February 28, 2010
It would be easy to forget that there is a domestic cup final today, with the English press concentrating much of their attention on the fall out from the Chelsea capitulation and the Bridge-Terry no-handshake incident.
But we'll steer clear of that and there IS some focus on the Carling Cup final between Manchester United and Aston Villa, with Joe Berstein at the Mail examining how the Wembley showpiece provides another opportunity for Wayne Rooney to show that he is on the path to greatness.
"For the Manchester United players who gathered just after 3pm at Wilmslow station yesterday to begin the journey that will culminate underneath the arch at Wembley Stadium this afternoon, there is no chance of disrespecting the Carling Cup.
This is the tournament that saw the birth of Sir Alex Ferguson's latest and arguably greatest team, the bold decision to drop Ruud van Nistelrooy for the 2006 Carling Cup final against Wigan rewarded with a 4-0 victory that included two goals from Wayne Rooney to earn the England striker his first piece of silverware as a player.
The triumph sparked an unprecedented trophy haul that has so far yielded three consecutive Premier League titles and consecutive appearances in the Champions League final. But just as the Carling Cup final launched a new era at Old Trafford, defeat against Aston Villa this afternoon could signal the beginning of the end. Attention will be focused as closely off the pitch, where up to 20,000 United fans will wear the green and gold that demonstrates opposition to the club's American owners."
Sticking with Mr Rooney and Paul Wilson at the Guardian believes that the Manchester United striker could be the key to maintaining Fabio Capello's sanity at a time when things have been going worong for the England boss.
"Fabio Capello does not want to say too much more about John Terry or Wayne Bridge, and who can blame him? Ahead of his last England friendly before he settles down to select a World Cup squad, the Italian would much rather talk about Wayne Rooney, as most of his counterparts in international football management are doing.
"I see the other managers quite a lot, at meetings and conferences," Capello explains. "Always they come to me and say the same thing – 'You have one fantastic player'. Vicente del Bosque, Giovanni Trapattoni, they ask me always about Rooney."
And how does Capello respond? Like a drowning man grabbing a lifeline, or a hungry prisoner discovering rare and refreshing fruit is on the menu for a change. When all your adopted country seems to be interested in is a tawdry succession of off-field scandals it is all the more pleasant to be asked to consider a footballer who is winning global admiration for playing football."
February 27, 2010
Ahead of Saturday's clash between Chelsea and Manchester City there's been plenty mae of the battle of the Bridge, er, at the Bridge.
We've decided to head over the the Times for a bit of sane speak from friend of ESPN, Patrick Barclay. He's saying what quite a few have been whispering: Wayne Bridge ain't that much of a loss to the England team.
Here's a snippet of what he says:
Bridge’s importance as a deputy has been exaggerated for dramatic effect, but Cole is the best left back in the world and without him — no matter who replaced him — England’s chances of becoming champions would be reduced.
And that’s it. The rest of the supposed England injury crisis is just World Cup mania, a peculiarly English form of it, a rather touching pessimism about everything that happens in relation to the tournament, good or bad. It is manifested in discussion of penalty shoot-outs. Everyone thinks that England teams are bound to lose them, as if no other country ever did. No one mentions the law of averages.
Anything to do with fitness is cause for consternation. If Rio Ferdinand misses a few matches for Manchester United with back trouble, England’s defence has collapsed. If Wayne Rooney displays the form and fitness of Superman, this is even more worrying in terms of the attack — for surely he will be burnt out by June.
Gloom can be put to good effect, as I discovered on the opening day of the 2004 European Championship in Portugal. A well-known pundit from a certain country, asked how his team would fare, wailed: “Help! Various players are fighting with each other and most have had problems with their clubs. Just let us have three respectable defeats and go home.” Yet Greece won it.
February 26, 2010
The talk this morning all surrounds Wayne Bridge's decision to make himself unavailable for England selection - a problem made all the more significant by Ashley Cole's injury problems. For Oliver Kay in the Times, the fact that Fabio Capello had been so confident that Bridge would happily play alongside John Terry perhaps suggests his aloof approach saw him wrong-footed over the issue.
Capello has made the impossible job look easy, taking over a demoralised squad and leading it to the World Cup finals in double-quick time, but over the past fortnight he might just have begun to identify with the gripes of some of his predecessors. He might have solved the Gerrard-Lampard conundrum, he might keep the media and WAGs at bay, and even find an antidote to the perennial loss of nerve from the penalty spot, but yesterday, perhaps for the first time since taking the job, he found himself beaten.
In the nicest possible way, Capello is a control freak and, from the moment he stripped John Terry of the captaincy three weeks ago, he felt that he had seized control of the scandal that had threatened to engulf his squad.
He knew that Wayne Bridge had been wavering over his international future, upset at having learnt that his former partner, a lingerie model named Vanessa Perroncel, had had an affair with Terry, but Capello felt that everything was OK.
“No problem,” he declared in South Africa on Tuesday, as he prepared to name both players in his squad to take on Egypt next week, but, by the time he awoke yesterday, the problem with Bridge had become insurmountable.
Capello was not expecting the news that Bridge was declaring himself “unavailable for selection”. Nor, it seemed, was Adrian Bevington, the FA’s director of communications, who seemed to be in crisis management mode as he charged off the plane almost as soon as his overnight flight from Johannesburg landed at Heathrow airport yesterday. “That wasn’t normal,” one of the journalists on the flight said.
Bridge received a telephone call from Franco Baldini, the suave Toscano whom the England players know as good cop to Capello’s bad. Baldini listened to everything that Bridge had to say and, having done so, tried to persuade the player that there was another way, that he might feel differently in a month’s time, that the scars might heal.
Bridge, though, was adamant: there was no way he wanted to be part of the same team as Terry and there was no way he could sit in a dressing room with him, sit on a coach or share a hotel with him for up to six weeks in South Africa this summer.
“They had a long conversation, but no one outside of that situation can fully understand what Wayne is feeling,” one source said. “He just felt that, with the scandal around him, he could not carry on. He had thought about this for a long time and knew what he was giving up. He made it clear that his decision was final.”
Outsiders will be surprised that Capello was so peripheral to the process, but it is simply a matter of his approach to man-management. He is distant from players, aloof, unapproachable even, and, as became clear in his handling of the Terry captaincy issue, he prefers not to deal with them by telephone. It is the antithesis of the Eriksson or Steve McClaren approach and, for most of the past 15 months, it has been lauded as a strength. Just occasionally, it might be a weakness, albeit one covered by Baldini, his right-hand man.
However, Kay feels Capello would always have preferred to have Terry in his team than Bridge.
Capello is a disciplinarian, but also a pragmatist. If it had come down to a choice between Terry and Bridge, it would have been a straightforward one. Even if Bridge’s importance increased in the light of the injury to Ashley Cole, he was not and never would be in the same rank as Terry.
Where that negative glare on the team is concerned, Capello will know that it will follow Terry in whatever he does between now and the World Cup. But even if Bridge’s decision will cause the England manager a severe headache, particularly if Cole does not recover from his broken ankle in time, it will eliminate the issues that would have arisen with Bridge and Terry as part of the squad.
For Bridge to have reached the decision he has, it must clearly be the correct one in terms of squad harmony, even if it might weaken the team and deny him a shot at glory.
There have been no winners in this sorry, tawdry tale. This has been the most challenging period of Capello’s tenure and almost certainly has made life more difficult for South Africa this summer. Difficult, but, in Capello’s eyes at least, not impossible.
Sam Wallace in the Independent, meanwhile, says Capello has been dealt so many blows in the last month that even he is seeking wise counsel.
In Sun City on Tuesday morning, guests at the resort's eponymous hotel would have noticed Fabio Capello and Marcello Lippi deep in discussion over breakfast, long after the tables around them had emptied and the staff had begun to clear up.
Capello, you suspect, is not the kind of man who readily seeks the advice of fellow managers, no matter how successful they might be. Perhaps he just wanted to tell Lippi about a new phenomenon he had discovered in the hitherto uncharted land of English football: that of the England team's unerring capacity to shoot themselves in the foot, just when things start to look good.
Once Capello coached arguably the greatest club side ever, the Milan team of Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit and he did so while also having to deal with the interference of owner Silvio Berlusconi. In 2001, he led Roma to their first title in 18 years. And in his second spell at Real Madrid, he dropped then reinstated David Beckham and broke Barcelona's stranglehold on the Spanish league title.
These were the adventures that any great football manager would aspire to and Capello looked all these challenges in the eye and met every one. He was obliged to manage big players and solve the kind of problems that went beyond just football, like how best to handle a capricious world statesman or to shoulder the burden for rebuilding the team that is the pride of conservative, Castilian Spain.
When Capello comes to write the account of his time as England manager the chapter covering January and February 2010 will be the pages to turn to first. Wayne Bridge's withdrawal from international football yesterday is only the latest blow in an England team that is disintegrating right in front of Capello's eyes just as the World Cup finals come into view.
There was qualification for the World Cup in September closely followed by injuries, affairs, broken friendships and broken marriages – as if, after two years of relatively plain sailing, the bucket has finally, definitively, been emptied on Capello's head.
February 25, 2010
The back pages today are filled with Champions League post mortems after Chelsea's 2-1 loss to Inter in their last-16 first leg encounter at the San Siro; "Kalouless" and "San Fearo" are a couple of the better tabloid headlines. But the focus is unsurprisingly on a certain Mr Mourinho, with Martin Samuel at the Mail describing Jose as "the master of both Chelsea and Inter".
"He was either going to crazy horse it around the technical area, perhaps with a well-executed knee slide to cap it, or he was going to sit motionless in the dugout. He sat motionless in the dugout. For both goals. It’s his way. A contrarian.
Maybe he also knew, with two minutes 43 seconds on the clock of a two-legged tie, that Inter had just got lucky with their first. And with the second it came soon after Chelsea equalised. Where did the advantage lie? Diego Milito’s strike was accomplished but owed much to Chelsea’s lax defending.
They sat off. He scored. Mourinho would have been as stunned as Carlo Ancelotti. Maybe that explained his inertia. Maybe he also feared what then happened – that it would not be until after Chelsea had peppered the
Inter goal with six shots on target, also striking the woodwork, that his team would be provided with another opportunity, and one that was fluffed by a player who had drawn his anger during the intervening period due to his apparent lack of effort, Samuel Eto’o."
Elsewhere, and Jason Burt at the Telegraph is equally generous in his praise of the "Special One"; he also chooses to examine how both Chelsea and Inter appear to be made in the image of Mourinho.
"The ball hit the net and the Chelsea players, elated, ran past the dugout housing the management and staff of Inter Milan and directly to their coach, Carlo Ancelotti. They should have at least tipped a grateful nod of acknowledgement towards the glowering figure on the touchline, though. So much of the energy in this match was his.
Jose Mourinho emerged victorious but he will know the game is not even half-won, although the absence of Petr Cech, the stricken Chelsea goalkeeper, strengthens Inter Milan’s hand considerably.
A 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge in three weeks’ time would still send Chelsea through, thanks to that away goal by Salomon Kalou, but it was a testament to the resolve instilled in both teams by a very special coach that each will feel it is in a position of strength going into the second leg."
February 24, 2010
With the news of Ashley Cole's separation from wife Cheryl splashed all over the front pages of the press, fortunately the back pages have chosen to focus on matters of the footballing heart. The biggest match ahead today is of course the reunion between Jose Mourinho and his former Chelsea players as Inter take on the Blues in the Champions League.
Martin Samuel at the Mail has chosen to reminisce about the days when the "Special One" was in charge at Stamford Bridge and examine exactly why Mourinho was as "special" as he proclaimed.
"It seems strange that, all these years on, we should still be debating what precisely makes Jose Mourinho special. The 'self-proclaimed' special one, as he is often called; 'His Specialness' as Carlo Ancelotti, coach of Chelsea, brands him, mockingly.
So, is Mourinho all that special? Of course he is. Mourinho is the figure against which all Chelsea managers are judged: and not just Chelsea managers, but the Premier League's foreign managers, too.
Nobody has delivered in English football quite like Mourinho. Not Rafael Benitez, whose astonishing success, winning the Champions League in his first season, could not be sustained; not even Arsene Wenger, who altered the culture of his club, Arsenal.
From the beginning, Wenger was involved in a long-term project, not a short-term glory hunt. He had the unquestioning support of his employers, through the former vice-chairman David Dein, and was given time and freedom to reshape Arsenal top to toe. He did this, until recently, while consistently winning trophies, which was an outstanding accomplishment but does not compare to the instant pressure Mourinho faced when arriving at Stamford Bridge in 2004."
Elsewhere, the Times' European correspondent Gabriele Marcotti takes a look at why the Italian-infused history of Chelsea - with former players Gianfranco Zola and Roberto Di Matteo, as well as former manager Gianluca Vialli - makes them the best supported English team in Italy.
"To many Italian observers, Inter Milan v Chelsea feels a bit like a derby. There is a familiarity with the Stamford Bridge club that dates back some 15 years, the result of a “perfect storm” of factors, such as the proliferation of satellite television (serving up a hefty diet of football from the Premier League and elsewhere), the qualitative quantum leap in the English game and the many former Serie A stars who made their way to West London.
Add in that Chelsea have had an Italian manager for seven of the past 12 years, dating back to Gianluca Vialli’s appointment in February 1998, and you can see why Italy has had a special affinity for the club.
Ancelotti’s affable personality has also made him popular with the media, certainly more so than coaches such as Fabio Capello and Marcello Lippi. Except for Inter fans — and those who have adopted a “second team” other than Chelsea in the Premier League — it’s not a stretch to suggest that most of Italy will wish him well tonight, particularly because José Mourinho, the Inter coach, continues to divide opinion."
February 23, 2010
You would expect that locating sympathy for Ashley Cole would prove as laborious and unfruitful a task as attempting to track down the lost city of El Dorado but, lo and behold, amongst a jungle of negative headlines, there in the Independent is a gleaming beacon of hope for the under-siege Chelsea man.
He may be firmly one of the most disliked individuals in the country at present but Sam Wallace has some sympathy for the man who has allegedly cheated on his wife, Cheryl, and angered Chelsea with his behaviour.
Cole's PR team are out in force in the morning's papers, spinning the line that his future could be in doubt as he feels 'victimised' by the club, but Wallace has some sympathy with that perspective, most notably as a result of how Chelsea dealt with headlines around John Terry.
"While Chelsea stood firmly behind Terry as the media firestorm raged around him they seem to have taken a different attitude towards Cole. The allegations that he used club officials to help him in his philandering seem to have lit a righteous anger in the club that was hitherto absent.
"Say what you like about Ashley Cole – and most people do – but what goes on in the privacy of his marriage is not anyone else's business, not even his employer. Punishing people on the basis of their private lives is a tricky business because no outsider can ever be certain of the full details.
"If Cole's crime is that he broke the rules at Chelsea then he is not the only one. In fact, his very signing at Chelsea was facilitated by Kenyon and the then manager Jose Mourinho running roughshod over the regulations governing transfers. But Chelsea did not censure either of them, it took the Premier League to do that.
"Cole may also wish to point to Chelsea's swift exoneration of Terry over allegations that he was paid £10,000 to show an undercover reporter around Chelsea's training ground in the company of a well-known ticket tout. Terry claimed that the money went to charity and the club found no evidence of wrongdoing. Makes you think, doesn't it?
"Cole's chief crime, in the eyes of a critical public, seems to be that he has blown a marriage with a woman who has been publicly venerated to levels unseen since Florence Nightingale was doing her ward rounds in the Crimean War. But however annoying it is for those people who regard him as an ungrateful little sod it is not the grounds for disciplining him."
Wallace concludes with a proposal that is unlikely to find favour with Roman Abramovich, or any of the dressing room for that matter.
"Cole does not have anything to apologise about over his marriage because only he and good Sister Florence know what goes on there. And if Chelsea want to start dishing out punishments according to sexual transgressions then everyone at the club, starting with the owner, had better put their cards on the table."
February 22, 2010
We've uncovered a startling comment piece from Monday morning's press. It's not that often that we turn to the Daily Mirror for its words of wisdom, but this opportunity was just too good to pass up.
Stan Collymore (remember him?) often likes to stir things up a bit and this is a gem. The former Liverpool and Aston Villa striker claims he is the solution to all Theo Walcott's problems! Expect a call from Arsene any day now.
If Arsene Wenger wants to turn Theo Walcott into a top striker quickly then he should give me a call.
He has been running around like a headless chicken recently for Arsenal and I can understand why some Arsenal fans are frustrated with him. Yet I really believe in the kid’s potential and would love the chance to work with him as a former striker myself.
So Arsene, and I know you read my column, if you want me to work with Theo twice a week for free teaching him some striking tips then get in touch. Anyone who can score three goals for their country in Zagreb against Croatia in a game that is must-win clearly has ability.
Our second pick for the day comes from the Sun, courtesy of Steven Howard. He's questioning the form of John Terry after he looked dodgy again against Wolves.
The Chelsea skipper has to get everything ship-shape - though probably not Bristolfashion - out on the pitch. There could be no sterner test than in the heady atmosphere of the San Siro on Wednesday night.
It was evident a couple of weeks ago at Goodison that all the off-field fun and games had finally got to Terry where two mistakes cost his side the match.
Then came some ironically-termed "compassionate" leave in Dubai with 'Er Indoors. Though this appears to have smoothed things on the home front, it hasn't succeeded in ironing out the wrinkles in his own game.
Though Terry returned for the 2-0 win at Wolves that ended an away run of six points from six games, two further lapses by the Chelsea captain could have again proved costly in what was, despite the three points, a scrappy victory.
If Terry can struggle against a team like Wolves, what chance him and his side emerging unscathed from their Champions League trip to Inter Milan?
And we have to have an honourable mention for Oliver Kay over at the Times, who managed to describe Cheryl Cole as "a Princess Diana for the 21st century". We can't work out if the tongue was firmly in cheek.
February 21, 2010
While the John Terry saga is starting to fade, the Ashley Cole headlines and the subsequent meeting at Chelsea over the need for players to behave has brought the issue into the spotlight. David James, writing in the Observer, gives an interesting insight into the issue from the footballers' perspective.
When sports stars hit the front pages as well as the back, is it just gratuitous entertainment? Our fascination with the private lives of sports stars is endless, but is it justified?
The emphasis we place on moral accountability for those in the public eye is extreme. So often I hear the refrain "typical sports star behaviour". As if electricians, social workers and lawyers don't also transgress. The difference, it is argued, is that sports stars carry the extra weight of responsibility as role models. But I wonder if that belief has led to unrealistic expectations and a distorted sense of reality.
The distortion works both ways of course – when a sports star does something remotely philanthropic he is held up as a saint, when he makes a mistake he is damned as the devil. But no sports star is infallible, it is only the army of PR people working for them that renders us so easily duped.
Some years ago I thought about having a PR person, in the days when it was new and in vogue. We had a meeting and they asked me all sorts of silly questions. At one point I mentioned that I liked a bit of gardening and they got very excited, "We'll get you into Gardeners' World!" they said. I realised then that they were more interested in promoting an idealised image of me than in reflecting who I really am.
PRs can have their uses though. I wonder if I'd had one through the last two transfer windows whether things would have been different. As it was my name was linked to so many moves that my 16 year old son spent the whole of transfer deadline day frantically texting me to ask what was going on. I kept saying: "Nothing's happening, son," but he was so engrossed in the hype that he didn't believe me. You cannot imagine how annoying it is for your son to take more notice of newspaper and TV reports than of his own dad.
That same day, Sky News reported that I had already signed for Stoke. Even people I was working with were saying: "If I don't see you, all the best." It was ridiculous.
Certainly there have been times in my career when I wished I'd had a bit of media training or protection. It is little wonder that so many footballers stick to clichés when they're being interviewed – it's the safest bet to stay out of trouble. I know, I've been there.
My worst media moment happened many years ago, during an interview with a broadsheet newspaper. We sat in the car talking for ages and, right at the end, I mentioned that I used to play computer games for up to eight hours at a time. Later on that day I phoned the journalist and asked if he wouldn't mind cutting that bit out. He said his editor really liked it so they'd rather not. I thought: "Oh well, sod it. What's the harm?" The next thing I knew it was being reported that I was addicted to computer games. That was 13 years ago and people still talk about it today. Even now I'll be in goal and someone will yell: "Oi, Jamo! Where's your Nintendo?" I've had to accept that it will always be remembered.
There is such a thing as being too guarded with the media, though. We have a responsibility to be honest in situations such as the recent trials and tribulations at Portsmouth, and that doesn't always mean toeing the party line. I found that out the hard way when I voted against the PFA in the proposed players' strike ballot back in 2001. I was ostracised at the time, but I still stand by what I said.
Perhaps being in the game so long has made me more open. When I was starting out we were accustomed to the press being around – they used to wait outside the dressing room for us after games. Nowadays we have media officers to act as a buffer between us, and sometimes I wonder if the relationship has become a bit sterile. Does that mean I would like to see a return to the old days? About as much as I'd like to see a return to communal baths, no, thank you.
There are, however, those individuals who take openness a bit too far. At West Ham, the year we went down, we had a mole who kept shooting his mouth off to the press. It put everyone on edge, looking round the changing room, trying to figure out who it was. One afternoon we all sat together on the training field and one of the senior players stood up and made a lengthy speech about how we should root out the mole and expose him. It was moving stuff. Little did we know that he was the mole. It still makes me chuckle thinking about what a good performance he put on.
Another former player, Gary Lineker, writes in the Mail on Sunday that his former BBC colleague Martin O'Neill should be a strong contender to replace Sir Alex Ferguson when he eventually retires from the game.
When the time comes for Sir Alex Ferguson to quit as manager of Manchester United, and I am certainly not suggesting that day is imminent, there will be few better qualified to sit behind the boss’s desk at Old Trafford then Martin O’Neill.
His credentials will surely make him one for the short list. I championed Martin’s candidacy for the England job when Sven Goran Eriksson went because I was convinced he ticked all the boxes.
He came close to getting it but, in the end, Steve McClaren was probably a compromise choice because the international committee differed about one or two other possibles. I know Martin was very disappointed he wasn’t appointed and I believe he would have been a terrific success.
It is not without significance that he interrupted studying for a law degree to move from his native Northern Ireland and join Nottingham Forest.
Whatever education he would have missed at university, he would have certainly learned a few things playing under Brian Clough.
Theirs must have been an interesting relationship, to say the least; a clash between Cloughie’s highly original approach to man-management and Martin’s quirky intelligence.
Certainly not many in that wonderful dressing room would have had the courage to take on the boss as the Irishman probably did on occasions. But, like Clough, Martin’s committed approach to the game, together with a little of his mentor’s fear factor, has
earned him the respect of his players wherever he has been.
It has been a significant reason why he has improved the status of every club he has managed.
Another has been careful but very shrewd player judgment which has earned him a
tremendous record for getting value for money in the transfer market, albeit with a tardiness bordering on frustrating indecision. Nobody could accuse him of not looking very carefully before he leaps.
February 20, 2010
Mark Lawrenson is not a man to stick the boot into Liverpool lightly, but even he thinks the current side is ordinary when Steven Gerrard isn't firing on all cylinders. Nonetheless, writing in the Daily Mirror, he still thinks they'll finish fourth.
Even Superman had the odd day off to look after Lois Lane.
That is why even Liverpool's Superman cannot be expected to be their match-winning hero in every game.
Steven Gerrard is Mr Liverpool and is enjoying an improved run of form in recent games.
But you could argue that Gerrard's form has been indifferent this season compared to what he has been like for the past 10 years.
The reason, I believe, is simple. He is not 100 per cent fit because he has not been the all-action, rampaging and determined midfielder this season.
Liverpool need Gerrard to keep their season going in their push for fourth place and the Europa League.
Liverpool look a very ordinary team without Gerrard. Or to put it another way, which Liverpool players would the other members of the top four take if they were given the pick of Anfield?
Gerrard, Fernando Torres and Pepe Reina. Maybe Arsenal would take Javier Mascherano. But Liverpool's squad looks very average.
Emiliano Insua has had a really poor season. Martin Skrtl has been disappointing, Dirk Kuyt works hard and yet there is little invention.
Albert Rieira is another who doesn't really know whether he's coming or going. The trouble is with Rafa Benitez, you never really know what his plans are.
That leaves some players uncertain about which direction they are going in. Then who really offers quality cover for Torres?
David Ngog is clearly a young player with talent but it's a lot to expect him to come in every week and do the business.
Even despite all this, he still doesn't think there'll be any big four break-up this season.
Liverpool have, in fairness, been on a good run, the defeat at Arsenal apart. But even at Arsenal they were well organised, well drilled, hard to break down and difficult to beat.
That's exactly how you can expect them to be against Manchester City in what is going to be billed as fourth place play-off.
City are strong at home, vulnerable away. They need this result and yet Liverpool will make it very hard for them.
That's why I fancy a draw at Eastlands on Sunday and, ultimately, why Liverpool will finish in fourth place.
City are still yet to absolutely convince. Emmanuel Adebayor has been iffy, Kolo Toure and Joleon Lescott have cost a lot and yet been unconvincing. If anything, Vincent Kompany is their best defender.
Roberto Mancini has come in, looked at a lot of players, given them chances and is still searching for the right combination.
City are four or five players away from being a top, top team and that's why they will finish fifth and that may not be enough for Mancini and also enough to attract the Champions League calibre of players they need to reach the next level.
Alan Smith in the Daily Telegraph, meanwhile, says Chelsea's clear-the-air talks have come at a crucial time.
"Remember who you are, what you are and who you represent." At one time, that saying got drummed in to every Arsenal player – sometimes successfully, other times not.
Nevertheless, it was a basic reminder of the standards expected at a club who have always tried to do things the right way. Wearing the Arsenal shirt was seen as an honour. On and off the pitch, we were urged to behave with appropriate dignity.
The Chelsea players, it seems, have had a similar reminder this week following tabloid revelations involving John Terry and Ashley Cole. On the insistence, no doubt, of Roman Abramovich, a meeting was called to get things straight.
You can understand their concern, too, for this isn't a club who naturally engender public affection. With a billionaire owner writing handsome cheques, not many people are going to feel sorry when Chelsea's good name takes a heavy hit.
All the money in the world can't buy the right image. That's down to everyone employed at Stamford Bridge.
Crucial, then, that clear-the-air talks were held at this stage, just as the season gears up for its finale. With a Champions League trip to Inter Milan next week and only 12 matches left in the Premier League, Carlo Ancelotti must make sure that the dressing room is ready to tackle the challenge.
If that means he and the chief executive laying down the law in no uncertain terms then so be it. It's time to concentrate on football. Nothing else matters now.
February 19, 2010
If Friday's red tops are to be believed, Roberto Mancini faces the first big test of his reign as Manchester City manager after what the Sun inevitably describes as "an astonishing bust-up".
It is reported that a training-ground dispute ended with Mancini telling Craig Bellamy to leave the club, and not come back for three months. Perhaps not the wisest course of action to take with easily one of City's best players this season.
The Sun's Steven Howard believes the alleged falling-out could have big repercussions.
"Well, who would have believed it? That lovely Craig Bellamy in a bust-up with the boss. This one was coming from, er, day one.
"But it's the latest in a series of events at Manchester City that will make Roberto Mancini have second thoughts about ever having realised his long-held ambition of managing in the Premier League. And one that will send shockwaves all the way to Abu Dhabi.
"At Inter Milan, Mancini just coached the players. Everything else was under the control of club president Massimo Moratti and his army of underlings.
"Over here, a manager must be coach, trainer, accountant, diplomat, physician, psychiatrist, psychologist, surrogate father (and mother) - and never make a mistake in the transfer market. Especially at City. As Mancini, two months into his stint, is discovering."
In a seperate report in the Mirror, further discontent is reported at Eastlands with a number of players reputedly unhappy with Mancini's training methods, as explained by David McDonnell.
"Roberto Mancini is facing a dressing-room revolt among his Manchester City players over his controversial training ground methods.
"Several City players are unhappy at Mancini's habit of changing their training schedule at the last minute, leaving them little time to plan their lives.
"And at least one senior first-team player believes the training sessions themselves lack the intensity of those under Mancini's predecessor Mark Hughes.
"Mancini is fond of changing City's training schedule on a whim, often with less than 24 hours' notice, which is proving an ongoing source of irritation to several squad members."
With both reports emerging in the country's two most prominent tabloids on the same morning, it appears Mancini has some work to do to heal any dressing room rifts and prevent further leaks to the media.
February 18, 2010
Arsene Wenger was left fuming after Porto scored a goal following an indirect from a back-pass to leave Arsenal 2-1 down after the first leg of the Champions League tie on Wednesday night. But for former ref Graham Poll, writing in the Daily Mail, Martin Hansson was right to give the decision.
Technically, there is nothing wrong with the goal, nor the actions of the referee Martin Hansson. There has clearly been a transgression of law with Sol Campbell's backpass and, once the referee has awarded the free-kick, the rule is that advantage is immediately given back to the team who have been wronged.
In the spirit of the law, it can be argued that the defending team should be given an opportunity to regroup before the kick is taken, but that responsibility falls to the players.
Fabianski could have held on to the ball or thrown it away - as we see so often - thus risking a yellow card but ensuring that Porto would not be able to take a quick free-kick. As for the role of the Porto players, how many times did we see Thierry Henry take a quick free-kick during his Arsenal days under Arsene Wenger?
Most memorably, in an FA Cup tie against Chelsea - and we didn't hear his manager complaining then.It could perhaps be argued that Hansson's positioning prevents Sol Campbell from making an attempt to get back, but that doesn't make the referee wrong.
West Ham and Chelsea fans will remember a similar situation involving myself in a Premier League match some years ago, when I was standing between the ball and West Ham's goal, and then stepped aside to allow Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink to take a quick free-kick, which flew past David James into the net. Looking back at it, I admit that my positioning could have been better but, in this case, Hansson hasn't blocked the view of the Arsenal goalkeeper and, by asking for Fabianski to hand the ball back, cannot be accused of taking the Gunners by surprise.
Amy Lawrence in the Guardian, meanwhile, believes all the nous of Arsenal's Sol Campbell failed to keep his keeper calm.
For Sol Campbell it was all about having the experience to pull his team-mates over the line. That was how that rugged old warrior Martin Keown had put it. Campbell was back at Arsenal to impart words of wisdom, instil an instinct for resilience and be a bit more bloody-minded in times of trouble.
Ever since the 2004 Invincibles were disbanded, the tendency for mental frailty has lurked in Arsène Wenger's team – temperamentally they are like an English rose, pretty in fine weather but quick to wilt in a storm.
They were on course for a spell of piteous navel gazing after the first of two calamitous errors from Lukasz Fabianski presented Porto with the easiest of leads after 11 minutes. Arsenal peered over the precipice.
Their response after conceding early goals in recent summit meetings with Manchester United and Chelsea did not augur well. Now, in the Champions League, would they cave in again or buck up to pull themselves back into contention?
Campbell delivered what appeared to be a resounding answer. He sauntered up for a set piece and thumped in a joyous header to secure an important away goal.
That is two in two successive Champions League games for the Arsenal defender. The fact that they happen to be four years and a journey through several divisions apart is a story whose meaning perhaps only he can fully appreciate.
It was all going so well. On top of the equaliser the 35-year-old tidied up with all the nous he had accrued over the years. And then the evening tilted, crushingly, all over again as Fabianski imploded once more. The second half was trundling along harmlessly enough when Campbell pushed a pass back to his keeper from close range. Inexplicably Fabianksi picked it up. The balloon of what passes for Arsenal's defensive confidence deflated.
Concentration popped. Self-pity ruled. Campbell looked at the floor. Fabianski did not know where to look. And Porto looked at the referee, said obrigado and poked an absurd winner into the unguarded net.
In the build-up to this game the word Wenger chose to describe the prospects for Fabianski was "outstanding". Out of his depth and a standing target for criticism, the Pole endured another catastrophic outing.
Despite the manager's reluctance to fix problems with fresh signings, this cannot go on. To have one dodgy keeper is unfortunate, to have two is careless.
February 17, 2010
Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney confirmed his billing as one of the best players in the world with two goals against AC Milan in the Champions League on Tuesday night but it wasn't just his exploits on the pitch that grabbed the headlines.
Rooney also established his credentials in United’s experienced dressing room by giving his colleagues the half-time hairdryer treatment following a below-par 45 minutes in Milan.
His team talk proved inspirational as Rooney upstaged David Beckham on his big night and United made history.
As Richard Williams, writing in The Guardian, points out: Sir Alex Ferguson's team withstood a thunderous early bombardment to achieve what eluded Bobby Charlton and Cristiano Ronaldo - scoring at San Siro against Milan.
"The United players achieved what none of their predecessors had managed in the four European Cup away legs against Milan stretching back to 1958. Among those unable to make their mark at San Siro were such prolific strikers as George Best, Denis Law, Bobby Charlton, Dennis Viollet, Cristiano Ronaldo and Ryan Giggs. Not one of them had been able to find a way past defenders bearing the names Schnellinger, Nesta and Maldini, and such goalkeepers as Lorenzo Buffon, Fabio Cudicini and – until last night – Nelson Dida.
Eventually, thanks to Rooney, a degree of normality prevailed as United so thunderously completed the first part of their assault on history."
But despite all the euphoria, Martin Samuel dishes out a dose of reality in the Daily Mail, claiming United only triumphed do to luck and exhaustion.
"Manchester United drew level courtesy of a fluke and got back in the game because Milan ran out of puff. For all the talk of the magic worked in the laboratories of the training camp at Milanello, the home side looked exhausted as the hour passed. Players that had dominated the first 45 minutes fell off the radar: Ronaldinho, in particular.
They say the great ones never lose it but that is not true. Ronaldinho lost it dramatically at Barcelona, which is why he ended up at AC Milan, a great club in temporary decline since winning the Champions League in 2007. Milan are an aging team and Ronaldinho is old before his time.
He is 29 but plays as if five years nearer the end. This is why Barcelona sold him and, so far, his form in Italy has been sporadic, vindicating that decision. His first-half may have caused the Catalans to question their actions but his second underlined their wisdom.
If Ronaldinho could have sustained his level of performance, Beckham may have had more to look forward to in Manchester than just a warm reception from the locals."
February 16, 2010
The issue of a Champions League play-off between the teams who finish between fourth and seventh in the Premier League has been mooted nad has its good points and bad points. Matt Dickinson at the Times feels it would be a welcome move as it would help break the glass ceiling for clubs like Manchester City and Spurs.
The difficulty of trying to break the monopoly of the “big four” English clubs has already cost Mark Hughes his job and Sheikh Mansour hundreds of millions of pounds. And still you would not risk much money on Manchester City smashing the glass ceiling.
It cost Martin Jol his position, too, at Tottenham Hotspur even though food poisoning was one of the conspirators against his team when they were a victory away from a cherished place in the top four.
David Moyes is the solitary manager who has managed to smash through the glass ceiling, but Everton were promptly knocked out in the Champions League qualifier and Liverpool, saved by the miracle of Istanbul, ensured it was the usual English quartet who flied the flag in Europe — as they have done for each of the past six seasons.
Which is why the idea of play-offs for the fourth Champions League place is being so eagerly kicked around by some Barclays Premier League chairmen and chief executives; and why the underdog spirit in all of us should have met the proposal yesterday with more than a resignation that it will never happen (even though the Big Four, flexing their muscles, will almost certainly see to it that it doesn’t).
The Champions League has been a closed shop, and might yet prove so again this season even as City spend and Liverpool falter.
But that could change if seventh became the new fourth.
In potentially giving smaller clubs a chance to steal one of the places of the big boys — a rare chance for the poor to take from the rich — the proposal seems on the surface to be exactly the sort of meritocratic step we should all be applauding.
Uefa likes to play down how much the Champions League distorts domestic competition by saying that it provides only 8 to 13 per cent of income for the top clubs, but 8 per cent of Liverpool’s turnover is still a vast amount to a Stoke City, Fulham, Sunderland or even Everton.
The only way to address this problem properly is for those benefits to be divided among the entire Premier League, but even to suggest it would have the big clubs making rumblings about a breakaway league.
In their frustration, ambitious middle-ranking clubs are now pushing the play-off idea and hoping to sweep along those beneath them. They know that there are objections, many sensible ones, but the very least they want, and deserve, is a fair hearing.
Meanwhile, the David Beckham stuff continues to dominate the thoughts of many ahead of Tuesday's clash between AC Milan and Manchester United. Martin Samuel in the Daily Mail, though, thinks the media sideshow is distracting people from the fact that Beckham isn't the man he was on the field.
There is a downside to this marketing jamboree. Off the field, Beckham remains pitch perfect but increasingly, the less that is seen of him in games, the better.
The match with Manchester United throws Beckham the player into sharp focus. All eyes will be on him tonight, including those of Fabio Capello, the England manager scrutinising his effectiveness against the best opposition.
If Beckham comes up short, as happened the last time he was the centre of attention in Milan, it will reignite the debate around his inclusion in England’s World Cup squad, and his place on the plane is not yet guaranteed.
Capello does not do sentiment. He likes Beckham, not for old acquaintance but for what he brings to the group. He genuinely considers Beckham the best professional in the squad and is impressed by his attention to detail in preparation, his thoroughness and fitness.
He is almost there. Even so, unlike Steven Gerrard or Wayne Rooney, Beckham could still be displaced. He is in a straight fight for four, maybe three, places in wide midfield with Theo Walcott, Aaron Lennon, Shaun Wright- Phillips, Joe Cole, James Milner and Stewart Downing.
Capello also knows that the greatest test of Beckham’s ability to influence games against significant opposition in South Africa will come in the Champions League, or against the best of Serie A, which is why tonight’s game is so important.
All that exploded that night was the myth that Beckham was in the form of his life since returning to Milan. Inter won impressively despite being down to nine men by the end and the Italian press compared Beckham to a waxwork dummy.
The criticism was harsh, not least because there were a lot of stiff, lifeless figures in red and black that night. More shocking was the gulf between the player on show and the one billed pre-match.
February 15, 2010
If they haven't kicked in already, the butterflies must surely be arriving in David Beckham's stomach ahead of his first competitive return to Old Trafford on Tuesday. The former England captain will undoubtedly be proud to return to the club where he made his name but do you remember the acrimonious circumstances surrounding his departure.
First came "boot-gate" and it fast became obvious that Sir Alex Ferguson had had enough of Beckham's numerous other sponsorship deals and high-profile lifestyle so out he went to Real Madrid. Oliver Kay at the Times believes that Ferguson's decision to let Becks go was another in a long line of correct outgoing transfer decisions made by the United boss.
"In his dreams, David Beckham will score the spectacular goal that takes AC Milan to the Champions League quarter-finals at Manchester United’s expense. In his dreams, he will eschew celebrations out of respect and affection for his former club. In his dreams, he will lift the World Cup in Johannesburg on July 11 on the day that he equals Peter Shilton’s record of 125 appearances for England.
Beckham has made his dreams come true, but not, it must be said, for a long time. Since leaving United for Real Madrid in 2003, he has won one significant medal, the La Liga title in the final season of his inglorious spell at the Bernabéu.
Beyond that, there was one Spanish Super Cup (the equivalent of the English Community Shield) with Real, an MLS Western Conference title with the Los Angeles Galaxy and a creditable fifteenth place, one behind Angelina Jolie, in the Forbes Celebrity 100 list in 2007."
While AC Milan and Manchester Untetd are two teams used to playing in the Champions League, this season could see a team qualify from the Premier League that has never done so far. But with Manchester City, Tottenham, Liverpool and Aston Villa all vying for a place in Europe's elite competition, John Ashdown at the Guardian has suggested a novel way of deciding who qualifies - a play-off system.
"It is little wonder that the Premier League's proposal to introduce a play-off system for England's fourth Champions League place seems to have been warmly welcomed by most of the top-flight's clubs.
The attractions are obvious. The play-off system in the Football League means that as the season reaches its climax, lots of teams have something to play for. At times the final day of the Premier League can be a damp squib. Play-offs, and the matches of those striving to reach them, would bring further excitement for fans. And besides, you can almost hear the Premier League's top brass saying it is tough to sell meaningless games to a worldwide audience.
The longer-term benefit would be to spread the wealth (or, at least, to improve the chances of the wealth being spread). The money that the Champions League brings puts the clubs involved in a virtuous circle. Champions League qualification leads to more money and prestige, more money and prestige leads to better players, better players lead to Champions League qualification. This closed shop, threatened though it is this season, has become a turn-off. Any attempt to break the quadopoly at the top is surely to be applauded."
February 14, 2010
The transfer window may only have closed recently but that has not stopped momentum steadily building behind reports that Cesc Fabregas could be poised to return to Barcelona this summer.
Arsenal's captain is linked with a move to Camp Nou every few months of course, but sources in both England and Spain appear to suggest that this could be the year. Writing in the Observer, Paul Hayward certainly feels that Arsenal have a real struggle on their hands to convince Fabregas that his career would be best served by staying at Emirates Stadium.
"Arsenal's cognoscenti say that when Cesc Fabregas plays a pass 'the ball has information on it'. This means that the little maestro is not just playing his own game but is controlling his team-mates by imposing his sense of space and its possibilities on them.
"Only special footballers can shape the careers of others by orchestrating play on their behalf. The slipped Fabregas pass will force a lesser colleague to abandon his own idea of where a run might take him and submit instead to the captain's geometrical brilliance. This is a majestic sight but it is also where Arsenal's problem starts. Fabregas is the boy who was forced to take over the class.
"Which other team does this choreographic skill evoke? Correct: Barcelona, the club of Fabregas's blood. To some in Catalonia the quest to bring him home is akin to Greece's campaign to repatriate the Elgin marbles. There is real hope this time, with Arsenal losing home and away to Chelsea and Manchester United and Fabregas senior telling Catalan radio on Thursday that the time to discuss his son's future would be 'at the end of the season'.
"Wenger's great Arsenal project demands endless faith from the congregation. Do not forsake me, he begs. No one carries a heavier burden of devotion than Fabregas, the player who best exemplifies Wenger's vision of how the game ought to be played. The trouble is, the manager asks the lost boy of Catalonia not only to stay true to somebody else's scheme but to gamble with his own shot at greatness."
"For Cristiano Ronaldo and Fabregas to return to Iberia inside 12 months would establish a symbolic turning point for the Premier League. The world's best teenage talent can be lured here but maybe they cannot be persuaded to stay more than five years, tops. A spectacular reason is needed for Fabregas to ignore the siren call of home again. Arsenal have three months to find it."
From Arsenal's brightest talent to a player that has generated real cause for concern this season. Theo Walcott has only completed 90 minutes on one occasion and Michael Calvin, writing in the Sunday Mirror fears that the former prodigy's career will be a story of unfulfilled promise.
"I’m not the only one hoping that the doomsday scenario, of a once-in-a-generation talent remaining unfulfilled, doesn’t come to pass. English football needs Walcott to succeed more than ever. He’s an antidote to the toxins in its system.
"Intelligent, likeable and understated, he’s everything certain international colleagues are not. But let’s face facts. He can’t go to another World Cup on a whim as a manager’s mascot. He may be the youthful face of Fabio Capello’s regime, but if Il Capo valued boyish looks and enthusiasm above all, he’d recruit from the cast of High School Musical 3.
"His intelligence makes him a fast learner, but he needs game time to perfect his craft. Constant injury means he’s trapped in a cycle of renewal and rehabilitation. As a result, he’s chasing the ghost of the player everyone assumed he would become.
"His pace is frightening but, too often, he betrays his inexperience by making the wrong run or the wrong pass at the wrong time. It’s not too late for his story to have a happy ending, but time is running out. Fast."
February 13, 2010
It's been a sad old week for finance in football, with Portsmouth, Notts County and Chester all making headlines. Even Manchester United chief executive David Gill has apparently been involved in a confrontation with fans over the club's debt. Portsmouth, more significantly, are battling to fight a winding-up order and could very well go out of business if a new owner isn't found in the imminent future.
For Brian Reade in the Daily Mirror , it is now time for Portsmouth, Liverpool and Manchester United fans to take a stand.
The next time this column appears there may only be 19 teams left in the Premier League.
If it happens it will lead to grief in Portsmouth and shock among the wider football fraternity. Meanwhile, from a head-shaking distance, outsiders will demand to know how patrons of a multi-billion pound industry which was blatantly living beyond its means, could not see it coming.
The wider world has become sick of football pleading to be viewed as a special case because clubs are supposedly at the heart of our communities. So was Woolworths.
None of the other companies who sat alongside Portsmouth's lawyers in the High Court on Wednesday, facing winding-up orders, believed themselves to be above the taxation system. But Portsmouth, like every other football club which has hit the skids, did.
And in the past the heart-tugging has worked. Which is why the Inland Revenue has lost £30million from clubs going into administration and failing to pay their taxes. But now the taxman has had enough. He's skint too. And he wants his cash.
So that's why football is no longer a special case, and playing the "vital to the well-being of a community" card has become redundant. Once football's rulers allowed any shyster to take over clubs and "leverage" the loyalty of their fans to make a quick buck, the game lost all credibility.
I'm reaching the conclusion that if fans want special treatment they have to show why they're special. If they want their club back they're going to have to grab it themselves.
Take Liverpool and Manchester United who are being brazenly bled dry by foreign sharks. Their fans have it within their grasp to send out a message which would resonate across the world and shake football to its core, when they meet on March 21st at Old Trafford.
That day just happens to be 30th anniversary of Jimmy Carter announcing an American boycott of the Moscow Olympics because of Soviet intervention in Afghanistan.
If the feeling of disgust among the fans is as strong as it appears why not boycott Americans over their unwanted intervention in two of the world's most famous clubs? Imagine if the bulk of the fans didn't turn up and instead went on separate marches from their grounds into Liverpool and Manchester city centres?
Imagine the power of the image of a near-empty Old Trafford to the billions watching worldwide. Imagine the shame of America and the panic among Premier League bosses at the damage to their brand.
Imagine the fear among the Glazer, Hicks and Gillett families, when it dawned on them that these suckers who they believed were as easy to mug as frail pensioners had the power to bankrupt them.
Maybe that Pompey fan with the big bell and tattoos can lead one of the marches as a warning of what can happen if you don't take a stand.
Let's face it, by then he might not have a team of his own to support.
Barney Ronay in the Guardian, meanwhile, wonders what it is that these owners - or idiots, as he puts it - want.
Reading the details of the Portsmouth hearing I finally began to get sense that perhaps there might be two types of businessmen out there: ones who work in the normal world and do things like run the second biggest supplier of electrical fuse wire in Scandinavia. And the other type of businessman, the ones who get involved in football clubs. I'm no economist, and this is probably a technical term I've picked up from somewhere, like bulls and bears and stags, but for some reason the word "idiots" just keeps coming back.
The point is we shouldn't be cross with these idiots or blame them. It's not their fault that modern football is a lure for the confused; that it operates like an inverted episode of Dragons' Den, reversing the usual dynamic of a man bowling in with a plan for a kind of in-car air freshener that smells of concentrated essence of slightly dusty car and being told: "You seem furtive and crazed. For that reason I'm out." In football it's the other way round; the fruitcakes are the ones with the money. All that the people in the big chairs have to do is say: "Yes, brilliant, particularly the bit about ready-mouldered lozenges that can be dropped straight into the gear-knob well."
With this in mind I suggest we introduce a new fit-and-proper-person test that instantly disqualifies from owning a football club anyone who actually wants to own a football club. This is for their own good and can be justified on grounds of idiocy-probability.
February 12, 2010
Thursday night's news that Ashley Cole will be out for three months - that's the rest of the Premier League season - has caused England coach Fabio Capello a real headache.
You see, Fabio is a staunch believer in being fit and playing regularly for your team in order to qualify for international selection. The problem here is that Ashley is one of the best left-backs in the world.
Yet again, England seem destined to enter a major tournament with one of their key players not fully fit. It's happened to Becks and Roo, and now Cashley.
Surely this means Fabio will bend one of his own rules, should Cole need the full three months to recover from his ankle woe? And let's not even mention a Mr W Bridge of Manchester and a Mr J Terry of west London.
Richard Williams, writing in the Guardian, says just this very point.
In terms of the number of available candidates, England are not particularly well served on either flank of the defence. Capello will now be casting an even more keenly focused eye over Wayne Bridge, who missed two months of the season to injury and is presumably still recovering from the fallout of the John Terry affair. Given that Kieran Gibbs, the promising 20-year-old Arsenal defender, is already out for the rest of the season and that Stephen Warnock, highly impressive at Aston Villa, is currently injured, the spotlight will fall next on Leighton Baines, who is doing well at Everton.
None of them, however, has anything like the combination of experience and dynamism that characterises Cole's work, and the pity of his injury is that he has come right back into his best form this season, three years after moving from Arsenal in a contentious deal that sent William Gallas and a cheque for £5m in the opposite direction.
His injury is worse news for England than for Chelsea, who have Yuri Zhirkov waiting in the wings. The 26-year-old Russian was probably bought from CSKA Moscow last summer to replace a declining Cole. A fee of £18m certainly suggests that he was not acquired to be an understudy but the English player's renaissance has severely restricted his appearances.
Capello will know that, under Bobby Robson and Sven-Goran Eriksson, England had a history of regretting the decision to take key players in questionable physical condition to major international tournaments. For Ashley Cole, however, it might yet be worth making an exception.
And a little bit of fun for our second recommendation of the day. It's not often we'll look to Robbie Savage for words of wisdom, but we do just that in the form of his Daily Mirror column.
There was only one thing that I didn't love about Wayne Rooney's brilliant performance for Manchester United against Aston Villa on Wednesday night... he was wearing gloves!
It says it all about the British mentality that on an absolutely freezing night in the Midlands - which I covered for Radio Five Live - that most of the homegrown players on both sides were in short sleeves.
I've always been a long-sleeve man myself but not really for warmth. You don't feel even the bitterest cold when you're out there running around and trying to win the ball.
So I can't understand the new fad for players wearing scarves - and the one that really does my head in is when I see a player wearing gloves when he's got a short-sleeved shirt on.
Doesn't that defeat the object?
February 11, 2010
Financially crippled Portsmouth have been granted a stay of execution and a seven day reprieve to sort out their debts after Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs (HMRC) told the High Court that the club are "insolvent", owing them £11.5 million.
With the very real prospect of the Premier League club being wound-up and going out of existence the newspapers are full of comment and astonishment that such a thing could happen in such a lucrative competition.
Writing in The Guardian, David Conn claims that for a Premier League club, which declared earnings of £70.5 million in their most recently reported financial year, to face a winding-up order is unforgivable.
"How is this possible, for the world's richest league, watched in 200 countries, whose top players make their reported £170,000 a week, to have a club facing liquidation?
The straight answer, of course, is that Pompey overspent. They did not use their TV bonanza, £49m in 2007‑08 alone, to develop Fratton Park or training facilities; Redknapp's stars did their indoor work in Portakabins. The club relied on Sacha Gaydamak, who owned the club via a company registered in the British Virgin Islands, putting loans in to fuel spending on high wages. They borrowed from banks too, for Sulley Muntari, Lassana Diarra, Glen Johnson and Jermain Defoe. Even in that year of FA Cup triumph, Pompey turned their £70.5m windfall income into a loss of £17m. That was before the banks wanted their money back.
Portsmouth are in the last resting place the free market offers. When they were running around Wembley with the Cup, anybody pointing out that it was all unsustainable would have been slapped down as a misery. Now a Premier League club formed in 1898, FA Cup winners in 2008, have been told by a winding-up court that they are a house of cards, and given just days to live."
Writing in his column in The Independent, former Portsmouth player Andrew Cole says fans can't blame the players for accepting Pompey's 'Champions League wages'.
"Portsmouth's worries are simple to explain: they have spent more than they've earned for too long. That's it. It isn't rocket science. And let's not beat around the bush over what they've spent the money on. A huge part of any football club's outlay is players' wages, and Pompey are no different and probably "worse" in this respect.
Good players cost good money, and in a market place where clubs like Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool are your rivals for signatures, aspiring to compete with them costs a lot.
Did we, as players, look at our contracts and think "Hold on, Portsmouth play in front of 20,000 people per week, the business plan is unsustainable"? Of course not. And why should we? There was an owner – a rich, football-loving owner with plans for a new stadium, an expanded fan base, Premier League stability and maybe even Europe – and he demonstrated the will and means to fund that."
February 10, 2010
Portsmouth's plights is a hot topic for discussion around the press this morning as they face possible extinction at the high courts. Both Pompey and Cardiff face court dates and David Conn at the Guardian examines the plight of both 2008 FA Cup finalists.
"The 2008 FA Cup final was scripted as a romantic Wembley journey for two solid clubs from football's provinces but today, only 21 months on, Portsmouth and Cardiff City meet again in a more sobering London setting: the companies' winding‑up court.
Both Pompey and Cardiff were hopeful yesterday that after making down-payments on tax bills of £7.5m and £2.6m respectively, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs would agree adjournments and accept plans to pay the rest in instalments.
Yet the very appearance of two of football's bigger clubs – and Southend United – who continue to receive millions of pounds in TV and other income, in a court where scores of small, hard-hit businesses will be wound up today, has concentrated minds again on the game's inability to balance the books, even in this boom time.
Since 1992, the year the Football League's First Division clubs broke away to form the Premier League, and therefore not share their TV rights bonanza with the other three divisions, Football League clubs have fallen into insolvency a staggering 53 times."
Another club that is struggling with its owners is Manchester United, as fan pressure against the Glazer family begins to reach the sort of fever pitch levels last hit when they initially took over the club. Patrick Barclay at the Times looks at the Manchester United paradox - the more successful the club become, the more restless the fans become, because their argument against the owners appears weaker.
"The more Sir Alex Ferguson calls for unity, the more the split becomes apparent; when even the stewards cannot agree on whether the Glazers should be tolerated or defied, the very name of Manchester United verges on the satirical. But the green-and-gold protest is a serious one. For its peaceful and dignified tone alone, it deserves to be heard.
If only it had not begun so late. The time to have sought club-friendly investors in United, people willing to provide big money and a channel for the voices of the support, was before 1997, when Ferguson befriended John Magnier and J. P. McManus, and the Irishmen began to build up the 30 per cent stake that allowed the Glazers to take control.
The Americans can now, if they choose, just sit back and watch their asset’s value grow. Unless the protesters are prepared to countenance tactics, such as boycotts, that would drive the price down, it can only go up. The best guess is that the Glazers might eventually settle for £1.5 billion. Half of that represents the value of United when they bought the club. The other half is the debt with which they have saddled United in less than five years"
Staying at Old Trafford, Nani has been making the headlines for all the right reasons lately after some scintillating displays for Manchester United, with Tim Rich at the Guardian examining the winger's growing maturity, a quality that will only see him improve further.
""Sir Alex Ferguson is a very complicated man. He is tough. If things are all right, then they are all right, but when he thinks something is wrong, then everything is screwed. He can go from complimenting you to trashing you in a matter of minutes."
With these words did Luís Carlos Almeida da Cunha, the footballer known as Nani, appear to sign his death warrant at Old Trafford. Ferguson's lifelong socialism comes with a dash of Stalin and very few inside Manchester United get away with these kind of observations about the manager – especially those on the fringes of Manchester United's first team, as Nani was when he gave the interview to the Portuguese press in November.
What Nani said was not terribly revealing. Ever since Ferguson took charge of a playing staff of eight at East Stirling in 1974, everyone who has ever worked for him has been aware of a fearsome temper, an intolerance of the ordinary and an overwhelming desire to win. But reporters in Manchester remembered the furore stirred by Jaap Stam's autobiography in which he confessed he had been tapped up by the Manchester United manager while at PSV Eindhoven. The Dutchman was very swiftly sold after its publication, although Ferguson has always insisted that Stam's departure – one he came to regret – was forced by a £16m bid from Lazio which was thought too good to resist."
February 9, 2010
The papers continue their scathing critique of Arsene Wenger this morning, in the wake of a 2-0 defeat to Chelsea at the weekend that all but ended their hopes of winning the league this season.
Chelsea's own Michael Ballack accused Wenger of being a bad loser after the Frenchman claimed the Gunners were the better side and that Chelsea did not play proper football. It is a common refrain from Wenger and Matt Dickinson, writing in the Times, is one observer who is tired of Wenger's determination to occupy the moral high ground.
"Arsene Wenger can never exhaust his levels of credit in English football, but there are an increasing number of occasions, such as in the media room at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, when he seems determined to give it a damn good go.
"Great admirers of 'The Professor' actually found themselves shaking their heads in sorrow and dismay as they jotted down his latest unsustainable explanation for a damaging Arsenal setback.
"It was not that Wenger was making excuses for a defeat; every manager has done that since time began. No, what increasingly distinguishes a Wenger tirade is the moralising tone. And while that was once acceptable, and justifiable, in the occasional outburst at roughhouse methods from Bolton Wanderers or Blackburn Rovers, it has now reached the point where Wenger risks becoming an unpopular parody of himself by preaching from on high."
Dickinson further calls for Wenger to freshen up his backroom staff, even if he is reluctant to demand the manager's departure after all he has achieved in North London.
"Every club needs freshening up. Sir Alex Ferguson does it by leaving almost all the daily training to his assistants. He has conducted fewer than a handful of sessions in the past decade.
"Is it not time for Wenger, whose voice is heard day after day by his players, to bring a strong new assistant on to his coaching staff? To explore other ways to skin the cat?
"Let those shrill terrace critics at the Emirates who call for Wenger’s head any time there is a blip not take this as some kind of encouragement; the club, despite the heavy defeats of the past two weekends, remain so indebted to Wenger’s brilliance, and dependent on it, that to wish his departure any time soon remains unthinkable."
Taking up the baton, the Guardian's Kevin McCarra also trains his focus on Wenger and what the future may hold for Arsenal.
"Arsene Wenger has always followed his own path, but he is leading Arsenal into mediocrity. A largely justified reputation as a visionary distracts people from noticing the most basic flaws in the team. With 25 Premier League games completed, the 2-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge means they have conceded 30 goals. That equals the worst defensive performance Wenger has presided over since his arrival in the autumn of 1996.
"Statistics of that sort are far from bloodless, and Arsenal have been wounded. Never before in the history of the Premier League have they lost all four of their encounters with Chelsea and Manchester United. The Old Trafford defeat may have been undeserved, but there is no quibbling with the aggregate score. Arsenal must be dazed after the 10-2 thumping from Carlo Ancelotti and Sir Alex Ferguson's teams.
"In a practical sense, nothing grave has befallen the club. Arsenal are very likely to qualify for next season's Champions League and their current interest in the competition is genuine. They are favourites to get the better of Porto in the last-16 tie that starts next week. The real harm is done to fans, who are starting to feel undernourished on a diet of idealism, and, less gravely, to neutrals who would prefer to see more than just a pair of contenders for the Premier League title."
February 8, 2010
Arsenal failed yet another of this season's big tests when they were beaten 2-0 at Chelsea on Sunday. Having lost to Manchester United the previous week, Tony Cascarino in the Times thinks it's question time for Le Professeur.
Arsène Wenger is a genius. He has few peers in either the modern or monochrome era. But I’m sorry, if Arsenal don’t go close to winning the Champions League this season, some serious questions must be asked about his future at the club. Really, it has become that bad.
This might sound like heresy, but where are Arsenal going? Out of both domestic cups, as good as out of the Premier League title race and perhaps, if they’re not careful, out of Europe soon, too. A fifth straight year without a trophy? For a club like Arsenal, that is heresy.
Watching their defeat by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge yesterday only reinforced a long-held feeling. Yes, Arsenal play the beautiful game, the five-yard passes, the intricate triangles. It’s great to watch. When they meet the lesser teams, they pass them to death.
When they meet the better teams, all that becomes so predictable. As is often the outcome: defeat. The word is out on Arsenal — press them, smother them, step on their dancing feet. And when you’ve done that, hit them on the break. Manchester United did it the previous weekend, Chelsea did it yesterday. It was like Groundhog Day.
The same is true of Wenger’s apparent obsession with small, nimble players, those who paint the pretty pictures yet have so little upper-body strength that, when challenged, they are brushed aside like annoying gnats.
Why, with no Robin van Persie, did Wenger not invest in a proper centre forward in the January transfer window? Eduardo da Silva is not right yet after injury, Nicklas Bendtner is just lazy. There are forwards out there — look at Harry Redknapp snapping up Eidur Gudjohnsen for Tottenham — and a quick fix, a short deal, would have been perfect for both parties.
No, Arsène kept his chequebook shut. He may regret that. The evidence is mounting against him, like never before in his 14 years in charge at Arsenal, and it is damning. He might run much of the show at the Emirates Stadium, quite understandably, but there must be someone in that boardroom who is getting twitchy.
Perhaps several people.
It's a similar story from Rob Kelly in the Daily Telegraph.
Following their 3-0 mauling at the hands of Chelsea in November, Arsene Wenger remarked that Didier Drogba “doesn’t do much”. This despite the Ivorian scoring twice, then his ninth and tenth goals in 11 matches against Wenger’s men. If Drogba really “doesn’t do much” in the eyes of the Frenchman, one shudders to think what his assessment of Gael Clichy, Manuel Almunia and Theo Walcott might be.
It is hard to fathom what Wenger felt he had to gain from his criticism of Drogba. All it was ever likely to do was spur the Ivorian on to greater deeds, and once again at Stamford Bridge on Sunday the Chelsea striker proved his credentials in emphatic manner. In the aftermath of Chelsea’s destruction of Arsenal in November, I argued that Drogba was the most complete striker in world football, and while Wayne Rooney has since kicked on to grab a share of the limelight, the Ivorian has arguably got a narrow edge on his rival.
How Wenger could do with a talismanic striker in the mould of Drogba or Rooney. In the absence of the injured Robin van Persie, Arsenal have looked desperately short up front, both figuratively and literally. While the muscular Drogba stands at 6ft 3in and acts as the focal point of the Chelsea attack, Arsenal had to make do with the impish Andrei Arshavin, all 5ft 7in of him.
Another trophyless season beckons for Arsenal, while Chelsea and Drogba look with relish towards a future laden with silverware. It is time for Wenger to act in the transfer market to plug the gaping holes in his talented squad.
February 7, 2010
It's fair to say that the UK media, and public, like a scandal, so with John Terry still plastered all over the newspapers it has been difficult to find another topic to feature in today's Paper Round; but we've done it.
Just as the nation was split over whether Terry should be sacked as England captain, so the nation is split over the decision to give the armband to Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand.
The Times' Jonathan Northcroft is backing the England centre-back as the right man to lead his country.
"A few months ago, in a spartan sports hall in one of the most violent inner-city areas of Britain, I watched a footballer hold an audience of street kids rapt as he spoke eloquently and from the heart of growing up in similar environs but steering away from a life of crime. Peers ended up in prison: he took another path, which, this summer, should lead him to South Africa as skipper of his country at a World Cup.
Rio Ferdinand later told me, sincerely: “I don't take it for granted, never. You've got to use your position to say something. I still believe to this day if I hadn't been a footballer, I'd have been a youth worker.” Just a thought: this is the new England captain; the previous one was the sort of bloke who (fined for doing so in 2008) left his Bentley in a disabled parking bay outside a Surrey restaurant.
Ferdinand will do fine if he remembers the group is what it's about; not breaking collective player agreements with the FA to try to make side-money by flogging tickets for your Wembley box; not sleeping with the mother of a fellow player's son."
Meanwhile, in The News of the World, Andy Dunn, is certain that Ferdinand is not the man for the job and England boss Fabio Capello has made a mistake.
"We don't know how Ferdinand will behave as England captain. At the moment, all we can ask is whether or not he is the right man - football-wise - for the job. I believe the answer is no.
Ferdinand in his pomp is a peerless defender. Truly world-class. A footballing centre-half to complement the indestructible will of Terry. But right now, he has issues he needs to deal with on the pitch - that require total focus.
Prior to his three-month lay-off with a back injury, Ferdinand was in a crisis. A poor display in the friendly against Holland and a catastrophic rick in the Ukraine were signs that his international place should not have been as automatic as it has been.
These were augmented by a howler against Manchester City and a scorching from Fernando Torres at Anfield. Maybe it was the back injury. Or maybe those old lapses in concentration were becoming more frequent. And when he finally returned, pent-up frustration manifested itself in the swipe at Craig Fagan, which earned him his current ban."
February 6, 2010
OK, I'm sorry. I'm looking at the past eight days worth of Paper Rounds and every one has been about John Terry. I would love to provide something different today, but after Fabio Capello lived up to his disciplinarian stereotype yesterday and stripped Terry of the England captaincy - there is only one thing on the lips, pens and keyboards of the English press.
Let's start with the Guardian, where Irish comedian Dara O'Briain takes a slightly more irreverent look than the usual at "Dad of the Year" John Terry, speculating about what tips he could offer a father of nine foster kids on a council estate in Middlesbrough.
"Dad of the year, you say? With the collapse of the John Terry super-injunction some small news story crept into one or two of the sports sections during the week regarding the then England captain. Perhaps you didn't spot it; and would like me to recap some of the more salacious details. Perhaps not. I'm happy to leave it if you are. There are only so many times you can return to a dead horse that has been whipped as vigorously as this one.
I couldn't even write about it if I wanted to. I am working under the constraints of my own super‑injunction. Last week I concocted a strained but well-meant piece comparing Man United to legendary cyclist Lance Armstrong, a piece that was taken by many, not least the sub‑editors here, to be a straightforward attack on Man United. Really, only the first bit of it was; and then only to set up the second bit. No matter. United offered a master class last Sunday, winning at a canter. For fear that I should draw such a whirlwind on them again, Arsenal FC have injuncted me from writing a thing about Chelsea.
Football aside then, maybe if we can ask for one good thing to come of this Terry affair, it is that celebrities realise that awards like "Dad of the Year" aren't actually a proper award, judged by some jury against some criteria, under which our celebrity came first. They're organised by a PR company on behalf of a sponsor who wants some free press and they're given to whoever will turn up and collect them. Kerry Katona has won "Mother of the Year". Twice.
They aren't a real prize, you fools. They're like "Spectacle Wearer of the Year". It's just an ad. You're doing an ad. For free. For brown sauce. The real Dad of the Year is sitting on a housing estate in Middlesbrough, looking after nine foster kids. I shudder to think of the conversation Terry had with the organisers at the photoshoot when they gave him his award. What parenting small-talk did they make?"
Elsewhere, Sky Sports pundit and former Liverpool midfielder takes a look at today's Merseyside derby...I wish. Nope, it's more Terry stuff, although Redknapp at least prefers to examine how well England's new captain Rio Ferdinand is suited to the job in his column in the Mail.
"My Grandad, Harry Snr, loved watching football games. He used to tell us he could spot a player and the first day he saw Rio Ferdinand, he rang my dad. ‘You’ve got to come and see this boy,’ he said. ‘It’s like watching a Rolls-Royce. He will play for England.’ Rio was 15. He was a late developer, out of South London who wasn’t selected for England at schoolboy level.
Tony Carr, the youth team coach who is now West Ham’s successful academy director, often used him in midfield in his early days because he was so comfortable on the ball. But Pop Harry watched him in defence that day and rang when he got home. ‘Son, you have got to look at this boy. He’s something special, nearest thing I have seen to Bobby Moore. Passes, moves, glides and can defend. He’s quick too. He’ll be world class.’
Word went around our family; I was a Liverpool player at the time. My dad called me and I got the chance to look at him for myself when West Ham played Liverpool in the FA Youth Cup final. There was this gangly kid at centre half, really skinny and with long legs and the natural running style of a middle-distance athlete. But he could shift, cover the ground quickly, read danger. His name caught the eye too, because of Les Ferdinand’s success at Queens Park Rangers"
February 5, 2010
No surprises for guessing who is making the headlines today. Yes, Mr Terry is the man and it's all about whether he keeps the armband or not.
Matt Lawton at the Daily Mail questions whether we can actually trust Terry now.
Now John Terry really has some explaining to do. When he meets Fabio Capello today, the conversation will not just concern an England team-mate’s estranged partner but the legally binding contract he agreed with the FA when he became a Wembley box holder.
As the Daily Mail’s investigation reveals, Terry’s 12-seat box is available to anyone who has £4,000 and wants to watch England or their favourite rock band. Selling it on is strictly prohibited, but this newspaper was offered the box in exchange for a cash payment to Terry’s management company.
This is so much more serious than the sordid revelations Terry and his representatives tried to keep out of the public domain because this concerns what looks like a breach of trust between the England captain and the organisation he represents. He is given a major discount on the box in recognition of his status. Not, as Capello will now fear, to make money.
Over at the Independent, they've commented on another big breaking story that is actually a breaking story: Chelsea's transfer ban being lifted. Nick Harris has this to say:
Yesterday's apparently amicable settlement between Chelsea and Lens over Gaël Kakuta is a win-win situation for all parties – apart from Fifa, perhaps – but leaves more questions that answers. The whole deal is shrouded in confidentiality agreements but it is obvious from the statement released by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and in comments by Chelsea's chairman, Bruce Buck, that the matter concluded after a process of arbitration, and some money changing hands.
We know Chelsea will pay Lens at least €910,000 (£793,000) because Buck said: "Chelsea has agreed to pay compensation costs for the training given to the player while at Lens, as mandated by Fifa in its original ruling.''
The figures in that original ruling were €780,000 liable from Kakuta to Lens (in joint liability with Chelsea), plus €130,000 directly from Chelsea to Lens. We don't know who is picking up the case costs, but we can assume it is one or both clubs.
We know Chelsea don't accept any legal liability for any wrongdoing, because Buck told us. What we don't know is three key things. Why did Chelsea buckle and effectively "settle" if they thought they could win? Why did Lens effectively accept a compromise? And what does Fifa think about its own original verdict over a poaching allegation being found, effectively, baseless?
February 4, 2010
Mike Atherton knows a thing or two about leading England... in cricket. Cricket's a sport where the captaincy is rather more important, so Atherton proposes in the Times that John Terry ought to be stripped of the armband and that Fabio Capello should forget about having a permanent captain in the future.
When the England cricket captaincy was offered to me in 1994, it came with certain terms of reference, the first being that the ECB wanted to “restore the authority” of the captain after a period in which it was perceived that the coach had too much influence. It was made clear that it was not a role to be accepted lightly. First thoughts were not of exploitation but of certain small sacrifices to be made: of time and of privacy, mainly.
So the early days, until those terms of reference were changed abruptly, involved being the main voice in selection, ringing those selected and — more angst-inducing this — those who had been dropped; having a say in schedules of tours on the distant horizon; dictating tactics; giving team-talks; helping to run practice and making decisions on the field. The last bit was the easy part. All this before you have even thought about your own performance. Since the advent of a tidal wave of support staff, the duties have become lighter of late, but the point stands.
Not being close to the football scene, and embarrassed about encroaching upon the patch of Patrick Barclay and Oliver Kay, soundings have been made this week to those who are in the know as to what exactly the England football captain does, apart from shake hands with the opposition at the toss and decide which way to kick off. One said he organises “things”. What, exactly? “Laser shoots, and the like. You know, team spirit things.” Another talked of understanding the game — although one hopes that is a minimum requirement of any international footballer. Another talked of leading by example and of his symbolic importance.
If symbolic is too strong a word, then it gets closer to the point than most. If not a symbol then he is a reflection, mainly upon Fabio Capello, and to a lesser degree on us. This is why “Il Capo” has to act.
As Bobby Moore was for Alf Ramsey, so Terry is Capello’s representative on the field and, in a welcome development, Capello has shown in his short time in charge that he will not put up with the kind of puerile nonsense tolerated by earlier managers; that the normal standards of decency, respect and discipline are as much a part of his regime as you would expect in any professional side.
The England captaincy can never be a popularity contest, and the manager cannot treat it as an audition on Strictly Come Dancing, with the public voting according to every passing whim. But when there is this level of revulsion aimed at a man so obviously lacking in class (of the human, not social, kind) and decency, and devoid, as he clearly is, of any sense of responsibility, then the man in charge must take note of the public mood. Not that it will make one iota of difference, one way or the other, to the team’s chances in South Africa.
Once the axe has swung, Capello can do himself and his team a favour before the tournament by refusing to appoint a permanent replacement, picking simply on a match-by-match basis. A fluid, flexible approach would confer immediate advantages: there would be no single figure for the media to focus on, no single figure trying and failing to live up to the kind of standards demanded by a society that is deluded enough to expect sportsmen to act as “role models”.
In the absence of a permanent captain there would be no one to exploit the honour, as Terry has tried so miserably to do. If the only meaning to the England football captaincy is, as Matt Dickinson beautifully reported on Tuesday, “half a million quid”, then it is time that particular junket was capsized. In the absence of one focal point, England’s footballers may learn that the best teams have not just one leader on the field but many.
If Capello takes this course of action, Terry’s final indiscretion, in the end, may be the best thing that has happened to the England football team.
Meanwhile, Marina Hyde is the Guardian manages to direct us to the most amusing part of the whole affair so far.
Isolating the single most witless comment on the John Terry saga thus far is a near-impossible task, but you have to think that Janet Street-Porter, 63, would be in with a shout. "Sick joke," began her Daily Mail column on the subject. "John Terry was chosen as 'Dad of the Year' by Daddies Sauce. That's a product I won't be buying any more."
In any sane universe, the correct response for anyone over the age of six would be to throw one's head back and cackle: "Oh do grow up, Janet!" Instead, alas, the fashion of the times suggests we should react by saying that it is obviously a massive disappointment that the Street-Porter condiment cupboard will now be deprived of the brown sauce which was once such an integral player among its lesser sundry ketchups, but that nothing is more important than the harmony of that cupboard being maintained, so it is commendable – if inevitable – that Janet has taken such a tough moral stand and shown what she's about as a larder manager.
February 3, 2010
It feels a little bit like a broken record, but the John Terry saga rolls on, with his finger-to-lips "shhh" salute to fans at the KC Stadium last night providing fuel for plenty of journalists in Wedensday's papers. Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti has said he can have some time off if he needs it, while the continuing murmurings of discontent seem to be heading to crescendo, with pressure from all angles on JT to be stripped of the England captaincy.
Martin Samuel in the Mail, looks at Fabio Capello's salary and decides that the Italian is worth the money that the FA fork out for his salary in comparison to politicians such as sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe. Sutcliffe spoke out against Terry, causing a media storm last week - while Capello has remained both calm and quiet in order to properly assess what is a delicate situation.
"So now you know why he gets the money. It is not for working out that Wayne Rooney is a better option than Michael Owen. It is not for finding a way of playing Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard in the same team, or mining the gold in Theo Walcott. It is because the manager of the England football team is under scrutiny like no man in Britain, not even the Prime Minister, and even when recovering from surgery.
Don’t believe me? Well, on Friday, January 29, Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister, appeared before an inquiry investigating the reasoning and legality of a war he declared, against the will and counsel of a great many, that may yet pan out as the worst foreign-policy decision since Neville Chamberlain appeased Hitler.
On the same day it was revealed the captain of the England football team was having it off with the ex-girlfriend of the reserve left back. No guesses for which story received the greater coverage; no guesses for which story continues to dominate the news agenda five days later.
A government minister was driven to make a statement at the weekend. Not on Blair, on John Terry. Gerry Sutcliffe, the Sports Minister, said Terry’s conduct, if substantiated, called into question his role as England captain and he would be speaking to the Football Association to establish their views.
Meanwhile, Fabio Capello, the England manager, is recuperating after a knee operation at his home in Lugano. He says almost nothing. That is why we pay him £6million a year: to not be an opportunist berk like Sutcliffe and make a bad situation worse."
Elsewhere, Matthew Syed at the Times is the latest writer to lend his opinion to the Terry debate, looking at the wider picture of disloyalty in football and society. Heavy stuff on a Wednesday morning in Betrayal: The cardinal sin of captaincy.
"I suspect all would be OK with John Terry’s captaincy of the England team had his latest affair been of the swinging variety. You know, had Wayne Bridge been in on it and, as they say, high on it. But, to judge from the anguished noises emanating from the Bridge camp, that was far from the case. The Manchester City defender was not merely unaware of Terry’s alleged shenanigans, but mortified by them. This, then, is a scandal not about sex, but about betrayal.
We are familiar with footballing types and, indeed, politicians, lawyers, doctors and journalists betraying their wives — and, for that matter, their husbands. Adultery is such a habitual feature of modern society (and, if anthropologists are to be believed, premodern society) that is has become common to regard it as by the by; a matter of personal conscience, to be resolved (or otherwise) with one’s partner if and when it is exposed. But betrayal of a team-mate — well, that seems to be a different thing altogether.
Team sport is a curious thing: the coming together of morally disparate individuals in pursuit of a common purpose. The interaction — as any who have spent more than five minutes playing in a team will tell you — is subtle and takes a fair bit of getting used to: the banter, the practical jokes, the establishment of hierarchy, the nuances of close proximity in the locker room and beyond."
February 2, 2010
Transfer deadline day may have been and gone but there is still only one story dominating the back pages of the newspapers and that is, of course, John Terry.
Following the revelations over his private life, his alleged affair and the possibly divisive impact it could have on the England squad it seems that Terry is ready to quit (The Independent) or not (Daily Mirror) depending on what newspaper you read.
There is a bit more meat on the bones of the story in the Daily Telegraph, which claims Terry has held talks with Fabio Capello's closest adviser, Franco Baldini, to discuss whether he should resign as England captain.
And while the FA has left the final decision up to Capello, the Daily Star reports that key members of English football's governing body hope Terry will fall on his sword and save the England coach from having to sack him.
Meanwhile, The Sun, apparently conducted a poll amongst the England players and the majority were in favour of Terry staying on as skipper.
If Terry does quit, or is stripped of the captaincy, then Capello best be careful who he selects as his new skipper, writes Richard Williams in The Guardian:
"Fabio Capello had better take the trouble to discover the identities of two more Premier League players who are said to be using the law to conceal their extra-curricular activities. One of them has reportedly succeeded in obtaining two injunctions preventing publication of the details of his "one-night stands with groupies", in the words of an outraged Daily Mail reporter, while the other has threatened to use the privacy laws against a newspaper preparing to publish a story about his "tawdry 'liaisons' with three women in one week".
I have no idea who the two players in question are, or if either of them is married, or English, or a member of Capello's squad. But the manager can't be too careful."
But Williams does have one candidate for the captain’s role, Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney:
"In the search for his successor, it will be almost impossible for Capello to isolate one player who satisfies the requirements of being an automatic choice for the starting line-up, possessing a leader's instincts and maintaining a personal life unlikely to attract the wrong sort of headlines. It comes as something of a shock to realise that, of the very small number of players answering those criteria, Wayne Rooney is the outstanding candidate."
Meanwhile, in The Times, Matt Dickinson asks: Do England need a permanent captain at all?
"Do we really need to regard it is a 365-days-a-year job when it matters for about 12 match days maximum? Is the England captain always on duty, a representative of the nation, of you and me, even when he is popping around to “comfort” his team-mate’s former girlfriend?
Terry impressed, as he always will do, on the pitch and in the dressing room. Capello was not to know the extent of his recklessness off it.
But he does now and when he moves on, as he surely must do by demoting Terry, one suspects that Capello would much prefer just to pass the role to the player who is most deserving on the day. It would certainly stop him being hostage to the latest kiss-and-tell saga."
February 1, 2010
What a lovely lad John Terry is. And the newspapers are continuing to discuss his future as England captain and whether he should wear the armband at the World Cup finals.
As you would expect, most are finding it hard to muster any sympathy and are ready to put the boot in.
In The Times, Patrick Barclay pulls no punches, as you would expect, and is quick to slam the play-away defender after his sordid affair with Wayne Bridge's other half.
If Fabio Capello and the FA are still thinking about what to do with John Terry, someone else should be doing the thinking.
Capello simply has to make the easiest and most popular decision of his career by taking the armband from Terry and giving it to Wayne Rooney, who can lead out England with his head held high on March 3, when they play Egypt in a friendly match, and on to the World Cup in South Africa.
Whether Terry should be one of the ten players following Rooney on to the Wembley turf is another, more complex (if less important) matter. But what a lift it would give the footballing nation if the England captaincy reverted to being an honour rather than a public-relations hand grenade.
Terry, for all his qualities as a leader and a footballing central defender — his hard-man image belies the Chelsea captain’s excellence as a distributor of the ball from the back — has been a near-disaster in the job, a recurrent source of embarrassment.
Enough is enough, and this is now too much. England cannot be led out again by someone who comes with more baggage than Louis Vuitton.
But, after scouring the papers, we have managed to find someone who thinks John Terry should lead England, and that is Oliver Holt in the Daily Mirror.
Question his behaviour off the pitch all you want but the critical issue remains his ability to keep playing as one of the best centre-halves in the world.
If he had buckled under the pressure of the furore surrounding his private life on Saturday, then maybe the questions about whether he can keep his job as England captain might have had some legitimacy.
But Terry didn't buckle. He didn't even look like buckling. Typically, in fact, he reacted by scoring a superb late winner that kept his team at the top of the Premier League.
He did not celebrate wildly. He did not perform cart-wheels. He turned and ran back to his own half, brushing off the congratulations of his team-mates.
If we are looking for an England squad of blameless innocents, we will have to search for a long, long time and settle on a squad of 23 six-year-olds.
If, however, it's footballers strong enough to stand up in adversity that we're looking for, then Terry will be leading his country out for the first match against the USA in June.