Sports news, commentary and scores with wit and added value. We compare and contrast the best and worst sports reporting in the mainstream press, blogs, TV and online. We love the English Premier League (Arsenal, Liverpool, Spurs, Manchester United and Manchester City) and all things football but we cover cricket, rugby, the Olympics, tennis, golf, F1 and highlights of the sporting year.
Spurs striker Harry Kane secured a huge pay rise because the club “caved in” to his demands. So says the Times, which calculates Kane’s Tottenham at around £150,000-a-week, based on a base salary of £120,000-a-week plus bonuses.
The new contract, which runs until 2022, contains no buy-out clause should Spurs fail to reach the Champions’ League.
Kane’s manager Mauricio Pochettino tells media, “If you ask him he is sure that is not about the money.” He then says he was always sure Kane would remain at the club.
Yeah, right. Kane bleeds for Spurs. He’s one of their own. Nonsense. It’s always about the money. He’s more than doubled his money from the £60,000-a-week deal that had four years to run. Give it a year of good form and he’ll be asking for more.
Feel the love.
To secure Kane, Spurs had to obliterate their wage structure. The club wanted Kane to sign a new deal in September, but he wouldn’t. The paper talk was of him wanting £100,000 a week. Then it was parity with Jamie Vardy’s £120,000 a week. Now Kane earns the same as Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez.
The Times says it wasn’t until last week that Kane and Spurs talked about the contract – and the club “caved into his wage demands and completed the deal in the space of two days”.
Below Kane, the club’s top earner is Hugo Lloris – and you can expect the captain’s agent to be knocking on the chairman’s door very soon. He’ll be in a queue behind Dele Alli’s agent. The young Englishman earns £50,000-a-week.
Spurs’ wage bill is set to rocket.
As headlines go, the Sun’s is unequivocal: “RALPH HAS THE JOB”. The paper reports that Arsene Wenger is to replaced as Arsenal manager by Ralph Hasenhuttl. Reading on, we get more facts: “Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger to be replaced by RB Leipzig coach Ralph Hasenhuttl.”
Wow! Wenger’s finally been given the heave-ho.
As Gunners fans look up Hasenhuttl, the Sun whispers, “Austrian sensationally confirms he could takeover the Gunners.”
The Sun adds: “Austrian chief, who has led his side to the top of the Bundesliga table, claims he may take over at the Emirates next season.”
The facts that had Arsenal fans excited are now less than factual.
So how did the Sun gets the story? Well, the Austrian appears to have seen q story in the Sun that he’s bene linked to the Arsenal job and responded:
“It was a well-researched story. There was a lot of truth to it. I have heard of worse fates than succeeding the longest-serving manager in England. It’s not damaging my reputation, is it? We don’t have to put too much thought into [the Arsenal job]. I have found my luck here.”
Which bits contained truth and which bits contained non-truths, Hasenhuttl didn’t say.
The Mirror leads with the “FOOTY Paedophile Scandal”. We hear from former Chelsea player Gary Johnson, who says he was paid £50,000 last year to keep quiet about the abuse he suffered at the hands of a club scout in the 1970s.
Over pages 4,5,6, and 7, Gary Johnson claims he was sexually assaulted by Chelsea scout Eddie Heath “hundreds of times in three years”.
Eddie Heath is dead.
Says Johnson of Chelsea: “I think that they were paying me to keep a lid on this.” If they did, will Chelsea be asking for their money back? Johnson says Chelsea “asked him to sign a gagging order”. “They may have paid others for their silence,” he adds. We then learn that Chelsea “waived the clause in Gary’s settlement banning him from speaking about abuse after details of his claim were leaked to the media.”
Did Chelsea know Johnson was being abused in 1973 when he was a 13-year-old at the club, continuing until Gary was “around 16 or 17 and happened two or three times a week”, as he says?
Gary Johnson says Heath got him to perform in threesomes with other boys, “so I know there are mother victims out there.” He adds: “it is now up to them if they come forward”.
Do we expect them to?
Brendan O’Neill writes:
In these post-Savile times, we’ve come to think that all former victims of child abuse have some kind of responsibility to parade their wounds. We have come to expect, somewhat greedily, even perversely, that the abuse of decades ago must be relived, as publicly as possibly, in order to ‘raise awareness’. I’m sorry, but I think it’s possible there’s an element of moral titillation to all this. And I think it’s possible that it makes abuse victims even less likely to get over their experiences by making them go through it all again for our viewing or reading pleasure.
We learn that in 2014, Gary Johnson contacted the Met Police’s Operation Yewtree. He says he was “advised to go back to Chelsea with his case”. The police palmed him off to the club? If so, that’s abhorrent. Did they investigate? We’re not told. Mr Johnson says the “Professional Footballers’ Association did not return his calls”. So he contacted lawyers, who asked Chelsea for compensation.
Says Gary Johnson: “What makes me so angry is that I went to them to say I had been abused an they basically said, ‘prove it’,” Was that wrong of them? Chelsea are no longer owned by the Mears family, as they were in the 1970s. Why should the new owners take anything on face value alone when a man is asking for money and claiming to have been the victim of heinous crimes by a former employee? Gary Johnson says Chelsea’s “attitude when I came forward was to sweep it under the carpet”.
His claim was supported by Roger Kennedy, who says: “Mr Johnson has been haunted by the abuse for most of his life, but the intensity of the flashbacks have increased since he has become more aware of the nature of what happened due to the publicity around Jimmy Savile.”
The Mirror is quick to blame the club, saying Chelsea used its “financial might to cover up abuse”. It is the “tip of the iceberg”. Did Chelsea behave badly? All we know of the money and the deal is that Mr Johnson says: “I think that they were paying me to keep a lid on this.”
The Mirror says the story “implies they [Chelsea] cared more about commercial rights and sponsorship deals than helping survivors cope with the torment of abuse”. The paper says Chelsea are “morally questionable”.
What of the police, then, and the PFA, two institutions Mr Johnson says failed him? What of the lawyers who accepted an worked on the deal?
Writing in the Mail, Martin Samuel confronts the matter of a club’s role. He says the current Chelsea owners are part of the club’s heritage.
Yes, the sport is different now. Yes, stricter protocols and procedures are in place, and those in charge of youth development may protest that the past is a foreign country. But it isn’t.
Modern clubs must assume responsibility, be the custodians for all those years. Everything, from the fanbase, to the location, to modern revenue streams, and items in glass cases that directors view with pride, they owe to those ancient dates and what followed. And much of it may have been good.
But what isn’t, what is almost too poisonous to contemplate, cannot be disowned.
When you buy a club, you buy the heritage, the good and the bad.
It’s a shame we don’t know the full terms of Mr Johnson’s deal and how the £50,000 sum was agreed upon. Chelsea are investigating. Hopefully, Chelsea will be transparent and we will know more soon. Dare they be anything but? The Mail leads with the headline: “FA VOW TO HIT CHELSEA HARD.” Any club “who have given a child abuse victim hush money will be punished”. Chelsea are “in the dock”, says the paper. The club may well ask, “On what charge?”
By way of a footnote, the Mirror says Eddie Heath trained Barry Bennell, the convicted paedophile, when he was a 14-year-old at Chelsea. The Mirror says there is “no suggestion” Bennell was a victim of Heath’s.
Heath is dead. Also dead is Frank Roper, a man who former footballer Paul Stewart says abused him “every day for four years”. Gary Johnson says Paul Stewart encouraged him to tell his story.
We can expert to hear others.
Southampton fans looking for reports on their team’s 0-2 victory away to Arsenal in the League Cup will disappointed to see their team get second or ever third billing to the Gunners boss Arsene Wenger. The crux of the match report is that Southampton less won the match than Arsenal lost it.
Arsenal’s Wenger made 10 changes to the team that beat Bournemouth last weekend. Southampton’s Claude Puel made eight changes to the team that beat Everton.
Given that the Gunners could still all upon a wealth of experience in the expensive legs of Aaron Ramsey, Kieran Gibbs, Gabriel, Lucas Perez, Xhaka and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, a player signed from Southampton’s prodigious academy for £17m, Southampton deserve more plaudits. They did not defeat Arsenal’s “kids”. They beat a wealthier team on their home patch. For the Sun to says on its lead sports page, “Arsenal didn’t turn up” is absurd.
IT’S “FOOTBALL’s BIGGEST EVER CRISIS,” says the Daily Mirror as it continues to lead with the sex abuse story. Is it? Is it bigger than the Hillsborough disaster that saw 96 people lose their lives and be branded criminals by the State’s lying police force? Barry Bennell, the awful man at the epicentre of the story, is a convicted paedophile. He’s now been charged with eight sexual assaults involving a boy under 14 dating between 1981 and 1985.
Bennell has been living as a free man in Milton Keynes. Is that justice? Eric Bristow thought it not. He said he’d have smashed the “poof” Bennell’s face in, as “real men” should. The men who did not confront their abuser are “wimps”. For expressing his crass opinion on twitter, Bristow has been sacked as a pundit on Sky Sports and paraded throughout the media as a pariah, an enemy of any right-minded human being.
You could compare Bristow to Eamonn Holmes, the Sky News presenter who earlier this year said an attack by West Ham fans on the Manchester United team bus was like Hillsborough. “Now this is going back to the 70s and to the 80s to everything you were seeing that was bad about Hillsborough for instance,” opined Holmes on the TV. Unlike Bristow, he wasn’t shunned, and sacked.
Does the media operate a hierarchy of outrage, with being ‘unlawfully killed’ and branded a killer – and do consider 10-year-old Jon-Paul Gilhooley, the youngest to die in the horror (the coroner ordered a sample of his blood to be checked for signs of alcohol), Phillip Hammond (14), Victoria Jane Hicks (15), Peter Andrew Harrison (15), Lee Nicol (14), Philip John Steele (15) and Kevin Tyrrell (15) – lower in the table than child abuse, the horror that can be a useful way to showcase your own sound morals?
Holmes apologised and kept his job. Bristow deleted his tweets, apologised and lost his.
When 96 people died at the football in 1989, the media blamed the victims, the State stomped on their relatives and presented all football fans as suspects. It took an arduous 26 year fight for the Hillsborough campaigners to be told the blameless dead had been unlawfully killed.
The story of sexual abuse in football is grim. Child sex abuse is an evil. But to say it is a worse football scandal than the horrors of Hillsborough is a cop out. Bennell is alive. Bennell’s victims are speaking out and being heard. They could have spoken out earlier. They might be heard in court yet. Bennell appears to have attempted suicide. He’s thought to be in the Lister Hospital, Stevenage.
The story of sex abuse in football has faces to attack, blame and shun.
The victims of Hillsborough could not speak. The coppers who lied to make killers of the victims all escaped court. They still await justice. Maybe the bereaved and abused should do as Bristow advises, take the law into their own hands and crack skulls. But that’s not easy when the weight of the State is against you. Where do you begin?
“What wrong at Old Trafford,” asks the Sun’s Neil Curtis? Nothing. Manchester United are in great shape. This we know because on 6th September 2016 Neil Curtis told us about the “RED-OLUTION” at Old Trafford. “Jose Mourinho has turned Manchester United around to become the force of old in just three months,” said Curtis. Mourinho has “lifted the clouds” at United. “Mourinho is trusting the players abilities, letting them breathe.”
Today Curtis tells us that Manchester United have had their “worst start to a season in 27 years”. Why? Well, it’s not because Jose Mourinho is failing. It’s about him “unpicking Louis Van Gaal’s philosophy”. That would be Van Gaal who unpicked David Moyes’ philosophy. (You can read more about Jose’s philosophy here.)
Curtis adds that United have “NO TOP-CLASS STRIKER”. Really. Because Curtis wrote:
In his £250m splurge, LVG made two that excited but could not get the best out of either in Angel Di Maria and Memphis Depay. Mourinho has made four and so far Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and Eric Bailly have been immediate hits.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has got his Manchester United career off to a blistering start
Another reasons: “NEW SIGNINGS STRUGGLING.” So much for Mourinho’s “immediate hits”.
And finally, lest you think Curtis will blame Mourinho, he asks himself: “Have they got the right manager?” “In my opinion,” says Curtis, “most definitely they have.”
Next question is one of ours: Would Manchester United fans prefer to have signed Jurgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola instead of the chippy Mourinho?
Over in the Mail, you can read: “Inside the troubled World of Mourinho – An obsessive man at odds with himself and his players.” So much for the RED-VOLUTION.
Tony Pulis, manager of West Bromwich Albion, is a “LIAR”. So says the Sun, which leads its sports coverage with news that Pulis has been told to pay Crystal Palace £3.7m – but his total bill following defeat in a High Court fight is closer to £6m. The Mirror and Express say it’s around £5m.
The story goes that Pulis was paid a £2m bonus for saving Crystal Palace from the drop when he managed the team in 2014. Palace said he was due the money if he stayed at the club until August 31 2014 – after the season had kicked off on August 16. Pulis asked for the bonus early, saying he had an “urgent” need for the cash to buy land for his children. He got the cash on August 12. On August 13, Pulis told Palace he wanted to leave, says the Express. Pulis left the club on August 14.
The matter went before an independent tribunal in March 2016, which ruled in Palace’s favour, saying Pulis had created a “false impression” that he would remain at the club. Pulis took the case to he High Court. And lost again.
The Sun says the case hinged on the date of a “fiery meeting”. Pulis, reportedly, claimed his loyalty to the club was damaged following a “heated player meeting” on August 12. But Palace were able to prove that that meeting occurred on August 8.
Pulis was undone.
High Court judge Sir Michael Burton said the Tribunal found Pulis had “deliberately sought to deceive with his claims about needing the bonus early”. The Sun quotes the Premier League Managers’ Arbitration Tribunal report which brands Pulis’s conduct “disgraceful”. His case was “untrue”. “It was must more likely he intended to seek more lucrative employment with another club and that is the real reason he sought early payment.”
Pulis must repay the £2m bonus plus £1.5m as he was “already in employment with another club”.
The Mail says Pulis has been “branded a fraudster”. He “deliberately mislead” Palace chairman Steve Parrish over his intention to stay at the club.
The Mirror says Pulis’ “reputation is in tatters”.
The rest of us marvel at how much money and greed there is in football.
The hideous story of sexual abuse in football rides high on the news cycle. The grim testimony from victims of an evil has taken on a life of its own. It’s become a good way to prove the country’s morals. In directionless times it’s useful to have a cause to rally round. We don’t know what we are but we know what we’re not: paedophiles.
Barry Bennell, a convicted paedophile, has been billed as football’s Jimmy Savile. He’s not. Bennell has been tried and found guilty. Sir Jimmy Savile died a national treasure, feted by the great and good. What both men do share is an eagerness to portray them as part of institutional failure. For Savile it’s the BBC, the NHS and children’s homes (but not the police, the Royal family and politicians); for Bennell it’s the FA and the nation’s favourite sport.
Everyone involved in football is now a suspect. If you are not suspicious of adults you are a fool or worse. Trust is for victims.
So the NSPCC opens a hotline, the police trawl for corruption and Karen Bradley, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, says people “must come forward… Come and give your story, you will be listened to, you will be believed”. The media plays along, looking for someone on the wrong side of the panic to update the story. And today it finds Eric Bristow, aka ‘The Crafty Cockney’, five times World darts Champion in the 1980s, an MBE holder and last seen eating kangaroo gonads on I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! with Limahl from Kajagoogoo.
As such his views are, er, entirely relevant to the horrific crime child sex abuse. And – irony of ironies for a man who walks to the oche to Rabbit by Chas and Dave (“With your incessant talkin’, You’re becoming a pest”) – Bristow’s chat has attracted ire.
The BBC says Bristow has been “condemned on social media” for suggesting football abuse victims are not “proper men” – and asking why they did not “sort out” their abusers “when they got older and fitter”. Not only on social media (see BBC). The Mail sees fit to repeat Bristow’s tweets for those readers not following the man: “Might be a looney but if some football coach was touching me when i was a kid as i (sic) got older i would have went back and sorted that poof out. Dart players tough guys footballers wimps. Bet the rugby boys are ok ha ha.”
He went on: “U got to sought him out when u get older or dont look in the mirror glad i am a dart player proper men. Trouble is nowadays u cant tell the truth what do u feel out there tweet me. Everybody that works on tv is frightened to say the truth because they are frightened to lose their job, life shouldnt be like that.”
Katie Hopkins, that jobbing to-deadline Aunt Sally, must be gutted. Used to seeing unattractive people from the 1980s telly unearthed to help police with their enquiries, it’s a novelty to see one helping the media in its narrative.
Having seen and very possibly enjoyed the shitstorm, Bristow backtracks a little on twitter:
Britsow’s language update shows he’s a man can move with the times. If he carries on like this, there’s a job as a tabloid columnist heading his way.
Update: Sky have sacked him as a darts pundit.
Arsenal balls: Hector Bellerin’s Christmas comes early and ‘superb’ Carl Jenkinson is dropped permanently
When Gabriel came on for Arsenal as replacement for the injured Mathieu Debuchy in yesterday’s Premier League match against Bournemouth, Arsene Wenger was not surprised. “When I picked the squad I imagined that something could happen to Debuchy,” said the Arsenal manager.
Gabriel, the pacy Brazilian with the look of a 1950s mobster, was not all that convincing in the role. Should Arsenal fans be panicked? The Evening Standard says they should be, noting that “a fit Carl Jenkinson” was “left entirely out of the squad after two disappointing displays against Manchester United and Paris St Germain”.
He was dropped. Not rested?
At the United match, Carl Jenkinson made his first Premier League start for Arsenal in over two years. The Standard said “there’ll be a few more ahead of him with Hector Bellerin sidelined for around a month.” (Bellerin was injured on November 6).
So how did Jenkinson play against United? Well, the Standard told us: “Jenkinson defends superbly.”
The Mirror scored Jenkinson as Arsenal’s joint best defender in the 1-1 draw at Old Trafford: “Jenkinson – 7. Solid defensively, didn’t get much chance to go forward but passed a big test.”
How did Jenkinson do against PSG? The Standard’s live blog told us:
Jenkinson gets in a crossing position… and blazes his effort over the bar. It is greeted with major moans from the Emirates faithful but what more are you expecting from a reserve right back just back from a serious injury?
The Mirror told its readers: “Jenkinson 7 – Worked hard, got forward and played his heart out. Very committed.”
The Express had a score: “Worked hard and got forward well – 7”
So back to the Standard, then, which ignores its own reports to say that Jenkinson has no future at the Gunners. James Benge writes:
Having dispensed with Jenkinson for Sunday’s game Wenger now has no choice but to persevere with the 24-year-old for at least the next fortnight, with Bellerin potentially sidelined until Christmas.
From being “superb” and worth a 7 out of 10 – and this a from player returning from a lengthy injury (“What more can you expect?”) – Jenkinson is now not even an option.
Oh, and is Bellerin out until Christmas? It’s unlikely. Because four days ago the Sun reported: “HEC OF A BOOST Arsenal injury news: Hector Bellerin hands Gunners boss Arsene Wenger a boost as he is set to return to training next week.”
Look out for more utter balls in newspapers’ football reporting every day.
The paedophiles in football story continues unabated in the Mirror, which leads with the front-page headline “10 questions the FA must answer”. It must? No. This is the newspaper making a story that first appeared in the Guardian into its own campaign. On November 16, former footballer Andy Woodward told the Guardian’s Daniel Taylor about the “horrific abuse he suffered from the age of 11 by one of his coaches, in the hope that others will come forward too”.
Taylor noted on November 26 in a story headlined “When I started talking to Barry Bennell’s victims, I had no idea how deep abuse ran in football” that the story throws up questions.
Some of those questions may never be addressed properly and, all the time, there is that nagging sense that, when it really mattered, the sport of Andy Woodward, Steve Walters, Paul Stewart, David White, Chris Unsworth, Jason Dunford and Ian Ackley – and I dread to think how many others – looked the other way.
So to the Mirror today and its 10 questions, which can be summed up as, ‘Who knew what and why wasn’t Barry Bennell exposed sooner?’ We’d add: “Why didn’t newspaper get hold of this story before Andy Woodward felt brave enough to tell all?
“Only now, at the age of 43, I feel I can actually live without that secret and that massive, horrible burden,” Woodward told Taylor. “I want to get it out and give other people an opportunity to do the same. I want to give people strength. I survived it. I lost my career, which was a massive thing for me, but I’m still here. I came through the other side. Other people can have that strength.”
Bennell began his football career coaching juniors in 1970, when he was 16. On a 1994 tour with the Stone Dominoes, a 13-year-old club player claimed that Bennell had sexually abused him.
The Dominoes’ website has a note:
A professional coach joined from Crewe Alex and ex Manchester City, and accelerated development. Tours to the USA took place in 1993 and 1994 with great success.
5 Wedgwood Keele Classics were collected with several Championships and Cups as well.
Unfortunately the coach was dismissed by the Club in 1994 for gross misconduct and a review of the club’s situation undertaken.
The Mail notes:
The founder of the Stone Dominoes football club, where Bennell was working in the early 1990s when first arrested and convicted of sex offences against boys, has told this newspaper that a lawyer connected to the League Managers’ Association did ‘due diligence’ on Bennell before they hired him, and after consulting previous employers, including Manchester City and Crewe, ‘cleared’ Bennell as a suitable man to hire.
Bennell’s convictions can be listed (via the Mail):
1994: Barry Bennell is sentenced to four years in prison in the United States after pleading guilty to six counts of sexual assault, including the rape of a boy, while coaching Staffordshire side Stone Dominoes during their youth tour of Florida.
1998: Bennell was found guilty at Chester Crown Court in 1998 of 23 offences against six boys, aged from nine to 15, and was sentenced to nine years in jail.
2015: Bennell was given a further sentence in 2015 when he pleaded guilty to sexually abusing another boy at a camp in Macclesfield in 1980.
The 1997, the Independent warned readers: “Football-mad boys are being put in “potentially dangerous situations” where they could be abused by the people who train them, according to a Channel 4 programme to be screened tonight.”
The show was Dispatches, a documentary series on Channel 4.
An investigation by Dispatches says that the hold coaches have over their school-age proteges – the chance of a career in professional football – can give them the opportunity to abuse boys for years with little fear of discovery.
One former coach, Barry Bennell, who worked at Manchester City, Stoke City and Crewe Alexandra is currently serving four years in a United States prison after admitting buggery and assault on a boy.
Another amateur club, Ipswich Saracens, found that their coach Keith Ketley was a convicted sex offender. Despite this he had been able to set up another team with Football Association affiliation. He is now serving five years in jail after being found guilty on four counts of indecent assault…
One of the boys was Ian Ackley, who played for a Derbyshire side coached by Bennell. “Looking back on the things that have happened [I have] lots of regrets really,” he said. “It reminds me very much of the control he had basically over people. And how he very much had people in his grip.”…
It was not until 1994 when Bennell took youth teams from Staffordshire on tour to Florida that a 13-year-old boy spoke out about the abuse he suffered and Bennell was arrested. He could only be charged with offences committed in the US.
Ketley had run a team in Southend-on-Sea, but after pleading guilty to indecently assaulting boys he was sentenced to 18 months. He moved to Ipswich, changed his name and started up another club.
Around 43,000 clubs are currently affiliated to the Football Association (FA). The chairman of Suffolk FA told the programme: “No checks would necessarily be made on their background unless we were particularly suspicious.”
In 2005, the Observer reported: “Child abusers who shame British football.”
The mother’s voice trembles as she describes the night her 14-year-old son was sexually assaulted at the home of a referee he had befriended on a FA course.
‘He fled from the house at 4am wearing just his trainers, a fleece and his boxer shorts because the man had hidden his clothes. He called 999. It was terrible,’ she says. ‘It’s a parent’s worst nightmare and for my son it’s a life sentence.’
Over pages 4 and 5 in the Mirror, we learn that more than 20 players have now made accusations they were abused. The paper lists clubs implicated: Leeds United, Blackpool, Manchester City, Stoke City, Newcastle United and Crewe Alexandra.
In the Mail, on page 10, we learn that the FA is to launch an independent inquiry into the abuse scandal. On page 75, Martin Samuel writes:
“It is false to speak of past crimes or misdemeanours as historic. Football clubs mine those centuries, milk them for all they are worth, certainly in commercial terms. They are not directly responsible for events that happened decades ago; but are not separate to them, either. The duty of care extends way beyond the present day.”
Some victims will come forward. Not all will. In 2012, we read in the Telegraph of the late Gary Speed:
As a junior player, the Wales football manager, who committed suicide last November, was considered “special” by Barry Bennell and stayed at his house as a child.
Can we make a link between Gary Speed and Bennell on anything but speculation?
The coroner returned a narrative verdict after deciding it was impossible to determine whether the 42-year-old had intended to end his life. Mrs Speed’s lawyers, Harbottle & Lewis, denied that his death was linked to Bennell.
The lawyers issued a statement to The Sunday Times Magazine: “Whilst Gary Speed knew Mr Bennell through football connections, he was not a ‘victim’ and thus played no part in the investigation. The Speed family have been assured that the police investigation at the time was exceptionally thorough and there is no legitimate reason to link Mr Bennell to Mr Speed.”
Nonetheless the Mail makes a link to Bennell and suicide:
At least one of the agencies working on the fallout from the scandal is examining the possibility that there may have been multiple suicides among players who were coached by Bennell.
And then there is this:
Former Wales manager Gary Speed took his own life five years ago this week. Speed’s family have said he was ‘not a victim’ of Bennell, as far as they are aware
The Mail seems to be ignoring the word of the family to make a link where no proof of one exists.
The Mirror adds: “Tragic Gary Speed stayed at paedophile coach Barry Bennell’s home but was ‘too clever’ to be victim, says dad.”
Gary speed’s father, Roger Speed, had been talking to the Telegraph. It headlined the story “Was Gary Speed a victim of sex abuser Barry Bennell?”
It’s an unpleasant story. Roger Speed lost his son and is now being asked to speculate. The Mirror notes: ” During his interview with The Telegraph, Roger also said he does not believe his family will ever get the answers they want over his son’s passing.”
How’s Jack Wilshere getting along at Arsenal? He’s playing for AFC Bournemouth but he’ll be back the Gunners soon enough. The Evening Standard confirms the news: “Arsene Wenger confirms Jack Wilshere will be offered new Arsenal contract.”
Good for Jack. And good for Arsenal.
But in September the Metro told us: “Mesut Ozil set to sign bumper new Arsenal deal that will see him inherit Jack Wilshere’s No.10 shirt.”
Ozil hasn’t signed any new deal. He wears the Number 11 shirt.
The Metro added that Wilshere “sees his long-term future away from the club”.
On October 22, the Mail reported on one of its own columnists: “Jack Wilshere’s future is away from Arsenal after Bournemouth loan, says Jamie Redknapp… Jack Wilshere’s career at Arsenal is over.”
No. It isn’t.
Such are the facts.
Media Balls: Was it right that Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho was red carded as his side fought back to secure a 1-1 draw with West Ham United? Can we know what’s what from reading the experts?
The BBC: “Off to the stands! He aims an almighty kick at a drinks bottle down on the touchline in anger at a booking for Paul Pogba – who looked to be jumping to avoiding getting clattered – and is directed from the touchline by Jonathan Moss.”
Pogba was avoiding a clattering and jumped. It was self-preservation. The referee got it wrong. Jose just reacted to the poor decision.
Manchester United assistant manager Rui Faria: “I think there was frustration from Jose after the yellow card for Pogba. It should be a foul for us but the referee understood it in another way.”
United were robbed.
Saj Choudry (BBC): “The Portuguese boss kicked a water bottle in reaction to referee Jon Moss showing Paul Pogba a yellow card for diving. Replays showed West Ham’s Mark Noble did not make contact with the France midfielder.”
Pogba dived. The referee was correct – he did fool for the player’s cheating. Jose Mourinho did make contact with the water bottle.
The West Ham website: “The Frenchman, falling after going past Mark Noble, was correctly booked for diving, prompting the explosive bottle-kicking moment from his boss.
The Manchester United website: “Mourinho was then sent to the stands after he reacted furiously to referee Jonathon Moss’ decision to book Pogba for an apparent dive.”
An apparent dive?
Manchester Evening News: “He [Pogba] appeared to dive over Mark Noble’s challenge and was booked by Jonathan Moss. Mourinho… kicked a water bottle in frustration and was sent to the stands.”
He appeared to dive. Jose was not poorly behaved and wrong. He was frustrated.
The paper does find lots of room for the thoughts of journalist Duncan Castles:
Picking that apart. The slight on Louis Van Gaal is odd given that the hammer-headed Dutchman was pretty animated:
And as for any other manager not being sent off for kicking a water bottle, well, the Arsenal manager was:
For Jose Mourinho, well, it wouldn’t be so bad were it not for the fact that his old club Chelsea – the one he left spent and in mid-table – are top of the league under their new manager.
PS: Manchester United have failed to win four league games in a row at Old Trafford for the first time since February 1990. And they have drawn four consecutive league games at their place for the first time since December 1980. Yeah. it’s time for Fergie all over again. Oh for a manager who intimidates referees, fails to talk to the BBC and fosters a siege mentality. On second thoughts, as you were Jose…
Are you confused by all the story of paedophiles in every walk of life? Hopefully by around 2099, the Government’s nationwide trawl of historic sex crimes will be completed. Of course, by then most famous faces will be long dead. The sane move is to forcibly freeze anyone of note and then when they get accused of an awful crime defrost them over burning torches and then beat them with sticks. Sure their brains might be mush but don’t let Lord Janner’s story put you off.
So weird has the story gotten that the Mail is not alone in realising that the story of the systematic sexual abuse of minors has taken on a life of its own.
On the front we get to know that former prime minister and Tory MP Ted Heath (dead) was not a nonce.
But on the back we get to know that football and all other sports are riddled with paedos – maybe.
Look down not up, says the class-conscious peado hunter.
As Andy Dawson puts it: “Showbiz, sport, this stuff is/was rife. BUT NOT IN TOP-LEVEL POLITICS, OKAY?”
Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho was taken from the Anfield pitch on a stretcher, his leg in a brace. How bad is the injury to Liverpool’s best player? One expert decides it’s best just to guess.
On the BBC website, former Arsenal ‘rash’ Martin Keown says it could be a really bad injury. Or maybe it isn’t. Lest anyone think Keown a medial genius who can diagnose an injury from hundreds of miles away, he tells us that he’s “speculating”.
The Guardian is unsure what to make of what “appeared a serious ankle or foot injury”.
ESPN observes: “Philippe Coutinho was withdrawn in the first half with an injury to his lower right leg.”
The Liverpool Echo says his leg as in a “splint”. The Star say sit was in an “air cast”.
In the Express, James Cambridge ups the ante and says Coutinho has a broken foot – maybe.
Why does Cambridge think it’s a break? Well, he quotes a few tweeters who say they hope it isn’t a break. And he also quotes – yep – Martin Keown.
To put the tin lid on the Express’s utter balls, readers are told more about an injury to which Coutinho might not have succumbed :
Wayne Rooney was ruled out of the 2004 European Championships with a metatarsal injury and was sidelined for around two months.
The Manchester United captain has been plagued with metatarsal inuries [sic] and suffered his third in August 2007 and was out for six weeks.
David Beckham famously broke his metatarsal before the 2002 World Cup and was a major doubt for the tournament.
The final word is with someone who knows. Says Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp: “It [Philippe Coutinho’s injury] is an ankle injury but we can’t say anymore until we see a scan.”
Such are the facts.
Media Balls: a look at biased football reporting. Today Leicester City took on Middlesbrough in the Premier League. Leicester got a penalty. Should it have been given?
BBC: “A high ball is pumped into the box and catches the hand of Calum Chambers. Referee Lee Mason points to the spot. The Boro defender probably feels a little aggrived [sic] given he looked to be fouled by Wes Morgan.”
Lucky Leicester. It was ever so.
Sky: “Chambers is having a poor few minutes as he leaps with his hands in the air and the ball hits him. It’s stonewall and after a quick check with the linesman, the referee points the spot. Mahrez is over it…”
The Sun: “Morgan clearly shoves Chambers into the ball but incredibly Lee Mason points to the spot. It’s another refereeing howler!”
Stone me! Penalty?
Hard luck, Calum Chambers.
Leicester Mercury: “Surprisingly, no second yellow for defender Chambers for his handball despite having been booked just minutes earlier for a foul on Vardy.”
Lucky, Calum Chambers.
Was it a penalty?
Yes, it hit the arm of Calum Chambers.
But the considerable weight of Wes Morgan had a considerable part to play in that.
The defender was all over Chambers and made his presence felt…
The Gazette then quotes an expert:
Such are the facts.
Who more than Manchester United’s Jose Mourinho sets the news agenda? The Times leads with Mourinho’s words on Anthony Martial. “You have one opportunity, you have two, you have three,” said the Portuguese to media. “If you don’t bite then somebody comes and takes the bait.”
The Times says, “how Martial reacts to the coded message from Mourinho will define the next stage of his career.”
Of course, this is Mourinho who no sooner comments in pubic on one of his team’s players than he moves to ensure the dialogue is all about him. His then issues a dig at Louis Van Gaal, his predecessor:
“First of all the teams are very different. The way the team played last season — I’m not saying better or worse, just different – was probably more adaptive to Anthony. He was probably more comfortable playing that way, at that intensity, at that rate of ball possession and ball circulation.”
He’s not saying it’s better or course to be less intense – which of course he is. “Anthony Martial struggling with Manchester United pace, says Mourinho,” declares the Guardian’s headline.
He then picks up his trumpet and blows hard:
“When I won the last title [with Chelsea] 18 years ago – sorry, 18 months ago – I had ten points advantage and then, in one month, I had the same points as Man City. We lost 10 points in one month. I think it was the end of December or the beginning of January and we’d lost 10 points. Then we recovered and won that title 18 years ago – sorry, 18 months ago. You can recover points. Others can lose points.”
When you lose, it’s you. When you win, it’s him.
In the Indy, we get an angle that maybe Martial’s dip in form is down to Mourinho’s love for Zlatan:
Martial’s form is believed to be down to a number of circumstances, including problems in his personal life and having a lack of a summer break after his efforts with France at Euro 2016.
He is also believed to be disappointed with United moving him from the No 9 shirt to the No 11 shirt in the wake of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s arrival just as he launched the trademark ‘Martial9’.
At United, it’s so much about the marketing. Brand Jose always wins. It says so on the label:
Manchester United balls: Jose Mourinho adapts the Chelsea philosophy to be more and less like Van Gaal
How are things going for Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho? “From the moment he arrived, the message has been positive, about winning the title. Nothing on philosophies or things taking time,” said the Sun’s Neil Curtis on 6th September 2016. Philosophy is for losers, like Louis Van Gaal, Jose’s predecessor at United, whose “attempts to reprogramme everyone with his much-vaunted ‘philosophy’ succeeded only in inhibiting all their natural instincts”.
Philosophy is balls.
Unless it isn’t. On November 15 the Sun thought philosophy and football were a good blend. “Johan Cruyff’s debut 52 years ago today: Inventor of Total Football whose philosophy influenced Arsene Wenger and Pep Guardiola,” chimed the headline.
On November 22, the Manchester Evening News agreed, reporting: “Daley Blind’s view on Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho’s philosophy.” Said Blind of Mourinho: “He is pretty similar to Van Gaal when it comes to their commitment to the team. They used to work together so I reckon that is no coincidence.” He adds: “…his philosophy is slightly different to that of Van Gaal. He is very direct, it is all about winning.”
And as Jose Mourinho put it in 2013: “You need stability in methods, in philosophy within the club. With FFP [Financial Fair Play], and Chelsea wants to go in that direction, you also need stability. You cannot change manager and philosophy every few years.”
So much for much-vaunted philosophy.
The Sun has news that Perrie Edwards, a singer with X-Factor products Little Mix, has been on “dates” with Arsenal footballer Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Apparently, she watched Arsenal play Spurs from Alex’s “personal box at the Emirates’ Stadium”. Perrie sat in the wingback seats at the Emirates library after browsing the club shop.
We then learn that Perrie is “keen to keep the relationship quiet”. An unnamed source hammers this point hime by opining in the national tabloid: “They don’t follow each other on social media as they know a connection might give the game away.”
Better to sit in the player’s own box amid 60,000 other souls at a televised football match to keep it on the hush-hush.
PS: This is how the Sun followed up its scoop:
Rose Hill writes:
LITTLE Mix’s Perrie Edwards showed that she was fully over her ex Luke Pasqualino – by wearing her new man’s team colours as she hit the stage in Italy.
Here’s the replica Arsenal strip Perrie wore:
Arsenal play in red and white. Edwards is wearing red and black.
Such are the facts.
The peado-hunt has reached football. Following the grim news that young players were molested by coaches, the Mail leads its sports coverage with a story that Manchester City are in a “sex abuse probe”. Is the entire club is in some way linked to paedophilia? Surely not. It makes you hanker for those wholesome days of randy footballers, glamour models, spit roasts at the Grosvenor hotel and super-injunctions. Seedy stuff it was was, but always between consenting adults.
The Mail’s story is overblown. City are looking at the club’s links with convicted paedophile Barry Bennell, who “coached junior teams connected to City”. The club is doing the sensible thing and looking into if Bennell ever represented City. We don’t know if he did, let alone if he abused any youngsters on City’s books.
The Mail seems to be linking a Premier League club with a lower-league scandal – Bennell was employed by Crewe Alexandra.
Over in the Mirror, which has twice this week led with the story on its front page, page 9 features a remarkable headline: “Rooney tells footy sex victims: Don’t suffer in silence.” That’s Manchester United and England’s Wayne Rooney. He wants anyone who has suffered to contact the new NSPCC hotline. ‘NSPCC chief Peter Wanless hoped Rooney would “give courage to those who may be afraid of coming forward’,” says the paper. How? Rooney was not molested. How does Rooney’s endorsement help middle-aged men confront their past? It all carries a faint whiff of PR, a chance for leading figures to be on the side of the right against a wrong anyone sane should know is criminal and revolting. Creating a sense of moral purpose from the pursuit of child-abusers is crass. But that’s how the peado-panic has been manifest for years. Child abuse stopped being about the victims and listening to someone regardless of age and social rank with respect when they make an allegation and into the nation’s defining characteristic.
And so the Sun. Over two page it invites readers to work out an answer to the headline poser: “Is beast Bennell the Jimmy Savile of football world?” The helpful bit about getting to any answer is that Bennell is alive and we know where he is: (Milton Keynes, says the Mirror; he’s in “hiding”, says the Sun). That makes him only half like Savile, who is decomposing, having died a blameless national treasure. The unhelpful bit is that the Sun’s story contains not a single fact linking Bennell to Savile. Other than in the headline, the Sun’s story on a convicted paedophile contains only one mention of the gibbering Yorkshire DJ – “the scandal now described as “potentially worse than Savile“.’
It’s lamentable that something as abhorrent as child abuse should be sensationalised. When being against child abuse is your media’s campaign, the bar has been set lower than Savile’s upturned toes.
Chelsea striker Diego Costa is playing well. Ian Wright has noticed. He says Chelsea are riding high in the Premier League because of Costa above all else. The former Arsenal striker writes in the Sun:
“I have a message to all those who say Diego Costa has finally got his game under control: It always was. There are plenty of people who reckon it’s all down to the fact he has calmed down. Yet to me, even when Costa was picking up yellow cards, he remained massively in control…. he always knew how far to push it. He’d have picked up far more than a single red card in his time at Stamford Bridge if that wasn’t the case.”
In Marxh 2015, Costa was sent off in the FA Cup at Goodison Park. It was his first red card in a Chelsea shirt. It was his first because he’d been lucky / sneaky. Before that red card, Costa was banned twice in a Chelsea shirt, both retrospectively, by the FA for incidents missed by the officials during games against Arsenal and Liverpool.
So much for the facts, then. And what about all those who say Costa is a hothead? People like Ian Wright, who opined in 2015:
“I would sell him at the first opportunity I get for Costa. I’d sell him… He’s antagonised at the moment. If I was a defender I would just keep talking to him, it takes him away from his game.”
“Martin Keown… would have relished the challenge of Costa. Whatever we say about Costa, he plays on the edge. His hold up play and the runs he makes, honestly, he’s good. Martin could deal with all that and the foolishness as well.”
Such are the facts.
Should Edinson Cavani have been sent off in PSG’s Champions’ League match at Arsenal? The Star says the striker “cuffed” Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey “on the chin”.
John Cross tells Mirror readers, “Cavani clearly aimed a punch at Aaron Ramsay. No surprise that Cavani missed Ramsey’s face.”
Tony Banks tells Express readers, “Cavani appeared to punch Aaron Ramsey on the jaw.”
Charlie Wyett tells Sun readers, “Cavani lashed out at Aaron Ramsey – he should have been sent off.”
In the Mail things become more confusing. We see Cavani “losing it”. He “plants his hand into Ramsey’s neck”. Sami Mokbel says Cavani “aimed a punch at Ramsey”. The Mail says Cavani slapped Ramsey.
Writing in the Mail, former referee Graham Poll counters his own paper by accusing Ramsey of “playacting”. He says “Ramsey was not touched on his face – but Cavani escaped the yellow card he deserved”.
Such are the facts.
Drama ahead of tonight’s Champions’ League between Arsenal and Paris St Germain. In an “EXCLUSIVE”, the Star thunders: “Serge Aurier’s career could be ruined after he was banned from entering Britain to face Arsenal tonight.”
You can read the same story on the Sun’s back page, where Arsenal’s hopes have received a boost from the Home Office. Aurier has been banned from entering the UK as a result of his conviction for assaulting a police officer in Paris. In September the 23-year-old Ivorian was found guilty of elbowing his victim as he left a Paris nightclub in May. He was sentenced to two months in jail and fined €600.
The club have not sacked him. The incident has not left his carder in ruins. But, apparently, not playing Arsenal might.
The Star’s twist on the story is based on the words of Aurier’s lawyer, Claire Boutaud de la Combe, who “fears it could leave his career in tatters”. Really?
“Under France law he remains innocent until this appeal has been heard,” says de la Combe. “But such an appeal can take quite a long time, especially in Paris. It will take several months, maybe one year. We don’t understand why this has become a problem, there is no reason for his. Now this is a worry because maybe it will stop him being able to travel to other countries to play for PSG or the Ivory Coast because they will also not allow him entry.”
In February, PSG suspended Aurier for a Champions’ League match against Chelsea following comments he made about the coach, Laurent Blanc, and his team-mates on social media. The season before that, Uefa banned Aurier for three matches ‘after last season’s Champions League game against Chelsea following a video posted on Facebook in which he labelled the referee Bjorn Kuipers a “dirty son of a bitch” over the sending-off of his team-mate Ibrahimovic.’
PSG are getting used to playing Champions’ League matches without Aurier, who is, nonetheless, picked to play when not banned. His career is not in tatters. Far from it.
Oh, and to put the tin lid on this balls, note that the source is the Star, the paper that told us – yep – Aurier agreed to join the Gunners is 2014.
A fact echoed by the Star’s sister paper, the Express:
Aurier singed for PSG.
Last night Spurs crashed out of the Champions’ League, losing to Monaco in France. The Sun’s Paul Jiggins says Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettinho “sprang a surprise” by playing Eric Dier and Kevin Wimmer in defence in place of the “ever-reliable Jan Vertonghen“.
When Monaco defeated Spurs 1-2 at Wembley earlier in the CL, Vertonghen was hardly sublime. The Evening Standard reported:
Spurs would come to rue those missed opportunities. Lamela conceded possession in his own half and Fabinho fed Silva, who drove into the box past Jan Vertonghen before unleashing a driven effort with his left foot that flew past Hugo Lloris.
The Mail noted:
Silva shimmied into the penalty area and, when Jan Vertonghen showed him the goal, lashed a left-footer inside the far post.
Stunning finish, but not great defending from Vertonghen, who lets Silva cut in and get the shot away…
Thomas Lemar jumped ahead of Vertonghen to reach Djibril Sidibé’s cross. The ball broke back to Lemar at the near post and he lashed it high beyond Lloris from close range.
When Spurs were beaten 0-1 by Bayer Leverkusen at Wembley Stadium, Sky Sports reported:
Jan Vertonghen set the tone when he nervously mis-hit a clearance in the opening minutes. Leverkusen were on the front foot immediately and Spurs, usually so aggressive under Pochettino, couldn’t cope with a taste of their own high-pressing medicine.
Tottenham in a bit of a pickle as Vertonghen wildly slices a clearance up in the air that Leverkusen pounce on…
Vertonghen’s a good player, but in the Champion’s League he’s been no rock-like presence.
And he’s been lucky in the Premier League:
The Indy: “Confusion reigned at White Hart Lane on Saturday as referee Bobby Madley failed to award a penalty for Jan Vertonghen’s clear pull on Joel Matip’s shirt at a corner.”
The Mail: “Jan Vertonghen had a full hold of Granit Xhaka’s shirt while defending a corner and even beats the midfielder to heading the ball away. A penalty in the laws of the game…”
Transfer balls: On October 14 2016, the Daily Mirror told its readers: “Arsenal’s Hector Bellerin wants to go to Manchester City.” That headline was part of the Mirror’s transfer rumours round-up. The paper stated:
Hector Bellerin could reject an offer to stay at Arsenal and leave for Manchester City in the summer…
That was based on a Times report: “Bellerín tempted by City and Barcelona.” If he was, Bellerin wasn’t saying as much. All we got was:
Sources close to the player insist that Bellerín’s preference is to join City, where he would be reunited with Pep Guardiola.
The Press has been linking Bellerin, once a winger at Barcelona’s youth teams, with a return to Spain and a move to Man City. In April 2015, the Star told readers:
He said that? No. He didn’t. “The Arsenal is giving me everything I am with amazing players. I do not think about the future. I just started,” said Bellerin.”I thank the people who speak well of me, but I’m only in the beginning. What has to arrive, will arrive.”
But in this era of clickbait balls, the Telegraph ignored the facts to thunder: “Hector Bellerin could leave for Manchester City or Barcelona.”
And so to the London Evening Standard, which declares today:
Hector Bellerin: I never thought about leaving Arsenal – this is my home
Having just signed a new deal to remain at Arsenal until 2023, Bellerin tells the Arsenal website:
“I’m really, really happy and this club is my home… I’ve been here for more than five years now so I was really, really excited when the club told me that they wanted to extend my contract. I wasn’t thinking about anything else other than staying here and continuing my development here. This is where I’m happy. I’m just very grateful and pleased to have signed. Arsenal is not only about being a footballer, you have to be good person to play here. That’s what everyone transmits inside the club. You represent more than just a football club.”
Such are the facts.
Transfer Balls: Liverpool are ready to pick up the hotline to Southampton FC and buy two more Saints’ players. The Star leads with news that Liverpool have £40m to spend on Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk and Sam McQueen.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, we read, is “confident” he can prise Van Djik away from the South Coast. Well, he has reason to fancy his chances. Southampton have been willing to sell lots of talent to Liverpool in the past few years – Sadio Mane, Nathaniel Clyne, Dejan Lovren and Adam Lallana are ex-Saints playing in the Liverpool first XI.
Oddly, the Star’s scoop contains not one single fact to support it.
And such is the way of Transfer Balls that when one newspaper says it, the others slavishly follow.
“LOYAL CUSTOMERS – Liverpool transfer news: Virgil van Dijk and Sam McQueen the latest Southampton players lined up by Reds,” says the Sun. “Jurgen Klopp believes the Dutch giant and classy full-back can help bolster the title-chasing Reds’ leaky defence.”
“Liverpool eyeing Sam McQueen swoop as Reds identify Southampton starlet as defensive target,” echoes the Mirror. The Mirror then guesses: “But they are unlikely to pursue a move for the defender until the summer, when he would become a free agent, after failing to agree a new contract with the south coast club.”
Will McQueen sign a new deal? The Southampton Echo wrote in October: “For McQueen, born and bred in Southampton as a Saints fan, it was an almost overwhelmingly emotional moment to play at St Mary’s.”
McQueen told the Southampton FC website: “…you learn quickly, and Southampton has been amazing with coaching me and teaching me through the years, and recently becoming a left-back, with the manager giving me little coaching points here and there, which have been fantastic. So I’ve been learning a lot and enjoying it a lot, but there’s plenty, plenty more to learn – I know that.”
So will another product of Southampton’s prolific academy leave the club? Maybe. What is clear is that Southampton are getting something right.
In August, Southampton’s academy hosted an experiment. Youth players were grouped not according to age group but by a measure of size and physical maturity. The idea is to counter the Relative Age Effect, “a phenomenon that suggests that athletes at elite level are more likely to be born in the first 3 months after the eligibility cut-off date for a particular age group in sports.” The bigger boys in a school year get picked for the team. The rest get downhearted and discarded.
Gareth Bale’s football teacher at Southampton, Malcolm Elias, told the Times: “He [Bale] was injured a lot and some coaches used to think he was soft. Lots of people questioned whether he wanted it badly enough. I said, ‘Get off his case. He’s a July birthday, is left-footed and can run for fun; what more do you want?’”
But what of money? “You see kids now getting all these things and demanding £50,000 a week,” says Elias. “He[Bale] came here on an ordinary scholarship. There was no haggling, no pro contract. The family was just delighted he was getting an extended opportunity. He was on £45 a week.”
Southampton call McQueen “an incredibly well-spoken young man”. Look at Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, two Southampton graduates sold for big money at a young age to Arsenal. Both speak well and can articulate their thoughts.
Matthew Syed says this is not an accident:
Southampton now have an educational and skills programme running alongside the usual academy functions. This is about building leadership qualities in their young players. They want their future stars to be involved in decision-making on training and rehab, to broaden their minds with education, to widen their social skills, rather than treating them like infants.
“If you want leaders on the pitch, you have to develop their qualities off the pitch,” Les Reed, the technical director, said. “In many academies, education is seen as a waste of time, a distraction from the game. We think that it is central to player development. We need England players who don’t crumble when they are on a big stage and go one-nil down.”
Technology is harnessed and deployed:
In the black box, Koeman can ask to see detailed footage and stats on any player in the world or at the club’s academy. The aim is to make sure that the manager does not need to spend money on a new player when they have one in the pipeline who fits the bill. The complex is shiny and lovely but the principles have been honed over many years. While Arsenal and Manchester United curse how many of their players pick up injuries, Southampton seem serenely to be at full strength. They realised, while at their lowest ebb, in League One, that they simply could not afford to let Lallana become injured, so they devised a way of making sure that all their resources went into making sure their talisman stayed fit.
Southampton aim not for one player to make it thought the ranks and into the first team, but for four or five to progress and play the ‘Southampton way’.
“Our academy vision is to produce a first team year-on-year made up of 50% Academy graduates who are world-class in their technical ability on the field and behaviours off the field competing on the European stage,” say Southampton.
It would be another blow for Saints fans to see McQueen leave. But the club is in great shape. Liverpool, Arenal and other clubs might care to spend less time looking at the end product and more at the process.