February 5, 2010
Terry: The worst moment of his career?
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On Friday afternoon, Fabio Capello dealt with the biggest crisis of his England career with all the calm, poise and decisiveness that has characterised his reign to date.
Summoning John Terry to Wembley - the spiritual home of football, complete with a statue of the great Bobby Moore - Capello took little time to rip the armband from a man who has become an embarrassment to the FA and possibly a liability to the national team.
And contrary to what any Chelsea apologists, or those who claim the English media scented blood and overreacted, may tell you, Terry had to go, and Capello recognised as much.
Having bided his time over making a decision, despite the hungry attentions of the press pack, it is hard to imagine that Capello has not carefully sounded out opinion from senior figures in the dressing room. Perhaps not directly, but through trusted aides.
The fact that Capello felt it necessary to take the huge step of stripping Terry of the armband clearly indicates that the player did not enjoy universal support amongst the squad. If he had, then by taking Friday's course of action Capello would only have risked further disrupting the unity that has become so precarious in recent days.
Instead he has sought to salvage remaining team spirit by imposing a new figurehead on his side, one who can represent the team in front of the media and sponsors and still command respect amongst the entire squad. That man is Rio Ferdinand.
The Terry question has never been one of simple morals. If Capello was to purge his squad of those with any blemishes on their record then England's World Cup campaign would probably consist of just Theo Walcott playing keepy-uppies in South Africa.
Morality is not the issue. Morale most certainly is. We know players indulge in all kinds of inadvisable behaviour and football's moral landscape dictates that conducting an extra-maritial affair is not a sacking offence, far from it.
But by allegedly doing so with a woman that has a close bond with one of his team-mates, Terry has crossed a line that divides a cloistered and priviledged dressing room from the rest of the world.
His actions have directly threatened the harmony of the squad and for a disciplinarian like Capello, that is unacceptable.
Terry will still go to the World Cup, Bridge too perhaps, but having acted beyond the pale, even in the moral maze that is elite football, he no longer commanded the respect required to lead his team and that left Capello with an easy decision to make.
February 4, 2010
Chelsea fans may be celebrating after having their two-window transfer ban lifted by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but many will be left wondering what this means for FIFA's crusade against Europe's wealthy clubs picking up the game's brightest stars before they have penned a professional contract.
After Chelsea were found guilty of effectively 'stealing' Gael Kakuta from RC Lens, leading to the transfer ban as well as a four-month suspension for the player and fines, there was a collective cheer among many fans. The clampdown had begun.
Other claims against Premier League clubs began to surface, with most clubs appearing to be in favour of banning international transfers for players under the age of 18. As Chelsea have escaped any censure whatsoever over this affair it seems unlikely anything will happen on that front.
It makes Carlo Ancelotti's calm handling of the January transfer window understandable; though no one wanted to see him run naked around Chelsea's training ground. Both Ancelotti and the league leaders must have been extremely confident that they would be able to trade freely in the summer, otherwise they would have had to spend big in the winter window.
While stressing that the Court of Arbitration for Sport have cleared Chelsea of any wrongdoing, perhaps the most enlightening part of Thursday evening's statements came with Chelsea admitting they had paid compensation to the French club: "In an act of good faith and with a view to the possibility of future collaboration with Lens, and without recognising any liability, Chelsea has agreed to pay compensation costs for the training given to the player while at Lens, as mandated by FIFA in its original ruling."
The compensation payment will remain undisclosed, but it is likely to be a sizeable amount.
Chelsea may hope that this puts an end to the affair, but it amounts to settling out of court rather than being found not guilty by the CAS. Some of the mud will surely still stick.
So, were Lens only interested in the money, and once that was forthcoming had no other interest in the wheels of justice and the good of the game?
What will become of future cases like Le Havre's discontent with Manchester United over the signing of Paul Pogba, for instance? Perhaps a compensation payment will see similar complaints disappear, too.
Lazio were also in a rage over the loss of Federico Macheda to the Red Devils, with president Claudio Lotito claiming they were "robbed" of one of their young stars and that "young players are treated like cattle." How is anything going to change now?
This is basically what football boils down to: money. Lens may have fuming back in September when news of the ban broke, but now they have their cash they are happy. And it will surely be the same at every club.
February 3, 2010
Cook needs to meet chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak's targets
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Having failed to clinch a deal for Kaka in January 2009, Manchester City chief executive Garry Cook claimed AC Milan “bottled it”.
"He clearly was for sale but we never got to meet with the player,” Cook said at the time. “The behaviour of AC Milan got in the way."
It was a curious remark. City’s £100 million deal for Kaka was understandable for an ambitious, mega-rich club looking to reach parity with the big four, but it was always unlikely. For one thing, Brazilians rarely seem keen to move to England for whatever reason and Kaka, like Cristiano Ronaldo, had long seemed destined for a move to Real Madrid.
Cook, who arrived after 12 years with sportswear giant Nike, confirmed he had tried to negotiate with Kaka’s father on setting up humanitarian projects for the player, but said “financial demands came to the fore”. The suspicion then, as it is now, was that Cook hadn’t quite come to terms with the fact that City remain a work in progress on the field.
The point was brought home once more last month when Santos youngster Paulo Henrique Gansu suggested he was unhappy about City potentially getting first option on his signature as part of the Robinho loan. "I don't want to play for Manchester City,” he said. “I'd prefer to play for a big club in Europe such as Milan, Real Madrid or Barcelona." For Cook to insult Milan seemed naive to say the least and eyebrows have been raised ever since.
Reports have emerged in the national press that Cook’s position at City is under scrutiny. The Milan remark was not Cook’s only PR error. He had previously claimed former owner Thaksin Shinawatra - the former Thai PM accused of, among other things, corruption, tax evasion and authoritarianism - was “a great guy to play golf with” (perhaps Kaka’s father had been less than convinced about the motive behind the proposed humanitarian projects). More recently, the sacking of Mark Hughes in December was justifiable but its handling was wretched, and Cook attracted plenty more criticism after his explanation as to when exactly Roberto Mancini had been offered the post.
While trying to help City become “the biggest and best football club in the world”, Cook was last month helping Mancini strengthen in defensive midfield. Real Madrid’s Fernando Gago was the big target but, after early negotiations showed few signs of progress, they turned to Parma’s Kenya international McDonald Mariga. The move, according to Kenya PM Raila Odinga, fell through as City did not leave enough time to force through a work permit.
When it emerged that Mariga would not arrive, City went back in for Gago. However, as Real Madrid director general Jorge Valdano revealed this week, the bid was made so late in the day that there was no conceivable hope of the move being concluded. "They had nothing prepared, not even one document signed," he told El Pais. "They had not reached an agreement with the player and they would have had to have done everything in 40 minutes."
Some of the criticism that has come Cook’s way may well have been unfair and it is likely that many of the situations involved more complexities than we have been privy to, but the regularity of the avoidable bad press is alarming and it is hard to imagine that City’s owners are content. The club’s public image is souring and, unlike Peter Kenyon's time at Chelsea, targets have not been secured. If City are to become the biggest and best football club in the world, they may well be looking at someone with a background in the sport to help take them there.