December 31, 2009
The post mortem into Gary Megson's ill-fated spell at Bolton begins in earnest in Thursday's papers following the news that he has been sacked by the Trotters.
Megson has never been popular with Bolton fans but Dave Hadfield, writing in the Times, believes the straw that broke the camel's back was Megson's decision to take off Ivan Klasnic before Hull came back to draw 2-2 in what would prove his final game in charge.
In 'Unforgiving supporters glad to see the back of Megson', Hadfield paints a picture of a support galvanised by the departure of a deeply unpopular manager.
"They were dancing in the streets of Bolton yesterday. The icy pavments were suddenly covered with gold, bluebirds swooped over Doffcocker Lodge and lambs gambolled on the moors. Welcome to a town in mourning for its football manager.
"Gary Megson might not be the least successful manager Bolton Wanderers have ever had. He did, after all, keep them in the Premier League two seasons ago and guide them to the last 16 in Europe.
"But he must surely be the least popular one the club has ever employed. In his last press conference, after Tuesday night's 2-2 home draw with Hull, he admitted that he did not expect ever to get 'a fair crack' from the supporters. It was tantamount to declaring himself doomed.
His problems go back to his appointment 26 months ago. Megson was not the manager any follower of the club seemed to want, registering only a couple of percentage points when fans were polled for their preferences. Indeed, one caller from Horwich on Radio Five Live yesterday captured the popular mood. He cancelled his season ticket the day Megson was appointed - something that simply bears out the sacked manager's growing conviction that he could not win with the fans.
"The factors held against him are many and various, ranging from his Mancunian background to his red hair. The main charge, however, has always hinged on his perceived negativity and air of misery. Bolton fans do not mind utilitarian football, but they like it dressed up, as it was under Sam Allardyce, with a bit of gung-ho and us-against-the-world bravado. As Gudni Bergsson, one of Bolton's most popular players of the last couple of decades, told Sky: 'They are down-to-earth people, who want to go to a game and enjoy the football they're watching.'
"An increasing proportion of Bolton fans have been making it clear that this is no longer the case. The 'Megson Out' banners have started to appear; the barracking has become more vitriolic. Some of the most rock-solid Wanderers supporters have been reduced to actually hoping that they lose games - because that would hasten their bete noir's departure.
"In the end, Megson did not even need to lose a game to get the sack. He might be the first manager, though, to lose his job for a wilfully depressing use of his substitutes' bench. Bolton were 2-0 up against their fellow strugglers from Humberside and would have gone up to a respectable 14th place if they had held that lead. But Megson's knee-jerk reaction to Hull's first goal was to replace his own first goal-scorer, the Croatian crowd favourite, Ivan Klasnic, with a defensive midfielder unbeloved by Bolton fans, Gavin McCann."
December 29, 2009
Most of the hacks seem to have overdosed on mince pies, and as such are unable to waddle to the computer. But we've still found a couple of articles for you.
John Dillon at the Daily Express puts his focus on Fabio Capello's decision to grant David Beckham a place at next year's World Cup finals.
What happened to the idea that there are no guarantees for anyone involved in the England squad?
Beckham returned to Italy yesterday to rejoin AC Milan and was greeted by the familiar sight of paparazzi at the airport and a most unfamiliar headline in Gazzetta dello Sport, with England manager Capello pledging that he is on his way to South Africa as long as he “plays well and stays fit”.
There has not, for example, been any such declaration of purpose about Aaron Lennon of Tottenham, even though he proved against West Ham yesterday that he is by far the form player among those hopeful of filling the right-side berth.
Milan’s medical set-up has kept a whole platoon of ageing players chugging on through their mid-thirties. And Beckham is heading back to the San Siro for what will be a far more competitive campaign than it was in his spell there last season. This means we can be hopeful that his fitness levels will be brought up to scratch.
But even Capello cannot be certain yet that the project will work. There is a good argument for taking Beckham to South Africa. But, frankly, it does not have to be settled for months yet.
Meanwhile, over at the Guardian, Daniel Taylor looks at the impending exit of Robinho, and how Roberto Mancini will have no hestitation in offloading the club's marquee signing.
The former Internazionale head coach may have been stretching the boundaries when he said that City could catch and overhaul Chelsea at the top of the league but he has clearly picked a good time to take control of this team, even if it also means inheriting the £32.5m problem that his predecessor, Mark Hughes, never got to the bottom of.
Robinho was not in the team tonight, relegated to the bench and sat huddled against the cold before coming on as a substitute for the last five minutes. Within a minute the most expensive player in English football had supplied the pass for Carlos Tevez to score the third goal but, even so, there was the overwhelming sense that Mancini was being benevolent when he said he had left out the Brazilian simply to spare him from the threat of fatigue as City played their second game in three days. It had felt more like a demonstration of strength from the new manager.
Mancini had talked of Robinho "making the history of this club" when he held his introductory press conference just before Christmas but the Brazilian was disappointing, to say the least, when the new era got underway with a 2-0 defeat of Stoke City last weekend. Robinho's desire is to leave and Craig Bellamy, his replacement for this match, flourished even if he did miss two great chances.
December 28, 2009
In the spirit of goodwill to all men and suchlike, Simon Barnes at the Times has come up with an article about cheating in sport and the effect of the Henry-handball.
When does a cheat become a gate? It’s the most important question of the sporting year. There’ve been an awful lot of cheats in the course of the past 12 months, but only three gates. All the same, it is three more gates than sport needs. Liegate was followed by Bloodgate which was followed by Crashgate. When taken together, they ask a series of devastating questions about sport.
Cheats are much less important. The affair of Thierry Henry’s handball didn’t become Handgate or Henrygate, because it didn’t have the stuff a gate needs. It was a flagrant piece of cheating, but it’s the sort of thing that happens all the time.
No one within the sport condemned Henry for his lack of morals. Everyone took that for granted. No, the problem was felt to be one of officiating. We can’t expect players to be honest, so we must do something about catching them at it. But then Fifa decided that football was a better game when cheats are given a fair run, and so we move on.
With the New Year upon us, it's now time to remember the best of the year's action. The Independent's Sam Wallace rounds up a number of his favourites in his column.
Sepp Blatter: a tactical masterclass. The Fifa president was in Manchester in March and held a press conference at the Lowry hotel. It was very dull until he was asked about the latest Fifa corruption allegations surrounding Nicolas Leoz, the Paraguayan Fifa executive. Flustered, Blatter adopted radical evasion tactics. He started speaking Spanish ("Oh, por favor, no, no, no") before handing over to an underling to answer.
Most irritating pre-match build-up, Part I. Don't like this lame American sporting tradition that has become fashionable at a few clubs. When the home team is announced, the players are introduced on the digital stadium screens with a short video clip rather than a simple picture. They either turn to face the camera (Arsenal), walk menacingly towards it (Chelsea) or stare balefully into the mid-distance as if wishing they were at another club (West Ham).
Best post-match outburst. "For Arsenal's club captain, Cesc Fabregas, to spit at my assistant Brian Horton shows you what this club is all about" ... "I was there, I witnessed it. Fabregas spat at our assistant manager. That's their club captain. Hopefully, he's proud of himself. He spat at his feet" ... "Arsène never shakes my hand" ... "Arsène got my goalkeeper booked for time-wasting". Phil Brown. First-class entertainment.
And a few more besides.
December 27, 2009
Despite Chelsea and Manchester City benefiting from the millions of their owners, this season has seen the Premier League's poorer clubs showing they can match it with the best on their day. For Paul Hayward in the Observer, hard times are forcing a new equality of football's economic miracle.
"England's highest football tier has been one of this country's few authentic economic miracles, even if it is the perfect expression of a debt-fuelled and unequal society. It's Upstairs Downstairs with naming rights. One missing virtue in the 21st century is competitive balance, until the credit boom went pop and recession looked like the best thing to happen to the game since the Taylor Report.
At the halfway point this has been the most captivating Premier League season in memory. The aristocracy are losing games like never before, the middle-classes (Aston Villa, Tottenham Hotspur) are on the march and the proletariat (Burnley) are restoring the lost virtues of thrift and self-reliance. This week I nearly banged my television set to restore the reception when the Burnley chief executive said how much his club hated the thought of going overdrawn.
In a year when the British economy was shown to be a con trick perpetrated by the banks and their gimps in government, the big clubs stopped spending on the scale they had when leveraged loans could be had like Smarties.
Best of all, in August, the Uefa president, Michel Platini, received a visit from a Russian man dismayed by Manchester City's trend-defying largesse. "Roman Abramovich is a football person and passionate about the game. He loves football," Platini reported. "He has come to me and said we must do something about this."
Abramovich's new religion was that clubs should spend only what they earn. Coincidentally, this Damascene conversion came after City offered John Terry the chance to show people round Carrington rather than Cobham in his new second job as a training ground tour guide. The tom-toms say Chelsea may return to the old extravagance to buy a striker in January, but only to head off the transfer ban their lawyers managed to get suspended.
Kleptomania survives in the banking sector, but in the Premier League, recklessness is being punished. Those crazy-wage payers, Portsmouth and West Ham, confront the consequences of their folly. But elsewhere the crash has bred new life out of the dead ground of inequality."
December 26, 2009
Despite winning three Serie A titles with Inter, there's been a general feeling in England that Roberto Mancini was an underwhelming appointment at Manchester City. And Mark Lawrenson in the Daily Mirror feels the Italian needs to finish in the top four to prove that he can step up to the elite class of bosses.
"Roberto Mancini was a world class player but is still on the B list in management terms.
That is why Manchester City have been rightly criticised for getting rid of Mark Hughes to replace him with Mancini.
Maybe it would be slightly easier to understand if City had got rid of Hughes to bring in Jose Mourinho.
But while Mancini did well at Inter Milan and has a wonderful reputation as a glorious attacking player, question marks remain about his ability as a manager.
Mancini is on the second tier of managers, well behind Mourinho or Guus Hiddink and they are the sort of coaches that City really need.
Instead, this whole messy merry-go-round has left a nasty taste in the mouth and also put the spotlight on Mancini.
Maybe Mancini will be the shot in the arm that City need to reach the top four. It’s pretty clear that City don’t have patience and won’t hang around so it’s surely top four or bust for Mancini."
But while Garry Cook has been getting an all-round kicking for his part in the sacking of Mark Hughes and appointment of Mancini, Patrick Barclay in the Times is offering something of a defence.
"For a manager such as Mark Hughes, being sacked must be a bit like dying and yet staying alive, in the sense that you get to read the glowing tributes about your managerial abilities.
This is not to make light of what Manchester City’s owners did to Hughes last Saturday — to be deprived of a job, even a hellish one, must hurt — but to question a tone of bewilderment that suggested everyone had felt that he was bound to do well at the club in the fullness of time.
Was his sacking really a disgrace, a travesty, the bottom of a moral pit? It wasn’t even the least reasonable sacking conducted by City. Peter Reid could claim to have suffered that four matches into the 1993-94 season.
Sackings are never pleasant and what I liked about the reports of Hughes’s was that, instead of shooting the messenger, they settled for beating him up. Garry Cook, the chief executive, deserved a bit, too, but the bullets were rightly directed at the Abu Dhabi ruler who owns City, Sheikh Mansour, and his henchman-in-chief, Khaldoon al-Mubarak. As James Ducker, our reporter, observed in our account of Roberto Mancini’s introductory press conference, at least Cook had the decency to turn up."
December 24, 2009
Garry Cook may have other things on his mind over his Christmas dinner, not least the further collapse of his public image after that disastrous Roberto Mancini press conference. The Manchester City executive chairman has made great pains, not least in an interview with ESPN Soccernet, filched by almost everyone else, to state his case but has struggled to make it any clearer or palatable to the press pack, whose newspapers are now banned from City's Carrington training complex.
The Times' estimable Italian Gabriel Marcotti can be expected to give a different opinion on matters to the Fleet Street set who hunt in packs so what does he have to say about a man who staged both an early and late charge for man of the year? Yet again, Garry may be choking on his yuletide chipolata when he reads this.
"Funny how, when the weather gets cold, Garry gets cooking. Last winter it was the Kaka extravaganza when the Manchester City chief executive turned a transfer coup (even just getting to the point where Milan agreed a sale was a huge achievement and one for which he and his advisors should have received more credit than they did) into a public relations fiasco with his absurd accusations of "bottling it" and the low blow directed at Kaka's father, Bosco, whom Cook deemed not "sophisticated" enough to represent his son. (Never mind the fact that Bosco is a civil engineer, whereas Cook spent most of his adult life flogging shoes and sports apparel).
Manchester City's handling of the sacking of Mark Hughes was, simply put, terrible. The idea, peddled by Cook on Monday, that Hughes wasn't told he was being sacked until after the Sunderland game because the chairman, Khaldoon Al-Mubarak wanted to tell him in person and was so busy that he couldn't physically be in Manchester until 10am on Saturday, is not an acceptable explanation for such uncivil behaviour."
Some levity is awarded to Cook before being swiftly withdrawn.
"I do feel a teeny, tiny speck of sympathy for Cook on one point though. Manchester City and Cook feel the furore and the accusations of him "lying" over when Roberto Mancini was approached is unfair.
You probably know the story by now: Cook's statement claims Mancini was only offered the job last Thursday (December 17), but Mancini, when asked directly, said he had met Al-Mubarak two weeks before that. Technically, Cook is correct: his statement is not inconsistent. (Watch video of the man here, it's at 5:45). Cook says that "the decision to seriously look at other options" was made "three weeks earlier", presumably around the time that Al-Mubarak met Mancini.
That's fine and I'm sure it would stand up in a court of law. But, from a PR perspective, it was far from clever and pretty much characteristic of how Cook communicates. Had he been straight - rather than pulling out the usual "carefully worded" legalese sludge - everything would have been fine."
And to add some brandy on to this already steaming Christmas pudding, The Sun has a rumour about City refusenik Craig Bellamy.
"HARRY REDKNAPP will move for Craig Bellamy if new Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini ditches the striker.
The Spurs chief tried to sign Bellamy from West Ham last year, matching the £14million asking price. But the player chose to join his former Wales boss Mark Hughes at City.
Yet Sparky's ruthless sacking has angered the hot-headed forward and Redknapp is ready to end his Eastlands misery."
The transfer window opens in 8 days. Be afraid, be very afraid.
December 23, 2009
Italian Roberto Mancini was the slightly underwhelming choice to replace Mark Hughes at Manchester City and, over at the Sun, Harry Redknapp has been talking about the difficult of making it at the top clubs without a foreign passport.
"If anyone out there is surprised mega-rich Manchester City looked abroad for the man at the top, well they shouldn't be because it will happen again and again and again.
In fact when Scot Alex Ferguson retires as boss of Manchester United I can see the greatest manager of all time being replaced by another foreigner.
And I wouldn't be surprised if Sir Alex recommends a former non-British player who has already built his reputation in management.
If any manager lower down the football pyramid believes they will get a big club - they won't! They simply won't get a look in. No chances will be taken.
Young Brit managers will have to be content with turning around clubs in trouble and getting their chance to manage in the Premier League by taking those teams up.
Sometimes I think the only way a British manager can possibly build the kind of reputation that will tempt someone, somewhere to eventually take a small chance on him is to get to the Prem in the first place - on their own merit with their own teams.
Tony Pulis has done exactly that at Stoke, Mick McCarthy at Wolves (after getting sacked at Sunderland), Phil Brown at Hull and Owen Coyle at Burnley.
Would an established Premier club have come in for them? Probably not."
Meanwhile, the criticism of City chief executive Garry Cook continues, with Oliver Holt in the Daily Mirror the latest to question the handling of Mark Hughes' sacking for failing to remain on course for the 70-point target trajectory.
"Trajectory? What's that about? This is football, Garry, not some graph on a board in a Nike office telling you how many trainers you've managed to flog in the run-up to Christmas.
That section of Cook's preposterously self-important statement is the hell that happens when you put a shoe salesman and his sidekick, Brian Marwood, in a position of power over a man like Hughes.
You might be able to get away with that kind of rubbish when you're peddling sportswear. People might even like you for it. But in football, sacking someone because they've fallen below a line on a graph just makes you a laughing stock.
Don't get indignant with us, Garry. Please. Don't even try. Because even you must remember what you said to a group of us in Abu Dhabi six weeks ago.
It was the week before England played Qatar in Doha, remember?
Remember talking to me and my colleague from The Independent outside the lobby of the Emirates Palace Hotel and pouring scorn on other journalists who were saying Rafa Benitez should be sacked?
Remember saying how stupid they were? Remember saying how counter-productive that knee-jerk culture in English football was? Remember implying you were above all that and ridiculing the idea Hughes' job was in danger?
And remember finally agreeing to sit down with some other journalists and praising Hughes to the skies, comparing him even to Michael Jordan in terms of his stature?
Remember all that? I'm only asking because three weeks after those chats in Abu Dhabi - not three months or three years - the ever-so-honourable Khaldoon was meeting up with Mancini and the decision had been taken that Hughes was toast."
December 22, 2009
After a chaotic press conference to announce Roberto Mancini as Manchester City's new manager on Monday, it is no surprise to see chief executive Garry Cook in the firing line this morning.
Having already denied claims of a "conspiracy" against deposed manager Mark Hughes, Cook was forced to revise his original version of events after Mancini revealed he met with chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak two weeks ago, considerably earlier than Cook had first claimed.
Cook is something of a figure of ridicule after accusing AC Milan of "bottling it" in City's pursuit of Kaka 12 months ago and is not regarded as a football man by the nation's press. Chief amongst his critics on Tuesday morning is Henry Winter, writing in the Telegraph.
"Despite the frantic efforts of Garry Cook, the club's harassed and hapless chief executive officer, to claim there had been 'no conspiracy' towards Mark Hughes, the scale of the plotting against the ousted manager became brutally apparent.
"Sitting next to Cook at a press conference that bordered on Bedlam was Hughes's successor, Roberto Mancini. As calm as Cook was rattled, the elegant Italian confirmed that he had discussed the situation with Manchester City as long ago as Dec 2. So that was City's cover blown."
"As the feeling of farce intensified, Mancini admitted he had talked to his old Lazio coach, Sven-Goran Eriksson, who hardly boasts an unblemished record as a judge of sheikhs. And to round off the sorry sensation that City have taken up residence in the Theatre of the Absurd, Mancini promised to improve his English by watching Coronation Street and EastEnders. He should also view the film Caligula to get a feel for the boardroom characters at Eastlands.
"In truth, this was a tale of two Cities, the ludicrous land inhabited by Cook and the sang-froid kingdom of Mancini, unlike Cook a proper football man. Mancini was up for the challenge. 'If you manage in Italy, living with pressure is the norm,' he added. 'So that won't be a problem for me here. I stayed at Inter for four years which was a record.'
"Mancini, elegantly attired, was calmness personified as Cook stumbled through an opening address with all the dexterity of David Brent at the Christmas party. Cook pleaded with his audience to focus on Mancini, not on the departure of the popular Hughes. No chance.
"An eight year-old could have picked holes in Cook's anti-conspiracy theory. Observing that the Premier League target for this season had been changed to '70 points', Cook rather ignored that the table showed City were on course for that under Hughes. If they win their next two games, Stoke City and Wolves away, City will have 35 points from 19 games, halfway to Cook's target at the midway point of the season."
James Ducker, north-west correspondent for the Times also has the hapless Cook in his sights by reflecting on his past gaffes and questioning whether his job is at risk after his embarrassing climb down regarding the timeline of events that led to Mancini’s appointment.
"An extraordinary press conference at the City of Manchester Stadium yesterday, where Roberto Mancini was presented as the club’s new manager, told us three things: one, Mancini is cool and composed under pressure, which he will need to be working for this bunch; two, Cook is not; and three, these owners are not as honourable as they would like us all to believe.
"This was the most humiliating experience of Cook’s 18-month tenure at City, which is saying something. This, after all, is the man who infamously declared that Thaksin Shinawatra, the disgraced former Thai Prime Minister and City owner, was a 'great guy to play golf with', who accused AC Milan of 'bottling it' over the collapse of City’s world record £103 million bid to sign Kaká and who mistakenly inducted Uwe Rösler into the Manchester United hall of fame on the night he was being lauded as a City legend.
"More recently, he said 'comedy has always been at the heart of what City is all about'. At least he got that right, although now we can add economy with the truth, too."
December 21, 2009
It's the first, and most certain not the last, day of attacks and sniping from the press at Manchester City's antics in sacking Mark Hughes.
Step forward Garry Cook and Brian Marwood, two people who are set to go down in City folklore as shadowy figures dressed as the grim reaper, skulking around in the dark plotting the assassination of a man thought to be in their circle of trust.
Yes, that's Cook - who used to make sports kit and not buy people to wear it - and Brian Marwood - former television co-commentator who left few disappointed when he put the mic down to head to Eastlands.
And so it's over to Matt Lawton over at the Daily Mail to join us in our condemnaton of those who subjected Hughes to a very public hanging on Saturday.
Vultures. That was the nickname certain members of Manchester City's coaching staff gave to Garry Cook and Brian Marwood when they sensed something was up. When they sensed, a few weeks ago, that the two men behind the sacking of Mark Hughes, and the pursuit of Roberto Mancini, were planning something drastic.
For City's chief executive and his 'football administrator' sidekick, it was a case of kill or be killed. A case of terminating Hughes before the club's Abu Dhabi owners turned their sights on them.
But Cook lost his nerve and proved, yet again, just how ill-suited he is to the role he believes he is performing - not just turning City into one of the most successful clubs in Europe but one that commands respect.
To do that, you need a bit of class, a bit of style. But the manner in which Hughes was dismissed, indeed the manner in which Cook has conducted himself since moving from Nike to the City of Manchester Stadium 19 months ago, would suggest he is seriously lacking in such qualities.
This is the man who referred to Thaksin Shinawatra as 'a nice guy to play golf with'. The man who responded to Kaka's decision not to join City from AC Milan by accusing one of the greatest clubs in Europe of 'bottling it'.
Cook had to send a written apology to fans when he welcomed Uwe Rosler to the 'Manchester United hall of fame', and sounded just as ridiculous when he declared that 'Richard Dunne doesn't roll off the tongue in Beijing'.
Recognising how little experience he had in football, Cook brought in Marwood earlier this year. Hughes didn't want the former Arsenal winger around, fearing he would become the type of director of football figure modern managers so loathe. But Cook ignored those concerns and went ahead with appointing his former Nike colleague.
Cracks began to appear in the relationship between Cook and Hughes from the moment Marwood arrived, and at no point was Marwood ever embraced by Hughes and his staff.
Hughes did not deserve to be sacked when the 4-3 win over Sunderland left his side within touching distance of the Champions League places, and he did not deserve to be treated the way he was on Saturday, either.
He was humiliated, and that does not reflect well on the two men who were the architects of his dismissal, just as it does not reflect well on the club's owners. They stripped a great servant of the English game of his dignity, and in so doing did themselves untold damage.
And for what? Roberto Mancini, an Italian coach who won titles with Inter Milan at a time when Serie A was in the midst of a scandal that saw Juventus relegated and Inter's other big rivals given points deductions.
Just time to touch on the rumblings in the background about Chelsea and England skipper John Terry, and the accusation that he took cash to arrange a training ground tour. Some are now suggesting that he could lose the England armband, as Dominic Fifield discusses in the Guardian.
Revelations in a Sunday newspaper, even after the carefully worded statement released in response by Chelsea which denied any wrongdoing, suggest the centre-half is at best guilty of remarkable naivety. The club have publicly accepted their player's explanation that at no stage had he asked for or accepted any money from the three undercover reporters posing as wealthy businessmen during a meeting at Chelsea's Cobham base last Thursday in return for a tour of the facilities and a viewing of training.
Tony Bruce, the middleman filmed by the News of the World accepting a black folder supposedly containing £10,000 in £50 notes, is a long-standing friend who has known Terry since his days in the Chelsea youth team. Yet he is also a notorious ticket tout, jokingly referred to as "Tony Ticket". Is he the kind of figure with whom Terry should be seen associating, even within the confines of his club? The scenario, played out in the Cobham canteen with an unsuspecting Carlo Ancelotti apparently eating at an adjoining table, would surely set alarm bells ringing. Judging by the laughing and joking, and the footage of Bruce tucking the wallet under his arm, it did not.
December 20, 2009
Defeats for both Liverpool and Manchester United would normally be all over the papers and they are but these days there is another club seeking the limelight.
Mark Hughes' departure from Manchester City - rather in the style of Martin Jol's leaving of Spurs - is the big story. We knew it would happen on Saturday morning but developments continue.
In comes Roberto Mancini and it seems not everyone is happy. Look who's reported to be the refusenik in chief. Why it's none other than Craig Bellamy.
The News of the World leads with the Bellamy revolt. Neil Ashton reports.
OUTRAGED Manchester City stars confronted chief executive Gary Cook over the sacking of Mark Hughes and the £10million appointment of Roberto Mancini.
Craig Bellamy and Shay Given led a six-man delegation after axed Hughes made an emotional dressing speech telling them he was being replaced by the former Inter Milan boss.
Gary Cook and mystery addition to the staff Brian Marwood are the men targeted by City's players ire.
A dressing room source said: "Mark thanked all the lads at the end of the game and told them this would be his last game because Mancini was taking over. There is a huge amount of loyalty towards Mark, the players respect him as a manager and as a person and they can't believe he's being treated as shabbily as this.
"This has been done without any class whatsoever. The players were getting messages on their mobiles telling them what was going on and they decided they had to do something.
"They know who is behind this - Gary Cook and Brian Marwood. Six of them decided they had to say and do something so they went looking for them after the game
Joe Bernstein in the Mail On Sunday also pinpoints Marwood and Cook.
Former Arsenal player Brian Marwood arrived at City as football administrator to be the board's football eyes and ears. A close friend and Nike colleague of Cook, Marwood initially took every opportunity he could to back Hughes, even if he had doubts over some of his signings.
As City failed to qualify for Europe last season, Cook took more flak than Hughes, his comment that AC Milan had 'bottled' the move to release Kaka earning him huge derision.
But the civil war that has exploded in recent weeks following draws against the likes of Hull, Burnley and Fulham and the 3-0 defeat at Spurs means Sheik Mansour had to choose between Cook and Marwood on one side and Hughes and his all-Welsh team of assistants Mark Bowen, Eddie Niedzwiecki and Glyn Hodges on the other.
The Times examine the reasons behind Hughes' removal.
Jonathan Northcroft reports:
When Hughes spent £130m on new players last summer, on top of £120m lavished on signings over the previous two transfer windows, the denizens of Eastlands dreamed of qualifying for the Champions League. More to the point, so did Sheikh Mansour, the Abu Dhabi prince with almost limitless wealth who bankrolls the club, and Khaldoon Al Mubarak, Garry Cook and Brian Marwood, his chief lieutenants at City.
In the end, it was inevitable Hughes would stand or fall on the basis of his recruitment drive and, one of the most thoughtful managers in football, he would have realised it. His last selection decisions involved dropping Robinho, Nigel de Jong and Emmanuel Adebayor, three players he signed for more than £70m, and keeping that trio on the bench as he sent on less glamorous performers as substitutes in yesterday’s 4-3 win over Sunderland. It was a statement: you players have let me down. Managers, though, cannot receive surfeits of sympathy for transfers that go wrong. Transfers are a key part of their job — and a fundamental reason behind 90% of sackings.
Over at the Observer, Paul Wilson develops a similar argument.
Shay Given and Craig Bellamy (a player he did sign for Blackburn) have been excellent, with pinching Gareth Barry from under Liverpool's nose one of the manager's best bits of business. Less successful have been the statement signings, where Hughes has appeared to spend big just because he could. Chasing John Terry seemed a daft idea at the time and was ultimately shown to be so, though even dafter was the idea that Joleon Lescott would do instead. The former Everton defender is simply not a £22m player, as any Goodison regular could have told Hughes, and the City manager moved out a far more reliable and capable organiser of a defence in Richard Dunne, who has been outstanding all season for Aston Villa.
December 19, 2009
Unsurprisingly, it's reaction to the Champions League draw that is top of the agenda for the press today, with some mouthwatering ties to look forward too in the last-16 of Europe's premier club competition.
Chelsea v Inter and Manchester United v AC Milan appear to be the two standout ties because of the respective returns of messrs Mourinho and Beckham, and James Ducker at the Times chooses to examine the latter, with Beckham in line to make his first competitive playing return to Old Trafford since leaving the club in 2003.
"David Beckham always said that he never wanted to leave Manchester United and yesterday the Champions League draw gave him the chance to make an emotional return to Old Trafford for the first time since he was effectively booted out by Sir Alex Ferguson more than six years ago.
The England midfield player will join AC Milan on loan for a second time from the Los Angeles Galaxy in nine days’ time, but while the move was intended primarily to maintain his form and fitness before the World Cup finals in South Africa, it will hold an extra significance after the Serie A club were paired with his former team in the first knockout round.
Yesterday’s draw may not have been what either team wanted — or Ferguson, whose dim view of the fanfare that surrounds Beckham is well known and arguably the main reason he sold him to Real Madrid in July 2003 — but it is a dream pairing as far as the player is concerned."
And Derek Mcgovern, the Mirror's chief betting expert, takes a slightly more irreverent look at the Becks return.
"David Beckham was told to beware of flying boots when yesterday's Champions League draw handed him a return to Old Trafford - but dispelled fears when he said Posh wouldn't be travelling.
United v Milan is the draw everyone wanted, particularly Milan. It takes Beckham back to the club which gave him his most successful moments. It's a real Cinderella story for Becks (below) but such a shame that, with Phil Neville having joined Everton, he won't team up again with the ugly sisters.
Milan were pushed out from 16-1 to 25-1 after the draw - the only one in the last six months that hasn't involved Manchester City - and at those odds are crying out to be backed. Jose Mourinho's Porto were similarly dismissed when drawing United at the same stage five years ago and went on to win the trophy."
Elsewhere, Amy Lawrence at the Guardian interviews Fulham striker Bobby Zamora about life at Craven Cottage, Eric Cantona, comparisons to Emile Heskey and his recent request for Fulham fans to "shut your f****** mouths" after scoring a recent winner against Sunderland.
"It is the morning after Fulham Football Club took an impressive leap into the knockout phase of the Europa Cup. Bobby Zamora is carrying slight bags under his eyes after a late return from Switzerland. It had been a positive night for him personally as well as for the club, as he scored twice and helped to create the third with a decoy run, but discussing the finer details was something he only fancied doing on autopilot.
The conversation shifts, and there is one word which compels his manner to change completely: Cantona. Zamora sparks up, as if suddenly bathed in light. He breaks into an enormous smile. "Brilliant," he says. Now you're talking.
There are abundant aspects of the former Manchester United maverick to appreciate, but Zamora feels particular admiration for the most famous of them all, when Cantona responded to the vitriol spewed down from the stands with that notorious kung-fu kick at Selhurst Park."
Staying in the Premier League, and while the debate continues to rage about which team has the best chance of breaking into the top four this season, Barney Ronay at the Guardian ignores obvious contenders Aston Villa, Spurs and Manchester City, choosing instead to focus on an outside contender - Everton.
"Who do we back to crack the Big Four? This week it has been even harder than usual to avoid talking, or hearing other people talk, about the Premier League "Big Four". The reason for the excitement has been the ongoing fascination that a club from outside Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal might finally "crack the Big Four". So entrenched has this obsession become that the pack of chasing big-four-crackers has already taken on an exclusive, clubby feel of its own, and is, in turn, being pursued by a further select pack of clubs desperate to "crack" the select pack of clubs trying to crack the Big Four.
This is a strange period in the Premier League's fevered, but oddly stagnant history. It's also no doubt all for the best, even if no matter how much you might loathe, or simply be crushingly bored by, the idea of an overclass gorged on a self-perpetuating generational supremacy, it is by now quite hard to feel consistently hostile towards the Big Four, who have been there long enough to seem sinister, but also secretly reassuring, like America, or Sky Sports, or bickering quietly with your wife in the car."
December 18, 2009
The future of Manchester City manager Mark Hughes is on the agenda on Friday morning. particularly with reports linking Guus Hiddink with the Eastlands job.
A 3-0 defeat to Tottenham has called into question City's top-four ambitions and Ian Herbert, writing in the Independent, sifts through the wreckage of a very damaging defeat at White Hart Lane.
In 'Tantrums show trouble ahead as Hughes fights for survival'. Herbert considers the petulant reaction by Robinho and what defeat means for City.
"You know it's been a bad night when Gareth Barry, hardly the most demonstrative of Manchester City's midfielders, talks about the players being "at each other's throats" in the dressing room. But that's how it was, deep inside White Hart Lane late on Wednesday night, after the feeble and anaemic display which asked more questions about the value of Mark Hughes' investments than any other game in his 18 months at Manchester City.
"The players were not the only ones pointing a finger. Hughes kept the door shut for a very long time after a 3-0 defeat which was characterised by the parlous non-performances of Emmanuel Adebayor and Robinho, who headed straight down the tunnel after his substitution, and the length of the post-mortem meant that he did not join Harry Redknapp for the customary post-match drink. Redknapp did not take that as a slight. Everyone in the Tottenham camp could see what the defeat meant to City, a club aspiring to go toe-to-toe with Spurs for a top-four spot, and falling so far short.
"Though rumours that Robinho did not join the City players on the coach home and instead headed straight out into London are wide of the mark, Hughes is left to ponder where the fighters in his ranks really are. The thought of Barry taking anyone by the throat seems far-fetched, based on the role he is assuming in the City midfield. The elegance and tackling which have made him an England regular have been on less consistent display than at Aston Villa and he has not looked the leader that made him a pre-season candidate for the captaincy. The honesty Barry displayed when emerging from the dressing room would have served City well on the pitch. "It's not just the defeat it's the way we've lost – we've lost a lot of pride," he admitted."
December 17, 2009
The decision of Wolves manager Mick McCarthy to rest ten of his starting eleven for Tuesday's 3-0 defeat against Manchester United at Old Trafford has split opinion and is still creating waves.
The Premier League have asked McCarthy to explain his actions, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger attacked his colleague for fielding a weakened side and former Wolves and England manager Graham Taylor believes the Yorkshireman has opened a can of worms.
Writing in his column in the Daily Express, Taylor, who feels some sympathy for McCarthy, explained:
"I heard McCarthy in a radio interview saying why he had done it. I have always found him an honest man, and when he talked about the risks of hamstring injuries and the tiredness of the players after the effort they put in to beat Tottenham, I thought: 'No Mick, you've no need to say all that. Just say, 'I'm the manager. I pick the team. I take responsibility'.
For me the result of the Premier League season so far has been Tottenham 0 Wolves 1. I just could not believe it. But if you are the manager of Tottenham then you see the side Wolves put out against one of your rivals, Manchester United, you are not happy."
In The Times, Patrick Barclay writes that in accepting defeat before kick-off McCarthy simply highlighted the problem of competitive balance within the Premier League and may even have done the league a favour.
"...any notion that the defeatist attitude towards matches against the top clubs is a new phenomenon should be resisted. McCarthy has just made it more obvious than most.
He will have done the game a favour if people continue talking about competitive balance, which, according to independent studies, has been steadily declining since the formation of the Premier League in 1992. The problem has been most blatant in the existence of a top four that seemed almost self-perpetuating until Manchester City became super-rich and others including their hosts at White Hart Lane last night, decided to join them in having a go.
By and large, though, the league has become a thing of subdivisions without its popularity being affected because in each layer there are six-pointers, an example being the forthcoming affair between Wolves and Burnley, which McCarthy is entitled to regard as pertinent to his team's chances of staying up."
December 16, 2009
It's not the first time, and we're sure it won't be the last, but Wolves boss Mick McCarthy committed the cardinal sin on Wednesday night of waving the white flag and quite literally tossing three points into the bin.
After back-to-back wins, you could be forgiven for thinking Wolves would be brimming with confidence for their trip to Old Trafford. But no, Mick decided to make 10 - yes TEN - changes and rested his first choice team. I bet that cheered up the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal.
The first serving of ire comes from Tony Evans over at The Times, who is quick to suggest that Thierry Henry is more saintly after his handball against Ireland.
Did you hear that noise, about 7pm last night? It was the sound of a nation groaning. When Mick McCarthy’s team-sheet to play Manchester United at Old Trafford showed ten changes from his Wolverhampton Wanderers team that beat Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday, the disappointment of football fans across the country was palpable.
It was the most dispiriting moment in many a season.
But not an isolated incident. Bryan Robson has taken his reserves to Chelsea before with West Brom. And is it really any different to United playing their reserves at Hull on the last day of last term?
Football is a resilient game. It has survived scandals, cheating — most recently Thierry Henry’s handball for France against Ireland — and an obsession with money. Yet it remains compulsive because of its unpredictability. It is uplifting because it retains the capacity to surprise.
A will to win courses through even the worst sides and the fan can relate to that. The journeys up and down the motorway filled with expectation and the long hauls home after defeat are made bearable by the knowledge that manager and team are sharing the belief and agony. The only thing that shakes a fan’s faith is the suspicion that no one gives a toss.
So the Wolves supporters at a freezing Old Trafford last night must have felt like fools. It was a night when old gold shirts on the players’ backs could easily be mistaken for yellow. McCarthy, it appears, did not believe his team could win and rested them for the match against Burnley on Sunday.
McCarthy is the villain of the football year. At least Henry was trying to win.
So, finally, let's get another point of view, this time coming from Sam Wallace at the Independent.
Mick McCarthy's decision to rest all but one of his first team for last night's game at Old Trafford is a dangerous new development in the Premier League that could undermine the nature of the competition itself.
If the managers of clubs at the bottom of the division are effectively to throw games against those at the top whom they feel they have no chance of beating, the league will become even more dull and predictable than some people already believe it to be. This was a new low for a league that is dominated by the same old teams.
Thing is, Sam, it's not a first. Do your homework.
December 15, 2009
It's 50 years to te day that Bill Shankly began his tenure at Anfield, and if anyone takes a minute to compare Liverpool's legendary manager to their current boss, it makes for a depressing assessment. One such damning comparison comes from Rory Smith in the Telegraph who splits up his article concisely into Rafaelites and Anti-Rafaelites - examining the Spaniards lovers and haters in the boadroom, dressing room and on the terraces.
"Their faith tested, their belief exposed and their dogma unravelled, Liverpool’s owners, directors, staff, players and fans find themselves for the first time in more than two years united as one, driven on to their knees in prayer.
“It is going to be a grind between now and May,” said Jamie Carragher, epitome of the concrete certainty imbued in the club over five years by manager Rafael Benítez and shattered in less than five weeks, “but we have got to stick together, get through it and, as I’m doing, pray to God that at the end of the season there will be something worthwhile for what we’ve gone through.”
Even the almighty, though, might shy away from trying to unify the fractured, battered and bruised morass at Anfield. From boardroom to stands, from dressing room to directors’ box, few managers in football divide opinion as completely as Benítez.
There are those who would back the mastermind behind the miracle of Istanbul to the hilt, the Rafaelites, and those who see the studious, perfectionist, wilful enigma as myth, a man who has never truly adapted his style to the peculiar demands of the English game in pursuit of the holiest of grails which has eluded Liverpool for 20 long years."
Elsewhere, Aston Villa's victory at Old Trafford on Saturday was another example of how unpredictable the Premier League has been this year and cemented their place as number one contenders to replace Liverpool in the top four. Unpredictability will never deter the press from making predictions and Kevin McCarra in the Guardian has stuck his neck on the line (or just chosen the form team really) and picked Martin O'Neill's side as the top contenders for the fourth place spot and elusive Champions League place.
"A vacancy has been advertised. It is to be found in every newspaper and website that carries the Premier League table. Applications are invited for the fourth of the Champions League berths. Liverpool are seeking simply an extension to their involvement, but Rafael Benítez's case has to be treated sceptically. His voice is faint, too, because it has to carry from seventh place in the table, where his team currently resides. The Spaniard's argument is not all that persuasive.
The real rising force is Aston Villa. That ascent owes much to the fact that Martin O'Neill has been at work there since 2006. Over that period, he has been constantly attempting to upgrade the squad with the significant sums provided by the owner Randy Lerner. The defence has been largely recast of late and the centre-back Richard Dunne, bought from an unappreciative Manchester City for £5m, was at the core of Villa's 1-0 victory at Old Trafford on Saturday."
December 14, 2009
It's not like Patrick Barclay to make news where there is none, so Monday's column in the Times begins slightly oddly. An attack on Scouseland? Surely not.
''Of all the contributions made by Scouse players to our game, the least attractive is cheating. We saw it nine days ago when Steven Gerrard was booed by Blackburn Rovers supporters for apparently trying to earn Liverpool a penalty with a simulation technique well known to web-surfers and we saw it again on Saturday, when Wayne Rooney was shown the yellow card for diving over a nonexistent tackle during Manchester United’s match against Aston Villa.''
Incredible right? But wait, it all becomes clear when he explains himself and gives credit to our own Jon Champion for his reading of the situation.
''By now you will have smelt a rat. Substitute “foreign” for “Scouse” and you have the kind of rubbish we hear every time a non-English player falls. Substitute the names of Eduardo da Silva or, until a few months ago, Cristiano Ronaldo, for those of Gerrard and Rooney and you have the careless xenophobia always liable to embarrass those seeking to do something for England, such as bring it the World Cup in 2018.
''To the credit of Jon Champion, commentating for ESPN on the Old Trafford match, he immediately linked Rooney’s attempt to cheat Villa with the furore over the penalty recently awarded at Anfield to David Ngog when the French striker fell after hurdling a tackle by Lee Carsley, of Birmingham City. But Match of the Day did not even discuss the Rooney incident — although it did mention a rumour that a French player, Benoît Assou-Ekotto, had become involved in an altercation with a Tottenham Hotspur fan.
''Without meaning to be hypocritical, the British do have a complex attitude towards cheating.''
At the risk of raising this debate higher than it probably should go, the Daily Mail have former referee Graham Poll's take on the situation as well.
''Craig Bellamy will not be getting much sympathy from match officials after his incorrect red card on Saturday — he’s hurled too much abuse at them over the years for that. However, his dismissal for a second caution was clearly wrong as he was fouled by Bolton’s Paul Robinson and referee Mark Clattenburg will cringe when he looks at replays of the incident. However, if you are to win a war then there will be innocent casualties — as the Welshman was on Saturday.
''It is high time referees focused on a real blight of the modern game but should use all information both on the field and in preparing for games if they are to get the big decisions right. Whilst you should never prejudge, I would be surprised if Bellamy has ever been cautioned for diving before — yes, he is a serial abuser but a diver?''
Poll also points the finger at Mr Rooney for his antics at the weekend:
''Of course, prejudice can be dangerous: it’s a myth that foreigners are the divers. Of the 10 cautions for simulation in the Premier League this season, seven have gone to British players, five of them English. Among the English miscreants is our main striker, Wayne Rooney, whose artistic dive at Old Trafford on Saturday was as clear an attempt to deceive a referee as you could see.''
December 13, 2009
Michael Owen won't be a happy man this morning. Having been tipped to finally force Fabio Capello to consider him a viable option for South Africa after scoring a hat-trick against Wolfsburg, he was benched for Manchester United's home match against Aston Villa. Worst still, another England hopeful, Gabriel Agbonlahor, scored an early goal and, after Owen's introduction, he was unable to prevent the champions slipping to a 1-0 defeat. For Joe Lovejoy in the Guardian, it all made for a very unhappy evening for little Micky.
Michael Owen turns 30 tomorrow – a worrying landmark for any footballer, despite the example of the Peter Pan they call Ryan Giggs. It is certainly not an age when a World Cup hopeful wants to be on the bench for his club while younger, ambitious rivals press their claims for international selection.
Conventional wisdom holds that it is Wayne Rooney and Jermain Defoe who will keep Owen out of Fabio Capello's squad to travel to South Africa next summer, but last night, while he kicked nothing more rewarding than his feet for 45 minutes as a Manchester United substitute, Owen saw another compelling challenger join the list.
The goal Gabriel Agbonlahor buried for Aston Villa after 20 minutes was his eighth in 16 Premier League appearances this season, and those who still doubt whether he can be effective against top-quality opposition should bear in mind that he has now scored against United in each of the past four seasons. The Villans' hero could well be timing his World Cup run to perfection.
It never looked like being United's night, nor this time was it Michael Owen's. Young Gabriel, on the other hand, left with a huge smile on that angelic face.
Meanwhile, there's something about a game between Liverpool and Arsenal taking place at 4pm. And former Arsenal forward Alan Smith has written in the Daily Telegraph about his belief that fit-again Fernando Torres is the man to make things happen at Anfield.
Think back to October when Liverpool deservedly beat Manchester United. Think back to the circumstances leading up to that game.
Rafael Benítez's side had just lost four on the trot, including the beach ball game at Sunderland and a home defeat to Lyon, that left their Champions League chances hanging by a thread.
But buoyed by the return of Fernando Torres, Liverpool reacted like a wounded beast, tearing into United with unstinting energy and aggression. The champions that day couldn't handle the pace, so determined were the home side to get a result.
Thinking about it, the situation isn't too dissimilar now going into Sunday's showdown with Arsenal. Torres returns to a team who, once again, have their backs firmly pressed against the wall. The football world awaits Liverpool's response.
It doesn't take a genius, therefore, to work out Benítez's likely game plan. Because if the Spaniard's players go about their work in similar fashion to the United duel, if they set the same kind of frantic tempo and pile into tackles with equal force, it will be interesting to see how Arsenal cope.
December 12, 2009
While Rafa has rounded on Jurgen Klinsmann and Graeme Souness after their attacks on the TV this week, the Liverpool boss is getting support of a kind in the papers. First up is David Conn in the Guardian, who points out that Liverpool's debt problems are fairly clear and it's the owners we need to blame.
Rafael Benítez says Liverpool are in debt: shock, astonishment, clear the back page. The manager says Liverpool must reduce this debt and so do not have millions of pounds to spend buying players: astonishing and extraordinary.
Benítez has shocked us, in truth, with a statement of the bleedin' obvious but it is noteworthy somebody in his position has finally come out and said it. Being taken over by two businessmen, who loaded on to the club the £174m they borrowed for their takeover, was not, after all, the most glorious event in the history of a great club.
Benítez now acknowledges this debt is a problem, and the need to reduce it has eaten into his transfer budget. The revelation simply states what has been horribly plain all along.
Brian Reade in the Daily Mirror, meanwhile, says the owners cannot afford not to give Rafa some cash to spend in January.
Graeme Souness has been rightly derided for some of his TV couch criticism of Liverpool.
When you brought Torben Piechnick, Istvan Kozma, Julian Dicks, Nicky Tanner, Paul Stewart, Mark Walters and Stig Inge Bjornebye to Anfield, attacking Rafa Benitez for making bad signings, is a bit like Jordan calling the Queen an old slapper.
But I hope the men pretending to run Liverpool take note of his view that if their team don't finish in the top four this season they could face meltdown.
Mainly because if Manchester City do, Champions League status allied to limitless wealth means they will attract the best players in the world and become very hard to budge.
Failure to let Benitez spend the £12 million he brought in for Keane on a replacement could mean the difference, come May, between big-club status and meltdown.
December 11, 2009
The Telegraph takes a break from the usual fuss over Premier League and World Cup affairs to examine the coaching career of a certain Dutch defender by the name of Jaap Stam. Oliver Brown discovers the former Manchester United and AC Milan defender enjoying life in the dugout.
"The flustered Telstar press man mutters: “Please, don’t try to talk to him.” Stam may have lost the vein-bulging intimidation of his Manchester United days, and that a photographer captured famously in an image of him marmalising referee Andy D’Urso, but at 37 he retains the capacity for striking mortal fear into anyone within 100 yards.
Conversely, he has also learnt how not to be too conspicuous. Smouldering in the Zwolle dugout, he leaves all the direct orders to Claus Boekweg, the first-team coach, restricting his contribution to bear-hugs and backslaps after a 3-2 away win. Zwolle have won more by virtue of the crunching brutality that was Stam’s trademark as a centre-back than of any subtle skills, but he is exultant.
“I’m proud of these guys,” he shouts. “You play after an incredible penalty and red card, and still win? Lovely, right? Of course there was some contact, but there is always a penalty area. It’s not futsal!” "
Back to the usual Premier League discussions and Simon Cass at the Mail was impressed by the performance of Arsenal's Welsh teenage sensation Aaron Ramsey on Wednesday night. Cass assesses the youngster's chances of making the grade and breaking into the Gunners' first-team, rating them as pretty high.
"The pace is starting to quicken for teenage sensation Aaron Ramsey as he continues along Arsenal's tried and tested youth development path. From Carling Cup action, through Champions League cameos to occasional Barclays Premier League appearances, Ramsey's progression has thus far been slow and steady.
The spotlight is on Ramsey, given his already enormous potential, the battle for his signature and the £4.8million Arsenal paid Cardiff for his services. That Wenger, during the European Championship, flew Ramsey and family out to Switzerland on a private jet to perform the final stage of the hard sell is a tangible sign of just how determined the Arsenal manager was to keep the then 17-year-old out of the clutches of Manchester United.
Such determination may explain why many felt Ramsey would simply explode upon the scene at the Emirates rather than, as he has, gradually ease his way into Wenger's thinking. But the time is fast approaching for Ramsey when his prodigious talent will become difficult for Arsene Wenger to ignore, just as was the case with a certain Cesc Fabregas."
December 10, 2009
With last night's Champions League ties involving English sides basically irrelevant, there is a lack of analysis from the defeats suffered by Arsenal and Liverpool. Instead it is to the Premier League we inevitably turn and a pointed piece by Daily Mirror journalist John Cross.
Cross by name, cross by nature it seems as Manchester City, and manager Mark Hughes, are in his sights on Thursday morning. In 'Manchester City are the new club everyone loves to hate, but Chelsea under Ancelotti are winning back friends', Cross identifies a trend in which loveable City are attracting criticism thanks to their brash approach and reserves of cash.
"Credit to Manchester City. It's taken them just 18 months but they have already achieved a major shift in power in the Premier League. City have overtaken Chelsea as the most disliked team in the top flight, the club everyone loves to hate.
"They have gone from being the lovable perennial losers to being a club which now has a flashy, arrogant, rude, nasty, snarling, moneybags attitude. Even Mark Hughes, a clever, young and ambitious manager, appears to have been caught up in the whole new City regime.
"Last week it was an ugly spat with Arsene Wenger (even though Wenger still should have shaken hands). On Saturday, it was claiming that he knew Frank Lampard was going to miss the penalty when he saw him walk up to take it. Hughes effectively accused Lampard of bottling it. The same Frank Lampard who had not missed a penalty for three years and the same Frank Lampard who held his nerve for England against Croatia when everyone else had lost the plot.
"We all laughed at that "Welcome to Manchester" sign which so got up United's noses. But it wasn't just a bit of fun. It was a statement of intent. And they have achieved it. A few years ago, it was Chelsea. Jose Mourinho's arrogance, outrageous remarks and disrespecting the great and the good in the Premier League.
"I used to think it was all about money and jealousy. Certainly, Chelsea, with Roman Abramovich, and City's wealthy owners fit into that category. There's an element of that, of course. City are now a team who everyone loves to beat to shut up and show the big spenders a thing or two. But it's not just about that. And the proof is Carlo Ancelotti. Ancelotti is a likable, humorous and engaging character. Ancelotti is a throwback to Claudio Ranieri."
All well and good, but surely Manchester United are still the team everyone loves to hate, aren't they?
December 9, 2009
The James-Beattie-Tony Pulis saga is unlikely to go away quickly, not when we are learning little gems like the naked truth of the manager's towel faux pas during the Stoke duo's heated head-to-head debate at the Emirates.
And so we turn to the Daily Mirror and Oliver Holt - who was a guest on ESPN UK earlier this week - for a full lowdown on the "Christmas Party Shame before the Christmas Party".
Some may not be aware of the full, sordid history of the Footballers' Christmas Party in England, but let Oliver fill you in. The shocking thing here is that it was a fight about the Christmas party and not actually during the booze-fuelled celebrations!
Beattie wasn’t upset because the players weren’t allowed a day off to recover.
He was upset because they weren’t allowed two days off to recover.
What was the guy planning? A long weekend in Sodom and Gomorrah?
What a terribly modern football scandal the Stoke Christmas Party row is turning out to be.
Nobody had had the chance to get anywhere near the strippers or the whipped cream (Liverpool 1998).
Nobody had been accused of rape (Manchester United 2007).
Nobody had tossed a dwarf (Chelsea 1994).
Nobody had presented anybody with a sheep’s heart as a way of suggesting the player in question had no heart (Newcastle 1998).
No one had got up on a bar and urinated in a pint pot (West Ham 2001).
And no one had produced a lighted cigar and stubbed it out on the eyelids of a youth team player (Manchester City 2004).
Aren't footballers lovely people. Not that we want to tar with the same brush.
We couldn't leave without mentioning James Ducker's decision to pander to the "Owen for England" debate. So he finally scored a few goals which now has Mr Ducker saying he could make himself a certainty for the World Cup, Move on! Step away from the story!
You can never write off Manchester United, or, it seems, Michael Owen. This was supposed to be the night when Edin Dzeko, one of the most promising young strikers in Europe, tore a makeshift United defence to pieces, but in the end the Wolfsburg forward was upstaged by an old fox in the box.
Owen has become accustomed to hearing people dismiss his chances of going to the World Cup finals with England next summer, but much more of this and Fabio Capello, the manager, may find it impossible not to name the striker in his squad for South Africa.
December 8, 2009
Monday's media outlets were full of reports that Stoke City manager Tony Pulis and striker James Beattie were involved in a physical confrontation following defeat to Arsenal and Tuesday's papers add some juicy detail to the confrontation.
Apparently, Pulis overheard his striker complaining about plans to cancel the club's two-night Christmas party in favour of an extra training session and was so incensed he emerged stark naked form the shower to headbutt Beattie.
Matt Lawton takes up the story in the Daily Mail:
"Beattie highlighted what he considered to be a breach of their agreement and a harsh reaction to the defeat at the Emirates, Pulis exploded in a fit of rage. As he was emerging from the showers in the dressing room he lunged towards Beattie, with the players astonished both by the violence and the fact that the towel he was wearing had fallen to the floor.
Privately the Stoke manager blames Beattie for the controversy, feeling that he gave the players no such permission to miss training on Monday and that Beattie, among a number of senior players, had been made to look foolish in front of their more junior colleagues having promised that they would ‘sort it’ and get the whole weekend off.
Pulis, it is understood, believes that is what prompted Beattie to criticise him, with Beattie failing to realise that, from the showers, Pulis could hear him. Beattie has a slightly different version of events, however, and now feels that the damage it has done to his relationship with Pulis is irreparable."
In light of Frank Lampard and Jermain Defoe missing crucial penalties in the Premier League this weekend Matt Dickinson uses his column in The Times to suggest Fabio Capello must cure England's spot-kick disease to stand any chance of winning the World Cup.
"So there we all were at the weekend plotting England’s route to World Cup glory. A favourable group, winnable matches in the first couple of knockout rounds and then the semi-finals. And anything can happen at that stage, even against Brazil.
If a cold shower was needed to stop expectations running wilder than a bushfire, it came courtesy of Frank Lampard and Jermain Defoe failing to score important spot-kicks at the weekend; the sort they might just face next summer in infinitely more pressurised circumstances. Ah yes, England footballers and penalties. That’s when things get tricky."
December 7, 2009
Monday brings with it a chance for the country's big-name columnists to get their teeth stuck into events in Cape Town on Friday. But while the World Cup draw grabbed the attentions of millions worldwide, it appears that one man in particular bewitched the English media. No prizes for guessing that it is David Beckham.
Writing in the Daily Mail, Martin Samuel extols the virtues of the LA Galaxy midfielder who has reinvigorated England's bid to host the 2018 World Cup. In 'David Beckham must rule England's World Cup 2018 bid', Samuel urges the FA to give the former Manchester United midfielder a prominent role.
"Forget Prince William. Forget Lord PleasedMan. There is only one person who should be leading England’s World Cup bid from here: David Beckham. He does not have to explore the logistics of hosting the tournament, he does not have to sit on committees or take meetings. He does not even have to be there, most of the time. He just has to be the figurehead, the public face of England 2018, so that when people think of the World Cup coming to this country, they think of Beckham, not grasping careerist politicians, or over-promoted men in suits
"Beckham was magnificent in South Africa. He put in the hours, worked the room like a pro. He changed outfits three times on Friday, so he always looked sharp. He even turned up with a haircut like a Piccadilly postcard punk and pulled it off. Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago has to take a cold shower at the mention of his name, Milan loves him, so too Madrid, not to mention his fans in the Far East. Even his move to America was a penalty shoot-out away from glory.
"Whether Beckham deserves to be in South Africa as a player next summer is an entirely different matter, but as an ambassador for English football he has no equal. That the 2018 bid team were squabbling over who paid his air fare shows how clueless they are. Beckham gives English football star quality, a wow factor that it has not previously possessed. Single-handedly in Cape Town, he transformed the World Cup bid from a running joke to a campaign that is now reinvigorated in the eyes of its rivals and the public.
"And he did it just by turning up. In a matter of days, the bid lost Sir Dave Richards and gained a genuine superstar. No bad swap."
The Independent's Sam Wallace has sounded a note of caution though, pointing out that while Beckham is a fine ambassador, it does not mean he should be guaranteed a place in Fabio Capello's squad for the 2010 finals.
"No matter what Beckham does for the 2018 World Cup bid there is one thing he is not owed unconditionally and that is a place in England's 2010 World Cup squad. Beckham said himself that "nothing is guaranteed" and "I don't take anything for granted" when it comes to the World Cup squad. He might not take it for granted but over those heady days in Cape Town you could see Beckham reasserting that benign grip over a grateful FA that he once enjoyed under Sven Goran Eriksson as captain and de facto team ruler.
"It would be desperately inconvenient to England's 2018 committee if Beckham, the iconic face of their bid, was to be absent in South Africa next summer. It would also make things more than a little awkward when they come to rely on him for the crucial lobbying right up to the decision by Fifa on 2 December next year.
"Fabio Capello does not appear the type to bow to any kind of pressure, explicit or not, to pick a player. But then the Beckham effect can do strange things to a man. In Cape Town, Capello was upstaged more than once by Beckham, when the two of them were brought out together for the cameras. I have seen footage of the England manager's wife Laura posing with Beckham for a photograph – with Capello himself taking the picture. Beckham will be 35 come May and there are still unanswered questions about whether he is worth including in a squad in which every place must be earned. A choice of 23 players may seem like a lot but when a manager gets the balance minutely wrong it can come back to haunt him in the tournament, as Eriksson found when he picked Theo Walcott in 2006 and left himself short of experienced strikers."
December 6, 2009
Despite the return to domestic football action, the press are still firmly set in World Cup mode, discussing all possible ramifications and permutations of friday's draw in South Africa.
The fall-out from the World Cup draw continues, with Paul Wilson at the Observer the latest journalist to assess England's chances of glory in South Africa.
"It has started, then. David Beckham, who ended the 2006 World Cup in tears because he thought it would be his last, is now saying England fear no one. Fabio Capello, who ended the last World Cup delighted with Italy's win but packing his bags for Spain with Juventus embroiled in the country's match-fixing scandal, has described what lies ahead in South Africa as the hardest test of his life.
You have to aim for something upbeat and can-do when speaking into a microphone at an event as global as a World Cup draw, and while Beckham and Capello both give good soundbites, it should be noted that the erstwhile captain's boast will come winging its way back to him should England struggle against either Algeria or Slovenia, whereas the manager has wisely remained positive without actually promising anything."
And Jonathan Northcroft at the Times, also offers his opinion on Capello's lofty ambitions.
"Table Mountain, the massive sentinel of sandstone rock that presides over Cape Town, has a microclimate. A thick band of vapour that locals call the “table cloth” can descend suddenly upon its top. Clouds can just as quickly come down over any leading nation’s World Cup campaign, such is the tournament’s capacity for surprises, but their draw gives England, now ranked ninth in the world, about the most favourable possible forecast by which to plot success at South Africa 2010. Yes, USA are the best team they could have been drawn against from Pot Two. Yes, any side from Group D will provide a testing second round and yes, France might have to be negotiated in the last eight.
But imagine what could have been. Spain are favourites, while the most likely teams to eliminate England from not just this but any World Cup are Brazil, Portugal, Italy, Germany and Argentina. If the Germans and Argentinians win their groups, England would not have to meet any of these opponents until a probable showdown with Brazil at the semi-final stage.
Fabio Capello must feel he has pulled off that trick of whipping a table cloth from a table while leaving the cups and saucers still standing. A World Cup draw is a game of risk. England have engaged in it and their aspirations remain untoppled."
December 5, 2009
The weekend of football ahead finds itself relegated to the substitute's bench in many of today's papers, with an unsurprising focus on yesterday's World Cup draw. England's chances are being talked up left, right and centre after a seemingly favourable draw, whilst the traditional "Group of Death" tag has been assigned to the tantalising collection of Brazil, North Korea, Ivory Coast and Portugal.
One of those salivating at the prospect of England advancing is Oliver Kay in the Times, though his predictions are tinged with more than a hint of realism.
"As evening drew in over Cape Town, the sun still shone brightly on the England delegation. It might be different come June, when winter descends, but Fabio Capello and his players will return to South Africa next summer with a spring in their step after a draw last night that could hardly have been more favourable.
A semi-final against Brazil in Cape Town on July 6. How does that sound? Arrogant, for one thing, dangerous for another, but that will suddenly be the least that England expects. Such will be the optimism generated by the gift last night of a group that contains the United States, Algeria and Slovenia — and the promise of an onward journey, if that group is won, that might involve nothing more terrifying than Serbia or Ghana in the last 16 and an eminently beatable France in the quarter-finals.
Stop it, stop it. If there is one thing that England have struggled with in recent World Cups, it is the burden of expectation. Injuries are another reason why optimism should be tempered with caution — let us not forget how the curse of the metatarsal struck David Beckham on the eve of the tournament in 2002 and Wayne Rooney in 2006 — but the point is that England’s chances could have been unaffected, damaged or improved by last night’s draw and, as each ball was drawn, the feeling took hold that they had been the most fortunate of the eight seeded teams."
Former England boss Terry Venables in his column for the Sun is kindly on hand to offer current gaffer Fabio Capello some advice (as if he needed it).
"With our first game at the World Cup finals a little over six months away, I would not expect Fabio Capello to know his best England team. I would expect him to know his THREE best England teams.
As the dust begins to settle after yesterday's draw in Cape Town, all English eyes will be on the Three Lions coach. Having led us to qualification in record-quick time - an achievement that should not be underestimated - he must now turn his attention to assembling a squad the whole nation prays will be capable of doing us proud in South Africa next summer.
I can assure you this is no easy task. There is no right or wrong way of putting together a squad for a major tournament. When you become a manager of an international team, or any team for that matter, you do not get an instruction manual. There is no magic solution - although there is a tried and tested method.
I used it when I was England manager at Euro 96 and I would not be surprised if Capello is following a similar formula now. You decide on your first XI and pick two players for cover in every position. That gives you three teams of players."
Choosing to turn away from the England camp is Richard Williams at the Guardian
, who chooses instead to concentrate on Brazil's chances of lifting a sixth title
"Is this an omen of sorts? Brazil, the five-times winners of the World Cup, will start their 2010 finals campaign at Ellis Park in Johannesburg, where the historic climax of the Rugby World Cup took place in 1995. Back then, it was South Africa's most imposing stadium. Next summer it will probably be overshadowed by a new generation of spectacular purpose-built or reconditioned arenas, but it seems an appropriate location for the heirs of Pelé, Jairzinho, Romario, Ronaldo and the rest to begin their challenge.
Brazil may need all the omens they can get, since they occupy the closest thing in the 2010 draw to a group of death, but they may count themselves fortunate to be kicking off with a match against North Korea, whose only previous appearance in the finals came in 1966, when they achieved a stunning elimination of Italy in their final group game before making a quarter-final exit after losing 5-3 to Eusébio's Portugal."
December 4, 2009
England had a group of death in 2002 as they were drawn alongside Argentina, Sweden and Nigeria, but they came through it and Fabio Capello and co all seem to think they can do so again. According to Kevin McCarra in the Guardian, though, the important thing is going to be avoiding Ivory Coast.
Fabio Capello wants to avoid meeting an African team at the World Cup. There is a dread that at least one of those countries will be inspired next summer. The arrival of the tournament on that continent is far more than a matter of scheduling. It is a moment of recognition and the effects of that were felt even in the less dramatic circumstances when South Korea were co-hosts in 2002.
It is Ivory Coast who could spread panic. They have power, score freely, are well-served by proven performers and should yearn to atone for elimination in the group phase in 2006. Rivals could be reduced to praying that the Premier League drains someone like Didier Drogba between now and the summer. It would be a relief to them if Chelsea had the debilitating experience of going far in the domestic and European campaigns.
Ivory Coast, even so, will not be counting purely on the striker. It is the know-how and expertise in several areas that could set them apart. Yaya Touré may have grown unsettled at Barcelona, but he still supplied a balance in defensive midfield that helped endow the side with the poise that brought them the Champions League trophy with that win over Manchester United.
Lovable midfielder Robbie Savage argues along the same lines in his column in the Daily Mirror, putting the emphasis firmly on Drogba's threat.
England will fear France, Portugal, Cameroon and Paraguay in today's World Cup but the team I'd hate to get drawn against is Didier Drogba's Ivory Coast.
I've played against Drogba numerous times and two memories stand out. One was when he'd just come to England and we came face-to-face as I came to close him down. I won the ball, flicked it over his head and ran on to it. I looked back and Didier just smiled. I like a player who is respectful of what opponents can do, especially when that player is far more talented than you.
I wasn't so pleased when, on another occasion, I slid in to a tackle and nailed him and Drogba let out the loudest scream I've ever heard before rolling around. But that is something he has worked hard to remove from his game and more often than not these days he simply gets up and gets on with it.
With his pace, power, ability to hold the ball up and deadly instinct in front of goal, Drogba is probably the best striker in the world right now – maybe even the best player in the world, full stop.
December 3, 2009
Paul Hayward at the Guardian has hopes for the World Cup, believing that the competition will provided a much needed lift for the continent.
''As the Fifa World Cup trophy arrived in Cape Town on Tuesday night, Danny Jordaan, the architect of next summer's tournament, declared "the death of doubt". The waterfront location was symbolic. Football's greatest prize had landed on the southern tip of the continent, and its magic would flow north, turning all Africans into players in a show they may think of as the playground of the old colonial powers.
''Here in the host country everyone is looking for the moment that turns the first African World Cup into reality. For many it will arrive tomorrow when South Africa find themselves at the head of one of eight groups for the tournament that kicks off on 11 June, and fixtures and locations assume vivid new life.''
Hayward also has hopes for the African nations eventually lifting the trophy. Although not just yet.
''Africa's first World Cup representatives were Egypt, who lost 4-2 to Hungary in 1934, but it was 1970 before the continent gained its first point, from the 1-1 draw between Bulgaria and Morocco. No African team has advanced beyond the quarter-finals, a point first reached by Cameroon in 1990. With the depth of talent in this vast realm – Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, Samuel Eto'o et al – the coronation of a first African world champion seems predestined, yet still no single nation possesses the resources or organisational strength to cross that Rubicon.''
Over at The Times, Alyson Rudd has focused on referee Mark Halsey's fight against cancer and his possible return to referee at the FA Cup final.
In a detailed interview, she asserts:
''He has, surprisingly, never refereed an FA Cup Final before. People talk about the magic of the Cup, but for Halsey to be awarded the game would be a real-life fairytale. Halsey has kept training because he believes a high level of fitness will help him to beat the cancer and he reckons he is operating at 50 per cent of his usual fitness level. This was supposed to be his final season, although the referees in best condition are now given contract extensions beyond 49.''
Halsey himself accepts he should not be awarded the Cup Final, this year or next, on sentimental grounds.
“You’ve got to show you are worthy, which I think I am,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll get an extension, but they might say because of my cancer, sorry, we’re not giving you one. It’s a tough world, refereeing.”
December 2, 2009
Let's be honest, we all miss Jose Mourinho here in England. After three years of dominance from Manchester United it could just be that his old side, Chelsea, may prevent an unprecendented fourth title in a row for the Red Devils. But no other team seems capable of challenging.
Jose may well be getting a bit bored at Inter Milan, where the scudetto is a given but European success an albatross. Inter are seven points clear of their city rivals already, meaning former Chelsea boss Mourinho can put his feet up by the fire.
Martin Samuel, writing in the Daily Mail, think Jose would take any of the top jobs available in England, and that includes Manchester City.
He is up for anything in England, it seems, providing the position involves a reasonable budget and a shot at the biggest prizes. He is up for trying to collect the first title of the Premier League era at Anfield, or attempting to maintain a period of unprecedented dominance at Old Trafford.
He is up for adding the cutting edge to the work of Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, or bringing Sheik Mansour's lavish project to fruition at Manchester City. He is Jack Burton in John Carpenter's cult classic Big Trouble In Little China. 'You ready Jack?' asks his friend Wang Chi. 'I was born ready,' Jack says.
Not that Jack is a conventional hero. He is something of a blowhard, actually. In his mind he is Indiana Jones, in reality he is a truck driver inadvertently embroiled in a mythical Chinese underworld, who messes up as often as he succeeds. Some think this of Mourinho, too. That he is all talk, a lot of hot air. They never get past the superficialities. They see only personality clashes, boasts and bravado. They are wrong.
The consensus is that Mourinho is increasingly tired of Italian football. When an English newspaper suggested this, quoting Mourinho lovingly on the subject of the English game, he issued a lengthy statement claiming misrepresentation. There was a little more to it, however.
So what is it about Italy that Mourinho does not like? The football, to begin with, which he is said to find much less compelling than the Premier League. He also believes the Italian media favours native managers and is harsher in its dealings with Inter Milan because he is an outsider.
There are three main options: Manchester United, when Ferguson decides to retire; Manchester City, if Mark Hughes fails to deliver Champions League football this season; and Liverpool, if domestic performances continue to mirror the failure in Europe.
Some argue Arsenal should be included on this list were Wenger to go a fifth season without a trophy, but to appoint Mourinho now would require a 180-degree turn in club policy. (Although if Wenger did leave, the chances of finding a manager who would run Arsenal in his style would be as good as impossible, and a change of direction under the charismatic Mourinho would be an inspired decision.)
Another pick of the day comes from the Daily Mirror, courtesy of Steve Stammers.
Following the injury to Robin van Persie, which could even be as bad as a season KO, Steve thinks he knows where Arsene Wenger should look to plug the huge gap left in the forward line.
Mathematically, Arsenal can still win the Premier League. Realistically, the emphatic fashion in which they were beaten by Chelsea at The Emirates on Sunday means that their hopes rest on a collapse at Stamford Bridge and a similar catastrophe at Old Trafford. And basically that is not going to happen.
The face of Arsene Wenger over the last two weeks has said it all. There was a genuine belief at the club this season that this could be their year in the competition that Wenger makes his priority every season - the Premier League. What he needed was for his share of luck with injuries when the dice was rolled. He lost.
In Robin van Persie and Nicklas Bendtner he had the perfect foil for the nimble skills of Eduardo, Samir Nasri, Carlos Vela and Andrei Arshavin. To lose them both at the same time was a blow from which Arsenal are struggling to recover.
Players are out there - not as many as in the summer but they are available.
Ruud van Nistelrooy, for instance. He has a hate figure to the Arsenal crowd during his time at Manchester United and his wages would be sky-high. But he has the size and the experience to make a difference to the Arsenal front line and he is a peripheral figure at Real Madrid.
Yes, his injury record does not stand up to greatest scrutiny but surely a pay-as-you-play deal is not out of the question.
December 1, 2009
The papers continue to name Chelsea as the champions elect on Tuesday morning with the Guardian's Dominic Fifield leading the charge. In 'Didier Drogba is right – this Chelsea side will take some stopping now' Fifield predicts a season of dominance for Carlo Ancelotti's side.
"The Emirates had all but emptied, numbed Arsenal players still drifting away utterly deflated in defeat, when Didier Drogba surveyed what remained of the chasing pack. 'We have the team to stay ahead of all the others,' said the Ivorian. 'The gap isn't enough yet, but it's still a good gap. When you're top of the league you only have to concentrate on yourselves. The others have to chase you. They have to produce more and have to put more effort in to win games. We have just sent a big message to the teams in England.'
"This Chelsea side will take some clawing back now. Victories over the other members of the established elite four, together with a spanking of Tottenham Hotspur's pretenders, have earned Carlo Ancelotti's team their breathing space with a visit to an apparently nervous and vulnerable Manchester City on Saturday doing little to suggest momentum is about to be checked. Only Aston Villa, currently sixth, and Wigan have gleaned any reward from a collision with the London club this term, both bizarrely managing to outmuscle the leaders en route to home victories. In the period since, strength has been restored as Chelsea's buzzword.
"The sight of Armand Traoré bouncing miserably off an unflinching Drogba late on in Sunday's battering was a reminder of the physical power that sustains this team. That brawn imposes itself on opponents all over the pitch: from the muscular running of the hugely improved Branislav Ivanovic at full-back to John Terry's forcefulness at centre-half; from the energy of Michael Essien to the authority commanded by Frank Lampard and, on occasion, Michael Ballack. Chelsea, defensively, have conceded only once at home all season, on the opening day, and have not been breached in eight of their last nine games. Only Arsenal can match their tally of 36 goals at the other end.
"Ancelotti has long since acknowledged that the physical power this team possess can propel them through awkward occasions, although Chelsea are just as strong in other aspects of their play. Technically their squad is world-class and there is strength in depth to make the likes of Arsenal – denied Robin van Persie, Nicklas Bendtner, Gaël Clichy and Kieran Gibbs – and even, perhaps, Manchester United post-Cristiano Ronaldo and Carles Tevez wince. The London side fielded Deco, Ballack and Florent Malouda in beating Porto in midweek, replacing that trio with Joe Cole, Essien and Lampard at the Emirates. Alex, another player who has excelled, was not involved in either fixture. "The players on our bench could play in any team," said Ancelotti at the weekend. His options would be staggering should he manage to prise Sergio Agüero or even Franck Ribéry from Atlético Madrid or Bayern Munich in January."
Tony Cascarino in the Times, meanwhile, was unimpressed with the way the Arsenal manager responded to the defeat.
"There’s plenty that Arsène Wenger has not seen down the years, but surely even the Arsenal manager couldn’t have missed Didier Drogba on Sunday. Drogba. You know, Arsène, the striker who scored twice and battered your defence senseless, sending Arsenal’s lightweights tumbling around the pitch like crisp packets in the wind?
Wenger is an awful loser, we’ve known that for a long time, but his comments about Drogba after Chelsea’s 3-0 win plumbed new depths. 'He is a good player but it is funny because he does not do a lot,' Wenger said after the game. 'He is efficient in what he does. You would be surprised by the number of balls he touched today.
'Drogba is a great player, no one can deny that, but he is in a period when he kicks the ball it goes in.'
I don’t remember Wenger saying something similar about Thierry Henry in his Arsenal prime: 'Yes, he’s having a purple patch but you’d be surprised by how little he actually does.' What a shame that Wenger sounded bitter instead of humble."