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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

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

Money Talk

‘WE are beginning to like Jose Mourinho, the new Chelsea manager.

Robert Key hears that it’s burgers again for lunch

Although he has yet to preside over a single truly competitive Chelsea match, he has still managed to rile Alex Ferguson.

The Mirror (“LOSER”) hears from the Portuguese big shot, and enjoys his response to Fergie’s claim that Chelsea cannot buy success.

“Money does not buy you points and victories,” says Mourinho.

“If you go back a few months, Porto had ten per cent of Man Utd’s budget, but beat them. Money buys players and with these players you have to make a team.”

Fergie will just love being reminded how Porto, then managed by Mourinho, knocked his highly-priced stars out of last season’s Champions’ League.

But while this spat between Mourinho and Ferguson should be music to Arsene Wenger’s ears, Arsenal’s French manger has his head full of other matters.

It’s the umpteenth day of the Patrick Vieira to Real Madrid story and Wenger is telling the Sun that the move is now beyond his control.

“I’ve been speaking to Patrick regularly,” says Wenger, “but we have now reached a situation where I cannot do any more.”

Which pretty much suggests that the decision rests firmly with Vieira, who, despite having three years left to run on a contract he signed at the start of last season, has yet to quash the transfer rumours.

But just in case Vieira does go, the Gunners are making plans, and the Express says they have already landed the “new Vieira” in the form of Marseille’s 20-year-old French midfielder Mathieu Flamini.

And the Mirror says there’s more to follow, with the Gunners eyeing a possible move for Portugal’s Euro 2004 star Nuno Maniche.

But since nothing has really happened with Vieira, it’s all paper talk.

Which brings us to the Sun, a paper that just a few weeks ago was saying how Michael Vaughan’s England cricket team had let the country down.

Now the same team are the toast of the Sun’s back page, worthy of the headline “TWO GOOD” and a story about how great century makers Robert Key and Andrew Strauss are.

Such a swift change of tack is lamentable. But, doubtless, the Sun will be soon patting itself on the back and saying how it was the paper’s harsh and misjudged words that spurred England to shape up.

Happily, the Mail sticks to the story and lavishes rightful praise on an England side that raced to 391-2 on the first day of the Lord’s Test against the West Indies.

And look very much like a decent team on the up…’

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

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