Back pages | Anorak - Part 81

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

The Real Deals

‘THE Mirror says that, although Patrick Vieira is not for sale, should Real Madrid offer Arsenal, say, £35m for his services, he might be.

Saddle sore

But Real are only offering £15m for the Frenchman, which even by our most basic maths falls well short of what might be an acceptable fee.

So the ongoing saga of Vieira’s move to Spain goes on for another week – and given the story’s track record, probably another season.

One thing more certain at the Bernabeu is that Real’s last big midfield signing will not let them down.

David Beckham today tells the Mail that he is out to prove his critics wrong and will make his time in Madrid a successful period.

“On a personal level,“ says Day-vid, “some people have said I haven’t done so well. [Only some people?] I aim to prove them wrong.“

(We hope his aim is truer than, say, from a Portuguese penalty spot.)

He’s also keen to learn the local language, which is a funny form of English, a kind of Spanglish.

“Another challenge is Spanish,” says old No. 23. “Obviously, I haven’t conquered it yet, but I’m learning and I understand what’s said during training. I’m progressing little by little.”

And as soon as his nonsense-talking wife arrives in Spain, we’re sure his Spanish will come on in leaps and bounds.

After all, if you are going to send text messages you don’t want your wife to see, best do it in a language she can’t understand.

Helping him in his language course is the Sun, which lists a few phrases the England captain might like to try out.

“No. Dejame lanzar la penalty.” (No, let me take the penalty). And “Sven, puedo ayudarte con sus problemas matrimoniales”. (I’ll help you with your relationship problems, Sven.)

And staying with the Madrid theme, one other player who just might, or might not, move to the Spanish capital is Wayne Rooney.

The Express (“The Agony Goes On”) says that the young tyro is stalling on signing a new £13m five-year contract at Everton.

Given that this offer represents a 500 per cent pay rise and will make Rooney very rich, his inability or reluctance to make a decision tells us much about how much money still washes around the game.

But beyond football’s hype and cash, the Sun reports that Lance Armstrong is on the brink of a sixth Tour de France win.

Not only did the American have to put up with a tough mountain climb on yesterday’s time trial, but also with fans taking exception to his being there – and spitting at him.

“There were lots of fans, and it was a little scary,” says the Texan. “It’s over now, but a lot of Germans fans were just disgusting.”

Oh, come on, Lance, spitting is not nice, but leather shorts and massive sausages never hurt anyone…’

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

Passport To Athens

‘WHAT with Chelsea’s efforts to buy every half decent player in Europe capturing the headlines, it’s been easy to ignore the goings-on at Old Trafford.

‘Norwich? What’s that?’

Usually, the summer is spent listening to Alex Ferguson saying how his side were robbed of the league title or won it because they were so very good.

But until now he’s been remarkably quiet. So yesterday the Express went to Manchester to see if something nasty had befallen the charmless Scot.

And they found Ferguson alive and well, posing for photographs with new recruit Alan Smith and speaking about the season ahead.

And he had a few words to the wise for Jose Mourinho, the new Chelsea coach.

“It’s difficult to say how Chelsea will fare,” says Ferguson, who usually finds no difficulty in telling his chief rivals how they will fail horribly.

“I don’t think money is an issue. The issue is picking the right players.”

Quite so. And Mourinho must ensure he doesn’t lash out £30m on a player who can’t even be bothered to turn up for a routine drugs test.

But while Fergie cranks up the mind games in July, the Sun looks ahead to the Olympic Games, and introduces its readers to Malachi Davis.

And American-born Davis needs an introduction since the man who’ll represent Britain in the 400 metres and the 4x400m relay in Athens only gained his British passport two weeks ago, thanks to the happy accident of his mother having been born here.

Now the man who was the 26th fastest 400m runner in America last year is preparing to bring gold back to Britain.

Or England, the county he thinks he’s running for. And he also has it, or so the Sun says, that Liverpool are the current Premier League champions.

To the Sun this is bad enough, but worse is to follow as Davis answers some of the questions that pass for the Sun’s citizenship exam.

Sun: Does Davis know what the UK’s favourite soap opera is?

Davis: “I have never heard of Coronation Street. No, I have never heard of EastEnders.”

Sun: Does he know who the Foreign Secretary is?

Davis: “No.”

Sun: Has he ever heard of Lord’s cricket ground?

Davis: “Which city is that?”

To the Sun, it’s a scandal that Davis is allowed to represent the red, white and blue and is not deported on the spot.

The paper’s owner, Rupert Murdoch, must be choking on his hamburger and fries…’

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

It’s Going To Be A Blue Day

‘IN the hunt for football stories to fill the back pages, the hacks sometimes trip over themselves in the dash to get the scoop.

The new Hernan Crespo?

So today we have the Mail telling its readers that Arsenal have just singed Ajax’s Tunisian right back Hatem Trabelsi for £4m and the Express telling us that Sir Bobby Robson of Newcastle is just about to secure the services of the same player.

This Trabelsi lad is either very talented and remarkably fit or else the papers have got themselves in a muddle.

And this is often the way with football stories – you can never know what’s really going on until it’s happened.

For instance, although the Sun leads with “LET’S GET GERRARD”, the news is not that Arsenal are gunning for the Liverpool player but that they might try to sign him if Patrick Vieira moves to Real Madrid.

The only certainty is that Chelsea have put their considerable wealth where their manager’s considerable mouth is and just signed Didier Drogba for £23.2m, making him the most expensive striker in English football history.

At any other club than the Blues this price tag would place a huge burden on the Ivory Coast man, but at Chelsea he’s just another big money player in an ocean of cash.

Even after getting Drogba from Marseilles, Chelsea still have £8m left over to sign midfielder Tiago from Benfica, and in so doing take their spending this summer to £70m – more than the rest of the Premiership has spent on players together.

Which should all mean that Chelsea will win the title and much else besides.

But they will also need some luck. Even a team with millions in the bank still needs a slice of good fortune at the right time.

Just look at Todd Hamilton, the new Open golf champion, who’s telling the Mirror about his lucky charms.

Yesterday we learnt that Hamilton’s success was guaranteed after a chance meeting with a priest called Jason.

Today we hear that, just in case Jason’s prayers failed, Hamilton took a few other steps.

For instance, while performing on the less glamorous courses in India and Pakistan, Hamilton ate water buffalo in Calcutta. This, apparently, steeled him for victory at Royal Troon.

But his triumph was also aided by the seven lucky coins he kept in his pocket during the entire Open championship, including a one-dollar poker chip, a one dollar coin, a coin with a picture of the famous claret jug on it and a Japanese coin.

Chelsea’s players may like to take a leaf out of Hamilton’s book and get themselves some lucky coins. Or, failing that, a nice fat cheque every week…’

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

On Yer, Todd

‘AROUND five days ago, even Todd Hamilton’s daughter would have been excused for asking “Who?” when his name was mentioned.

Big in Japan

Now, four-year-old Kaylee Hamilton, who appears on the back page of the Mirror “pulling a series of funny faces”, can read about her dad in the papers.

And so can we, as the paper tells us that Hamilton is golf’s new Open champion, having beaten Ernie Els in a play-off at Royal Troon.

Well done, Hamilton – and well done, God. It seems that Hamilton was always in with a prayer of victory thanks to a chance meeting on the family’s flight over from the United States.

The new champ’s wife, Jaque, tells the paper that on the jet over to Scotland, her husband found himself seated next to a priest.

“His name was Jason,” says she, “and he wished us all the best and said: ‘Now I know who to pray for. I’ll pray for him when I see him on the leaderboard.’”

That truly was a stroke of luck.

(Perhaps America’s greatest athletes gearing up for this summer’s Olympics with shots of this and that should find Jason and beseech him to do for them what he did for their countryman Hamilton.)

Without a doubt, the outsider, with God and Jason on his side, is the sports story of the day. And we have the Mail and Star hailing “Hot Toddy!” and the Sun saying “Against all Todds”.

The next story of importance, at least to the Sun, is the one about the movements of Patrick Vieira, the Arsenal captain.

With no deal done to take the Frenchman to Real Madrid, and, in truth, no offer from the Spaniards on the table, it’s left to Dennis Bergkamp to breathe life into the story.

The Dutchman says that Vieira is irreplaceable and that it would be “a pity” if he left Highbury.

“A pity”! Not a tragedy. Not a disaster. Not the end of all life on Earth. But “a pity”.

The other pity is that this story is given such prominence by the Sun.

The Vieira to Madrid story has become one of those mainstays of the football press, holding its own alongside the one about English football’s search for a player with a left foot and Sven Goran Eriksson’s love life.

And the Swedish manager’s commitment to the England cause is being once more questioned by his chief critics at the Mail.

In “Two-Timer Sven”, the paper spots Sven step aboard one of the fleet of motorised islands owned by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.

“Football Association bosses were fielding embarrassing questions about Sven Goran Eriksson last night – over his relationship with the Chelsea owner,” says the paper.

Hold the phone! That mystery brunette (see Tabs)… No, it can’t be. What Sven gets up to with the Russian is his own business.

The Swede will be in the employ of the FA until 2008, as his lucrative contract stipulates, and that’s an end to the matter.

England fans just have to grin and bear it…’

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

False Idols

‘SHOULD Arsenal’s captain Patrick Vieira leave Highbury for Real Madrid, as the Sun says he plans to, we wonder what he will learn at the Bernabeu.

‘Come on, Timmy!’

Perhaps he’ll discover how to take penalty kicks from David Beckham, or how to keep down his lunch from Zinedine Zidane.

What he will not have to learn – he’s well-versed in British footballing culture – is how to dive, tug on a shirt, feign injury and encourage the referee to show the yellow or red card to another player.

The Times says that things have gotten so bad that Richard Caborn, the Minister for Sport, has written to every major professional football club appealing for players to keep things clean.

Apparently, not only are young footballers aping their idols’ jinks and shimmies, but they are also copying other less wholesome parts of the professional game.

It’s all very sobering to think of some precocious eight-year-old striker diving in the opposition’s penalty box and miming a spit-roast in celebration of a goal.

But things get better when readers look to the less football obsessed sections of the press and note that not everyone wants to be a footballer.

Some people, like Paul Casey, grew up wanting to win golf’s Open Championship.

And, as the Independent reports, the 26-year-old from Weybridge, Surrey, is currently on course to achieve his ambition, heading the pack at five under par.

There is a long way to go, but such is the lack of British sporting success that the Indy grabs Casey with both hands and shakes him for all he’s worth.

As does the Telegraph, although its front page proper goes not to Casey but to Ian Poulter, whose Union flag-styled trousers “brought derision and admiration” on the first day of the Open at Royal Troon.

But don’t be bamboozled by the strides, says Poulter. Just as those young footballers seduced by the promise of riches and cheating need to get real, young golfers need to buckle down.

“Some young players are more interested in being flashy than buckling down, working hard and playing the game,” says Poulter.

We don’t get to learn if Poulter thinks that’s a bad thing or not. But William Hunt, the tailor responsible for Poulter’s sartorial patriotism, is certainly more concerned with image over substance.

“Golf is the new cool” says he. “If you can’t play well, you might as well have fun dressing up.”

He’s got a point. If it works for David Beckham…’

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

Woods Or Els

‘THE Open Golf Championship starts today and the royal and ancient game manages to win itself a mention on the back pages of all the papers this morning.

The best swingers in town

But the news is not good, at least not for those hoping for a European victory and end to the Americans’ half century of domination at Royal Troon.

And Paul Casey, the highest ranked Englishman in the world at No.30, thinks it’s the booze that’s responsible.

“There are certain guys who show the George Best syndrome,” he tells the Mail. “Maybe they piss it away a little bit. I don’t think there’s enough talent coming through.”

As if to illustrate that, the face adorning the back page of the Express, Star and Sun is that of a 41-year-old who had to qualify for the Championship.

Colin Montgomerie may insist that he is not finished but the bookies don’t agree, making the short-tempered Scot an 80-1 outsider this week.

The Mirror is the only paper that doesn’t go with the British angle, preferring to concentrate instead on someone with a realistic chance of success.

South African Ernie Els has apparently attracted the biggest single bet in golfing history – £62,500 at 8-1 to win £500,000.

And even Tiger Woods’ friend Mark O’Meara thinks he is the one to watch.

“Tiger certainly hasn’t been in the form we are accustomed to seeing from him, certainly in the last 10 months,” he says.

“In fact, I think he and Ernie are playing relatively the same these days.”

But enough of golf – you are no doubt desperate to hear the latest on the transfer story that is rocking football.

And the latest is that Freddie Ljungberg has led Arsenal players in pleading for skipper Patrick Vieira to stay (Mirror), Vieira is torn over his Arsenal future (Sun) and fears are growing that the Frenchman will go to Real Madrid after all (Star).

In terms of shock value, the Vieira saga ranks up there with the story on the back page of the Mail – Alan Shearer has spat his dummy and says he will leave if he is not Newcastle’s first choice next season.

“Shearer Shock” is the paper’s headline and we at Anorak have had to break out the smelling salts at reports that the 33-year-old striker is throwing his toys.

Whatever next? Another big-money signings at Chelsea?’

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

A Very Public Secret

‘WHEN the Mirror claims that Real Madrid will hold “a secret meeting” today with Patrick Vieira’s advisers, we know the story cannot be true.

A Real deal?

Not because we go through this whole boring saga every year, but because the very fact the paper knows about the meeting means it is no longer secret.

It is bound to contradict itself as soon as it opens its mouth.

So, even if the Spanish club really are meeting the Arsenal captain’s advisers today (and we only have the Mirror’s word for it), they are not doing so in secret.

Vieira himself is in America, but the Mirror thinks that the indications are that this time the midfielder will make the jump.

The evidence for this is Madrid’s claim that Vieira asked his French teammate Zinedine Zidane to help arrange the move and, er, the fact that “the glamour of Madrid and Real’s name” may prove too much for him to resist.

The trouble is that without what the Mirror laughingly refers to as “the transfer story that is rocking football”, there is bugger all football news to be had.

The Sun and Star both lead on news that Birmingham have launched a “furious” attack on Everton after they put in a £2.5m bid for Welsh midfielder Robbie Savage.

Brum boss Steve Bruce described the offer as “laughable” – the idea that Savage is worth anything close to £2.5m is indeed risible.

The Express reports that the search for a successor to Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has started already as the 62-year-old starts his 19th season in charge.

Only the Mail looks beyond football for its back-page lead, complaining that Britain will send its smallest athletics team for 28 years to the Athens Olympics.

“Despite millions of pounds of lottery money having been poured into track and field,” it says, “only 47 athletes have been deemed good enough to compete.”

And only one – Paula Radcliffe – is a realistic gold medal prospect.

Four years ago, Britain sent a 74-strong team to Sydney, winning two golds and four other medals.

Tiger Woods is still, of course, a realistic prospect to win golf’s Open Championship, which starts at Royal Troon tomorrow.

But so are many others, including Ernie Els who could take over the World No.1 spot if he wins and Tiger finishes 18th or worse.’

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

A Real Pain

‘IT is now one of the features of the sporting summer – as predictable as Tim Henman’s plucky failure to win Wimbledon, as Colin Montgomerie’s early departure from the British Open golf, as another false dawn for English cricket.

‘Oi! Wait up, Rebecca…’

Real Madrid suggest that Arsenal skipper Patrick Vieira might be on his way to the Bernabeu; the Gunners get really angry; and the Frenchman stays at Highbury.

It’s a mini-drama that has been played out every season since Vieira first signed for the English champions, but this time Arsenal are really, really angry.

So says the Mirror, which quotes Arsenal chairman Peter Hill-Wood as saying that the whole thing “is starting to become very irritating”.

“There is nothing you can do about it except just treat it with contempt,” he says.

Except there is something that Arsenal and all the other English clubs can do over the constant speculation linking Real with anyone in this country who can kick a ball.

They can give them a taste of their own medicine – spread a few rumours about Ronaldo signing for Chelsea or Zinedine Zidane coming to Arsenal or Raul going to Crystal Palace.

One man who is on his way from Madrid to Manchester is Valter di Salvo, Real’s fitness guru and the man blamed by David Beckham for his sub-par performances in Euro 2004.

The Sun says the Italian is regarded in his own country as one of the most innovative and daring fitness coaches in Europe, although routines which didn’t include banging your PA clearly didn’t suit the England skipper.

Making the journey the other way could be Wayne Rooney – the Sun says the teenager has told his advisers that he would happily go to Spain if there was a firm offer.

Meanwhile, Tiger Woods’s preparation for this week’s Open golf championship got off to the worst possible start when the World No.1 got lost on his way to Troon.

The Express says Woods got lost in the back streets of Glasgow as he tried to steer his Vauxhall Sigma onto the M77 and turned up half an hour late for his practice round.

And it is Woods’s bad driving on the course that means he will start this week as only joint favourite for the tournament at a very tempting 8-1.

The only trouble is that if Woods can’t find the M77, he hasn’t got much chance of finding Troon’s narrow fairways…’

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

Amazing Race

‘“I AM amazed how the race went,” said Michael Schumacher after comfortably winning the British Grand Prix yesterday.

The start of the procession

Amazed?! Schumacher’s capacity for amazement must be something quite special if he is amazed by his tenth victory in 11 races this season.

The rest of us are only amazed that anybody bothers to turn up or tune in to what the Independent calls “the most expensive processions since the old Red Square parades of ballistic rocketry”.

The Telegraph says the only drama left in this Formula 1 season is over how many points Schumacher will accrue.

He has already notched up the ton in record time. A possible 17 wins in 18 races is very much on the cards, as is the championship by Monza in mid-September.

“Had Jarno Trulli’s Renault not disintegrated on the 40th lap,” the paper says, “Schumacher could have stopped for tea on his way home and still won.”

The Tour de France has been as dominated in recent years by Lance Armstrong as Formula 1 has been by Michael Schumacher.

But what the race fails to deliver as a sporting spectacle it makes up for in the constant bitching among the riders over who’s taken what drugs and when.

The Guardian says that each team has brought an average of 80 different kinds of (legal) medicines with it, with one team bringing 155.

They range from the likes of paracetamol and vitamins to cardiac dilators and pentoxifylline, a substance usually prescribed for memory loss among the aged.

Perhaps, the team is trying to recall a time when Armstrong wasn’t the champion.

Or perhaps, as the paper says, riders are turning to semi-legal methods to improve their performance.

Whatever, the result is likely to be the same – Armstrong is currently nine minutes off the lead but described the first week as almost perfect.

A description that could just as easily be applied to Michael Schumacher’s season.’

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

The Wenger Ploys

‘ARSENAL fans must be kicking themselves that Spurs beat their club to Jacques Santini.

With twin airbags now fitted as standard

Especially since news on the back page of the Star is that Arsene Wenger has placed his future at the champions in the balance by refusing to commit himself to new contract.

His current deal at Highbury expires in the summer of 2005 and, when asked about his plans after that, he would only say that he nothing had been decided.

The Mail says the Frenchman might go to coach the German national side, and on Saturday spoke with the Kaiser, Franz Beckenbauer.

This, however, remains unlikely, given that he’d only arrive with a season to go until the Germans host the 2006 World Cup. And that this is the worst German side in eons.

The reality is that Wenger is a shrewd operator and knows that to secure the best deal for himself he’d be a fool to pledge his future to Arsenal before contract talks begin in October.

Meanwhile, over at the Bridge, the Sun reports that Chelsea are all set to secure the services of Didier Drogba for £22m.

This would make the Ivory Coast man, who currently plays for Marseilles, the most expensive striker in the history of the British game.

It would also give Chelsea yet another new player to bed into a changing team. Not that the team’s manager, Jose Mourinho is daunted by the challenge ahead.

This is the man who, the Sun recalls, announced on his arrival at Chelsea: “I am the Special One.”

Special people have special needs, and yesterday Mourinho was installing his new regime at Chelsea by insisting that the entire coaching and playing staff breakfast together before each training session.

And breakfast is at 9am sharp.

What’s more, Mourinho has instructed his players to adhere to a midnight curfew in the week, not to drink on working days and to stick to a strict dress code.

It’s almost as strict a regime as that which governs the Formula One season, where rules dictate that Michael Schumacher must win each and every race, unless otherwise specified.

But at this weekend’s British Grand Prix, fans of organised traffic will, the Mail says, be treated to something more than just cars and a German victory.

Because over in the Jordan pit-lane will be Emma Noble, Melinda Messenger and Katie Price (aka the petrol-headed Jordan), hired by the team to add a splash of dolly-dyed glamour to the event and to distract race-goers from the turgid display on the track.

And pay special attention at start of the race, where the words “And they’re off” could take on an entirely new meaning…’

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

Les Coqs Sportifs

‘IT was always going to take a big story to push Wayne Rooney off the Mirror’s back page, but the paper that dares has found one.

A piece of England

News is that Spurs’ new manager, Jacques Santini, makes Claudio Ranieri sound like the Queen and “hopes to have many successes at Tottenham”.

He is, by his admission “no expert in English football”, which is something that would not be a major problem were it not for the fact that he’s about to manage an English football club playing in England.

What’s more, Frenchman Santini will not be allowed to go down the continental route to success.

Because the good news for Spurs fans is that the club’s chairman, Daniel Levy, has vowed that his team will not copy Arsenal.

This does not mean Spurs will do as Arsenal do not and play boring football and win nothing, rather that the club will remain true to its roots.

“We are a British club,” says Levy in the Sun, “and will remain predominately British.”

Someone should tell the plan to Santini, to Dane Frank Arnesen, the club’s new director of football, to new Spurs coach Dutchman Martin Jol and to Arsenal reject and Frenchman Sylvain Wiltord, who Spurs are hoping to sign.

But while Santini applies for UK citizenship in a bid to blend in with the tea ladies at White Hart Lane, the Express shows us, and Levy, that having the best Englishmen on board doesn’t always guarantee victory.

The ICC table of one-day cricket teams – of which there are only 11 – reveals that England are now at their lowest position ever.

England are in eighth place, behind all the big guns and only just above Zimbabwe, Kenya and Bangladesh.

This is bad news for English sport – as is the Mail’s lead story that David Beckham’s future at Real Madrid is in doubt.

The race to be Real Madrid’s next president is underway, and one of the contenders, Arturo Baldasano – who takes on current president Florentino Perez and former president Lorenzo Sanz – says he’ll back the team’s new coach, Jose Antonio Camacho, and ditch Beckham.

This Sunday’s vote of the club’s 80,000 members will decide who will be the head of the world’s glossiest club and what will happen to Beckham.

And if Baldasano succeeds he has also pledges to find the necessary funds should his manager want to secure the services of Wayne Rooney.

And, according to the club’s accounts, Real have more than £94m in cash to spend – which should be enough to get their man and a few more besides.’

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

Mon Dieu

‘AS ever, the headlines are dominated by Wayne Rooney, who, according to the Sun, has been offered £50,000 a week to stay at Everton.

Live feed from our Tower Bridge webcam

But the paper also says that the tabled five-year deal, worth a not-inconsiderable £12.5m to the boy, may not be good enough to stop the 18-year-old from leaving the club.

Despite him saying that he doesn’t want the player, the Sun still thinks Chelsea’s new boss Jose Mourinho could move for Rooney, as could Manchester United, Inter Milan, and, if they get the money, we suppose, Scunthorpe, Halifax and the Crouch End Vampires.

However, the Mail sees United as the frontrunners in this race to secure the signature of England’s brightest rising talent.

And the Express looks at another altogether more interesting football transfer.

News is that Glenn Hoddle has applied, via fax, to become the new manger of…France.

While we chortle at the thought of Hoddle gathering the likes of Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry in a huddle and showing them how much more skilful he is than them, the Express explains things further.

The better news for Frenchmen everywhere is that the paper is of the mind that Hoddle will not get the nod.

With Jean Tigana and Laurent Blanc among the favourites to replace Jacques Santini – who, in a neat fit, has just stepped into Hoddle’s old boots at Spurs – Hoddle’s chances of success are slim.

Of course, God is on Hoddle’s side and, since the old creator jinks and shimmies in mysterious ways, the thought of Hoddle doing for France what he did for England and Spurs lingers.

But one thing in sport that is decided is England’s chance of winning cricket’s triangular NatWest Series.

Yesterday, the West Indies defeated England and so booked their place in Saturday’s final against New Zealand.

England’s defeat, although not remarkable in itself (England have won only three of their last ten one-day matches), is notable for the performances of Andrew Flintoff and Andrew Strauss, who both scored centuries.

Flintoff and Strauss, trudging home from Lord’s yesterday, must have wondered what on earth they need to do for England to win a match – and what that loud humming noise was coming from the West End.

The Express reveals that the din was the roar of F1 engines, as London mayor Ken Livingstone enthralled London’s tired commuters by blocking the roads around Piccadilly with a display of car power.

Ken may not like cars (he prefers cabs), but he is keen to secure a Grand Prix for London by 2008 (see Broads).

“We want the golden trio,” says Ken, “the start of the Tour de France, the Grand Prix and the Olympics.”

It’s a great plan. But why not just combine all three and have runners, cyclists and racing drivers do battle on the roads at once?

And Ken’s heard our call. Look, they’ve started already…’

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

Frankie Goes To Hollywood

‘TO think how different it all could have been.

We’ll keep the blue flag flying high!

Had Wayne Rooney quit football to hang out with his mates – something the Sun’s front-page proper says the footballer once seriously considered doing – England might not have won Euro 2004.

What’s that, you say? England didn’t win? Surely you’re wrong, because anyone looking at the Sun would be forgiven for believing that Rooney came be back from Portugal a champion.

Indeed, after front and back pages dedicated to Rooney (on the back, new Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho says he’s not interested in signing the lad), it’s only as an afterthought the paper mentions the all-conquering Greeks.

It also gives its readers the chance to call in and select from a list which manager they’d like to lead England’s 2006 World Cup campaign.

Yes, this is the paper that once heralded Sven Goran Eriksson as England’s saviour after he salvaged the team from the pits of Kevin Keegan’s tenure as coach.

But at least the aforesaid Mourinho knows the score and what to expect from an unforgiving, parochial press with a short attention span.

“I am not afraid to say that I want to win things,” says the brash Chelsea boss in the Mirror. “If at the end of the season we have won nothing and you [the press] say it’s a failure, I accept that.”

Nice that he accepts that but, even if he doesn’t, that will be the way things go.

Anything less than the Premier League crown or Champions’ League title and some elements of the press will be calling for the Portuguese coach’s head.

Just as the German football federation is beseeching Arsene Wenger to be its new fuhrer.

The Mail says that the Germans are set to employ the charm of Franz Beckenbauer and a vast wad of cash to lure Wenger away from Arsenal to their camp.

In truth, it’s hard to see Wenger taking the bait, what with German football in such a state of disarray. But he might go to Germany.

As Patrick Kluivert might go to Newcastle. And Leeds United’s Ian Harte might go to Valencia. And Didier Drogba might go to Chelsea. And Paul Gascoigne might go to a coaching job at Boston (all Express).

The silly season is now upon us, and the rumours are flying. So Rooney might go to Manchester United, as the Sun says.

And Frankie might go to Hollywood. Spurs might bring back the glory days. England might go on to win the World Cup. And we might all be Greek…’

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

A British Champion

‘THAT was a great weekend’s sport. And the Sun has good reason to keep the celebrations alive as it tells us that Roger Federer is British.

‘This is for my mates back in my hometown of Barnsley’

Yes, the Wimbledon champion is British – “well almost” – says the Sun, as it sensationally reveals that the Swiss tennis player may have had a great-great grandmother called Mabel Chamberlain who is “thought” to have been English and lived “somewhere” in the UK.

Wow, indeed!

And just as soon as the paper discovers that Maria Sharapova, the “sexy 6ft Russian” and new Wimbledon women’s champion, “might” have had a distant uncle who “could” have lived in Stevenage, the clean sweep will be ours.

British sport has never been in such good shape. And, sticking with the Sun, we notice that Wayne Rooney, hero of the European campaign, says “DON’T SACK BECKS” all over the paper’s back page.

And why is he saying this? Because Becks makes Rooney look so much better? No, because the tattooed one is an inspiration to young Wayne.

And there’s Rooney again, on the back of the Mail, the subject of a story to the effect that his current club Everton will not sell him for a penny less than £30m.

It’s the big football news of the day, although the Mirror misses the scoop and wastes its back page telling its readers that last night Greece – minus Wayne Rooney – won the European Championships.

“ACROPOLIS WOW” comes the paper’s laboured headline, which is trumped by the Star’s “Greece lightning”.

Only the Express contains itself and says “Greece Europe Kings”, before relating how the 100-1 rank outsiders beat Portugal and won the cup by the game’s only goal.

But until we find out that the Greeks were inspired to triumph by Rooney and how it’s he who is the real hero of their victory, we must make do with some more tennis news.

And there it is in the Express. And his name is Miles Kasari, the young British player who came up just short in his quest to become the first British winner of the Wimbledon boys’ singles title in 42 years.

For the record, Kasari lost to French prodigy Gael Monfils 7-5, 7-6, and with it the chance to restore some sense of purpose to British tennis.

But let’s all hail the new Henman-to-be. Tim’s not getting any younger and it’s about time we had another player to cheer to the point of success – and then moan and groan about as he misses out…’

Posted: 5th, July 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment (1)

Czech Out

‘ENGLISH football is so parochial – on the morning after Greece beat the Czech Republic to reach the Euro 2004 final, all the papers’ interest is directed elsewhere.

Henmania reaches Athens

The Sun reports that Stevie Gerrard sent a text message to new Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho after England’s defeat by Portugal saying how much he was looking forward to his move south.

That, says the paper, is how close the midfielder came to leaving Liverpool before announcing on Monday his decision to stay.

The Star insists that Edgar Davids is on his way to Spurs, which is interesting because the Sun says Liverpool are on the verge of clinching the Dutch midfielder’s signature.

The Mirror says Newcastle want to make it a hat-trick of summer signings by landing Southampton striker James Beattie as well as Manchester United’s Nicky Butt and Leeds’ James Milner.

And the Mail insists that Manchester United are poised to pair Ruud Van Nistelrooy with Wayne Rooney in a “dazzling” strike partnership next season.

Just as Euro 2004 ended as soon as England were defeated (aside, of course, from the constant whinging from the Sun), so Wimbledon might have ended the moment Tim Henman bowed out.

But 17-year-old Russian Maria Sharapova has single-handedly kept the hacks from switching over to watch some property programme on ITV.

“You beauty,” squeals the Express headline, as the No.13 seed came from behind to beat Lindsay Davenport in yesterday’s semi-final.

The paper days the teenager sat a sociology exam before going on Centre Court yesterday – “then got a Grade A pass for her tennis”.

In the final she will meet Serena Williams who also came from a set down to beat Amelie Mauresmo in another thrilling match.

If we have to delve many pages inside today’s papers to find news of the Trianos Dellas header that sent Greece into raptures, we have to go even further to learn that England’s cricketers gave the West Indies a good hiding yesterday.

But there is no apology from the Sun after it yesterday branded them a bunch of losers for their performances so far in this triangular tournament.

Quite the opposite – the paper that gives weasels a bad name insists that its back page spurred on the England players to glory.

If Henman wins Wimbledon next year, England triumph at the next World Cup and our rugby players retain the Webb Ellis trophy, at least we know who we’ll have to thank…’

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


‘STOP all the clocks, cut off the telephone. Prevent Timmy the Labrador from barking with a juicy bone…

Pack your bags, you’re leaving

Tim Henman yesterday completed what the Express calls “the nation’s sporting week from hell” when he was dumped out of Wimbledon by unseeded Croat Mario Ancic.

And the Sun shows just what a bad loser it is by lining up the culprits – Henman, David Beckham, Michael Vaughan and Lawrence Dallaglio – under the headline, “Guilty”.

Never mind that Henman has got to the last eight at Wimbledon for eight of the past nine years (including four semi-finals) or that he was beaten by an inspired performance by Ancic.

The Sun insists that “dim Tim’s straight three-set defeat to a 20-year-old nobody was criminal”.

Never mind that Michael Vaughan’s England cricket team has just won the first Test series in the West Indies for 35 years and also beaten a fancied New Zealand side.

Never mind that Lawrence Dallaglio was part of the England team that won the Rugby World Cup less than a year ago.

Never mind that David Beckham’s England football team was only a highly debatable refereeing decision away from the Euro 2004 semi-final.

The paper insists that “our sportsmen and women have the best fans in the world” – fans like the Sun, which accuses “gutless” Henman of carrying the hopes of the nation “with all the strength of a knock-kneed gnat”.

The Sun is the media equivalent of the knuckleheads who were standing outside the bars in Albufeira singing “No Surrender To The IRA” and terrorising the Portuguese locals.

The Mail at least understands the depth of Henman’s hurt at yesterday’s defeat – “his most bitter disappointment so far at the All England Club”.

And it reminds us that Henman probably should have won a first set “of astonishing quality”, the tie-break turning on a dubious line call.

Maybe the match would have turned out differently had he won that set, maybe it wouldn’t, but the defeat certainly wasn’t for lack of trying on Henman’s part.

However, how many more chances will Henman have to fulfil his dream?

Under the headline “Over The Hill”, the Mirror hears him admit that his days are numbered.

“The reality is that I don’t have an endless number of years for chances and I felt this was a good opportunity,” he said.

“I’m sure that my desire and motivation will always be there.”

Meanwhile, Portugal earned a place in the Euro 2004 final last night with a 2-1 win over the Dutch, who – like England – complained about the “home” decisions given by the ref.

Unlike Urs Meier, however, Anders Fisk will be able to go home and walk the streets of his native Sweden without fearing for his life.

Meier, thanks to the Sun, can’t even return home. His crime? A marginal decision in the last minute of a football match.

If the Sun wants to know who’s really guilty this morning, it should look in the mirror.’

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

Excuses, Excuses

‘IT’S important to get the excuses in early and, if Tim Henman loses his Wimbledon quarter-final to Mario Ancic today, rest assured that it won’t be his fault.

‘It’s a damn shame your lucky T-shirt is red, Tim’

Not that Tim is offering any mitigating pleas – it’s former champion Boris Becker who reckons that the changes to the courts have worked against the British No.1.

“I don’t think the All England Club has done itself or Tim any favours by making the courts slower than they were in my day,” the German said.

“The grass is a little thicker, but the main reason is that the balls are heavy and slightly bigger.

“That is very bad for a serve and volley player like Henman who likes to chip and charge.”

However, the All England Club has listened to Henman’s plea not to be last on Centre Court this afternoon, and – weather permitting – he will start as soon as the Serena Williams v Jennifer Capriati match is finished.

And one person who will be hoping that Henman comes through against the World No.63 is defending champion Roger Federer.

“Tim’s a nice guy and popular figure,” the Swiss No.1 seed tells the Mail. “We talk a lot and I would like to see him win Wimbledon.”

Meanwhile, England’s footballers are still making excuses for why it is Portugal who are taking on Holland in the Euro 2004 semi-final tonight and not them.

Steven Gerrard admits that uncertainty over his club future may have had a bearing on his form in Portugal, while David Beckham has tried everything from shifting sands to lack of fitness.

However, Real Madrid team-mate Luis Figo told the England captain to stop making excuses.

“It is how you look at it and deal with it,” he said. “Fitness is an individual thing. You know when you need more work, or less.”

At least England’s cricketers weren’t making any excuses for their pathetic showing in the one-day match against New Zealand as they were bowled out for a miserable 101.

The “We Wuz Robbed” headline in the Sun refers not to the match, which the Kiwis won by seven wickets, but to a dressing room raid in which both Michael Vaughan and Darren Gough had their wallets stolen.

Vaughan’s wallet apparently contained £1,200 in cash – the result perhaps of a tasty win at the bookies?

Not that we are suggesting that the England skipper would bet against his own side – rather that the 20-1 odds against Beckham launching the first football into orbit looked too good to pass up.’

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

Patriot Downs Scud

‘IF you didn’t hear the pre-pubescent screams, middle-aged groans, teenaged yelps and geriatric sighs emanating from Henman Hill yesterday, consider yourself lucky.


But at 8.45 last night, Middle England rose as one to salute their hero as Tiger Tim edged home against Aussie Mark Philippoussis in a four-set thriller.

The Mail is in raptures as the No.5 seed reached his eighth quarter-final in nine years where he will face Mario Ancic, the Croatian ranked No.63 in the world.

“Tough Guy Tim Scuppers Scud,” says the paper’s headline, as it salutes a performance by the British No.1 “which far surpassed anything he had shown this year”.

Even Philippoussis was full of praise for his opponent, saying: “Tim’s game has definitely improved and he has the game to win it, but it depends on the way he plays.”

The Express’s headline puts that hope into perspective, however – “Dream On,” it says, above a picture of a grinning Henman.

The Brit even managed to keep up with the Aussie in the ace department, both players firing down 22 in “a match of fire and intensity”.

But there is still a long way to go, as the watching John Terry would no doubt have reminded Henman.

If the match was studded with moments of temper as both players questioned a number of line-calls, it was nothing compared with Roman Abramovich’s mood this morning.

The Chelsea owner is said by the Sun to have hit the roof after discovering that Steven Gerrard will not be wearing a blue shirt this morning.

The England midfielder has snubbed the chance to double his weekly salary (to a staggering £105,000 a week) and decided to stay at Liverpool instead.

The Mirror says it was emotional pressure from his friends and family that persuaded Gerrard to stay, although the Mail claims a rather more sinister reason.

It says “the intolerable pressure his family faced, including threatening phone calls and letters, played a pivotal role in Gerrard’s U-turn over a move to London”.

Whatever the reason, the decision is a blow not only to Chelsea but also to the sports hacks who were insisting that the move was a done deal.

Another England player in the news is Ashley Cole, who (according to the Star) is a target for Real Madrid.

The paper says the left-back – “the most sought-after defender in the world” – wants a pay package close to Sol Campbell’s £100,000 a week.

And so far he has refused to sign an extension to his contract which would keep him at Highbury for six years.

Meanwhile, the Sun claims Everton have lost patience with Wayne Rooney and believe the 18-year-old wonderkid is messing them about over contract talks.

And the Star claims that he will line up in the red of Manchester United next season alongside Ruud Van Nistelrooy.

The only trouble is Van Nistelrooy was going to Real Madrid yesterday, where he will play in the same team as Ashley Cole, while Becks lines up alongside Gerrard at Chelsea…’

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

Movers And Shakers

‘THE Czech Republic last night dumped on Denmark to make the last four of Euro 2004, but for the English hacks the action stopped as soon as Ricardo’s penalty hit the back of the net.

The next Spurs captain?

Thoughts are already turning to next season as the papers shuffle their Panini soccer stickers and try to work out who will be playing where.

The Sun decides to send Ruud Van Nistelrooy to Real Madrid for £30m, so that it can make space at Old Trafford for Wayne Rooney, who will be the subject of a £22m bid.

But will the Dutchman join up with his former teammate David Beckham at the Bernabeu?

Maybe not, says the Mirror, which claims that Beckham has been told by new Real Madrid coach Jose Camacho to shape up or ship out.

In particular, Beckham has been told to cut out his jet-set lifestyle and realise that his home is in the Spanish capital and not in Hertfordshire.

“He was told that when the coach says the players can rest for two days, that does not mean taking a 3am flight back to England and then returning in time for training 48 hours later,” a source says.

One person who is definitely staying put is Michael Owen, with the Star claiming that the striker will stay at Liverpool even if Steven Gerrard leaves.

But the paper says that part of the reason may be the lack of interest in the 24-year-old striker whose form in recent months has been patchy.

He was not the only one whose form for England has come under the microscope, with the Star’s Brian Woolnough complaining that his performance against Portugal was “too late and not enough”.

Beckham, David James, Owen Hargreaves, Phil Neville, Emile Heskey and Sven Goran Eriksson himself get the thumbs down from the veteran hack.

Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard, Ledley King and of course Wayne Rooney get the thumbs-up – as do England’s fans who were given a 9/10 by Uefa for their behaviour.

But they still can’t match the Centre Court crowd who yesterday roared Tim Henman to victory against Hicham Arazi and a fourth-round tie against Mark Philippoussis.

The Mail plasters a picture of every middle-aged housewife from Esher’s wet dream over its back page – Tim saluting “the true fans” who had queued up to get tickets for People’s Sunday.

“I’m not in any way criticising the fans who comes and support the other 13 days,” Tim immediately added, “but when you give the opportunity to those people who have queued and paid today, I think it’s something that could be capitalised on.”

Maybe, perhaps, if no-one minds…’

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

England Have A Meier

‘LOOK OUT!!! Oooeer, that looked painful. David Beckham’s penalty had to leave the Earth’s orbit at some time, it was just unlucky it chose to re-enter the atmosphere as you were holding a scalding hot kettle.

‘It was unfair – you were taller than him’

But your new scar and ball will make nice souvenirs of the England player’s career, a man who has now missed the last three penalty kicks he’s taken for England, all of them vital.

But let’s not slam Beckham, who earns a creditable six out of ten of his effort in the Mirror, a limp four in the Mail, a decent seven in the Express and a further seven in the Sun.

Penalties are a tricky business, and the real villain of the piece was not England’s lacklustre captain, neither was it the team’s inability to get out of reverse gear for large periods of the game – it was Urs Meier.

Crazy name. Crazy guy. And, in the eyes of the Sun, guilty of one of the craziest decisions in footballing history.

The Swiss referee disallowed what did indeed look like a perfectly legitimate 88th-miunute headed goal by England’s Sol Campbell and, in so doing, cost England a berth in the semi finals of Euro 2004.

England were, in the Sun’s considered opinion, ”CHEATED”. England were also “ROBBED” after the referee decided that, at the moment of execution, John Terry had somehow pushed the Portuguese goalkeeper Ricardo.

This was hard luck on England, as too is the Mail’s news that Wayne Rooney has broken a metatarsal bone in his exquisite right foot.

Readers also learn that Rooney cried after England lost.

Which means that the debate as to whether Rooney is the new Gazza (see tears) or the new Becks (see metatarsal) goes on. As do Portugal.

And as does Greg Rusedski in the tennis.

Yes, Britain’s involvement in the summer sport is far from over as the Mirror salutes the Canadian–born star’s victory in Wimbledon’s first round proper.

For the record, and to get all football fans up to speed with tennis matters, our Greg dispensed with Italian Davide Sanguinetti in straight sets.

“Over all I’m pretty pleased with everything,” says our Greg.

“I’ve got an exciting second round match with Schuettler and so it’s going to be a level up from today. But it’s going to be exciting.”

Exciting indeed. And we are all of a quiver at the thought of Greg doing battle with old whatshisname.

But not as excited as we are about the match between Tim Henman and Ivo Heuberger. As the Express says, Tim is ready and relaxed – and Heuberger is Swiss.

Yes, Swiss! Watch out Tim, when those line calls go against you and he cries foul from the other side of the net, keep your cool.

Those Swiss are a wily bunch. And rarely, if ever, neutral…’

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

A Bad Herr Day

‘IF we were Italian, we would now be claiming that Urs Meier had been paid by Uefa to ensure the host nation’s continued presence in Euro 2004.

‘I’m just some kind of crazy guy, no?’

But we’re not – so we admit that we were outplayed last night by a very good Portuguese side, we lament our continued inability to retain possession and only then do we whinge about the ref.

Not just for the bloody awful decision that deprived Sol Campbell of a winning goal or the way in which he continually fell for Deco’s diving, but for his hairstyle.

What was the man thinking? Are those highlights in his hair or ‘Club Tropicana’ tips? And as for that blonde goatee…

In future, it would be a useful rule of thumb for Uefa to use while choosing referees that those sporting highlights in their hair, silly beards, tongue studs etc. should be ruled out.

The English referee Mike Riley might be appalling, but at least he looks like a referee should – a cross between a policeman and a chemistry teacher.

Pierluigi Collina, in everyone’s estimation the best referee in the world, isn’t bald with bulging eyes by choice – he looks as nature intended.

But Urs Meier didn’t have to grow that bloody stupid beard; he didn’t have to go to his local salon and ask to look like George Michael in his early Wham days.

He did it because he wants to stand out. He had the misfortune not only to be born Swiss, but to be born Swiss German and he wanted to do something a little crazy.

He’s a grocer by trade, a perfectly respectable profession but one that has propelled very few people to superstardom.

Herr Meier knew that, if he wanted to stand out from the crowd, he’d have to turn himself into Hair Maier. And get himself a website.

And so he did – log onto and you too can enter the fascinating world of everyone’s favourite Swiss referee.

You can find out that Urs’s hobbies include “schiedsrichterei, football, journeys, vintages, motorcycle driving” (or so claims Anorak’s in-house translator); you can see Urs with a vacuum cleaner. And you can see some pretty groovy pics of Urs with his highlighted hair.

In fact, the only thing you won’t learn about Urs is why – oh why – did he disallow a perfectly good goal in the 88th minute of the game last night.

That is something that will stay between him and his hairstylist.’

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

Wayne, No Shine

‘IT’S hard not to blow our own kazoo today as the rest of mankind learns what Anorak readers knew yesterday: Wayne Rooney is the new “Wazza”.

England’s No.6

So here goes: Pzzzzzz!

The Express, says that Rooney’s England’s team-mates have christened him Wazza (Pzzz!), in light of his likeness to Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne.

The similarities are there. But only the other day Rooney was the new Pele. So what happened? Did he eat a bad kebab while out on a bender with his new showbiz mates?

Well, nothing happened. Rooney is still Rooney. But the dash to place the raw 18-year-old talent into some kind of context has seduced many opinion formers.

And today we learn that Wazza (Pzzz!) is, in the opinion of Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, not a patch on the legendary Brazil No. 10.

“Rooney is no Pele,” says Scolari in the Mail. ”There is only one Pele and there will only ever be one Pele. We could wait a thousand years and still another like him would not come along.”

So that’s that then. Rooney is no Pele – official! And while pundits now wonder if he’s the new Johann Cruyff, the new Maradona or the new Matthews, Chelsea get down to business.

And the business at Chelsea is the trading of human flesh.

Today’s news from the Chelsea market is that the Blues are so keen to get a rope around Steven Gerrard, they’re offering Liverpool £20 million plus Scott Parker and Damien Duff.

Considering Duff went to Chelsea for £17m barely a year back and Parker arrived from Charlton with a £10m price tag round his neck, that means Gerrard will have effectively cost Chelsea £47m.

Of course, what with performance-related clauses in signing-on contracts and such like, the real figure is lower, but how much lower? The Blues want their man.

Oh, and Chelsea will also offer £30m for Rooney, a bid that if accepted the Sun says would take the player’s weekly salary to £85,000 a week.

But what we really want to know is not what England are going to do tonight, nor how Germany succumbed to a “humiliating” (Express) defeat to a second-string Czech side (Pzzz! Pzzz! Pzzzzzz!), but what all this rain is doing to our Tim.

The Sun has caught up with England’s hero as he prepares for today’s match against world No.137, Swiss qualifier Ivo Heuberger.

Up until now, Heuberger’s singular claim to fame is that he used to date Miss Martina Hingis.

But tomorrow he could be the man who ruined Tim’s chances of another semi-final defeat…’

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

Better Than Best?

‘ADDING to the great newspaper debate as to whether Wayne Rooney is more David Beckham or Paul Gascoigne (see Tabs), is the Sun’s lead story on how he is in fact the new Pele.

‘Language, Timothy!’

And the source of this opinion is, apparently, none other than the old Pele, whose brief conversation with the paper leads to the headline: “ROON IS THE NEW ME!”

It’s a neat story, coming as it does the day after Sven Goran Eriksson compared his young striker favourably with the Brazilian.

And it would have been timely if Pele had really said it – but he didn’t.

So much for the new Pele! What about Rooney being the new George Best?

The Mail fails to deliver the obvious headline (“Better than Best?”), but does ask the great Irishman what he thinks of England’s No.9.

“It’s not often that I see a player…who makes my heart beat that bit faster,” says Best, who given his health history and the effect young Rooney has on him would be well advised to never watch the young buck again.

We, of course, will be watching Rooney as early as Thursday when he leads the line against the Portuguese in a European Championships quarter-final.

The names of the final eight sides are dropping into the hat and, after last night’s results in Group C, things got that much clearer – especially for the Italians who are moaning about a ”stitch-up”.

Yesterday, Sweden drew 2-2 with Denmark, enabling both Scandinavian countries to make progress at the expense of the Italians, whose 2-1 victory over Bulgaria was in vain.

The Sun says that Italy’s coach, Giovanni Trapattoni, smells a rat and is considering whether to demand an inquiry into the Nordic conspiracy.

If he does, Trap could also ask the investigators to look into how the Italy-Bulgaria match went into five minutes overtime with the scores locked a 1-1 and Italy desperate for a goal – which they got in the dying seconds.

While many of us consider that, the Mirror says that Roman Abramovich is considering a move for Rooney and his England colleague Steven Gerrard in an £80m bid.

The Express agrees that the Chelsea owner wants the players, and is preparing to offer £35m for Gerrard and a similarly massive sum for the Everton striker.

While Chelsea fans delight at such news, the Sun, like us, hangs its head in disappointment, tutting into its chin.

In Tim Henman’s first round Wimbledon match against Spaniard Ruben Ramirez (a game Timbo won in four sets), the idol of the HRT generation uttered an expletive.

From where Tim picked up bad words no-one can be sure, but utter at least one he did. And that earned him a reprimand for swearing.

“I got frustrated,” says Tim. “I don’t think many people heard.”

It is indeed hard to hear much above the din of his fans screaming “Go on, Tim”, “Come on, Tim”, “Go, Tim” and “Shhhhh!!!!!!”, but he said it and many will have heard it.

Tim will now have to be on his best behaviour for the rest of the tournament.

“Language, Timothy!” as they say in the umpire’s chair…’

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

Arrivederci, Bad Losers

‘THE Italians used to have something of a reputation as unlucky losers – they exited more competitions on penalty shoot-outs than ever England did.

A crying shame?

But of late they are earning a far worse reputation – as bad losers.

Two years ago, it was the fault of an Ecuadorian referee who had been instructed by Fifa to cheat so that South Korea, one of the World Cup co-hosts, made it through to the quarter-final.

Now, the only reason Italy have gone out of Euro 2004 is because Denmark and Sweden conspired together to play out a 2-2 draw and so claim the top two spots in Group C.

It is, of course, absolute rubbish – the reason Italy are on their way home from Portugal is because they didn’t deserve to get through.

They are a negative side who have only themselves to blame for their predicament.

The idea that Denmark and Sweden managed to conjure up a 2-2 draw to prevent the Italians going through is laughable to anyone who saw the game.

And it merely deflects attention from the Italians’ consistent failings at this level.

Andy Townsend said he was glad that Italy were out because they are a negative side – and it’s hard not to sympathise with this point of view.

Italy looked a really average side against Bulgaria and – what is worse – never seemed to be fully up for a game that they knew they had to win if they had any chance of qualification.

To be fair, the Italian press have for the most part reserved its criticism for the team itself and in particular manager Giovanni Trapattoni.

The Gazzetta dello Sport accused Trappattoni of producing ‘the worst Italian team of recent years, even of recent decades’.

‘We cannot recall an Italy team that was so lacking in ideas and which couldn’t score,’ it said.

And therein lies the problem, not in Gianluigi Buffon’s sore outburst after the game in which he said the Scandinavians should be ashamed of themselves.

‘I’m very bitter,” he said. “I didn’t believe this would happen with peoples who are proud of their spirit of fair play.’

It’s a funny world when the Italians – the very masters of footballing cynicism – are trying to hand out lessons about fair play.

Good riddance to them – perhaps next time they’ll realise that they hold their fate in their own hands at the beginning of the tournament and play accordingly.’

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

Roo-d Awakening

‘GET ready for a surge in popularity of the name Wayne.

‘Henman! Henman!’

If England do go on to win Euro 2004, the celebratory shags will surely breed a million or so Wayne, Waynettas and perhaps even a few Rooneys.

England still have a long way to go before they win some silver but, with Rooney in his current vein of form, victory is becoming possible.

The Sun is for once right in hailing the new “boy wonder”, whose two goals and one exceptional assist handed England a 4-2 win over Croatia and with it progress into the quarter-finals where they will play Portugal.

So good is he that Sven Goran Eriksson, a man not given to saying very much at all, let alone hype, prompts the Mail to conjure up the headline, “The New Pele”.

“I cannot remember a player of his age making such an impact on a major tournament since Pele in the 1958 World Cup,” says Sven.

“He’s not only a good goalscorer, he is a complete footballer…he is absolutely incredible.”

Praise indeed from a man whose emotions usually run from mildly surprised to mildly disappointed.

And so it goes on, and on, and on, and on. If the young Rooney wasn’t feeling the pressure up until this morning, he now has the weight of an expectant nation on his broad shoulders.

How he handles all the adulation coming his way will tell us a lot about what he is made of. But, as the Mail says, he looks well set to be one of the game’s greats.

But what do the stars say about it? There are a myriad pitfalls and temptations that can yet divert the young Rooney from his path to greatness.

As there are influences on all players, like Sweden’s Frederik Ljungberg, whose astrological chart is profiled in the Times.

Mars is in Pisces, says astrologer Jane Ridder-Patrick, and for Ljungberg (an Aires) that can spell all sorts of dangers, such as a tendency towards confusion and a scattering of energy.

Freddie will doubtless be mindful of that as he attempts to help his Sweden side to victory in today’s match against Denmark.

But what we sports fans really want to know is not if Rooney will be the best ever or if Freddie Ljungberg’s moon is in his eight house, but what Timmy Henman’s up to.

Tennis’ answer to Wayne Rooney (and as an answer it earns a B+ at best) is talking to the Mirror about how this year it will be different.

Gearing up for today’s Wimbledon match against Spaniard Ruben Ramirez, Henman is in bullish form.

He’s ready to give it a decent “crack” before the Henmaniacs, although he did enjoy the relative low-key affair that was his semi-final defeat in the French Open.

“That’s not to say I have a problem with it [attention],” says Tim, “but not having the attention was different and I really enjoyed that.

“It will be interesting to see how my attitude is going to fare at Wimbledon. But if I could choose I would choose playing at home and being with my family and friends.”

And since home for Tim is Wimbledon, and his family and friends are the masses assembled on Henman’s Hill, he cannot fail…’

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