October 29, 2010
Despite steadying the ship at Newcastle and leading the club back to the Premier League after the incredible Keegan-and-Kinnear season, Chris Hughton still finds himself under pressure at Newcastle.
Louise Taylor, writing in the Guardian, believes Hughton remains very much on trial at St James' Park.
Despite leading his team to the Championship title last season and steering them to their current position of ninth in the Premier League, Hughton has found himself the subject of intense, if unfair, speculation that defeat at home by Sunderland in Sunday's north‑east derby would lead to his dismissal.
Things became so heated that within minutes of an essentially reserve Newcastle side losing Wednesday night's home Carling Cup tie to Arsenal 4-0 the club issued a statement, albeit unsigned, reaffirming their support for Hughton. "Chris is our manager and will remain our manager and it is our intention to renegotiate his contract at the end of the year," it said.
The statement was in response to three home league games in which a solitary point has been collected from meetings with Blackpool, Stoke and Wigan and the decision of bookmakers on Wednesday to suspend betting on Hughton's possible departure. It was intended to kill a fog of rumour swirling around Tyneside.
This gesture has proved only partly successful. It is rare in England for managers in the final year of their contracts to have not renegotiated an extension – or at least switched from a fixed-term arrangement to an annual rolling deal – by autumn so the gossip will not disappear entirely until pen is put to paper.
The feeling within football is that Mike Ashley, Newcastle's owner, has not properly recognised the sterling work his manager has done during a time of budgetary restraint on Tyneside and that Hughton deserves a longer deal and a higher salary than at present, which has been reported as being around £300,000 a year. Most people outside the game would regard that as a king's ransom but it remains extremely low for Premier League circles.
A longer security of tenure would undeniably strengthen Hughton's authority in a dressing room in which he remains unanimously popular with his squad. Similarly, while Geordie fans were slow to warm to him, they are now solidly behind Alan Shearer's successor, preferring to blame the board for the team's shortcomings.
October 28, 2010
The fight to host the 2018 World Cup has descended into a war of words between Russia and England. Russia's opening snipe at the high crime level in London were reported to FIFA and their rivals responded by describing the conduct of England as "absolutely primitive".
There are other candidates hoping to host the tournament, with joint bids lodged from Spain/Portugal and Netherlands/Belgium, but it is the Anglo-Russian spat that dominates the headlines, but that is not necessarily a good thing.
The increased media coverage comes off the back of claims of corruption and vote-rigging at FIFA by the UK press that has left world football's governing body in an uncomfortable position. And writing in The Guardian, Owen Gibson wonders if Britain's media might just lose the 2018 World Cup bid for England.
"The British media is not guaranteed a warm welcome in Zurich this week. In the wake of newspaper revelations about the World Cup bidding process, and paranoia about an ongoing BBC Panorama investigation which has been contacting Fifa executive committee members with difficult questions, the atmosphere is jittery.
Journalists entering the Baur au Lac hotel, the hub for the increasingly frenetic lobbying and networking that will characterise the final weeks of the campaign, attract the odd suspicious glance from some of the Fifa executive committee members huddled in corners. Bid executives are increasingly paranoid, even when speaking off the record.
The revelations in the Sunday Times concerning the two Fifa executive committee members, Amos Adamu of Nigeria and Reynald Temarii of Tahiti, who are now provisionally suspended along with four other Fifa officials, have revived familiar questions about the impact of the British media on England's chances.
Other bidders have seized a line of argument that they believe may weaken England. Russia's bid has made continued references to its belief that the British media has focused on the negative aspects of its bid. That also fed into the attempt yesterday by Vyacheslav Koloskov, not a formal member of the Russian bid team but a key figure in lobbying on its behalf and well known to many senior Fifa figures, to escalate the row by saying "their journalists are provoking members of the committee".
Senior sources close to the England 2018 bid are confident the gravity of the Sunday Times allegations have outweighed any sense that it will reawaken the nervousness that many executive committee members and Fifa officials feel about the prospect of eight years of intense scrutiny in the run up to an English World Cup. They believe that the negative impact on rival bids will outweigh any downside but others are convinced it will not play well for England."
October 24, 2010
The Sunday papers are predictably full of Wayne Rooney analysis, but to be perfectly honest we are sick of that sorry saga.
So it is instead to The Observer and Paul Hayward that we turn, as he waxes lyrical about two British stars making the headlines for their performances on the pitch.
After starring roles in the Champions League this week, Hayward sees a bright future in both Tottenham's Gareth Bale and Arsenal's Jack Wilshere.
“Tottenham's Brazilian goalkeeper thinks Gareth Bale, the team's rising Welsh midfielder, could play for the land of joga bonito, which sits nicely with a thought some of us had at Arsenal on Tuesday night. Jack Wilshere, an 18-year-old Englishman, plays like a 25-year-old Spaniard.
“While the Wayne Rooney show was unfolding along came two bursts of light to show there is a life beyond the Manchester United refusenik's rampant sense of entitlement. British football becomes ever more money-addled. The Liverpool takeover saga morphed effortlessly into the Rooney yarn. On the pitch, though, there were a couple of good reasons to think the British game is still capable of producing high-class footballers and not just dysfunctional celebrities.
“Wilshere, first. Beyond the tender age on his passport, there is no credible reason for Fabio Capello not to start with him when England play France at Wembley next month. The maturity of his performance against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League was such that Gareth Barry, who plays in more or less the same deep midfield position for England, must have turned pale in front of his TV screen.
“The next night Bale, a revelation since converting from left-back to left-midfield, tore through Maicon, the world's most capable right-back, to score a hat-trick against the European champions. A caveat is that Inter were already 4-0 up when Bale launched his one-man counter-surge. Still, San Siro was electrified by Bale's audacity and gift for execution. You could sense every major club in Europe jolting awake and wondering what it might take to extricate him from Spurs.”
“Despite its centrifugal insanity, British football does produce players with skills that are the rule rather than the exception in more sophisticated countries. Northern Ireland yielded Best and Scotland bestowed Kenny Dalglish. Bale and Wilshere, the north London neighbours, are a long way from those heights but they are what football here needs more youngsters to be, which, paradoxically, is un-British. More Brazilian, more Spanish.”
October 21, 2010
On a morning that would usually be reserved for a round-up of another exciting night of Champions League action - not least ten-man Tottenham's brave efforts in fighting back to lose by just one goal, in a 4-3 defeat at Inter Milan - there is only one man who continues to dominate the headlines.
And the same newspapers that dragged Wayne Rooney's name through the mud by revealing and reitierating sordid details about his private life last month, appear to have turned on him again - certainly, it is difficult to find any corners of the media clamouring to support the Liverpudlian's decidion to very publicly open and depart through the Old Trafford exit door.
First to step up is Jeff Powell at the Mail, whose opinions about Rooney are clear to see as he accuses the England striker of treating the Manchester United shirt like an oily rag, only fit to wipe his hands - left slimey after his attempts to climb up football's greasy financial pole.
"The red shirt that has been worn with such pride and ferocity of competition by Duncan Edwards, Denis Law, Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona and David Beckham has been treated like a oily rag by Wayne Rooney.
Imagine the reaction, too, of Sir Bobby Charlton, great player and now the great ambassador of the United cause, upon hearing the swaggeringly arrogant statements from the money-obsessed Rooney machine.
Did this great football club ever fail to satisfy his ambition or his bank account? How can Rooney play for United and Ferguson again after the arrogance of his statement yesterday evening?
If Ferguson's emotions were troubling him the day before, how would he have reacted yesterday tea time, hours before a European encounter, as Rooney's statement was played out across the airwaves?
A day earlier, in one of the function suites deep inside Old Trafford, disappointment at the ultimate betrayal was etched deep into that familiar face. I will tell you this, though. Do not write him off. If his rivals are hoping this will be the breaking of the great man and part-time racing owner, they are backing the wrong horse.
Rooney has disgracefully turned his back on his manager and mentor; a football warrior who has transformed the young forward from a teenage prodigy into a global superstar."
Elsewhere, Jamie Jackson in the Guardian reveals the extent of United fans' anger at the whole Rooney saga - after speaking to some furious supporters at Old Trafford.
"Coleen forgave you, we won't." The first anti-Wayne Rooney banner unfurled at Old Trafford last night signalled the opening response to what many Manchester United supporters view as the ultimate betrayal by their favourite adopted son.
As United fans vociferously chanted support for Sir Alex Ferguson, there seemed little doubt about where their loyalties lie. After Rooney had said before kick-off that he wants to leave because the club lacks ambition, there may be no forgiveness from some supporters.
The choruses of "Gary Neville is a Red, He Hates Scousers" might have been aimed at Rooney, who hails from Liverpool, though the song has also been a confirmed favourite throughout the golden years, when the striker was still the darling of the Theatre of Dreams.
If the 24-year-old, who currently has a genuine ankle injury, was watching on TV he would have also heard some support from those inside Old Trafford, on an evening of oddly ambivalent moods.
While another banner pleaded with Rooney to go anywhere but to Manchester City, the overriding emotion among fans before filtering into the stadium had been disbelief. "I was shocked, it's come out of the blue," said Beverly Bishop, who sees around 15 games a season. "Honestly, I believed him when he said that he was going to stay at United for life. Maybe I shouldn't have done, but I did.
"I hope it's not just the money, which is what everyone is saying, as I didn't think that of him. Maybe we were wrong."
Her mother, who was also at the match, had no wish to hear Rooney claim that United have lost their ambition. "I'd like him to say he didn't mean it and he's been really stupid," Barbara Bishop said.
"It was quite moving what Sir Alex Ferguson said [on Tuesday], he's been quite hurt by this and I agree with most of what he had to say. In a way, I wish Rooney was playing because I would just like to see the reaction," she added. "I think there will be two different reactions. A lot of people will think, 'You little bastard.'"
But, also in the Guardian, is a rare piece of support for Rooney - as Paul Wilson sides with the former Everton striker, whose claims he believes can quite easily be substantiated.
"Absent in spirit from Old Trafford and absent in person, Wayne Rooney at least gave his erstwhile public something of himself with a statement issued around two hours before kick-off. The timing alone must have angered Sir Alex Ferguson, but what of the substance of Rooney's remarks? Can Manchester United really be said to lack ambition and are they now so financially hamstrung they can no longer compete in the transfer market?
A glance at the teamsheet for the Bursaspor game would suggest the answers might be yes and yes. Federico Macheda up front and Bebé alongside Gabriel Obertan on the bench hardly sent out a message of strength to the rest of Europe and, even if Ferguson had attacking insurance in Dimitar Berbatov and Javier Hernández, one of those strikers is only just starting to show his true capabilities and the other is only just starting. Take Rooney out of the equation, as United found to their cost at the business end of last season, and the frontline begins to flatline.
While that may not be entirely Ferguson's fault, it is not down to Rooney either. One could argue that the player is being entirely consistent in his reasoning, having chosen United over Everton precisely because they could match his ambitions. Now it appears they cannot, either in terms of buying top players or the unstated matter of paying astronomical wages, and it is difficult for Ferguson to counter that argument because it is precisely what the fans have been saying for the past few years."
October 20, 2010
Apparently some fella called Wayne Rooney wants to leave a club called Manchester United and this is causing something of a stir in the UK press.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson appeared to take the news that his start striker wants to leave Old Trafford particularly badly and bared his "terribly disappointed" soul to the press in a way he never has before. Or did he?
The Guardian's Barney Ronay smells something fishy in the unusual actions of Ferguson, who was jarringly reasonable, and believes it might be nothing more than a PR exercise, with round one clearly going to the United manager.
"He's been a bludgeon, he's been a curmudgeon, he's been a purveyor of bloody-minded imperial pronouncements. Today, presiding at one of the most eagerly awaited appearances in the brief but intense history of routinely scheduled Champions League press conferences, Sir Alex Ferguson revealed another side to his late-evolving public persona.
Disarmingly unapoplectic, jarringly reasonable, Ferguson appeared before his public cast against type in the surprise role of managerial Jewish grandmother. Baffled, quietly rueful, concerned but not angry, this was a perfectly crafted and expertly restrained display of Portnoy-ish why-oh-why. By the end of it, drinking in that artless gaze of maternal disbelief, listening to the carefully reasoned soliloquy of betrayal, we all felt a little bit guilty on Wayne Rooney's behalf.
A self-preserving gambit it may have been, not to mention a brilliantly polished piece of public relations, but at times you could almost feel the twitch on the invisible thread. No, you go, Wayne. It's for the best, really. Don't worry about any of us.
From his first appearance on the dais it was clear that this was Ferguson on full beam. Crisply groomed, sprucely coiffed, even a little thrusting and silver fox-like in an overly large knotted tie and no-nonsense white shirt, Ferguson spoke in a single emotional register. This was the voice of quietly borne betrayal ("Terribly disappointing ... couldn't quite understand it ... never had an argument"). It was a peculiarly timeless kind of generational disappointment, infused at times with a breathless, Barbara Cartland-ish sense of wistfulness: "He intimated, in his own way, he wanted to leave ... I was very disappointed."
However, nothing happens at Manchester United these days without it being tied to the Glazer's debt-ridden regime, at least nothing negative, and in The Telegraph Henry Winter claims the Rooney situation exposes shame of the American owners' reign at Old Trafford.
"One ball, in fact more a hand grenade from Ferguson, is in Rooney's court. Another has landed in the Glazers' court.
If Rooney looks intent on leaving, believing United lack ambition, worrying about what life at Old Trafford holds with Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs winding down, and with Ferguson's own long-term plans in doubt, the Glazers must act quickly to prove to Ferguson they can still compete. Don't hold your breath.
Anyone with an ounce of understanding of Ferguson's DNA knows he is a fighter and so any talk of empires crumbling remains premature. We have been down this road before with United and Ferguson, predictions of eras ending proving ill-founded but this is undoubtedly the greatest crisis the Scot has faced since 1990.
Once again, he's holding the club together. Once again, he's trying to build a trophy-winning side in an age of debt brought on by the unloved Glazers.
To lose one star like Cristiano Ronaldo could be considered a misfortune. To lose another in Rooney looks more than carelessness; it looks like the dread hand of debt holding United and Ferguson back. The shame of the Glazers' regime is now fully exposed."
October 19, 2010
Only one story dominates the papers again today. Wayne Rooney's future is the subject of such debate that a few websites ran 'LIVE: Rooney future' coverage yesterday, only to ditch it midway through the afternoon. Thankfully the papers are full of something a little more concrete and we begin with the Daily Telegraph's Jim White.
Jim Leighton, Jaap Stam, Paul McGrath, Norman Whiteside, Gabriel Heinze, David Beckham, Paul Ince, Roy Keane, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Mark Hughes, Carlos Tévez: it would make quite a team if you could put together those who, over his quarter century in charge at Manchester United, have been snubbed, cast off and let go by Sir Alex Ferguson.
But what an addition to the ranks of Out-take United would it be were Wayne Rooney, the latest and perhaps the greatest former favourite to feel the wrath of Fergie, as is rumoured, imminently to be dispatched from the inner circle.
As Patrick Barclay points out in his new biography of the Manchester United. manager, Football Bloody Hell, Ferguson is, above all things, a gambler. He takes chances. He willingly makes speculative plunges into the unknown.
In his professional life, as opposed to at the racetrack, he engages in risk not for its own, adrenalin-fuelled sake, but for this reason: to procure improvement. Nowhere more so than in his attitude to the big names in his team. While other managers are fearful of tackling grander personalities, he acts early, with an often breathtaking ruthlessness; his purpose always to advance the cause.
Another fall-out and the Daily Mail's Martin Samuel thinks that this could mark the beginning of the end for Sir Alex Ferguson.
There is an end-of-empire feel to the prospect of Wayne Rooney leaving Manchester United. If he goes it is hard to imagine it will be long before Sir Alex Ferguson follows. Football's most romantic stories rarely have happy conclusions and there has been too much tumult in Ferguson's time to believe he would escape unharmed. He has stripped down and rebuilt a great United team perhaps four times now, but this may be his last.
Rooney's departure would be the harbinger. Times change. Ferguson had the future mapped out, built around two, young, world class players - Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo - but it was not to be. As a 69-year-old grandfather when the season ends, does he possess the motivation to do it all again? Practically, does he have the funds and is the talent available?
This is more than the typical mid-season transfer saga, then. This is more than the familiar brinkmanship over money or contractual terms. Rooney's departure may spell the end of an era in English football: the bitter denouement of the Ferguson years.
We can all debate how many great United teams Ferguson has constructed, deconstructed or reconstructed, but what is undeniable is that the present one was supposed to have as its cornerstones Rooney and Ronaldo. They would be supplemented by a strong squad, its talents ranging from the treasures of the last century - Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes - to the modern stalwarts like Darren Fletcher and Nemanja Vidic. Crucial to it all, however, were two players considered capable of dominating the game for years to come.
The pairing was regarded as Ferguson's masterstroke. He had sold David Beckham and found a replacement even more prolific, he had tired of Ruud van Nistelrooy but not before nurturing a goalscorer of equal brilliance with a finer team ethic. The future was assured. Ferguson no longer talked of retirement, either; he was going to stay and enjoy this. The title and Champions League double secured in 2008, there would be many more seasons of domination.
And now what? With Ronaldo already departed to Real Madrid and the title lost to Chelsea as a result, Rooney is preparing to exit, and can force United's hand in the summer with only a year left on his contract. Where does that leave Ferguson?
October 18, 2010
There is only one issue dominating the back pages on Monday morning and that is the bombshell that Wayne Rooney has refused to discuss a contract extension at Manchester United as he looks to leave the club.
Though United are yet to make any comment on the story, the papers are united in proclaiming a total breakdown in relations between Rooney and Sir Alex Ferguson - a scenario that was previously thought to be near impossible.
But what does the news mean for United?
Richard Williams, writing in The Guardian, warns that losing Rooney could not only impinge on United’s chances of winning silverware, it could also hasten the retirement of Ferguson himself.
"Ferguson has been here before, of course. David Beckham, Paul Ince, Jaap Stam and Ruud van Nistelrooy were world-class players who left the club at the manager's instigation, having incurred his displeasure. But Rooney, who is still only 24, was bought from Everton to become a keystone in Ferguson's last great side – the one that would not only continue his run of domestic success but give him a third European Cup victory, to be won in the style that eluded his otherwise successful teams in 1999 and 2008.
"Rooney's decision will make observers – and perhaps even Ferguson himself – wonder whether such an ambition remains within the realms of possibility. As things stand, particularly in the long-term absence of Antonio Valencia and Owen Hargreaves, the team has barely enough quality to cope with a challenge for this season's Premier League title.
"The manager has surely found himself relying on his old guard – Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville – for far longer than he ever envisaged when they first formed the locally produced core of his first-team squad a decade and a half ago. Given the constant need to introduce fresh blood of matching quality, to lose so gifted a young player as Rooney at this stage seems almost like carelessness."
Matt Lawton picks up the theme in the Daily Mail as he asks just what exactly Ferguson has done to incur the displeasure of Rooney - a man who bizarrely appears to have adopted the persona of a victim in the matter.
"The manager appears to have done little wrong to date. It is not his fault, after all, that the future of Rooney’s marriage is being discussed on the front pages while his professional future is being debated on the back.
"It is also not his fault that Rooney is behaving in the extreme manner that he is. While it is Ferguson’s style to close ranks, Rooney has chosen to challenge his manager publicly. Ferguson might yet decide that enough is enough and there is nothing more he can do."
The Independent’s Sam Wallace takes a slightly different tack to his Fleet Street colleagues as he pinpoints a lack of ambition on the part of the club as one of the reasons behind Rooney’s desire to leave. How often do you hear that said about Manchester United?
"Rooney does not want to commit his future to the club because, it is understood, he does not believe that they are investing in new players to replace the old guard of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville. The new contract offered to him thus far is not comparable to the top earners at Manchester City or what he could earn if he left as a free agent when his current deal expires in June 2012. And if Rooney will not sign a new contract then it follows that United will have to sell if they are not to lose him for nothing.
"Rooney is applying a very harsh logic to United's situation and one which some of their fans will regard as unpardonable. But his refusal to sign a new contract is based upon the blunt realities of football. He wants more money and greater ambition than the club can offer him. It is the clearest signal yet, after more than five years under the Glazer family's ownership, that United are in decline."
October 16, 2010
Thank heavens it's over! Liverpool FC are in new hands and with the news of NESV's takeover dove-tailing beautifully with this weekend's Merseyside derby, Saturday's newspapers can kill two birds with one stone.
While NESV promise a new are for Liverpool, Everton are still seeking a sugar daddy to takeover at the Toffees but the match at Goodison will provide a barometer of which of the two struggling clubs, currently lying in 18th and 19th in the Premier League, have the advantage where it counts - on the pitch.
Writing in the Daily Mirror, former Liverpool defender Mark Lawrenson explains why he thinks this Merseyside derby shows how far Everton have come - and how far Liverpool have slipped:
"I cannot remember a Merseyside derby with both teams at the bottom end of the table. Nor can I recall the last time Everton go into the match with the stronger team and better players. Everyone knows about the big stars in the Liverpool side but the rest of the line-up is pretty ordinary.
And if I were picking a combined Merseyside XI, Mikel Arteta, Tim Cahill, Jack Rodwell, Leighton Baines and Phil Neville would all be included. That is half the outfield players – and the rest of the Everton players are probably stronger than their Liverpool counterparts.
It just shows how well David Moyes spent his money compared to Rafa Benitez. And it indicates how far the Goodison Park club have come – or how far Liverpool have slipped.
At least the stench of Tom Hicks and George Gillett will finally be lifted from Anfield after their unedifying final few days. Even at the last minute, Hicks had the chance to leave with a big of dignity if he had said it was a business deal that went wrong. He would not have been loved, but at least people would have understood.
Instead, even as he tried to cling on to a life-raft in mid-Atlantic, the American has demonstrated one final time how he just does not get the club and what it means."
In The Guardian, David Lacey concurs that it will be a very even, if somewhat extraordinary, affair at Goodison but the spot light will be on Roy Hodgson's struggling Liverpool team, given their labours on the field and problems off it.
"It would be a rare Merseyside derby that found both of the participants in the bottom three, yet this will be the scenario at Goodison on Sunday should tomorrow's game between Wolves and West Ham produce a winner. If that happens Everton will be 18th and Liverpool 19th and the Premier League table, especially for Manchester United supporters, will be one to cut out and keep.
At this early stage of the season such a situation is more of a curiosity than a portent. Should either or both teams still be in the relegation area when they meet at Anfield in the new year, fans and boardrooms alike will begin to fret in earnest. For the moment it is safe to assume that Everton and Liverpool are experiencing an autumn chill rather than a winter freeze.
At least Everton are used to it. For several seasons now they have resembled a car with a dodgy battery, needing a good shove to get the engine running properly. Liverpool, on the other hand, have not experienced so bad a start, one win in seven games, since the 1953-54 season which eventually saw them relegated.
Inevitably the bulk of the attention will be on Roy Hodgson's struggling Liverpool team, given their labours on the field and problems off it. Everton may be short of cash and in more urgent need than ever of a new and bigger stadium, but at least they have not been waking up each day wondering who will buy them next."
October 15, 2010
Charles Sale, writing in the Daily Mail, has some information on the prospective new Liverpool owner, who may well be the man the fans want him to be.
Liverpol owner-in-waiting John W Henry, who hopes to be introduced to fans before Sunday’s Merseyside derby, has already proved to be highly accessible to Anfield supporters.
A Granada TV crew found Henry drinking with ex-pat Liverpool fans in a Boston bar this week watching Tuesday’s television coverage of the Ireland v Slovakia Euro 2012 qualifier.
However, Henry, who flew by private jet to London after it looked like his New England Sports Ventures takeover had received the green light from the High Court on Wednesday, did not want to speak before the sale was complete.
When the Granada team started setting up their camera to talk to fans, Henry made his exit. He walked straight into the door frame, banging his shoulder, and was last seen running gingerly down a Boston street before reappearing in public at the Slaughter & May law firm in London for the Liverpool board meeting the following night.
Boston bar owner Kevin Treanor said: ‘I’m a Liverpool fan and Mr Henry is just what we need. I’ve seen what he’s done for the Red Sox.’
October 13, 2010
As you would expect there is plenty of hand-wringing about England's 0-0 draw with Montenegro in the national press on Wednesday morning.
The Guardian's unflattering headline reads 'Woeful England return to dark ages' while The Sun, plumbing new depths in the art of headline writing, opts for the frankly awful 'The Fool Monte'.
The recriminations are widespread given the context of a dismal World Cup campaign, and the familiar sight of the tabloids scenting blood is in evidence once again, but surely some perspective is required? England will probably still qualify with ease and there was at least one bright spot.
Former England striker Alan Smith, writing in The Telegraph, highlights the performance of Manchester City winger Adam Johnson.
“Some players can transfer their club form on to the international stage without too much drama. They feel nice and comfortable making the step-up, or at least confident enough to try things they do naturally week after week. Others, however, need a little more time. Initially, the different atmosphere tends to inhibit them. Some settle down a few caps down the line while others are destined to never make the grade.
“A good example of these two scenarios could be seen at Wembley last night where England’s two wide men experienced contrasting fortunes. Because while Ashley Young seems to represent one of the latter, someone yet to show his vibrant Aston Villa form in an England shirt, Adam Johnson looks like the opposite case after another effective performance against Montenegro.
“Following on from his exciting display in Switzerland, capped by a well-taken goal, the Manchester City winger proved at Wembley that it was not a fluke, that he is likely to be around for the long term as a potent option on one of England’s flanks. He made this impression, what’s more, in difficult circumstances, when very few of his team-mates could find their feet in a first half littered with basic errors.”
“Actually, they have started calling him 'Besty’ in the England camp. To be fair, it is a nickname any winger would absolutely kill for — that is as long as it refers to his devastating dribbling skills rather than an active social life to rival the late, great George Best.”
October 12, 2010
Those of you who are bored by the Rio Ferdinand England captaincy debate, look away now. Actually, this is one time you can probably read on. Yesterday, the press were clamouring to speculate on whether the Manchester United defender would retain the England captaincy, while today they pick apart Fabio Capello's decision to stick with Rio ahead of Steven Gerrard.
The number of column inches dedicated to Rio has somewhat perturbed Barry Glendenning of Guardian Football Podcast fame. So much so that the Irishman has felt it necessary to add to said inches with his own comment piece for the Guardian, attempting to understand just what all the fuss surrounding the England captaincy is about.
"While the news that Rio Ferdinand has regained the England armband from Steven Gerrard ought to be worthy of little more than a shoulder-shrug, it appears to have made headline news in a country where football fans seem peculiarly obsessed with the captaincy of their national team and which player it should be bestowed upon. Before you head straight for the comments section, it would be a gross dereliction of journalistic duty if I failed to concede that (a) the Guardian is as responsible as any other media outlet else for this sorry state of affairs and (b) by cranking out several hundred words on the subject I am rendering said state of affairs even sorrier.
...the predictable news that he'll lead the side appears to be the source of much excited murmuring, with many journalists apparently under the impression that his reinstatement is a managerial snook cocked in the face of Gerrard that could have an adverse effect on the famously sensitive Scouser's form. The fact that Gerrard's thoughts on the matter remain unknown doesn't appear to have prevented assorted folk from being outraged on his behalf, although whether this stems from general concern for the Liverpool midfielder's feelings, a media obsession with the England captaincy that became disturbingly apparent around the time of John Terry's off-field "difficulties", or desperation to find an interesting news line with which to fill column inches on an otherwise slow day remains open to debate.
Hailing as he does from a country whose national football team is automatically captained by the player in the side boasting the highest number of caps, Capello must be completely bewildered by the commotion that has surrounded his appointment of an onfield spokesman. While it is obviously an honour for any player to lead his country, it could be argued that the role is nothing more than ceremonial: leading out the team, exchanging pennants, calling heads or tails and not bumping uglies with a team-mate's ex-girlfriend."
October 11, 2010
It's all about Rio Ferdinand in the newspapers today, and although that's the way the Manchester United defender usually likes it he might not be so happy that his suitability to lead England is the subject of debate.
Ferdinand was made England skipper in February when John Terry was stripped of the armband, but injury ruled him out of the World Cup and Steven Gerrard took over as leader.
The centre-back is set to play his first game for England since May against Montenegro at Wembley on Tuesday but many pundits think Gerrard should retain the captaincy. Writing in the Telegraph, Alan Hansen goes as far as to say it is time for Rio quit England altogether.
Since December 2008 he has been involved in just 44 of Manchester United's 105 games and that is an amazing statistic which tells its own story.
If you were a 25 year-old with that track record, you would be in trouble, but at Rio's age, I think it gives a clear message that he must now decide whether he wants to extend the longevity of his career with United or continue to play for England.
I don't think he can play for both and there is a real argument to say that he should contemplate following the likes of Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Alan Shearer by retiring from international football.
Having had such a terrible run with injuries, Rio's priority is to play for United and get back into the groove of performing on a consistent basis of uninterrupted football for at least three months.
If he is looking at his situation as a whole, Rio is such an important figure to United that he must get things right there first. After having so many injuries and missing so many games, England must now play second best to United if Rio wants to prolong his career.
However, writing in The Sun, Shaun Custis makes the case for Rio to be given back the armband.
After last month's Euro 2012 double success, Capello refused to say who would be captain for tomorrow's game against Montenegro at Wembley. He wanted to assess Ferdinand's form and fitness before committing himself.
Ferdinand, 31, believes he has answered those questions with his performances in United's last two matches - where his team kept clean sheets against Valencia and Sunderland.
The cultured centre-back has also been hugely impressive in England training, showing no signs so far of any injury troubles.
An England insider said: "Rio has done everything he can to show Capello he is back to his best. Of course he wants to be captain. It means a lot to him."
So Capello must today nail his colours to the mast - Ferdinand or Gerrard.
October 8, 2010
Plenty of world football's so-called big guns flopped at the World Cup, but while Brazil and Argentina could at least boast some moments of entertainment to temper their disappointing exits, three European giants completely flattered to deceive - France, England and, most notably, the reigning world champions Italy.
The Azzurri's group stage exit may not have been quite as embarassing as France's single-point display as World Cup holders at the 2002 finals, but it was a harrowing experience for Italian football fans nonetheless. Two draws - with Paraguay and minnows New Zealand - and a last-gasp defeat to Slovakia saw Italy finish in last place in Group F and an early flight home followed soon after.
Now, with Cesare Prandelli replacing Marcello Lippi in the manager's hotseat, Italy appear ready to put their World Cup nightmare behind them, according to Paolo Bandini, who has previewed the Azzurri's upcoming clash with Northern Ireland for the Guardian.
"If this summer's World Cup was a chastening experience for Fabio Capello then he will at least know that he got off more lightly than his countrymen. England's 4-1 defeat to Germany may have been humiliating but Italy's exit at the group stage was, for the leading national newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport, "the darkest and most terrible day in our football history". Never before had the country left a World Cup without a single victory. By achieving just two draws in Group F they had performed worse, even, than New Zealand.
The lone positive note for Italy was that they at least had an immediate succession plan in place. Cesare Prandelli had agreed before the tournament to replace Marcello Lippi as coach, and was duly unveiled on 2 July. From a symbolic standpoint, the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) could scarcely have chosen a better man. Prandelli may not have the medals – as a manager his biggest achievement so far is winning Serie B – but he does possess a warmth, openness and charm that make for a stark contrast with his predecessor."
October 6, 2010
With the UK press having to stick to early morning print deadlines their "Liverpool set for sale" headlines were quickly out of date after the club announced they had sold up to the owner of the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday.
So instead we turn our attention to another club that has been grabbing the headlines, Manchester City, who are struggling to meet UEFA's new financial guidelines to qualify for European competitions.
Champions League-chasing City spent over £100 million in bringing in Jerome Boateng, David Silva, Yaya Toure, Aleksandar Kolarov, Mario Balotelli and James Milner in the transfer window. The outlay takes Sheikh Mansour's total spend, mostly on transfer fees and wages, to £500 million since his takeover in 2008.
UEFA will only allow a loss of £35 million over a three year period and City lost £121 million in one year.
However, in a series of interviews with The Guardian, city officials claim that this summer's lavish spending spree will be the club's last and David Conn ponders just how the club can meet UEFA's targets.
"Since Manchester City released last week's not very shocking bombshell, that Sheikh Mansour of Abu Dhabi's vast spending on the club had financed a loss of £121m, the football world has been asking a very specific question. How can a club whose owner is indulging losses on that scale possibly meet Uefa's "financial fair play" requirement that within four years clubs in European competition must be close to breaking even?
The leeway Uefa have settled on, allowing €45m losses in total, over three years from 2011, is a planet away from the one to which City, second in the Premier League, have been launched by Mansour. Arsenal, who meet Uefa's measure of financial sanity more comfortably than any other elite Premier League side (Manchester United are loaded with the Glazers' £716m debts, while Chelsea made a £47m loss in 2008-09), recently disclosed football turnover of £223m for 2009-10, almost £100m more than City's, with a wage bill £22m lower at £111m.
Yet City's response is not the loadsamoney two-fingers to Michel Platini which some, observing the £500m lavished to date by Mansour, might have expected. The club's chief communications officer, Victoria Kloss, flew to Geneva to give Uefa advance sight of the results, seeking to show the governing body that City's new regime is also taking care of the club's fans, culture and "soul", and, financially, does plan to become sustainable.
City's chief executive, Garry Cook, and chief financial and administration officer, Graham Wallace, both said the club plans to comply. Their strategy is to propel City to the top, make more money from the TV and commercial boost the Champions League avails and gradually bring wages down by replacing ageing galacticos with graduates of the academy, on which City are also spending a fortune."
October 5, 2010
With Wolves captain Karl Henry and City enforcer Nigel de Jong both having hit the headlines for their tackles this weekend, the debate over player protection has understandably risen to the fore once again.
Luckily, Wigan's Jordi Gomez escaped pretty much unscathed, but Newcastle starlet Hatem Ben Arfa suffered a double leg break. For Richard Williams, writing in The Guardian, football has a duty to disarm its human missiles.
A month ago, according to Alan Shearer's notorious observation on Match of the Day, nobody had heard of Hatem Ben Arfa. They have now. A tackle by Nigel de Jong broke the tibia and fibula of the gifted young French forward's right leg on Sunday afternoon, condemning him to months of rehabilitation and raising once again the question of exactly what constitutes an acceptable challenge in modern football.
De Jong has recent form of the kind that tends to skew a debate. During Holland's friendly against the United States in March he broke the leg of the Bolton Wanderers midfielder Stuart Holden with a very similar tackle. And in Johannesburg three months ago, during the World Cup final, the sole of his raised boot made jarringly painful contact with the chest of Xabi Alonso. Poor Howard Webb, desperately trying to preserve the quality of a showpiece occasion, let it go, but yesterday even Holland's manager, Bert van Marwijk, lost patience and dropped De Jong from his squad after viewing the tackle on Ben Arfa.
The Dutchman is known for his stern tackling, and it has made him one of the most successful of Manchester City's recruits since the money started flowing in. A product of the Ajax academy, he is the kind of holding midfield player around whom a side can be built, and he fits into English league football as well as Dave Mackay, Nobby Stiles or Peter Storey once did.
But football has changed, or rather footballers have, since those particular hard men held sway. All players are athletes now, far stronger and faster than their predecessors, which means that they are hurtling into contact more frequently and at much greater velocity. It also means they are often making those tackles before the player in possession has had time to control the ball or set himself to resist, absorb or evade the challenge.
That was more or less the case with Ben Arfa. But Jordi Gómez of Wigan Athletic was running at full speed and had taken a touch when Karl Henry, the Wolves captain, came flying in on Saturday, sending the Catalan midfielder into a spectacular somersault. If it looked much worse than the collision between De Jong and Ben Arfa, luckily it had a better outcome.
The two challenges had something in common: both tacklers were going for the ball, aiming to dispossess the opponent. The injury to Ben Arfa was incurred when the Newcastle United player made contact with De Jong's trailing leg. The sheer force of Henry's arrival knocked Gómez off his feet. In both cases, however, the tackler had launched himself like a sort of human missile, although neither challenge was two-footed.
Ryan Shawcross's challenge on Aaron Ramsey last March, in which Arsenal's young Welshman suffered the same double fracture as Ben Arfa, was another example of recklessness, although Arsène Wenger thought he detected something else. "I love the commitment of the English game," he said afterwards. "I do not want to change that. I think it makes the game even more attractive. But high commitment demands as well fair intention."
Intention is hard, often impossible, to identify with any certainty. Shawcross's tears after the incident supported those who felt that there had been no malice in the young Stoke City player's challenge.
For spectators, a contrast of styles is the essence of football. Brilliant one-touch interplay is thrown into higher relief when confronted by opponents favouring a straightforward, even rugged approach. But there has to be a way of protecting the Ben Arfas and the Ramseys more effectively, without neutering the game.
October 4, 2010
The Dail Mail’s chief writer Martin Samuel writes an impassioned piece on Monday about the folly of Tottenham’s decision to state their interest in potentially occupying the Olympic Stadium following the 2012 games.
Spurs are using the stadium as a back-up plan in case their attempt to build a new 56,000-capacity arena in their traditional surroundings falls through. The plan has not been received favourably by West Ham, who have had their sights set on the Olympic site for some time now.
Cynics may point to the fact that Mr Samuel is indeed a Hammers fan, but his argument holds water. It would be a bit wrong, wouldn’t it? Samuel writes:
“Manchester United are slightly to the south of town, Manchester City are to the east, but it doesn’t really matter. To the rest of the world they are the Manchester clubs, and never more specifically defined.
“Nobody but a local could identify Birmingham’s Premier League duo as being from the north (Aston Villa) or south east (Birmingham City) and the same goes for Bristol (City to the south west, Rovers to the north) and Sheffield (United south, Wednesday north). Liverpool and Everton are separated by a communal park, Nottingham Forest and Notts County by the river Trent.
“So there is only one city in England in which the specific locales of football clubs matter and it is London. The north London derby, the fact that supporters of West Ham United sing specifically of love for east London, grudges to the west, hostility to the south, beyond the capital there is no equivalent of this precise division.
“So Tottenham Hotspur might as well move to Stratford-upon-Avon as Stratford, east London. As if using the Olympic Stadium as a back-up option in case the redevelopment of White Hart Lane falls through is not insult enough, chairman Daniel Levy’s idea of invading the territory of a rival London club shows contempt for the dynamic of football in the capital and the history of its teams.
“Not least his own. There may be irritant value in parking Tottenham’s tanks on West Ham’s lawns and nobody blames Levy for having a plan B, but why would the chairman of Tottenham wish to surrender 128 years of history from beginnings on Tottenham marshes to move to a part of the city where his club would feel alien?”
October 3, 2010
Arsene Wenger says it is time for Arsenal to deliver but, with Lukasz Fabianski set to feature in goal, Jim White in the Sunday Telegraph isn't holding out much hope for them.
This week Fabianski enjoyed a rare moment: after a competent performance in the Champions League encounter with Partizan Belgrade, he woke to a collection of positive notices.
As is the way in football, Fabianski’s handy effort – he even saved a penalty – is being spoken up by his colleagues as a turning point, a vindication, an answer to unjust criticism of past misdemeanours.
Now, so runs the claim, he is ready, if required, to stand-in for the injured (and equally hapless) Manuel Almunia for the match with Chelsea this weekend. In other words, one game has prepared him to take on the very opponents who, during the FA Cup semi-final in 2009, provoked an error from him that lies at the heart of many an Arsenal fan’s most disturbing nightmares.
“He’s a great keeper otherwise he wouldn’t be here at Arsenal,” said his colleague Kieran Gibbs. Which must constitute the finest oxymoron of the season. Of all the teams with aspirations, it has long been Arsenal who have suffered from a problem in goal. Keepers appear to be Arsène Wenger’s Achilles’ heel.
It is fair to say that, apart from David Seaman, the veteran manager has never fielded a goalie coveted by his rivals. And Seaman was there when he arrived. At best Seaman’s successors have delivered competence. At worst they have provided all the security of a deposit in an Icelandic bank.
What makes the problem so odd is that it seems to the diehards in the Emirates stands a simple matter to rectify: get out the chequebook. Spend some of the club’s record profits on an established custodian of international standing. Gianluigi Buffon, Shay Given, Mark Schwarzer: it is not as if we are suffering from a deficit of available talent.
Yet to do that would be to gainsay Wenger’s whole approach to management. He prides himself on the discovery of potential. If he doesn’t find the best players in the first place, he prefers to buy young and nurture them his way. No matter how appealing, sensible and indeed necessary their recruitment might seem, signing established big names is simply not on his radar.
October 2, 2010
Arsenal have struggled at Stamfrod Bridge in recent times, but Arsene Wenger remains confident that his injury-hit side can still cause an upset against the Blues.
Brian Reade, writing in the Daily Mirror, feels that Sunday will be a day of reckoning for the Frenchman.
A feeling that glory is just round the corner should reside in the guts of every football man. But there comes a point when you have to deliver, otherwise potential becomes failure.
Wenger’s Arsenal have played the most breath-taking football of any English side this past decade but for half that decade they’ve won nothing.
You have to go back to the 2005 FA Cup Final penalty shoot-out, when Wenger ditched his attacking philosophy and parked the bus at Cardiff to stop Manchester United playing, for his last trophy.
Since that afternoon the much-derided Rafa Benitez has won the Champions League and FA Cup but was forced out of Anfield for being a failure.
There was always going to come a point when Wenger, like his keepers, has to deliver. When he’d go a season too far without a major trophy and his refusal to compete in the transfer market with the biggest clubs in Europe would backfire.
This might be the season and tomorrow at Stamford Bridge might be reckoning day. Win and Arsenal have the platform to mount a genuine title challenge.
Lose and Arsenal go seven points behind Chelsea and can probably forget about the title for another year.
Meaning Wenger’s repeated statements about his team being on the brink of greatness will sound as hollow as the endorsements of his keepers.
And sadly for football, Gooners may start asking if it’s more than the keeper who needs replacing.