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Back pages | Anorak - Part 79

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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

The Pits

‘SPORTS fans who get their kicks from sitting in massive traffic jams as they queue to watch a procession of cars are upset this morning.

What next year’s winner would have looked like

The Times leads with the news that after 54 unbroken years of racing, the British Formula One Grand Prix is no more.

Bernie Ecclestone, the man who effectively controls the sport, declined to accept an offer from the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC), which runs Silverstone, to stage the event, it falling £3 million short of his £9 million asking price needed to guarantee the future of the race until 2007.

This has deeply upset not only British motor racing fans but, as the Telegraph says, Sir Jackie Stewart, president of the BRDC.

He is disappointed not only by Eccelstone but also by the British Government which he sees as having sold the sport short.

“And I regret that the Government, unlike governments in almost every other country which hosts a grand prix, have not been able to pull together a package to help the retention of the grand prix in this country,” says he.

It is a shame that a mainstay of the British sporting calendar is no more. But this is a sport seemingly awash with money, and it appears odd that an extra few million could not be found to secure its future.

Odder still, though, is the story of the “Arsenal feud”, as the Mail says how a fight broke out on the champions’ team bus as the players left the ground after the week’s 1-1 draw with Rosenborg.

Apparently, the team’s Lauren and Patrick Vieira had a disagreement after the Frenchman blamed the Norwegian’s equaliser on his teammate.

The story goes that police and security guards were called and boarded the team bus to break up the melee.

However, the club seem not to be overly bothered by the fracas.

Arsene Wenger saw little wrong with it (if, that is, he saw anything at all) and the Mail suggests that “full and frank exchanges of views are not uncommon among Arsenal players”.

Given that it been quite some time since any of the squad received a red card, it’s understandable that some steam had to be let off.

Just like with Michael Owen, who’s releasing the pressure by telling the Guardian about the frustrations of life at Real Madrid.

Though happy with his form – so he says – the 24-year-old is worried about his limited chances at the Spanish giants.

“At Liverpool,” says Owen, “I was first choice every week…I was a big important player. The big difference is that I’m not playing as much in Madrid.”

And with Raul, Ronaldo and Morientes ahead of him, chances are high that he won’t be collecting too many playing bonuses this season.

After which period, he says he’ll reassess his future. And then, as with Ian Rush, Jimmy Greaves and, dare it be said, Luther Blissett, come home…’

Posted: 1st, October 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


An Ugly Shower

‘JOSE Mourinho may be arrogant and cocksure, but it’s a state of mind based upon his magnificent record in European football.

Just good friends

But football fans – at least the more knuckle-dragging ones – are cursed with appallingly short memories.

Having turned Porto from a nothing team into European champions, the new Chelsea manager was within his rights to expect a rousing reception when his old and new clubs met last night.

Instead, we get the Mirror headline: “DROG AND FLOB.” It’s an ugly, clumsy headline, but it is in keeping with the matter in hand.

The Porto fan(s) who spat at his former idol should be ashamed – although he’s probably too stupid to feel contrition.

But credit to Mourinho – whose side won 3-1 – for sticking to the good times and thanking the Porto fans who came up to greet him.

While Chelsea were doing a professional, if unattractive, job on Porto, Arsenal were labouring in Norway.

In what the Independent calls a “careless display”, Arsenal failed to capitalise on an early goal and take one of the many chances they had to win the game (it ended 1-1).

The paper calls their performance nothing less than “maddening”.

Not that Arsenal’s inability to transfer domestic brilliance to European domination is the most maddening thing in sport.

This is Britain, the country that can boast Wimbledon tennis – and still have no player able to win the title.

With Tim Henman seemingly doomed to never succeed and Greg Rusedski now wearing a headband, we are craving a new hero.

And the Telegraph thinks it’s found him. Step forward, Andrew Murray.

Despite being in the British Davis Cup squad, Murray is far from being a household name.

So his management team have lined up a match for their 17-year-old hopeful against that old stager, John McEnroe.

The game will take place under spotlights at Wembley Arena and feature in mini-tournament with the likes of Boris Becker, Goran Ivanisevic and dear old Rusedski.

If Murray wins, he’ll collect £250,000. And by next summer, he’ll be the name on everyone’s lips. And most likely, have a hill named after him…’

Posted: 30th, September 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


United They Stand

‘LAST night Manchester United went to Old Trafford to love Wayne Rooney. The game over and players and fans alike left with his name etched on their hearts.

What (always) happens next?

The Times says that memories of Rooney’s debut performance – in which he scored a superb Champions’ League hat-trick in the 6-2 thrashing of Fenerbhce – will live long in the minds of United’s fans.

And the papers are happy to keep Rooney’s name high on the agenda, all leading with the boy wonder, who, as the Indy says, has begun his “love affair” with Old Trafford.

The Mail goes further – perhaps a little too far at this early stage in his career – and says Wayne joins the “list of legends”, speaking of Rooney’s burst in the same breath as “Best against Benfica, Charlton at Wembley”.

No pressure, then, Wayne. Just go out and do the same thing every week.

Arsenal’s manager, Arsene Wenger, is mindful of piling massive expectation on one player, especially one so young.

In the Indy, he compares Rooney to Arsenal’s own tyro, the Spaniard Jose Reyes.

“He is in a Rooney situation as well,” says Wenger. “Everyone expects Rooney to play and make a difference. That is what everyone expects from Rooney – that he will score in every game. That is what everybody expects from Reyes but football is not like that.”

Try telling the Mail. And given the form of both the Spaniard and the Englishman to date, Wenger’s words seem disputed by fart.

But football does not always go to plan and only a fool would expect otherwise.

So, tonight, Arsenal fans shouldn’t expect their new star player to score, even if he is playing up front against Rosenborg in place of the non-flying Dennis Bergkamp.

Hmmm… We wonder what Claudio Ranieri would have done if he had had such talent at his disposal? Shuffled his pack. Changed the team. Tinkered.

If he were in charge at Manchester United, Ranieri would probably now drop Rooney to the reserves.

But we can only guess about such things because the Italian’s new book – Proud Man Walking – makes no mention of La Roon.

Instead, in the Times’ book review, we hear the Italian reminisce about the time he asked Roman Abramovich for a lift in his jet to Rome.

The Russian was flying to Moscow, but still took time to indulge his then manager and take in an unscheduled trip to the Italian capital.

“What a man,” says Ranieri, who goes onto talk of the good relationship he enjoyed with his chairman.

You know, the one who sacked him…’

Posted: 29th, September 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


Back Up Front

‘WHO’S that chubby lad on the back page of the Independent kicking a ball around with some athletes?

He can score in a brothel

Why, it’s Wayne Rooney, the Roonster, La Roon, star of Euro 2004 (well, the bit before England got knocked out) and new Manchester United legend-in-waiting having a laugh with some of his new playmates.

Tonight, as the Telegraph says in its lead story, Rooney will make his debut at Old Trafford as the Red Devils renew hostilities with Turkish club Fenerbahce.

And United will have to watch out, since, as the paper reminds the club’s legion of fans, the last time the Turks were in town, they became the first visiting team to win a European mach at Old Trafford in 40 years and 56 matches.

And, as the Sun reports, Alex Ferguson may be at the club to see that European run surpassed.

David Gill, United’s chief executive, says of Ferguson: “He is very fit and we hope he will continue to manage the club for many years to come.”

If that were not good enough news for Arsenal and Chelsea fans, the better news is that in buying the aforesaid Rooney, United have spent not only this year’s transfer budget but next year’s as well.

They will have to sell before they plunge into the market in human flesh once more.

Anyone tired of this Manchester Untied bulletin can now find some relief courtesy of the Times, where the paper’s hacks have found something else to talk about.

And the mission to rescue sport from United’s grasp is launched by Tanni Grey-Thompson.

The disabled athlete has just won her eleventh Paralympic gold medal, her second of these Athens games.

She is now the most successful British paralympian of the modern era.

But in a world dominated by football, not as successful has Wayne Rooney…’

Posted: 28th, September 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


The Old Routine

‘HARD luck on Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski, who narrowly failed to beat Austria and so elevate Britain’s Davis Cup team to the top division.

A tired double act

However, their gallant failure is tarnished a little by Rusedski’s lament to the Telegraph about the blister on his left hand.

“It’s hard to hold the racket, it’s hard to serve and it hurts when I hit the ball,” explained the British No.2.

And it’s a pain unaided by the fact that had he not played in the final rubber against Stefan Koubek, Britain tennis fortunes would have rested on the narrow shoulders of Andrew Murray or Alex Bogdanovich.

Don’t worry if you’ve not heard of them – the team’s captain, Jeremy Bates, showed little signs that he recognised their abilities either, sticking with the pain-affected Rusedksi.

But sports can toss up a few surprises. And while we wonder what night have been had youth been given its head in Austria, the Independent notices the Premier League table.

And there, hovering in third place, ahead of Manchester United and just three points behind league leaders Arsenal are Everton.

Yesterday, the Toffees’ Tim Cahill scored the only goal in an away game victory at Portsmouth, a win that took a Wayne Rooney-less Everton to new heights.

Of course, as George Graham was wont to say, the league is a marathon not a sprint. And with so many matches left, the thinking is very much that the natural order of things will be restored.

And that means a rise for the likes of underperforming Liverpool and Newcastle and a steady drop down the table for Everton.

If the British men’s tennis team and the status quo in English football were not enough to suggest that competition was dying, the state of Formula One says that it is all but dead.

The Guardian may well heap praise on the “BRAVE NEW WORLD” of F1 racing in China, but though the track was new and the crowds were excited, the result was the same: Ferrari won.

The red flag flying over a bit of China at the weekend may have had a horse on it, but it pointed to world every bit as uniform as that heralded by Chairman Mao Zedong’s famous flag bearers.’

Posted: 27th, September 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


Off The Clough

‘AFTER the wreaths come the brickbats as the Express leads with the news that someone has dared question the legacy of the dearly departed Brian Clough.

The Comfi-Slax sweater only comes in green

The man who has gone against the grain is Rick Parry, the former chief executive of the Premier League, who once headed a three-man inquiry into the sale of Teddy Sheringham from Clough’s Forest to Spurs in 1992.

“On the balance of evidence,” says Parry, “we thought he was guilty of taking bungs. I was surprised when the FA took no action against him or Forest.”

Anyone surprised at FA inaction might be either new to the game or horribly naive. Parry is neither.

And neither are the nodding heads who line to say how upset they are, outraged even, that with his body barely cold in the turf, Clough’s name should be dragged through the mud.

Former Forest hero Kenny Burns is “very angry”. His colleague from those heady days of European glory, former carpet fitter Garry Birtles, says Parry is “beyond contempt”.

And even the paper’s Harry Harris, writing in a piece entitled “Respect the rascal”, says how Clough should not be remembered “just because he liked a sweetener”.

No, he shouldn’t. He should be stuck in a museum and lionised as one of the greats of the game, a character, a one-off, a showman and have bestowed upon him all manner of epitaphs.

You can’t libel the dead, but, by ‘eck, young man, you sure can praise them to the skies.

You can also, as the Guardian says, buy one of Clough’s trademark hideous green jumpers, which have been flying off the shelves at the Nottingham Forest club shop.

Sunday has been designated Green Day at Forest, and for their home televised game against West Ham the fans will wear green jumpers, tuck their tracksuits bottoms into their socks and playfully cuff young lads hard round the head.

West Ham’s travelling support will then begin to sing about how they won the World Cup. It’ll be like the Premier League never happened.

Meanwhile, the Indy says that all of China is excited at this weekend’s Formula One Grand Prix.

The track – 3.387 miles long; nine straights and 14 bends (seven left, seven right); space for 200,000 spectators; 174,000 tyres in the barriers – is all ready for what the paper calls “the biggest sporting event to date held in the country”.

And what we call, a terrific result for Ferrari…’

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


Life Of Brian

‘FOR a few moments in yesterday’s ICC Champions Trophy match between Pakistan and the West Indies, the bedraggled crowd held their breath.

‘Catch it!’

As the Telegraph reports, having already told Brian Lara that he’d kill him (an intention the Windes’ Ramnaresh Sarwan took to be said in jest), Pakistan’s express train, Shoaib Akhtar, launched a ferocious ball that stuck the batsman below the helmet and behind the ear.

Over four slow motion stills, readers look on as Lara is struck and collapses to the turf. He then lies still.

But he’s alright. And, despite some mild concussion, should be fit and ready to play England in Saturday’s final – where, as the paper’s Derek Pringle says, Steve Harmison and Andrew Flintoff will attempt to knock his block off once more.

The injury to arguably the greatest batsman of his age is not of prime importance, however, to the Sun, which leads instead with news of Real Madrid.

Since buying three English players of questionable quality, Real have become the Sun’s favourite topic of conversation.

And in today’s instalment from Madrid we hear that the club are after Bobby Robson.

Having sacked Jose Camacho, the fickle powers at the Bernabeu now, apparently, want Robson to take charge of team matters for the remainder of the season.

But the headline (“REAL OFFER SIR BOB A JOB”) is a little countered by the story which says that, er, they haven’t.

The Spanish club are thinking about it. Although if they did offer Robson the job, the paper is just certain that he “would find it impossible to turn down Real”.

If this nonsense were not enough to make us question what it is the Sun’s sports desk does of a day, the paper then tells us how Sven Goran Eriksson has also been linked to the job.

Linked by whom is not stated – although the Sun and its ilk are many people’s first and last guess.

But Sven says he’s not spoken to any club and is committed to England. But still the Sun gives odds of 3-1 on his taking the job.

Why we ponder those odds – and wonder what marks out of ten the Sun gives Sven’s chances of being Real’s next boss – we note that Arsene Wenger is said to be the man Real truly want.

However, he’s only given odds of 100-1 on taking the post. And in the Indy, we hear that Arsenal chairman, Peter Hill-Wood, is convinced his man will stay loyal to the Gunners.

“I don’t think he would be attracted to a club like Real,” says Hill-Wood, “where, we hear, the president buys players without telling the manager.”

Or the Sun…’

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


A Final Fling

‘IT’S hard to believe, so let’s check for ourselves.

Michael Vaughan tries out the Aussie salute

Yep, the winning team are wearing navy blue pyjamas with flashes of red and white.

Yep, that is the Michael Vaughan on the back page of the Express, a finger held aloft as he roars like a winner.

And that is the word “ENGLAND” emblazoned on his chest – he has not adopted a new country.

So this can only mean that for the first time in 15 games England’s cricketers have beaten Australia.

And not just beaten, but well beaten, convincingly beaten – England won the semi-final of the one-day ICC Championship Trophy with 21 balls and six wickets in hand.

England now play either Pakistan or West Indies in the final, and, if their summer has been any guide to the result, they’ll thrash the tourists out of sight.

And Ricky Ponting, the Australian captain, tells the Express that’s just what he wants.

“I hope England go all the way and win it,” says the pugnacious batsman. “We were outplayed. Our guys weren’t tough enough and we all got disappointed.”

Is that music we hear? The sound of a beaten Australian captain comes close to the sound of angels playing harps.

But there’s another sound in the background. It’s a snap of a breaking bone. Which can only mean it’s the Times’ story on Steven Gerrard and how the England footballer has broken his foot.

Make that his metatarsal, which, as the paper reminds us, is very much the fashionable bone to break when it comes to foot damage.

Thanks to David Beckham, Gary Neville, Wayne Rooney and now Gerrard, football fans are expert in metatarsals, broken and otherwise.

But while Gerrard and his foot sit out the next 12 weeks, we note that football’s Carling Cup has reached phase two.

The Telegraph tells its readers of wins for Colchester over Premiership side West Brom (2-1) and how Crystal Palace have won a match.

Yes, whatever England’s cricketers can do, so too can Palace’s footballer, who have just beaten Hartlepool by two goals to one.

That’s Palace’s first competitive win of the season. Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!

Hurrah!’

Posted: 22nd, September 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


Dead Reckoning

‘OF all of Brian Clough’s many bons mots listed in today’s commemoration of the manager who died yesterday, one stands out.

”God better give me his favourite armchair”

“I want no epitaphs of profound history,” said “Old Big ‘Ead” in words now reproduced by the Guardian.

“I contributed – I would hope they would say that, and I would hope somebody liked me.”

But Brian fails to get his wish granted as the papers lament the man who, the Times says, “single-handedly created the cult of the football manager”.

Page after page – front and back – is given over to the man who took provincial Nottingham Forest from nowhere to the pinnacle of European football.

He does at least achieve his other ambition of being liked, as the Guardian asks various Nottingham locals to say how much they admired the man who put their city on the map.

The Independent sticks with the great man’s quotes, producing the largest collections of Cloughisms.

So, before we turn to the other big sports news (Rio Ferdinand’s return to the pitch last night), let’s hear a few of Clough’s words.

When Manchester United opted out of the FA Cup in favour of a Brazilian jolly a few season’s back, Clough offered the opinion: “I hope they all get bloody diarrhoea.”

And now, with that image in mind, we move to the back of the Sun and, below a large picture of Clough, we see that Manchester United have beaten Liverpool 2-1.

And although it was United’s other centre-back, Mikael Silvestre who scored a brace of goals to win United the game, the news is all about Ferdinand.

How much the Londoner had to do with United’s win is open to conjecture.

But, as the Independent’s Tim Rich puts it, “Rio Ferdinand’s positioning for his eight-month suspension…was forever faultless”.

But Ferdinand’s England colleague Michael Owen’s sense of timing is brought into question in the Sun.

In “OWEN SPARKED REAL REVOLT”, readers learn that Jose Camancho was forced out of his job as coach of Real Madrid when his decision to replace Raul with Owen met with universal disapproval.

Far from being an agent provocateur, as the headline suggests, Owen’s role in the affair is less than glorious.

For the player who has yet to score for Real, this is hardly an auspicious start to life at his new club.

Perhaps he’ll have more luck with his new manager, Mariano Garcia Remon.

Although how long he will last is open to much speculation.

Which is something the Sun is all too happy to engage in, suggesting that Sven Goran Eriksson is ready to take over.

And his first task will be to buy Patrick Vieira. Or so the Sun will say soon enough…’

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


VE Day

‘CONGRATULATIONS to Team Europe for thrashing the Americans to retain golf’s Ryder Cup.

The moment of victory

Indeed, the Europeans have now won four out of the last five biennial challenges with only Brookline a few years back – when America plunged a stiletto shoe into the European dream – bucking the trend.

And few if any golfers have played a bigger part in Europe’s successes than Colin Montgomerie.

The Telegraph says the Scot is “the toast of Europe” after his putt scored the winning point yesterday.

But while the papers see Europe celebrate, the Times wonders what lies ahead for the Americans, who must be wondering why players who look better on paper than their European opponents underperform in the team game.

The paper even asks the question: “Is Tiger Woods the Americans’ weakest link?”

The suggestion is that the playing legend casts a long shadow over his teammates and fails to inspire those playing with him.

And the record for such a great player does little to counter the notion that Woods plays better as an individual.

In his 16 Ryder Cup matches to date, the world No.2 golfer has won five, halved one and lost 10. That’s hardly the stuff of heroes.

Woods is also accused to talking a good game – something that football Jose Mourinho is prone to do.

And after his Chelsea side’s stale 0-0 draw with Spurs, the Portuguese manager has been talking some more.

In “TOTT ROT”, the Sun hears Mourinho moan about how unfair it was of Spurs not to let his team score.

“People do not pay money to see one team play and another team defend, kick balls, away, fall down, demand medical help and take five minutes to sub a player.”

No, they come to Chelsea to see the home team win and any number of expensive new players score loads of goals.

“If I was a fan and had to pay money, I wouldn’t come,” says Mourinho.

But he’s not a fan. He’s a manager who gets paid lots of money to make Chelsea win.

However, he’s got a decent imagination and, after wondering what it would be like to come as a supporter, Mourinho wonders some more.

“If I was a referee, I would protect the team who want to play,” he says.

Perhaps. And if money were the only thing needed to guarantee success, Chelsea would be European champions and have beaten Spurs 10-0.

But, quite plainly, it isn’t…’

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


Our Cup Spilleth Over

‘ALL eyes are on Oakland Hills this weekend, the golf club in Michigan where the American Ryder Cup team will reveal this year’s fashion crime.

Made in America…in a mould

The word is that the outfit chosen by US captain Hal Sutton is something quite special, although it will have to be if it is to match some of their previous performances.

The 1999 team is widely regarded by most fashion experts to have been the greatest ever assembled, the shirts bearing photographs of past tournaments.

And it is not just the men, either – Sutton will have to come up with outfits for the wives that beat the 1999 Sindy costumes or the 2002 Stepford Wives look.

With such pressure on the costumiers, it is little wonder that this biennial event is so eagerly anticipated by players and spectators alike.

The papers, however, are for once concentrating on the game itself in what the Independent kids itself is “increasingly becoming a barometer of middle America’s self-regard”.

The fact that the European team hold the trophy and have won five and drawn one of the last 10 matches does not seem to have unduly affected a country that has never had much problem when it comes to self-regard.

American captains traditionally introduce their team as the 12 best golfers in the world and then come Sunday evening, are forced to eat humble pie.

This year, they don’t even have the best golfer in the world after Tiger Woods lost that mantle to Vijay Singh – and the Press are expecting a close contest once again.

At lunchtime today, Woods and Phil Mickelson will lead out against Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington in the first of the morning fourballs.

And if anyone doubts that it’s going to be a real battle, the Guardian says Sutton’s vice-captain Jackie Burke Jr described the required mindset as “like going ashore with the Marines”.

He presumably wasn’t referring to Monty.

Meanwhile, the tabloids focus on the return of Rio Ferdinand after his seven-month ban for missing a drugs test.

The Sun reports that his Manchester United teammates have only won 41% of the matches they have played in the defender’s absence.

And the man himself tells the Mirror how the ban has helped him to realise just how lucky professional footballers are.

There’s nothing like sitting on your arse for half a year and getting paid £80,000 a week to do it to give one a bit of perspective…’

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


Frisky Business

‘REFEREES are poor, sickly creatures…

Seeing red

No-one who saw it can forget Paul Alcock’s theatrical stagger and fall after being shoved by Paolo Di Canio nor the months of therapy that he needed as a result.

Now, Sweden’s Anders Frisk has shown that the men in black (or yellow, in his case) are made of no sterner stuff abroad.

Frisk refused to go out and officiate the second half of last night’s Roma v Dynamo Kiev match after being hit on the head by a cigarette lighter as he left the pitch at half-time.

True, as the Guardian notes, he had blood streaming from a wound in the middle of his forehead, but players have continued with much greater wounds than that.

And, if Frisk was not up to the task, then surely Uefa could have sent on a substitute, as they would have done had Fisk pulled a muscle or suffered a split end.

As it was, the match was abandoned with the Ukrainians leading 1-0 – and the Guardian thinks the Italian side will be kicked out of the competition as a result.

Although the culprit was almost certainly a Roma fan angry that Frisk had had sent off French defender Philippe Mexes moments before, expulsion seems a heavy penalty.

Not least for the other clubs in the group, who will miss out on two money-spinning matches.

One thing is sure, Mexes is unlikely to take the case of his sending off – for kicking out at Maris Verpakovskis – to the European Court.

Unlike Robbie Savage. The Birmingham midfielder is, in the words of the Guardian, “contemplating freeing modern footballers from the tedious inconvenience of accepting referees’ decisions”.

He is angry at his sending-off and subsequent ban in last week’s draw between Wales and Northern Ireland.

And he says that if Fifa fails to overturn referee Domenico Messina’s decision, then he will consider taking legal action of his own.

It is highly debatable whether the horrible Savage actually possesses any human rights – and so to matters on the pitch.

Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s two second half goals last night helped his Manchester United team come back from 2-0 down to get a draw in Lyon – and, in the process, he became the club’s highest scorer in European competitions.

The Sun says the Dutchman was congratulated on his achievement by Denis Law, the man whose record he beat.

“I’m delighted for Ruud,” Law said. “It could not happen to a nicer guy. He deserves this. And to do it in the way he did is fantastic.”

While Liverpool won 2-0, Michael Owen’s new club Real Madrid slipped to a sensational 3-0 defeat at Bayer Leverkusen.

Owen was left on the bench for the third game in a row and admitted that he was frustrated.

“I’m always confident I can do things if I get a chance,” he told the Sun, “but the game wasn’t there for me tonight so I will wait for the next game.”

And the one after that…and after that…’

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


1-0 To The Arsenal

‘CHELSEA have inherited Arsenal’s old mantle of winning ugly, starting off the Premiership season with two 1-0 wins while the Gunners have been scoring for fun.

The Lionel Blair of football

But last night the roles were reversed as the Blues started off their Champions’ League campaign with a 3-0 at Paris St Germain, while Arsenal got past PSV Eindhoven by the only goal.

Such is Arsenal’s hold at the moment over broadsheet football journalists, who compete to outdo each other in their adulation for Thierry Henry et al, that Jose Mourinho’s men barely get a look in.

As befits a paper whose origins may be in Manchester but whose heart is in north London, the Guardian makes no mention of Chelsea on its back page.

They are relegated to the also-rans inside as the paper dwells on every kick of Arsenal’s nervy 1-0 win, which came courtesy of an own-goal just before half-time.

The tabloids, however, focus on Didier Drogba’s brace for Chelsea and the goal celebrations, which (says the Mirror) may cost him a Uefa ban.

Drogba mocked the PSG fans, who had jeered him all night, imitating Pauleta’s goal celebrations and blowing kisses at them.

But, says the Sun, his actions did not impress his manager.

Back to the broadsheets and the build-up to Friday’s Ryder Cup has already started.

The Independent is banging on again about Tiger Woods’ poor record in the team event, comparing him with the brilliance of Colin Montgomerie in this form of golf.

Monty has won 16 of the 28 matches he has played, with five halves and only seven defeats. Woods has won only five of 15, losing eight matches and halving two.

All of which will count for precisely nothing come the weekend, although it gives the hacks something with which to fill their columns in the meantime.

The other obsession of the journos is how the American crowd will behave.

European captain Bernhard Langer tells the Telegraph that he is preparing his players for the worst after the excesses of Kiawah Island in 1991 and Brookline in 1999.

Meanwhile, US captain Hal Sutton says he is done with apologising for the scenes last time the cup was played in America.

Then, the US players and wives ran onto the 17th green to congratulate Justin Leonard for a crucial putt just as Jose Maria Olazabal was lining up his own putt to keep the match alive.

“If the same circumstances presented themselves again,” he said, “the players would not have run onto the green, but the truth of the matter is that we are going to be ourselves this year.”

It’s not the players being themselves that the Europeans are worried about – it’s that elements of the crowd will also be themselves.’

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


The Stuff Of Champions

‘WHEN the last remaining English club is knocked out of the European Cup, normally at the quarter- or semi-final stage, the papers start the post-mortems.

‘And Joe…don’t forget the oranges!’

Why do English clubs do so badly in Europe? Do we play too many games? Is there something wrong with our style of play?

This year, the papers are indulging in a few pre-mortems, asking the very same questions that they will no doubt be asking again in March.

The Independent produces a table to show how English clubs have underperformed since 1992 in a competition that they dominated for the decade prior to their post-Heysel expulsion.

In that time, Spanish clubs have lifted the trophy on four occasions, Italian clubs on three occasions and German clubs twice.

Even French clubs (with one win, one beaten finalist and four semi-finals) and Dutch clubs (one win, one beaten finalist and one semi-finalist) have fared better than their English counterparts.

So what is the problem?

Joe Cole thinks the tactics used by English teams have been part of the problem.

“I think we don’t do well in Europe, and on the world stage, because when you play against good teams you have to be able to keep the ball,” he says.

“A lot of English teams play 4-4-2 and it is both difficult to keep the ball and difficult to get it back because you have no-one breaking between the lines, playing in front of the back four and in the hole behind the strikers.”

Coincidentally, that happens to be Cole’s preferred role – a point that won’t be lost on Sven Goran Eriksson if he happens to choose the Indy for his post-coital read.

Tonight, perennial underachievers Arsenal set out on their seventh successive Champions’ League campaign with a home tie against PSV Eindhoven and the weight of expectation on their shoulders.

Arsene Wenger is quick to deny in the Times that the world’s premier club competition is the Holy Grail – but he knows the importance of success in Istanbul in eight months’ time.

The Telegraph hears from Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho, who took Porto to European Cup success last season.

“Football people in England should stop and ask themselves for what reason English football has not been successful abroad,” he said.

And the implication from the comment is that Premiership football is simply too attack-minded, too gung-ho to succeed in a game where patience and caution are called for.

Expect Chelsea, therefore, to start off in cautious fashion in Paris tonight.’

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


Murray Mint

‘IT is a rare day indeed when even a word of common sense comes out of the mouth of Sepp Blatter – but two in the space of one conversation is unprecedented.

‘Grrrr!’

The Fifa boss yesterday not only criticised last week’s pathetic posturing by England’s footballers, but also spoke up for Everton’s Tim Cahill.

Cahill was sent off at the weekend by referee Steve Bennett for lifting his shirt over his head as he celebrated his winning goal against Manchester City.

Even by the imbecilic standards of today’s referees, this was so risible as to defy explanation.

But, although Blatter said Bennett should have had a word with Cahill instead of giving him a second yellow card, the Swiss meddler is ultimately responsible.

It is his organisation that has season after season introduced these new directives, such as the absurd new offside law, which are making the game a laughing stock.

Anyway, the Sun says Cahill’s goal has left Manchester City boss Kevin Keegan teetering on the brink – a mere one game away from the bullet.

Another boss in crisis is West Brom manager Gary Megson after his players got involved in a mass brawl, which the Mail says started after Thomas Gaardsoe had water squirted in his face.

With Paul Sturrock and Sir Bobby Robson having been sacked and Graeme Souness having left to take charge at Newcastle, the question is how many clubs will end the season with the same manager they had at the start.

Arsene Wenger certainly looks pretty safe after his Arsenal team won their fifth straight match, although not without a bit of help from referee Mark Halsey.

Halsey not only ruled out what looked a perfectly good Fulham goal but changed his mind over a first-half penalty for Chris Coleman’s men because of the reaction of the players.

Even if the correct decision was eventually made, it is opening a real can of worms.

Which would bring us on nicely to a good angling story, except there is no such thing as a good angling story.

So, to tennis instead and the Telegraph gives Roger Federer due praise for his three-set demolition of Lleyton Hewitt in yesterday’s US Open final.

But the picture on the front of its sports section is of another tennis player – Andrew Murray, the 17-year-old Scot who won the boy’s event at Flushing Meadow.

All the broadsheets are beside themselves with excitement at the prospect of someone to cheer after Tiger Tim Henman roars for the last time.

And why not? Murray is the first British winner of a junior grand slam crown since 1993, when James Baily took the Australian Open crown.

Just look what happened to him…’

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


Tiger Earns His Stripes

‘NO hill. No Sue Barker. No HRT. And no cries of “Come on, Tim”, “Go on, Tim” and “Shhhhhh!!!” as he’s about to serve. No cheering as his opponent makes an unforced error.

‘Grrrrr!’

And yet despite of – or because of – the lack of Henmanic activists, the boy wonder, England’s No.1 tennis player for the past millennium and more, Tim Henman, has reached the semi-finals of the US Open.

The Independent was in New York to see the tiger defeat Slovakia’s Dominik Hrbaty in a mere four sets.

Henman now faces the dubious honour of what he calls the “biggest task in tennis right now”, namely how he’s going to defeat Roger Federer in tomorrow’s match.

The Times does give Henman some hope and shows how, over the history of showdowns between the pair, Henman leads by a margin of six victories to one.

“I’ve beaten him a few times in the past and I hope I can do it again,” says Henman in the Telegraph

“The important thing is that I’ve remained pretty relaxed on court. Let’s see what happens on Saturday.”

Yes, let’s see. And let’s hope that right now 5,000 men and women from Middle England with painted faces aren’t getting ready to board planes to New York and cheer our Tim on.

He seems to play better and do better when his legion of fans leave him alone.

Not that the Henmaniacs are being as quiet as the England football team, who are pictured on the back of the Sun with plasters superimposed across their mouths.

Thankfully, others have much to say about the players’ decision not to talk to the press.

And the one who has most to shout about is Graham Taylor, the former England manger whose bon mots have given us some of the most hilarious moments in football.

Having laughably told its readers that the paper’s move to brand Taylor a turnip was “part and parcel of football’s rich tapestry”, the Sun is ready to hear from the great man.

“Nobody likes criticism, that’s obvious – and being called a turnip wasn’t nice,” says football’s best-loved root vegetable.

“But if your answer is to hide away and not talk, your critics have won. The best reply is always to stand there and argue your own case?”

Like a human being.

“There is a simple answer. If you don’t like it, don’t read it. Nobody makes you look at it. I didn’t realise for five days that I’d been called a turnip because I hadn’t seen the Sun.”

Or understood why replacing Gary Linker with Alan Smith in a must-win match was inviting a good roasting – with all the trimmings…’

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


Struck Dumb

‘IF it wasn’t for the guttersnipe media, David Beckham would still be an untarnished family man who dotes on his talented wife and Sven Goran Eriksson would be likeable.

What a bunch of asses!

It might also be said that footballers and football folk would not be so rich or so high profile, but would be reduced to what they are – men in tracksuits who kicked a ball when others were in school.

The idea that the press is to blame for anything bad is the kind of thinking that lay behind the England squad’s decision to cold shoulder the media after their 2-1 win over Poland.

The Telegraph says that, although the side honoured their commitment to pass through the ‘mixed zone’ at the Slaski Stadium, where interviews are usually held, they ignored all requests to speak.

The papers says that, apart from our aforestated comment, the reason for this vow of silence had less to do with tabloid exposes and everything to with the one paper that labelled David James, England’s often calamitous goalkeeper, a donkey.

And this, as the paper says, led to the players’ revolt, which is said to have been instigated by England’s celebrity captain David Beckham and his mate Gary Neville – a man who not so long was reported to have called the Sun to find out what his girlfriend had been up to while he was at Euro 2004.

The double standards exercised by these puffed up berks and their self-aggrandising posturing would be pathetic were it not so laughable.

But England win (hurray!) and all is right with the world. And they won with three Spurs players in the starting XI!

But while England’s players puff out their chests and become bigger than the jersey, the Times shows that there is more to British football than English spoiled brats.

Last night Wales drew 2-2 with Northern Ireland in Cardiff.

The paper recalls the memory of the old Home International tournament, when the four Home Nations played each other regularly.

And here was reason enough to restore the world’s first international football tournament, with the game’s three sendings off, four goals and an atmosphere that was ‘the stuff of dreams’.

The other stuff of dreams is for Tim Henman to win a Grand Slam event.

And, at the time of going to press, he was still in with a chance of doing so, having raced to a one set lead in his US Open quarter-final match against Domink Hrbaty.

The Mail reports that rain then stopped play.

But the downpour came too late to save Serena Williams, who lost the plot as she went down in three sets to fellow American Jennifer Capriati.

Following three bad decisions that went against her, Williams let rip.

‘I guess she went temporarily insane,’ says Williams of the umpire. ‘I expect a letter of apology. I think that’s the least the umpire can do.

‘But I’d really prefer it if she didn’t umpire my court any more because she’s obviously anti-Serena.’

Oh, how we love it when sportstars address themselves in the third person! Better they all do as England do, and keep silent…’

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


Life In The Camp

‘A WARNING? A veiled threat? Whatever the motive, the Mail leads with a shot of England’s footballers paying a visit to Auschwitz in the run-up to their World Cup qualifying game against Poland.

Beckham’s split end appears to have healed in time for tonight’s game

If the players are worried about what fate will befall them should they fail against a decent Polish side, their leader, Sven Goran Eriksson, says he’s unconcerned about his own future.

‘I am not worried about it at all,’ says Sven in reply to a question on what lies ahead for him.

‘I have always said that sooner or later it will happen…The longer you stay in a job the greater the possibility of losing it, but once again I am not thinking about it and I am not worried about it because I am thinking only about the Poland game and trying to win it.’

Well said by the man whom the Telegraph’s Henry Winter says would ‘struggle to change a light bulb let alone a team’.

And that disabilty means a place in the starting line-up for both David James and the lacklustre David Beckahm – something the Polish team have spotted, much to their delight.

Jacek Bak, the team’s captain, outlines his plans to do for England in the Times, saying how he will not let the English defence settle.

‘Every chance we get, we must shoot from long distance,’ says Bak.

‘We saw James on Saturday and we must give him the opportunity to make those same errors against us and put him under pressure.’

Well, at least somebody is, because such is the comfort zone within the England team dressing room that James appears to be under no pressure within the camp at all.

But enough of England’s footballers and to the Guardian we go and its latest installment from its Pick A Manager (Any Manager) masterclass.

Yesterday, the Guardian voiced its lack of surprise at the appointment of Graeme Souness at Newcastle – a choice it felt was coming but just forgot to tell its readers – and introduced the runners and riders in the race to replace the Scot at Blackburn Rovers.

And among those names came no mention of Dick Advocaat, who, as the paper says one day forward, is now the favourite to make the post his own.

But while we await Kenny Dalglish’s return to Blackburn – ‘Told Yer So,’ says the Guardian – the Telegraph brings news that Tiger Woods is no longer the world’s best golfer – and that’s official.

After a record span at the top of 264 weeks, Woods has been replaced by Fijian Vijay Singh, who rose to No.1 thanks to his victory in the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston.

This should be good news for those teams and players who dream of being the best, and serve as a timely reminder to the likes of Beckham and Eriksson that the time at the top is brief…’

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


Told You Sou

‘THE headline missing from all today’s papers is the one that says: “Told Yer So.”

‘Ouch! My tattoo’s smudged’

No paper predicted that Graeme Souness would take over the reins at Newcastle united – not one.

Funny then that the Guardian says how “it is no great surprise” that the former Liverpool captain has moved from the top job at Blackburn Rovers to the Magpies.

At least the Times has the good grace and honesty to say that the arrival of Souness at St James’ Park caught just about everyone by surprise.

But we now wonder who will replace the departed Scot at Ewood Park.

The Guardian lists the favourites, and claims that Mark Hughes (11-2 favourite) and Gordon Strachan (7-1) are the preferred choices.

The paper also mentions Gerard Houllier (6-1), Paul Jewell (6-1), Alan Shearer (12-1), Glenn Hoddle (20-1) – who actually applied for the job so many mangers turned down at Newcastle – and Walter Smith (33-1).

All of which means that the job will go to George Graham or Terry Venables and that the Guardian will have been right all along.

But will David Beckham be right enough to play England’s World Cup qualifier against Poland tomorrow?

After the masses of deserved criticism directed at the celebrity-turned-footballer since his lacklustre performance against Austria, the skipper’s developed a pain.

To the Sun, this is a “rib injury” that has caused Becks to wince in pain and Sven Goran Eriksson to fret.

But the good news – which the Guardian knew all along – is that, despite Beckham’s rib being the Sun’s big picture story, England’s No.7 remains hopeful of being fit for tomorrow’s game.

How delighted the Polish must be to hear that rather than facing the precocious talents of Shaun Wright-Phillips rampaging down the wing, there will be Beckham prancing around like a headless chicken.

Meanwhile, Tim Henman faces up to a challenge of his own – a US Open quarter–final tie against 22nd seed Dominik Hrbary of Slovakia.

Yesterday, as the Indy reports, our Timmy defeated Nicolas Kiefer when the German retired hurt.

“Whoever I play in my next match,” says Henman, “I’ll feel like I’m favourite, but I’m determined to try and play in as relaxed a frame of mind as I can.”

Which should be made easier by the absence of a grassy hill covered in bored housewives, shameless patriots and picnics…’

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


Calamity James

‘THE news for Newcastle United fans looking for their club’s next manager is that, if England continue playing like headless chickens, Sven Goran Eriksson could be Sir Bobby’s replacement quicker than you can say “Poland 2, England 0”.

‘Which way are we going?’

Not that any move is being lined up – yet. There are stumbling blocks to trip up on, like the £14m it will cost the FA to sack the small-minded Swede.

Newcastle’s kingmaker Freddie Shepherd likes talking in telephone numbers, but surely such a huge sum is too much to pay the FA in compensation for Eriksson.

Better to do as the Sun says and go for David O’Leary, a man who can be Newcastle’s for the more modest fee of £2m.

That’s the amount Dough Ellis, the Aston Villa leader, wants from Newcastle for his current manger.

So what then of Eriksson, who is seen by the papers as being less than the marauding Viking of his arrival?

While the Sun questions what the Swede actually does for his cash (and it’s a short feature), the Guardian hears Eriksson say he’ll only resign if England fail to qualify for the next World Cup.

Judging by the way his team snatched a 2-2 draw from the jaws of victory, that could be sooner than he thinks. (At least then the papers can get behind the much-improved Welsh.)

But it’s not Sven’s fault. And the Guardian (“ENGLAND’S LEADERSHIP CRISIS”) says that David Beckham, England’s captain, must shoulder his share of the blame.

The Telegraph’s Alan Smith agrees, arguing that “dropping Beckham might even do him a favour – a timely jolt to his career”.

It’s a nice idea, but such is Beckham’s state of self-delusion that, when dropped, he’d probably retire from the international game, saying that if he’s good enough for Real Madrid then he’s good enough for England.

But why stop at Eriksson and Beckham when you can toss David James, England’s accident-prone goalkeeper, into the blend?

The Telegraph labels the likeable James an “international liability”, a fact underlined by the Guardian’s “moment of calamity” in which the paper’s readers can watch the Austrian equaliser dribble under the goalkeeper’s body over four stills.

But enough of England’s overpaid, cosseted footballers – and overlooking their cricketing counterpart’s defeat to India in the final one-dayer – and let’s celebrate the Times’ lead story: Jonny Wilkinson is back.

A few of you may recall when Wilkinson was the greatest thing ever.

Well, now he’s back from injury, wearing the colours of Newcastle Falcons and pictured in familiar praying mantis mode ready to kick for goal.

After the game – in which he kicked 15 points – Wilkinson said that he felt fine.

“I must keep the level of pressure on myself and make sure I answer to myself and my team and strive for a bit more,” said he.

“I’ll let everyone else decide when I’m ready for representative rugby.”

Well, we’ve thought about it for a few nanoseconds and can say that he is ready.

Get you jersey on, Jonny – with Beckham’s star going down with all the grace and poise of Vanessa Feltz bombing off the 10m diving board, sport needs a hero unsullied and ready to work…’

Posted: 6th, September 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


A Foreign Stage

‘YESTERDAY, we outlined the various stages that the newspapers go through as they try to fill a managerial vacancy and a few acres of newsprint into the bargain.

‘The first and last thing I’m going to do is to drop Alan Shearer’

As with grief, different people progress at different rates – and today it appears that the Telegraph has reached the “foreign manager” stage in its quest to replace Sir Bobby Robson at Newcastle.

The paper names Ottmar Hitzfeld, Hector Cuper, Dick Advocaat and Luiz Felipe Scolari as managers who are said to have thrown their hats, chapeaux, hute, somberors etc. into the ring.

But Steve Bruce (manager with Geordie connections) remains chairman Freddy Shepherd’s first choice – although the paper admits Terry Venables could still take the reins.

The Express also claims that Venables is also in line for the job, although indications in the Independent suggest he would not be a popular appointment.

With England’s first competitive game since Euro 2004 taking place in Austria tomorrow, Sven Goran Eriksson is sweating on the fitness of midfielder Steven Gerrard.

The Liverpool skipper has a groin strain and, although he is expected to be fit for the World Cup qualifier, it has thrown the spotlight on Frank Lampard.

The Times says the Chelsea player demonstrated beyond doubt in Portugal “that he possesses the talent and temperament to grace the international stage”.

And he is now an indispensable part of a midfield, which – the paper says, could (if Gerrard is not fit) include Shaun Wright-Phillips on the right and one of Joe Cole, Kieron Dyer and Wayne Bridge on the left.

Before that, England’s cricketers will be in action as the second one-day international against India gets under way at The Oval today.

And the good news for England fans is that Andrew Flintoff has been passed fit to play after a scan on his right thumb revealed only bruising and not a break.

That could be crucial if England are going to extend their unbeaten run in limited overs internationals to…two.

But don’t mock – the Independent reports that (omitting minor nations like Namibia, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and the Netherlands) England’s best run in the past six years is precisely that.

Victory today against an Indian side that is missing the peerless Sachin Tendulkar and has also been struggling in this form of the game will equal that run.

And a third win at Lord’s on Sunday would take us all into uncharted territory…’

Posted: 3rd, September 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


This Sporting Life

‘THE failed drugs tests, the faked motorbike crashes and the tears of Paula Radclife notwithstanding, the Olympics were brilliant.

Is Flintoff to be the next manager of Newcastle?

For three weeks, sports journalists could concentrate on what they are paid to do – namely write about sport, the winning and losing, the thrill of competition, plucky British losers.

Life, however, quickly gets back to normal and this morning’s papers are dominated not by a rare victory by England’s one-day cricketers nor by events at the US Open tennis.

It is once again sport’s administrators who take centre stage with the papers leading on the departure of Sir Clive Woodward or the crisis in horse racing.

Even the Sun and Mirror eschew the round ball game for a day to report on Woodward’s departure as England rugby coach less than nine months after leading his country to World Cup glory.

And the two papers which do lead on football – the Express and Star – are most concerned about the identity of the new manager of Newcastle.

Even then, and despite being sister papers, they fail to agree on who is in line to replace Sir Bobby Robson.

There is a tried and tested routine in Fleet Street when a manager resigns or is sacked.

First, the hacks suggest Martin O’Neill for the job. O’Neill then rules himself out and insists he is staying at Celtic.

Then they go through their list of out-of-work managers and put their names up for the job – George Graham, Terry Venables, Glenn Hoddle, Gerard Houllier etc.

If none of those appears to fit the bill, they look abroad and pick out three or four names at random, none of whom have probably heard of the club.

After that, they hunt around for any manager with a geographical connection to the managerless club.

Finally, they just start spewing out names at random – which is where we are today with the Star, which claims that Villa boss David O’Leary is head of the Toon wish-list after, you guessed it, Martin O’Neill ruled himself out.

It is only belatedly that we get to read anything about sport itself when we hear how another England debutant shone on the cricket pitch yesterday.

The Telegraph says Glamorgan’s Alex Wharf upstaged even Steven Harmison’s hat-trick by taking wickets in each of his first three overs for his country.

He removed Sourav Ganguly, VVVS Laxman and Raul Dravid in the space of 14 balls as England bowled out India for 170 before coasting to victory in the first one-day international.

Not a bad feat for a player who had previously been rejected by Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire – but not a sufficient one to knock the politics of sport off the back page.

That really would be something…’

Posted: 2nd, September 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


Bugger Rugger

‘IT takes some story to overshadow Wayne Rooney’s £27m move from Everton to Manchester United, but the England rugby coach stepping down to become a football manager is just that.

‘What d’yer mean handball?’

The news on the front page of the Times and the back page of the Independent is that Sir Clive Woodward will today sever his links with Twickenham and join Southampton.

What role the 48-year-old will play at St Mary’s is not clear – the Indy thinks it will be just a motivational role, the Times envisages something more substantial.

What appears to be certain is that Woodward will quit as England rugby coach in a row over player availability and preparation time for internationals.

The Indy says the World Cup-winning coach wants to stay on for the autumn internationals against South Africa and Australia and also take charge of the Lions’ tour to New Zealand next summer.

But it is Woodward’s friendship with Southampton chairman Rupert Lowe that is the intriguing part of the story.

The Times says that Woodward is deadly serious in his intention “to pursue a role at the highest level of football, either as a coach or an administrator”.

Meanwhile, in the round ball game all eyes were yesterday on 18-year-old Rooney’s transfer to Old Trafford and the £1.5m that his agent will get for the deal.

The Telegraph says Paul Stretford has even received death threats from Everton supporters who blame him for persuading the teenager to leave the club he supported as a boy.

Rooney himself will get £55,000 a week, which equates to 1,222 hours with the £45-an-hour prostitutes that our hero favours (or 7.5 prozzies every hour of every day).

“It was a tough decision to leave Everton, the club I’ve supported and played for all my life,” Rooney said, “but I’m excited to be joining a club as big as Manchester United.”

And Sir Alex Ferguson described his new recruit as “the best young player this country has seen in the past 30 years”.

Over at Newcastle, not only do they not have the best young player this country has seen in the past 30 years, they don’t have a manager either.

The Guardian this morning throws Bolton boss Sam Allardyce’s name into the hat to replace Sir Bobby Robson, after Middlesbrough’s Steve McClaren ruled himself out.

Birmingham City boss Steve Bruce also appeared to rule himself out, although he’s not exactly known in football for his loyalty to his present employers.

And so finally to matters on the pitch and the Guardian says the Sven Goran Eriksson will pair Rooney’s new team-mate Alan Smith with Michael Owen for the match against Austria.

But Nicky Butt is out – with the paper suggesting that Wayne Bridge could come in on the left alongside David Beckham, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard.

Joe Cole will be asking himself what he has to do to get a game…’

Posted: 1st, September 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


Bobby Shocker

‘IT is not yet September and already two Premiership managers have been given their marching orders.

Can Shearer pick a winner?

But where the departure of Southampton’s Paul Sturrock raised few eyebrows and caused fewer tears, the dismissal of Sir Bobby Robson by Newcastle is something of a shock.

The Toon may have had a poor start to what would have been Sir Bobby’s final season in charge, but one can’t help but feel that his sacking is somewhat premature.

Especially as Newcastle don’t seem to know the identity of their preferred replacement – or, if they do, they aren’t telling the papers.

The Guardian says that Birmingham City boss Steve Bruce and former England skipper Alan Shearer are favourites to take over.

The Independent, however, says the club are considering an approach to Terry Venables to work alongside Shearer until the end of the season.

Otherwise, they could make on offer to former Liverpool boss Gerard Houllier (who is also said to be a target for Southampton).

The Times notes that, like Ruud Gullit, Robson was dismissed immediately after leaving Shearer out of the starting XI – although Robson insists that had nothing to do with the decision.

Typically, the 71-year-old left with great dignity.

“Newcastle is my club, where my father brought me as a kid,” he said. “I’ve had five fabulous years there and I’d like to wish everybody all the success in the world.”

With a managerial wish-list including Venables, Shearer and Houllier, success is not something that Newcastle are likely to be acquainted with in the near future.

Although, fans will be delighted to see that the departing manager’s namesake, Geordie Bryan Robson, isn’t one of the names mentioned.

Calling time on his own career at the top level is England rugby captain Lawrence Dallaglio, who will announce his decision in a press conference this morning.

The Telegraph says the back-row forward told coach Sir Clive Woodward of his decision at the end of last week – less than a year after taking over as captain.

“He has come to realise that the calls on his time are proving more and more demanding,” the paper explains.

“Dallaglio has a young family with three children under the age of 10 and he is all too aware that the pressures of the coming season are not going to get any easier.”

Also to be announced today is the £26m transfer of Wayne Rooney from Everton to a Manchester United side that has already fallen off the Premiership pace.

The Guardian says the clubs are confident a compromise can be reached over a performance-related clause in the 18-year-old’s contract.

It will be another disappointment for Newcastle fans, who had hoped to see Rooney line up in their colours this season.

And it will be made worse by news in the Guardian that the teenager only decided against a move to the North East when he learnt of the sacking of Sir Bobby Robson.’

Posted: 31st, August 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


To Run Or Not To Run?

‘WILL she run? Or will she walk?

Running into trouble?

That’s the question both the Guardian and Telegraph see as the central sports story of the day.

Will Paula Radcliffe, still dewy eyed from her decision to quit the Olympic marathon when she slipped out of the medals into fourth place, take to the track tonight for the 10,000 metres final?

As the Telegraph reports, Radcliffe’s entry into the race was made yesterday, but she’ll not decide whether she’s up to running or not until later today.

The vast majority of us haven’t a clue what Radcliffe is going through, but presented with the chance to race for an Olympic medal, the 30-year-old athlete must surely take it.

As Steve Cram writes in the Guardian: “If Paula doesn’t run, she will spend the rest of her life wondering.”

What might have been is not what any retired sportsman or woman ever wants to spend their dotage contemplating.

Alan Shearer may have worn the No.9 shirt for Newcastle United with distinction but, had he moved to the United of Manchester all those years ago, he’d have something shinier to hang on his wall than so many muddy black and white jerseys.

Wayne Rooney could learn much from Shearer, as he too is now subject to bids from the same two prominent Uniteds.

Although still an Everton player, Rooney looks very much to be on the cusp of a transfer deal, with the Mail saying that Manchester are favourites to secure his signature.

The mooted figure is £24m, which although not an astronomical sum in a market inflated by Chelsea, is still seen by the Mail as being a deal full of risk.

And what of the Blues? Or is it the Reds, since the draw for this season’s Champions’ League has pitted the London club against Porto, Paris Saint-German and CSKA Moscow.

And while Chelsea’s manager Jose Mourinho contemplates a return to the club he coached to victory in last season’s competition, the Mail eyes a possible conflict of interest with his boss.

In “Red or Blue?”, the paper says that Chelsea are being investigated by UEFA in light of their chairman’s relationship with the Russian club.

CSKA have their shirts sponsored by a Russian oil company called Sibneft, a firm in which Roman Abramovich is a major shareholder.

Abramovich is also a fan of the club, watching them whenever he is back in his homeland.

It will be interesting to see how he reacts at the final whistle. Does he follow his heart or his hobby..?’

Posted: 27th, August 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment