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Premier League news. Stories from the newspapers and BBC sport – sports news from tabloids Daily Mail, Daily Express, Daily Star, the Guardian, Daily Mirror, the times, daily telegraph

Cold Comfort

‘IT was cold in Munich last night and Arsenal froze.

Just add a ‘t’

Losing 3-1 to Bayern Munich all but ends the Gunners’ hopes of making the big push and taking the Champions’ League title.

Sure, they can score the two goals they need to win the tie when the teams play the second leg ay Highbury in two weeks’ time.

But, as the papers say, they can just as easily let in three.

The Times is right in saying that Arsenal’s defence looks vulnerable without the steadying presence of Sol Campbell, injured for last night’s match.

But they do have a chink of light offered to them by Kolo Toure’s late goal, a strike that will afford the player some comfort since it was his blunders that directly led to two to of the Germans’ goals.

Indeed, if the Arsenal team read the Independent’s verdict on Liverpool’s 3-1 win in the competition over Bayer Leverkusen, they will be encouraged to believe all is not lost.

Three goals to the good against a pretty unexceptional German side, the Indy watched as Liverpool’s goalkeeper, the periodically hapless Jerzy Dudek, fluffed his lines and handed Leverkusen a lifeline.

The paper says that Sean De Souza Franca’s late away goal could be “potentially crucial” in the grand scheme of things. If so, the same can be said of Toure’s late effort. Arsenal have hope.

And Chelsea… well, they have oodles of cash, a sense of belief in their talent and Jose Mourinho.

Yesterday, the Telegraph was in Barcelona to hear the cocksure Chelsea coach ask the assembled media if they wanted to hear what his team will be.

They nodded as one. So Mourinho told them the line-up. He told them the identity of the referee. He also told them the line up of the Barcelona team.

Had he gone on, he would have probably told everyone the secret of his success, his shaving routine and why he is the best-ever manager in the history of best-ever managers.

And then told us what the score will be in tonight’s match…’

Posted: 23rd, February 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

Us And Them

‘IN what counts as a rite of passage at Highbury, the Mail says that Jose Antonio Ryes has been charged by the FA with violent conduct.

Reyes hears about the violent conduct charge

If ever the player wanted to bolster his Arsenal credentials after being tricked into revealing his dream to play for Real Madrid, a ban from the game is a decent way to start.

The Spaniard should be fired up for the Gunners’ trip to Germany where they face a Bayern Munich side in fine form.

The Mail previews this Champions’ League game and concludes that it will be a stiff test for Arsene Wenger’s team.

But, as the Telegraph notes, “nothing fuels a team’s fire more than a siege mentality”, and Wenger is keen to play on just that notion.

Claiming that the media do not fully appreciate the quality of his dynamic team, the Frenchman said: “We simply have to fight against this. No matter what we do, it is all negative in the press.”

The ‘us against the world’ approach may well stand Arsenal in good stead, but surely the game of the night is Chelsea’s trip to Barcelona.

The Times says the Chelsea’s coach Jose Mourinho’s credentials will tonight face a “Spanish inquisition”, a predicable pun based on nothing much.

Mourinho’s credentials are not what is in any doubt – it as only last year his unfancied Porto side won the Champions’ League; what is in doubt is how his new Chelsea team can fare.

The other question of the day, and the main poser as far as the Mail is concerned, is how “serial offender” Michael Lewis made it onto the pitch during Burnley’s FA Cup tie against Blackburn Rovers.

There’s a nice picture of a tattooed Lewis – dressed oddly in T–shirt and gloves – knocking the helmets off a couple of constables as he attempts to show what a complete berk he is (success) and get at some of those Rovers players (failure).

Going up against a couple of professional sportsman smacks of an ingrained deep-seated idiocy that Lewis clearly posseses in spades.

For, as the Mail says, at the time of his one-man pitch invasion, Lewis was banned from every football ground in the land.

In the language of the police, Lewis has previous.

But that did not stop him getting a ticket to the game and a seat in the stands.

Nor his picture in the paper…’

Posted: 22nd, February 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

Thin Blue Line

‘POOR old Chelsea! Oh dear! Even with all the cash in the world – or at least a large chunk of it – they have learnt that money cannot buy you luck.

‘I’ve got them, officer’

Sure, the Blues had their slice of this most precious commodity this season, but yesterday their good fortune appeared to run out in spectacular style as they went down 1-0 to Newcastle.

They may have been “FROZEN OUT” of the FA Cup, as the Guardian says, but the Blues still have three trophies to go for, which, all told, would not be bad haul of silver for all the millions spent.

But, as the paper says, since the loss off Arjen Robben, Chelsea have scored one goal in 335 minutes of play. They have now lost Wayne Bridge with a possible broken leg and suffered injuries to Damien Duff and William Gallas.

With a trip to Barcelona looming and next Sunday’s Carling Cup final to Liverpool now looking far less than a formality, the wheels on the Chelsea troika are looking a little less than tight.

While we and the papers contemplate a Chelsea collapse, the Independent looks at Wayne Rooney’s return to Everton for the first time since his move to Manchester United.

And didn’t the boy do well. Which is more than can be said for some sad elements of the Everton crowd, especially the inadequate who hurled a mobile phone at United’s goalkeeper, Roy Carroll?

The boy who enriched his club to the sweet tune of £27m deserved better than this spite and stupidity.

As for the phone chucker, the Sun has a grainy picture of him/her/it and asks: “DO YOU KNOW THE LUNATIC IN THE CROWD?”

We are unsure, but keen to see the Premiership race thrown wide open, believe it could be either Jose Mourinho, Petr Cech or Frank Lampard.

Indeed, it may even be a conspiracy between all three.

While the police follow up our lead and chuck the trio in jail for the remainder of the season, the Times has news of Urs Meier, the Swiss referee with the tinted beard who was in charge of England’s defeat to Portugal in Euro 2004.

Speaking to the paper, Meier reveals the extent of the abuse he suffered from disappointed English fans who bombarded him with abusive emails and telephone calls.

“I think the first three or four week after this were the hardest in my life,” says he. “They wanted to kill me, to finish me off.”

And who are they? Why, John Terry and Glen Johnson we suppose. They too are now being rounded up…’

Posted: 21st, February 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

No Way, Says Jose

‘THE Uefa Cup is now very much the European version of the Carling Cup, except of course that it is even harder to get knocked out of.

”I would like to pick the English – Cole from Arsenal, Gerrard from Liverpool, Defoe from Spurs..”

For evidence of the decline of this once prestigious trophy, take a look at the back pages of the papers this morning.

Only the Guardian feels the need to report to its readers that last night Newcastle United beat Heerenveen 2-1 at the Abe Lenstra stadium and so put a tentative foot into the last 16.

Sadly, the Guardian doesn’t feel the need to tell us where Heerenveen is and we have to go to the Anorak atlas to discover that it is in fact in the Netherlands.

The other papers barely seem to have known there was a game on last night, so busy are they with the real business of the Champions’ League.

The Indy hears Chelsea’s manager Jose Mourinho – with typical modesty – launch the first fusillade ahead of his team’s match with Barcelona with an attack on the credentials of his opposing manager.

“Frank Rijkaard’s history as a player can’t be compared to my history – his history is fantastic, mine is zero,” he said.

“But my history as a manager can’t be compared to his, because he has zero titles and I have a lot of them. He just can’t be compared with me.”

Nor can Arsene Wenger be compared with Mourinho, it seems.

The Portugeezer insisted that he would never field a squad consisting entirely of foreigners as Arsenal did on Monday night.

“Especially as a foreign manager, I feel a bit responsible for the national team,” he said. “And I would never forget my responsibility to the future of some kids.”

Responsibility is not a word that sits easily with the West Indies cricket team at present.

The Telegraph has seen a leaked memo from Richard Nowell, sponsorship manager of Digicel, West Indies’ new £11m sponsors, which, it says, “could set off one of the biggest crises in Caribbean cricket for years”.

In it, he accuses the players of paying too much attention to women and not enough to cricket during the recent one-day tournament in Australia.

“As a former professional cricketer and having toured with England on three occasions,” wrote the former Surrey batsman, “I know men need to have fun on tour.

“However, not at the expense of performance.”

Judging by the recent performances of the West Indies, we can only assume they must have had an awful lot of fun…’

Posted: 18th, February 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

Money For Nothing

‘IF money were goals, then British clubs would have dominated the European club competitions in recent years.

Keane picks up his trophy at the football marketing awards

Premiership clubs dominate the list of Europe’s Top 20 richest clubs, accounting (with the two Old Firm clubs) for half the names on the list.

And, says the Telegraph, it is a hold that is likely to become even stronger in coming years with Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea taking the top three places.

At the moment, Real Madrid occupy second place in the list, compiled by Deloitte – and made £56.9m from commercial income alone.

David Beckham may not have set Spain alight on the field, but he certainly shifts a lot of shirts.

Liverpool may not have set the world alight on the field either, but they do at least hang on to a place in the Top 10.

Whether they can retain that, however, depends to a large extent on whether they manage to get a Champions’ League place next season.

And the Times reports that Rafael Benitez has read the riot act to his players after a fourth defeat in seven games threatened to undermine the club’s whole season.

“I have come here to work hard and I expect everyone else to do the same” may not qualify for the Sir Alex Ferguson Hairdrier Award.

But, says the Times, it marks a departure from the Spaniard’s previous Sven Goran Eriksson demeanour.

Words are one thing, actions another – as the FA managed to demonstrate again yesterday.

New chief executive Brian Barwick may have spoken convincingly about the need to eradicate “simulation” (otherwise known as cheating) from the game.

But, says the Times, that brave declaration was looking “as convincing as an El-Hadji Diouf swandive” yesterday as the FA has spectacularly failed to put it into practice.

Bolton’s defender Tal Ben Haim escaped without censure for what looked for all the world like a blatant dive in the match against Manchester United on December 26.

“The Israel defender attracted widespread derision,” it says, “when he reacted to a shove in the face by Wayne Rooney as if he had been struck by lightning rather than a podgy teenager.”

If the FA is not itself to attract widespread derision, it needs to act – and we are grateful to Roy Keane for this suggestion.

Having a go at Ashley Cole for his theatrics, the Manchester United midfielder said: “Before the game, there was all this stuff about anti-racism and anti-bullying.

“It would be a good idea to start wearing wristbands for anti-diving.”

A pointless initiative from the game’s ruling body and another great merchandising opportunity for the clubs – all in one.

Is genius too strong a word?’

Posted: 17th, February 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

The Foreign Legion

‘ARSENE Wenger is not known for his 20:20 vision, so it is hardly surprising that he couldn’t see what all the fuss was about his squad selection on Monday night.

Are you watching, Perry Groves?

However, the fact that he did not name a single English player either in the starting XI or on the bench was a record that has not exactly been welcomed.

Former Arsenal star Paul Merson calls it “a joke”, while PFA boss Gordon Taylor tells the Times it will be another 40 years until England win a major trophy if clubs continue to ride roughshod over the interests of the national team.

One could point out that it is already 40 years since England won a major trophy and for most of that time there has been no problem with foreign players squeezing out homegrown talent.

Indeed, as Taylor himself admits, a look at the national side suggests that it is not a lack of talent that is the problem.

However, the Times (which devotes an inordinate amount of space this morning to the subject) compares the England under-21 team of a decade ago with the one now.

And it discovers that the starting XI in the 1995 team against Ireland had more than twice as many caps (383) as last week’s side who played Holland (151).

What can we deduce from that? That few players make the transition from the under-21 team to full international honours.

Of the 1995 team, only two have had any kind of international career – Trevor Sinclair and Nicky Butt.

And Butt (with only six appearances for Manchester United prior to that game) was the second most inexperienced player in the side.

All of which suggests that you can prove whatever you like with statistics.

Be that as it may, the Indy says Arsenal are locked on a collision course with Uefa, who want to introduce quotas for European competitions.

Not a single member of the Arsenal squad for the game against Crystal Palace would have qualified under the Uefa definition of a homegrown player.

However, by the time the quotas come into force in 2006-7, three of the 16 – Gael Clichy, Philippe Senderos and Cesc Fabregas – will do so.

Although Uefa expect a legal challenge to the ruling, they insist that they are ready to defend their stand.

“What I am disappointed with,” says spokesman William Gaillard, “is that they [the clubs] are failing to read what the fans want and they are losing touch with them.”

We wonder. If Arsenal were to continue to play as well as they did on Monday and win every game 5-1, we imagine the North Bank would be happy with a team full of Martians.’

Posted: 16th, February 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

Sugar And Spice

‘IT’S taken footballers a couple of days to respond to Sir Alan Sugar’s opinion that they are “scum”, probably because they were working out whether it was meant as a compliment or not.

”We beat the scum 5-1”

Having decided that it wasn’t, PFA boss Gordon Taylor this morning leads the fightback, arguing that the former Spurs chairman’s comments were “as offensive as any racist remark”.

Note that Taylor is not calling Sugar a racist. How could he when the latter explicitly tarred every footballer, black or white, with the same brush?

But by equating his views with those of a racist’s, the implication of Taylor’s statement is that if Sugar isn’t a racist he could be one.

The Independent allows us to judge for ourselves by printing the 57-year-old businessman’s thoughts on the practitioners of our national game in full.

“[Football players are] scum, total scum,” he said. “They’re bigger scum than journalists, don’t you understand? They don’t know what honesty and loyalty is.

“They’re the biggest scum that walk on this planet and, if they weren’t football players, most of them would be in prison.”

Where they would no doubt find themselves sharing a cell with many of Sir Alan’s friends in business.

While we ponder on the irony of the likes of Alan Sugar giving lessons in loyalty and honesty, 22 scum were staying out of prison by kicking a ball around a field in north London.

And the Times reports that 11 scum in red and white (who call themselves Arsenal) kicked the ball five times into the net of the other scum (called Crystal Palace) and so won the game.

In doing so, the paper says they played like champions but as there are no extra points in the Premiership for style they remain two points behind Manchester United and 11 behind Chelsea.

Sugar may not like footballers, but Malcolm Glazer does. So much so that the American wants to buy himself a whole club full of them.

The 76-year-old tycoon is likely to make a formal bid for Manchester United next week, which (says the Indy) will include formal pledges relating to transfer budgets, ticket prices, job security and the status of Old Trafford.

It is, the paper says, part of a strategy to change minds, not win hearts.

Supporters remain as implacably opposed to a Glazer takeover as ever, recruiting the likes of Eric Cantona and Ole Gunnar Solksjaer to the cause.

Cantona has said: “If Glazer were to come here, we would lose everything.”

A look at recent additions to Manchester United’s trophy cabinet would suggest they’re doing a pretty good job of that without him…’

Posted: 15th, February 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

Jonny, Be Good

‘WHEN England fly-half Charlie Hodgson was masterminding victory against Tri-Nations champions South Africa in the autumn, the talk was of ‘Jonny Who?’

Where’s Jonny?

Now, Jonny Wilkinson cannot return quickly enough after England slipped to their third defeat in a row against what the Telegraph describes as “one of the worst French teams in living memory”.

Hodgson is fingered as the main culprit in the 17-18 loss after he and centre Olly Barkley missed a total of six penalty kicks.

Even then, England could have won but the Sale fly-half fluffed a simple drop goal chance with a couple of minutes.

Comparisons with Wilkinson’s last-minute drop goal winner in Sydney 18 months ago make Hodgson’s failure that much more conspicuous.

Others made more direct comparisons with the World Cup-winning team.

French captain Fabien Pelous, for instance, doubted that the old England would have let slip a 17-6 half-time lead.

“It’s probably the main difference between this England team and the team that won in Sydney – the World Cup team never faded away,” he said.

World Cup success for England’s one-day cricketers seems as far away as ever after they were routed 4-1 in the pyjama cricket series against South Africa.

However, appropriately given the setting, they do appear to have unearthed a diamond in South African-born Kevin Pietersen, who yesterday rescued his adopted country from embarrassment.

The No.5 guided England from 68-6 to 240 all out with another century – his third in the past four matches – scored at better than a run a ball.

The Times has had to use a calculator to work out Pietersen’s tour average – 558 runs from 554 balls at an average of 139.5 – when it can count most of the team’s on the fingers of one hand.

And it reckons that in doing so he has played his way into the Test side.

It would, it says, necessitate a rejig of the batting order with captain Michael Vaughan moving up to No.3 and Pietersen and Graham Thorpe coming in at No.4 and No.5.

But Vaughan has no doubts that England’s new recruit can turn one-day runs into Test success.

“He has set the world alight and has played innings of unbelievable tempo in pressured situations,” he told the Guardian. “He is an immense talent.”

The same has often been said of Michael Owen, who has struggled to break into the Real Madrid starting XI despite an exemplary goal scoring record.

The former Liverpool striker came off the bench to score with his head and so consolidate his position as having the best goal per minute ratio in La Liga.

Whether it’s enough to earn a starting berth remains to be seen.’

Posted: 14th, February 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

A Sorry Spectacle

‘LAST night England’s footballers said “NO TO RACISM”.

The Wright stuff?

After some Madrid locals directed monkey chants at England’s black players during the team’s last match in Spain, the FA asked FIFA for permission for their lads to wear the statement of intent on their tops.

As the Telegraph reports, this stance was supported by England’s righteous fans who held aloft “no racism” placards.

But still one back player comes in for special attention.

He’s Shaun Wright-Phillips, the scampering winger who before last night’s match against the Dutch was all set to replace David Beckham on England’s right.

Sixty minutes of play later – in which for the first 20 the Telegraph’s Paul Hayward watched the players legs turn to blancmange – he was off the pitch and Beckham’s future in an England kit seemed even more secure.

But in the prevailing spirit of racial harmony, let it not go unsaid that other England players were just as ineffectual in the 0-0 bore draw.

Granted, they did not let nerves get the better of them as Wright-Phillips did, but the likes of white Frank Lampard and orangey Wes Brown did play with an alarming lack of verve.

Not to worry because it’s not the fault of the lads. The blame for yet another insipid England performance lies with the team’s manager Sven Goran Eriksson, who just happens to be of foreign birth.

The Sun calls the match a “fiasco”, in which Sven experimented with a 4-3-3 system (it’s a 4-3—2-1 system in the Telegraph) and watched it fail miserably.

As the Times announces on its lead headline: “Eriksson’s experiment fails.”

Four years after taking over as England’s main coach, the boys in red and white are no closer to achieving coherency, let alone world dominance, than they were under Glenn Hoddle or Kevin Keegan.

There is so little so say about England that English minds may consider the Northern Irish lucky for having a representative team that are at least worth talking about.

And the conversation in Belfast centres on the fact that Northern Ireland are one of the worst teams on the planet.

And last night, as the Indy reports, they set new standards in awfulness, losing 1-0 at home to a 10-man Canada side.

Lawrie Shanchez’s team have now not won a home match since a 3-0 victory over Iceland in September 2001.

That is dreadful. But at least when the Northern Irish play their next match, there should be some interest in it. In case you didn’t know, they’re playing England.

The headline writers and anti-racists will have a field day…’

Posted: 10th, February 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

General MacArthur

‘THE Telegraph likes Ellen MacArthur. It likes Ellen MacArthur a lot.

Everybody loves a Dame

So much does the Telegraph admire Britain’s newest sporting heroine that it employs her to make up a large chunk of the paper’s output.

The main news sections is dominated by a front-page shot of Ellen – our Ellen – standing on her B&Q craft with a flare in each hand.

Dame Ellen, as she is soon to be known – our Dame Ellen – is then seen in action on the paper’s lead sports page. Indeed, she is all over it, her craft leading a flotilla of smaller boats as she enters Falmouth harbour.

If that were not enough, the paper also has a 10-page souvenir special in which it reproduces extracts from Ellen’s onboard diary – “I have put everything in – my heart, my soul, my flesh, my blood”.

It includes insightful gems like, “The motto for today is sleep more, suffer less” (Day 16); “huge waves rolling away as far as the eye can see” (Day 20); “my body has been pushed beyond its limits” (Day 39); “I’m struggling to push food down I’m so nervous” (Day 40); and “I found myself being hurled against the mast again and again.”

She’s a tough girl is our Ellen. As Simon Barnes writing in the Times says, Ellen is no sweet, retiring slip of a lass.

“She is as sweet and mild as vindaloo and as innocent as Tony Blair,” says he.

Given that profile, Ellen has what it takes to be a fine footballer, or, perhaps even the next manager of England’s football team.

And wouldn’t you just know it but there is the current man in the top job, Sven Goran Eriksson – our Sven, your Sven, anyone’s Sven – giving his considered opinion in the small matter of the Ashley Cole to Chelsea saga.

“As a professional footballer it must be your right to listen if some other works are available,” says loyal, decent, honest Sven.

Only, er, it is not. As a Premiership spokesman tells the Sun: “A professional footballer under contract [as Cole is contracted to Arsenal] does NOT have the right to speak to other clubs without the permission of his current employers.”

Point made.

And if the footballing man does speak out of turn the repercussions are massive.

Just look at Sven – he spoke to Chelsea and got another million quid a year added onto his wages by the pathetic and desperate FA.

Cole has been duly warned…’

Posted: 9th, February 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

Come On, Ellen

‘WELL done Ellen MacArthur on being on course to be the fastest solo sailor to circumnavigate the globe. But next time, can you try to do it a bit blonder and prettier?

Ellen survived some choppy water

Given this sportswoman’s drive and determination, if she puts her mind to being more photogenic – and thus of more appeal to the press in general – she will soon emerge a ravishing beauty.

But for now, as the Times reports, MacArthur is set to take a day and a half off the existing record set by Francis Joyon just last year.

She should finish her epic journey sometime tonight, as her boat, the B&Q, crosses the finishing line off the Brittany island of Ushart to mass cheers and a few camera flashes.

Sadly, for Ellen she is neither as pretty or as cock-sure as Chelsea’s coach Jose Mourinho.

This morning, the man whose team would be – and still will be – champions tells the Sun that he’s not bothered by their 0-0 draw with Manchester City yesterday.

And neither is he in the least bit interested in the furore surrounding his club’s alleged illegal approach to sign Arsenal’s Ashley Cole.

The footballing authorities have begun an inquiry into the matter, which could lead to Chelsea being docked points.

“I am not worried about the inquiry,” says Mourinho. “My life will still be the same.”

He then adds: “I don’t care about it. I’m a football manager not a lawyer.”

If he were a lawyer, he might like to turn to the Premier League’s rule K3, the one regarding approaches to players contracted to another club.

To translate from the lawyer speak, it says not to do it.

Meanwhile, England are failing to thrive. First the rugby team is beaten by a plucky Welsh side deserving of victory; then the cricketers are taken apart in South Africa.

The Telegraph concerns itself with both matters, saying how England’s rugby world champions lost the plot in Cardiff and how the cricketers were thrashed in Cape Town.

Which means it’s up to England’s noble footballers to restore some pride in the flag later in the week when they take on Holland.

What odds on that?’

Posted: 7th, February 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

Import Duty

‘ARTIFICIAL quotas have always sat uneasily in the world of professional sport, which after all is all about the pursuit of excellence.

Does Shaun Wright-Phillips count as two or one?

But Uefa’s new proposals to require all clubs playing in European competitions to field eight “home-grown” players in a squad of 25 by 2008 could hardly be described as draconian.

As the Telegraph points out, only five of the 32 clubs in last season’s Champions’ League would have breached the rule.

However, as four of those five are British – Arsenal, Chelsea, Rangers and Celtic – stories of footballing Armageddon are already starting to abound.

Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein warned that “there will be a great danger that clubs will bring younger-aged players, and their families, to the country so they have three years to make them ‘home-grown’ players”.

Be that as it may, one does wonder why Uefa has suddenly felt the need to act on a problem that doesn’t really seem to exist.

The horse that is the issue of the number of foreign players in certain club sides bolted long ago, and it’s hard to see why Uefa is so keen to shut the stable door now.

Perhaps it is the fear of Roman Abramovich’s millions – although it should be pointed out that Chelsea’s two best players (by their manager’s admission) are both home-grown.

No Uefa rule is likely to stop Premiership sides queuing up to sign Luis Figo, who (according to the Independent) is on his way to these shores in the summer.

The 32-year-old Portuguese midfielder has asked Real Madrid to release him at the end of the season if they are not prepared to offer him an extension to his contract.

“England has always been a dream,” he said, “because of the respect they have for the professionals over there and for the prestige associated with playing there.”

In other words, they pay stupid wages over there.

The argument is that foreign imports prevent domestic players from developing and getting experience, but two who have will be included in England’s squad for next week’s friendly against Holland at Villa Park.

However, the Telegraph says Middlesbrough’s Stewart Downing is likely to miss out in the starting XI in favour of Shaun Wright-Phillips, who will play on the left so David Beckham can continue on the right.

The England captain, who appears to be increasingly losing touch with reality, dismissed criticism of his recent performances.

“As long as I am happy with my form for Real Madrid and England,” he said, “then it does not really matter what anyone else says.”

Well, apart from his respective managers, team-mates and, yes, even fans…’

Posted: 4th, February 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

Nil Satis

‘IF Arsenal’s achievement of going through a whole Premiership season unbeaten was impressive, then so is Chelsea’s defensive record this year.

Nothing to cry about

The Blues have conceded just eight goals in 25 matches and Peter Cech hasn’t been beaten in the league since Thierry Henry’s quick free kick on December 12.

Last night, he had to save a first-half penalty from Paul Dickov to keep up that proud record and earn a 1-0 win for his side to put them 11 points clear of Manchester United.

As the final whistle sounded after a hard-fought encounter at Ewood Park, the players threw their shirts to the travelling supporters.

“It looked for all the world,” says the Times, “like a championship celebration for a club that has not achieved the feat for 50 years.”

However, once again an off-field spat has taken some of the sheen off a gritty performance.

Blackburn manager Mark Hughes was upset that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho didn’t shake his hand after the game.

“Everyone knows you have to be gracious in defeat,” he said afterwards, “but you have to be gracious in victory as well.”

For his part, Mourinho hit back by accusing Blackburn of trying to intimidate his team.

“It wasn’t a football game, it was a fight,” he said.

It’s small wonder that players niggle and cheat and dive and foul and whinge on the pitch when their managers do exactly the same off it.

Perhaps, the FA should follow the example of the ICC and impose swingeing fines (or even suspensions) for such after-match backchat.

There was no need for words after yesterday’s one-day international between England and South Africa, which ended in a tie.

But if one word was required, it would be ‘choke’ after the hosts somehow managed to fail to lose a game that was theirs for the taking.

The Telegraph says the ending could prove to be a career-defining moment for Kabir Ali, playing in only his third one-day international.

“His final over, which began with a waist-high no-ball, looked like it might be reminiscent of another World Cup debacle – the over that Jimmy Anderson bowled to Andy Bichel at Port Elizabeth two years ago.”

However, this is South Africa and not Australia and, with only three runs to get off the final six balls, they managed to get only two…and lose three wickets in the process.

All of which added lustre to a maiden century by “South Africa’s least favourite export” Kevin Pietersen.

The Telegraph said he reacted to reaching three figures “like a visiting goalscorer at Stamford Bridge”.

Not that anyone will remember what that looks like soon…’

Posted: 3rd, February 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

Gunners Offer No Defence

‘WHATEVER the result of last night’s showdown between Arsenal and Manchester United, the real winners were bound to be Chelsea.

”Fergie dreams of holding the Premiership trophy”

So much emotional energy did the two sides expend in 90 minutes of fouling, preening, whinging and kicking the football that Jose Mourinho should be rubbing his hands in glee.

As it was, United emerged 4-2 winners and now look to be the only side with a chance of catching the Blues, who will be 11 points clear at the top if they beat Blackburn tonight.

Afterwards, Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira had no complaints, admitting that “they played a bigger game than us and deserved the three points”.

Arsene Wenger, meanwhile, accepted that his team’s title challenge was over and blamed a defence that has now conceded 29 goals in the league for the situation.

“Overall we concede too many goals to go for the championship,” he told the Guardian.

“With the way we gave goals away, you see the players don’t have the same confidence at the back that they had last year. The same players concede goals now who didn’t concede goals before.”

That’s not entirely true, however. Goalkeeper Manuel Almunia looked out of his depth last night and was certainly to blame for two of the United goals.

The Times agrees, suggesting that Arsenal’s defensive malaise has its roots in Almunia’s lack of authority.

The malaise at the heart of South African cricket can also be put down to a lack of authority, this time on the part of captain Graeme Smith.

The hapless Smith turned 24 yesterday, awaking to reports of yet another row among the selectors.

Among cricketing nations, South Africa is a special case because of its recent political past – and racial issues are always going to play a part in team selection.

But race is not responsible for most of the perverse decisions that the South African selectors have made during this tour, which has seen regular changes of personnel and line-up.

“It is important to find combinations and stick with them,” Smith tells the Times. “We need to believe in guys and give them everything they need to be successful.

“We have to have a plan and know we are going somewhere.”

If the South African selectors look like they have learnt from England of the mid-1990s, the current England panel should be their benchmark for the future.

For instance, the Indy reports that wicket-keeper Geraint Jones has been assured that he will be given a decent run at the top of the one-day batting order to see if he can become England’s version of Adam Gilchrist.

Not that Jones himself is making the comparison.

“There’s only one Gilchrist,” he said.

More’s the pity…’

Posted: 2nd, February 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

Menage A Trois

‘SO, Manchester United have fallen out with Arsenal. Arsenal have fallen out with Chelsea. And Chelsea have fallen out with Manchester United.

”But Gary doesn’t like anchovies?”

Relations between the three clubs at the top of the Premier League can surely never have been lower than they are at this time.

As Arsenal prepare to do battle (literally) with Alex Ferguson’s men tonight in a match that both team need to win to keep up the pressure on leaders Chelsea, the row over the supposed illegal approach to Ashley Cole rumbles on.

Arsene Wenger insists that the Blues must come clean over whether they did try to lure the England left-back to Stamford Bridge.

“It is up to Chelsea to clarify this,” he tells the Times, “and if it really happened – and it looks to me as if it did happen – it will be difficult for them to deny it.

“They can say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, then it is up to the Premier League.”

However, if Arsenal don’t beat United tonight, their only chance of retaining their title is likely to be if Chelsea are deducted points for ‘tapping up’ Cole.

And it is a sign of how worried Wenger is by the 10-point deficit that he is talking about Chelsea on the eve of such a big game.

“If you look at what Arsenal have won in the past eight years and what Chelsea have won, you will not be putting me in a position where I have to say ‘OK, Chelsea are the best, they have won everything’.

“You [the media] go with what everybody is saying that the force is with Chelsea. I go with reality.”

The reality is, according to the Telegraph, that Arsenal are likely to direct their anger at what happened at Old Trafford in October at Wayne Rooney.

Rooney fell under a challenge from Sol Campbell to win the penalty that ended Arsenal’s 49-game unbeaten run.

And Wenger said the England defender feels he was ‘done’ by the teenager.

Talking of talented teenagers, 18-year-old Newcastle centre Matthew Tait will make his international debut in Saturday’s Six Nations rugby match against Wales.

Injuries mean the teenager will line up next to club colleague Jamie Noon on the day before his 19th birthday in a back line that is short on experience.

However, Rob Andrew, director of rugby at Newcastle, warned against unrealistic expectations.

“Let’s not forget that this time last season,” he told the Indy, “he was still playing schoolboy rugby at Barnard Castle.

“He must be allowed time to develop at the highest level. We should not forget how far he has come in a short space of time.”

Indeed, the last 18-year-old to represent England was also from Newcastle – a certain Jonny Wilkinson. And he didn’t turn out too badly…’

Posted: 1st, February 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

Terry To The Fore

‘ALEX Ferguson said it was impossible to through the whole of a Premiership season unbeaten – until Arsenal did it last season.

Cole the goal

He said it was impossible for a side to win all four major trophies – but Chelsea are well on their way to proving him wrong again.

Having already reached the Carling Cup final and with a 10-point lead in the league, Jose Mourinho’s team are now through to the fifth round of the FA Cup.

Despite resting several players, they beat Birmingham City 2-0, courtesy of goals by Robert Huth and John Terry.

And, according to his boss, there may be still more silverware for Terry to lift come the end of the season.

“If I had a vote for Footballer of the Year,” Mourinho tells the Telegraph, “I would vote John Terry first, Frank Lampard second.

“I don’t want to make all the other centre-halves in the world sad but, for me, John Terry is the best.”

If Terry does find himself lifting four or even five trophies at the end of the season, it will not have come without its cost.

The Blues will this morning post the biggest loss in football history – £87.8 million.

This is due not only to high-priced signings but to an absurdly high wage bill.

In the year to May 31 2004, they paid out £115.5m in player salaries – more than three-quarters of the club’s total income.

And if reports in the weekend’s papers are true, that could be set to increase after the club were accused of making an illegal approach to Arsenal and England left-back Ashley Cole.

Mourinho denied the News Of The World story, insisting: “I have never met the boy. I just play against him, no more than that.”

However, if the allegations are true, Chelsea’s position at the head of the Premiership could be under threat.

The Indy says the offence is punishable under Premier League rules by a heavy fine, point deduction or even suspension – and you can be sure Arsenal will push for one of the latter two.

Talking of heavy fines, the row over Clive Lloyd’s decision to fine Michael Vaughan the whole of his match fee over comments made about the umpiring in the fourth Test against South Africa rumbles on.

And now it appears that Lloyd himself may be in trouble after accusing the England cricket captain of being “rude and dismissive” at the disciplinary hearing.

And what should have been an open and shut process for a trifling breach of regulations has developed into “a piffling spat” that threatens to damage both men’s reputations.

“Perhaps only cricket could get itself in this tangle,” it says.

Hardly. Football can turn even a trifling breach into a full-blown crisis…’

Posted: 31st, January 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

Roger And Out

‘NEWS now to warm the heart of Tim Henman and the joints of the women of a certain age who cheer him on at Wimbledon each year: Roger Federer can be beaten.

Federer wasn’t sure about his new kit manufacturer

As the Telegraph reports, the Swiss tennis player’s 26-match unbeaten run ended last night when he lost to the mercurial Marat Safin in five thrilling sets.

The world No. 1, who had not dropped a set in the Australian Open going into his semi-final clash with the Russian, is down and out.

A lesser player than Federer may even, the paper says, have limped off the court, tempering his opponent’s success with moans about his blistered foot and a nerve-end problem causing a pain in his back.

It would be like the rest of football having a good grumble about Chelsea, who, the Times says, can complete “the full set” of four trophies.

Just to get its readers used to looking at so much silverware in the hands of one team, the Sun mocks up a page on which Blues’ manager Jose Mourinho poses beside each trophy.

He’s a happy man is Jose, and a sight more so than Harry Redknapp, the man who dared to leave Portsmouth for their fierce rivals Southampton.

In the build-up to Saturday’s match between the two in the FA Cup, the Sun hears Redknapp’s assistant say how shocked and hurt his boss is at the hate campaign waged against him by fans of his old club.

“Somebody put his phone number on a website, which is the worst thing you can do,” says Smith. “But the number has changed now and he is OK”.

While we celebrate the fact that Harry has a new mobile, another of football’s characters is making his way into the boardroom at Leeds United.

The Indy was there to see the unlovable Ken Bates hold court at his first press conference since buying half the club, and watched as the bearded one showed how he has lost none of charm.

“Get out, I don’t want you flashing in my face,” said Bates as cameras snapped away.

He then used all his comedic skills to flip open his jacket in the manner of a dirty old man (Bates is 73) and said that he was the only person who could flash around here.

“If you carry on, I’ll walk out,” he went on in response to a journalist who had asked him why he had chosen to invest in Leeds.

“It’s simple really,” said Bates, his charmless offensive in full swing. “I just won’t deal with you.”

Which might just prompt many scribes to pursue that very line of questioning…’

Posted: 28th, January 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

Howard’s End?

‘AFTER Chelsea’s victory over Manchester United in the Carling Cup semi-final last night, Alex Ferguson’s claim that it would be impossible for the Blues to win all four trophies this season is looking more hopeful than assured.

”Who wants a go at Bosnich first?”

In “Chelsea Keep Dream Alive”, the Times leads with news of the match that saw Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich’s playthings pass a stern test.

An away victory at Old Trafford is never a thing to be taken lightly, but Chelsea, for all their endeavour and graft, needed a slice for fortune to settle the tie 2-1.

In “DUFFED UP”, the Sun looks on with a gaping jaw as Damien Duff strikes a free kick from wide on the right.

It sails over the massed United defence, leaves United’s hapless American goalkeeper Tim Howard motionless and bounces untouched by another body into the net.

“TIM’S A BIT DIM,” says another Sun headline, which is a bit harsh since the paper says later in the piece how the goalie made some “fine” saves which kept United in the hunt until that 85th minute howler.

As it is, the money spent on bringing Howard in to stand between United’s posts looks like money not all that well spent.

For £100,000 more than the £2.3m United paid to import Howard from Major League Soccer, Great Britain could have bought an Olympic gold medal.

The Times reports that a total of £92m was spent under the country’s World Class Performance Programme over the four years leading up to the Athens Games to prepare Team GB for the summer and winter Olympics and the Paralympics.

And that means the cost of each medal won in Athens was £2.4m.

While we can argue about whether or not this is a good return on the investment or not – and given the paucity of gold used in Olympic gongs, can it ever be? – a report by the National Audit Office says that “tough decisions” must be made over which Olympic sports now deserve lottery money over the next four years.

Finally, it gives us no hint of any pleasure whatsoever to report, as the Sun does, that disgraced footballer Mark Bosnich is in line to be punched in the jaw.

In a made-for-TV fight, the ex-Chelsea goalkeeper – who was banned from the game for nine months for failing a drugs test and who oh-so innocently offered a Nazi salute to Spurs fans a few years back – is to step into the ring in a celebrity bout.

On the canvas, he will take on singing “bad-boy” Mark “The Mack” Morrison.

And here is the people’s champion. “I’m looking forward to this,” says Morrison. “I’m gonna take Bosnich on and I’m gonna beat him up.”

Set the video, sit back and enjoy…’

Posted: 27th, January 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

Forty Years Of Hurt

‘FORTY years ago when England’s cricketers last won a tour of South Africa, the Guardian reminds us, they played under the name MCC and drank cocktails at the all-white clubs.

One Dolly that Vaughan did hold onto

Now, four decades on, England are England, the Proteas have a black player in their midst and the Barmy Army of travelling England fans spurn cocktails with the brigadier and his wife for cans of industrial strength lager under a merciless sun.

Back then, England won the series by one game to nil; this time they return 2-1 winners, and, in truth, they were good for a bigger margin of victory.

But, as the Times reports, the draw secured in the final Test in Pretoria was good enough for the win, which earned them an overall win bonus of £327,000 and the new Basil D’Oliveira trophy. (How times change, indeed!)

“It’s the best moment for me since I became captain because we’ve really struggled with form,” says Michael Vaughan in the paper. “We’ve had to dig deep with mental resolve and we’ve come through.”

Never underestimate the power of confidence and the will to succeed. Simply put, it can be termed character – and it’s a quality not overly evident in the odious little scrote called Craig Bellamy.

In today’s instalment of the story that runs further than the Newcastle player, the Times says that Bellamy’s on his way from the club and then asks which clubs will be willing to sign him.

The teams mentioned are: Liverpool (his agent has connections at Anfield), Manchester City (how else do you follow the pending sale of the petulant Nicolas Anelka?), Aston Villa, Everton and Spurs (a club linked with any and every player on the market).

But our favourites are Inter Milan, the Italian giants who are Bellamy’s chosen team on his PlayStation: “A move abroad would appeal.”

And a move anywhere would also make sense for Rodney Marsh, who, the Independent reports, has been sacked from his job as a nodding head on Sky Sports for comments made about the Asian tsunami.

His offence was to tell a caller on You’re On Sky Sports that David Beckham wouldn’t be going to Newcastle “not after what the Toon Army did in Thailand”.

Marsh immediately apologied, saying: “My intention was to make a light-hearted football joke.”

You can, it seems, in this country send thousands of soldiers to fight a war based on lies and false evidence without a blemish to your reputation.

But tell a slightly off-colour joke and you’re out of a job quicker than you can say Ron Atkinson.

It really is a funny old game, as another jocular ex-footballer once said..’

Posted: 26th, January 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

Order Of The Boot

‘IF ever there was a player to epitomise the selfish, petulant greed in modern day millionaire footballers it is Craig Bellamy.

”Yep, it’s real gold”

If we are to believe the word of Graeme Souness and the Newcastle United chairman Freddie Shepherd, the latter today quoted in the Telegraph, the striker has “cheated” the club and its supporters.

“I wish to put the record straight regarding the Bellamy situation,” says Shepherd.

“He walked off the training ground saying his hamstring was tight, but what he failed to reveal in his interview was that he had told other members of the squad before training that he intended to feign injury.”

Bellamy is still denying the truth of that story and calling his manager a liar, but his time at Newcastle is surely up.

If he plays on then the club and the manager are damaged; if he leaves, the team lose a star player, but the manager retains control.

So, as the Sun says it’s “GET OUT OF TOON” for Bellamy, and “GET OUT OF ARSENAL” for the Gunners’ Jermaine Pennant.

In a story that calls to mind the pre-Wenger days at Arsenal, the 22-year-old winger was found to have driven his Mercedes Benz into lamppost at 6:20am last Sunday.

He then offered to have his breath tested by the local Aylesbury constabulary – a test he failed.

And that means he is now on his way to court and to Birmingham City on a loan deal until the season’s end, at which point his contract with Arsenal expires.

“He has shown since he was a youngster that he is a real talent,” says Birmingham manager Steve Bruce in the Sun.

“I hope he makes a big impact between now and the end of the season.”

Watch out, lampposts.

Meanwhile, we feel it is our duty to remind you that footballers are not typical of all sportsmen and there is much to be enjoyed and respected elsewhere.

In cricket, the Independent reports, there’s Andrew Flintoff, the wonderfully talented all-rounder whose performance with bat and ball have all but ensured that England will win their first series in South Africa for 40 years.

Others too chipped in admirably to the England cause, but it is Flintoff – he scored 77 runs and took two South African wickets – who takes the plaudits.

It’s a similar story with rugby union’s Martin Johnson, who could never have become England’s most successful and celebrated captain had it not been for his team-mates.

But even great players need a leader to cement them into a winning unit, and Johnson was just that person.

And now the World Cup-winning sportsman is calling it a day, announcing his retirement from the game on June 4.

“You know when it’s time to go,” the 35-year-old tells the Telegraph. “You’ve got to be out there for the right reasons.”

Isn’t that so, Craig Bellamy..?’

Posted: 25th, January 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

Bench Press

‘THE picture of Craig Bellamy, the unlovely Newcastle United striker, on the Independent’s back page is surprising in that it does not shows the Welshman offering a broad self-satisfied smirk to the camera.

Bellamy is congratulated by all his friends

To put the picture on context, Bellamy was warming the bench for his club’s trip to Arsenal and had just seen the Gunners secure a fine 1-0 win.

And he was unlikely to ever get on the pitch since, as the paper says, he had just had a “dramatic row” with his team’s manager Graeme Souness.

There are accusations that the striker feigned an injury because he didn’t want to play in the position Souness had ordered him to occupy.

After being detailed to play on the left side of a five-man midfield, the charmless so-and-so walked out of a training session and then reported back to camp with a “hamstring injury”.

Meanwhile, on the field of play, the Telegraph watched Arsenal “launch mission possible”, as the Gunners moved to a mere 10 points of Premiership leaders Chelsea.

Overhauling the free-spending Blues will be a major task – and one this column does not see happening – but it is possible and, while it remains so, Arsene Wenger says it’s a “challenge”.

Elsewhere in football, the Guardian has an idea of what happened to Jonathan Woodgate. The man who made a surprising move from Newcastle to Real Madrid last summer has been spotted in the doctor’s rooms.

And the news is grim indeed, with fears that the centre-back’s ruptured tendon in his left thigh – “an extremely complex and apparently mystifying injury” (see Bellamy) – may put an end to his career.

Poor him! And unlucky Akebono, the former Japanese sumo champion who has returned to the ring as a kick boxer of no discernible talent.

As the Times reports, the lumbering fighter has to date been knocked out six times in six fights, lasting less than 180 seconds in total.

“Anywhere else in the world, Akenbo’s humiliation would be a cause for mockery,” says the paper, which has clearly not noted the election of the saucer-eyed, untalented Bez as Big Brother’s top celebrity.

But in Japan, he is a hero, who in spite of his obvious failings epitomises the warrior spirit. And he vows to continue “until I win”.

Or until, he falls on his sword. Or, better still, Craig Bellamy…’

Posted: 24th, January 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

Sing When We’re Winning

‘RAIN in Pretoria may have dampened the spirits of the Barmy Army hoping to witness England’s first series win in South Africa for 40 years.

The lads pass over the picnic blanket

But we have the Premier League to thank for turning down the volume completely on the public slanging match between Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger.

Both managers have been told to end the verbal mud-slinging (and pizza-throwing) of the past few weeks or face immediate sanctions from the FA.

And that Guardian says the truce will come as a particular relief to the Metropolitan Police, worried that the managers were stoking up the tensions ahead of the Arsenal-Manchester United clash in 11 days’ time.

But if it was suggested to Ferguson that he follow Clement Attlee’s advice to Harold Laski in 1945 that “a period of silence on your part would be most welcome”, the same cannot be said of England cricket fans in South Africa.

There are people like the Telegraph’s Martin Johnson who get all sniffy about the Barmy Army and what he calls “their child-like desire for attention”.

In a piece in today’s paper, he bemoans their appearance at the Australian Open tennis yesterday where they came to cheer on Tim Henman.

“In cricket,” he writes, “traditional supporters now stay at home rather than run the risk of being seated next to these airheads, and the same fate awaits tennis while Henman remains at large.”

These, one imagines, are the traditional supporters still packing out the county grounds, the same men and women who would be in Pretoria even now were it not for the Barmy Army.

If the likes of Martin Johnson had his way, Test cricket would still be played as it always was – except that there would be only one man and his dog there to watch.

The people who are ruining cricket are not the Barmy Army, they are the dinosaurs at places like Lord’s who believe that anything more than a polite clap is tantamount to hooliganism.

How many of Martin Johnson’s traditional supporters would save up a year’s holiday to follow the England cricket team through the winter?

If the Barmy Army are in full voice over the next five days, that will probably mean that England are winning the Test match.

And that really is something to sing about…’

Posted: 21st, January 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

The Grecians Earn

‘EXETER City’s interest in this season’s FA Cup may have come to an end last night with a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Manchester United, but the memories will last a lifetime.

United’s stars earn more than Grecians

Not only will the Conference club be £1m better off for their two ties against the Premiership giants, but the 9,033 supporters who packed St James’s Park can for ever say “I was there”.

The Times puts it nicely: “United’s tie, Exeter’s triumph.”

This is what the FA Cup is all about – something that Rafael Benitez might like to reflect on after he fielded a second-string Liverpool side on Tuesday night.

Indeed, the Times says the biggest compliment Sir Alex Ferguson could pay Exeter was in his team selection with Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo notable additions to the starting XI.

It was Ronaldo who opened the scoring for United and Rooney who finished it, but in the intervening 80 minutes it was “a performance of great defiance” from the minnows.

Great defiance is what England’s cricketers are going to have to show in the fifth and final Test against South Africa which starts tomorrow.

The Telegraph reports that the hosts are preparing to gamble all on a series-drawing victory at Centurion by preparing a bowler-friendly wicket and adding an extra bowling option to their side.

The paper says on yesterday’s evidence the pitch could have been flown in from Emerald City.

“It was,” it says, “a sickly, luminous green, the kind of colour municipal hospitals like to paint their walls.”

Even with another day under the Pretoria sun, it is not likely to be a wicket on which England can play for a draw.

England may just be trying to find 11 men who are fit enough to take to the field, but South Africa are looking at their options.

And the paper says we can expect to see Boeta Dippenaar, rather unfairly made the scapegoat for the fourth Test defeat, replaced by all-rounder Andrew Hall.

And Dale Steyn is set to get the chop, with Andre Nel coming in as his replacement – the 18th player South Africa will have used in the five matches (compared with England’s 13).

However, the Indy casts a critical eye over one of those 13 – Geraint Jones.

His poor performance at the Wanderers, it says, nearly cost England the game and it wonders whether his batting ability justifies his inclusion ahead of Chris Read.

It calculates that Jones has cost England 143 runs in his Test career so far – seven catches and one stumping missed – during which time he has scored 524 runs.

“There is no easy answer to this,” it concludes, “but a starting point could be a proper wicketkeeping coach. England have every other conceivable angle covered.”

Well, not quite. Perhaps someone could also teach captain Michael Vaughan to catch…’

Posted: 20th, January 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

Red-Faced Reds

‘THE perils of not putting out your first team were amply demonstrated last night as a second-string Liverpool XI were knocked out of the FA Cup by Burnley.

”Els Bells”

It used to be that the big clubs only played their reserves in the Carling Cup, but increasingly it is the case in the main knock-out tournament as well.

And, as Exeter proved at Old Trafford 10 days ago, it is a strategy fraught with danger.

While the papers report that it was an own goal blunder by Traore that cost Liverpool the match, the Times blames manager Rafael Benitez’s “bafflingly casual approach”.

“It was,” it says, “a calamity for Benitez, who by selecting a team of fringe players and unproven youngsters could be said to have inflicted on himself the first minor crisis of his reign as Liverpool manager.”

The Spaniard insisted that the club didn’t have the squad to compete in four tournaments.

“If I’d used more senior players, perhaps we might have had problems in the next game or in the Champions’ League,” he told the Guardian.

“We played against Tottenham Hotspur in the Carling Cup with young players and won, so we tried to do the same here. I don’t think it was a mistake. The fans will understand that we tried.”

No such luxury for England cricket coach Duncan Fletcher, who must try to find 11 fit players to take to the field against South Africa on Friday.

The news in the Independent is that all-rounder Andrew Flintoff has suffered a recurrence of the bone spur problem that dogged him last summer.

However, he is expected to have a cortisone injection and play – although he might need an operation if he is to be fit to play in the Ashes series in the summer.

Steve Harmison is also expected to play at Centurion, although there is no guarantee that his calf injury won’t get worse as a result.

Although a scan has shown no muscle tear, ideally, the paper says, he would have two weeks for the swelling to clear up.

There is better news on the rest of the walking wounded with Simon Jones (groin and back), Ashley Giles (dislocated thumb), Geraint Jones (bruised thumb) and James Anderson (gashed wrist) all expected to be fit to play.

It is just as well, for as so eloquently proved by Liverpool’s defeat and Manchester United’s decision to take their first team to Exeter for tonight’s replay, there’s a fine line between victory and defeat.’

Posted: 19th, January 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

The Whole Hogg

‘WITH only a couple of days to recover before the final Test match at Centurion, England will draw enormous heart from their thrilling victory in Johannesburg yesterday.

New patron saint of Yorkshire

Had South Africa held out for a draw as they did in Durban, one wonders how the England bowlers would have managed to raise themselves for one final effort.

As it is, it is South Africa who face that problem after what Neil Manthorp in the Guardian calls “as dispiriting a defeat as South Africa have suffered in the modern era”.

Although Matthew Hoggard and Marcus Trescothick are rightly the heroes of the piece after the former took seven second innings wickets and the latter made a brilliant 180, the hosts’ batting comes in for a lot of criticism.

“The revival bubble,” Manthorp continues, “did not merely burst on the fifth day, it exploded in spectacular fashion.

“The level of disappointment and anger from players and supporters alike was alarming: the self-belief rediscovered at Newlands had been snatched away with the deftness of a pickpocket.”

England captain Michael Vaughan, on the other hand, is in charge of a team which may not be playing at its best but nevertheless believes in its ability to win.

And he rated this as one of the best wins in recent history.

“To bowl out a South African team containing nine batters in two sessions was a truly amazing effort,” he said.

Writing in the Times, Simon Barnes says England were “dreadful” for much of the match – and certainly played worse than South Africa.

They won, however, because they expected to win.

“Winning is no novelty for them and so, when so many were injured, exhausted and ineffective, every one in the side played with the same predatory relish of the possibility of victory.”

Another Englishman who has long displayed such predatory relish is Michael Owen, but it appears the Real Madrid striker is becoming frustrated with his lack of opportunities in Spain.

The former Liverpool player came off the bench to score a seventh goal of the season and retain his record of having the best goals/minutes ratio in La Liga.

But still he is below Raul and Ronaldo in the pecking order – a situation, says the Independent, that he is unlikely to allow to carry on for too much longer.

“I want to be in the starting XI and I’ll never be happy sitting on the bench,” he said – prompting speculation of a move back to England.

Owen has now scored a goal every 110 minutes on the pitch, Ronaldo has a goal every 124 minutes but Raul has been on the pitch for 344.5 minutes for every one of his goals.

Jonathan Woodgate is missing…’

Posted: 18th, January 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

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