January 31, 2010
Inevitably the fall out from the whole John Terry scandal has carried over into the Sunday's, and the England captain fills both the front and back pages - after scoring the winner against burnley last night. Piers Morgan at the Mail on Sunday is one of a host of columnists and journalists to call for Terry's head, painting a particularly vivid picture of an uncomfortable World Cup scenario and putting Wayne Rooney's name forward as a replacement.
"John Terry is finished as England captain. You can fight, booze, womanise and be photographed standing naked on top of London’s Millennium Eye singing ‘Ave Maria’ and still keep the biggest job in football. But bed a team-mate’s partner and it all gets a little too tricky. You can’t dip your pen in company ink and retain authority.
Picture the scene: last five minutes of a World Cup semi-final against Brazil in June, it’s 1-1, a player goes down injured and Terry calls his boys together for one last great rallying cry.
‘Lads, we’ve got to stick together, dig deep, stay close, trust each other, stay loyal...’
To which Wayne Bridge snorts in disbelief, shouts ‘You hypocritical, lying, cheating *******’, and smacks him on the nose.
No, if England coach Fabio Capello doesn’t sack him, then he’ll be forced to go soon enough anyway because Fleet Street’s most merciless hounds will rip the Chelsea star to pieces until he does. It’s the law of the media jungle. Just ask Tiger Woods.
Because I’ve always believed the best player in a football team should be the captain. Football isn’t like cricket, where you are required to make hundreds of tactical decisions over five days. The only thing an England football captain needs to do is lead out his team, inspire them for 90 minutes, terrify the opposition with his mere presence, and be a good role model and ambassador. And is there anyone else right now who ticks as many boxes as Wayne Rooney?"
The man deciding whether Terry continues to wear the armband for the Three Lions is England boss Fabio Capello, and Duncan White at the Sunday Telegraph says it is an unenviable decision.
"The England manager is respectful of players' private lives, within reason, but with Terry having broken the unspoken code of the dressing room, Capello has been left with the toughest dilemma of his time in charge.
After initial misgivings, Terry has grown on Capello. Bearing in mind this is a manager who has worked with great captains such as Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini, Capello has found Terry to be an impressive leader, a loyal and serious presence in the dressing room and an inspiration on the pitch. Can he really court martial his most reliable sergeant major?
Pragmatically, Capello must also consider his own future. He committed himself to England through to 2012 this week and knows that success or failure in South Africa will define the next two years in charge.
Terry's strength of character on the field, not to mention his strong and consistent performances this season, have made him absolutely central to Capello's plans this summer. Terry as captain is, in Capello's view, a unique asset of this England team, one he is loath to lose."
Elsewhere, and today's big match in the football world is of course the clash between Arsenal v Manchester United, with two of the English game's greatest ever managers going toe-to-toe again. Paul Hayward at the Guardian takes a look back on Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson's contrasting upbringings and historical rivalry.
"From the shipyards of Govan and a bar-restaurant in Alsace came the two romantics who have done most in modern times to imbue English football with artistry.
If the world's favourite game is pretty much one long episode of Wacky Races, Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger have been wheel to wheel since the last century, or September 1996, when Professor Pat Pending, as he would most likely be, entered Highbury's marble halls to declare war on the prosaic 1-0 win. For 14 years, hard Scot and visionary Frenchman have raced one another demonically, dropping out of the frame only briefly to allow Dick Dastardly (José Mourinho) to seize a pair of Premier League medals.
Ferguson served up Eric Cantona, Ryan Giggs, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, and Wenger has offered us Thierry Henry, Cesc Fábregas and Robert Pires. Each manager has bestowed gifts on the English game that far transcend the tribal loathing that will splash across this afternoon's confrontation in north London. Neither chieftain will kick a ball as the teams grapple for vital psychological points but the match will be an expression of the characters of the two managers just as it always was.
This eternal conflict is in a class apart. Almost without respite the pair have fought over the high ground of expressive winning football. Ferguson went off to deal with Chelski for a while and Wenger busied himself rebuilding the London Colney kindergarten after the Invincibles had been reacquainted with defeat (and the pizza had flown) at Old Trafford in October 2004."
January 30, 2010
No surprise what has been slammed all over the back pages of today's newspapers and I'll give you a clue...it isn't a preview of the Australian Open final between Andy Murray and Roger Federer.
England captain John Terry's affair with the former girlfriend of Wayne Bridge has been exposed and the newspapers are having a field day, with Ian McGarry at the Sun writing that he believes Terry's Chelsea future could be in jeopardy.
"Around lunchtime today, John Terry will find out if he has a future at Chelsea. That is when Carlo Ancelotti will name his team for this evening's game at Burnley. If Terry starts, then the smart money says he stays. The Chelsea hierarchy are fully aware of the circumstances which have dragged their club captain on to the front pages once again.
They knew about the legal injunction he took out last week and about the High Court appeal which overturned it yesterday. But they will not act until they see this morning's newspapers and media coverage of Terry's affair with Wayne Bridge's ex-partner, Vanessa Perroncel.Owner Roman Abramovich's right-hand man, Eugene Tenenbaum, will consult boss Ancelotti and Terry will be asked to make his case for playing in spite of the furore.
There is no doubt that Terry will want to start. As far as he is concerned, only serious injury is a reason for not turning out for the team. He has shown that in the past and is widely regarded at Chelsea and with England as one of the game's "real men". He is also no stranger to off-field controversy and how to handle it. In the past year alone, his mum was exposed in The Sun for shoplifting along with his mother-in-law."
Elsewhere, and even the broadsheets are taking up this one, with Henry Winter at the Telegraph claiming that Terry's only option now is to resign as England captain.
"If Terry is forced to resign, as seems likely, the armband would pass to either Wayne Rooney, the most popular player in the dressing room, or Rio Ferdinand, the present vice-captain. Steven Gerrard is too inhibited an individual to be England captain while Frank Lampard, though popular, could find it difficult to succeed his club-mate.
I like Terry, the one natural leader in the England dressing room, a player so passionately committed to the cause of St George that he willingly endures jabs just to get his stiff back through games, but this really is an embarrassment too far. It’s time for him to stand down.
Unless Terry somehow pulls off his greatest ever piece of defending, surviving the firestorm of headlines hurtling his way, then it would be little surprise if England were led out by Rooney for their first World Cup game against the United States in Rustenburg on June 12. Terry could even be gone by the March friendly with Egypt. This weekend will be a brutal one for Terry and the FA."
January 29, 2010
England and Chelsea captain John Terry may be having an uncomfortable weekend. And that's not meant as a slight to Burnley.
It seems that "JT" has been unable to make an injunction about a private matter stick and that the sordid details may yet be splashed across a Sunday newspaper. Watch this space.
Let's see the Guardian take the strain of the legal stuff while the Sun tells much of the story so you don't have to wait.
"Another controversial superinjunction was overturned today as the England captain John Terry emerged as the footballer who obtained a gagging order preventing the publication of allegations about his private life.
Lawyers for Terry succeeded in applying for a high court injunction on Friday last week, having learnt that a Sunday newspaper – believed to be the News of the World – planned to write about his private life."
Real Madrid saw their star man Cristiano Ronaldo lose his appeal against a suspension for, er, breaking an opponent's nose at the weekend. For Guillem Balague writing in the Daily Mirror, the whole sorry affair simply goes to show that Ronaldo's ego is spiralling beyond measure - but that is a blessing as well as a curse.
Spain is divided over whether Ronaldo intended to break a Malaga player’s nose last week or not. Whatever side you’re on, the new Galactico’s reaction - that he was the victim - is worrying. As a Malaga player said: “Clearly the nose was at fault!”
As his opponent lay bleeding, the sight of Ronaldo on his knees, arms raised to the heavens wailing in frustration at the injustice of it all, confirms for his critics what they’ve have been saying all along: that his ego is out of control.
Away from the carefully controlled environment of Old Trafford, Ronaldo’s belief that he is the best is in danger of making him a liability – yet at the same time his insatiable desire to prove he is the best is driving him on to ever greater heights.
Real Madrid are struggling to contain that fiery character and some of his team-mates have suggested that Ronaldo’s obsession with being number one is making him ‘overexcited out on the pitch'.
Yet they also know that it is the very same desire to be the best, to score the winning goal and to win every game that makes him the unstoppable force he frequently is.
Let off the leash, Ronaldo could run out of control; yet he is also becoming a much more dangerous player at the same time.
It could go spectacularly wrong, but the reward is mesmerising – and probably worth the risk...
Meanwhile, Jeff Powell in the Daily Mail says Wayne Rooney may not be the white Pele but has all the potential he needs to write his name in the history books.
This is not what Manchester United fans had in mind the other night when they hoisted a banner proclaiming Wayne Rooney as the white Pele, but the most immediate comparison with the greatest footballer of all time is simply that of size.
The search for the new Pele has long been football’s equivalent of the quest for the Holy Grail, but more recent generations of lovers of the beautiful game are always amazed to be told that Edson Arantes do Nascimento stood only a smidgen above 5ft 7in.
Rooney is only about three inches taller but he, too, is a giant presence on the pitch. He is cast in the same squat, powerful and virtually unstoppable mould. But the new Pele? That really is a tall order.
A long way for Rooney to go? Hopefully, there are [legendary] moments awaiting Rooney, perhaps beginning in South Africa. But lest we forget, Pele won three World Cups.
And while Rooney is finding the net frequently, he will have to do so for many seasons to emulate Pele’s thousand goals.
True greatness is the product of consistent brilliance sustained down the years, the decades. It is not bestowed overnight.
If Rooney is a Pele in the making, it will be some time before we have the proof. That is the long and the short of it.
January 28, 2010
The Guardian's Richard Williams is just one of the national reporters dazzled by the brilliance of Wayne Rooney after his injury-time goal took Manchester United to the final of the Carling Cup at the expense of rivals Manchester City.
After Real Madrid director Jorge Valdano suggested the striker may struggle to acclimatise to life in Spain, not that United have any intention of selling him, Williams feels Rooney produced a stunning riposte on a night when opposition to the Glazer family continued. He writes:
Two hours before last night's kick-off a schoolboy was walking through the tunnel under the main stand and past the memorial to the victims of the Munich disaster, wearing a T-shirt evoking an earlier period of Manchester United's history. First revived almost 20 years ago by the club itself in order to flog a few more away strips, the green and gold colours of Newton Heath FC, United's forebears, formed in 1878 as the works team of a railway depot, have recently been restored to prominence as an emblem of resistance against the consequences of the leveraged takeover engineered by the Glazer family of Florida in the summer of 2005.
The boy was not alone. Thousands of other spectators were making their way into the ground with shirts and scarves in the colours first worn by the men of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. When the boy turned round, it could be seen that the back of his T-shirt, bought that afternoon for a fiver, carried a message intended to resonate across the Atlantic: "United's soul is never sold / So proudly wear the Green and Gold / We'll never wear our famous Red / Til Glazer's gone or even dead / So raise that ancient standard high / By Green and Gold we'll live or die / That day will come again for sure / When we can wear our Red once more."
If any red-shirted player on the pitch last night embodied that boy's defiance, if perhaps not precisely his objection to the effects of global capitalism, it was surely Wayne Rooney, combining finesse and defiance in a match-turning performance that reached its climax with a decisive strike in the 92nd minute. As the roar from the throats of 65,000 United fans split the sky, it was tempting to conclude that, when it comes to football clubs and their sticky moments with controversial owners, there is not much that a sequence of satisfying results and the promise of trophies cannot overcome.
The Mail's Martin Samuel, never one to miss the chance to comment on a big game, focuses on the figure of Carlos Tevez who scored again against his former club but was denied a trip to Wembley.
At the final whistle, Carlos Tevez was dazed, twisting in the middle. His team-mates were heading for the tunnel, crushed, the celebrating reds were oblivious to him.
He stumbled around, aimlessly, looking for a friendly face, a hand to shake. It seemed a painful age until his old colleagues spotted him and offered the standard commiserations.
Tevez scored three times in this tie, but it was not sufficient. He may not regret leaving United but he will know the calibre of the team he has left behind.
January 27, 2010
The big derby is going to get underway later and Martin Samuel at the Daily Mail wants to point the finger at Manchester City, claiming they are all that is wrong with football.
We hear so much about respect these days that football is in danger of turning into south central Los Angeles. Blue versus red; Crips against Bloods.
Manchester United play Manchester City again tonight at Old Trafford, so you can pretty much guarantee somebody will get dissed; probably Carlos Tevez, whose popularity at Old Trafford is right up there with Malcolm Glazer’s.
Lack of respect explains the feud between Tevez and Gary Neville, the Manchester United captain, apparently. According to Kia Joorabchian, adviser to Tevez, the angry gestures and description of Neville as an idiot and a creep were not even derogatory. ‘A professional footballer has to have respect for his companions and if you don’t have class, then you have to accept that they are entitled to say something back,’ Joorabchian said.
Leaving aside exactly who is in a position to lecture on class in football these days - although it hasn’t stopped the most debt-laden Prime Minister in history sermonising on governance and balancing the books - Joorabchian would appear to have rather missed the point. Modern Manchester City do not have class and they do not have respect; that is what is so appealing about them.
Ian McGarry in the Sun has his say on news of Crystal Palace's administration. And, of course, he saw it coming.
In Palace's case, a campaign which saw them just outside the play-offs suddenly became a relegation battle in the bleep of a mobile phone. It would be wrong to say they hadn't seen it coming. Twice this term the staff discovered their wages had not been paid on time. And they're not anywhere near the best-paid squad in the Championship - making this new development even more of a shock.
But football is an optimistic environment by nature. After all, there's always the next game to make up for disappointment in the last one. In terms of the club, Palace couldn't be further from the image of football as wasteful and bloated. Everything is run on a budget.
Chairman and owner Simon Jordan, abhors throwing money away and has banned paying agents. Even the players' canteen and laundry have been pared down to a minimum. In effect, everything that could have been cut had been. Therein lies the grave truth facing English football in 2010 - even big clubs with a large fan base, rich history and that are reasonably well run can still go under.
Meanwhile, Paddy Barclay in the Times has a look at Liverpool's woes after another dismal result - this time against Wolves - and says that Steven Gerrard failed to make an impact.
Reports that Juventus are pondering a move for Rafael Benítez had the Liverpool followers in two minds. Many remain loyal to the manager who has guided them to two Champions League finals, but some feel that his time has come and gone and that the summer would be an ideal time to thank him for the memories.
The pro-Benítez camp had been heartened by the performance that brought Liverpool a 2-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield six days earlier; it was indeed more like the team’s better form of last season, when they gave Manchester United a scare for much of the Barclays Premier League campaign, in that the spirit for combat and team sense were evident.
Coincidentally or not, this was in the absence through injury of the star players, Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard. The Englishman returned last night and yet, for all his industry, seldom threatened to break free of Michael Mancienne’s man-to-man marking. Team-wise, it was an unimpressive Liverpool display, one that left the club with only 11 wins in 23 league matches — they have 15 games left to save their season by finishing fourth.
It would be an exaggeration to say that the purchase of Alonso from Real Sociedad made Benítez’s Liverpool, or that his sale to Real Madrid last summer will prove a regime-breaker. But how they miss Alonso’s composure; neither Javier Mascherano nor Lucas Leiva can see the passes he used to make.
Gerrard, a damp squib in the first half, showed signs of his characteristic explosiveness on the resumption, but the service from deep midfield was seldom of the quality he would have wanted.
January 26, 2010
Ahead of tomorrow night's Carling Cup semi-final, Matt Dickinson at the Times launches a staunch defence of Gary Neville for the comments he made regarding Carlos Tevez. Dickinson reckons that the Manchester United captain was justified in making his point and that Tevez is just another greedy footballer.
"According to the Butterfly Effect, small, seemingly insignificant incidents can come to have a vast, unforeseen outcome; the flap of wings that ultimately causes a tornado. Football now has its own parochial example. Gary Neville makes some sensible comments in a Maltese newspaper, The Times, and, before you know it, Manchester police are on riot alert, braced for mayhem at Old Trafford tomorrow night.
Carlos Tévez is in for a Welcome to Hell in the Carling Cup semi-final, second leg. United fans may even suspend their anti-Glazer protests to concentrate on the Argentine defector. In Tévez’s world, he is the one with right on his side in this escalating feud: the man disrespected.
It suits him to paint a picture of a footballer who would have died for United but, cast out, had no choice than to pack up his shooting boots and, like one of Clint Eastwood’s wandering gunslingers, head to the next town. That is one side of the story, but an entirely self-serving one also peddled by Kia Joorabchian, his representative. Self-serving because it deflects from the fact that the move may have been inspired by other motives, such as the pot of gold on the other side of Manchester."
Staying in Manchester, United striker Wayne Rooney is one of the form players in the Premier League at the moment, so it's perfect for timing for former Arsenal defender Martin Keown to regale us with tales of his days marking the England striker back in the day. He even offers up a bit of advice for Rooney's opposing defenders in the Mail.
"Wayne Rooney is worse than an annoying wasp. He just won’t go away, buzzing all around the opposition’s defence and penalty box. You’d kill a wasp, but you just can’t get rid of Rooney. What makes him so difficult to play against is that he is a very determined player, very strong
Against someone like that, you have to mark them extremely tightly. You must be virtually in his boots when you are marking him. You have to force him away from the goal, stay as tight as you can and keep him going in the wrong direction. But it is very difficult to keep someone like that quiet for 90 minutes, especially when he has good options around him.
It’s always difficult dealing with that type of player. Dennis Bergkamp used to do it, Gianfranco Zola and Teddy Sheringham too. They just wander into that little area. There’s then the element of surprise and a communication problem between the midfield and defence. There are times when you are playing against a Zola or a Sheringham and you would love to go and pick him up but you have to let the midfielders do it.
My golden rule used to be that if I wasn’t sure whether to go or not, I would just stand still. Manchester United had particularly good movement of players and I remember Paul Scholes making those runs from deep or Ryan Giggs coming in from wide into the hole that you leave.
Another former Arsenal player, former record goalscorer Ian Wright, has also chosen to focus his attention on Rooney, suggesting in the Sun that any potential sale of the striker would be "catastrophic" for Manchester United.
"It is not only Wayne Rooney's feet that are on fire at the moment - his ears must be burning too. His red-hot form for Manchester United has fuelled more talk he could soon be set for a multi-million pound reunion with Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid. With all the financial goings-on at Old Trafford, I could see Rooney running out at the Bernabeu in a white shirt next season - especially if he has a good World Cup.
Indeed, I would be very surprised if former Red Devils idol Ronaldo, who left United for Madrid for a world-record £80million last summer, is NOT badgering his new club's head coach Manuel Pellegrini and president Florentino Perez on a daily basis, telling them to splash the cash to nab his old pal.
But despite their confusing cash situation, from a football point of view United cannot afford to sell Rooney. Losing one superstar in a year is a big problem, but losing two would be catastrophic."
January 25, 2010
With a distinct lack of any notable transfer activity in the Premier League we turn our attention to the Bundesliga to get our fix, where Ruud van Nistelrooy has joined Hamburg in the final move of his career.
Ruud can count Real Madrid and Manchester United amongst his former clubs so what is the record-breaking striker doing heading to a Hamburg side that is struggling to hit form just as a the new galacticos era is starting in Spain?
Writing in the Independent, Sam Wallace claims that despite his unquestionable talents, Ruud has not achieved what he should in the game because he is always in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"As Ruud van Nistelrooy completes the last transfer of his career this week he will surely reflect that, as a striker who has scored so many goals in his career, he has not won as much as his talent deserved.
To complain about winning only three league titles in England and Spain might seem ungrateful but the big players measure out their success by the big prizes and Van Nistelrooy never got close to winning the Champions League. He is the competition's second-highest goalscorer of all time and has never been further than the semi-finals.
Last night at the Bernabeu he was due to be on the pitch before the game against Malaga so the Madrid fans could give their thanks for the 64 goals he has scored in 97 games for their club. He is leaving just as another galacticos era gets going, replaced by the same player, Cristiano Ronaldo, who edged him out of Old Trafford. For the second time, Van Nistelrooy is the man getting his coat just as the party kicks off."
Also writing in the Independent (who seem to be on fire today), James Lawton muses that Arsene Wenger's decision to field a weakened team in the FA Cup, as Arsenal crashed out to Stoke City, could derail the Gunners' entire season.
"Emboldened maybe by his retrieval of the third-round tie at West Ham with an easy flexing of his squad strength, Arsène Wenger sent too many untested kids – three to be precise – into a place which has proved itself capable of chilling the blood of gnarled old pros.
It was a self-inflicted wound at a pivotal point of a season of promise in which the FA Cup offered itself as probably Arsenal's best chance of ending the trophy drought of recent years.
There was another familiar victim. It was the old tournament itself and any sense that it might not necessarily be doomed to the status of a cup of convenience, somewhere you commit yourself wholeheartedly only when all else is lost."
January 24, 2010
The controversy surrounding the Glazer family's stewardship of Manchester United gathers apace amid scenes of insurrection at Old Trafford. This, of course, is far more than a business story and The Sunday Times lets loose a pair of its business hacks on to the £500 million bond issue which the club successfully completed this week.
Ben Marlow and Dominic Rushe say that:
"Manchester United’s controversial bond issue has cost the Premier League football club £54m, it emerged this weekend.
The sum is more than the club would expect to have to pay to sign one of Europe’s top players.
As part of the £500m funds raised by United last week, the club has been forced to pay £15m in fees and expenses to investment bankers and lawyers.
It has also taken a £39m hit from the unwinding of interest rate hedging arrangements on the debt that has been refinanced by the bond. Although the owners, the Glazer family, have managed to defer payment of some liability, the club is still paying £11m of it upfront."
The pair also expose some problems in the Glazers' other business interests:
"It would appear that Manchester United is not the only part of the Glazers’ business empire under pressure. An investigation by The Sunday Times has revealed that the family’s property business, First Allied, which mostly invests in shopping malls, is sitting on a 500,000 sq ft black hole."
January 23, 2010
West Ham United's takeover by former Birmingham City trio David Sullivan, David Gold and Karen Brady has received a mixed reception amongst the fans, especially as the new bosses plan to move the club away from Upton Park.
But the trio have rescued the Hammers from spiralling debt and Brady uses her column in The Sun to lay out their plans for the London club and explains her excitement at the prospect of being rebranded 'West Ham Olympic'.
"To West Ham fans I'll make a single pledge - while we are on the board, we will hang in the Tower of London before your club again goes through the financial turmoil which so nearly brought it down.
On my list of objectives first things first, we have to remain in the Premier League. That's why Gianfranco has been told he may add to his playing staff. In the league, there isn't a safer job than Gianfranco Zola's. There'll be a brush and broom at Upton Park but no bulldozer.
The target I find most bracing is to move the club away from the Boleyn which does no more than serve a purpose and take it to - where else? - the 2012 Olympic Stadium only a couple of miles away. I love the idea of calling the club West Ham Olympic."
In The Times Patrick Barclay argues that Hammers have struck gold with two good honest porn barons and that there are many more potentially worse owners out there, who would not be good for West Ham. the two Davids are the right people to take West Ham in the right direction.
"We have had enough of debt-loading Americans, absentee Arabs, hopelessly naive Icelanders and off-putting Englishmen - they come in many forms, these fat and improper persons - and so, when along comes a porn-mag baron with a duke of dildos at his side, it is like the dawn of a bright new day.
Sullivan and Gold are, to me, the very models of modern club ownership. For a start, they are where they should be. Although Sullivan was born in Cardiff, he took his economics degree in London as well as at the university of life, where he learnt that men would pay enough to receive pornographic photographs, discreetly sent through the post, to net him an income guaranteed to make a footballer gasp (and those muddied Seventies idols were not as badly paid as they now pretend, believe me). At some stage, he fell for the Hammers.
All through their stewardship of Birmingham, whom they finally sold to Carson Yeung last year, Sullivan and Gold yearned for West Ham. And now they have them."
January 22, 2010
In a transfer window devoid of any real excitement - bar Wolves’ capture of Geoffrey Mujangi Bia of course - the spat between Carlos Tevez and Gary Neville has been a real blessing for sportswriters in the national press.
But some observers have not enjoyed the very public row between the two former team-mates that has festered in recent days. Tevez struck the latest blow when accusing Neville, somewhat bizarrely, of being a “sock-sucker” - careful - in an interview in his native Argentina.
Neville had of course angered the Manchester City striker when claiming United were right not to buy him in the summer - an assessment that Tevez undermined when scoring twice against his former club in the Carling Cup in midweek, his celebrations, directed at Neville, drawing the finger from the United defender.
There is no real point denying that the whole episode is pretty hilarious, but the Independent’s James Lawton, always a prominent moral crusader with an axe to grind, is none too happy:
"Manchester United and Manchester City have to act against their reputations being so cheapened by the puerile behaviour of Gary Neville and Carlos Tevez. It is their problem and one that in the current climate in the city requires a swift response.
"If the Football Association decides to respond to the provocation which so inflamed the equally brainless fringes of the supporters of both clubs they should be representing a second wave of discipline aimed at enforcing general standards of behaviour among players operating in the world's best-paid football league."
Lawton continues with a particularly pointed appraisal of Neville, who has previous in this regard.
"In Neville's case the problem is plainly terminal. A brilliant career – one which persuaded Sir Bobby Charlton, for whom Wednesday's pettiness was particularly appalling, to select him as the right-back of United's post-war years – has long been sullied by mindless acts of provocation, especially against Liverpool supporters.
"Perhaps with the decline of his powers, Neville feels some kind of extra need to make his presence felt. He should know the desire has never been more counter-productive. Rabble-rousing is a poor substitute for leadership. Some may say he wears his Manchester United heart on his sleeve but in the case of someone who should by now have acquired some of the statesmanship of his club-mate Ryan Giggs, the result is a dishevelled substitute for genuine passion."
January 21, 2010
A surprisingly interesting evening of action on Wednesday saw Liverpool assert themselves back among the big boys with a 2-0 win over Spurs that put them within touching distance of fourth; Villa and Blackburn play out a ten-goal thriller as ten-man as Martin O'Neill's men booked their place at Wembley; and Arsenal come from 2-0 down to record a 4-2 over Bolton that moves them to top of the table on goal difference.
It's fresh vindication for Arsene Wenger as his continued reluctance to spend is proven right or wrong week by week, and Paul Hayward in the Guardian is wondering whether they can now deliver the sustained brilliance they need to end their long wait for silverware.
The neutral will feel that a winter run by Arsenal was what this title race needed. Too much of the attention has been on Liverpool's decline, Manchester United's debt and Manchester City's wealth. The campaign needed a pure footballing story: a revival for the claim that Arsenal would get there in the end, even if Arsène Wenger went geriatric trying.
Two-nil down, then 4-2 winners. Top in January for the first time in two years. Here in the house of eternal promise they saw the future pay an early visit as Chelsea were knocked off their plinth on goals scored. These Arsenal graduates sense the opportunity to exploit instability and vulnerability elsewhere in the league. They have no excuse to deviate from the simple task of trying to play the best football in England. In this year more than any, sustained brilliance will carry a team past the faltering and the insecure. The prize for Wenger's men is a first English championship since 2004.
The concession of two first-half goals to a Bolton Wanderers side they had beaten comfortably four days earlier on northern turf showed that the dynamic has changed in Highbury and Islington. To be "written off" had its advantages. It removed the burden of expectation that was apparent when Arsenal made such a fretful start to this game and allowed Owen Coyle to put early gloss on his managerial move from Burnley to Bolton.
After their 3-0 thumping at home to Carlo Ancelotti's team at the end of November, Arsenal had demanded time and space to continue on the long path to maturity. The Champions League seemed their only major target as another title challenge fell down the well of youth and inexperience. But like the two under-worked thespians in Withnail and I who went on holiday "by mistake", the Gunners have surged past Chelsea and United without really planning it, with a run of seven wins in nine games.
Just when Wenger had persuaded us that the league title is not a life-defining obsession (or that any time would do), tomorrow showed up with snow on its boots. Only 16 games left for their nerve to hold.
Meanwhile, Andy Cole is discussing the Tevez-Neville business in the Independent and he feels that United were most definitely wrong to allow the Argentina forward to leave.
Manchester United would have benefited from taking up their option on Carlos Tevez last summer instead of letting him go. I know it's a view that puts me at odds with Gary Neville (sorry, Nev) and even with Sir Alex Ferguson, who ultimately made the call, but that's my opinion. And it's not just because he went to City, or because he's just put two past United (which I still very much consider to be my club) – I've voiced the same opinion since last summer.
Let's assume Tevez and his advisers had already made up their minds he wanted out of United. And let's also assume that the club thought a fee of £25m (or more) to his owners, plus more for a big contract, was pricey – I still think there might have been some better solution. Why wouldn't Tevez want to stay at the biggest club in the world's most popular league, if given the chance?
So did United, by balking at the cost, make an error? I'd never, ever dream of telling Sir Alex, the greatest manager of all time, on what basis to make a decision. But I do wonder whether part of him is regretting that they could not have found a way to keep Tevez. Fair enough if United didn't want to pay this or that sum, but looking beyond the issues of money for a second and it's a no-brainer; he is good enough for United and therefore should have stayed.
Finances at United have been high on the agenda in the past week or so, and, to be honest, a lot of the talk about numbers, balance sheets and bonds just escapes me. But I do know about players. So will they be sitting around talking about bonds and debts? My guess is not at all.
January 20, 2010
Manchester City laid a marker down against their city rivals, with Carlos Tevez especially impressive with his two goals in the Carling Cup. The Times' Matt Dickinson has his say on the 2-1 win for City.
It is nights like this that give credence to the idea that Manchester United and Manchester City, light years apart not so long ago, are now on a trajectory in which their futures become entwined. You can draw that conclusion from City’s victory. You can see it in the name of their match-winner, Carlos Tévez, stolen away from Old Trafford.
But, most of all, it was there to be seen in the gesture that Gary Neville made to Tévez as the two exchanged insults after the latter’s first goal. Not so long ago United had dismissed their local rivals as “noisy neighbours”. Now they were being drawn into a bitter row over the garden fence.
Tevez, of course, took a lot of the headlines and Dickinson thinks United may rue their decision not to keep the Argentine.
In the search for pointers to the future, we alight on Tévez himself. United turned down the opportunity to sign the Argentinian last summer when the price rose to £47 million and the wages to £7 million a year. It was hard to quibble at the time.
But any decision based on controlling costs at Old Trafford is starting to be seen in a different light these days since the full, monstrous burden of the Glazer ownership was revealed. As Rooney chased around on his own, the best player on the pitch forced to flog himself once again in the lone-striker role, how could one not despair at how United’s attacking resources have been diminished?
On the other side of the world, Diego Maradona may not be everyone's cup of tea, but with the World Cup getting ever closer he's finding himself the subject of more column inches. The Independent's James Lawton has an interview with the big little-man and looks at his impact as he lands in Pretoria..
Something extraordinary is happening here 141 days before the opening of the World Cup. It is Diego Maradona. There may still be major problems, security questions, worries about ticket sales, but suddenly they seem less oppressive. Maradona is, more full-heartedly than anyone could have imagined in his circumstances, moving among the people.
He may be a walking time bomb but his meaning, here at least, goes beyond a lifetime of a glory so repeatedly threatened by self-destruction. At a vital moment in the progress towards another World Cup, Maradona is a potent reminder of what the great tournament means. It is the enduring glamour of the most magnetic of footballers and, astonishingly when you retrace the turmoil of his last few years, Maradona still carries it with every stride.
And the great man himself? Well, he's not fussed about England too much:
He doesn't rate the Capello- transformed England among the most serious of his threats. "They are a strong team, of course, but I place them in the second rank of favourites. The first rank is occupied by Brazil and Spain and Germany. They are the teams I most fear but I do not fear them too much."
January 19, 2010
With the Manchester derby looming large on Tuesday night, the papers focus on the figure of Carlos Tevez, who left United in the summer and joined City, where he has hit a rich seam of form in recent weeks.
After he failed to get on the scoresheet on his first return to Old Trafford, when United won 4-3 in September, Tevez returns to United in excellent shape and Paul Wilson, writing in the Guardian, wonders if the Argentina international is ready to prove Sir Alex Ferguson wrong after he deemed Tevez too expensive.
In 'Classy or costly? Carlos Tevez has a chance to settle the debate', Wilson writes:
"According to Mike Summerbee, a former favourite whose own workrate was more eye-catching than his finishing or technical ability, Tevez has already made himself popular at Eastlands and not just by preferring City to United. 'City fans will always take to players like him who give 100%,' Summerbee said. 'He is a hard-working player but he has top-flight ability as well.'
"That is the nub of the issue, for were it merely a question of workrate and application Tevez might still be in favour at Old Trafford. The player never let anyone down at United and Sir Alex Ferguson repeatedly praised his energetic contributions, yet the manager found it difficult to offer him a regular starting berth and eventually decided, or at least did not come to sufficiently decisive a conclusion to convince Tevez that he meant it, that £25m was a lot to ask for a striker whose misses were as notable as his goals.
"Particularly when United already had Wayne Rooney, who covers much of the same ground as Tevez, and, like the Argentinian, prefers to play just behind a more advanced striker. Ferguson decided to stake everything on a partnership developing between Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov and let City work out how best to utilize Tevez. Tonight's game could be regarded as something of a showdown to prove which side showed the better judgment, even though Tevez has had more attacking partners than City have had free flights to Abu Dhabi."
January 18, 2010
Controversial start to the week from Martin Samuel at the Mail who suggests that if the Glazers continue to plough Manchester United into debt, it would be bad for the club, but better for the wider football world.
"Bumped into Geoffrey Boycott, England legend and Manchester United fan, in Johannesburg this week. ‘So,’ he said, with the smug smile of one who is not used to hearing bad news about his club, ‘who are we buying, then?’
It would appear Geoffrey had fallen a little out of the loop while on tour, so he was brought up to speed on a few things. Ending on a positive note, I mentioned United were considering having a whip-round among famous fans and had heard he was good for a few quid. He didn’t seem too interested in that, and wandered off to resume butchering England’s batsmen.
And this is the contradiction at the heart of the Glazer saga. Empathy for Manchester United supporters, while quietly relishing what is happening to their club for the change it might bring to English football.
Not because anyone has it in for United specifically but because the balance of power in football must alter over time if the sport is not to become moribund. Evolution takes place when the alpha club mess up. Mistakes may occur on the field, or off, but the bottom line is, when somebody gets it wrong, a rival, better managed, better prepared,
It's been everywhere in the last few days, and the fervent speculation continues about Rafa Benitez on Monday, with Richard Williams at the Guardian suggesting that any potetnial takeover deal for Liverpool would spell the end of the Spanish boss.
"Rafael Benítez forced a smile afterwards but his customary touchline pantomime – the dissatisfied grimaces, the dismissive shrugs, the odd little shapes he makes with his hands – had carried an extra edge of exasperation and frustration during Saturday's match. A man accustomed to scrutiny during his five years on Merseyside is now seriously on trial.
If it is indeed true, as a few newspapers reported yesterday, that Tom Hicks Sr and George Gillett have finally managed to identify a Middle Eastern investor willing to fork out £100m in exchange for a 25% holding in Liverpool FC, then the US owners' undeserved stroke of luck would enable them to prioritise the removal of what is coming to appear the biggest obstruction to the club's progress."
January 17, 2010
It wouldn't be a normal day without a large chunk of column inches dedicated to good old Rafael Benitez and his troubles at Liverpool.
Today, we start with the Observer and Paul Hayward's assessment of the situation.
Paul, strangely, seems to have a little sympathy with Rafa, believing that there is always a manager who is in the line of fire. And this year it is Liverpool's Spanish boss.
Football's most sadistic sideshow is watching a big-name manager thrash on the hook of impending ignominy. "Sacked in the morning" becomes the opposition's default grandstand chant and the industry presses its nose to the screen to see whether the vortex will take the poor sod down.
Rafa Benítez is this season's dangling man. He is condemned by Liverpool's early Champions League, Carling Cup and FA Cup exits to be followed around by those who recite the last rites for managerial reigns. You will have noticed by now that Benítez's future, or lack of it, has eclipsed Liverpool's deep structural weaknesses as the primary source of interest. The cult of personality dictates that embattled managers provide the crisis-narrative.
He goes on...
The obsession with Benítez as the chief protagonist in the drama is sustained also by the sense that he sees football as a chance to make self-aggrandising decisions. Squad-rotation, odd tactical changes and the habit of marginalising good players such as Peter Crouch, Robbie Keane and Ryan Babel all fall into this category. His handling of Alberto Aquilani is already causing consternation on the Kop, though Benítez insisted here that he left his £20m acquisition on the bench only because extra-time against Reading had been gruelling for him on his gradual return from injury.
Liverpool left out Aquilani in favour of a full-back (Philipp Degen) they would gladly sell, and scored with an ugly goal from a stand-in centre-half bought from AEK Athens for £1.5m. Benítez has not had much luck with ponytails, so this contribution bucked a trend. Andriy Voronin, the long-maned Ukrainian striker, was an abject let-down and left last week for Dynamo Moscow. To Liverpool's supporters Kyrgiakos is emblematic of the club's failure to recruit enough players of title-winning calibre. Hired to replace Sami Hyypia.
And to sign off...
Mediocre players, mostly. By Liverpool's standards, anyway; by Premier League title-winning standards. Effort is no substitute for talent on the high ground where Liverpool belong.
Our other selection comes from the Sunday Mail who, like many, calls for Rafa to get the chop.
In Rafa We Trust, says the banner. Liverpool fans have waved it with conviction throughout this troubled season. Only it’s looking decidedly bedraggled now.
The enduring devotion to Rafa Benitez has become little more than an exercise in blind faith, the sort lemmings display as they charge headlong off a cliff.
If it really does come down to trust, then Liverpool fans have to ask themselves if they truly believe Benitez can rescue this season and claim the fourth place he has ‘guaranteed’.
January 16, 2010
There is no let up for Rafa Benitez in the morning's papers, even despite the Liverpool manager turning his hand to comedy yesterday when parodying his own "facts" rant last season.
With Liverpool's season imploding, and a tricky trip to Stoke coming on Saturday, the Independent's James Lawton argues that a change of manager is required at Anfield, with Jose Mourinho and Guus Hiddink top of his list.
"It is that what happens on the field, assuming that players are paid according to their contracts and that team-building finance has been provided, will always be in the remit of the manager. It is his ability to inspire players, to make them a coherent unit, most basically of all, give them the desire to play not only for themselves and their fans but also their boss, the man who ultimately will decide on their futures.
"How long is it since Rafa Benitez was able to create any degree of confidence that such a dynamic was in place? Not consistently, you have to believe, since the waning of his undoubted knack of turning impressive survival instincts into stunning, if not easily analysed success at the highest level of the European game – and in no way of consequence at all since the failure of his most promising challenge in five attempts for the Premier League title and the rather brutal exclusion from Europe at the quarter-final stages last season at the hand of Hiddink's Chelsea.
"The rest has, of course, been an unmitigated disaster, a separation from any sense of meaningful progress, a process underlined most damagingly by the sale of Xabi Alonso and the purchase of Alberto Aquilani.
"In Rafa We Trust, proclaimed the Kop, but surely not on the evidence unfolding before its eyes."
Strong stuff indeed.
January 15, 2010
It's still the topic everyone's trying to unravel: why are Liverpool so bad this season? The owners? Xabi Alonso's sale? Injuries? Ian Herbert in the Independent is the latest to try to uncover the mysteries of Liverpool's woeful season.
"If football were a neat and tidy business, it would be tempting to say that the beginning of the end for Rafael Benitez occurred on this self-same Friday last year. It was 9 January; the afternoon before his side visited Stoke City – as they do once again tomorrow – when the Liverpool manager took a piece of A4 paper from his jacket pocket and began a calm character assassination of Sir Alex Ferguson. Liverpool managed only a 0-0 draw at the Britannia Stadium the next day, Manchester United beat Chelsea 3-0 that weekend, and the Stretford End suddenly had a memorable new chant on its hands.
Except Rafa was not cracking up, as Old Trafford so memorably claimed in the days to follow. Liverpool's league record in the 18 games which followed "Rafa's rant" was: played 18, won 12, drew 5, lost 1.
Not much has changed in terms of personnel since then. Consider the side Benitez fielded last March for the imperious 5-0 home win over Aston Villa – a team who so nearly beat Manchester United in their next league match – that made them appear to be champions-elect: Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Skrtel, Aurelio, Mascherano, Alonso, Gerrard, Kuyt, Riera, Torres. Only Alvaro Arbeloa and Xabi Alonso have since gone and Alonso, though lamented, was not as indispensable last season as some claim in hindsight.
But one of the bywords for success in sport is momentum. Liverpool, with one significant player fewer, have lost it and vanished from the place they occupied. The downfall has been shockingly abrupt and the seeds of it are actually to be found back at the stadium where Liverpool travel tomorrow. The goalless draw at the Britannia last January, when Steven Gerrard came a lick of paint's width from scoring a winner, belonged to the pattern of draws against the Premier League's poor relations which persuaded Benitez that things must change things if Liverpool were to take the final step and seize United's crown. It was his typical statistician's logic: had Gerrard scored at Stoke and Everton's Tim Cahill not netted three minutes from time at Anfield in the next game, Liverpool would have matched Manchester United's points tally and lifted the title on goal difference.
So out went the caution which had led Benitez's side to conquer the continent and in came two of the most promising attacking full-backs: £17m Glen Johnson, of whom there were great expectations, and Emiliano Insua, an academy player in whom there were fewer. Both can surge forward but neither can defend to great effect – to the extent that you now wonder whether both would be better off deployed as orthodox wingers. As Hull crumbled to a 6-1 defeat at Anfield in September, Liverpool attacked incessantly, scenting a kill and the new strategy seemed to be working. In Florence three days later, they looked ill-equipped to revert to their more patient, European style and lost 2-0. Fabio Aurelio said that night that he had never seen Benitez so angry. The manager's response was borne of an alien experience."
On an altogether different topic, David Anderson on the Mirror Football website now appears to be trying his hand at comedy. After suggesting last week that Roberto Mancini was appointed "because his name is spelt almost the same as Man City", he's now turning his satirical prose on the issue of fans.
"I believe I have the answer to Manchester United and Liverpool's huge debt problems.
Between them, United and Liverpool have millions of fans around the world so why not sell a few thousand off?
Clubs have sold their players, their grounds and even their training grounds, so why not their supporters?
Like the Antarctic, fans are the last great untapped resource yet to be exploited and they could be worth a fortune.
Look at the North West... Bolton, Blackburn, Wigan and even Manchester City could do with some more fans to fill their grounds.
United and Liverpool could flog them a few - or in Wigan's case more than just a few - and everyone would be a winner."
January 14, 2010
After a frankly disastrous FA Cup defeat at the hands of Reading on Wednesday night, the future of Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is once again high on the agenda of the nation’s press.
Their season over in January - bar the Europa League, a competition they never wanted to be in - Liverpool must ask some tough questions of their manager and while financial problems, unlovable owners and abusive board members have all proved handy scapegoats at times this season, the papers call for some intense scrutiny of Rafa’s record.
Jason Burt, writing in the Telegraph, leads the criticism against the Spaniard and asks if the club are in the right hands in his article, ‘Rafael Benitez must accept responsibility for the turmoil Liverpool are in’.
"The facts are plain. Out of the Champions League, out of the Premier League title race and now out of the FA Cup, the Liverpool manager is staring at a season in ruins. A career on the line. A famous club in furious turmoil.
"The blame game will start. Benitez needs to shoulder much of the responsibility. It is his duty. Never walk alone? Time, Rafa, to stand tall. Take a lead. It is said he is almost unsackable because of the long, lucrative contract he signed last season and because of the tumult over the club's despised American owners. Benitez has become a rallying point for Liverpool supporters who remain the most loyal in the country.
"But that doesn't wash. It's rubbish. You can't blame Tom Hicks – senior or junior – for this one. Liverpool cannot afford, in sporting or economic sense, to slide into decline, especially if Benitez then slips into his default mode. And that is to accuse everyone else. But it's gone beyond that now. Now is the time for the Spaniard to show something removed from a capacity to apportion responsibility to others.
"There is something rotten, and rotten beyond the board room in a team that surrenders a goal advantage at home at Anfield in such circumstances. This was a new nadir, a new low point. Confidence is smashed, the team fractured, the manager appears to have, in that time-old phrase, lost the dressing room. Maybe, also, it's time for all at Liverpool just to step back and examine what Benitez has achieved. Take away that incredible first year, the unbelievable comeback in Istanbul and have they really, truly progressed?
"Benitez is very good at railing against his detractors, against the perceived injustices he has faced and very good at playing the sensitive victim. This morning he needs to look in the mirror and accept where the responsibility lies. Accept who it was who sold Xabi Alonso, having alienated him, and has overseen five years of frantic, inconsistent team-building which has delivered very little. Benitez needs to earn his money – rather than complain about a shortage of cash. Liverpool need new owners, for sure, but maybe, also, a new manager."
Writing in the Guardian, Kevin McCarra is more restrained but he still warns that Benitez is at a crucial juncture of his Liverpool career.
"There may be even more troubles ahead for Liverpool. Gerrard has found it tough to regain his former vivacity and this has not been a happy campaign, either, for a familiar mainstay such as Jamie Carragher. It is not impossible that there will be further deterioration rather than a fightback from Liverpool.
"Tom Hicks and George Gillett will surely be conscious that Liverpool's habitual Champions League qualification cannot be taken for granted now, in particular when Manchester City are going to such expense to reinvent themselves. The proprietors would not be human if they did not have reservations about Benítez's capacity to reinvent himself to meet that challenge.
"It would, of course, be terrifyingly difficult to name a successor who could galvanise the club and do so on modest means. On the other hand, no manager survives for long simply because it is awkward to appoint a replacement. Benítez will have to pull off an astonishing upsurge if he is to survive beyond the next few weeks and months at Anfield."
January 13, 2010
Ever wondered if the big managers get bored? Need a new challenge. Well, Ian McGarry at the Sun appears to have brought something rather interesting to light. They could well find one.
BIT of trouble with results down at Barnet? No problem, send for Fergie. Hassle between the chairman and coach at Hartlepool? Sounds a job for a diplomat like Arsene Wenger. This may seem fantasy football in trouble-shoot mode. But it will become a realistic prospect in the near future. For English football is about to become the first in the world to employ a mentoring system for its managers.
The revolutionary scheme will be officially launched in March as a joint initiative between the League Managers Association and the FA. It is the brainchild of the LMA and their chief executive Richard Bevan and has a very real objective at its core. There have been 54 sackings across the 92 league clubs in the last year alone, a figure which hits 140 when coaching staff are included. The aim of this new scheme is to stem the culture of firing bosses by offering support before the point where jobs are in jeopardy.
Ultimately, the phone could become mightier than the.. er... sword, or even the pen:
Top coaches like Venables, George Graham and Howard Wilkinson could be just a phone call away. The project could also save clubs a fortune. Chelsea alone have forked out around £30million to the last three managers sacked at Stamford Bridge - Jose Mourinho, Avram Grant and Luiz Felipe Scolari. In future, money may well be the reason a chairman picks up the phone rather than his manager's P45 when results are below-par.
Meanwhile, the fallout from the Glazer stories of yesterday continues apace. The Independent's Sam Wallace says that the American family have fallen into a trap set for Roman Abramovich.
Without the £80m sale of Cristiano Ronaldo in June, the club would have posted a loss of £30.8m in their last financial results because of the £41.9m profits re-directed to service the loans taken out by the Glazer family to buy the club. But United's debts, as outlined in the details of their bond prospectus, could yet have wider implications.
Among the "risk factors" that the club identified for the benefit of potential investors in their latest bond prospectus was the threat posed by Uefa's new rules on clubs with debt. Under the "financial fair play" initiative that will be introduced at the beginning of the 2013-14 season, clubs wishing to play in the Champions League will have to demonstrate to European football's governing body that they can balance their books.
In the bond prospectus United identify the risk that Uefa's financial fair play initiative could become a problem for any club that has become so heavily indebted. Yesterday, sources at Uefa confirmed that this would be the case. They pointed out that United would have another three and a half years to address the matter of their debt, although even in that timeframe there is no guarantee they could do so.
The Uefa president, Michel Platini, calls the initiative the end to "success on credit" and it was aimed at clubs such as Chelsea and latterly Manchester City who have spent far beyond the revenue they have generated. Back in the pre-Glazer plc days, it would have been hard to imagine that it might apply to United.
Ultimately, they may be forced to follow the examples of others, or sell on:
Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea, and Sheikh Mansour, Manchester City's owner, have both converted their extraordinary investment in their clubs into equity in order to fall into line with the new Uefa rules. Making the debt disappear at United will require much wealthier owners than the Glazers.
January 12, 2010
We'v picked out a couple of treats today. We start in the Guardian where David Conn has had plenty to say about the Glazers and the current financial situation at Manchester United.
Lurking in the full, heart-sinking detail of the Glazer family's proposal to borrow £500m, a partial replacement for the £700m debts their takeover has loaded on to Manchester United, is a page documenting the millions United have paid out to the family members themselves. None of the Glazers appear to have taken a salary out of the club since that May 2005 takeover, which United fans bitterly opposed and which has since cost the club more than £325m in interest.
In those three and half years, ticket prices have almost doubled at Old Trafford, where previously they were restrained to cater for the regulars at the Lou Macari Fish Bar, as well as the prawn sandwich consumers.
The MU Finance plc prospectus, launched in the City yesterday, sets out the fortune the Glazer family have reaped from the club they borrowed £540m to buy. From 1 July 2006, in five separate payments, a round total of £10m was paid in "management and administration fees" to companies affiliated to the Glazers. Under the new bond issue, the family is entitled to be paid up to £6m by United in management and administration fees.
On 30 June last year, United entered into a consultancy agreement with SLP Partners, "a company related to certain of our ultimate shareholders", to pay up to £2.9m. On top of that, on 19 December 2008, each of Malcolm Glazer's five sons and one daughter, all of whom are directors of Red Football Limited, each personally borrowed about £1.66m from the club, a total of £10m.
Added together, the management fees, consultancy agreement maximum and the £10m the six family members actually borrowed from United make a total of £22.9m paid to the family and their affiliated companies in three and a half years.
And it seems only right we hear from James Lawton over at the Indepedent about the problems down the road at arch-rivals Liverpool. We are talking, of course, about the foul-mouthed tirade from Tom Hicks Jnr which was aimed at a fan.
Young Hicks, sharp as a whip in his Brooks Brothers gear, went right to the core of the issue, which is, of course, the regard with which most of the football entrepreneurial class hold all those people at the bottom of the food chain who like to think they are still quite an important element in the national game.
He emailed a complaining fan, Stephen Horner, with all the derision and contempt a certain type of well-heeled person reserves for the bothersome attention of a street person.
Hicks, whatever you think of his choice of language – lewd and crude and worthy of the rougher kind of drug dealer – really said it how it is.
It is that the average football fan is utterly deluded if he thinks he is worth anything more than the price of a ticket or a TV subscription. He can join as many pressure groups as he likes. He can create passionate banners. But his proper function is to create profit or, in an increasing number of cases, the means by which large bank loans are serviced.
January 11, 2010
Unsurprisingly, the horrific events in Angola still dominate the newspapers on Monday morning.
Among the plethora of comment articles across both broadsheet and tabloid, we've picked out an article by James Lawton in the Independent.
James has full backing for Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger after he insisted the African Nations Cup must go on.
Arsenal's Arsène Wenger, in sharp contrast to other interested parties, including the Hull City manager, Phil Brown, and Bolton chairman, Phil Gartside, is emphatic in his belief that the tournament must go on.
For it not to do so, he says, would represent the kind of defeat which would make all of sport the hostage to a perilous and perhaps ultimately unplayable future. Wenger, who has his key midfielder Alex Song of Cameroon and Ivory Coast defender Emmanuel Eboué at the tournament, might have supplied the template of a standard reaction to every intrusion into sport by those who see in its vast exposure and popularity the rich pickings of attention and propaganda.
"I don't believe you can stop a competition because that will reward the people who have caused the trouble," said Wenger. "The international federation has to make sure there is good security and you have to leave a decision to some players if they feel insecure, but I feel the tournament has to go on."
Gartside, who has Danny Shittu with Nigeria, said, "We are concerned because one of our players is there and I'm sure other Premier League clubs feel the same way. I think anyone in that situation would want to get home as soon as possible." Brown, who has Seyi Olofinjana with Nigeria and Daniel Cousin with Gabon, declared simply, "I have two players on duty and I want them home."
But for whose good? It may well be that individual players will feel an overwhelming need to come home, as England cricketers did in the first aftermath of the terrorist outrage in Mumbai in 2008, but the cricketers thought again, after being reassured about levels of security, and the response in India was of overwhelming gratitude that the workers of terror had not scored a cheap victory through sport.
This is where the footballers of Africa are today, and will be over the next few weeks as the authorities crank up higher levels of security and hold their breath against the possibilities of fresh outrage.
Our second story comes from the ever-insightful Stan Collymore is his Daily Mirror column.
God old Stan is using the snow which ruined football at the weekend to call for the introduction of a winter break. The thing is, Stan, snow does not come at the same time every year. Last year it was the first day of February. Not to mention the fact that this current weather is a bit of a freak occurance. So how do you plan a winter break around that? We don't really get it.
Well, the farce that has been this last weekend has shown that the big European leagues are right again and us little Brits are so wrong.
The Premier League and Football League has been decimated with games hastily re-scheduled, therefore putting more pressure on injury-ravaged squads.
And also pressure on supporters to decide which of the five games in a month to go to due to financial limitations.
So it is time we had a break and looked at all the possibilities to avoid fixture congestion - finally bringing some sense to our winter schedule.
January 10, 2010
There has been plenty of confusion over the Togo attack, with conflicting reports about injuries, deaths and the squad's response, and it's still the main subject for England's sports writers. In the Sunday Telegraph, Duncan White feels it has left Africa's dream in tatters.
"This was supposed to show Africa, and specifically sub-Saharan Africa, at its best: African players on African soil. Angola, with the huge economic growth that has followed peace, was the perfect venue for an optimistic future.
It is hard to measure the damage that has been done by the attack on the Togo bus. It was telling that, amid his shocked recollections of the events, Emmanuel Adebayor said he felt "disgraced" by what had happened, that Africa had failed when it most needed to succeed.
Saturday was a blur of contradictory reports and misinformation as Caf, African football's governing body, fought desperately to save the tournament. Their initial reaction, in which they appeared to reproach the Togolese for not flying to Cabinda, was a strong indicator of their panic.
Their insistence everything was fine and the competition would go ahead as planned was rendered increasingly absurd as the day wore on, with Togo pulling out and Ghana threatening to follow if they were not moved from Cabinda to Luanda, the capital.
While the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (Flec), the group that claimed responsibility for the attack, claim they want an independence on ethnic grounds, they also want the oil money to be redistributed across the province.
Why, if a tenuous peace had only been agreed with rebel groups three years ago, did Angola and Caf take the risk of staging games in Cabinda?
The answer is money. Without Cabinda's oil money, there would be no tournament in Angola – the government claims to have spent $1 billion on getting the infrastructure up to scratch. So, it's important for Cabinda to be in on the action, to show that it is a safe place to invest. That is why they were fighting so hard yesterday to preserve the fixtures scheduled to take place there.
Flec are threatening further attacks and it looks unlikely that the safety of players and fans can be guaranteed. There is nothing to suggest they will be under threat in mainland Angola, though, and, while Caf must face serious interrogation about the viability of their organisation, strenuous effort must be made to ensure the tournament is completed, even if there are further withdrawals. If it collapsed, there would be serious economic consequences for Angola."
"Forgotten among all this is the football itself, which now resembles a ritual to be got through, rather than a source of celebration."
On a different note, Patrick Collins in the Mail on Sunday is asking whether it is now time for Sir Alex Ferguson to ride into the sunset.
"A couple of days ago, Sir Alex Ferguson was asked about rumours that his club captain Gary Neville would retire at the end of the season. His reply was predictably brusque: 'Why would we make a decision about his future when we don't need to? You don't make decisions like that in the middle of the season. It's a load of nonsense.'
When it comes to retirement, the Manchester United manager shares the view of the late Bill Shankly. 'A terrible, terrible word,' said Shankly.
'They should remove it from the dictionary.' And yet, it would be surprising if that terrible word had not crossed Ferguson's mind these past few weeks.
Ferguson must look at Dimitar Berbatov and wonder what it takes to persuade that vapid under-achiever to deliver his God-given talent. He must wince at the continuing irrelevance of Michael Owen, the ineffectiveness of Anderson, Nani and Luis Valencia and the lack of impact of the young ones: Rafael and Fabio, Danny Welbeck and Gabriel Obertan. Of course, it is far too early to judge, but few resemble authentic United players. And a manager who is a full half-century older than some of them may find it desperately difficult to communicate his own demands and expectations.
In different days, Ferguson would have spent a slice of the money which he and his footballers had generated; indeed, he insists transfer resources are still available. But you sense he is whistling in the wind; that the Glazer family, that confederation of geeks who have hobbled a prudently run club with £700million of debt, are both unwilling and unable to sanction the kind of stunning coup which might turn the tide. Instead, he lives with the sobering consequences of the loss of Ronaldo, unwillingly sold and savagely missed.
Ferguson has moved through the generations with style and flair. For all his flaws, he has left an enduring mark upon the game he loves. And if he were asked about his retirement plans, his answer would be a colourful version of 'It's a load of nonsense'.
But one day, he will go. The most gifted manager we have known will decide that his reputation is secure, his legacy is assured and that the time has come to pass the torch. Alex Ferguson has earned the right to name that day. I suspect it will arrive sooner than later."
January 9, 2010
While Manchester City have brought Patrick Vieira to the Premier League and the fixture list has been ravaged by the weather conditions, the big news on Friday was unquestionably the machine gun attack on the Togo team bus. It is the biggest year in the continent's history in football terms with the World Cup in South Africa just six months away, but the events near the Congolese border have cast a large shadow ahead of the African Nations Cup in Angola.
Amy Lawrence, writing in the Guardian, believes it will be hard for anyone involved to shake off the effects of the attack.
"For the multitude of footballers who have abandoned Europe's deep freeze to pull on their national colours in 30 degrees of sub-Saharan heat, Angola was supposed to represent the start of something special. But the shocking incident that saw the Togo team buses shot at yesterday, despite military protection, after travelling into Angola from neighbouring Congo has changed everything.
It will overshadow an Africa Cup of Nations which never before had assumed such significance. This edition, the prelude to the first World Cup to be hosted on the continent, pulls the curtain on the most important year in the history of African football.
Now that the driver of one of Togo's team buses has been killed and several other passengers, including players, have been wounded, it is impossible for the tournament to go ahead as normal. One of Togo's squad has said the team want to pull out of the event, in which they are due to play their opening game against Ghana on Monday. "It's true that no one wants to play," said Alaixys Romao. "We're not capable of it. We're thinking first of all about the health of our injured because there was a lot of blood on the ground."
Getting over the trauma will be a major challenge for all the participants. The continent's five World Cup finalists here in particular – the Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria and Algeria – must somehow ensure they are not too badly derailed because a successful tournament was clearly part of their preparations for next summer in South Africa as well as their chance for continental triumph.
It will be of particular distress to the iconic figures of African football, who are so proud of this event. Michael Essien, Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto'o, performers of the highest calibre in world football, exemplify why the African game – on the pitch at least – has never had it so good.
The number of excellent individuals from Africa is not in doubt. The challenge now is to make the next leap. Can they create an excellent team – one capable not only of winning the Africa Cup of Nations but also eyeballing the establishment until the latter stages at the World Cup five months from now?
[But] everyone in Angola has far more pressing concerns. A tournament which was supposed to be solely about football and celebration of Africa is now the victim of an outrage and tragedy."
Patrick Barclay in the Times, meanwhile, says we must support the continent.
"How hollow they ring, all those military metaphors and hyperbolic allusions to violence in the description of football, when we hear of what happened in Angola yesterday.
The horrifying attack on the Togo bus as it carried the squad, Emmanuel Adebayor included, towards an African Cup of Nations match against Ghana on Monday that will now, surely, be abandoned, is a reminder that war and lawlessness rage across much of a continent proudly preparing to host its first World Cup.
But we must take care to react proportionately. The World Cup is to take place in South Africa, not a conflict zone separated from the rest of Angola by a strip of land belonging to the Demoratic Republic of Congo. There is no more reason to ratchet up the fear factor now than there would have been to abandon all European football after the terrible events at the Heysel Stadium in Belgium in 1985.
That Africa seems to suffer more than its fair share of the most profound misfortune — stadium crushes and the air crash that wiped out a Zambia squad in 1993 are but two examples — should merely double the game’s resolve to encourage its development as a sporting environment. The World Cup that kicks off in June in Johannesburg, when South Africa meet Mexico, is a key part of that.
Why was the risk taken of sending the tournament to Angola? This will be high in the list of questions that will be asked in the inquest. I have never been able to understand why the choice was made to go somewhere so short not only of security but of accommodation. It has never been less tempting to take the trouble to attend.
The decision was a serious and avoidable blunder because there are plenty of safer countries in Africa. In 2002, I went to Mali, which was the poorest country on the planet at the time, yet safe and friendly — there was less begging, even, than in London, and the people displayed better manners — and the tournament in Burkina Faso passed off relatively serenely as well four years earlier.
For anyone to be put off a trip to Africa, let alone South Africa for the World Cup, on the basis of yesterday’s incident would be ridiculous. The World Cup is no safer and no less safe for it. There was a risk before and there is a risk now.
It is the price of taking the world game to its most problematic continent and to reheat the old arguments would be futile."
January 8, 2010
There is no doubting the biggest transfer story of January so far with Patrick Vieira believed to be on the brink of joining Manchester City from Inter Milan.
That signing should be confirmed later on Friday but, writing in the Independent, Sam Wallace, reacts with bemusement to Vieira's imminent arrival at Eastlands. Claiming that Arsene Wenger only said he was interested in bringing the midfielder back to Arsenal in the summer for fear of embarrassing Vieira, Wallace paints a picture of a player well past his best.
In 'Vieira cannot step back to his glory days', Wallace details how the 33-year-old is a spent force who could suffer the ultimate insult and be outfoxed by none other than Blackburn midfielder Keith Andrews should he join City.
"Mancini had a strong relationship with Vieira when they were both at Inter. Perhaps he only wants Vieira to give the team the strong leader that it seems to lack for the six months he is contracted. But whether Vieira can cope with the tempo of Premier League games – a tempo he once thrived in – is quite another matter.
"Vieira was a giant of English football, but his number was up long ago. That was March 2006 when he came back to Highbury with Juventus and a 19-year-old Cesc Fabregas ran him ragged. Fabregas scored that night and Vieira was booed every time he touched the ball.
"In the first leg of the Champions League game against Manchester United last year, Vieira looked like a passenger and was substituted at half-time. This season, Vieira has started seven league games for Inter and made two substitutes appearances in the Champions League. This is a man winding down his career, not one of the world's leading players.
"Vieira may yet get in the France World Cup squad – the main motivation, he says, for moving to City – but that will probably be because neither Lassana Diarra nor Jérémy Toulalan have particularly impressed in central midfield. It would be a shame to see Vieira given the run-around by the likes of Keith Andrews on Monday, but that is the risk if he returns."
Meanwhile, at Vieira's former club the issue of transfer funds has been a hot topic in recent years, with Arsene Wenger adopting a notoriously frugal approach to the transfer market. However, the Guardian's Matt Scott, writing in his Digger column, explains why the Frenchman actually has substantial funds at his disposal due to a little-known 'special account' that the Gunners have established.
"Arsène Wenger is in a position of relative luxury, since the terms of his club's loans demand he spends the bulk of the money he raises in transfers. All transfer revenues are held in a special account created during negotiations with lenders over the refinancing of the club's £260m stadium loan and a minimum of 70% of this must either be retained or spent on transfers and contract renewals. Although the account's millions are at Wenger's disposal, the banks do hold a charge over it as security on the stadium.
"The Arsenal Supporters Trust, whose analysts uncovered the existence of the account, estimates that Wenger's judicious transfer-market operations have generated huge sums. 'The club itself confirms that "all proceeds from player sale transactions are made available to manager",' it says."
January 7, 2010
It is becoming such a frequent occurrence that the average football fan is in danger of becoming desensitised to the news that Portsmouth have once again failed to pay their player. The Premier League club seems to lurch from one crisis to another.
But Pompey's troubles are all of their own making and the only people we should feel sorry for are the fans, according to the Daily Mirror's John Cross.
It's always a fine line between apportioning the blame to chairmen who can't say no and managers who carry on spending. Which manager in the Premier League would turn down the chance to strengthen his squad if he thinks he can persuade the board to give him the money?
Since crossing the line, Portsmouth have gone into free fall. They are now a club with a winding-up petition against them from the tax man, the chief executive has been charged with tax evasion and they have found the only skint Arab owner. In fact, make that two skint Arabs. Because first came Sulaiman Al-Fahim, whose reign lasted 42 days, and now Ali al-Faraj doesn't seem to have much in the way of money either.
I was at Fratton Park for Arsenal's visit on December 30 and it's little wonder the fans have turned on the board, shouting for them all to be sacked and for the Arabs to disappear. Portsmouth has one of the best sets of fans in the Premier League - if not the best. They are loud, passionate and they get behind their team. What little team they have left, at any rate.
January 6, 2010
The snow may have caused havoc with the fixture, but the Independent's Tim Rich still wants to talk about the Carling Cup; and Manchester United's Sire Alex Ferguson in particular. He sets the scene:
It was long gone midnight at Lisbon Airport as the aircraft chartered by Manchester United trundled down the runway. Sir Alex Ferguson, as he usually did, sat in the front. In the back were the journalists and most believed this was the last flight they would take with him.
One ordered champagne, which provoked something of an inquiry at Old Trafford. But the man from The Sun always ordered a glass of champagne on the return flight whether United won, lost or drew and for the reasons most of us would when it is free. He would miss him, we would miss him. But it was the end.
It was December 2005. Several hours earlier, in the Stadium of Light, Benfica, a club that always seems to be linked with Manchester United, had eliminated them from the Champions League. For the first time since 1994 they had failed to reach the knock-out stages and had finished last in their group. They were a dozen points adrift of Chelsea and under a new ownership determined to squeeze every drop of revenue from the club. Roy Keane, Ferguson's great lieutenant, had departed amid clouds of acrimony. David Beckham was long gone. Ryan Giggs, temporarily as it turned out, was fading. Everyone at Old Trafford knew he should never have sold Jaap Stam.
In the Sunday Times, Hugh McIlvanney, the man who had co-written his autobiography – ghosted is not the word – suggested that Ferguson should engineer his own departure rather than be "fired by remote control from Florida". However, he had one card to play. Not a very good card, admittedly, but Manchester United were still in the Carling Cup and it was suddenly important.
You would be foolish to write off United this season, he adds, as we have been in this situation before:
When they won the Carling Cup, with a 4-0 demolition of Wigan Athletic at the Millennium Stadium, Ferguson paraded it as if it were the European Cup and that, after perhaps the most astonishing revival of his career, was precisely what, two years later, he was holding in Moscow.
Now, after the sting of defeat by Leeds United in the FA Cup, the Carling Cup is suddenly important again at Old Trafford and not just because the semi-final opponents are Manchester City... [Ferguson] is a man around whom footballers of the quality of Jonny Evans, Darren Fletcher and the Da Silva twins could gel and, if they do, who knows what piece of silverware the old fox might be holding in two years' time? It might be a carriage clock, it might just be a European Cup.
In the Times, Matt Hughes takes a look at Arsenal's William Gallas, a fallen star? Or the driving force behind their recent success? In fact, Hughes finds that Arsene Wenger is willing to break his own rules to keep him.
When William Gallas was stripped of the captaincy after an outspoken attack on his team-mates last season, his days at Arsenal looked numbered. But such has been his professionalism since that Arsène Wenger is ready to offer him a new contract. The Arsenal manager described Gallas’s performances this season as amazing and revealed yesterday that he intends to discuss an extended deal with the centre back’s representatives this month.
The France defender’s contract expires in the summer and he would like to stay, although negotiations could be complicated by Arsenal’s informal policy of offering only one-year deals to outfield players over 30. Wenger suggested that he could break his own rule to keep hold of a player who will be 33 in August, however, because Gallas would certainly attract a longer contract from several clubs in France, albeit on reduced wages.
January 5, 2010
It's less than a week since Manchester United smashed Wigan 5-0, and they sit a mere two points behind Premier League leaders Chelsea. Yet that has not stopped the vultures circling since the shock exit to Leeds United in the FA Cup.
Daily Mail columnist Ian Ladyman goes into United's problems looking to find out exactly why they have been stuttering. He doesn't really mention that every other big team is in the same boat, though.
UNITED ARE OFF CENTRE
As Sportsmail revealed in November, United have big problems at centre half, with Rio Ferdinand suffering from a chronic back problem and Nemanja Vidic looking abroad.
WHO TAKES CHARGE?
When the chips are down for United, who is there to pull them through? It used to be Roy Keane. The former Old Trafford skipper had an almost unique ability to keep his own level of performance high, even when all around him standards were on the slide.
CAN BERBATOV OR OWEN PLEASE STAND UP?
United have one sensational striker in Rooney. And then they have two others who never quite seem to get it right.
GIVE US A HAND PLEASE
Even at the top of the Premier League, goalkeepers are required to put in inspirational performances to secure three points. When is the last time you can recall a United keeper doing this?
Meanwhile, over at The Times, Matt Dickinson is sure Nemanja Vidic is now headed for the sunnier climbs of continental Europe, and Real Madrid, after his late pull-out from the Leeds debacle. He states:
Nemanja Vidic was never a loss to the diplomatic corps, to judge from his suggestion once that Manchester’s “main attraction is considered to be the timetable at the railway station, where trains leave for less rainy cities”.
He tried to retract the quote, but no one bought his disclaimer then and they certainly would not buy it now, not even if he came into training with an “I heart Manchester” tattoo or one proclaiming “United for life”.
Vidic’s mysterious withdrawal from the team to face Leeds United in the FA Cup has brought bubbling to the surface what those at Old Trafford have feared for a while: that, despite denials from his agent, the defender wants his own train ride to sunnier climes. A place like Real Madrid, for example.
January 4, 2010
With Leeds rolling back the years to beat Manchester United in the FA Cup on Sunday, the general feeling is that cup magic is firmly back on the agenda. Not if you're Stan Collymore in the Daily Mirror. Stan reckons the War of the Roses was the exception rather than the rule and thinks it's all over for the world-famous domestic cup.
"Sadly, I fear we witnessed the death knell of the FA Cup at the weekend.
I grew up idolising the competition and fulfilled a lifetime’s ambition when I first played in it for non-League Stafford Rangers.
But the FA Cup’s decline, which started in 1999-2000 when Manchester United dropped out of the Cup to play in the World Club Championship, appears to have reached the point of no return.
At the weekend we had precious few shocks - with the obvious exception of Leeds' epic win at Old Trafford - and so many emphatic wins which made you wonder if the underdogs had actually bothered trying that hard.
Nowadays you even have lower division clubs putting out weakened teams as their League programme is more important to them.
It is a disgrace that something akin to bribery should be necessary to revive the competition.
But sadly people seem to think they can disrespect the FA Cup all too easily."
That can't be right, though, can it? Surely James Lawton in the Independent thinks Leeds' win put the shine back on the old trophy?
"However you want to debate the enduring appeal of the FA Cup – 10 years after it was sold out when the holders, Manchester United, were urged by the FA and Fifa to compete instead in some wretched, money-grabbing World Club tournament fiasco in South America – we have to accept that some time ago it became a matter of convenience.
It is something to be used when deemed necessary.
However, it is important to take the stupendous performance of Leeds United at Old Trafford yesterday out of the equation.
You should do this because, strictly speaking, it wasn't so much about the magic of the oldest and most romantic club competition in football, the one that could hardly draw flies in places like Wigan and Middlesbrough and Milton Keynes.
It was mostly to do with the unbreakable allure of football, the one which will always carry the hope that the next match will be the one when everything changes.
The appeal, this was, of a game which sooner or later has a tendency to return to classic values.
Whether Leeds continue to perform heroics in the competition that has been betrayed so many times by the sheer weight of pressure to chase the rising financial rewards that can be so precisely measured league by league, TV contract by TV contract, was certainly something left in the margins of a brilliant victory.
What Leeds were exemplifying was not any inordinate love of competing for the old silver – indeed, the star of the show, Jermaine Beckford, may well be dressing himself in new colours long before the end of this month's transfer window – but the ability of players, with the right handling and proper leadership, to respond to the greatest challenge of their lives."
January 3, 2010
Liverpool's performance against Reading in the FA Cup on Saturday will have impressed few observers, with the 1-1 draw just the latest disappointment in a troubling season for Rafa Benitez and the Merseysiders.
That frustrating result is the cue for a fairly inflammatory piece, if you are a Liverpool fan at least, from Paul Wilson in the Observer. In 'The hunger that could drive Steven Gerrard away from Liverpool', Wilson speculates that having rejected Chelsea twice, Gerrard's head could be turned by an ambitious Manchester City side as he contemplates the possibility of never winning a league title at Anfield.
Perhaps reading too much into what is essentially another of football's possible big-money moves, Wilson compares Gerrard to a tragic Shakespearean figure. To City, or not to City, perhaps?
"Another year, another transfer window. Time to wonder, do I dare? Roberto Mancini was probably only joking when he suggested Liverpool might like to make Manchester City a belated Christmas present of Steven Gerrard, Javier Mascherano and Fernando Torres, though for one member of that talented trio his humour must have touched a nerve.
"Torres and Mascherano are both young enough and sufficiently coveted in Spain to make new careers elsewhere should Liverpool prove to be a stumbling block rather than a springboard to their trophy ambitions. Neither player has actually won anything at Anfield yet and both are too good to be sustained indefinitely by empty promises and collective underachievement.
"In abstract at least (his contractual position is settled) Gerrard has a dilemma of Shakespearean complexity. He longs to win a title, but would a title with another club do, or does it have to be with Liverpool? The latter might never happen, the former might not feel the same (and still might never happen). What is a loyal, one-club player to do when titles are two-horse races? Would it be letting the side down to seek a move from Merseyside, or are Liverpool letting Gerrard down by failing to mount a proper challenge?
"These are difficult questions when Liverpool performed so well in the league last season and in Torres have arguably the sharpest striker in the business. Liverpool are tantalisingly close to success - even in their present state - yet for all Gerrard knows that situation could pertain for the next five years or even longer.
"He is tied to Liverpool for the rest of his career, or at least until what he imagines will be close to the end of his career in 2013. His chance of a move to Chelsea may have gone and he has probably never spent more than five seconds of his life imagining he would play for Manchester City, yet, even so, Mancini may be on to something. Liverpool cannot carry on as they have been doing. Clubs who do not win trophies sell players. And nothing in football is unthinkable."
January 2, 2010
The most eagerly awaited tie of the FA Cup Third Round is Leeds United's trip to Manchester United, a renewal of what was once the hottest rivalry in English football. Memories, memories and for Leeds, who suffered a horrible decade following the promise of the early 2000s, it is a chance to dine at the top table.
The Guardian's Richard Williams finds Leeds supporters defiant and ambitious for the future:
"Ten years ago this weekend the fans could revel in their identity as Leeds United stood proudly at the top of the Premier League, looking down on Manchester United and facing the future with absolute confidence. But tomorrow, when Leeds travel to Old Trafford to meet their old rivals in the third round of the FA Cup, the two clubs will be separated by 42 places. While Manchester United once again hover just below the Premier League leaders, Leeds are to be found in League One, continuing their struggle to arrest 10 years of vertiginous decline.
Their fans, however, refuse to give up the fight. "We'll be taking 9,000 to Old Trafford," Simon Grayson, the club's seventh manager in a decade, said this week, "and it could have been 30,000. Leeds fans would say that the club is as big as Manchester United – and, in terms of the following we've got, I wouldn't disagree."
Even in League One – "Let's call it what it is, the third division," says David Gaertner, a spokesman for the official supporters' club, with proper Yorkshire realism – they attract crowds of top-tier dimensions to Elland Road, where 30,191 turned up for their last home match, against Hartlepool. The fans may mock themselves with a chant of "We're not famous any more" but they refuse to accept the change in status as anything other than temporary."
Hope is offered - in a qualified fashion.
"With an eight-point lead at the top of League One, they appear certainties for a promotion that would be an important stage on the journey back to the land in which they feel they belong. But, as Phillips says, no Leeds fan who sat through the defeat of Revie's glittering team by Second Division Sunderland in the 1973 FA Cup final or the savage play-off disappointments of more recent seasons would dream of using the word "certainty"."
January 1, 2010
It's the start of a New Year, so where better to start than the problems at Portsmouth? They look like dominating the headlines for a bit, so Matt Dickinson at the Times has his thoughts, and they are not positive.
Leeds United reappear on our radar this weekend when they travel to Old Trafford in the FA Cup third round — just in time to remind Portsmouth how far a club can fall when “living the dream” turns into a nightmare.
At least Portsmouth got to enjoy the FA Cup triumph of 2008 — Leeds’s disastrous overreaching under Peter Ridsdale’s chairmanship did not bring a single piece of silverware — but Portsmouth fans might willingly trade in those Wembley memories this morning for a little reassurance that their club are not on an unstoppable slide.
Portsmouth are not yet Leeds Mk II, but they appear to have the potential given their debts, which are estimated at £60 million, and the failure of the present ownership, who have revealed their names but little else, to prove their wealth and their willingness to use it to stop the club’s descent.
A bit of transparency from the owners may not soothe fan concerns, quite the opposite, but it would be infinitely preferable to the daily bad-news bulletins that have become such a drain on the morale of fans, players and Avram Grant, the manager, and his staff.
Also on the 2010 bandwagon, Sam Wallace has highlighted five of the best young players to watch throughout the year. We'll give you one and you can read the rest at the Independent.
Connor Wickham; Ipswich Town. Only when he turns 17 in March will Wickham be able to sign his first professional deal and you can be assured that Ipswich will move heaven and earth to make sure their latest great academy product signs on the dotted line.
Players like Wickham only come along once in a generation and once he has signed his first professional deal it will surely only be a matter of time before Ipswich cash in. All the big clubs have been watching this 6ft 3in centre-forward who already looks like a man, and plays like a man, even if legally he is only a kid.