March 31, 2010
The English press are, of course, focusing on the post mortem of Manchester United's 2-1 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter final first leg last night. And it is Wayne Rooney who is the focus of most of the headlines, with the likes of "Get Well Soon", "England's Worst Nightmare", "Pray" and "Roo-ins" are among them.
Paul Hayward at the Guardian, like most, speculates on the extent of Rooney's injury and comes to the conclusion that United desperately need him back if they are to have any chance of beating Munich in the return leg next week and lifting their 4th European Cup in May.
"Lothar Matth√§us once joked that football is a simple game: 22 men run around for 90 minutes, he said, and then the Germans win. Manchester United turned this gag on its head in the 1999 Champions League final in Barcelona and last night Bayern Munich turned it the right way up again at English football's expense.
A winning German goal in added-time ‚Äď and an Englishman jack-knifed on the floor. Not any old John Smith, but Wayne Rooney, United's greatest weapon and England's best hope of ending a 44-year wait to reach a second World Cup final. Eleven years ago it was Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with the late fireworks and Bayern Munich players on the deck slapping the grass. For Germany's most illustrious club this 2-1 quarter-final first-leg victory produced the perfect transposition of that melodramatic night at Camp Nou.
A measure of Rooney's importance to club and country is that this potentially terminal defeat for England's champions was far less haunting than the spectacle of the shoo-in footballer of the year jumping like an electrocuted cat as his feet became entangled with those of Mario G√≥mez in the move that led to Ivica Olic's winner when the clock had passed 90 minutes.
Students of metatarsal breaks and will-he-won't-he-sagas were quick to add Rooney's pained reaction to the file of late-season calamities endured by senior England players. It took some of us back to an April day at Stamford Bridge in 2006 when the little terror pulled up lame in a United shirt and left the ground in tears. This time, he hobbled for a few paces before crumpling to the turf. After Olic had delivered his coup de gr√Ęce, Rooney was shoulder-carried from the field and tried unsuccessfully to plant his right foot before being lifted down the tunnel."
Matt Dickinson at the Times was also keen to offer his assessment of the Rooney injury, as both United and England fans wait with baited breath for news today, describing the moment he turned his ankle at the Allianz Arena as a "pain felt by millions".
"As the Bayern Munich players wheeled away to celebrate their dramatic late winner last night and Manchester United‚Äôs shell-shocked defenders wondered what had hit them, one figure was lying prone on the grass near the halfway line.
Thumping the ground in pain, Wayne Rooney looked in clear distress ‚ÄĒ and millions of Englishmen shared his agony.
If this was a traumatic night for United as a game they might have sewn up early on was carelessly squandered ‚ÄĒ 1999 with a twist ‚ÄĒ then it became a pretty alarming one for the rest of the country, too, as they had to watch Rooney receive treatment from the United doctor and physiotherapist.
Not the sort of player to complain unless there is good reason ‚ÄĒ if there is such a thing as a ‚Äúpain barrier‚ÄĚ then Rooney had yet to discover it ‚ÄĒ he needed the support of both men to hobble off the pitch."
March 30, 2010
With a number of mouth-watering Champions League quarter-finals due to get underway the UK press have packed their pages full of comment on Manchester United's battle with Bayern Munich and Arsenal's clash with Barcelona.
The Sun features Alex Ferguson claiming United 'love play away', but kudos has to Martin Samuel, who in true Daily Mail style comes over all John Bull and claims it will be England ace Wayne Rooney v Germany in the Allianz Arena.
"This being World Cup year, each Champions League match is also an opportunity for players to put down a marker, the best ones in particular.
Wayne Rooney does not just face Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena on Tuesday night, he faces Germany, too. Not the whole team, just the odd player - such as Philipp Lahm, the only Germany player to be present for every minute of every World Cup qualifying game - but enough to get the word out if he does to Munich what he did to AC Milan in the previous round.
We have been here before. On August 24, 2001, Liverpool travelled to Monte Carlo to play Bayern Munich in the final of the UEFA Super Cup. Michael Owen was outstanding that night and terrorised a defence that included German international Thomas Linke and goalkeeper Oliver Kahn. Liverpool won 3-2 but were three goals up after 46 minutes. Emile Heskey scored as well.
A week and one day later, England faced Germany in Munich in a World Cup qualifier. We all know what happened next. The 5-1 victory was the watershed result of the Sven Goran Eriksson era. Owen scored a hat-trick, Heskey scored the fifth."
Over in The Times, Matt Hughes focuses on Arsenal's clash with Barcelona, and in particular the mutual respect that both clubs have for each other.
"It is more than a shared admiration for Thierry Henry and Cesc F√†bregas that unites Arsenal and Barcelona, whose meeting on Wednesday in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final has had the purists drooling since the draw was made.
As Arsene Wenger said on Monday, the clubs of choice for romantics are bound by common ideals, whether it be a love of beautiful football, a strong emphasis on youth development or, as their few detractors would put it, a gift for propaganda and mythology.
'There are similarities there,' the Arsenal manager said. 'In the way we play, the way we educate young players, the way we rely on young players and in the sense of belonging to the club.'"
March 29, 2010
The big story on the horizon in the Premier League is the possible departure of Gianfranco Zola from West Ham.
It appears the Italian has decided to stay on for the time being, despite a sixth successive defeat at the hands of Stoke on Saturday, but tensions behind the scenes have been evident for some time, particularly with co-owner David Sullivan.
Writing in the Mail, Martin Samuel makes the point that if Sullivan has no faith in Zola, he should have made a change in leadership upon buying the club earlier in the season. That indecision could cost the club, and Sullivan, dearly, according to Samuel:
‚ÄúDavid Sullivan made one mistake with Gianfranco Zola. He should have sacked him when he had the chance in January.
‚ÄúNot because Zola necessarily deserved it then, but because it was what Sullivan‚Äôs gut instinct told him to do. Then, if West Ham went down at the end of the season, Sullivan would have only himself to blame. Instead, right now what is coming through from his increasingly outspoken comments is not just his frustration and fear of relegation, but his resentment.
‚ÄúHe resents not having been the ruthless boss. He resents not backing his judgement. He resents sticking by Zola primarily to keep the crowd happy. He is an angry man, because he did not do what he wanted to do, and now it may be too late.
‚ÄúIn every utterance these days it is plain he thinks not only that he has the wrong manager for the job, but that he knew as much from the start. If West Ham drop, the only way the business remains solvent is if the owners put in more money, so this may prove a very expensive indulgence.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúSullivan should have risked a few brickbats and axed Zola immediately, right or wrong. If he was not prepared to do that, he needed to put all reservations aside and back him with stoic silence. This slow death, in which it is plain a parting is merely a matter of time, with Sullivan existing in a permanent snit because he blames others for his failure to act, is what has really harmed the club.‚ÄĚ
March 28, 2010
A bit of a late reaction from the Observer today, but an interesting article anyway.
Paul Wilson looks at David Moyes' calm, collected approach to management while Roberto Mancini looks in danger of buckling under the pressure. Paul says the City probably wish they had someone like Moyes at the helm. And maybe Everton would have been a better investment.
It is now being said, with reason, that Everton would have a Champions League place tied down had they not started the season slowly and suffered so many debilitating injuries. It might be added that they probably would have started the season better had they not been disrupted by the protracted and distasteful business of selling Lescott to City, and the subsequent need to buy and bed in replacements, even if Sylvain Distin and Johnny Heitinga have turned out to be excellent additions to David Moyes's squad. The real question to be asked, however, is where Everton would be in the table with a fraction of City's investment behind them, or even with the chance to rent a state-of-the-art stadium from the local council so that Bill Kenwright would not have to deter potential buyers with the news that a new home is an urgent priority.
That small detail (well, small compared to the sums of money at play) was what first attracted Abu Dhabi backers to a City takeover. It appears they imagined that with the stadium and the money in place, the football expertise could be bought in later. It now appears it may not be quite that simple, certainly if a fairly early return on investment was expected, and if Sheikh Mansour has been scrutinising City's results this season ‚Äď to Moyes's enormous satisfaction Everton have thoroughly exposed them home and away ‚Äď he may now be wondering whether it might not have been cheaper and more satisfying to buy into the best-run football club outside the top four and build a new Goodison somewhere along the way.
March 27, 2010
Portsmouth are already in administration and a whole host of other clubs are on the brink of real financial trouble, so there's no surprise that Patrick Barclay is support moves to curb spending.
Despite the recession, clubs like Manchester City keep pushing up transfer fees. And in his column in the Times, Patrick says it must stop.
Uefa‚Äôs proposals for ‚Äúfinancial fair play‚ÄĚ are reasonable as far as they go. Even our own dear Premier League, which used to react to any notion of outside regulation with a hostility bordering on paranoia, ought to be able to contemplate them with comfort.
They will help every league to avoid a future Portsmouth, but without interfering in the ownership model that the English establishment ‚ÄĒ not that English clubs tend to be indigenously owned these days ‚ÄĒ bizarrely seem to cherish. In other words, the Glazers can continue to load Manchester United with as much debt as they like, just as long as the football books are balanced year on year. United can easily do that, and they need not see their on-field fortunes decline if every other club are forced to live on their earnings, too.
United and Real Madrid, for instance, have similar turnovers, in the region of ¬£300 million, and the regulations will affect both the same, even though reports in this country constantly and erroneously portray Michel Platini, the Uefa president, as anti-English. Support for the regulations has come from all parts of Europe ‚ÄĒ and all sections of the game. Not least owners of English clubs, benefactors who fear they have bitten off more than they can chew.
March 26, 2010
Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola admited last week that he is running out of superlatives to describe Lionel Messi, but Jeff Powell at the Mail has no such problem and is happy to pen a tribute to the diminutive Argentinian maestro, with this particular journalist happy to compare the current World Player of the Year to the great Diego Maradona.
"As Lionel Messi leaves defenders thrashing in his wake like steel hawsers suddenly severed from their moorings, one ghostly image comes back to haunt the minds of most English football lovers.
It is the memory of Diego Maradona scoring for Argentina against England in the quarter-finals of Mexico ‚Äô86. I am not invoking the Hand of God, which prompted such widespread rage, but the greatest goal in the annals of the World Cup.
That surging, weaving run from the halfway line spread-eagled England‚Äôs forces like so many whales stranded on a beach and ended with a low shot of such clinical
precision that it left Peter Shilton ‚ÄĒ the best goalkeeper in the world at the time ‚ÄĒ grasping at thin air.
Think what you will of Maradona, but it is his genius that will etch his permanent place in football history, not his madness. As the first British sports writer who saw Maradona play for Argentina ‚ÄĒ a few months after their 1978 World Cup triumph, when Maradonathey could hold back their prodigy no longer ‚ÄĒ I am consumed by deja vu.
Watching Messi is like being astonished by Maradona, almost beyond belief.
Maradona has hailed Messi as his successor to the individual throne of world football, a linear title which runs back through Johan Cruyff to Pele."
Elsewhere, Celtic are searching for a new manager after sacking Tony Mowbray following a dismal run of form that has seen them drop out of the title race with two months of the season remaining. Graham Spiers at the Times reckons Mowbray talked a good game but failed to make his team play one.
"The end was nigh for Tony Mowbray, and it finally came yesterday. The Celtic manager had suffered a wretched, quite abysmal season, by far his club‚Äôs worst in ten years, and a 4-0 defeat to St Mirren on Wednesday night proved the last straw.
Mowbray had accumulated enough bad experiences to invite his own sacking, and it was duly issued at 2.30pm by Peter Lawwell, the Celtic chief executive.
Mowbray and Celtic‚Äôs trouncing by St Mirren was one of those classic moments which football has a habit of throwing up, when a manager‚Äôs fate is cruelly defined. It happened to John Barnes at Celtic on February 8, 2000 when Celtic infamously lost 3-1 at home to Inverness Caledonian Thistle, and it is hard to avoid the similarities between that event and Mowbray‚Äôs humiliation the other night.
The defeat to St Mirren not only fatally injured Mowbray, it also exposed him for what he is: an imaginative but flawed football manager. Mowbray himself even condemned his own tactics in his post-match interview on Wednesday, pointing out that his team ‚Äúfinished the match with six strikers on the field, which left us pretty exposed‚ÄĚ. He had also, he said, gone to St Mirren as usual ‚Äútrying to be attack-minded‚ÄĚ."
March 25, 2010
Gianfranco zola's position at West Ham is under intense scrutiny after the 3-1 defeat at home to Wolves in what had been billed as a must-win game.
For Dominic Fifield in the Guardian, the most worrying factor is the complete absence of spirit in the dressing room.
It was the atmosphere in the home dressing room at half-time that damned West Ham United most of all. Scott Parker had struck a Wolverhampton Wanderers upright in the seconds before the interval on Tuesday night. Though they were still a goal down, that clear-cut opportunity could have carried them through the team-talk and fuelled conviction that the deficit could be clawed back and relegation rivals overcome. It was a moment for players and coaching staff to offer back-slapping encouragement and raucous gee-ups. Instead there was numbed silence.
The reaction said everything. "The manager tried but everyone's head had dropped," admitted Benni McCarthy. "We hadn't performed and everyone was hiding their head in their shirts, too shy to show their faces. It was really hard. It's hard to know what to say any more because it was just shocking. At least we've reached rock bottom. We can't get any lower than this. But we didn't expect that performance."
The second-half display was easier to explain in that shoddy context. The capitulation, when it came around the hour-mark, shredded what little confidence remained. West Ham are one place ‚Äď and three points ‚Äď above the relegation zone and a sense of panic is spreading. That was expressed by the owners, David Sullivan and David Gold, in their post-match meeting with Gianfranco Zola, the Italian crestfallen and dumbfounded by the mishmash he had just witnessed. The prospect of demotion to the Championship, with its cataclysmic financial implications, is unthinkable at the Boleyn Ground. This team has to survive but, on this evidence, they may do so only courtesy of the deficiencies of those below them.
The knee-jerk reaction would be to dismiss the club's manager of 18 months, particularly as he was appointed by the ancien r√©gime at Upton Park. But Zola and his assistant, Steve Clarke, signed new three-year deals only last May and, with annual salaries of around ¬£1.9m and ¬£900,000 respectively, compensation would be hefty. Perhaps more significant is that no obvious short-term replacements stand out. The Premier League's "impact manager of the moment" is Iain Dowie, a man still living off a reputation forged largely over five giddy months in the second tier at Crystal Palace in 2004. There appears to be a lack of firefighters available.
Stoke City visit Upton Park on Saturday. A repeat of Tuesday's fiasco will not be tolerated by either owners or supporters. The club teeters on the brink.
March 24, 2010
After West Ham's home defeat to Wolves last night, I was expecting a torrent of anti-Zola comment in today's papers and perhaps a few obituaries of his brief managerial career - but not so. It's as if everyone is holding out until the inevitable parting of Zola and West Ham is made official.
But away from London and down to the English south coast, where football clubs appear to be more susceptible to financial heartache than anywhere else in the UK. Southampton, Bournemouth and now Portsmouth have all experienced administration and points deductions - but Martin Samuel at the Mail has focussed his attention on the Saints - and he has high praise for a former West Ham boss in Alan Pardew - who has helped turn the club's fortunes around.
"Can there be any area of England or Wales that has been blighted with so many berks running football clubs as the south coast? Portsmouth has seen a veritable procession of incompetents - and that was before this season, when they as good as queued out the door.
Brighton and Hove Albion are fortunate to exist, while Bournemouth were deducted 27 points over two seasons for financial mismanagement. Then there is Southampton, where the delightful Rupert Lowe was followed by a succession of wealthy populists who claimed to have the interests of the club at heart but succeeded only in running it into the ground. Southampton fell two divisions, and nobody would bet against Portsmouth matching, or outstripping, that decline.
Now to this litany of buffoons we can add another name: Nicola Cortese, the current Southampton chairman. His club are doing rather well, skirting the fringes of the play-off places, having begun the season with a 10-point deduction, and preparing to face Carlisle United in the final of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy at Wembley on Sunday. In the circumstances, one would think Cortese would be rather pleased, grateful even, to the manager and his backroom staff. Apparently not."
March 23, 2010
It's a mixed bag in today's comment pages with Ian Watmore's decision to quit his post as Chief Executive of the FA failing to inspire Fleet Street's scribes, who instead focus on seemingly doomed Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti.
Okay, so The Times' Henry Winter does his best to stir up some interest in the important, but dull, Watmore issue, but that is mainly because the FA called him to canvas opinion about the official.
"The call was slightly weird. It came from the Football Association and the official wanted to know my view on Ian Watmore.
Pretty straightforward really: unassuming guy, good taste in music but living in the shadow of far stronger chief executives at the PFA (Gordon Taylor), LMA (Richard Bevan) and the Premier League (Richard Scudamore). But surely the FA knew that anyway?
Monday's announcement that Watmore would be spending more time with his Sex Pistols collection should not prompt regret. It should stir relief. He never poked his head above the parapet and that is why he will not be missed. Watmore‚Äôs sole attempt at a radical act was comical, shredding the FA Cup of its remaining lustre with an astonishingly ill-conceived plan."
Meanwhile, over in The Independent, Ian Herbert is stirring things up by blaming Carlo Ancelotti's "uninspiring persona" for Chelsea's faltering title challenge.
"It is to be hoped for Chelsea's sake that the scene which unfolded in the Ewood Park press room early on Sunday evening is not a metaphor for how things are going to be in the side's dressing room over the next six weeks. The sight of Carlo Ancelotti conferring after each question with his interpreter, who then conferred with a member of Chelsea's staff, before the Italian responded, hardly conveyed the impression of a manager and a club with a firm grip on their currently drifting hopes of a title.
If fluency in English is any barometer of a fluent drive for the English football championship then Ancelotti is some distance behind his countrymen. Roberto Mancini's public pronouncements do not by any means elicit colourful stories at Manchester City but he is at least a man coming to grips with his present milieu.
If anything, he seems rather too willing to dispense with the interpreter before diving in to answer questions he doesn't entirely understand. Ancelotti, facing the first on-field crisis of his nine-month Chelsea tenure, just looks glum ‚Äď and those who witnessed him trying to communicate at Blackburn wondered how on earth he tried to rouse the Chelsea dressing room at half time, after their opening 30 minutes of dominance against Rovers had evaporated."
March 22, 2010
Dark days down at the Bridge right now, with Chelsea out of the Champions League and in danger of dropping out of the title picture following a return of just seven points out of a possible 15.
That would mean a trophyless debut season for Carlo Ancelotti at the west London club, and that may mean it is his only season.
Oliver Kay in the Times puts the focus onto owner Roman Abramovich, and why he may be ultimately to blame for what's gone wrong over the past few years.
Fifteen minutes after the final whistle blew on Chelsea‚Äôs latest unsuccessful tilt at the Champions League, Roman Abramovich, flanked by minders, took a long, lonely trudge across the pitch at Stamford Bridge.
His face, as ever, was inscrutable, but enough noises have come out of Stamford Bridge to tell us what he was thinking. Disappointment with Carlo Ancelotti? Yes, a little. Anger with his players for failing to deliver the performances in proportion with their pay-packets? Yes, plenty. Regret at losing sight of the big picture over the past year or two? Intriguingly, yes.
Abramovich, according to someone close to him, is facing up to having made mistakes. To an outsider, the obvious one was falling out with Jos√© Mourinho, but the Chelsea owner is more concerned by the way he has allowed his squad to grow older ‚ÄĒ and, very significantly, richer ‚ÄĒ while seeing Manchester United re-establish themselves as the dominant force in English football.
Considering it was always Abramovich‚Äôs aim for Chelsea to break even by 2010, the lack of forward planning is staggering. Although the precise figure has not yet been released, Chelsea‚Äôs wage bill for the last financial year was more than ¬£150 million. United‚Äôs was a not inconsiderable ¬£123 million, but the champions‚Äô turnover was ¬£72 million higher than Chelsea‚Äôs. In terms of wages as a percentage of turnover, Chelsea spent at least 70 per cent. The equivalent figures at United and Arsenal are 44 per cent and 33 per cent respectively.
Abramovich accepts that to rejuvenate the squad he will have to spend, but he is loath to throw good money after bad. Joe Cole, out of contract this summer, seems destined to be the first victim of a purge of the older players, but he might not be the only one.
March 21, 2010
It is perhaps a sign of how far Liverpool have fallen that today's papers have generally not devoted many column inches to previewing their visit to Old Trafford to take on Manchester United in what was, this time last season, billed as a title decider.
But the Telegraph is one paper that has put a little bit of a focus on the game, with Henry Winter specifically interested in the battle of the strikers - Wayne Rooney v Fernando Torres.
"Shortly after joining Liverpool in the summer of 2007, Fernando Torres was invited to a meal with Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness, Sammy Lee and Michael Robinson, a quartet of the liveliest dinner companions imaginable.
Torres sat enthralled as this footballing Fab Four enthused about Liverpool's great history, about the philosophy behind the Kop's chant of "attack, attack, attack'' and rivalry with foe such as Sunday's opposition, Manchester United.
As they left the restaurant, Torres murmured his appreciation to these charismatic club ambassadors for giving him such an insight into such a special club.
Souness responded by thanking the humble Spaniard for listening to "a load of nostalgic old men''. The distinguished foursome's enduring passion for the red shirt showed Torres that Liverpool are a club that weave their way into a player's soul.
Many footballers, and not only foreigners, often fail to understand the culture of the institution that employs them. Many are just passing through, picking up the pay-packets, the plaudits and the occasional medal."
Elsewhere, and the Champions League draw is still fresh in most people's minds, with Ian Hawkey at the Times still dazzled by the brilliance of Lionel Messi - a player who he fears will tear Arsenal apart in their quarter-final encounter.
"The difficulties presented to opponents by Lionel Messi are countless. Try to force him onto his so-called weaker side and you swiftly discover his right foot is a dainty and devastating tool. Tell him he‚Äôs not much of a target man and he‚Äôll head a goal in a Champions League final. And now Messi is posing a new challenge to managers and head coaches. Their problem is finding the right superlatives.
On Wednesday Christian Gross, a multilingual erudite man, reached into history. After seeing Messi score two stunning goals to help eliminate his Stuttgart team 5-1 on aggregate from the Champions League, he searched for the sort of comparison that would reflect the dazzle Messi‚Äôs football shines on the sport. ‚ÄúYou can certainly liken him to Maradona,‚ÄĚ said Gross. ‚ÄúAnd remember he is only 22 still. He‚Äôs just fantastic.‚ÄĚ
Messi cast as The New Maradona? That was once a prophecy. In Barcelona, where the original Maradona spent two years, the comparison has long been taken as fact. There, they reckon Messi has superseded Maradona. So Pep Guardiola, seeking fresher mots justes, finds himself obliged to reach beyond the frontiers of his own sport and across the Atlantic. ‚ÄúMessi is what Michael Jordan was to the Chicago Bulls,‚ÄĚ beams Guardiola, Bar√ßa‚Äôs head coach, ‚Äúor Kobe Bryant with the Los Angeles Lakers. The very best always make something happen.‚ÄĚ
March 20, 2010
There is reaction aplenty to the Champions League and Europa League quarter-final draws in the press this morning, with an obvious focus on what seems to be the biggest tie of the round in Europe's premiere club competition, reigning champions Barcelona v Arsenal, in a repeat of the 2006 final in Paris.
Oliver Kay at the Times is especially intrigued by the tie as Arsene Wenger aims to pit his wits against the most attractive football team in the world. The Arsenal model is one that tries to follow the free-flowing football of Barcelona, but while the Gunners' football is attractive they have struggled thus far to emulate the incredible title success of Barca.
"‚ÄúI believe the target of anything in life should be to do it so well that it becomes an art. Football is like that. When I watch Barcelona, it is art‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒ Ars√®ne Wenger, August 2009
It was Barcelona‚Äôs brilliance last season, as they passed and dribbled their way towards one trophy after another, that sustained and strengthened Wenger‚Äôs vision of how football can ‚ÄĒ and should ‚ÄĒ be played.
When it was put to him last summer that a team cannot hope to triumph through art alone, the Arsenal manager responded simply by asking: ‚ÄúWhich club won everything last season? And do they play good football?‚ÄĚ
Barcelona are everything to which Wenger aspires: artistic, creative, free-scoring, richly entertaining, largely home-grown and ‚ÄĒ here is the crucial part ‚ÄĒ richly successful. When they run out at the Emirates Stadium on March 31 for the first leg of a mouthwatering Champions League quarter-final tie, they will do as champions of Spain, champions of Europe, champions of the world ‚ÄĒ a daunting prospect for Arsenal, whose last trophy came in 2005."
Elsewhere, in his typically irreverent style, comedian Dara O Briain, in the Guardian, takes a look back at Inter Milan's Champions League victory over Chelsea, and finds himself somewhat surprisingly feeling pangs of sympathy for Didier Drogba, whose European season ended in disgrace for the third consecutive year.
"I had a night off last Tuesday, a rarity in the midst of a stand-up tour, and was thus able, for the first time in a couple of months, to watch a match live and complete. And I did not expect the evening to cue up so many strange emotions.
Sympathy for Didier Drogba was probably the most surprising. No amount of rolling the tape forward and back on Sky seemed to make it any more conclusive that he had deliberately stamped on Thiago Motta's foot, rather than accidentally. He may well have, but the fact that only seconds previously he had been fondled to the ground yet again made me have some novel fellow‚ÄĎfeeling for the Ivorian.
Time after time, Inter's L√ļcio and Walter Samuel had deftly groped Didier across the penalty area and on to the ground. At corners some of the snuggling and heavy petting was verging on the ridiculous, and it was increasingly obvious that we were going to get an eruption from the Chelsea forward as, every time he looked to the referee for justice, all he got was: "You two! Get a room!"
Although clearly an infringement, that sort of carry-on just doesn't seem to register with referees. I honestly can't remember a penalty being given for that manner of intense fondling since the Ireland-Spain World Cup knockout match in 2002, where two spot-kicks were given to us in the last few minutes as recompense for being repeatedly felt up in the penalty area."
March 19, 2010
We've picked out a column from the Sun on Friday which pretty much sums up was most think about the bizarre goings on at Chelsea.
Should Carlo Ancelloti get the boot it in the summer will be the end of their fourth manager in the space of just two years. Who do they think they are, Real Madrid?
Steven Howard talks about Chelsea's chance of success, and insists it is time for owner Roman Abramovich to let a manager build a dynasty. He says:
Roman Abramovich's billions enabled Chelsea to dine at football's top table. The great irony now is he is the main reason for the current indigestion.
In your opinion, of course, Steven.
Now, it's said, Abramovich is ready to spend another fortune in the transfer market. Well, if he does (and I have my doubts), he will have to let Carlo Ancelotti buy the players HE wants. Not the players Abramovich wants. Or those whispered in his ear by Guus Hiddink or any of the other "advisors" keen to stay on the firm by suggesting names they know will go down well with the owner.
He has to allow his manager to manage. The problem is that having got through six in six years, it is not a position that encourages any long-term planning.
What Chelsea really require is a period of tranquility, sufficient time for a manager to have a proper look at some of the talented 18-year-olds at the club like Jeffrey Bruma, Gael Kakuta and Fabio Borini.
But Ancelotti, realising the owner's track record, knows he has to go for the quick fix. Not that he helps himself. He talks of Chelsea having developed their own identity under him but it was patently obvious on Wednesday the only team with any identity was Inter. And that was Mourinho's. Chelsea are increasingly a bland reflection of Ancelotti.
March 18, 2010
Barcelona, with the brilliant Lionel Messi, put in a performance that suggested that they are once more the team to beat as they thrashed Stuttgart 4-0 at home after a less than convincing first leg. There was nearly a shock in Bordeaux, too, as Olympiacos briefly threatened an unlikely upset.
In England, though, the focus is still on Chelsea's demise. Having made the final two years ago and having come within minutes of doing so last year, the early exit to Jose Mourinho's Inter came as something of a shock.
The Daily Mail reports that Roman Abramovich 'turned on his players after the Champions League defeat to Inter Milan, asking them if they are at Chelsea only to pocket his cash'. Jason Burt in the Daily Telegraph, though, feels the owner should be pumping more of his money into the club.
His home in Lowndes Square is to be gutted inside, behind its stucco-fronted fa√ßade. The billionaire has assiduously acquired properties around it and, when they are all knocked into one, it will be some residence. So much for his home improvements. Now it's the assiduous acquisition of players for his other lavish London project ‚Äď Chelsea Football Club ‚Äď that should occupy him.
The Champions League exit will have hurt Abramovich even more not just because Jose Mourinho had won but because his Inter team included Lucio, who Chelsea had tried and failed to buy six years ago, Samuel Eto'o, who they had similarly tried to recruit, Maicon, who they turned their noses up at, and Wesley Sneijder, who as recently as last summer was not deemed good enough for Chelsea.
This summer, with the threat of a transfer ban having been lifted, will be the big test for Abramovich, indicating what he's willing to invest.
Having constantly chopped and changed managers in the belief that they were the root of the problem and he wasn't getting value for money after spending more than ¬£600 million on the club, it could be time for a root-and-branch reform of the playing staff although, according to sources, that's still not his overriding belief.
He has considered taking this course before. As recently as last summer, in fact, when Carlo Ancelotti was promised the funds to make changes and encouraged to try to bring in some of his own recruits before accepting that the small pond of top-class talent targeted by Chelsea has some over-priced fish in it.
Ancelotti was let down. Luiz Felipe Scolari will know how he feels. The Brazilian failed at Chelsea after a bright start and, rightly or wrongly, ascribed much of this to the club's inability to sign Robinho.
Scolari had identified a lack of youth and pace as a problem and Ancelotti, during his negotiations last year, was promised the money to recruit players he wanted. There was talk of Kaka and, more realistically, Andrea Pirlo who, it was decided, was too old, while negotiations took place with representatives of Carlos Tevez and Emmanuel Adebayor.
A concerted effort was made to sign Franck Ribery and tentative approaches were made to acquire Sergio Aguero, a player eventually deemed too expensive.
Apart from Daniel Sturridge and Ross Turnbull only Yuri Zhirkov arrived. The fee was said to be around ¬£17 million but that was, as one Abramovich associate called it, a "Russian deal" which means that CSKA Moscow may have received more or far less than was quoted for the undisclosed transfer. It was less than ¬£10 million.
It's evident that Chelsea need to make changes. There is a sense at the club that if they don't, then they will become another AC Milan. They may have the Rossoneri's former coach, but do they want a similarly ageing squad? Surely not.
In the Independent, meanwhile, Glenn Moore dissects Mourinho's special plan to knock Chelsea out of the competition.
Although he paid lip-service to sharing the glory with his players, Jose Mourinho could not resist ensuring that everyone knew who was the architect of Internazionale's victory at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday. The players were praised for following the plan, the plan drawn up by... Mourinho. So what was it?
A four-part plan, apparently, from studying the video of the first match seven or eight times to suffocating the full backs. It's a piece best read in its entirety, so click through above for the full article.
March 17, 2010
It was a night when Inter Milan were cleary the better side. As Chelsea failed to find their rhythm, Inter always offered the threat of the counter, and their robust defensive approach saw off Chelsea in much the same way as Chelsea had seen off numerous others in the competition in recent years.
Interestingly, though, former referee Graham Poll draws attention to the fact that Inter were lucky to avoid conceding penalties after some severe manhandling in the area. Having been denied several appeals against Barcelona last year and what looked a stonewall shout in the first leg against Inter, the underpar Blues may have just cause to feel hard done by.
Chelsea can once again bemoan their luck with penalty decisions in the Champions League after Wolfgang Stark refused to give two clear spot kicks after fouls from corners.
When the holding is slight and the blocking clever you can understand how difficult it is for the referee to detect it; but last night it was open, clear and obvious.
Frustration at tangling with Thiago Motta again in the final few minutes led to Didier Drogba appearing to stamp on him and once again see red as Chelsea exited Europe.
An inexperienced Norwegian saw Chelsea off last season ‚ÄĒ this year it was German inefficiency.
For Carlo Ancelotti, though, that will be of no consolation. Roman Abramovich clearly wants the Champions League above all else and, having seen Jose Mourinho return victorious, Patrick Barclay in the Times says Chelsea must now deliver in the Premier League.
Some you win, some you lose. No one knows this better than Carlo Ancelotti, who, two years after bemoaning AC Milan‚Äôs defeat by Liverpool in Istanbul in 2005, when they had been the superior side, celebrated victory after a Champions League final in which his team had been inferior to Rafael Ben√≠tez‚Äôs in Athens.
Ancelotti has seen a lot in a career redolent of European history and now, after a defeat more painful for its having been thoroughly deserved, this phlegmatic Italian prepares for a spell in which his team‚Äôs tendency to blow hot and cold will have to be overcome.
He must lead Chelsea to the Barclays Premier League title or be judged a failure. There are no excuses available to Ancelotti or his players. A season that began with Manchester United shorn of Cristiano Ronaldo has featured a decline by Liverpool while Arsenal struggle with injuries to key men. The invitation to be champions, as Chelsea last were under Jos√© Mourinho in 2006, has been issued and received, and within the next ten days they must answer it.
The worry, especially after a first half of the season that often seemed theirs for the seizing, is that United, champions in each of the past three years, look to have found their stride at an ominously familiar time. From appearing vulnerable in the early months of life without Ronaldo, they have found the new messiah in Wayne Rooney.
Under Sir Alex Ferguson‚Äôs supervision, with the help of the long-serving Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville, they have adjusted. The veterans to whom Ancelotti is accustomed to turning, meanwhile, he left in Milan. He is still getting to know Chelsea and it soon became apparent last night that Inter Milan were by far the more astutely prepared.
Of all Mourinho‚Äôs observations this week, the most barbed was about life going on since he and Chelsea went their separate ways ‚ÄĒ ‚ÄúI keep winning important things, they keep winning something . . . the FA Cup‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒ and it will have been felt more by the owner than a manager who has been in London eight months. The Premier League is vital now and the trio of fixtures coming up include Chelsea‚Äôs match in hand over United, whom they trail by two points.
March 16, 2010
Only one place for all the papers to go this morning and it's to Stamford Bridge, awaiting the arrival of former favourite Jose Mourinho and his Inter Milan side. Not everyone is getting carried away though, as Mick Dennis of the Daily Express asserts:
''The preening ¬≠Portuguese is back, so let me tell you about three incidents for you to make an educated judgment about Jose Mario dos Santos Felix Mourinho. Just three will do; three selected from a catalogue of despicable incidents.
''Let‚Äôs begin just over five years ago. Mourinho‚Äôs Chelsea lost 2-1 in the Champions League in Barcelona, with Didier Drogba sent off for a second caution ‚Äď a rash challenge on the goalkeeper ‚Äď early in the second half. Mourinho alleged that Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard had colluded with referee Anders Frisk. Portuguese newspaper Dez Record quoted Mourinho as saying: ‚ÄúWhen I saw Rijkaard entering the referee‚Äôs dressing room, I couldn‚Äôt believe it. When Didier Drogba was sent off, I wasn‚Äôt surprised.‚ÄĚ
''Mourinho‚Äôs account was fiction. A UEFA official was in the referee‚Äôs room throughout the interval and stated categorically Rijkaard had not gone in. Yet Frisk received death threats and quit the game, saying: ‚ÄúI have been subjected to things I couldn‚Äôt even imagine.‚ÄĚ''
To read the other two and make up your own mind, click here.
Of course the other main man around at the moment is David Beckham and the fallout continues from his injury. Matt Dickinson in the Times has his say and reckons there may be a few options left for Becks.
''David Beckham wanted wealth and fame and, boy, did he find it. He wanted to become an icon and how many other footballers have been on the front page of The Times twice in a week? The question he may be asking soon, if not quite yet in the immediate shock and pain of surgery on his Achilles tendon, is what he does next with all that worldwide celebrity. What lasting fulfilment and excitement can it bring him?...
''Beckham has always known what he wants ‚ÄĒ and mostly, by force of personality, he has got it. Stubbornly he has hunted down his targets, beginning as a 10-year-old when he won a Blue Peter skills competition, which led to the Bobby Charlton Soccer Schools and set in chain his professional career. He dreamt of playing for Manchester United. He did, as a dynamic member of the Treble winners.
''On an England trip to Georgia, he saw the Spice Girls on Top of the Pops. Sitting in his bedroom, he decided that he was going to marry ‚Äúthe one with the legs‚ÄĚ. And he did. Perhaps his most daring ambition was to believe that he could have it all ‚ÄĒ the showbiz lifestyle and the career of a brilliant footballer.
''Ferguson believed that the two were incompatible but Beckham, as even his harshest critics would admit, had a damn good stab at it. A Champions League title, seven championships with United and Real Madrid, and 115 caps; it is a considerable CV...
''What is certain is that Beckham will not be short of ideas or offers. His career is not about to peter out in a clinic in Finland.''
March 15, 2010
There is only one story dominating the news agenda on Monday morning: the Achilles injury that will prevent David Beckham from playing in his fourth World Cup finals.
A grimacing Beckham is on the front pages of most of the newspapers and, as expected, there is an outpouring of sympathy for a man whose career has been so defined by the World Cup.
From the nadir of a red card suffered in 1998 and the redemption granted by his penalty against Argentina in 2002, to the metatarsal-inspired will-he-won‚Äôt-he saga of 2006, Beckham is a player built to produce drama on the biggest of stages.
But while the news of his injury is a disaster on a personal level, the more restrained of the nation‚Äôs press have been quick to point out that it is hardly terminal for England‚Äôs World Cup chances.
Sam Wallace, writing in the Independent, makes exactly that point.
"The England manager brought Beckham on for the last of his 115 caps in the win over Belarus in the last World Cup qualifier in October. He had to withdraw from the friendly against Brazil in November because of commitments with the Los Angeles Galaxy and he was not summoned from the bench in this month's friendly against Egypt.
"Beckham was not exactly an integral part of the Capello masterplan but he was an interesting option; a player who always offered a different option when to came to breaking down an opponent.
"Now that Beckham is out, the spotlight falls upon Aaron Lennon, arguably Capello's first-choice right winger. Tottenham have been unable to solve the problem of Lennon's groin that has stopped him playing since 28 December. It is understood to be an issue with scar tissue in his groin injury. Harry Redknapp has said he has no idea when Lennon will be ready.
"Given the choice, Capello would sooner have a fit Lennon than a fit Beckham. He would sooner have a fit Ashley Cole or the guarantee that Rio Ferdinand was not about to break down again than a fit Beckham. He would probably sooner not have had to sack John Terry as captain last month."
Oliver Kay of the Times also laments the news, while putting Beckham's injury in some much-needed context.
"When Beckham suffered a fractured metatarsal in the build-up to the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, the English nation suffered with him. At one stage The Sun urged readers to use their front page as a prayer mat in the absurd hope that the positive energy would help his recovery.
"That, though, was at the height of Beckham-mania. Eight years on, while it is a tragedy for England‚Äôs favourite footballer, it is an inconvenience for Fabio Capello and the national team. There was a strong case for Capello to go to the World Cup without Beckham, whose principal value since he was recalled by Steve McClaren in 2007 has been the experience he brings to the group.
"To say such things this morning will be to speak ill of a national treasure, but, with two of Aaron Lennon, Theo Walcott and Shaun Wright-Phillips offering pace and penetration on the right-hand side and with Steven Gerrard, James Milner and Joe Cole all able to perform effectively there, he had ceased to look a natural inclusion in Capello‚Äôs squad.
"For those of us who have not been blinded by his celebrity, it took an illuminating cameo for Milan against Manchester United at Old Trafford in the Champions League last Wednesday to serve as a reminder that he still had something to offer at the highest level.
"Whether or not he was inspired by his former surroundings or by the affection that he received from the crowd, he rolled back the years with a series of devilish crosses and with a thunderous right-foot volley that Edwin van der Sar, the United goalkeeper, had the temerity to keep out. In retrospect, that looks, more than ever, like a swansong."
March 14, 2010
Speculation regarding the futures of Rafa Benitez and Jose Mourinho are plastered all over the Sunday papers, with the former tipped to walk out on Liverpool and the latter expected to leave Inter Milan in the summer.
Benitez is linked with Juventus and Real Madrid, while Mourinho can take his pick from Los Blancos or a return to the Premier League to replace Benitez or Roberto Mancini at Manchester City.
Even Match Of the Day's Mr Clean, Gary Lineker, is confident enough Mourinho will return to England to broach the subject in his column in the Mail On Sunday.
"I like Mourinho and life in the Premier League has been duller without him. I expect to see him back in August, probably at Manchester City or Liverpool, and I?d welcome it.
That arrogance that made him a 'character' in England has earned him contempt in Italy and that has probably puzzled him.
Assuming Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger and Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola aren?t going anywhere soon, I think Mourinho will end up at one of three clubs - Liverpool, Manchester City or Real Madrid.
I am not sure the way things are at Real that Madrid will suit him. And I wouldn't see any point in him going back to Chelsea under Abramovich, so that leaves City and Liverpool, who may have vacancies at the end of the season. Either way, we'll be talking about Mourinho this week and beyond."
Sticking with the subject of the managerial merry-go-round Paul Wilson uses his column in The Guardian to ask: Will Real Madrid ever realise that managerial stability brings trophies?
And let's not forget that Rafa and Jose have been linked with the job - replacing Manuel Pellegrini after just one season.
"Adios Pellegrini is the current rallying cry. Real Madrid were a disgrace, so the manager will have to go. Yet when Real Madrid are not a disgrace, the manager usually still has to go. Manchester United have had the same manager for the past 24 years. In that time, Real Madrid have had 24 managers. Not 24 different ones, granted. Leo Beenhakker, John Toshack, Fabio Capello and Vicente del Bosque have all been there more than once in that period, yet it has to be significant that while United (and to a lesser extent Arsenal) have reached unprecedented heights through managerial stability, Real have made, on average, a managerial change every year for the past 24
Nothing more need be said, really, except perhaps that some of the departing managers, Beenhakker, Toshack, Capello and Del Bosque among them, left after winning La Liga. Del Bosque, in fact, in his last period in charge, picked up two league titles, two Spanish Cups and won the Champions League twice, yet still had to make way for Carlos Queiroz.
The former United assistant stayed one season and is now in charge of his native Portugal, while Del Bosque is coach of Spain. Capello is taking England to the World Cup, Toshack is staying at home with Wales, and Beenhakker is back in Holland as technical director at Feyenoord, but only after periods in charge of Holland, Saudi Arabia, Trinidad & Tobago at the last World Cup and then Poland. It is fair to say there is enormous managerial experience and ability within the aforementioned group, yet hardly any of it was properly tapped by Real Madrid."
March 13, 2010
It's a mixed bag in the comment sections of the press this morning with no real theme running through, apart from the start of the Formula One season, which you can follow on ESPN , of course.
Liverpool's struggles, having lost to Wigan and Lille this week, has caught the eye of Patrick Barclay in The Times, who points out that this time last year the Reds were heading in the opposite direction, having just beaten Manchester United 4-1 at Old Trafford.
"Was it really only 364 days ago? Everything was so different. The refereeing, for instance: if Nemanja Vidic committed a ?professional? foul, he was sent off. Other sepia-tinted memories are of Steven Gerrard performing with a swagger, Fabio Aurelio bending it like Beckham and Andrea Dossena lording it with a late lob. Nor (though United were less emphatically outplayed than the score might suggest) was this a freak result. Liverpool beat Aston Villa 5-0 next and the only points they dropped in the rest of the Premier League season were to Arsenal in a 4-4 draw majestically dominated by Andrey Arshavin.
Had they promptly sold Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Pepe Reina and Javier Mascherano without buying replacements and supplanted Benitez with Lily Savage, who appointed Harry Enfield's Scousers as his assistants, put David Ngog in goal and announced that the new central midfield partnership would consist of Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr, the decline in their fortunes could hardly have been more radical.
If new owners came in tomorrow, maybe then it would be a happy anniversary after all. But there would still be a race against time, for a new stadium is overdue as the club slowly spiral downwards, rendering unrealistic the hope in the hearts of those who envisage a new era of achievement under, say, Jose Mourinho, who yearns to return to England and says that he would be just as happy in Liverpool or Manchester as in London."
However, the Daily Mail's Des Kelly thinks it unlikely that Mourinho will ride to the rescue at Anfield as there is another, more high-profile, club that may need rescuing in the summer. Real Madrid may not have fallen to the depths that Liverpool have, but following their failure in the Champions League, and the ¬£240 million spent on new players, manager Manuel Pellegrini is a dead man walking.
Mourinho could be the man for the job.
"The arrival of ¬£80m Cristiano Ronaldo, ¬£60m Kaka and the rest has changed nothing. Madrid remain the most expensive folly in the game. In Europe, they are Los Grandes Elefantes Blancos, the great white elephants. And now the indignity looms of seeing rivals Barcelona crowned European champions in Madrid's Bernabeu stadium on May 22. It's all too much. Something has to be done.
So you lean forward, pick up the telephone and press the speed dial button. It's time to find a new manager, someone who can finally draw the best from the array of stars you've assembled. A director who practically guarantees box-office success.
The phone rings... A voice on the other end of the line says: 'Hello. This is Rafa Benitez.' I know, ridiculous isn't it? What a crazy idea. But with Arsene Wenger refusing to entertain any Madrid talk, and sir Alex Ferguson and Barca's Pep Guardiola complete nonstarters on the job front, there is only one man left in the frame - Jose Mourinho.
When I was in Milan last month, everyone was gossiping that contact had already been made between his Mourinho's people and Madrid. From the way he is talking before the Champions League return against Chelsea on Tuesday night, Mourinho is already preparing the ground for his departure."
March 12, 2010
Usually found waxing lyrical about the Italian game, The Times' Gabriele Marcotti has turned his attention to a bigger fish, in Real Madrid. While the Spanish side have come under fire for their exit in the Champions League, Gabs believes they should stick with coach Manuel Pelligrini.
''In the polarised world of the Spanish football media, reaction to Real Madrid‚Äôs elimination by Lyons on Wednesday was perhaps predictable.
The Catalan press gloated in a rush of schadenfreude, speaking of ‚Äúhumiliation‚ÄĚ and the ‚Äúdestruction of the Galaxy‚ÄĚ, while the Madrid press were split among those, such as Marca, who have been calling for the head of Manuel Pellegrini, the coach, and AS, which has taken a more cautious line.
Two numbers crop up time and again: six and 250. The first is the years that the club have failed to reach the Champions League quarter-finals. The latter is an estimate in millions of pounds that Real spent on players last summer, as the club secured, among others, Kak√°, Xabi Alonso, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Both weigh heavily on Pellegrini, whose portrayal as a scapegoat is inevitable. After all, changing one coach is cheaper ‚ÄĒ and more satisfying ‚ÄĒ than ridding yourself of players. But a more informed analysis may reveal that sacking Pellegrini is probably not the way forward.''
Elsewhere, The Independent's James Lawton also has his view on Madrid's mess, but points to 'team spirit' as the key to success.
''It was hard to know the greatest victim of the night when the map of European football power was rather more than singed by the flames licking Real Madrid and Milan. No, it probably wasn't David Beckham milking once again his genius for injecting celebrity fantasy into a career that in truth rarely rose above the second rank.
However, there was something weirdly, even climatically symbolic about the way his profile could so easily be linked with the differing fortunes, and priorities, of three of Europe's most famous clubs.
Beckham, naturally, was received warmly at Old Trafford and, given his forlorn status on the bench of ramshackle Milan, it was even by his standards a stupendous achievement to finish up on some front pages despite being so utterly overshadowed by the talent and momentum of his England team-mate Wayne Rooney.
But then this is so much the story of the second half of Beckham's career, when fame has outstretched by such an outlandish margin anything resembling enduring achievement.
It meant that when you saw the depths to which Milan had sunk, and then heard the news from the Bernabeu, where Real Madrid's Galacticos policy was once again in ruins, Beckham, strangely but unavoidably, had to be included in any analysis of why Manchester United, for all the horrors of their ownership, remain on course and two great clubs with a combined total of 16 European Cup wins, had failed so miserably.''
March 11, 2010
It was a European night to remember at Old Trafford as Manchester United embarrassed AC Milan 4-0 in the Champions League. David Beckham made his long-awaited return to his old stomping ground and Wayne Rooney confirmed his status as one of the best strikers in the world with another two goals.
No surprise then that the England duo dominate the back pages of Thursday's newspapers.
Writing in The Independent James Lawton likens Rooney to an unbeatable hand in a poker game and expects the striker to be at the peak of his considerable powers when the World Cup kicks-off in June.
"When Wayne Rooney scored his second goal at the start of the second half ‚Äď and his 30th of the season ‚Äď Sir Alex Ferguson, who was chastising him so recently for his insistence on grabbing every available second of game time, did not respond with any great abandonment to the fact that his team were now freewheeling into the quarter-finals of the Champions League. He just grinned like a man holding an unbeatable hand in another round of poker.
Unbeatable, certainly, in the knowledge that he could not want more from the 24-year-old who has so spectacularly filled the void left by Cristiano Ronaldo at the end of last season.
In his own perfect world, Ferguson would have Rooney as the exclusive driving hammer of all the remaining hopes he carries into the final phase of his extraordinary career. But if he frets over the fact that Rooney has also worked his way to the centre of England's best hopes for this summer's World Cup finals in South Africa ‚Äď and, at the age of 24 perhaps at least two more ‚Äď he must count it as the cost of possessing a national football treasure."
In The Times, Matt Dickinson turns his attention to David Beckham, who took to the Old Trafford pitch amid a standing ovation and left to rapturous applause as he wrapped an anti-Glazer green and gold scarf around his neck.
"His legs are not what they were when last he played at Old Trafford, but no one could accuse David Beckham of losing the ability to work a crowd.
The last man off the pitch last night, his name resounding around the ground, Beckham stopped by the tunnel, took an anti-Glazer green-and-gold scarf and slipped it round his neck in front of the Stretford End. A very good player - but a PR genius.
His skill at diplomacy ensured that a scarf was as far as he would go. Afterwards he sidestepped an invitation to criticise the Glazers, the loathed owners who have saddled the club with vast debts. Fellowship with the fans who acclaimed him is one thing, but he is not about to apply for leadership of the green-and-gold movement."
March 10, 2010
With a hint of inevitability, most of today's newspapers still seem to prefer to preview David Beckham's return to Old Trafford - a game in which he might not even feature in the starting line-up - than bask in the glory of a sensational Champions League display last night from Arsenal.
But fear not, because there is still some credibility out there, with Amy Lawrence at the Guardian, who was at that match, discussing Arsenal's chances of European glory. There is praise for Andrei Ashavin and the Gunners young midfield, but could a Champions League title be a step too far?
"The elongated three-week gap between the two legs of this last-16 tussle has brought substantial change for Arsenal. They won three Premier League games while the title favourites hiccupped and eased closer to the summit, reinstated the first-choice goalkeeper at the expense of the fretful Lukasz Fabianski, lost their captain to a hamstring strain, and were doused in the emotional fuel of the Aaron Ramsey injury.
But perhaps the most significant shift is that, prior to the first leg, Ars√®ne Wenger reasonably judged the Champions League as their better bet for silverware ‚Äď and that was a long shot. And now? Nine domestic games, largely against moderate opposition, is favourable to the ferocious challenge in Europe. Five more knock-out games against the calibre of team Arsenal have floundered against looks several hurdles too far for this team, despite the verve with which they dismantled Porto. On the off-chance they did outmanoeuvre, say, Real Madrid in the next round, then Chelsea could be next. Or Barcelona. Or Manchester United. To put it into some perspective, in their 2006 run to the final they confronted Real, Juventus, Villarreal and Barcelona.
To Arsenal's huge credit, they turned around a European deficit against Porto ‚Äď something they have not managed in continental competition since Hajduk Split were beaten at Highbury in 1978 ‚Äď without three pivotal players. The injury updates on William Gallas, Cesc F√°bregas and Robin van Persie suggest it is not impossible they will have again to try to compete without such an important trio in the quarter-finals."
Elsewhere and Martin Samuel at the Mail is in the mood for a history lesson - specifically a Liverpool related one. He points out that as results have got worse for the Anfield club, the more they seem to point to their history as some sort of saving grace.
But Samuel's point is clear, both Manchester City and Chelsea - often criticised by fans for having no history - can claim past feats that trump those achievements of Liverpool.
""Henry Ford. You wouldn‚Äôt want him on your pub quiz team but he certainly knew how to run a business. It must go forward. It must be evolving and improving constantly.
Football clubs are the same. Everyone knows Ford‚Äôs pithy history quote, but he regularly expanded on the subject to great effect. ‚ÄėWe don‚Äôt want tradition,‚Äô he said. ‚ÄėWe want to live in the present and the only history worth a tinker‚Äôs damn is the history we make today.‚Äô
And this brings us to Javier Mascherano. Last month, when Liverpool were playing Manchester City in what some misguidedly believed was a decider for the fourth Champions League place, Mascherano had some interesting things to say. He joined in a familiar Anfield refrain and announced City had no history.
‚ÄėMaybe if City got into the top four they would build on that as Chelsea did,‚Äô opined Mascherano. ‚ÄėBut I will tell you one thing: you can buy players, but you cannot buy history. At Liverpool, we play with the history of the club. We don‚Äôt have the money they have, but we are proud to play for Liverpool. I don‚Äôt want to play for Manchester City.'
This is an increasingly popular theme at a club where history has been redefined along exactingly narrow parameters to mean not all events that happened in the past, but success attained in a previous existence.
Chelsea do not have history either, apparently, despite beating Liverpool to a European trophy by two years in 1971. Manchester City beat them into being by five years, to the FA Cup by 61 years, to the League Cup by 11 years and to a European trophy by three years"
March 9, 2010
Manchester United v AC Milan. Two of Europe‚Äôs most historic clubs going head to head. Rooney v Pato, Ronaldinho v Giggs, the Red Devils against the Rossoneri. But one figure remains the centre of focus as ever: David Beckham.
Never far from the glare of the media, Beckham‚Äôs return to Old Trafford for the first time since his move to Real Madrid in 2003 is naturally attracting a fair bit of attention. In the Times, Matt Dickinson offers an interesting perspective on the midfielder‚Äôs imminent reunion with Sir Alex Ferguson in Manchester.
Describing Ferguson‚Äôs anger at having to continually field questions about the player he turned into a global superstar, Dickinson also details how Beckham is a credit to the Old Trafford system.
‚ÄúSir Alex Ferguson will sit down for a Champions League press conference today and wish he was anywhere else. Cleaning Mike Riley‚Äôs car, polishing Arsene Wenger‚Äôs boots ... anything but talk about David Beckham. ‚ÄėChrist, three seconds,‚Äô the Manchester United manager grumbled when he walked straight into a question about the former United player in Milan three weeks ago. He was no less sour on his way out: ‚ÄėThere‚Äôs another 30 minutes of my life wasted.‚Äô
‚ÄúFerguson‚Äôs cantankerous attitude may be understandable given that being interrogated incessantly about Beckham‚Äôs haircuts, wife, England performances and world player nominations was part of the reason he jettisoned him in 2003.
‚ÄúHowever, it risks skipping over one of his greatest legacies at Old Trafford, something as impressive as filling the trophy cabinet throughout more than two decades. It is Ferguson‚Äôs achievement in turning United into not merely a football club, but an educational establishment; in producing not just better footballers, but better people. And Beckham, despite being cast out, is more than happy to add his glowing testimony.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúGiven half a chance, back in Manchester with AC Milan for tomorrow‚Äôs second leg of their Champions League round-of-16 tie, Beckham will talk about how some of Ferguson‚Äôs greatest work has been done far away from the first-team pitch, teaching teenage boys what it takes to reach the top.
‚ÄúEven as his former manager snarls and changes the subject, Beckham will speak as he was taught to all those years ago - with humility and respect.‚ÄĚ
March 8, 2010
John Terry clearly had a point to make when he showed off the captain's armband after helping put Chelsea into the FA Cup semi-finals with a 2-0 win over Stoke on Sunday. For Dominic Fifield in the Guardian, it was a dominant display from the deposed England captain and a return to the form that has escaped him since the negative headlines started making the front and back pages.
John Terry has made his point. This tie was still on edge, the visitors mustering themselves in pursuit of an equaliser, when Chelsea's talisman barged himself into space at Frank Lampard's corner to thump in the goal that deflated Stoke City's challenge. The manic goal celebrations that followed arguably offered the best insight yet into the centre-half's thoughts at surrendering the England captaincy.
Terry peeled away from the near post, the net billowing after his header had flicked off Andy Wilkinson and beyond Thomas Sorensen, to run to the corner of the East and Matthew Harding stands pointing at the armband. By the time he wrestled himself clear of the celebratory huddle, he had rolled his left sleeve up to his shoulder while leaving the armband exposed on his biceps, his charge alone back into his own half pointedly aimed at the Stoke fans packed into the Shed.
Terry is growing used to the abuse to which he is subjected at games these days, the vitriol all born of the allegations over his private life that cost him the England captaincy last month. The visiting fans delighted in an array of chants ‚Äď all following the same, predictable theme ‚Äď and, when they remembered, booed Terry whenever he found himself in possession. Chelsea's fans responded with cries of "There's only one England captain" despite the fact that there had been three at Wembley last Wednesday night alone and none of them had been Terry.
At the current rate, and if the abuse continues for much longer, the 29-year-old is in danger of emerging from the Wayne Bridge affair, no pun intended, as an unlikely victim. It has to be hoped that, as he had stated in the aftermath of the Egypt game, a line has been drawn under the unhappy episode. His own form had suffered over the last month, the high-profile errors against Everton, Internazionale and Manchester City pointing at uncharacteristic fragility.
His display for England in midweek was made to look more assured by his central defensive partner Matthew Upson's slip for the Egyptian goal, but he was more ruggedly impressive here. Stoke are not the aggressive long-ball team that some imply, but they boasted rugged and awkward forwards in Mamady Sidibe and Ricardo Fuller. Terry and the excellent Alex coped admirably as Rory Delap's throw-ins ripped into the six-yard box and Henrique Hil√°rio, a goalkeeper living on his nerves, heaved himself through the clutch of bodies in search of the ball. Terry offered reassurance in the circumstances.
The holders' grip on this trophy remains as firm as ever, and their captain's dip in form appears to have passed.
While Terry did enough to silence the doubters against Egypt, though, team-mate Frank Lampard was so unconvincing that Stan Collymore in the Daily Mirror has reopened the debate about his worth to the national side.
Fabio Capello has made some ruthless decisions recently and I now think he must also axe Frank Lampard from England‚Äôs World Cup starting line-up.
England boss Capello has already taken the captain‚Äôs armband from John Terry for his off-the-field antics and having watched England at Wembley last week in their friendly against Egypt, I think the time has come to drop Lampard from midfield.
I am a massive fan of Steven Gerrard, Lampard and Gareth Barry as individual players but it was only when Michael Carrick replaced Lampard at half-time did England come alive last week against Egypt.
For me, there is a case that Gerrard and Lampard can‚Äôt play together in the middle of the pitch for England and now, if I was picking the team, it would be Barry and Gerrard all day long with Carrick as the defensive player.
I think left-footed Barry is wasted as a defensive midfielder as he gives England far more going forward. His passing and crossing are good and he rarely gives the ball away, while Gerrard is one of the world‚Äôs best attacking midfielders who creates plenty and can score.
So bearing in mind what I saw in the second half last week, unfortunately on current form Lampard would be the man to drop out.
March 7, 2010
With Fabio Capello claiming his is not looking forward to facing the players who don't make the World Cup squad and England beating Egypt 3-1 at Wembley this week, Sunday's columnists have indulged in a bit of prophesying.
Who will be on the plane to South Africa? Is the topic of choice and opinion is certainly split.
Writing in The Times, Jonathan Northcroft envisions Cappello's cull to be a bit like eviction night on Big Brother, with contestants all grouped together awaiting the announcement of their fate.
"The dynamics of eviction night are, however, clear. The players will be informed well in advance of a June 1 public announcement and they will be informed, not individually, but ensemble. ‚ÄúI prefer to speak with the players,‚ÄĚ Capello says. ‚ÄúWe will have a meeting. We will speak together. I will say, ‚ÄėThank you very much, but . . . ‚Äô It will not be the best moment for me.
Some key omissions have already been more or less made. Michael Owen knew he was not going long before his season-ending hamstring injury in the Carling Cup final. Likewise, Joe Cole knows he should not wait until June before phoning Jamie Redknapp for package holiday advice.
But Walcott, Lennon or Wright-Phillips? All three have had dazzling games for England but none has done so consistently and Walcott, who looked the most certain for a World Cup place at the start of the season, is enduring the most torrid period of his career."
Over at The Observer, Paul Wilson focuses on the David Beckham question and claims that his inclusion no longer makes sense for England.
"Late into Wednesday night Capello was still being questioned about whether he could find a place in his squad for Wright-Phillips and Aaron Lennon as well as Walcott and Beckham, bearing in mind that he now employs Steven Gerrard as a notional left-winger. Yes, was the answer. And don't forget there's Stewart Downing as well.
Actually, there's Ashley Young and David Bentley to add to that list, and James Milner is only being excluded because he plays in an infield position for Aston Villa. If we stick to out-and-out wingers and assume England need four, it follows that for Beckham to go to South Africa, someone of the calibre of Downing, Lennon, Walcott or Wright-Phillips must miss out, and that is before you get further down the list to players such as Young, Bentley and Adam Johnson."
March 6, 2010
The band of brothers known as the 'Red Knights' looking to buy Manchester United have attracted plenty of attention in recent weeks.
Sir Alex Ferguson was fairly scathing of his assessment of one of the group, Keith Harris, in his press conference on Friday but James Lawton, writing in the Independent, has nothing but praise for the group.
Lawton welcomes their interest in purchasing United from the hated Glazer family as a return to the days when owners cared deeply about their club.
"Let's hear it for the Red Knights of Manchester United. Let's hear it, at least, for their reassertion of something that was the lifeblood of English football, a passion and a caring not for creating cash cows, objects for various kinds of plunder, but something vital to the amusement and invigoration of a community.
"No one is saying, or could ever say, that the ownership of English football has ever been expressed in much like a perfect form. For so long the treatment of the players was nothing less than iniquitous. The behaviour of the old cabals of butchers and candlestick makers was often dominated by a combination of arrogance, ignorance and a desire for privilege, so much so that for many their contribution to the game was best summed up by the great talent and character Len Shackleton, who left a blank page of his autobiography under the chapter heading, 'What the average director knows about football'.
"However, unlike the current owners of Manchester United and Liverpool and those who have presided, unchecked by the Premier League, over the ongoing disaster of Portsmouth, the old gangs of burghers and local business figures did acknowledge certain obligations.
"One was not to imperil the future of their clubs by loading them with impossible debt. The other was to respond, not always with the required nerve and judgement, to the presence and loyalty of the fans and the key role they occupied."
March 5, 2010
The fallout from England's 3-1 friendly victory over Egypt continues, with journalists left, right and centre busily trying to predict who Fabio Capello will be selecting to join him on the plane to South Africa.
Oliver Kay at the Times breaks down how England look in each position and comes to the conclusion that competition for places is going to be fierce between now and the end of the season.
"In 1998 it was an hotel room in La Manga, where Glenn Hoddle, in his infinite wisdom, had decided that the ‚Äúsoothing‚ÄĚ strains of Kenny G would ease the pain for those players whose World Cup dreams he was about to bring to an abrupt end.
Somehow you sense it will be different with Fabio Capello. Smooth jazz, whatever that might be, is not the Italian‚Äôs style. When the time comes to deliver his judgment on June 1, when he names his 23-man England squad for the World Cup a mere 24 hours before departing for South Africa, it will be matter-of-fact. No sugar-coated apologies, no sensitive lighting and certainly no Kenny G, which, in 1998, proved the soundtrack for an inconsolable Paul Gascoigne screaming and thrashing at a table lamp after he got the bad news.
The 3-1 win over Egypt at Wembley on Wednesday was England‚Äôs final warm-up match before Capello names a provisional squad of approximately 28 players on May 16, the day after the FA Cup Final. On May 17 those 28 players ‚ÄĒ minus any who might be involved in the Champions League final ‚ÄĒ will travel to Austria for a training camp at high altitude near Irdning before returning to Wembley for a match against Mexico, date to be confirmed, and from there back out to Austria, where they will play against Japan in Graz on May 30 before the final squad is announced."
Staying with the national team, Matt Lawton at the Mail examines the fall from grace of Joe Cole, after two years of injury hell appear to have cost the tricky playmaker a place in Capello's 2010 World Cup squad.
"So confident was Joe Cole of earning a place in England's squad at the last European Championship, he offered Tal Ben Haim a family holiday to 'anywhere in the world' if Israel could assist Steve McClaren's stuttering side by beating Russia. It proved a pointless exercise.
McClaren blew it anyway. But two-and-a-half years on and Cole's position in the England set-up is nothing like as secure. It amounts to a depressing decline for a player Wayne Rooney considers superior even to himself when it comes to pure skill. For Rooney, Cole is the closest thing England have to the archetypal Brazilian and someone, if fit, who should be in South Africa this summer.
The problem, however, is convincing an England manager who has already proved with Michael Owen that past glories count for nothing. Last week Fabio Capello declared Cole is 'not the player I remember' and it is now up to the 28-year-old to serve a timely reminder.
Cole has had a tough time, not least because of the cruciate ligament injury that put him on the sidelines for the best part of 2009. His last England appearance was memorable only for the challenge from Robert Kovac that knocked him out cold in Zagreb - in September 2008. His efforts to return to the form he once produced with admirable consistency have been hindered by the reluctance of another Italian coach."
March 4, 2010
Following England's 3-1 victory over Egypt at Wembley, the papers are filled with post-match analysis. Deposed captain John Terry, as predicted, picked up a few boos early on in the game but started to win the fans over as the match went on and, for Martin Samuel in the Daily Mail, nobody does it better, even if he is a rotter.
In the end, pragmatism won. A few boos to begin with, gradually dwindling as the minutes ticked by and Wembley realised what lies beneath. Celebration at the end, and the worst forgotten.
England cannot afford to be without John Terry in South Africa, nor the absent bogeyman Ashley Cole. The reality is that for all the fine sermons, even those from Fabio Capello, English football needs its rotters. Terry is the last central defender of international pedigree left standing, while Cole is so far ahead of those who would lay claim to his place that it is like watching a different grade of the sport.
Egypt are a decent team, despite their failure to reach the World Cup finals, and they proved difficult last night. A full-strength England side might not have struggled, but this was far from Capello‚Äôs ideal selection, particularly at the back.
Terry was the only first-choice defender available, and it showed. Cole was hugely missed on the left and Wayne Bridge would have been no great improvement. Those who came to bury Terry for depriving the team of Cole‚Äôs understudy quickly decided to keep their counsel as the truth became apparent.
Contempt turned to, if not appreciation, then grudging respect for the former captain. There was even an attempt at a trumpet serenade, although there were few takers.
Chris Rock, the comedian, says that a man‚Äôs capacity for infidelity is directly related to his ability and opportunity to cheat. It is a little like that with football. The desire for a moral stand is largely related to how it will affect the starting XI.
So, if Capello‚Äôs England squad were full of cracking central defenders, if Rio Ferdinand and Ledley King were fit, available and in outstanding form, if Jamie Carragher had not retired, if Jonathan Woodgate was not an accident waiting to happen, if Matthew Upson had not been the bloke who fell over and allowed Mohamed Zidan, of Egypt, to score the first goal of the game, then the appetite for retribution against Terry would perhaps have been longer lasting.
As it was, by the time Upson got a worm‚Äôs-eye view of Zidan‚Äôs departing backside, the facts of life for England in World Cup year were so frighteningly obvious that Terry could have been spotted making the ‚Äėcall me‚Äô hand signal to the players‚Äô wives section of the main stand, and as long as he got back to cover his man in time, the crowd would have agreed to turn a blind eye.
Theo Walcott, meanwhile, threatened to silence a few doubters early on as he burst through to supply Frank Lampard with a gilt-edged chance, but he struggled as the game went on before being replaced in the second half. Richard Williams in the Guardian says Walcott represents England's clipped wing in the absence of the injured Aaron Lennon.
England should have struck the first blow as early as the fifth minute tonight, when Theo Walcott ran on to Wayne Rooney's through-pass and guided the ball carefully across the penalty area into the path of Frank Lampard. From a position in which he is normally guaranteed to score, the Chelsea midfielder hit a shot that deflected off the Egypt goalkeeper, Essam El-Hadary, and went behind for a corner.
Walcott's part in the move was the sort of incisive contribution that Arsenal's supporters have seen too rarely this season since the return of the young forward from the latest operation to cure his congenital shoulder problems. Sparingly used by Ars√®ne Wenger, he has made only seven starts this season, three of them since the turn of the year, with just one goal, against Blackburn back in October, to show for his efforts.
Wenger has taken a careful, almost cautious approach to the evolution of a player who was taken to the last World Cup as a 17-year-old without having played a minute of Premier League football. Although Walcott came to notice with Southampton as a second striker, the Arsenal manager has preferred to put him out on the right wing while he acclimatises to the pace and intensity of the top flight.
More wholehearted in his employment of Walcott, Fabio Capello has followed Wenger's example in positional terms.
Whether Capello would have shown such consistent faith had Aaron Lennon always been available must be open to question. Three years older and considerably more experienced in terms of domestic football, the Tottenham winger is far less gauche than Walcott, particularly in his selection and application of the final ball, although he lacks his north London rival's directness and burning pace.
One of the problems of playing Walcott on the wing is that, unlike Lennon or any specialist in the role, he has no tricks ‚Äď and, bizarrely, in three years under Wenger, playing almost invariably on the flank, he does not seem to have picked up any. On several occasions, facing his marker with the ball at his feet and space waiting to be exploited behind the defence, he was comfortably dispossessed at the first time of asking by Said Moawad or Hossam Ghaly.
His failings would have been more obvious in the context of a better collective performance. Fortunately for him others were doing even worse. Wayne Rooney, spoken of during the week as one of the two or three best players in the world, produced what may have been his worst 45 minutes of football since turning professional, giving the ball away with what should have been straightforward passes on several occasions, while his strike partner, Jermain Defoe, gave a tepid showing that led to his withdrawal at the interval.
Rooney and Gerrard injected far more urgency into England's approach work at the start of the second half but it was a pass from Gareth Barry ‚Äď hitherto almost invisible ‚Äď that gave Peter Crouch the chance to register his 19th senior international goal and to spare England's blushes with the equaliser.
Seconds later Walcott was leaving the field, to be replaced by Wright-Phillips, having been unable to provide a shred of evidence to change the minds of those who believe that the golden display of September 10, 2008 was a bit of a fluke and that he has not trained on.
March 3, 2010
All eyes, or rather ears, will be on Wembley on Wednesday night as the great English public deliver their verdict on the John Terry scandal. Will England‚Äôs former captain be booed by the Wembley crowd?
Numerous international players have suffered abuse at the new ground in recent years and both Wayne Rooney and Fabio Capello have urged supporters not to target Terry when England play Egypt.
The authoritative Martin Samuel, writing in the Mail, certainly feels that Terry has suffered enough for his alleged dalliance with the former partner of Wayne Bridge and does not need a barracking from England fans to drive the point home.
‚ÄúJohn Terry: have you ever considered that he might have learned his lesson? He has lost the England captaincy, almost lost his marriage, lost a friend, lost standing and respect within the game, lost the unqualified support of the England manager, Fabio Capello, and, most recently, would seem to have lost the one quality on which he could always rely: his rhino-hide ability to overcome negative headlines and adversity and play his game unaffected.
‚ÄúCould it be he has now suffered enough? Could it be he does not need to hear the vocal outrage of that exacting group of moralists otherwise known as the Wembley crowd? The certitude of their judgements is well-known. They have, in recent years, taken against Joleon Lescott for seeking a better job, Ashley Cole for causing mental anguish to a much-loved celebrity mime artist, Peter Crouch for being tall, Phil Neville for being called Neville, Owen Hargreaves for possessing inconspicuous talent and Frank Lampard for not making himself available for booing in Andorra.
‚ÄúNow it would appear to be Terry's turn. Indeed, anticipation of the ferocious reaction to his appearance against Egypt tonight is such that in the build up to the game, Wayne Rooney and Capello have both commented on the subject, asking for support not opprobrium.
‚ÄúThe moral to this story, then, is do not commit adultery. No, wait, it can't be because David Beckham is adored by the Wembley crowd and he was at it with Rebecca Loos. Right, the moral to this story is if you are going to commit adultery, make sure your wife is not a singer with a popular girl band. No, scratch that. Hold on, let me think. Aha, the moral to this story is, if you're going to commit adultery don't do it on your doorstep, with the ex of a team-mate or, say, a personal assistant. Damn, nearly had it that time. Look, let's just say that the moral to this story is if you're going to commit adultery, first make sure you are David Beckham or people are going to take a pretty dim view of it.‚ÄĚ
The Mirror's Oliver Holt, another opinionated voice on Fleet Street, believes Fabio Capello has made something of a rod for his own back by taking a strong stance on the Terry situation.
"He [Capello] said he had not yet decided whether a player who had, say, an extra-marital affair would be banned from the World Cup squad. So much for taking each game as it comes. Capello‚Äôs going to take each affair as it comes.
"But the message was still clear: mistakes in players‚Äô personal lives are now as likely to get them banished from the squad as a bad run of form. Capello was open about that. He made no apologies for imposing a moral code. He said England players had to make sacrifices in their lives if they wanted to play in the World Cup.
"So at least the ground rules are absolutely clear now. The next time a player ends up on the front pages for the wrong reasons, he can‚Äôt say he wasn‚Äôt warned."
March 2, 2010
As you might expect, much of the talk in the papers still surrounds Ryan Shawcross, and whether or not it really was a bad tackle. It seems the general consensus is that that tackle wasn't that bad, but teams do try to kick Arsenal off the park.
In the Times, Matt Dickinson believes that Arsenal are correct to question the tactics used against them by some teams.
When Ars√®ne Wenger preached recently about Arsenal as a lone force for good in an ugly football world, he was rightly slapped down in several quarters, this column among them, for one-eyed sermonising.
That case against him stands, but it does not mean we should now dismiss his concerns about the rough tactics employed against Arsenal.
When Wenger asks whether it is a coincidence that his team have lost three players to serious injuries in recent seasons, we should acknowledge a reasonable, heartfelt inquiry.
Because when players end up in agony with one of their legs held together only by a sock, the issues are too important to ignore or to bat away, as many would prefer to, as the whinings of a Frenchman and a team who don‚Äôt like it up ‚Äôem.
It is not just an insult to Wenger‚Äôs intelligence but to everyone‚Äôs to pretend that Arsenal do not come in for harder treatment than other teams. They are roughed up.
How can it be denied when Ricardo Fuller, the Stoke City striker, says: ‚ÄúSome people say before the games, ‚ÄėWe know how to play Arsenal . . . we have to kick them.‚Äô Nobody in the whole country is upset by that.‚ÄĚ
More revealing still is that such a statement should go unremarked. Kick Arsenal? Well of course you do. You aren‚Äôt going to beat them with pretty passing.
Meanwhile, we've found an, er, entertaining piece in the Daily Mail, where Jamie Redknapp, Andy Townsend and Martin Keown give their "powerful opinions" on the debate.
March 1, 2010
Wayne Rooney scored yet another winning goal as Manchester United won the Carling Cup on Sunday but the hot topic in Monday's comment pages isn't the Wembley show piece, it's the leg-breaking tackle by Ryan Shawcross.
Arsenal youngster Aaron Ramsey suffered a double fracture following the tough challenge at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday and Shawcross, who left the pitch in tears, was criticised by Gunners boss Arsene Wenger and defended by Stoke manager Tony Pulis.
Wenger claims it cannot be coincidence that the Gunners have suffered yet another horror injury and accused Shawcross of a "horrendous" challenge, while Pulis backed Shawcross and insists he is not a dirty player.
Writing in The Independent, Sam Wallace takes the Pulis view that the severity of the injury does not mean Shawcross can be called a dangerous footballer and that bad things sometimes happen by accident.
"An injury to a brilliant young player hurts everyone who loves football. It makes you contemplate the possibility of unfulfilled potential, the most heartbreaking aspect of sport; of the curtailed careers of players like Brian Clough, Paul Lake or, potentially, Owen Hargreaves.
And so a dangerous game of blame begins. When Arsene Wenger describes Ryan Shawcross's challenge on Ramsey as "horrendous" and "unacceptable" he has to realise that, coming from someone of his status, those words have a lasting effect on the reputation of a young player like Shawcross.
The basic question that we have to confront is whether, from the evidence available, Shawcross set out to hurt Ramsey in that split-second when both of them challenged for the ball. A personal view is that he did not and that Shawcross does not deserve to be stigmatised by Wenger."
In the Wenger corner is Martin Samuel, who uses his column in the Daily Mail to ask: How can so many broken legs be down to chance?
"These days, football gets its mitigations in early. It was the first time Shawcross has received a red card; he has subsequently and justifiably been called into the England squad and the majority agree there was no desire to harm in his challenge.
Yet malicious intent - the motivation to actually cause serious injury - is rare in football. One thinks of Roy Keane‚Äôs tackle on Alf Inge Haaland in the Manchester derby or the one by Gavin Maguire of Queens Park Rangers that ended the career of England full back Danny Thomas, and resulted in a compensation pay-out of ¬£130,000.
Shawcross did not tackle Ramsey like that. He did however arrive late and with sufficient abandon to lose any chance of controlling the consequences. The greatest sickness in English football is that we do not recognise the wrong in that. ‚ÄėSpare me about how nice Shawcross is,‚Äô Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, said acidly; but the testimonials to his decency were already under construction."