Back pages | Anorak - Part 80

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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

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

Sven’s Relief

‘THE news in the Mirror is that Sven Goran Eriksson has been cleared of any wrongdoing, the Football Association’s media manipulator Colin Gibson has cleared his desk and Faria Alam has signed a £500,000 deal with ITV to tell all.

‘Hello, lay-deez’

This leads to the Mirror’s back page headline “Sven: My Relief” – words that pepper the brain with images of a waxy and naked Sven getting down to business in his office.

While we go and beat our heads against a brick wall to purge our rocking minds of such nastiness, the Sun says that Sven is not as in the clear as the Mirror would have us believe.

In “POLE AXED”, the paper says that if England lose their World Cup qualifying games against Austria and Poland next month, the FA will sack him.

Given the way England performed in Portugal this summer and the added news that the FA will sack Sven “the moment his England team slips up on the field”, it can’t be too long before David James and the lads show their coach the door.

But funny things happen in football and, if England win the World Cup, papers like the Sun will soon forget the past demeanours of the man the Express calls “TEFLON MAN”.

The other big footballing story is the (yawn) one about Patrick Vieira going to Real Madrid.

Today, the Star says that Real are unhappy that Arsenal are trying to get as much money as they can for their captain.

This is nothing less than a scandal, and Real president Florentino Perez says that he will not raise his offer and that ”for the moment talks have broken down”.

This is, as you may recall, the same Perez who always gets his man.

Which means that if he wants his reputation to survive this saga, he’ll either have to pay the asking price for the midfielder or else end up with so much egg on his face.

And given the machismo that passes for business acumen in the Real boardroom, Arsenal could be line for a fat wad of cash.

And the Sun says the Gunners are already planning how to spend their windfall, having made a £3m bid for West Ham’s Michael Carrick, while the Mirror says that Arsene Wenger has made a £7.5m bid for 20-year-old Argentinean Javier Mascherano.

And just like every other player Arsenal have signed this year, the South American wonder kid is billed as the “new Vieira”.

But since the old Vieira is still in situ, Carrick and Mascherano, should they arrive at Highbury, will have to settle for being the new Carrick and the new Mascherano.

While Real look for a new president…’

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

Vieira’s Off

‘ADIOS, Patrick Vieira. You came; you got sent off; you went to Real Madrid to earn loads of money from something called “image rights”.

Like a Mountie, Perez always gets his man

Only, he hasn’t gone…yet. The latest news in the saga of the Frenchman’s move to Madrid is that Arsenal have upped the asking price.

While the Sun says a deal of £23m has been agreed between Arsenal vice chairman David Dein and Real president Florentino Perez (who, according to the paper, always gets his man), the Star says that the fee has now risen to £25m.

Not so, says the Mirror, which claims that Dein has slapped a £30m price tag on his captain’s head and, if Real don’t pay, then they don’t get the man whose service’s they’ve coveted for years.

Better news for Dein in the Express, where the paper says the Gunners are holding out for £36m, way above Real’s initial offer of, er, £22m.

Which all seems to mean that Arsenal are willing to sell if the fee is exorbitant enough, that Vieira is ready to leave (the Mirror says he’s cleared out his locker at the club’s training ground) and that the papers are clutching at straws.

Oh, and that Perez may well be about to pay over the odds for a 28-year-old with dodgy knees. And a problematic thigh.

The Mail spends three pages telling us how Vieira has not recovered from a thigh injury sustained during Euro 2004 (“Ouch!”).

And even if Vieira does heal and does leave, he’s unlikely to do that well away from Highbury.

In “The Curse Of Leaving Arsenal”, the Mail lists some of the 52 players who’ve left the Gunners under Arsene Wenger’s regime – Marc Overmars (£23m), Emmanuel Petit (undisclosed fee) and Nicolas Anelka (£23m) – and notes that few, if any, have done well.

But enough of this nonsense. If Real Madrid have the cash, then Arsenal would be fools not to take it.

The trick with being successful in today’s over-hyped footballing world is to ensure that you move while your reputation is intact.

Do so and you can earn a fee out of proportion with your abilities.

For this reason, Sven Goran Eriksson would be mistaken to leave his £4m-a-year job at the Football Association, especially since his star is in freefall.

So he’ll have to be pushed to the exit door. And the Express (“Got him!”) says the FA have enough evidence to sack him.

A member on the FA’s 12-man board tells the paper that Sven might go after the jury have met in a secret location later today.

And, then again, he might stay. (“Sven stays”, says the Mail; “Sven: I’m Safe,” says the Star.)

Meanwhile, the Sun goes to the trouble of listing “12 reasons why Sven should get the sack”, reasons that include a largely unsuccessful record in management, a lack of insight and flawed coaching abilities.

All of which were evident to some before he was given the job in the first place…’

Posted: 5th, August 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Par For The Eagles

‘WELL done Crystal Palace for giving us something to laugh about.

Sponsored by Curchill

What with Sven Goran Eriksson’s cheating and the FA’s inability to think straight – let alone produce a team that can shoot straight – we’d started to forget that football is just a form of fun.

So it’s over to the Sun, where readers can laugh at the new Crystal Palace shirt – or “Chrystal Palace”, as the legend atop the club’s eagle crest says.

“You’d have thought that the one thing they would get right would be the club’s name,” says one fan.

“I’ve feared that we would be the Premiership’s whipping boys since we went up,” says another, who actually bought the shirt.

“But I never thought we’d be a laughing stock BEFORE the season started.”

Good old Palis. The club that has given us Ron Noades, Simon Jordan, Mark Goldberg, the surreal genius of Aki Rihilati and rumours that Colonel Gaddafi was interested in taking charge now deliver their latest joke.

Back in the more prosaic football world, the Mirror says that Patrick Vieira is finally on his way to Real Madrid – well, possibly.

And that Paul Scholes has definitely quit international football – well, until he changes his mind.

Scholes’ retirement from the national team is seen by the paper as being a bad thing. He has “stunned” the football “world”, it thunders.

“This is a decision I have not taken lightly,” says Scholes. ”I have been considering retiring from international football for some time.”

Those of us who saw his efforts in Euro 2004 would be forgiven for thinking that he was already semi-retired.

But now it is official, which means Sven Goran Eriksson will have to spend his time hunting for another gifted attacking midfielder rather just scouting for women who’ll sleep with him.

And you can be certain that Eriksson will be around for some time to come.

The Mail says that Eriksson emerged from his meeting with the FA’s lawyers to tell his friends: “My job is safe… The meeting could not have gone better.”

But not so for David Davies, the FA’s acting chief executive, who, the paper says, is firmly in the line of firing.

As is FA chief executive Geoff Thompson, who is said to be “teetering on the brink of resignation”.

Which could all mean that when the dust settles and the heads have rolled, the only person left standing is dear old Sven.

Cuban heels on his feet and a dolly bird by his side…’

Posted: 4th, August 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Brought To Brooking

‘IF the Football Association is “AT WAR”, as the Mirror’s back page claims, you can bet they’ll be shuffling into battle armed with non-firing guns and boots that melt in the heat.

Brooking will even be offered his own secretary

And things are getting hotter at the FA’s Soho Square headquarters, as the paper reports that several board members are threatening to give a vote of no-confidence in FA chairman Geoff Thompson.

The top man might go – as too may Sven Goran Eriksson who, the Express says, spent last night discussing a “secret settlement” to persuade him leave the job.

The paper says the Swede knows he no longer has the backing of the FA board and will be offered a deal to “go quietly”.

Given his robotic demeanour and history of affairs and cheating, moving with stealth is the one thing Sven can be relied upon to do well.

And distracting eyes from his departure will be Sir Trevor Brooking, the former West Ham and England striker who is seen by the Mail as a “knight in shining armour” – or a blue woollen suit, as is the case.

News is that Sir Trevor will step into Sven’s Cuban heel just as soon as the FA can rid itself of the troublesome, highly-paid Swede.

Meanwhile, another football figure who looks like he’s on his way – at last – is Arsenal’s captain Patrick Vieira. Or maybe not.

The Sun says that the champions have received an £18m bid for the 28-year-old midfielder from Real Madrid.

This falls well short of the £25m and £30m figures being bandied about by the papers over the past few weeks, and the Gunners are unlikely to let their player go for under their estimated price.

Indeed, Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein says he will not even listen to bids below £25m – which is a far cry from the “he is not for sale” message the club have been spouting.

But what with this being the Vieira-to-Madrid story, the player has yet to hand in a transfer request and may not go anywhere.

He may even be playing the waiting game – much like Rio Ferdinand, who is spotted by the Mail.

The disgraced Manchester United and England defender hasn’t played a competitive match in six months since he was banned for missing a routine drugs test.

And it looks like he’s been using his time wisely – growing his hair into an afro.

This earns him the Mail’s headline: “Just when you thought football couldn’t get any more ridiculous…”.

But we should applaud Ferdinand for not cutting his mop. The FA now has less need to give the player a urine test and can just check Ferdinand’s drugs history by analysing one of his hairs.

After all, the FA must have had enough of taking the piss to last it a lifetime…’

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

That Winning Feeling

‘FOR a moment, pretend you are not British. Close your eyes and imagine that you are not the champion of the underdog, a fan of the team that never wins. You are backing the favourites.

England’s heroes

In short, imagine you are American or Australian.

You need not begin to whoop like a demented Texan or wave a plastic kangaroo over your head and enthuse about the great life back home – just imagine what it’s like going into a sporting contest believing you will win.

And now look to the back page of the Mail and learn that England’s cricket team are looking very much like a terrific side in the making.

Yesterday, Michael Vaughan’s first XI thrashed the West Indies by 256 runs and so retained the Wisden Trophy.

There are two matches still to play in the four-series Test and, given the way England have performed to date, Brian Lara’s team will be wondering what their game plan should be.

(Although Lara, who was given out in dubious circumstances for the second time this summer, will be excused for thinking that he needs to beat not only England but the umpires as well.)

And it’s not only cricket where England are playing out of character. As the Sun reports, British boxing is on the up.

Mike Tyson may not be the ferocious fighter he once was, but he’s sill a pretty awesome sight climbing into the ring.

So it’s right that the Sun lavishes praise on Danny Williams, the British fighter who beat him over the weekend.

Not that Williams needs the Sun to tell him how good he now is, – thanks to his victory over the rusting iron man, the Londoner now stands in line for a £10m pay-day against either Evander Holyfield or Vitali Klitschko.

This is all great stuff, but as it comes, so it must pass. We are British, after all, and even when England are playing great cricket and Williams is knocking over the baddest man on the planet, losing still dominates the sports pages.

And the losers in the frame are Sven Goran Eriksson, Mark Palios and the Football Association.

There seems little point in delivering to you the full letter of resignation penned by FA chief executive Palios over the incident that occupies the tabloids’ front pages.

Let’s just say that he’s gone, leaving behind Ms Faria Alam and the FA in more disarray than usual.

But rest assured that it will be handled with the FA’s customary lack of class, ambition, direction and ability.

If only the fools who preside over English football could just close their eyes for a moment…’

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

The Iceman Cometh

‘HERE’S the headline of the week: “Beckham comes to Eriksson’s aid.”

A circus act

It’s in the Telegraph and appears above a story of how David Beckham says the beleaguered Swede Sven Goran Eriksson is a “great manager” and how much he loves working with him.

“Sven has been a great man to me and to the rest of the England team,” says Dave. “Every one of the players respects him as a manager for what he has done for the team and the country.”

But not what he has done for the FA and the image of the game, one already tarnished by players’ sexual antics.

But Sven has little need of support from the adulterous Beckham – because, as the Times says, the England coach is fighting his own corner. And yesterday he issued a statement.

In it, Sven says that he is distressed by recent “inaccurate comment and speculation about my professional integrity”. He feels that he must set the record straight.

“I wish to state unequivocally that in keeping with the above policy [not to discuss his private affairs] I have at no time either categorically confirmed or denied any relationship with Ms Faria Alam.”

This is not good news for the FA which, when rumours of Sven’s affair came to light, seems to have failed to ask the simple question: “Did you, Sven?”

Instead, the FA rushed out a statement rubbishing the story.

Eriksson may well be suggesting, as the Guardian opines, that he is guilty of nothing, but it’s a great pity he saw fit to sleep with a colleague and then drag the matter out with ambiguous comments and shifty looks.

The only happy thing about the entire matter is that Sven has managed to knock the Patrick Vieira story from even the Sun’s back page.

Today, readers have to wade two pages inside the rag to hear any news of the player.

The Sun – a paper that has spent weeks talking about the Frenchman’s supposed move to Real Madrid – now says the midfielder may not be playing for the Gunners on the first day of the new season…because he might be injured.

But not as damaged as boxing’s image will be after tonight’s bout between journeyman British fighter Danny Williams and the man they couldn’t retire, Mike Tyson.

The Times profiles the fight. But what should be a cause for celebration for British boxing – Williams is a London-based fighter doing battle with the baddest man in sport – is nothing more than a circus freak show.

Ten years or more ago this would have been an epic event. But now seeing Tyson in the ring is just plain sad.’

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

A Lot Of Nonsense

‘IT goes without saying that the Football Association could not organise the proverbial piss-up in a brewery, but even by their standards this is a complete farce.

Sven gets a Grip

According to the Mirror, the FA issued its denial that Sven Goran Eriksson had slept with Soho Square secretary Faria Alam on the basis of one very brief telephone conversation.

More specifically, on the basis of three words from the England coach – “This is nonsense.”

It is on the interpretation of those three words, apparently, that the Swede’s future rests…and you don’t need to be Bill Clinton’s lawyer to suggest that they are somewhat ambiguous.

What defies belief is that, if he was planning to issue a denial, FA executive director David Davies did not see fit to ask Eriksson point blank whether the story was true or not.

Instead, the organisation charged with looking after our national sport ensued that once again it is a complete laughing stock by retracting its denial after only a couple of days.

Our guess is that Eriksson will survive – the FA have invested too much money in him to sack him on such trivial, and disputed, grounds.

And, as the Mirror shows, he still has a number of powerful supporters on the FA board which will meet to decide his fate.

However, the Mail – stealing yesterday’s Anorak headline (“It’s Not If, but Sven”) – says the Swede’s hopes of survival have all but disappeared.

It quotes an FA insider as saying: “If you can lie to your employers once, as Sven has done in the past regarding his dealings with Chelsea, you can lie to them again.

“It’s a capital offence. If that’s what has happened, he’s got to go.”

But a senior FA source sums it up when he says, “It all comes down to whether he was asked the right questions by David [Davies]”.

And, if the Mirror is to be believed, the answer would appear to be no.

The Sun claims that Eriksson will probably be allowed to waddle on as a lame duck manager for the next two years purely because the FA can’t afford to sack him.

David “Safe Hands” Seaman knows a bit about playing away – he abandoned his first wife and kids to shack up with PR girl Debbie.

But he tells the Sun that he thinks Patrick Vieira should stay at Arsenal.

“The Premier League is fantastic,” he says. “Everyone wants to come and play here. England is the place to be at the moment.

“I’ve never played abroad, but I wouldn’t want to go out there.”

Quite right – who’s to say what you might catch “out there”. Not to mention the food. And the people. And the fact that you might bump into Posh Spice…’

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

Not If, But Sven

‘SVEN Goran Eriksson’s fate will be settled in eight days’ time when the FA board sits down for an extraordinary meeting to decide whether the England coach lied about his affair with Faria Alam.

‘I’ve never shagged a German’

But the Swede would be forgiven for starting to pack his Cuban heels and looking round for alternative employment if he reads today’s headlines.

“DOOMED” is the Express’s verdict, saying Eriksson will be left to carry the can after the FA cleared its chief executive Mark Palios of any wrongdoing.

“On The Brink” is the Mail’s headline, suggesting that the decision to absolve Palios “could be construed as a deliberate attempt to further alienate Eriksson”.

And the Sun has even lined up Sir Bobby Robson and Trevor Brooking to step into the breach “as soon as they have axed their once-a-night boss”.

[The paper typically appears far more upset by Sven’s lack of stamina in the bedroom than by any lies he may have told his employers.]

You may remember that on Monday the Sun was throwing around Steve McClaren’s name as Eriksson’s replacement, but now we learn that Middlesbrough might refuse to release him.

And that means 71-year-old Robson will become a caretaker manager for the friendly against Ukraine alongside Brooking, director of football development.

The one good thing about this whole boring saga is that it has knocked that other boring saga – Patrick Vieira’s mooted move to Real Madrid – off the back pages.

But all the papers are this morning in agreement that the French midfielder will quit Arsenal for the Spanish capital in the next few days.

The source of the story is Spanish sports paper Marca, which is pretty well the official Real Madrid newsletter and which claims that the 28-year-old has already agreed personal terms.

The Mirror insists that Madrid will now make an official approach to Arsenal in the next couple of days for the player valued by the Sun at £35m.

As English football once again descends into farce, English cricket is on the up and up.

The Sun says Monday’s victory over the West Indies at Lord’s has confirmed the team’s position as the No.2 side in the world behind the might Australians.

And it says coach Duncan Fletcher – “a sort of Sven Goran Eriksson who wins, keeps his trousers on and gets a 20th of his salary” – must take much of the credit.’

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

Sodom All

‘IF you ever needed confirmation that newspapers have no idea what they’re talking about 90% of the time, then this morning provides it in spades.

‘She can talk dirty at 40 words per minute and Mark says her shorthand is first class’

The Mail claims that, under his new deal, Sven Goran Eriksson will get a massive £14m pay-off if the Football Association decides to sack him as England coach.

But the Star has the Swede as “a £7m loser”, claiming that the FA could avoid a costly pay-off by dismissing Eriksson for “gross misconduct”.

What the papers do seem to agree about is that the England boss’s future is in jeopardy – the Sun and Mirror both have exclusives suggesting that there may be an emergency meeting of the 12-man FA Board to discuss the crisis.

The Mirror says the whole affair has driven a wedge between Eriksson and the FA.

The former is “furious” that the FA put out a statement confirming his affair with Faria Alam; the latter are seething that they were misled over their initial denial.

But at moments like this it is to the Mail’s Jeff Powell that we turn for a sober analysis of the situation.

And, like Sodom and Gomorrah, Powell would like to see Soho Square razed to the ground.

“All that is missing from the shiny glass frontage of English football’s new headquarters is the red light over the door as the fat cats slobber over their secretaries,” says this latter-day missionary.

It is, he continues, “a moral void” – home (for the time being, at least) to “a serial womaniser of the most sordid order” and a man who “put his sexual gratification above his ethical responsibilities as a principal company director”.

Powell could probably see all manner of vice at a meeting of the Temperance Society, but even he would struggle to find fault with the performance of England’s cricketers.

Yesterday, they completed their seventh victory in eight Tests as they bowled out West Indies for 267.

And hero of the hour was Ashley Giles, the much ridiculed England spinner who took nine wickets in the match – the best by an England spinner at Lord’s for 30 years.

In the process, the Sun says, he claimed his 100th Test victim when he bowled Brian Lara with a perfect off-spinner through the gate.

Captain Michael Vaughan said afterwards: “I’m delighted for him, not because he’s my mate but because he’s probably our most professional cricketer.

“It’s pleasing to see him have a smile on his face.”

Which is more than can be said for Sven.’

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

Trouble At Top

‘PATRICK Vieira is rumoured to be upset that his proposed transfer to Real Madrid is turning into such a drawn-out affair.

Lance does France

However, it’s nothing compared with our frustration at the story that has dominated the back pages for the past fortnight.

So much so that it is a relief this morning to read the papers’ various interpretations of Sven Goran Eriksson’s position as England coach.

The Mail says the Swede is furious with the FA for confirming his affair with Soho Square secretary Faria Alam.

“Having made a point of never commenting on his personal life,” it says, “the former Lazio coach suspects there is a hidden agenda behind a decision by his employers to go public.”

However, the Mirror has Eriksson in a much more contrite mood, pleading with the FA to let him stay on as coach.

His agent says “there is absolutely no question of him leaving his job over this”.

But the Sun reckons that Eriksson is facing the sack, and says Middlesbrough boss Steve McClaren will be asked to take charge if it’s found that the Swede deliberately misled his bosses.

No such problems for those in charge of England’s cricket team.

Yesterday, the Mail says, captain Michael Vaughan became only the third player to score a hundred in both innings of a Lord’s Test match as his team took charge against the West Indies.

Vaughan’s runs, aided by 38 from Graham Thorpe and 58 from Andrew Flintoff, gave England a lead of 477 runs – and by stumps they had reduced their opponents to 114-3.

In fact, the only headache facing the selectors is likely to be who to leave out for the next Test at Edgbaston.

Robert Key’s double hundred in the first innings means Mark Butcher is likely to miss out – a scenario made somewhat easier by the fact that the Surrey left-hander has aggravated an existing thigh problem.

The Mail says Butch, who missed out on the Test after suffering whiplash when someone drove into his stationary car, worsened the muscle tear as he was doing some tidying up at home.

However, in the longer term the paper is worried about the fitness of Flintoff, who has become such an integral part of this England side.

The all-rounder, it says, is not fully fit and should not be bowling because of a lingering ankle spur problem.

“If an operation is required, which is surely will be at some stage,” it warns, “the England hierarchy must be driven by the long-term welfare of their leading light, not the short-term fix of his patched-up presence.”

If England on the verge of winning a Test match is becoming a not unusual sight, it’s certainly not in the same league as Michael Schumacher or Lance Armstrong on top of the podium.

The German duly won the German Grand Prix yesterday – his 11th victory in 12 races this season – while Armstrong cycled up the Champs Elysee to his record sixth Tour de France win.

But, says the Mail, success has not earned either of them popularity.

In a French newspaper poll, Schumacher was named the most disliked sportsman in the country, while Armstrong came third.

In second place was our old friend Nicolas Anelka…’

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