Manchester United and this is causing something of a stir in the UK press.

United manager Sir Alex Ferguson appeared to take the news that his start striker wants to leave Old Trafford particularly badly and bared his "terribly disappointed" soul to the press in a way he never has before. Or did he?

The Guardian's Barney Ronay smells something fishy in the unusual actions of Ferguson, who was jarringly reasonable, and believes it might be nothing more than a PR exercise, with round one clearly going to the United manager.

"He's been a bludgeon, he's been a curmudgeon, he's been a purveyor of bloody-minded imperial pronouncements. Today, presiding at one of the most eagerly awaited appearances in the brief but intense history of routinely scheduled Champions League press conferences, Sir Alex Ferguson revealed another side to his late-evolving public persona.

Disarmingly unapoplectic, jarringly reasonable, Ferguson appeared before his public cast against type in the surprise role of managerial Jewish grandmother. Baffled, quietly rueful, concerned but not angry, this was a perfectly crafted and expertly restrained display of Portnoy-ish why-oh-why. By the end of it, drinking in that artless gaze of maternal disbelief, listening to the carefully reasoned soliloquy of betrayal, we all felt a little bit guilty on Wayne Rooney's behalf.

A self-preserving gambit it may have been, not to mention a brilliantly polished piece of public relations, but at times you could almost feel the twitch on the invisible thread. No, you go, Wayne. It's for the best, really. Don't worry about any of us.

From his first appearance on the dais it was clear that this was Ferguson on full beam. Crisply groomed, sprucely coiffed, even a little thrusting and silver fox-like in an overly large knotted tie and no-nonsense white shirt, Ferguson spoke in a single emotional register. This was the voice of quietly borne betrayal ("Terribly disappointing ... couldn't quite understand it ... never had an argument"). It was a peculiarly timeless kind of generational disappointment, infused at times with a breathless, Barbara Cartland-ish sense of wistfulness: "He intimated, in his own way, he wanted to leave ... I was very disappointed."

However, nothing happens at Manchester United these days without it being tied to the Glazer's debt-ridden regime, at least nothing negative, and in The Telegraph Henry Winter claims the Rooney situation exposes shame of the American owners' reign at Old Trafford.

"One ball, in fact more a hand grenade from Ferguson, is in Rooney's court. Another has landed in the Glazers' court.

If Rooney looks intent on leaving, believing United lack ambition, worrying about what life at Old Trafford holds with Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs winding down, and with Ferguson's own long-term plans in doubt, the Glazers must act quickly to prove to Ferguson they can still compete. Don't hold your breath.

Anyone with an ounce of understanding of Ferguson's DNA knows he is a fighter and so any talk of empires crumbling remains premature. We have been down this road before with United and Ferguson, predictions of eras ending proving ill-founded but this is undoubtedly the greatest crisis the Scot has faced since 1990.

Once again, he's holding the club together. Once again, he's trying to build a trophy-winning side in an age of debt brought on by the unloved Glazers.

To lose one star like Cristiano Ronaldo could be considered a misfortune. To lose another in Rooney looks more than carelessness; it looks like the dread hand of debt holding United and Ferguson back. The shame of the Glazers' regime is now fully exposed."

October 19, 2010
Posted by Jon Carter on 10/19/2010

Only one story dominates the papers again today. Wayne Rooney's future is the subject of such debate that a few websites ran 'LIVE: Rooney future' coverage yesterday, only to ditch it midway through the afternoon. Thankfully the papers are full of something a little more concrete and we begin with the Daily Telegraph's Jim White.

Jim Leighton, Jaap Stam, Paul McGrath, Norman Whiteside, Gabriel Heinze, David Beckham, Paul Ince, Roy Keane, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Mark Hughes, Carlos Tévez: it would make quite a team if you could put together those who, over his quarter century in charge at Manchester United, have been snubbed, cast off and let go by Sir Alex Ferguson. But what an addition to the ranks of Out-take United would it be were Wayne Rooney, the latest and perhaps the greatest former favourite to feel the wrath of Fergie, as is rumoured, imminently to be dispatched from the inner circle.

As Patrick Barclay points out in his new biography of the Manchester United. manager, Football Bloody Hell, Ferguson is, above all things, a gambler. He takes chances. He willingly makes speculative plunges into the unknown.

In his professional life, as opposed to at the racetrack, he engages in risk not for its own, adrenalin-fuelled sake, but for this reason: to procure improvement. Nowhere more so than in his attitude to the big names in his team. While other managers are fearful of tackling grander personalities, he acts early, with an often breathtaking ruthlessness; his purpose always to advance the cause.

Another fall-out and the Daily Mail's Martin Samuel thinks that this could mark the beginning of the end for Sir Alex Ferguson.

There is an end-of-empire feel to the prospect of Wayne Rooney leaving Manchester United. If he goes it is hard to imagine it will be long before Sir Alex Ferguson follows. Football's most romantic stories rarely have happy conclusions and there has been too much tumult in Ferguson's time to believe he would escape unharmed. He has stripped down and rebuilt a great United team perhaps four times now, but this may be his last.

Rooney's departure would be the harbinger. Times change. Ferguson had the future mapped out, built around two, young, world class players - Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo - but it was not to be. As a 69-year-old grandfather when the season ends, does he possess the motivation to do it all again? Practically, does he have the funds and is the talent available?

This is more than the typical mid-season transfer saga, then. This is more than the familiar brinkmanship over money or contractual terms. Rooney's departure may spell the end of an era in English football: the bitter denouement of the Ferguson years.

We can all debate how many great United teams Ferguson has constructed, deconstructed or reconstructed, but what is undeniable is that the present one was supposed to have as its cornerstones Rooney and Ronaldo. They would be supplemented by a strong squad, its talents ranging from the treasures of the last century - Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes - to the modern stalwarts like Darren Fletcher and Nemanja Vidic. Crucial to it all, however, were two players considered capable of dominating the game for years to come.

The pairing was regarded as Ferguson's masterstroke. He had sold David Beckham and found a replacement even more prolific, he had tired of Ruud van Nistelrooy but not before nurturing a goalscorer of equal brilliance with a finer team ethic. The future was assured. Ferguson no longer talked of retirement, either; he was going to stay and enjoy this. The title and Champions League double secured in 2008, there would be many more seasons of domination.

And now what? With Ronaldo already departed to Real Madrid and the title lost to Chelsea as a result, Rooney is preparing to exit, and can force United's hand in the summer with only a year left on his contract. Where does that leave Ferguson?

October 18, 2010
Posted by Tom Adams on 10/18/2010

There is only one issue dominating the back pages on Monday morning and that is the bombshell that Wayne Rooney has refused to discuss a contract extension at Manchester United as he looks to leave the club.

Though United are yet to make any comment on the story, the papers are united in proclaiming a total breakdown in relations between Rooney and Sir Alex Ferguson - a scenario that was previously thought to be near impossible.

But what does the news mean for United?

Richard Williams, writing in The Guardian, warns that losing Rooney could not only impinge on United’s chances of winning silverware, it could also hasten the retirement of Ferguson himself.

"Ferguson has been here before, of course. David Beckham, Paul Ince, Jaap Stam and Ruud van Nistelrooy were world-class players who left the club at the manager's instigation, having incurred his displeasure. But Rooney, who is still only 24, was bought from Everton to become a keystone in Ferguson's last great side – the one that would not only continue his run of domestic success but give him a third European Cup victory, to be won in the style that eluded his otherwise successful teams in 1999 and 2008.

"Rooney's decision will make observers – and perhaps even Ferguson himself – wonder whether such an ambition remains within the realms of possibility. As things stand, particularly in the long-term absence of Antonio Valencia and Owen Hargreaves, the team has barely enough quality to cope with a challenge for this season's Premier League title.

"The manager has surely found himself relying on his old guard – Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville – for far longer than he ever envisaged when they first formed the locally produced core of his first-team squad a decade and a half ago. Given the constant need to introduce fresh blood of matching quality, to lose so gifted a young player as Rooney at this stage seems almost like carelessness."

Matt Lawton picks up the theme in the Daily Mail as he asks just what exactly Ferguson has done to incur the displeasure of Rooney - a man who bizarrely appears to have adopted the persona of a victim in the matter.

"The manager appears to have done little wrong to date. It is not his fault, after all, that the future of Rooney’s marriage is being discussed on the front pages while his professional future is being debated on the back.

"It is also not his fault that Rooney is behaving in the extreme manner that he is. While it is Ferguson’s style to close ranks, Rooney has chosen to challenge his manager publicly. Ferguson might yet decide that enough is enough and there is nothing more he can do."

The Independent’s Sam Wallace takes a slightly different tack to his Fleet Street colleagues as he pinpoints a lack of ambition on the part of the club as one of the reasons behind Rooney’s desire to leave. How often do you hear that said about Manchester United?

"Rooney does not want to commit his future to the club because, it is understood, he does not believe that they are investing in new players to replace the old guard of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville. The new contract offered to him thus far is not comparable to the top earners at Manchester City or what he could earn if he left as a free agent when his current deal expires in June 2012. And if Rooney will not sign a new contract then it follows that United will have to sell if they are not to lose him for nothing.

"Rooney is applying a very harsh logic to United's situation and one which some of their fans will regard as unpardonable. But his refusal to sign a new contract is based upon the blunt realities of football. He wants more money and greater ambition than the club can offer him. It is the clearest signal yet, after more than five years under the Glazer family's ownership, that United are in decline."

October 16, 2010
Posted by Dom Raynor on 10/16/2010

Thank heavens it's over! Liverpool FC are in new hands and with the news of NESV's takeover dove-tailing beautifully with this weekend's Merseyside derby, Saturday's newspapers can kill two birds with one stone.

While NESV promise a new are for Liverpool, Everton are still seeking a sugar daddy to takeover at the Toffees but the match at Goodison will provide a barometer of which of the two struggling clubs, currently lying in 18th and 19th in the Premier League, have the advantage where it counts - on the pitch.

Writing in the Daily Mirror, former Liverpool defender Mark Lawrenson explains why he thinks this Merseyside derby shows how far Everton have come - and how far Liverpool have slipped:

"I cannot remember a Merseyside derby with both teams at the bottom end of the table. Nor can I recall the last time Everton go into the match with the stronger team and better players. Everyone knows about the big stars in the Liverpool side but the rest of the line-up is pretty ordinary.

And if I were picking a combined Merseyside XI, Mikel Arteta, Tim Cahill, Jack Rodwell, Leighton Baines and Phil Neville would all be included. That is half the outfield players – and the rest of the Everton players are probably stronger than their Liverpool counterparts.

It just shows how well David Moyes spent his money compared to Rafa Benitez. And it indicates how far the Goodison Park club have come – or how far Liverpool have slipped.

At least the stench of Tom Hicks and George Gillett will finally be lifted from Anfield after their ­unedifying final few days. Even at the last minute, Hicks had the chance to leave with a big of dignity if he had said it was a business deal that went wrong. He would not have been loved, but at least people would have understood.

Instead, even as he tried to cling on to a life-raft in mid-Atlantic, the American has demonstrated one final time how he just does not get the club and what it means."

In The Guardian, David Lacey concurs that it will be a very even, if somewhat extraordinary, affair at Goodison but the spot light will be on Roy Hodgson's struggling Liverpool team, given their labours on the field and problems off it.

"It would be a rare Merseyside derby that found both of the participants in the bottom three, yet this will be the scenario at Goodison on Sunday should tomorrow's game between Wolves and West Ham produce a winner. If that happens Everton will be 18th and Liverpool 19th and the Premier League table, especially for Manchester United supporters, will be one to cut out and keep.

At this early stage of the season such a situation is more of a curiosity than a portent. Should either or both teams still be in the relegation area when they meet at Anfield in the new year, fans and boardrooms alike will begin to fret in earnest. For the moment it is safe to assume that Everton and Liverpool are experiencing an autumn chill rather than a winter freeze.

At least Everton are used to it. For several seasons now they have resembled a car with a dodgy battery, needing a good shove to get the engine running properly. Liverpool, on the other hand, have not experienced so bad a start, one win in seven games, since the 1953-54 season which eventually saw them relegated.

Inevitably the bulk of the attention will be on Roy Hodgson's struggling Liverpool team, given their labours on the field and problems off it. Everton may be short of cash and in more urgent need than ever of a new and bigger stadium, but at least they have not been waking up each day wondering who will buy them next."

October 15, 2010
Posted by Robin Hackett on 10/15/2010

Charles Sale, writing in the Daily Mail, has some information on the prospective new Liverpool owner, who may well be the man the fans want him to be.

Liverpol owner-in-waiting John W Henry, who hopes to be introduced to fans before Sunday’s Merseyside derby, has already proved to be highly accessible to Anfield supporters.

A Granada TV crew found Henry drinking with ex-pat Liverpool fans in a Boston bar this week watching Tuesday’s television coverage of the Ireland v Slovakia Euro 2012 qualifier.

However, Henry, who flew by private jet to London after it looked like his New England Sports Ventures takeover had received the green light from the High Court on Wednesday, did not want to speak before the sale was complete.

When the Granada team started setting up their camera to talk to fans, Henry made his exit. He walked straight into the door frame, banging his shoulder, and was last seen running gingerly down a Boston street before reappearing in public at the Slaughter & May law firm in London for the Liverpool board meeting the following night.

Boston bar owner Kevin Treanor said: ‘I’m a Liverpool fan and Mr Henry is just what we need. I’ve seen what he’s done for the Red Sox.’

October 13, 2010
Posted by Tom Adams on 10/13/2010

As you would expect there is plenty of hand-wringing about England's 0-0 draw with Montenegro in the national press on Wednesday morning.

The Guardian's unflattering headline reads 'Woeful England return to dark ages' while The Sun, plumbing new depths in the art of headline writing, opts for the frankly awful 'The Fool Monte'.

The recriminations are widespread given the context of a dismal World Cup campaign, and the familiar sight of the tabloids scenting blood is in evidence once again, but surely some perspective is required? England will probably still qualify with ease and there was at least one bright spot.

Former England striker Alan Smith, writing in The Telegraph, highlights the performance of Manchester City winger Adam Johnson.

“Some players can transfer their club form on to the international stage without too much drama. They feel nice and comfortable making the step-up, or at least confident enough to try things they do naturally week after week. Others, however, need a little more time. Initially, the different atmosphere tends to inhibit them. Some settle down a few caps down the line while others are destined to never make the grade.

“A good example of these two scenarios could be seen at Wembley last night where England’s two wide men experienced contrasting fortunes. Because while Ashley Young seems to represent one of the latter, someone yet to show his vibrant Aston Villa form in an England shirt, Adam Johnson looks like the opposite case after another effective performance against Montenegro.

“Following on from his exciting display in Switzerland, capped by a well-taken goal, the Manchester City winger proved at Wembley that it was not a fluke, that he is likely to be around for the long term as a potent option on one of England’s flanks. He made this impression, what’s more, in difficult circumstances, when very few of his team-mates could find their feet in a first half littered with basic errors.”

Smith concludes:

“Actually, they have started calling him 'Besty’ in the England camp. To be fair, it is a nickname any winger would absolutely kill for — that is as long as it refers to his devastating dribbling skills rather than an active social life to rival the late, great George Best.”
October 12, 2010
Posted by Mark Lomas on 10/12/2010

Those of you who are bored by the Rio Ferdinand England captaincy debate, look away now. Actually, this is one time you can probably read on. Yesterday, the press were clamouring to speculate on whether the Manchester United defender would retain the England captaincy, while today they pick apart Fabio Capello's decision to stick with Rio ahead of Steven Gerrard.

The number of column inches dedicated to Rio has somewhat perturbed Barry Glendenning of Guardian Football Podcast fame. So much so that the Irishman has felt it necessary to add to said inches with his own comment piece for the Guardian, attempting to understand just what all the fuss surrounding the England captaincy is about.

"While the news that Rio Ferdinand has regained the England armband from Steven Gerrard ought to be worthy of little more than a shoulder-shrug, it appears to have made headline news in a country where football fans seem peculiarly obsessed with the captaincy of their national team and which player it should be bestowed upon. Before you head straight for the comments section, it would be a gross dereliction of journalistic duty if I failed to concede that (a) the Guardian is as responsible as any other media outlet else for this sorry state of affairs and (b) by cranking out several hundred words on the subject I am rendering said state of affairs even sorrier.

...the predictable news that he'll lead the side appears to be the source of much excited murmuring, with many journalists apparently under the impression that his reinstatement is a managerial snook cocked in the face of Gerrard that could have an adverse effect on the famously sensitive Scouser's form. The fact that Gerrard's thoughts on the matter remain unknown doesn't appear to have prevented assorted folk from being outraged on his behalf, although whether this stems from general concern for the Liverpool midfielder's feelings, a media obsession with the England captaincy that became disturbingly apparent around the time of John Terry's off-field "difficulties", or desperation to find an interesting news line with which to fill column inches on an otherwise slow day remains open to debate.

Hailing as he does from a country whose national football team is automatically captained by the player in the side boasting the highest number of caps, Capello must be completely bewildered by the commotion that has surrounded his appointment of an onfield spokesman. While it is obviously an honour for any player to lead his country, it could be argued that the role is nothing more than ceremonial: leading out the team, exchanging pennants, calling heads or tails and not bumping uglies with a team-mate's ex-girlfriend."

October 11, 2010
Posted by Dom Raynor on 10/11/2010

It's all about Rio Ferdinand in the newspapers today, and although that's the way the Manchester United defender usually likes it he might not be so happy that his suitability to lead England is the subject of debate.

Ferdinand was made England skipper in February when John Terry was stripped of the armband, but injury ruled him out of the World Cup and Steven Gerrard took over as leader.

The centre-back is set to play his first game for England since May against Montenegro at Wembley on Tuesday but many pundits think Gerrard should retain the captaincy. Writing in the Telegraph, Alan Hansen goes as far as to say it is time for Rio quit England altogether.

Since December 2008 he has been involved in just 44 of Manchester United's 105 games and that is an amazing statistic which tells its own story.

If you were a 25 year-old with that track record, you would be in trouble, but at Rio's age, I think it gives a clear message that he must now decide whether he wants to extend the longevity of his career with United or continue to play for England.

I don't think he can play for both and there is a real argument to say that he should contemplate following the likes of Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Alan Shearer by retiring from international football.

Having had such a terrible run with injuries, Rio's priority is to play for United and get back into the groove of performing on a consistent basis of uninterrupted football for at least three months.

If he is looking at his situation as a whole, Rio is such an important figure to United that he must get things right there first. After having so many injuries and missing so many games, England must now play second best to United if Rio wants to prolong his career.

However, writing in The Sun, Shaun Custis makes the case for Rio to be given back the armband.

After last month's Euro 2012 double success, Capello refused to say who would be captain for tomorrow's game against Montenegro at Wembley. He wanted to assess Ferdinand's form and fitness before committing himself.

Ferdinand, 31, believes he has answered those questions with his performances in United's last two matches - where his team kept clean sheets against Valencia and Sunderland.

The cultured centre-back has also been hugely impressive in England training, showing no signs so far of any injury troubles.

An England insider said: "Rio has done everything he can to show Capello he is back to his best. Of course he wants to be captain. It means a lot to him."

So Capello must today nail his colours to the mast - Ferdinand or Gerrard.

October 8, 2010
Posted by Mark Lomas on 10/08/2010

Plenty of world football's so-called big guns flopped at the World Cup, but while Brazil and Argentina could at least boast some moments of entertainment to temper their disappointing exits, three European giants completely flattered to deceive - France, England and, most notably, the reigning world champions Italy.

The Azzurri's group stage exit may not have been quite as embarassing as France's single-point display as World Cup holders at the 2002 finals, but it was a harrowing experience for Italian football fans nonetheless. Two draws - with Paraguay and minnows New Zealand - and a last-gasp defeat to Slovakia saw Italy finish in last place in Group F and an early flight home followed soon after.

Now, with Cesare Prandelli replacing Marcello Lippi in the manager's hotseat, Italy appear ready to put their World Cup nightmare behind them, according to Paolo Bandini, who has previewed the Azzurri's upcoming clash with Northern Ireland for the Guardian.

"If this summer's World Cup was a chastening experience for Fabio Capello then he will at least know that he got off more lightly than his countrymen. England's 4-1 defeat to Germany may have been humiliating but Italy's exit at the group stage was, for the leading national newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport, "the darkest and most terrible day in our football history". Never before had the country left a World Cup without a single victory. By achieving just two draws in Group F they had performed worse, even, than New Zealand.

The lone positive note for Italy was that they at least had an immediate succession plan in place. Cesare Prandelli had agreed before the tournament to replace Marcello Lippi as coach, and was duly unveiled on 2 July. From a symbolic standpoint, the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) could scarcely have chosen a better man. Prandelli may not have the medals – as a manager his biggest achievement so far is winning Serie B – but he does possess a warmth, openness and charm that make for a stark contrast with his predecessor."

October 6, 2010
Posted by Dom Raynor on 10/06/2010

With the UK press having to stick to early morning print deadlines their "Liverpool set for sale" headlines were quickly out of date after the club announced they had sold up to the owner of the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday.

So instead we turn our attention to another club that has been grabbing the headlines, Manchester City, who are struggling to meet UEFA's new financial guidelines to qualify for European competitions.

Champions League-chasing City spent over £100 million in bringing in Jerome Boateng, David Silva, Yaya Toure, Aleksandar Kolarov, Mario Balotelli and James Milner in the transfer window. The outlay takes Sheikh Mansour's total spend, mostly on transfer fees and wages, to £500 million since his takeover in 2008.

UEFA will only allow a loss of £35 million over a three year period and City lost £121 million in one year.

However, in a series of interviews with The Guardian, city officials claim that this summer's lavish spending spree will be the club's last and David Conn ponders just how the club can meet UEFA's targets.

"Since Manchester City released last week's not very shocking bombshell, that Sheikh Mansour of Abu Dhabi's vast spending on the club had financed a loss of £121m, the football world has been asking a very specific question. How can a club whose owner is indulging losses on that scale possibly meet Uefa's "financial fair play" requirement that within four years clubs in European competition must be close to breaking even?

The leeway Uefa have settled on, allowing €45m losses in total, over three years from 2011, is a planet away from the one to which City, second in the Premier League, have been launched by Mansour. Arsenal, who meet Uefa's measure of financial sanity more comfortably than any other elite Premier League side (Manchester United are loaded with the Glazers' £716m debts, while Chelsea made a £47m loss in 2008-09), recently disclosed football turnover of £223m for 2009-10, almost £100m more than City's, with a wage bill £22m lower at £111m.

Yet City's response is not the loadsamoney two-fingers to Michel Platini which some, observing the £500m lavished to date by Mansour, might have expected. The club's chief communications officer, Victoria Kloss, flew to Geneva to give Uefa advance sight of the results, seeking to show the governing body that City's new regime is also taking care of the club's fans, culture and "soul", and, financially, does plan to become sustainable.

City's chief executive, Garry Cook, and chief financial and administration officer, Graham Wallace, both said the club plans to comply. Their strategy is to propel City to the top, make more money from the TV and commercial boost the Champions League avails and gradually bring wages down by replacing ageing galacticos with graduates of the academy, on which City are also spending a fortune."

October 5, 2010
Posted by Robin Hackett on 10/05/2010

With Wolves captain Karl Henry and City enforcer Nigel de Jong both having hit the headlines for their tackles this weekend, the debate over player protection has understandably risen to the fore once again.

Luckily, Wigan's Jordi Gomez escaped pretty much unscathed, but Newcastle starlet Hatem Ben Arfa suffered a double leg break. For Richard Williams, writing in The Guardian, football has a duty to disarm its human missiles.

A month ago, according to Alan Shearer's notorious observation on Match of the Day, nobody had heard of Hatem Ben Arfa. They have now. A tackle by Nigel de Jong broke the tibia and fibula of the gifted young French forward's right leg on Sunday afternoon, condemning him to months of rehabilitation and raising once again the question of exactly what constitutes an acceptable challenge in modern football.

De Jong has recent form of the kind that tends to skew a debate. During Holland's friendly against the United States in March he broke the leg of the Bolton Wanderers midfielder Stuart Holden with a very similar tackle. And in Johannesburg three months ago, during the World Cup final, the sole of his raised boot made jarringly painful contact with the chest of Xabi Alonso. Poor Howard Webb, desperately trying to preserve the quality of a showpiece occasion, let it go, but yesterday even Holland's manager, Bert van Marwijk, lost patience and dropped De Jong from his squad after viewing the tackle on Ben Arfa.

The Dutchman is known for his stern tackling, and it has made him one of the most successful of Manchester City's recruits since the money started flowing in. A product of the Ajax academy, he is the kind of holding midfield player around whom a side can be built, and he fits into English league football as well as Dave Mackay, Nobby Stiles or Peter Storey once did.

But football has changed, or rather footballers have, since those particular hard men held sway. All players are athletes now, far stronger and faster than their predecessors, which means that they are hurtling into contact more frequently and at much greater velocity. It also means they are often making those tackles before the player in possession has had time to control the ball or set himself to resist, absorb or evade the challenge.

That was more or less the case with Ben Arfa. But Jordi Gómez of Wigan Athletic was running at full speed and had taken a touch when Karl Henry, the Wolves captain, came flying in on Saturday, sending the Catalan midfielder into a spectacular somersault. If it looked much worse than the collision between De Jong and Ben Arfa, luckily it had a better outcome.

The two challenges had something in common: both tacklers were going for the ball, aiming to dispossess the opponent. The injury to Ben Arfa was incurred when the Newcastle United player made contact with De Jong's trailing leg. The sheer force of Henry's arrival knocked Gómez off his feet. In both cases, however, the tackler had launched himself like a sort of human missile, although neither challenge was two-footed.

Ryan Shawcross's challenge on Aaron Ramsey last March, in which Arsenal's young Welshman suffered the same double fracture as Ben Arfa, was another example of recklessness, although Arsène Wenger thought he detected something else. "I love the commitment of the English game," he said afterwards. "I do not want to change that. I think it makes the game even more attractive. But high commitment demands as well fair intention."

Intention is hard, often impossible, to identify with any certainty. Shawcross's tears after the incident supported those who felt that there had been no malice in the young Stoke City player's challenge.

He concludes:

For spectators, a contrast of styles is the essence of football. Brilliant one-touch interplay is thrown into higher relief when confronted by opponents favouring a straightforward, even rugged approach. But there has to be a way of protecting the Ben Arfas and the Ramseys more effectively, without neutering the game.
October 4, 2010
Posted by Tom Adams on 10/04/2010

The Dail Mail’s chief writer Martin Samuel writes an impassioned piece on Monday about the folly of Tottenham’s decision to state their interest in potentially occupying the Olympic Stadium following the 2012 games.

Spurs are using the stadium as a back-up plan in case their attempt to build a new 56,000-capacity arena in their traditional surroundings falls through. The plan has not been received favourably by West Ham, who have had their sights set on the Olympic site for some time now.

Cynics may point to the fact that Mr Samuel is indeed a Hammers fan, but his argument holds water. It would be a bit wrong, wouldn’t it? Samuel writes:

“Manchester United are slightly to the south of town, Manchester City are to the east, but it doesn’t really matter. To the rest of the world they are the Manchester clubs, and never more specifically defined.

“Nobody but a local could identify Birmingham’s Premier League duo as being from the north (Aston Villa) or south east (Birmingham City) and the same goes for Bristol (City to the south west, Rovers to the north) and Sheffield (United south, Wednesday north). Liverpool and Everton are separated by a communal park, Nottingham Forest and Notts County by the river Trent.

“So there is only one city in England in which the specific locales of football clubs matter and it is London. The north London derby, the fact that supporters of West Ham United sing specifically of love for east London, grudges to the west, hostility to the south, beyond the capital there is no equivalent of this precise division.

“So Tottenham Hotspur might as well move to Stratford-upon-Avon as Stratford, east London. As if using the Olympic Stadium as a back-up option in case the redevelopment of White Hart Lane falls through is not insult enough, chairman Daniel Levy’s idea of invading the territory of a rival London club shows contempt for the dynamic of football in the capital and the history of its teams.

“Not least his own. There may be irritant value in parking Tottenham’s tanks on West Ham’s lawns and nobody blames Levy for having a plan B, but why would the chairman of Tottenham wish to surrender 128 years of history from beginnings on Tottenham marshes to move to a part of the city where his club would feel alien?”

October 3, 2010
Posted by Robin Hackett on 10/03/2010

Arsene Wenger says it is time for Arsenal to deliver but, with Lukasz Fabianski set to feature in goal, Jim White in the Sunday Telegraph isn't holding out much hope for them.

This week Fabianski enjoyed a rare moment: after a competent performance in the Champions League encounter with Partizan Belgrade, he woke to a collection of positive notices.

As is the way in football, Fabianski’s handy effort – he even saved a penalty – is being spoken up by his colleagues as a turning point, a vindication, an answer to unjust criticism of past misdemeanours.

Now, so runs the claim, he is ready, if required, to stand-in for the injured (and equally hapless) Manuel Almunia for the match with Chelsea this weekend. In other words, one game has prepared him to take on the very opponents who, during the FA Cup semi-final in 2009, provoked an error from him that lies at the heart of many an Arsenal fan’s most disturbing nightmares.

“He’s a great keeper otherwise he wouldn’t be here at Arsenal,” said his colleague Kieran Gibbs. Which must constitute the finest oxymoron of the season. Of all the teams with aspirations, it has long been Arsenal who have suffered from a problem in goal. Keepers appear to be Arsène Wenger’s Achilles’ heel.

It is fair to say that, apart from David Seaman, the veteran manager has never fielded a goalie coveted by his rivals. And Seaman was there when he arrived. At best Seaman’s successors have delivered competence. At worst they have provided all the security of a deposit in an Icelandic bank.

What makes the problem so odd is that it seems to the diehards in the Emirates stands a simple matter to rectify: get out the chequebook. Spend some of the club’s record profits on an established custodian of international standing. Gianluigi Buffon, Shay Given, Mark Schwarzer: it is not as if we are suffering from a deficit of available talent.

Yet to do that would be to gainsay Wenger’s whole approach to management. He prides himself on the discovery of potential. If he doesn’t find the best players in the first place, he prefers to buy young and nurture them his way. No matter how appealing, sensible and indeed necessary their recruitment might seem, signing established big names is simply not on his radar.

October 2, 2010
Posted by Robin Hackett on 10/02/2010

Arsenal have struggled at Stamfrod Bridge in recent times, but Arsene Wenger remains confident that his injury-hit side can still cause an upset against the Blues.

Brian Reade, writing in the Daily Mirror, feels that Sunday will be a day of reckoning for the Frenchman.

A feeling that glory is just round the corner should reside in the guts of every football man. But there comes a point when you have to deliver, otherwise potential becomes failure.

Wenger’s Arsenal have played the most breath-taking football of any English side this past decade but for half that decade they’ve won nothing.

You have to go back to the 2005 FA Cup Final penalty shoot-out, when Wenger ditched his attacking philosophy and parked the bus at Cardiff to stop Manchester United playing, for his last trophy.

Since that afternoon the much-derided Rafa Benitez has won the Champions League and FA Cup but was forced out of Anfield for being a failure.

There was always going to come a point when Wenger, like his keepers, has to deliver. When he’d go a season too far without a major trophy and his refusal to compete in the transfer market with the biggest clubs in Europe would backfire.

This might be the season and tomorrow at Stamford Bridge might be reckoning day. Win and Arsenal have the platform to mount a genuine title challenge.

Lose and Arsenal go seven points behind Chelsea and can probably forget about the title for another year.

Meaning Wenger’s repeated statements about his team being on the brink of greatness will sound as hollow as the endorsements of his keepers.

And sadly for football, Gooners may start asking if it’s more than the keeper who needs replacing.

September 29, 2010
Posted by Robin Hackett on 09/29/2010

Nicolas Anelka has always been a controversial figure, and his standing in France is less than stellar after his behaviour during the World Cup. At Stamford Bridge on Tuesday, though, he was on target as Chelsea beat Marseille 2-0, and Jason Burt, in the Daily Telegraph, says he used his silky skills to answer the boo boys.

“I have never seen Anelka afraid or scared or nervous,” said Carlo Ancelotti. “He is always quiet. He is always calm. He has a good character.”

It is not an opinion universally held. Or, at least, not held in France of the now ex-international following his exit from the World Cup in disgrace.

On the eve of this encounter Ancelotti was asked if Anelka would be intimidated by playing in a match beamed live in his home country and against his nation’s champions. Ancelotti laughed.

On 28 minutes there was the test of whether Anelka was at all fazed by his French exile. Chelsea were awarded a penalty. Would he try and convert it with the confident nonchalance he had shown in taking one-step and rolling the ball in the net against Newcastle United last week? After all this was the Champions League, not the Carling Cup.

No matter. Anelka again took a ridiculously short run-up and, this time, sent the ball into the net before, cheekily, deliberately, heading towards the Marseille supporters and then checking himself, and turning the other way to celebrate with the home fans. He was making his point. “I don’t have to say to Anelka how to shoot his penalties,” Ancelotti said when asked if the approach brought any palpitations. “He is able to take them and has scored twice. I’m happy.”

The Marseille ultras had whistled Anelka’s every touch to that moment – the decibels a notch or two louder than they were for another Frenchman, another World Cup flop, Florent Malouda.

September 28, 2010
Posted by Dom Raynor on 09/28/2010

Out-of-form Wayne Rooney has been ruled out of Manchester United's trip to Valencia on Wednesday with an ankle injury but the word on Fleet Street is that the striker has more problems than just a knock.

Rooney's form has suffered since the scandals about his private life hit the papers earlier this month and manager Sir Alex Ferguson expressed his concern in an interview last week.

In short, Rooney needs the break, as Matt Lawton explains in the Daily Mail.

"There were two stories on the official Manchester United website at the same time on Monday. One said Wayne Rooney would be fit to face Valencia in Spain. The other said not.

'No Wayne in Spain,' read the headline, citing the same ankle injury that, on the conflicting report, had not been deemed that serious.

Clearly, there is more to his omission than the gash he sustained at Bolton on Sunday or even the continuing problems with an ankle first injured in Munich in March.

England's best player, and the best player at Old Trafford, is struggling, and understandably so.

Sir Alex Ferguson expressed his concern in an interview last week when he spoke of how difficult it must be for the 24-year-old when the focus on him, in the wake of those revelations about his private life, is so intense."

September 23, 2010
Posted by Jon Carter on 09/23/2010

Not one to usually talk about football, Jan Moir in the Daily Mail may have an odd take on certain things, but she might just be spot on about the house owned by new Aston Villa signing Stephen Ireland. She begins...

Talk about the taste of Ireland! Or - more accurately - lack thereof. Until he threw open the doors of his lurid Cheshire mansion to a celebrity magazine, Cork-born footballer Stephen Ireland was most famous for once flashing his superman underpants on the pitch.

Oh! There was also another difficult incident when he lied about his grandmother being ill to escape playing in an Irish international match; a misdemeanour for which he has never been forgiven in his homeland. Nor has he played for his national team again.

Now the Aston Villa millionaire can add another crime to his charge sheet. That's right, my fellow décor watchers. Together with his partner, Jessica Lawlor, who is also the mother of his three children, Ireland is guilty of some of the most serious crimes against good taste since the Beckhams parked their bottoms on matching velvet-look, VD-monogrammed thrones during their wedding ceremony.

For this week, in the pages of Ireland's VIP magazine, Stephen and Jessica show exactly what happens when an unlimited decorating budget collides with only a very limited understandingof the concepts of elegance and style, not to mention understatement. And obviously no one did.

Instead, their blingtastic home looks like a cross between the foyer of a Dubai hotel and the downstairs lounge of a flash northern nightclub. And that is just the way they like it.

Really, Stephen and Jessica are the kind of couple who shouldn't be allowed out to buy a cushion without adult supervision, but who can stop them? Amid the high-wattage glare of their conspicuous consumption, they commit grievous bodily harm against soft furnishings and assault the good name of fixtures and fittings over and over again.

September 21, 2010
Posted by Jon Carter on 09/21/2010

Liverpool are, of course, in the news again and Tom Hicks' attempts to take over the club on his own have made the back pages of late. Now the Guardian's Kevin McCarra has his say on the current problems at Anfield.

Tom Hicks has inspired a popular uprising. Liverpool supporters are generally pleased that the co-owner is finding it hard to borrow £280m and so pay back the £237m due to the Royal Bank of Scotland next month. Hicks might still raise the funds but the fans' attempt to deter lenders, with the side-effect of temporarily devastating an institution they love, speaks of desperation.

Hicks and George Gillett, his partner in the purchase of Liverpool, are not entitled to any sympathy. The crisis rests on a miscalculation by them. They were wholly wrong to suppose that they were acquiring a wonderful asset when they completed their takeover in March 2007. Perhaps they were as light-headed as the crowd about a side then on its way to the final of the Champions League, a trophy it had won only two years before.

The glamour of that tournament has had its invigorating effect since then. As recently as March last year Liverpool drubbed Real Madrid 5-0 on aggregate. Four days later Manchester United were trounced 4-1 at Old Trafford in the Premier League. Such spectacular moments have to be appreciated but they divert attention from a long-term decline. The American proprietors themselves may have been blinded to the intrinsic handicaps that this club endures and sometimes transcends.

Potential buyers have cause to be wary. At the end of the old First Division, in 1992, Liverpool came sixth. They filled that spot again at the close of the inaugural Premier League campaign. Rivals like to honour Liverpool, whose heritage is indeed remarkable, but when Sir Alex Ferguson referred to the allure of fixtures with them he was certainly not identifying the Anfield club as his principal foe nowadays.

Liverpool have roused themselves on occasion and, as recently as 2009, came within four points of the champions United. All the same such exploits are misleading. People were aghast when they came seventh last season but the club have been there before in the Premier League and indeed have done worse still, ending up eighth in 1994.

There has still been a sustained and intermittently inspiring fight against the odds since finance became the key consideration. Indeed, the principal grievance with Hicks and Gillett is their failure to fund a new stadium in Stanley Park. Even so, there might have been an improvement in circumstances rather than a transformation of Liverpool's affairs, had the Americans financed it.

There is not the wealth to be tapped that exists in Manchester or, of course, London. Regardless of references to overseas markets and, in particular, the far east, the size of revenues from match-day income and domestic television coverage continues to have a great bearing on prospects. Liverpool presently have the air of a club economising.

Roy Hodgson, below, is an excellent manager but he will have known that, in part, the Anfield post was his because he had demonstrated so keen an eye for a bargain at Fulham. All the same expectations differ at Liverpool. Fans will feel keenly that the side lost substance when first Xabi Alonso and then Javier Mascherano were transferred. Perhaps they could not have been stopped from going but there were no equivalents to succeed them and Raul Meireles, pardonably enough, could not stifle Paul Scholes at Old Trafford yesterday. The economising has taken its toll on the line-up and the lack of distinction around Fernando Torres makes it harder still for the Spain striker to regain form.

Steven Gerrard has recently shone in adversity but not even he will win many games single-handedly. We could start to think of the Europa League rather than the Champions League as Liverpool's natural habitat unless there is a well-funded revolution.

The only fortunes seen in the past couple of years have been plunged into Eastlands. In Manchester City Sheikh Mansour identified a club that already had a well-appointed stadium. It continues to belong to the local council for the time being but the ground can be expanded to a capacity of at least 60,000 in a place where a well-heeled audience may be attracted.

While few suppose that City will land the title this season Roberto Mancini has been given the means to establish his club eventually as a force in the Champions League. Liverpool's decline diminishes the English scene but anyone with the funds and desire to take over from Hicks and Gillett is buying himself a formidable challenge.

September 18, 2010
Posted by Robin Hackett on 09/18/2010

While Sir Alex Ferguson has suggested Rafael Benitez is to blame for the decline at Liverpool, David Lacey, writing in The Guardian, argues that Ferguson needs a new crop of talent to stave off United's own decline.

For Liverpool, this may be the season that will decide whether they are going to regain their status as one of Europe's leading teams or are about to become another Everton, drifting around in mid-table hoping that one of the elite has a sufficiently lean year to allow them a place in the top four and the chance to revive happier memories.

Manchester United have hardly reached that stage but with two of their best players, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, now the wrong side of 35 while their first-choice goalkeeper, Edwin van der Sar, will be 40 next month, it is going to take a mighty effort to turn the team around while keeping up appearances in the Premier and Champions Leagues. Already the question nobody dares ask must be preying on more than a few minds: what happens when Ferguson decides to retire – and means it.

It is hard to imagine there ever coming a time when the younger part of United's support, those 25 and under say, will have no clear first-hand memories of their team winning the league. Much the same would have been said of Liverpool's fans in the 70s and 80s, yet this is the case now.

Meanwhile, former Arsenal striker Alan Smith turns his focus to Sunday's derby in the Telegraph, saying Nemanja Vidic must prove he can cope with Fernando Torres.

Vidic and Rio Ferdinand must show all their experience by shrewdly choosing when to get tight on Torres and when to drop off, when to defend a high line, as they normally do, and when to withdraw.

After all, the last thing they want is to 'get done' by the kind of simple, long ball that Torres gobbled up in March of last year to trigger Liverpool's ground-breaking 4-1 victory.

In this instance, then, the old coaching adage remains true: if there is pressure on the ball you can afford to squeeze up, knowing that the opponent in possession doesn't have time to pick out a pass. If there isn't pressure, drop off a few yards to allow some breathing space.

In addition, those central defenders must be equally on their guard when their own players have the ball, which is likely to be for the majority of the time. That involves keeping close tabs on Torres, watching where he wanders when play is up the other end.

September 16, 2010
Posted by Robin Hackett on 09/16/2010

Arsenal destroyed Braga in their Champions League opener on Wednesday, with Fabregas taking the majority of the headlines, but Dominic Fifield, writing in the Guardian, feels there's little sense getting excited yet because the defensive doubts remain.

There was something rather routine about all this pizzazz. Arsenal dazzled tonight, as they invariably do through the group stage of a competition that can feel little more than a giddy formality until the new year, with Braga gasping and the locals rejoicing in everything slick. All semblance of competition had been blown away, along with the visitors, by the interval though Arsène Wenger will not have been hoodwinked.

He has seen all this before and must measure the value of such mismatches on longer-term relevance. The watching world knew that Arsenal can by-pass all-comers – except perhaps Barcelona – once they have built up a head of steam. Now they know they still can. It is fragility at the other end that has cost them and, a little over five months since Barça so ruthlessly exposed a soft underbelly, it is this team's rearguard that has duly been revamped.

The overhaul has been substantial, the departures of older heads in William Gallas, Sol Campbell and Mikaël Silvestre, together with Philippe Senderos, hinting at revolution across the back-line rather than Wenger's favoured process of evolution. In have come Sébastien Squillaci and Laurent Koscielny, for not insubstantial fees, to join last summer's acquisition Thomas Vermaelen. Wenger would have added a goalkeeper – Fulham's Mark Schwarzer – had the opportunity arisen which suggests that, even now, his side's defence is a work in progress.

The chance to strengthen further has gone for now. With Lionel Messi's rampaging at Camp Nou in April in mind, the question has been posed whether Arsenal are better equipped this time to excel in a competition neither club nor manager has ever won. Wenger may privately reserve judgment for now, even after this swashbuckling display. His attack remains irrepressible as ever but vulnerability remains. Braga may not have exploited it but better sides would have prospered.

It's a similar story from Martin Samuel in the Daily Mail, who feels we learned nothing from the rout.

It would be nice to announce that Arsenal were irresistibly stunning on Wednesday night and that no team could have withstood their onslaught, but this would be a lie. Arsenal were just ... Arsenal.

They passed beautifully, thought inventively, attacked imaginatively, as they do almost every week. Sometimes in the Premier League they do all this and still lose; on other occasions they are made to scrap until the last minute. Against the lamentable Braga of Portugal, however, it proved more than enough.

September 13, 2010
Posted by Dom Raynor on 09/13/2010

The fallout from Wayne Rooney's omission against Everton is still reverberating around Fleet Street with more than one newspaper claiming Sir Alex Ferguson's assertion that he dropped the Manchester United striker to spare him abuse against his former club is nothing but a smokescreen.

The press claim the real reason is that Fergie is furious that United's name has been dragged through the mud because of lurid allegations about Rooney's private life and that he has given the England star a taste of his famous hair-dryer treatment.

Writing in The Sun, Steven Howard praises Ferguson for taking a moral stand at the expense of benching his star player.

Alex Ferguson had finally had enough. After six days of seeing Manchester United's name dragged through the gutter, Ferguson knew he had to act. To show Wayne Rooney - and everyone else at Old Trafford - he would no longer put up with stories of his players off the leash, on the lash and up to no good.

Nor did Fergie want it construed he might have lost control of any of his players. It was also to show that no one is bigger than the club. That even in this celebrity-fixated era where the footballer is king that some sort of standards have to be adhered to. And, just as important, to send out the message: We can survive without you.

Ferguson might have claimed he left Rooney out of his side at Goodison Park on Saturday to spare his troubled striker 90 minutes of personal abuse. But that was a smokescreen. Instead, he chose to strike a blow for every manager who feels undermined by star players, their agents and advisers and all the rest who whisper sweet nothings in their ear.

Not that there isn't a vaguely amusing side to it. How best to punish Rooney? Take away his ball and send him home to face the music. And his missus.

The Daily Mirror also suggest there is a deeper meaning behind Rooney's absence and cite Everton manager David Moye's post match comments as proof.

The official reason for Wayne Rooney's absence at Goodison on Saturday was to shield him from the abuse of fans who used to worship him. But Everton manager David Moyes hinted at a darker motivation.

Moyes offered a hint about the mindset of his respected friend Ferguson. "I don't think you should put it all on the crowd," said the Everton manager. The manager there knows what he's doing and I'm sure he did what he thought was right.

"Maybe he was just making sure everybody realises that if you play for Manchester United you have to conduct yourself in a certain manner."

September 12, 2010
Posted by Robin Hackett on 09/12/2010

You can always bank on Ian Holloway to give you an opinion on something, usually in a bizarre fashion of course.

Old Ollie is worried for the young players of today, and he feels that the vast wealth that is thrust upon them early in their careers could lead them down the path of debauchery - something which blighted George Best's playing days as the first ever pin-up footballer.

He writes in his column in the Independent:

I think now more than ever is the time when football clubs, particularly in the Premier League where there is so much focus and media attention, have to be really careful about responsibility. Managers have a role to play, and so have football clubs and the player himself.

In my opinion we've got a real problem. Don't get me wrong, there are some fantastic examples of people who have been at the top of the game all their lives and never put a foot wrong, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes for starters.

But I have a photo of George Best on the wall of my office at Blackpool and how his life went is one of the saddest things ever. He was one of the most brilliant players of all time, but he was the world's first superstar footballer and it cost him. I think we may have a lot more George Bests around if we're not careful.

We have people with a lot of time and a lot of money who go into clubs, and they have VIP areas where they drink champagne. The game has got to do an awful lot more to help eradicate that type of behaviour.

September 10, 2010
Posted by Dom Raynor on 09/10/2010

Every Sam, Bruce and Harry have put their name forward for the England job following the news that current manager Fabio Capello will step down in after Euro 2012, or before if the nation fails to qualify.

Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp, Blackburn boss Sam Allardyce and Sunderland gaffer Steve Bruce have all be contacted by Fleet Street's finest and all have wasted little time in throwing their hats in the ring.

In The Independent Robin Scott-Elliot casts his eye over the early contenders:

It is little more than a day since Fabio Capello confirmed he would step down as England manager after the European Championship finals in two years' time and already the declarations of interest are springing up from all corners of the land. The race for the most coveted job in English football/ the most poisonous chalice in the game (Harry Redknapp saw it both ways yesterday) has begun.

With the Football Association suggesting that the next man in charge of the national side will be English, the shortlist is likely to be just that. Redknapp is the strong early favourite according to bookmakers and yesterday the Tottenham manager said he could not imagine refusing the job. He described it as the "pinnacle of any English manager's career". But Redknapp also believes that come 2012 he will be too old for the role. Capello will be 66, and a self-labelled "pensioner", when he heads home to Italy – Redknapp will be 65 in 2012.

The others to show an interest in the job yesterday were the 55-year-old Sam Allardyce and Steve Bruce, the baby of the pacesetters at 49.

However, Allardyce thinks that Roy Hodgson is the favourite to take the job and isn't very happy about it either. Big Sam thinks the new Liverpool manager has already been anointed as the only man capable of succeeding Capello simply on the basis of a "good season with Fulham".

As Matt Lawton explains in the Daily Telegraph:

With Capello serving notice of his intention to vacate the post of England manager following Euro 2012 and the Football Association already intimating a determination to recruit an Englishman to succeed the Italian, the starting gun has seemingly been fired on the race to find a home-grown manager to take charge of the national team.

But with only one Englishman – Tottenham's Harry Redknapp – guiding his club to a top-10 finish in the Premier League last season, the field of candidates already appears low on trophy-winning credentials.

With the likes of Stuart Pearce, Gareth Southgate, Paul Ince and Alan Shearer all failing to replicate their playing success as managers, seasoned campaigners such as Blackburn manager Allardyce, Sunderland's Steve Bruce, Redknapp and Hodgson appear to be the only options open to the FA.

And Allardyce, who was interviewed for the England job in 2006 before losing out to Steve McClaren, alluded to a lack of faith in the FA's recruitment process, by claiming that Hodgson's success in guiding Fulham to last season's Europa League final has placed him at the top of a one-man shortlist.

Allardyce said: "It wasn't long ago that Roy Hodgson was put up for the England job when he was manager here at Blackburn. But he lost his job here, went back to manage on the continent and he's never mentioned again until he comes back and has a good season with Fulham. Now we say he's the only candidate."

September 9, 2010
Posted by John Brewin on 09/09/2010

With kiss n' tell derailing yet another famous footballer in Wayne Rooney, more questions are being asked about what sort of lifestyle the modern player lives.

The Sabotage Times have heard from one who knows, former Arsenal and Tottenham player Rohan Ricketts, now playing with, rather incongrously, Dacia Chişinău of the Moldovan National Division.

He is happy to lift the lid on the attitudes and temptations offered to players. Ricketts writes:

When I was first thrust into the limelight at Spurs, I was exposed to a whole different lifestyle: the clubs, restaurants, cars and women. I soon discovered that there’s a sense of entitlement that comes with the money and fame of being a footballer which makes you think you can do anything you like and no one can hurt you.

Ricketts suggests there is a certain type of woman willing to offer herself.

The girls can be like vultures – they see football as a market and they want the most expensive brands. They equate you to your market value. Players will shag each other’s mistresses all the time as well and some of the girls seemed to get their kicks out of that. One time I was chatting to a girl and she was proud to tell me that she was up in the 30s with football players. She thought that telling me that was cool.

September 6, 2010
Posted by Jon Carter on 09/06/2010

A lot has been said over the conduct of footballer players and James Lawton in the Guardian thinks that the recent antics of the England lot is ruining the game. Read on:

The sexual conduct of Wayne Rooney, and the increasing number of his England team-mates who seem so hell-bent on supporting, for the want of a less romantic term, the kiss-and-tell industry, is no doubt essentially a matter for themselves and their wives and partners. But they are kidding themselves if they believe that is the extent of the problem.

Domestic disharmony is one consequence. But if they get round to it they may also care to consider the wrecking-ball damage their behaviour is doing to the image of the game that has put them in mansions and, in Rooney's case, apparently allows him to pay a porter in a five-star hotel £200 for getting him a packet of Marlboro.

Rooney is of mature age and has not committed an indictable offence, but the timing of the revelation that he also paid a prostitute £1,200 a session and, with ultimate indiscretion, later invited her to ply her wares at the team hotel, could hardly be worse.

It is another lurid brushstroke in the painting of a culture of leading English footballers who seem powerless to accept any professional requirement for personal discipline.

Another casualty is the idea that somehow Fabio Capello sabotaged England's World Cup hopes by imposing too many recreational restrictions on players who had emerged from a long and draining league season.

That argument is based on the belief that Capello should have lightened up his famous emphasis on discipline and allowed the players a little bit more credit for their ability to remain focused on the challenge that stretched before them for a few weeks of the South African winter.

Unfortunately, it is a theory not enhanced by the fact that currently three of the England squad on duty in South Africa have found it necessary to place "super-injunctions" against the reporting of their off-field activities and that already this year Ashley Cole, John Terry, Peter Crouch and now Rooney have been subject to the turmoil of public exposure of affairs they were desperate to keep private.

Unfortunately, that is asking too much in a celebrity-obsessed society which slavers for a daily diet of fresh titillation, however squalid.

When Capello fired Terry from the England captaincy – after a failed super-injunction which sought to suppress reports that he had conducted an affair with friend and team-mate Wayne Bridge's former partner, and mother of his child – some argued that he had reacted excessively.

However, the point Capello made with some force was that as long as he was captain Terry had a supreme responsibility for leading his team without distraction. Brusquely, Capello told the player that he had failed in this basic requirement quite utterly.

Rooney's situation, however torrid it was when his wife Coleen picked up the News of the World yesterday, is not complicated by the kind of responsibility Terry was expected to carry, but as a £100,000-a-week footballer, and England's outstanding talent by some margin, he is not without certain obligations.

One is that for a short time in his life he is equal to the challenge of conducting himself in the most professional manner. For the best part of two months now there has been a fierce debate over the cause of Rooney's complete failure to justify the expectations he took to the World Cup. One reason advanced was the nagging effects of the injury he picked up in a Champions League game in Munich. Another was the sheer pressure on a player rated alongside such as Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta as a potential star of the tournament.

Now, another possibility presents itself. It is of a young man fearing for a marriage that was launched in Italy at huge cost and with a tearful speech of adoration from the bridegroom. But, again, this is Wayne Rooney's business. The broader, more legitimate concern is the apparently devastating effect the flood of wealth is having on the ability of too many of England's leading footballers to keep the game, the basis of all that life has brought them, in the forefront of their minds.

Tiger Woods, we know, has been obliged to consider the problem for the best part of a year, even to the point of entering a sex addiction clinic, and he has had to do it despite being possibly the most gifted golfer the world has ever seen.

In the context of English football, Rooney does have a talent that makes him separate – as we were reminded in flashes at Wembley last Friday night – but there is no argument that his form has slipped quite alarmingly, even to the point where some are asking if the best of him, at the age of 24, has already gone.

That may be an extreme fear but for the moment there does indeed seem to be a missing dimension. He played beautifully at times when opening up the way for his strike partner Jermain Defoe against the Bulgarians but, by his old standards, there were also occasions when he seemed to lack the hard edge of conviction that in the past has been his greatest strength.

In Basle tomorrow night Rooney may take another step along the way to some more significant rehabilitation of lost form. In the meantime, however, there must be the worry that he and too many of his team-mates are piling upon themselves too many pressures unrelated to the business of doing that which they do best.

Possibly the greatest player these islands ever produced, George Best, managed to perform both sexual pyrotechnics, epic drinking and the most sublime football into his middle twenties, and then slid away from the mountain top. That was in a different age, when the rewards were relatively minuscule, and it took a Best to invent the football paparazzi.

Now the world has changed and they are everywhere, the cameras and the girls itching to tell their stories, waiting for a Rooney or a Terry or a Crouch to make one false step. What is surprising, when so much is at stake, is that their prey appear to do so much of the hunting.

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