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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

Test For England

‘WITH just one day to go in the fourth Test and with the series poised at 1-1, England’s tour of South Africa hangs in the balance.

Trescothick leads the England rain dance

With an overnight lead of 189 (but at a cost of five wickets), the fate of the whole tour will rest with how England’s bowlers perform today both with bat and ball.

Marcus Trescothick was still at the crease with 101 to his name when bad light brought a premature end to proceedings, but yet another mini-collapse has put England in a position of some peril.

They were coasting along at 175-2 when Michael Vaughan nicked one from Shaun Pollock.

Graham Thorpe and Andrew Flintoff followed in quick succession to leave South Africa in with a chance of victory in a match they have always been fighting to save.

“Thus,” writes Mike Selvey in the Guardian, “a game which at times has bordered on the lower reaches of competence is set up for what may yet be a compelling final day.”

And yet it has not been without controversy – the Telegraph says Michael Vaughan is threatening legal action against the ICC after being fined the whole of his match fee for comments he made about the umpires at the end of Saturday’s play.

The England captain wasn’t happy with the consistency of the interpretation of the rules on bad light and said so (in mild terms) after the day’s play.

But Clive Lloyd insisted that making such comments constituted a serious breach of ICC rules – a decision about which Vaughan has no right of appeal.

Had the comments been made by a football manager, one suspects that no-one would have raised an eyebrow.

Certainly, Sir Alex Ferguson would be many thousands of pounds poorer given his ability to start a fight with all and any of his fellow managers.

Alan Hansen is right to point out that “the one common denominator whenever a major argument breaks out” is the Manchester United boss.

And Arsene Wenger has had enough, telling journalists that he will never answer another question on the subject of the red-faced Scot.

“He doesn’t interest me now and doesn’t matter to me at all,” he said. “I will never answer to any provocation from him any more.”

Wenger has enough to worry about with events on the pitch after his Arsenal side slipped to 10 points behind Chelsea with defeat at Bolton.

The Premiership looks to be all over – unlike the cricket in Johannesburg.’

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

Four Play

‘THERE is sports reporting – and there is the Sun.

”No sweat”

This is the paper that dares use its back page to tell the world that David Beckham thinks it would be good if Chelsea won the quadruple.

Day-vid does not tell us in Spanish; instead he opts to have another bash at speaking English – and without the need to wear a hat suspiciously covering up his ears.

“It is great for football there are teams going for these sorts of things,” says Dave of the Blues’ assault on four fronts. “And anything is possible.”

Well, not anything, Dave. For starters, it’s almost impossible to get a good, reliable PA is Madrid.

And it’s pretty darn hard for the Sun to mention cricket in its lead story unless England have been annihilated or a player has been caught sticking drugs up his nose.

But, thankfully, the Telegraph does note that England are playing a Test match in South Africa and that Andrew Strauss is fast emerging as one of the country’s greatest ever players.

Yesterday, the Johannesburg-born England opener hit a superb 147 runs as England reached 263 for the loss of four wickets.

This is nothing short of sensational – all the more so when the paper reminds us that in his 11 Tests thus far, Strauss has scored 1,202 runs at an average of 63.6 runs an innings.

British sportsmen like Strauss should be applauded loud and long. Here’s a player blessed with studious concentration, talent and dedication.

But only time will tell if he can stick his hair in a pony tail and wiggle his shaved backside into his wife’s knickers and so achieve true iconic status in the tabloids.

But however terrific Strauss is, football can not be ignored for long. And it’s a cautionary tale in the Independent.

The sad news for Leeds United’s abused supporters is that Sebastien Sainsbury has decided against buying the Yorkshire club.

This means that, although Leeds insist there are other parties interested in investing in the club, no offer is actually on the table.

And that is no good for a club that is still losing masses of money.

And when asked what this meant for the club, Leeds chairman Gerald Krasner made pained noises.

“Eventually it [administration] will happen,” says he. “It’s not going to happen today or tomorrow but unless something positive happens it will happen.”

So, if there are any Russian billionaires reading this, your help is urgently needed at one of the big names of English football.

And if you want to invest in Anorak – We’re No.1 in Leeds – you can have that, too…’

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

Fighting Talk

‘JOSE Mourinho, Chelsea’s cocksure manager, is making some more headlines this morning with his thoughts.

”You can’t come in here. Only Blues allowed…”

After last night’s 0-0 draw between his Blues and Manchester United in the first leg of the Carling Cup semi-final, Mourinho spoke of an incident at half-time that he says changed the game.

Quoted in the Telegraph, Mourinho said: “You saw one referee in the first half and another in the second half. I suggest the referee did not walk alone to the dressing room. There was someone with him. If the FA ask me, I can tell them.”

As mysteries go, this is not quite up there with “Who Threw The Pizza?”, and it loses what power it has when the Telegraph says that “there can be little doubt” the Chelsea manager was referring to Alex Ferguson.

His complaint seem to be that Fergie spared a word or seven in referee Neale Barry’s ear at the interval in an effort to influence him.

If this is true, and, as Mourinho says, the second half really was “fault after fault, diving after diving”, then the matter is one of great concern.

If this were, say, Italy, we would be raising the issue of match fixing.

And given Spurs’ goal that was never given in thier game at Old Trafford, talking of a plot to keep a stuttering Manchester United aloft.

Meanwhile, it’s better news for Adrian Mutu. The disgraced, cocaine-taking former Chelsea striker has, the Times reports, signed a five-year contract to play for Juventus.

After serving his seven-month ban imposed by the FA, Mutu will be free to play for the Italian giants and put the past behind him.

If that move looked unlikely when Chelsea sacked the Romanian, then the Telegraph’s story that Everton’s aggressive midfielder Thomas Gravesen is to play for Real Madrid is bizarre.

With Fernando Morientes on his way to Liverpool, there is a gap in the Madrid ranks and, rather than opting for another big name, Real are looking to buy the Dane for around £2m.

And that, as the paper says, could place a question mark over the future of David Beckham. Gravesen for Beckham – who would have thought that a season or two ago?

Meanwhile, there is some comforting news for British sports fans to be found in the Guardian, where Roger Federer says that Tim Henman will win a major tournament.

However, before we hang out the bunting for another Wimbledon and some more of that HRT-driven Henmania, the Swiss ace says that, although Wimbledon is “Tim’s best chance”, it is the competition he most wants to win.

Which makes Henman’s job as hard as it has ever been…’

Posted: 13th, January 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

Tin-Pot Soldiers

‘SUCH is the lust for glory that the Carling Cup might soon rival the FA Cup for our attention.

A nice trip up north

Last night, Watford took on a full-strength Liverpool at Anfield and were unlucky to lose the first-leg of their semi-final match by one goal to nil.

As the Times reports, this was no outing for the Reds’ reserves. This was a serious business, and Liverpool wanted to win.

And that gave them a problem, which the Times is right to point out.

“The trouble with taking the Carling Cup seriously,” it opines, “is that it leaves teams and managers open to embarrassment.”

In other words, it might just be that the smaller teams actually defeat the larger ones. And how terrible would that be for a sport that is increasingly dominated by a few big clubs.

At least Chelsea and Manchester United do not have that problem when they face each other tonight in the Carling Cup’s other semi-final.

Indeed, the only puzzler for many observers is working out how many goal the Blues will win by.

As the Telegraph says, while United need to rely on a clutch of reserves, Chelsea can just dip into their expensively assembled squad of proven talents.

Not that we have any sympathy with United, who have of late made it their business to pay fortunes for their players.

And when we consider, as the Times does, that United have won their last 16 semi-finals in all competitions, the Red Devils should perform better than they did against Exeter in the FA Cup.

And then there’s the Alex Ferguson factor. When his teams are not playing well, the charmless coach returns to type and does down the opposition.

“I don’t think it’s possible to win everything,” he tells the Telegraph. “I think you need a lot of luck.”

Sure you do. And Chelsea have had luck on their side this season. You also need a lot of players and the money to buy them. And Chelsea have those qualities in abundance.

Does Fergie still think it’s impossible for the Blues to win the lot?

It is no less improbable than Day-vid Beckham mastering a language. Having failed with English, the England captain has been heard having a stab at Spanish.

And the result is less that he’s murdered it and more that he’s just wounded the Spanish idiom a little.

The Telegraph was present as a “defiant” Becks spoke Spanish in public for the first time, delivering a steady stream of platitudes as he talked of Real Madrid’s chances of winning a tin pot or ten.

Q: Can Madrid really win the league?

Bolas de oro: “Es possible. Podemos ganar la liga, pero es muy dificil. Juntos podemos ganar titulos. (“My name is David, and I’m a nice man.”)

Q: Where do you prefer to play?

Bolas de oro: “Para mi, no es importante mi posicion.” (“With my wife and kiddies.”)

And so on and so on…’

Posted: 12th, January 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

End Of The Lime

‘YESTERDAY’S draw for the fourth round of the FA Cup shows there might be some life in the old dog yet.


As the Telegraph says, former Spurs Messiah Glenn Hoddle’s visit to Highbury with his XI Wolves apostles will lead to some interesting terrace chants, and Oldham’s home derby against Bolton could be a cracker.

But the stand out game is that between Southampton and Portsmouth, in which new Saints coach Harry Redknapp will face the club he used to manage.

Given the animosity between the two sides, passions will run high in the Hampshire derby match – when the teams last met a 10-year-old boy, believed to be the youngest ever person convicted of football hooliganism, was banned from every game in England and Wales after rioting.

And Harry‘s doing his bit to whip things up into a frenzy by telling the Sun that without him Portsmouth would never have reached the Premier League.

Humble he’s not – although Harry can be generous and says that he’s prepared to shake the hand of Portsmouth owner Milan Mandaric, the man who bankrolled Harry’s success. What a guy!

Meanwhile, another shy and retiring football figure is poised to take over at a new club.

The Independent reports that former Chelsea owner Ken Bates wants to invest £10m to buy a major stake in Leeds United.

Leeds fans too used to crushing defeats over the past couple of seasons may well consider this to be the final straw.

However, Bates did do well for Chelsea – although what would have happened had Roman Abramovich not come along to save the in-debt Blues, perhaps only Leeds fans can truly understand.

But there is worse news than Bates to Elland Road, and that can be found in the Telegraph where a scene of devastation meets a reader’s eyes.

The 90ft lime tree at Kent Country Cricket Club’s Canterbury ground is no more.

After 150 years of playing as Kent’s unofficial 12th fielder, it has succumbed to the deadly combination of heart-wood fungus and high winds.

Some 7ft of the tree remains planted in the turf at deep midwicket, but the rest has been lopped off.

The wood might now be chopped into memorial souvenirs, with the stump whittled down to resemble the form of an actual cricketer.

And given its size and mobility, Kent and England batsman Robert Key may well provide the ideal model…’

Posted: 11th, January 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

All Sayed And Done

‘IF you’re finding it hard to muster enthusiasm for the FA Cup, then a look through some of today’s press will not help lift your mood.

Barney slays ‘Grizzly’ Adams

Rather than celebrating football’s oldest knock-out competition, the Times leads its football review with a piece called “FROM ROMANCE TO HOLLOW FARCE” in which Britain’s foremost table tennis player, Matthew Sayed, tells us why the old tin pot has lost its lustre.

It’s nothing we’ve not heard before – the all-consuming Premier League, big clubs fielding reserve sides, the FA allowing Manchester United to forgo the tournament in 1999-2000 in preference to a jolly in Brazil.

But let’s be fair, if the Cup manages to prove anything, it is that the gap between a lower division journey man footballer and a gilded star of the elite need not be so very wide.

In holding Manchester Untied 0-0 at Old Trafford, Exeter City proved that their less-than-household names are every bit as good as United’s reserves who dream of making the big time and the big money.

And then there’s the curious case of Newcastle United. Although the Magpies saw off the spirited challenge of part-time Yeading by two goals to nil, they did so by a reliance on fitness and professionalism, rather than a superiority of skill.

But let us not discount the value of being fit as we read in the Guardian how Jonny Wilkinson has fallen victim to yet another injury.

There is some suspicion that Wilkinson will never get the chance to follow the magical kick in Australia that gave England the World Cup. He has not played for his country since.

And now, with the Six Nations on the near horizon, the player is in danger of missing the entire tournament for the second successive season, having damaged his medial ligament.

That’s hard luck on him.

And as the boy wonder of English rugby lies on his sick bed, he’d be forgiven for thinking of life beyond rugby.

He could employ his unerring sense of accuracy to good effect in come other field. He could play darts.

If Jonny ‘Blade’ Wilkinson does, he’ll have to beat Dutchman Raymond van Barneveld to be top dog at the oche.

As the Telegraph reports, the heavyweight player won his fourth BDO world championship last night, seeing off England’s Martin Adams.

And, as one commentator on the great game famously put it, there’s only one word for that – “magic darts!”’

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

Heads & Tails

‘ENGLAND duly lost the Third Test to South Africa yesterday, their first defeat in 14 months and the first such experience for two of their players.

Looking down and out

There was never much chance of England saving the game after the top order had fallen to a combination of poor luck, poor judgement and Shaun Pollock on Wednesday.

But what little hope there was vanished with the dismissal of Graham Thorpe to the new ball and it was only a gutsy effort from the tail-enders (with Steve Harmison top-scoring with an entertaining 42) that prolonged the innings to mid-afternoon.

While the papers line up to criticise England, Michael Vaughan is right to point out that a single defeat doesn’t make this a poor side.

As the Indy points out, Vaughan’s inability correctly to call the fall of a coin has been a massive factor.

The loss of the toss in this match was especially crucial, giving South Africa’s bowlers four days rest to England’s two.

But it wasn’t really the bowlers who lost this match (albeit Steve Harmison is nowhere near the same level at which he was operating last year).

It was a combination of brilliant batting from Jacques Kallis and the correspondingly poor batting from the England top order.

The Indy puts that down to a combination of complacency and lack of preparation.

Certainly, application seems to a problem – in Cape Town, batsmen reached double figures in 16 of the 22 visits to the crease but no-one went on to make 50.

All of which is put into perspective by the picture on the front of the Telegraph’s sports pages, which shows what until just over a week ago was the Galle cricket ground in Sri Lanka.

It’s worth reminding ourselves at times like that that cricket is just a game.

And it is worth reminding people like Robbie Savage that there are people a lot worse off than him.

That’s what Birmingham City chairman David Sullivan does in this morning’s papers, blasting his want-away midfielder a moaner and vowing that the club will not give in to his transfer demands.

Sullivan says Savage’s reason for wanting to move to Blackburn had everything to do with money and little to do with wanting to closer to his sick parents.

“I find his attitude sickening and depressing,” he says.

“He signed a new four-year contract and then, when he was offered more money by a rival club, thought he could ignore it and walk away on the cheap.

“We all have problems in life that we have to overcome.”

And some much bigger than others…’

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

An Ideal Husband

‘VINKA Mijovic, 32, from Garas, Serbia did not want much from her husband. All he had to be was to a) be a man and b) be with her. Oh, and if he had a few quid to spare, so much the better.

And wealthy Miodrag Tomovic, 68, fitted the bill. He would never complain. He would never leave her. He would never even raise his voice in anger.

Mijovic had to have him. So she bribed a local registrar to sign a marriage certificate saying the couple had both turned up for the wedding, and bribed two friends to be the best man and a witness to the fake event

She had to bride them because her man had gone and died before he could be taken up the aisle.

She kept the death a secret for two weeks before suddenly announcing it and organising a lawyer to get his fortune turned over to her.

But the scam was exposed after relatives complained to police and the dead man’s signature was found to have been forged.

She’s now been jailed for 18 months.’

Posted: 6th, January 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

A Side Under Strain

‘AT the time of writing, England’s chances of saving the Third Test against South Africa are about the same as Abu Hamza carving out a career as a professional juggler.

And with him goes hope of an England recovery

And the news in this morning’s papers is decidedly gloomy for England fans with reports that Andrew Flintoff might not be able to bowl in the next two matches.

The Indy reports that the all-rounder is suffering from a side strain and was sent for a scan at the close of play.

“But,” it says, “bowling injuries in this area do not just go away and they can take up to six weeks to recover from.”

Coach Duncan Fletcher insists that it is just a bruise and is not the result of his being bowled too much.

But he will have been distinctly unhappy at the way in which England’s batsmen have played throughout this match.

If Andrew Strauss was unlucky to be given out lbw, then Robert Key (out stumped) and Michael Vaughan (caught hooking) have only themselves to blame for their dismissals.

There was certainly no need for a video umpire in either case, but in football the big talking point is again today over the use of technology to help referees.

The Telegraph canvasses a range of opinion in the wake of Spurs’ disallowed “goal” at Old Trafford – and predictably it is divided.

But referee Graham Poll comes to the defence of the linesman Rob Lewis, who failed to signal that, following Roy Carroll’s blunder on Tuesday night, the ball had crossed the line.

“His positioning was correct,” he argues, “his fitness enabled him to make up a lot of ground in the short time available and he was unable to say with any degree of certainty that the whole of the ball had crossed the line.”

If so, he must have been the only one of 70,000 people in Old Trafford who was unable to say so with certainty as the ball was at least a yard into the net.

Of course, the person with the best view was Carroll himself – and it is clear that he knew perfectly well that a goal had been scored.

If manager Alex Ferguson is so quick to accuse Bolton’s Tal Ben Haim of cheating in his reaction to Wayne Rooney’s push, then surely he should level the same charge against his keeper.

However, such is the mad world of football that Poll insists that, even if Carroll had admitted that the ball had crossed the line, the referee should not have given it.

In cricket, batsmen may get a lot of stick for not walking even when they know they’ve got a faint nick, but at least the ones who do walk don’t risk getting overruled by the umpire.’

Posted: 6th, January 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

It’s All Over

‘FOR almost 40 years, we have pored over TV replays and still pictures trying to work out whether Geoff Hurst’s second goal in the 1966 World Cup final actually crossed the line.

Like many of us, the referee refused to believe Spurs scored at Old Trafford

But you don’t have to be a Russian linesman to know whether the ball crossed the line at Old Trafford last night for what would have been a winning goal for Spurs.

All you need is a very long tape measure to calculate exactly by how much the ball was over the line before Manchester United keeper Roy Carroll scooped it out of his net.

The Telegraph, which includes a picture of the “goal” on the front of its sports pages, estimates that it was at least a metre.

But amazingly that wasn’t enough for the officials – linesman Ray Lewis and referee Mark Clattenburg apparently didn’t see the incident which followed a terrible mistake by Carroll.

Unsurprisingly, Spurs boss Martin Jol was furious.

“It was not just a couple of centimetres over the line,” he said. “It was a metre. It’s a disgrace. We feel robbed.”

More surprisingly, United manager Sir Alex Ferguson agreed.

“Technology should be used,” he said, “and we could start off with the goal-line thing.”

However, lose or draw Manchester United look to be out of the race for the Premiership title with Chelsea now enjoying an 11-point lead over then and a seven-point lead over Arsenal.

Nor does there appear to be any way back for England’s cricketers who have started off 2005 as poorly as they so brilliantly went through 2004.

The batting collapsed for the second time in a week, with England being bowled out for a lamentable 163 on what still looks like a decent track.

And the bowling didn’t fare a whole lot better as South Africa chose not to enforce the follow-on and built up a lead of 462 runs by the end of the day.

The Times thinks it sees an element of safety-first in the decision not to put England back in – but the result is likely to be the same.

As it says, five sessions on a dry pitch should be ample for South Africa to take the 10 wickets needed for victory.

While Ashley Giles explains the two collapses to the Guardian as “we’re not doing something right”, Geoff Boycott is rather more forthright in the Telegraph.

“It was like watching lemmings leaping over the cliff edge,” he says.

Or not quite over the cliff edge, as they say at Old Trafford…’

Posted: 5th, January 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

Unhappy New Year

‘ENGLAND’S cricketers may have won 11 of the 13 Test matches they played in 2004, but yesterday they needed no reminding that this is a new year.

The arrows of outrageous fortune

And if they are not to start off 2005 with a first Test defeat since the third Test in Sri Lanka 14 months ago, they might need another Durban-like miracle.

A weary looking England subsided to 95-4 on a benign Cape Town pitch last night in reply to South Africa’s first innings score of 441.

And today they will struggle even to save the follow-on unless they can somehow rouse themselves after the best part of two energy-sapping days in the field.

The lost toss (Michael Vaughan’s third of this series and tenth in 12 overseas Tests as captain) suddenly looks even more costly after the exertions of Durban.

Derek Pringle, in the Telegraph, concedes that fatigue has been and may be today a factor in England’s sub-par performance – but it was the late wicket of Andrew Strauss that has really put England in trouble.

The Middlesex opener chopped the ball onto his stumps in the penultimate over last night soon after becoming the fourth quickest Englishman to 1,000 Test runs (after Herbert Sutcliffe, Len Hutton and Wally Hammond).

And with Robert Key out for a duck and Vaughan continuing his worrying run of poor form, England suddenly looked in trouble.

In circumstances like these, they should perhaps look to a man with a very similar winning record.

Phil “The Power” Taylor had before last night won 11 of the last 14 world darts titles – albeit spread not over a calendar year but a decade and a half.

And, although below his imperious best last night, he made it 12 out of 15 in beating Mark “Flash” Dudbridge 7-4 at the Circus Tavern in Purfleet.

“It was the most difficult win of the lot for me because it gets harder and harder as I get older,” the champion told the Independent afterwards.

“I practised very hard for this tournament but you can’t practise the pressure or the atmosphere.”

Something that Robert Key, for one, knows only too well…’

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

Paying The Penalty

‘OKAY, so when have we heard this before?

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

England qualify for the summer’s major football tournament with a brave 0-0 draw at the home of their major rival and come in to it full of hope.

They qualify from their group in second place, a late goal having deprived them of the top spot – as a young teenage sensation captures the world’s imagination.

They draw their first game in the knock-out stage 2-2, but only after a headed Sol Campbell goal had been controversially disallowed (by a referee who is then hounded by England fans).

And they lose on penalties…

Yes, there was more than a hint of the 1998 World Cup about this year’s European Championship failure, even to the pillorying of David Beckham in the aftermath.

Beckham’s fault on this occasion was not to get sent off – if only! – but to cap a series of lacklustre performances with a botched penalty.

The ground moved for the England skipper, not judging by his text messages for the first time that year, and he ended up sending the vital kick into orbit.

The Portuguese, on the other hand, all managed to overcome the shifting tectonic plates and retain their footing, dumping England out of Euro 2004 in the quarter-final stage.

There was a sense of déjà vu too about much of the sporting year as footballers disgraced themselves on and off the pitch, Phil “The Power” Taylor won the world darts crown and England’s cricketers carried all before them.

Sorry? Yes, it may be hard to believe but England’s much-derided cricket side won 11 out of the 12 Tests they have played this calendar year, including a record eight in a row.

This didn’t stop the Sun laying into captain Michael Vaughan in one of the most spectacularly inept bits of sports journalism of our time.

It’s a mad world when Vaughan, as the most successful England captain ever, can get pilloried, while Paula Radcliffe is lionised for failing to complete not one but two races.

Britain’s top athlete broke down in tears two-thirds of the way through the Olympic marathon and followed it up days later by pulling out halfway through the 10,000m.

But that was soon forgotten as Kelly Holmes made history in winning both the 800m and 1,500m, the men’s 4x100m team won an improbable gold and the men’s coxed four snatched a dramatic gold in the rowing.

All in all, it was a successful Olympics for Britain – which meant we got about half as many medals as Australia.

In tennis, Tim Henman gallantly failed to win any Grand Slams, but he did confirm his place as the best British man for half a century by reaching the semi-finals of the French and US Opens.

In rugby, England spent most of the year suffering from a thundering post-World Cup hangover, which they only started to shake off towards the end of the year.

In golf, Europe thrashed the Americans in the Ryder Cup by the kind of margin by which they used to beat us.

And Tiger Woods was knocked off the top of the world rankings by Fijian Vijay Singh.

But, as usual, darts provided the most enduring image of the sporting year when Andy “The Viking” Fordham pulled out of his showdown with Phil “The House” Taylor suffering from heat exhaustion.

Paula Radcliffe knows how he feels…’

Posted: 24th, December 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

One For Sorrow

‘HOW Newcastle directors must be patting themselves on the back for getting rid of Sir Bobby Robson and bringing in Graeme Souness.

‘I know what we need – a new manager’

Now, at least, the fans will have something to get excited about right up to the last day of the season as they battle against relegation.

Whether Souness will still be there then is another matter – he admits in this morning’s Mail that his “neck is in a noose” after only three months at the club.

And there are no doubt many Magpies fans who would happily kick away the chair after a dismal run that has seen the club slip to 13th in the Premier League.

As usual, he is asking for time – and money to spend.

“In an ideal world,” he says, “my performance at Newcastle would not be held up to serious judgement until the end of next season, but I realise this is probably not a club where you have that luxury.”

Perhaps not, but it is at least a club with some money and the Star says Souness is trying to scupper Liverpool’s bid for Real Madrid striker Fernando Morientes.

It claims he will step in and offer £5m for the 28-year-old during the January transfer window in a move that will infuriate his old club, Liverpool, who have bid £3.5m.

Why Newcastle need another striker we don’t know. We would think that bringing in a couple of new defenders is far more pressing.

And as for Souness’s plea for more time, there are plenty of managers who would be more than happy with the resources at his disposal.

David Moyes, at Everton, would love to have some of the talent that is currently underperforming at St James’s – but news in the Mirror is that he is looking south to strengthen his team.

The Goodison club, riding high in third place in the Premier League, are apparently lining up a £5m bid for Southampton’s James Beattie.

Meanwhile, Arsenal and Manchester United are looking even further south as they prepare to battle each other for the signature of Seville’s new whizzkid Sergio Ramos.

The 18-year-old, who starred in last night’s 1-0 victory at Real Madrid, has been watched by scouts for both clubs and the Sun foresees a bust-up between Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson over the £8m-rated player.

England cricketer Andrew Strauss may not be worth £8m, but he has made history by being on the winning side in his first eight Test matches.

No England player has managed that before, and the Express has his recipe for success – clearing the brain.

The opener says he tries to make sure he is thinking about nothing when he is in the middle – a recipe that seem to come rather too naturally to many footballers…’

Posted: 23rd, December 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Eye Of A Storm

‘WHY football clubs still hold Christmas parties given the proven inability of players to hold their booze is quite beyond us here at Anorak.

‘You get fined peanuts…’

But it takes some special kind of idiot to do what Manchester City midfielder Joey Barton did at the club’s party on Sunday night.

After a drunken argument with reserve-team player James Tandy, Barton stubbed a lit cigar out in both of Tandy’s eyes.

The Mirror says trouble flared just before midnight at the fancy-dress party in Manchester’s Lucid club.

Barton, who was dressed up as Jimmy Savile, had apparently sneaked up on several of his teammates and burned them on the arm with his cigar.

But when Tandy responded by holding a cigarette lighter to the 22-year-old’s T-shirt, Barton erupted and pushed the cigar into the teenager’s face.

“As his victim screamed in pain,” relates the Mirror, “Barton is understood to have realised the severity of what he had done and attempted to apologise.”

Tandy, says the Mail, was taken to Manchester’s Royal Infirmary where he was treated for burns to the eyelid but is unlikely to suffer lasting damage.

Manchester City insist that it was an accident – but have nevertheless fined the player £110,000, or six weeks’ wages, for gross misconduct.

That is more than double what the Spanish FA were fined by Fifa for the racist chanting at the recent friendly against England.

And the Sun is not alone in thinking the punishment “feeble”. Making monkey noises at England’s black players, it seems, is worth peanuts.

No such problems in South Africa where England’s cricketers are seen celebrating their eight Test win in a row – the best winning streak in our 127-year history.

But as the Mail salutes England run machine Andrew Strauss, captain Michael Vaughan is far from satisfied.

“We haven’t played to the standards we’ve set ourselves,” he says.

“It’s very hard to play a 100% game, but there were periods where we were quite shoddy and that mustn’t happen again.”

The second Test starts in Durban on Boxing Day, where England will be aiming to make it nine wins on the bounce.

But they have a long, long way to go to match the Australians’ record of 16 Test wins in a row…’

Posted: 22nd, December 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment (1)

Eight In A Row

‘WHEN the papers went to bed last night, England’s cricketers were on the brink of a record-making eight consecutive Test match win.

Handy Andy

We can now happily report that they achieved that win this morning with hardly any fuss, courtesy mainly of a brilliant unbeaten 94 by Andrew Strauss.

However, it is Glamorgan paceman Simon Jones who takes centre stage in this morning’s papers after his four wickets that blew away South Africa’s batting resistance.

The catalyst for the collapse, which saw the hosts slip from 201-4 to 229 all out, was a brilliant catch by Jones to dismiss captain Graeme Smith.

He then came on and trapped Jacques Kallis lbw before removing three members of South Africa’s lower-order in quick succession.

“When the going gets tough, the Taff gets going,” the Mirror says of the Welshman’s performance.

“This was the day,” it continues, “when the Boks were rocked by the bionic boyo and had trouble keeping up with the Joneses.”

However, as the Mail acknowledges, the performance of Andrew Strauss has been crucial in the match.

He was the one who steadied England’s nerves after losing Marcus Trescothick first ball and Mark Butcher for nought.

Not only has he set a record by becoming the first batsman ever to score a ton in his first Test against three different opponents, but he now averages over 50 with the bat since he was called up at the beginning of the summer.

All of which takes our attention away from football for a while.

But the day’s headlines are these:

West Ham want to persuade Gordon Strachan to return to football in place of manager Alan Pardew (Mail).

Real Madrid want first refusal on Steven Gerrard in return for a cut-price Fernando Morientes (Mirror).

Manchester United have challenged Malcolm Glazer to make a formal offer for the club (Express).

Struggling Blackburn Rovers have made a £2.2m bid for Birmingham’s Robbie Savage (Star).

And Nicolas Anelka was punched by a boozed-up fan at Manchester City’s Christmas party (Sun).

Presumably not the same fan who squared up to Rio Ferdinand at United’s Christmas party the night before…’

Posted: 21st, December 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Sloppy England

‘ENGLAND’S cricketers may well be more professional than ever before, but they are still notably flabby round the middle order.

Caught in a trap

And so it is as we read the Independent’s back page story that tells how once more England have slumped in the middle.

True, a lead of 88 runs after one innings apiece in the first test against South Africa is none too shabby, but it should have been so much more.

Michael Vaughan’s side – who have won 10 of their last 11 Tests – were well placed to take a commanding lead when they lost four wickets for 12 runs in the course of a mere 15 balls.

This is pretty dire stuff, and took some gloss off a day when, as the Times says, Andrew Strauss became the first batsman to score hundreds against the first three Test opponents he has faced.

But as “sloppy England” (Times) and “careless England” (Telegraph”) allow the Proteas back into it, the Times spots a far rarer sight.

Yes, that is Sol Campbell, Arsenal’s mountainous centre back, lumbering up field and then launching a shot from a full 30 yards into the Portsmouth net – an event viewed over no fewer than five stills – and so giving the Gunners a hard-fought win over a spirited Pompey.

While Campbell ponders retirement – well, do you think he can do it again? – the Telegraph hears a few words from a more prolific striker of goals, one Eric Cantona.

MUTV, the in-house TV channel for Manchester United, is usually a bastion of sycophancy, hype and preaching to the converted. But yesterday it got more interesting. It went X-rated.

No live spit-roasting – not yet – just an interview with an old flame.

In a live interview on the station, Cantona offered viewers the delightful phrase “**** your mother”.

Asked whether he respected other people, Cantona was explicit in reply.

“Of course I respect everybody,” said the old trawler fisherman. “Any time I had a problem it is because people don’t respect me.

“I have to feel I am important. If I feel I am important, I don’t answer people, even if they insult me. They can say ‘**** your mother’ and I would say nothing because I am an example.”

An example of what is not specified. But answer in the form of a poem to the usual address…’

Posted: 20th, December 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Keeping Up Appearances

‘SINCE much of today’s version of football has more to do with celebrity than any ability with a ball, we turn first to the Mirror and “THE BADVERTS”.

One and a half twists with pike

And it’s bad news for David Seaman, the former England goalkeeper whose apparent mid-life crisis was manifest in his ponytail.

Advertising industry magazine Campaign has voted the Curry’s advert, in which Dave advertises electrical products, the worst ad of 2004 to feature a famous face.

The Yorkshireman was singled out for his “woodenness” in the role, a quality that allowed him to push David’s Beckham’s adverts for Gillette razor blades into second place.

“After an eternity of the same old drivel,” writes the magazine, “why can’t they come up with something better?” Perhaps next time, Becks should be shown shaving his sack, crack and back, as he is rumoured to do.

Such a sight might not be to everyone’s taste, but seeing smooth Dave cannot be worse than watching the behaviour of racist football Blackburn Rovers fans Shaun Baxter and Andrew Roberts.

We’d like to show you their faces, as would the Mirror, but on the way to and from court, they covered them up behind scarves and woolly hats, in a way they might like to imagine makes them look like gangters, or berks.

But the happy news is that we can tell you that the two losers have been banned from going to football matches for five years, having been found guilty of hurling racist insults at Birmingham City’s black player Dwight Yorke.

And the paper doesn’t stop and moves on to highlight Stephen Marsh and his boy, er, Stephen Marsh, two Portsmouth fans whose crushing lack of imagination caused them to scream racist abuse at their team’s own goalkeeper, Shaka Hislop.

They pleaded guilty to racially aggravated harassment and affray and will be sentenced later.

But – hold on! – Marsh Junior cannot racist, because as he is reported to have told a policeman at the time of his arrest that “he knew a coloured fellow”.

Well, if it works for Spain’s coach, Luis Aragones – who even says he’s eaten at the same table as black people – then why not give that line of defence a go?

Over in the Times, Arsene Wenger is talking up the £15,000 fine he’s been handed by the FA for his comments about Manchester United’s Ruud Van Nistelrooy.

In saying “’We know how van Nistelrooy behaves; he can only cheat people who do not know him well”, Wenger lined himself up for trouble.

And he got some – albeit a punishment that adds up to far less than a week’s wages.

Or course, the Times is right and he had to be censured – anything less that an official reprimand would have been tantamount to agreeing with the notion that the Dutchman does not play fair.

And we cannot have that.’

Posted: 17th, December 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Close Of Play

‘GOODBYE, cricket, you were a nice way to spend the afternoon. But now you’ve gone to Sky TV in a four-year deal worth in excess of £200m.

Richie’s been bowled a real ripsnorter

The Guardian brings the news that under the terms of a new deal for the sport, between 2006 and 2009, you’ll only be able to watch live cricket on satellite TV.

The money is good – and it’s hard to blame Channel 4 for not bidding more cash to retain the rights to broadcast the sport.

Especially since the report quotes a source as saying: “You can put a black-and-white movie on at a fraction of the cost and get the same audience and advertising.”

But cricket is the national summer game – and remains so despite the best efforts of an elongated football season.

So, we have some sympathy with Brian Close, a former England captain, who says that this deal will prevent many from learning about the sport.

However, highlights of the day’s play will be shown on Five, so allowing many to catch up on events, and perhaps give Richie Benaud something do to after Channel 4 pulls stumps.

Five has already shown that it can broadcast sporting events few others want – it’s not everyone who will know that last night the channel showed Middlesbrough progressing into the latter rounds of the Uefa Cup.

The Star leads with Boro’s fine 3-0 win over a decent Partizan Belgrade side, a result which meant Steve McClaren’s team won their group.

Congratulations to them. And best of British to Tony Adams, who has just got married for the second time.

This in itself is no big news story – former and current footballers get married all the time.

But what catches our eyes is the identity of his good lady wife, the lovely Poppy Teacher, who just happens to be a “whisky heiress”.

How wise it is for a reformed alcoholic to marry into booze we are not qualified to say, but there it is, and we’re sure the great-great-great grand-daughter of whisky firm founder William Teacher will make Adams happy.

Elsewhere, another who has worn the Arsenal colours is speaking out – Jose Reyes is telling the Sun that the Gunners can beat everyone.

Here is one of those non-stories which seem to operate on a rotation system – one day a Manchester United player talks up his team, then a Chelsea player does the same, then a Liverpool player and so on.

The only way this will ever become a real story is when a Spurs player starts saying his team are great and a paper like the Sun actually takes serious notice.’

Posted: 16th, December 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

The Wright-Phillips Stuff

‘IS Shaun Wright-Phillips worth £25m? No, he is not. Of course, if someone is willing to pay the sum the Mail says Manchester City have put on their star turn’s head, then more fool them.

But whose shirt will he put on now?

Only, Arsenal and Chelsea, who are both said to be keen on the player, are not fools.

Indeed, one of the few teams that does pay over-the-odds for players is City – and, since they already have Wright-Phillips, the market is somewhat reduced.

But what City really mean, as their chairman John Wardle says, is that the club have no desire to sell their most exciting player.

“He is the heart and soul of this club,” says Wardle, “and we believe his heart and soul is in the club.

“He recently signed a four-year contract and we expect him to be here at the end of it and beyond.”

And the moon is made of a soft creamy cheese, Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman are at City to challenge for major honours and Nicholas Anelka loves playing for Kevin Keegan.

Wardle would do well to consider the case of one Kieron Dyer, the man who was to have made England world champions a few seasons back.

Back when Dyer was hot – and not the petulant brat he has become – Newcastle demanded a massive fee for him when Manchester United came calling.

Back then, Dyer’s Newcastle were talking big – these days they’re downsizing.

Indeed, things are now so bad that, the Mirror says, the club’s manager, Graeme Souness, has cancelled Christmas.

The players had been due a knees-up in Scotland, but Souness is so worried about his team’s lack of form, so he’s ordered them to partake of a quiet drink instead – and preferably water.

“They had planned to go to Edinburgh, but I’m not having any of that,” says Souness. “Word would leak out where they were going and all sorts of people would be up there waiting for them.”

Whatever can he mean? Surely, Souness can trust his squad of well-paid, highly-trained, professional sportsmen to behave and not give into the temptations of a few celebrity shaggers and some cocktails.’

Posted: 15th, December 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Singing The Blues

‘REMEMBER that dream we had yesterday, the one about games of football finishing with the final whistle? Well, dream on.

”No, no, not the naughty boys’ nets”

It’s another slow news day in football land, and that means more nonsense about the Arsenal-Chelsea match.

And today it’s the turn of the Blues’ keeper Petr Cech to chip in with his comments about referee Graham Poll.

“Poll has cheated us,” says the player. “Maybe he is an Arsenal fan or it was just his failure… The referee presented Arsenal with a goal.”

And then we turn to the Express and hear that Chelsea fans have been accused of hurling racist abuse at Arsenal’s Patrick Vieira.

The offensive song – “Vieira, he comes from Senegal, his mum’s a cannibal” – is not very clever, although cannibal does have three syllables, which among Chelsea’s traditional legion of grunting fans is an impressive haul.

And Leo Mann of Kick It Out, the anti-racism group, says the chant is “quite obviously racist”.

“I am sure many Chelsea supporters were disgusted,” he added, “and I would urge supporters to come forward to ensure the morons get what they deserve.”

Like a clutch of talented international black players of their own and a Jewish owner. How the old guard at the Bridge must cry!

Meanwhile, a football match was played last night, and the result was a 1-1 draw between Fulham and Manchester United.

United had been winning, as the Sun says, and then they were not. So, given the unfavourable nature of the result to United’s cause, expect to hear lots of bleating, whining and moaning about that in the coming days.

Over in the Telegraph, the lead story is about a shambolic defeat for England’s cricketers in South Africa, as Michael Vaughan’s side lost by seven wickets to South Africa A.

“It’s a slight worry that we’ve been beaten convincingly by South Africa A,” says Vaughan, “but if we play like that over the next few weeks we’re going to get one hell of a surprise.”

That it should be a surprise that England’s touring side get thrashed says much about how far the team has come and the expectation that now surrounds it.

Not for nothing were the team ordered to spend some time after their defeat in what the paper calls “the naughty boy nets” – a phrase that, to our mind, contains more than a hint of public school boy perversion.

Which can only be good for the game’s grass roots…’

Posted: 14th, December 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Holmes’ Place

‘ENTER with us into a dream.

”So, Kelly, did you think it was a goal or not?”

There are two big teams playing a game of football. After 90 minutes, the final whistle sounds, the players collect their cheques and then go spit-roasting. That is it.

Now wake up and see the Mirror, on which we have the headline “POLL POTTY”.

It seems that referee Graham Poll, aka The Thing from Tring, in some way erred in allowing Thierry Henry’s quickly-taken free kick to stand in yesterday 2-2 draw with Chelsea.

How it can be “controversial” (Mail) to take advantage of your opponent’s foul play is beyond most of us – especially when we read that Henry said “please” to the ref in the prelude to his opportunist strike.

But still we have the papers banging on about Poll, and hearing from Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho, who is always too keen to give the tabloid hacks something to scream about.

So, we get the Sun’s “WE WERE CHEATED” lead sports story, in which the increasingly trying Mourinho moans long and loud.

“I am more than unhappy,” says he. “Unhappy is a nice word. I can’t say the word I hear in my head and feel in my heart. I can’t say it. But the free-kick was unbearable.”

We are no mean linguists here at Anorak Towers, and suggest that the word Mourinho cannot bring himself to voice is “Goal”.

But he should be happy with winning a point at Highbury, which means the Blues are five points above the reigning champions and four points above a resurgent Everton.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will also be happy, having been named as top coach at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards.

As the Mail reports, Wenger’s team – the so-called Invincibles – were pipped to the title of top team by the Britain’s Olympic coxless fours.

At this juncture, we’d like to mention how being a sports personality is something of a contradiction in terms, but we are stopped by the realisation that here at least is one moment when football is not the dominant force.

And if our eyes do not deceive us that is Kelly Holmes – a non-crying female athlete – taking the prize for being the biggest personality in the country’s sporting life.

Given the coverage given to Jose Mourinho’s moan or Wayne Rooney’s spots, it’s nothing less than a marvel that anyone outside football wins anything ever.

Although England’s cricketers are proving the point, as they slump towards defeat against South Africa A.’

Posted: 13th, December 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Coming Or Going?

‘NEVER let is be said that sports hacks don’t have a clue what they’re talking about.

That’s enough stretching, now for the pies

When the Star insists that Steven Gerrard will quit Liverpool in the summer, with Chelsea and Real Madrid leading the bidding for the midfielder, it does so on hard evidence.

It knows the 24-year-old’s mind and it knows the fact that the Reds are already 15 points behind Chelsea in the Premiership is “bugging” him.

But when the Sun says that there’s no chance that Gerrard will leave the club he has supported all his life, it also knows what it’s talking about.

It has Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry as a source, who tells the paper: “There is no chance of Stevie going in January. That just won’t happen. Our intention is that we will never let him go.”

Parry bases that confidence on his belief that Liverpool can satisfy Gerrard’s ambitions as a player.

And, if Gerrard’s ambitions are to battle it out every year for fourth place in the Premiership, narrowly squeak through the opening phase of the Champions’ League and occasionally win the Carling Cup, then we have no doubt he is right.

But the Premiership this year appears to be between Arsenal and Chelsea, whose clash on Sunday dominates the back pages.

And in the Express we hear from The Tinkerman himself, Claudio Ranieri, who says Chelsea’s current success is all down to…him.

“If I’d stayed at Chelsea this season, in all probability we’d have won the league,” he said.

“We were ready. I was the one who told Roman Abramovich to sign Didier Drogba and it was my idea to sign Arjen Robben.”

But while Drogba is mouthing off over in the Sun, claiming that Arsenal are scared of the Blues, the Gunners have a different problem in the Mirror.

It claims that Arsenal’s two keepers are at war and that Jens Lehmann has refused to support Manuel Almunia on the training ground since the Spaniard took his place in goal.

A source says the two used to get on well until Arsene Wenger preferred Almunia for last week’s game against Birmingham.

“Ever since then, Jens has gone out of his way to make things difficult,” he says.

When Marcus Trescothick goes out of his way, things seems to get difficult of their own accord for the England opener and vice-captain.

And the papers are this morning mulling over why it is that the left-hander boasts a Test batting average of 53.93 at home and only 32.84 away.

Banger, as he’s known, has made just two tons in his 26 matches overseas compared with six on his 28 matches at home.

And, says the Mail, he has followed Mark Butcher’s lead and taken up yoga to try to address the problem.

So, if you see Trescothick going into the Downward Dog during next week’s first Test against South Africa, you’ll know why…’

Posted: 10th, December 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Stevie Wonder

‘SO, all four English clubs have qualified for the next stage of the Champions’ League – but it is Liverpool who take the plaudits this morning.

The man in red

Having fallen 1-0 behind to Olympiakos at Anfield last night, the Reds needed to score three times to keep their European dreams alive.

And in a pulsating second half they did just that, victory capped by a 25-yard screamer from Steven Gerrard, which the England midfielder describes as the best goal of his life.

“Stevie Wonder” let fly in the last few minutes to cap what the Mail describes as “one of the greatest European nights in the history of the famous stadium”.

And it was a goal which the Star says has boosted hopes of him remaining at Anfield.

“Did I ever think we were down and out? I would be a liar if I said no,” he admitted afterwards. “At times I thought that scoring three goals against them would be a mountain to climb.

“My goal was the most important one I have ever scored for Liverpool and I am just glad for the fans that it has taken us into the last 16.”

There Liverpool will either meet one of the three Italian qualifiers – the two Milans and Juventus – or Bayer Leverkusen or Lyon.

Despite topping their groups, Arsenal and Chelsea looks to have a harder draw – they could meet Real Madrid or Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Werder Bremen or one of Porto and PSV.

One set of fans who are not so happy this morning are those at Portsmouth.

Pompey’s best-known fan John Westwood tells the Sun that Harry Redknapp has knifed supporters in the back by joining bitter rivals Southampton.

“What he’s done is unbelievable,” he says. “One minute he says it’s hard leaving the best fans in the country, then he’s knifing us in the back.

“He knows how much the clubs loathe each other, so to go there as manager beggars belief.”

What kind of loyalty Redknapp is supposed to owe to Pompey or his former chairman Milan Mandaric we don’t know, but there is little sign of the row dying down.

In fact, it’s likely to get worse before it gets better as the Mirror announces that Redknapp intends to try to lure Kevin Bond, his No.2 at Fratton Park, to St Mary’s.

No such problems in South Africa where England’s cricketers got their tour off to a perfect start with a comfortable win against a Nicky Oppenheimer XI.

The only clouds were the ones overhead and the question of who should bat at No.3 in the first Test.

Mark Butcher is back to full fitness, but Robert Key did his case for retaining the spot a lot of good with a run-a-ball 87 in an opening stand of 167 with Marcus Trescothick.

And cricket’s own Stevie Wonder – Steve Harmison – showed his class with seven overs for just eight runs…’

Posted: 9th, December 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Saint & Sinner

‘HARRY Redknapp is to make a “sensational” return to football management by becoming the new boss at Southampton, the Sun exclusively reveals this morning.

For whom the chimes toll

What? You knew that already? You, like us, read it in yesterday’s Express?

Okay, but today’s a different day – and we’re pretty sure this is the first time the Sun has exclusively revealed it.

Indeed, so exclusive is it today that it is billed as a Sunsport Soccer Exclusive (which is admittedly a better tagline than Follow-Up Of Another Paper’s Story).

The Sun does at least have a picture of Harry Redknapp (apparently taken yesterday) deep in conversation with Lawrie McMenemy.

McMenemy, we should remind you, is a former boss of Southampton (in those muddy pre-Nick Hornby days) – and the fact that he was talking to Redknapp is confirmation enough for the Sun.

And for Portsmouth director Terry Brady who is of the opinion that such a move “really would be the highest betrayal possible”.

Before Judas has had a chance to open his mouth to protest, Brady continues.

“I find it unbelievable,” he says. “The board would feel let down.”

Of course, there are those who might venture what was truly unbelievable was that Pompey should have forced Redknapp out after two and a half highly successful years in charge.

From saints to sinners – and the Mail focuses on Arsenal keeper Manuel Almunia, at fault again last night during the Gunners’ 5-1 thrashing of Rosenborg.

The paper says the “gaffe-prone” Spanish keeper is turning into an almighty headache for manager Arsene Wenger – and is now a doubt for Sunday’s crunch match against Chelsea.

“I’m a great believer in Almunia’s potential,” Wenger said after the match, “but at the moment he is playing under so much pressure that he has not really been himself.

“It has caused a national debate, but it has been very difficult for him to come into a team like this.”

The result, however, is that Arsenal qualify for the next stage of the Champions’ League as unbeaten table-toppers, while Chelsea went down 2-1 to Porto – only Jose Mourinho’s second defeat since taking over at Stamford Bridge.

But yet again the Mirror says the match was marred by monkey chants directed at Chelsea’s Didier Drogba and William Gallas.

“The chanting came from several corners of the ground,” it says, “and Chelsea fans tried to drown it out with their own chants in favour of Mourinho – only for the abuse to resurface later in the match.”

Truly, it is a strange world when Chelsea fans are being held up as paragons of virtue…’

Posted: 8th, December 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Fawlty Manuel

‘WE don’t know how well Arsenal’s Spanish goalkeeper Manuel Almunia speaks English, but we’d advise him not to practise by reading this morning’s newspapers.

Is a hamster?

If he does, he will discover that the club’s whole season – not to mention the small matter of £30m – rests in his not-so-safe hands.

That’s certainly the verdict in the Sun, which has nicknamed the man who has been asked to replace Jens Lehmann “Fawlty Manuel”.

It says the 27-year-old will be between the posts for tonight’s crucial Champions’ League match against Rosenborg and at the weekend for the Premiership clash with Chelsea.

And at least one ex-Arsenal keeper is not enthralled at the prospect.

David Seaman tells the Mail that Lehmann is unlucky to miss out.

“Jens is a fantastic keeper,” he says. “He deserves another chance. He has made a few mistakes, but on form he deserves to be first choice.”

Chelsea have already qualified for the next round of the Champions’ League, but they face problems of a different sort in Portugal.

The Star says Porto have refused to step up security for former boss Jose Mourinho, who has been the target of death threats on his return to the club he led to European Cup success last year.

However, Chelsea have apparently provided not one, but five, bodyguards for their boss, who also failed in a legal bid to have Helder Mota, a member of Porto’s fanatical Super Dragons supporters’ group, banned from the game.

Mota, who spat at Mourinho when the clubs met in September, claims the Chelsea manager had an affair with his wife and has said he will be a dead man next time he went to Porto.

Meanwhile, Aston Villa (currently in sixth position in the Premiership) could be about to lose manager David O’Leary.

The Star says the pig-faced manager is ready to walk out on the club if his new contract and the future of his backroom staff aren’t sorted out immediately.

Southampton, meanwhile, are hoping to lure Harry Redknapp in what the Express says would be “a dramatic south coast managerial switch”.

Redknapp resigned from the Saints’ bitter rivals Portsmouth a fortnight ago, but was last night said to be locked in talks with Rupert Lowe about a swift return to action.

Saints fans will be glad to know that Glenn Hoddle will not be returning to the club he abandoned.

The former England manager has taken over from another former Saints boss Dave Jones as manager of Wolves.’

Posted: 7th, December 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

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