Back pages | Anorak - Part 80

Back pages Category

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

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.


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.


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

Record Breakers

‘IN the old days, if you wanted to be record breaker all you needed was dedication – nowadays you need less of that and a lot more of Thierry Henry.

A flying start

The Guardian hails “RECORD BREAKERS” Arsenal, who have now gone 43 league games without defeat.

This is a truly awesome achievement, and the way they set about breaking Nottingham Forest’s record of 26 years standing with last night’s 3-0 demolition of Blackburn Rovers epitomised their abilities.

Such is the momentum of Arsene Wenger’s team that the Telegraph’s Henry Winter picks up his thesaurus and bangs out words like “invincible” and “irresistible”.

And, as is the fashion with football writers today, Winter notes the Highbury crowd’s tribute to Fabregas, the 17-year-old Spaniard who scored his debut goal for the Gunners.

“He’s only 17,” chanted the fans, “he’s better than Roy Keane.”

It’s a neat ditty, but it’d be a brave Fabregas and a foolish Arsenal to write off United’s driving force.

And so to United, who are interested in securing some young talent of their own, having, as the Times says, tabled a £20m bid for Wayne Rooney.

That bid is expected to be rejected by the Everton board, who have placed a £25m price tag on their young star’s head.

Even with that price, and faced with competition for Rooney’s signature from Newcastle United, the paper believes Manchester with get their boy.

The only stumbling block – and it’s a very inconsequential one at a club mired in debt – is Everton’s manager, David Moyes.

“Didier Drogba went to Chelsea for £23 million, says the Scot, “so Wayne’s price should be well more than that.”

Overlooking Moyes’ awful phrasing, it appears the man is mistaking what Chelsea do with what happens in the rest of planet football.

A fee of over £20m for a highly talented but very young player – and one with a penchant for sleaze and chub – is not exactly chicken feed.

In any case, the Sun – which spent the summer telling its readers that Patrick Vieira plays for Real Madrid – says Rooney ”will become a Manchester United player by the weekend”.

And that means Newcastle missing out.

Not that the Magpies’ odious little sod Craig Bellamy minds.

As he tells the Independent: “Landing Wayne would be great for Newcastle, but I have to think about Craig Bellamy.”

Move over Alan Shearer, it sounds like your home town club already have your replacement in situ.’

Posted: 26th, August 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Porn To Win

‘FOR those of you returning from your summer holidays, we should point out that the clutch of players on the cover of the Guardian’s sports section are not American footballers or Albania’s 4x400m relay Olympic hopefuls – they are the latest Chelsea team.

XXX girl-on-girl podium action!

Last night, the Blues – now black with flashes of silver and white – beat Crystal Palace (still recognisable to all as being relegation material) 2-0.

And that win means they are now top of the Premiership table with a perfect record of three wins from three starts.

So much for the information, now for the sports proper, and the Telegraph’s news that Kelly Holmes is on track to make history.

Buoyed by her fabulous gold medal run in the 800 metres, Holmes has qualified for the 1500 metres semi-finals.

“She can do it,” says Seb Coe, who is confident that Holmes can beings home not one, but two golds.

“She can do it easily,” says Steve Ovett, Coe’s rival of old.

Soon enough we will know if these Olympics have produced a genuine sporting hero.

But while much of Britain was cheering Holmes on, for many Olympic enthusiasts, the Games begin and end with the women’s beach volleyball cabaret.

The soft porn element of this so-called sport has been given a hard core slant by the Independent’s news that the winners of the women’s gold medal are called Kerri Walsh and…Misty May.

We are no experts in pornography here at Anorak Towers, but the IT department are certain to a sweaty-palmed man that a certain Misty May has juggled balls of another sort in the past.

Of course, the lads in IT should watch what they say, especially if Misty is dating someone like Amir Khan, the 17-year-old British boxer.

The Times was there to see Khan pulverise South Korea’s Baik Jong-Sub in just 97 seconds and so earn himself a bronze medal at least.

“I am thrilled,” says Khan. “I came here wanting a medal of some description and now I have got that medal no-one can take it away from me.”

It would be foolish man who even tries.’

Posted: 25th, August 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Holmes’ (First) Place

‘DO not adjust your eyes – that is a British female athlete taking the back pages by storm.

Kelly gets the call-up for next series of I’m A Celebrity…

Her name’s Kelly Holmes, and yesterday the woman who has so often mined for gold and come up with silver, bronze and injury ran the race of her life to take first place in the Olympic 800 metres.

The Telegraph’s photograph of Holmes taking gold proves the paper’s Jim White correct when he says, “The look on Kelly Holmes’ face as she crossed the line…was one of pure amazement”.

While her chief competitors push every fibre of their being forwards to be the first, Holmes looks like she’s the only one who’s spotted the alien space ship landing in lane 6.

But she soon recovered some composure to make sense of her achievement.

“I’ve dreamed of this moment for all of my athletics career and I didn’t think it was going to come,” says Holmes in the Independent.

“I still don’t believe I’ve won. It’s unreal. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.”

Chalk her indecision down to a lack of experience. Compare her to a winner like Paula Radcliffe who’d have known precisely what to do.

And there is the weeping long distance runner weeping once more in the Independent.

But she may yet smile again, as the paper reminds her and its readers that the runner in the school socks is still entitled to take up a place in Friday’s 10,000 metres final.

“I desperately want to get out there and redeem myself,” says Radcliffe. “But I’m not going to put myself into that arena if I’m not right.”

So much in sport is about timing. Get it right with injuries and preparation and you can race to glory; get it wrong and you’re yesterday’s news.

Mindful of the vagaries of a sporting life, we read the Sun’s headline that Newcastle have bid £20m for Wayne Rooney.

This is the kind of bid that can only be viewed as a way to appease the Geordie faithful who have seen the club sell Jonathan Woodgate and help turn Kieran Dyer into an unfulfilled talent.

As such, the bid was rejected by Everton. But the Sun likes a transfer saga to fill its pages each and every day and says that Newcastle will now come back with a £24m bid and could go as high as £30m.

But even the most ardent Magpie can’t really suppose that the boy wonder will move from one well-supported but underperforming club to another one.

As we say, this sporting life is over in a flash. That’s something young Rooney should bear in mind…’

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

Paula’s Heartache

‘THOSE of you looking for signs that not all was well with Paula Radcliffe when she began her Olympic marathon needed only to have cast a glance towards her socks.

‘I knew I should have said no to that last ouzo’

Famed for wearing them white and pulled up to the knee, Britain’s most famous drug-free athlete embarked on her mission to win Olympic gold in two pairs.

The Times’ picture shows the distraught athlete with one white short pair of socks worn over a pair of longer flesh-coloured pair.

And this is a little odd, since, as the Times says, the temperature on the baking road was 100 degrees and higher.

Perhaps the intention was for the footwear to act as a kind of sponge.

But the plan went out of the window when just four miles from the end, Radlciffe could go on no further.

That such a terrific athlete was unable to stand the pace makes the performance of Japan’s Mizuki Nogishi, the race’s eventual winner, all the more admirable.

But this story is all about Radcliffe, who was the country’s best hope of winning athletics gold.

The other news from the track is that the winner of the men’s 100m final has not failed a post-race drugs test.

American Justin Gatlin, who hurtled across the line in 9.85 seconds, is apparently as clean as a whistle.

And don’t let anyone tell you different. Sure, as the Times says, the New Yorker tested positive for a banned stimulant back in 2002 and was given a two-year ban by the International Association of Athletics Federation.

But the ban was lifted when medics said the offending substance was imbedded in medication Gatlin had been taking to ease his ADHD, a condition he had suffered from since childhood.

No hint of any wrongdoing either with the British rowing team, who caused hearts to skip a beat when they took gold in the coxless fours by a margin of just 43.596cm.

And that meant a fourth gold medal in four consecutive Olympic Games for Matthew Pinsent.

Were it not for the five-in-a-row milestone set by Steve Redgrave, Pinsent would be the country’s most famous ever Olympian.

But then, Pinsent shouldn’t care about his reduced status. It could be argued that if it weren’t for Redgrave – Pinsent and Redgrave have shared three golds – Pinsent would not have achieved so much.

And we’d still not have the first idea rowing existed beyond the annual Boat Race and nursery rhymes.’

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

On, Golden Blondes

‘REMEMBER when for a few days two years ago, curling was big news?

An Yngling sensation

Who could forget the team of Scottish housewives who brought back a gold medal from the winter Olympics? There was Thingamee and Whatsername and the ones with the brush.

So, don’t forget the names of Shirley Robertson, Sarah Ayton and Sarah Webb, the three blondes who won Britain’s first gold of the Athens Olympics yesterday in sailing.

The three yachtswomen who won the new Yngling class not only dominate the sports pages, but even make it onto the front page of the papers in a wash of bad puns.

“And here’s to you, Mrs Robertson,” says the Guardian; the Telegraph talks of “that Yngling feeling”, while the nostalgic Times boasts: “Britain rules the waves again.”

The gold medal, won with a race to spare, is doubly good news because it keeps badminton off the back pages.

On radio yesterday, overexcited commentators were talking of an explosion of interest in the sport following the silver medal won by Gail Emms and Nathan Robertson in the mixed doubles.

But we are prepared to wager large sums of money that the next time badminton makes an appearance on the back pages of anything other than Shuttlecock Weekly is about this time in 2008.

Completing our Olympic round-up, we should mention that there is still a chance that Britain could win another gold medal in an event that has already finished.

Britain, France and the United States have lodged a joint appeal with the Court Of Arbitration In Sport (CAS) after German rider Bettina Hoy 12-point time penalty was cancelled.

“Hoy’s error,” the Telegraph explains, “is the sort of mistake novices are warned about.

“During her warm-up before starting her show-jumping on Wednesday night, she managed to cross the start line twice.

“What should have happened is the clock should have started the first time she crossed, instead some technician set the clock back to zero.”

It’s hardly in keeping with Baron de Coubertain’s vision of the Olympics – lawyers emerging from a committee room with a 10-page judgement in one hand and a gold medal in the other.

And so to cricket where England’s golden summer continues, as another debutant makes his mark in his very first Test.

The Guardian reports that Ian Bell came in with England struggling at 64-3 and departed some two and a half hours later with the score on 210 and with 70 runs to his personal tally.

That England finished the day in a commanding position at 313-5 owed a lot once again to Andrew Flintoff, who passed 50 for the eighth consecutive Test match and is unbeaten on 72.

He can do no wrong at the moment.

And finally, news that Jonathan Woodgate is off to Real Madrid has caused huge excitement in the Spanish capital.

And the question on every Madrileno’s lips is: ‘Is Kate Lawlor coming too?’

What’s the Spanish for wicked?’

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

Going For Silver

‘GOLD is for fools and shady Greek sprinters. What we Brits really want is silver and bronze. And the news in the Times is that we’ve got some.

‘The runner-up takes it all…’

All hail Leslie Law, who won a “gloriously unexpected” silver medal in the individual three-day event.

Not that he was on his own, of course, having received some help from Shear L’Leau…a horse.

And let’s not stop there, because the Times has the full list of those who came second and third in Athens.

So stand up and say “Gold is for losers” to Helen Reeves (kayak), Alison Williams (archery) and Pippa Funnell, Jeanette Brakewell, Mary King, and Leslie Law (team three-day event).

And we will be tuning in today to watch Nathan Roberts and Gail Emms contest the final of the badminton mixed doubles.

But enough of all this Olympic success and turn to the Sun where the back page belongs to David Beckham, who has led England to a 3-0 win over Ukraine in a meaningless match in front of a half-empty stadium in Newcastle.

However, in the Sun, the game is given a different slant.

“David Beckham bounced back from his Euro 2004 nightmare last night to revive his love affair with the English public,” gushes the paper.

Now, call us prudes, but these days we’re none too certain where our Day-vid’s been and we at Anorak are not convinced we want to love him as we once did.

The Sun clearly has no qualms about such things and just lavishes praise on the man who failed to deliver in Portugal -when it really mattered.

But the oddest football story must be that of Real Madrid’s interest in Jonathan Woodgate.

The Newcastle defender is a good player, but those of us who have laboured under the impression that Real only sign superstars are puzzled.

Would Woodgate – famous for brawling in the street, being Lee Bowyer’s mate, dating a Big Brother contestant and recently smashing a glass into his own forehead for a laugh – fit in with the sublime talents at the Bernabeu?

The story says that he will, but only if Real’s deal for Inter Milan’s Fabio Cannavaro falls through.

And since we have been reading for the better part of the summer how the Madrilenos always get their man (see Patrick Vieira), it seems that Woodgate is not going anywhere.

Only he might be, because the Mirror says that the Cannavaro deal has gone awry and Woodgate is now on the verge of a £14m move to Spain

And since Real always get their man, that means he’ll go. Until he doesn’t…’

Posted: 19th, August 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

I Am The Resurrection

‘THE story of the day surrounds the case of Greek sprinter Kostas Kenteris.

Bronze Beauty

Having failed to show up for a routine drugs test, and then missed his chance to explain why on account of an, er, accident that saw him hospitalised, Kenteris is now well enough to speak.

And the 31-year-old Olympic champion has a few things to say about those who dare accuse him of being a cheat.

“It’s a big injustice,” says he, “I have never used banned substances – honestly.”

Hey, come one, let’s not be judgemental, and you can stop making that sucking noise with our teeth and rubbing your chin. Consider for a moment that Kenteris may be telling the truth.

Perhaps he’s never taken any drugs in his life – he’s never tested positive.

Or, perhaps, the biochemists that seem to control the world of athletics have come up with a compound for the Greek star that hasn’t yet made it onto the list of banned substances.

True or not, Kenteris feels he is being persecuted.

“All these people who crucify me on TV are the same people who wanted to be photographed with me after every success. But after crucifixion comes resurrection.”

Or, since we’re on the theme of Biblical retribution, maybe the divine Kenteris will just do as Saint Stephen did and get stoned.

But while Kenteris sprays mud all over the athletics track, the Mirror brings some good news from Athens.

And the story it that Stephen Parry has won bronze for Great Britain.

Liverpudlian Parry came third in the 200m butterfly and so won Britain’s first Olympic swimming medal for eight years – not overly impressive for an island surrounded by water.

So, well done, Parry – you are the Sun’s “bronze beauty”.

But just as your spirits began to lift, it’s time to hear more warbling and whining from Sven Goran Eriksson.

Those of you who have wondered long and hard what it is that Sven does for his £4m a year, can wonder that little big harder after the England coach’s latest comments.

When asked why for tonight’s friendly against the Ukraine, he has opted for the same players that, by and large, performed so averagely in Euro 2004, Sven gave his answer.

“It is easy to ask, ‘Will I change?’, but then you have to help me find better English players than those who are in the squad.”

Well, if he gives us a share of his inflated wages, of course we will.

And we’ll start by finding someone better than Emile Heskey. Hmm, wonder what Jimmy Greaves is up to tonight…’

Posted: 18th, August 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

The Key Man

‘IF the Australian cricket team are not exactly quaking in their size fives, they should begin to realise that England are on the up.

‘I ate all the pies…’

In “the six shooters”, the Mail pays tribute to Michael Vaughan’s men who have now won six Test matches on the trot, so emulating the achievements of Peter May’s side of 1958.

It also pays a special tribute to Robert Key, the England batsman whose keep-fit regime involves eating fatty foods and smoking fags.

There’s even a nice shot of Key – whose unbeaten 93 was instrumental in England’s win – mocking West Indies fast bowler Fidel Edwards.

Even a couple of years ago, such a sight would have been unthinkable – and if it had have occurred, it would have been swiftly followed by the England player’s comeuppance via a bouncer to the head.

But now it’s done with relish, backed by the well-founded belief that England are a class outfit who fear nothing.

It’s a bit like the attitude that invades the England football camp just before a big tournament.

There’s David Beckham telling us how England are scared of no-one and are on track to win the cup. And then along comes a team to prove him utterly wrong.

Today, Dave, unabashed by speaking nonsense in the past, tells the Sun that he believes Sven Goran Eriksson’s reign as England manager is in trouble.

This is Dave’s inside news – the same news everyone outside the England camp has known for some time.

But Dave was never the sharpest tool in the box and, if he says the “knives will be out for Sven” should England fail in next month’s World Cup qualifiers against Austria and Poland, we wonder if they will be sharper than his insights.

But while Beckham flounders in his bid to recapture his once perfect image, the Mirror spots a rising star.

Over in Athens, it’s not all doom and gloom, as the paper watches 17-year-old lightweight boxer Amir Kahn beat Greek Marios Kaperonis in his opening bout.

And be hailed as “Britain’s best ever boxing prospect”.

So, let’s get behind Khan. And let’s cheer on the England cricket team.

We need some winners – and something more inspiring than David Beckham and the pathetic Eriksson…’

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

Taking A Tumble

‘IF the Olympic Games were a true contest, the country with the most gold medals would win the right to host the next gathering.

‘Fancy a good whine?’

And this would mean the 2012 Games going to the New York bid and Ken Livingstone’s London campaign behaving like a British hurdler and falling flat on its face.

As the Times says in its headline story (“British hopes take tumble”), Team GB’s quest for metal in Athens is proving to be largely forlorn.

But Ben Ainslie, the sailor with the eye for gold in Sydney, is faring well, Tracey Hallam has upped her badminton game and Mary King has made an “assured start” in the three-day eventing.

But rather than look for hints of something shiny in minority sports, best do as the Sun does and relegate the Olympics.

Over in Sunland, the news is all about the first weekend of the Premiership, in which Chelsea beat Manchester United 1-0 and defending champions Arsenal thrashed Everton 4-1.

All good stuff, and even better when we see the Sun’s headline: “Shut It, Mik.”

Just as the world is supposed to be enthralled by the Olympian ideals of playing fair and brotherly love, it’s heartening to see that football is still full of needle and spite.

The story is that United’s defender Mikael Silvestre has hazarded the opinion that, in buying another clutch of new players, Chelsea would find it hard to foster team spirit.

Not an overly contentious remark, or offensive. But still worthy of that low-rent headline, and a few words from Chelsea’s boss Jose Mourinho.

“Silvestre said we had not time to create a big spirit at Chelsea. But he was wrong,” say the new man in town.

And that’s pretty much as far as the story the Sun thought worthy of its lead headline goes.

The other big football news on the match can be found in the Mirror – “PLONKER”.

After the game, Mourinho and Alex Ferguson shared a bottle of Argentinean Shiraz in the Portuguese man’s office.

Sensation? Nothing less, dear reader.

And there’s more of the same in the Express, where there’s a picture of Southampton’s goalkeeper Antti Niemi shoving David Prutton in the face.

Nothing out of the ordinary there – footballers are always pushing and shoving each other.

The twist here is that Prutton also plays for Southampton, and that, just one game into the season (they lost 2-0 to Aston Villa), the Saints are showing signs of falling apart.

Meanwhile, more than ten pages into the Express, we hear that the England cricket team have fought back and are now in with a shout of beating the West Indies for the third time on the bounce.

Something to cheer about, indeed. But sadly, no Olympic medals for Michael Vaughan and the boys…’

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

Running Into Trouble

‘FOR Rio Ferdinand, read Kostas Kenteris.

‘I was having my legs waxed’

With only four years to prepare to defend the 200m Olympic title he won in Sydney, the Greek sprinter was caught out.

As the Telegraph reports, poor old Kenteris managed to get in a pickle over dates and timings and missed his drugs test.

But not everybody is as sympathetic as us bleeding hearts at Anorak Towers. Take one official on the International Olympic Committee.

“It seems Kenteris didn’t turn up for a test, which, to me, is absolutely stupid,” says the unnamed IOC rep. “If he didn’t turn up, he’s a fool and he deserves to be out.”

But, as is the way with these things, whatever the clarity of the rule – a missed test is treated a positive one resulting in a ban for the athlete – the accused has the chance to plead for clemency.

So today Kenteris – and fellow Greek athlete Katerina Thanou, who trains with Kenteris and also unluckily missed her test – will have the chance to explain that they were out shopping/ their mobile phones was turned off/ they had temporary amnesia/ everyone’s out to get them/ aliens abducted them.

In short, to say anything other than “it’s a fair cop”.

It’s a sad story – but not nearly as sad as many Liverpool fans will find the news on the back page of the Express.

News is that Michael Owen, darling of the Kop, is on his way to Real Madrid.

“I HAVE TO GO,” says the Sun’s headline above a story of how the player has been forced out of Anfield.

“Even if the Madrid move falls though, he feels it will be almost impossible for him to stay at Anfield,” says someone billed as Owen’s friend.

“It would require Liverpool to do a complete U-turn and try and convince him to stay for the situation to change.”

And a change of heart is not beyond the bounds of what counts for reason in football, as the Express reports that Patrick Vieira is now staying at Highbury.

The story goes that at the eleventh hour – in a saga full of eleventh hours – Arsenal demanded more money for their captain than Real were prepared to offer.

The Arsenal board also did what they said they would not do and offered their No.4 an improved deal.

Which means a two-year extension to the Frenchman’s current contract at the London club and the guarantee that he will be paid the same as the team’s top earner, present or future.

Which should see Vieira stay – until Madrid come in for him next summer – and Arsenal start paying all their players £20 a week.’

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

Owen Going Nowhere?

‘WELL, you could knock us down with a feather at the news that Michael Owen might not be going to Real Madrid after all.

The new Derek Pringle?

Just two days ago, we predicted that the 24-year-old England striker would stay at Anfield and this morning we learn that we may well be proved right.

Both the Sun and the Mirror claim that the deal has hit a last-minute snag.

The latter says that both the potential make-weights in the move – Samuel Eto’o and Fernando Morientes – appear to have ruled themselves out of a move.

Morientes came on as a sub and scored twice in Real’s Champions’ League qualifier against Wisla Krakow – which means that he couldn’t play for Liverpool in this year’s competition.

And Eto’o, who spent last season at Mallorca, could be off to Barcelona.

The Mail still thinks that Owen’s off, claiming that the Spanish giants will tie up both deals (Owen and Patrick Vieira) over the next 48 hours.

[Although, yesterday it was predicting that Vieira would be unveiled as a Real player within the next 24 hours.]

And it says that new Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez would be happy to see the back of him.

He has apparently told the board that the striker is not worth the £100,000-a-week he is paid and has “privately” (although clearly not very privately) been unhappy with his attitude in training.

While most of the action is happening – or not happening – off the pitch, Manchester United last night won the first-leg of their Champions’ League qualifier against Dinamo Bucharest.

It is a measure of how far United have slipped down the European pecking order that the Sun says Sir Alex Ferguson can hail his players as heroes after a scrappy 2-1 win “that kept them on target for the Champions’ League”.

Meanwhile, the third Test starts today with Michael Vaughan suggesting that all-rounder Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff may be the best player in the world of cricket at the moment.

“He’s on the crest of a wave and playing exceptionally well at the moment,” the England captain tells the Mail ahead of the Old Trafford match against the West Indies.

So, expect a second-ball duck, then…’

Posted: 12th, August 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Tongue Tied

‘THANKS to TV fly-on-the-wall documentaries, we know quite a lot about the English style of football management – or at least as practised by the likes of Peter Reid and Graham Taylor.

‘Ich est uno Scouser’

But we’ve always had this idea that foreign coaches were more cerebral, philosophising about the game, while using the latest psychological techniques to get the best out of the players.

Not a bit of it. They offer exactly the same platitudes, except in a harder-to-understand accent.

The Mirror has a close-up picture of the crib sheet used by Spurs’ French boss Jacques Santini to communicate with his players at Celtic last night.

And there is ne’er a word on it about seagulls, trawlers or even mackerel.

Instead, we learn the French for “We have to be stronger”, “Don’t pass nervously”, “Talk with your partner” and “Don’t make it easy”.

If this is the level of coaching for which Sven Goran Eriksson, say, gets paid £4m a year, then it’s not just the secretaries at the FA who are a bunch of suckers.

We now wonder what phrases would have been on Eriksson’s crib card when he first came to these shores.

“Try standing up, Heskey”, “Just hoof it”, “Do you want to come out to dinner with me?” and “Try rubbing it a bit harder”, perhaps.

But it looks as if Michael Owen might be in the market for an English-Spanish card with the papers interpreting his non-appearance for Liverpool last night as a clear sign that he is off to Real Madrid.

Had Owen played in the 2-0 win over Graz AK, he would have been ineligible for all of Madrid’s Champions’ League games, and his value would have dropped accordingly.

The Star says both Owen and Patrick Vieira are definitely off to the Spanish capital where, if they have any trouble understanding the local lingo, they will be able to borrow David Beckham’s old crib sheet.

“Me and Victoria are very much in love”, “Quick, Rebecca, the missus is away”, “Love the sound of that cotton just *** *** *** ***** getting more *** and your *** all nice *** ***”.

All this football means that once again cricket coverage is confined to a few paragraphs sandwiched in between reports of the CIS Insurance Cup and the racing results from Bath.

But the third Test between England and West Indies starts at Old Trafford tomorrow.

Which is interesting, but not as interesting as news that Falkirk beat Montrose 4-1 last night or that Fiddle Me Blue romped home by a length and a half in the 4.45 at Bath…’

Posted: 11th, August 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Taking The Michael

‘WE’RE happy to stick our neck out this morning and suggest that there is no chance at all of Michael Owen going to Real Madrid for £25m.

Owen’s left foot is not believed to be part of the deal

That’s the valuation put on him by four of the tabloids this morning as they claim that the 24-year-old is on the verge of a move to the Spanish giants.

Even the Sun, which disagrees with the valuation and claims the fee being discussed is only £10m, goes along with the main thrust of the story.

But the clue to the whole story surely lies in the Sun’s claim that Real swooped “after Owen’s Anfield contract negotiations stalled”.

It is amazing how often this happens – a player suddenly becomes very attractive to other teams just at the moment they’re renegotiating their contract.

Cynics might suggest that the player’s agent might have a part to play in leaking the unsubstantiated story to the papers, which are only too happy to go along with the whole charade.

The Sun, however, is sticking to its guns and says “it looks increasingly likely that he [Owen] has played his last game for the Reds”.

The basis for this tenuous assertion is the equally tenuous assertion that new Real boss Jose Camacho has demanded another top-class striker.

“Camacho held talks with president Florentino Perez on Sunday,” it says, “and they drew up a shortlist including England hitmen Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney.”

The only good news is that once again this story keeps the Patrick Vieira saga off the back pages.

However, it would appear that the Arsenal skipper is on his way to Spain.

The Express hears Arsenal and France teammate Robert Pires wish his erstwhile colleague the best of luck.

“All the players wanted Patrick to stay,” he said, “but he has made his choice and we respect that. We can all understand why he has gone to La Liga.”

The reason Vieira has not yet announced his decision may have something to do with the Mirror’s Barclay Premiership competition.

Over the next five days as a countdown to the new season, the paper is offering readers the chance to win some fantastic prizes.

For instance, today five lucky winners who can answer the question, ‘Who came fifth in the Premiership last season?’ will win…a trip to a top stylist for a footballer’s haircut.

Get on the phone now and you too could look like Robbie Savage before the week’s out…’

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

Stay Or Go?

‘ARSENE Wenger has finally lost patience with Patrick Vieira and the saga of his on-off transfer to Real Madrid.

Wenger looks forward to Saturday

All the papers are in agreement this morning that the Arsenal manager has given his skipper a five-day deadline by when he must decide where his future lies.

The Spanish club has so far offered only £23m for a player that the Gunners value at £30m, but the Express says Real president Florentino Perez will come back today with an improved bid.

“We don’t need the money,” Wenger told a press conference after his side’s 3-1 Community Shield victory over Manchester United, “but he can’t be half with us and half not with us.

“He has to clear his mind. He’s got until Saturday to make his mind up. He has to clarify the situation and he has to do that quickly.”

On the pitch, Arsenal made Sir Alex Ferguson eat his words after he claimed that the Gunners were not true champions last season because they drew so many games.

Apparently, in Ferguson’s twisted brain, the sign of a true champion is to lose three or four games in the course of a season rather than go through undefeated as Arsenal did.

In 2002-03, for instance, Manchester United were champions with 83 points, including 25 wins, eight draws and five defeats. This is clearly better than Arsenal’s record last season, where they got 90 points with 26 wins, 12 draws and no defeats.

Or what about Manchester United in 2000-01 – champions with 80 points, including 24 wins, eight draws and six defeats?

But it could be that this is Chelsea’s year, with Stamford Bridge old boy Gianfranco Zola backing the Blues to end the Arsenal-Manchester United duopoly.

The little Italian was playing in a tribute match in his honour in which a Chelsea side defeated Real Zaragoza 3-0.

“The team is good and strong in every department,” he told the Star.

The question, of course, is actually whether Chelsea are too strong and will be able to lose enough games to be true champions.’

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