Back pages | Anorak - Part 82

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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

Three Lines

‘“THREE lines on a shirt, the purple haze is flying, bananas in the sky and thimbles in the lining…”

Scholes means, er, no goals for three years

Oh, what a laugh we had in Euro 2004! And for that we have the Portuguese police to thanks.

For, as the Mirror reports, the boys in blue have decided to take a relaxed view on cannabis intake among football fans.

It’s not illegal to smoke dope in Portugal, and the authorities in that enlightened land have decided that they’d rather see a load of stoned football supporters than gangs of lads high on gallons of wife-beater and hooch.

“HERE WEED GO!“ indeed, as the Star says on its front page. And if it takes a few spliffs to stop English fans smashing up Lisbon, then Rizlas all round, we say.

The other thing that keeps England fans in good humour is a fine performance for their team.

And Paul Scholes, carrot-coloured apex of England’s much-vaunted diamond-shaped midfield, is telling the Sun that those cocky Frenchies had best watch out.

“There’s a feeling there is sometimes some boastfulness about the French contingent at Arsenal,” says Scholes. “I think it’s just the way they are.”

“It’s a motivation to bring them down a peg or two, but it would be nice to say that after the game. It would be nice to say that wound us up.”

Hang on a mo, Scholesy. Perhaps the French are a wee bit brash, but they are the current holders of the European Championships and a large part of their squad are World Cup winners.

And as for getting wound up, our advice, and that of the Portuguese police, is to buy some blow and chill out. We do not want any trouble.

But bother is what the English rugby team are going to get in New Zealand.

The Mail hears from former Kiwi Andy Haden, who urges the All Blacks to turn the first Test into a “dockyard brawl”.

“That’s what we need against England,” he says, “a real knock-down, drag-out business which comes with a good old arm-wrestle.”

And then for some neat analogising. “The size of the dog in the fight is not important,” says Haden the philosopher. “It’s the size of the fight in the dog that matters.“

Oi! No giggling in the stands. This is a serious matter and if you keep laughing and snorting like a foolish dolt, we’ll be forced to stop things right here and now.

Cripes! We preferred you lot when you were pissed…’

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

Better Than Sex?

‘IS scoring a goal better than sex? It’s the question footballers are routinely asked by men’s magazines and other soft porn publications.

Alas! We will not see the arrival of baby Lisboa in nine months’ time

The answers vary between “no”, “no”, and “it depends whom I’ve scored with”.

But the Mirror now tells us that sex and football will not be mixing in the run-up to England’s match with France this Sunday.

Both sets of players have been instructed not to have sex before the big game. Indeed, the French have been banned from l’amour for the duration of the tournament.

Meanwhile, wives and girlfriends have been banned from the Italian team’s hotel, although there is a one-hour long window of opportunity to hook up every night after dinner.

Portugal have followed the French example and banned their players from sex for the duration of the tournament, and the Bulgarians will deal with requests for nooky on an “individual basis”.

While we imagine the Bulgarian FA casting its eye over players’ wives and girlfriends and delivering the thumbs up or down to each, the Sun looks at the England-France match proper.

And it hears from Arsenal’s Ashley Cole who’s telling his team-mates that the worst thing they could do is to antagonise Thierry Henry.

“I’ve told all the England players the very worst thing you can do is upset Thierry,” says Cole.

“I’ve seen some people suggesting you can put him off his game if you get involved in the verbal stuff with him. But I think you’ll find the exact opposite is true.”

But you can wind up Robert Pires, Cole’s other French colleague at Highbury.

“Before we came to Portugal,” says Cole, “I said to Robert ‘If I get the chance, I’m just going to kick you!’ – and to be honest that will be my aim.”

It’s a noble ambition that should see Pires hobble off – swiftly followed by a red-carded Cole.

But if Cole intends to shame England with his tactics, the Mail says that it’s nothing compared with the state of US athletics.

The Mail brings news that Tim Montgomery, the 100m world-record holder, has been notified that charges are to be brought against him for his links to the controversial Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO).

Marion Jones, who won a record five medals at the Sydney Olympics, has been questioned by America’s anti-doping police and is to be asked further questions about her relationship with BALCO.

And Kelli White, who won gold at last year’s World Championships, has been suspended from the sport for two years after failing a test for a banned stimulant. She also has links to BALCO.

Much is only alleged, but mud sticks and the sport of athletics is very much in the mire.’

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

Too Good To Fail

‘HERE’S a headline all aficionados of England football campaigns since 1966 will enjoy: “TOO GOOD TO FAIL.”

England’s new No.6

It appears on the back page of the Express and seems to suggest that England are on course for victory in the European Championships.

Indeed, Michael Owen says it will be nothing short of a “travesty” if the lads don’t bring home the silver. That’s some big talk.

But the Mail prefers to talk about whether or not John Terry will be fit enough to partner Sol Campbell in the heart of the England defence for Sunday’s opener against France.

While an FA spokesman says Terry’s participation in the match is “in the balance”, Campbell argues that England should not risk Terry unless the Chelsea player is fully fit.

Only they should, because even a partially fit Terry fills England supporters with more confidence than the man whom the Sun sees as his likely replacement: Jamie Carragher.

Such a move would be, in the Mail’s considered opinion, the stuff of nightmares. “BOTTOM OF THE BARREL?” it asks alongside a shot of the Liverpool defender.

But while England look forward to combating the electric pace of Thierry Henry and the sublime skills of Zinedine Zidane with the sixth choice defensive partnership of Campbell and Carragher, tennis hails a new hero.

Move over Tim Henman and make way for Ian Flanagan. Who’s he? Why, he’s the toast of the Express after his victory over last year’s Wimbledon finalist Mark Philippoussis in the Stella Artois Championships.

“I was living under Kew Bridge this week, now I can afford to live on it,” said Flanagan, who had only won around £4,000 in his professional sporting life until yesterday.

“I went out there with a small chance as he is so strong but I played well and here I am.”

And so he is. And to find out more of who he is, the Express gives us “Ten things you didn’t know about hero Ian”.

It might have easily been 1,000 things, but the Top 10 contains such gems as how he loves playing Tiger Woods on his PlayStation and how he lives with a parrot named Bruno and a dog called Hoover.

The Mirror does some sleuthing of its own and finds out that the Welshman is also a friend of snooker player Ronnie O’Sullivan.

Meanwhile we at Anorak have learnt that, since Flanagan has not represented Welsh football at any level, he is liable to play for England.

And with two feet, decent hand-eye co-ordination and a good touch under pressure, he might be the man to step into England’s defensive breach.

He’s got to be better than Carragher…’

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

Food, Glorious Food

‘REMEMBER a week or so ago when the Sun’s Shaun Curtis, the paper’s chief football hack, wondered if following England’s 1-1 with Japan anyone believed the lads capable of winning in Portugal?

Beckham shows off his new ‘man breasts’

We do. But that was then, and after England’s 6-1 demolition of the admittedly less-than-great Icelanders, “our boys” are on the paper’s front page.

And the paper wants us to remember something else. Hands up now, those among you who can recall the name Bjørge Lillelien?

We’ll help you out and tell you that Lillelien was the Norwegian football commentator who sounded off so magnificently after his countrymen defeated England 2-1 in a World Cup qualifier back in 1981.

For the record, his rant went: “Lord Nelson! Lord Beaverbrook! Sir Winston Churchill! Sir Anthony Eden! Clement Attlee! Henry Cooper! Lady Diana! Maggie Thatcher – can you hear me, Maggie Thatcher! Your boys took one hell of a beating! Your boys took one hell of a beating!’

He was right. But how right is the Sun to evoke the spirit of that speech in its headline of today?

Alongside a shot of the England party, suited and booted, standing on the steps of their plane to glory, is the headline.

“Thierry Henry! Napoleon Bonaparte! Joan of Arc! Inspector Clouseau! Patrick Vieira! Charles De Gaulle! The Renault Five! Jacques Chirac – Can You Hear Us, Jacques Chirac? Our boys are gonna give you one hell of a beating!”

To many Sun readers, this is good news. The French appear to have a team of just eight players, and since four of them are dead and one is a car, albeit a nippy one, England can expect to get a decent result.

And England will win on a diet of something more wholesome than frogs’ legs, snails and puppy dogs’ tails.

The Express has taken time to reveals to the world what the English lions will be dining on in the Portuguese sunshine.

Fresh fish caught that day in the Atlantic, olive oils and fresh fruits are mainstays of the celebrated Mediterranean diet.

So England’s players will be eating “huge helpings of rice pudding and custard”.

In all, the lads have taken 26 kilos of tinned pudding and 1,000 servings of custard with them for the 23-day tournament.

They have also taken along six jumbo packers of Jaffa cakes (for the fruit), 20 bottles of maple syrup, 4,000 assorted chocolate bars, 400 packs of assorted biscuits, 180 600ml bottles of blackcurrant squash, and 12 boxes of chocolate biscuits.

It is, is it not, the diet of champions. So what that they’ll be fat and have complexions like plucked chickens. If England win, who cares what the players look like?

If the England cricket team can win on a diet of champagne (the Mail has a shot of them spraying the energy-drink all over each other following the team’s series win over New Zealand), then England’s footballers can win with chocolate.

Come on you Smokey Beckhams, you Cheese and Owens! Do it for England.’

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

Europe Fears England

‘IT is undeniably sad that, when the Mail takes a preludial glance towards the summer’s football fun, it first sees a few hundred English lunatics fighting the locals.

‘Put your left leg in, your left leg out…’

England may be “BETTER THAN EVER” in the eyes of the Express, but the other papers are unsure of what they are better at.

Sven Goran Eriksson says that England are in top form on the pitch. “I am happy,” says the Swede with his usual flair for language. “The players are all fit and I wouldn’t swap my squad for any other.”

While that’s certainly the case when it comes to Chelsea (Sven turned down the chance to coach the Blues), a few French gems would surely not go amiss among England’s Butts, Heskeys and Nevilles.

So much for the team. But what about the dunces and thugs who make up a portion of England’s travelling fans?

Well, the hooligans have given the Mail more to write about then any England team since 1966, so the paper is keen to emphasise that, however good England’s chances of victory are, the berks must not be allowed to spoil things.

And it seems Eriksson shares the Mail’s concerns that there will be much throwing of plastic chairs and glasses in Portugal.

“Self-policing is perhaps the most powerful weapon in the fight against hooliganism,” says Sven, “and I know that the huge majority of England fans want nothing to do with violence and disorder.”

He goes on to place hooligans in the same bracket as some of England’s other foe.

“Ahead of us lie the likes of Thierry Henry and Zinedine Zidane,” he says, “but also the uncertainty of whether the violence and disorder involving England fans that has clouded past tournaments will raise it ugly head again.”

We hope it does not. But if there is any bother, rest assured that the Mail will locate it and splash it across its back pages.

But enough of the knuckleheads and more now of the Sun’s tribute to wicketkeeper Geraint Jones who scored his maiden Test century as England edged towards victory over New Zealand.

Helmets off to the man who on reaching his ton celebrated with a dignified moonwalk on the Headingley lawn.

“The crowd really got us going during a tense time at the end,” says Jones, who played a memorable part in England’s first innings haul of 526 runs.

“It’s not easy to moonwalk in studs. I scuffed a bit of turf and hopefully I’ll get away with it.”

Such is the fustiness of England’s cricketing hierarchy that Jones may well be brought to book.

First moonwalks, and then who only knows what? A tango? A river dance? Gulp! A victory jig!’

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

Le Cockerel Crows

‘EVERYONE in sport likes a challenge, whether it be Jocky Wilson trying to get through a leg of darts without a drink, Emile Heskey trying not to fall over for a whole match or Ashley Giles trying to spin a spinning top.

‘Allez, Le Tigre!’

But few people can relish a challenge as much as Jacques Santini, coach of the French national team and from next season coach of, er, Tottenham Hotspur.

After a summer of trying to guide the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry and Robert Pires to Euro 2004 glory, Santini will try to lead the likes of Mark Yeates, Gary Doherty and Anthony Gardner to Premiership success.

By which, we mean a finish higher than the 14th place they achieved last season.

No wonder the papers are somewhat agog at Santini’s decision, although the Mirror headline, “Henry Plays For Spurs”, is a very bizarre interpretation.

The Mail reaches deep into its French lexicon to come up with “Sacre Bleu!” and tries to hide its surprise by insisting that Santini was not on Spurs’ original shortlist.

“There were,” it adds, “immediate suggestions that it was a panic appointment following the club’s series of high-profile rebuffs in their quest for a long-term successor to Glenn Hoddle.”

This would explain why none of the newspapers predicted the move until the Mirror mentioned his name alongside those of Claudio Ranieri and Martin Jol.

But as panic appointments go, one suspects that Spurs could have done a lot worse than a man who has guided France to eight wins out of eight in qualifying for Portugal.

And it at least brings to an end a search for a manager that had been going on so long that it would not have been a surprise had Glenn Hoddle, the reasons for his sacking lost in the fog of time, been reappointed to the post.

From Frenchmen in England, however, we turn our attention to an Englishman in France.

That’s right- Le Tigre, as the French have not yet learnt to call Tim Henman, today bids to reach his first Grand Slam final as he plays Guillermo Coria on the Roland Garros clay.

The task facing him is, says the Express, a “formidable” one – Coria has lost just once in his last 37 outings on the surface.

But although the paper says the swell of Henmania has not carried across the Channel, with Roland Garros christened “Terre Du Gaucho” by a French newspaper after the three Argentinians in the men’s semi-finals, Tim knows we’ll all be putting on our plastic Union Jack hats and waving our miniature flags as he steps onto court.

“Come on, Timmy!” as we like to scream on Henman Hill…’

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

The Ego Has Landed

‘IF the papers liked departing Chelsea boss Claudio Ranieri for his whimsical humour and dignity under pressure, they are sure to like his successor Jose Mourinho.

The cock of the south?

Mourinho gave the hacks everything they wanted at a press conference yesterday, labelling his predecessor a failure and threatening to axe half the squad.

Nor is there much trace of modesty in the ex-Porto boss – the Mirror hears him tell reporters: “Please don’t think I’m arrogant, but I am European champion. I think I am a special one.”

The sports editors no doubt agree – this is a man who is going to write their headlines for them in the next couple of years irrespective of how well Chelsea perform on the pitch.

But for the moment there’s some confusion of how best to refer to the new man at the Bridge.

The Mirror comes up with the best effort – “Portuguese Man O’War” – which the Express tries, but fails to follow with its “Chelsea’s Man O’War”.

Such puns are over the heads of most Star readers and so it opts for the simpler “Mour War Games”.

But that is a lot better than the Sun’s abysmal effort, “El’s Kitchen”.

Someone, it seems, has gone to the Jade Goody school of language teaching if they don’t know the difference between Spanish and Portuganese…

While inquests go on into England’s 1-1 draw with Japan on Tuesday with questions being asked about whether a diamond is Sven’s best friend, the Mail turns to cricket.

And, being a family newspaper, it leads its coverage of the second Test (which starts today in Leeds) with news that captain Michael Vaughan is planning to abandon his team-mates to make the dash to Sheffield to see the arrival of his first-born.

Provided he is not actually batting at the time, he says he will make the trip after New Zealand agreed to allow England to use a substitute fielder in his place.

Vaughan is due to take over from Nasser Hussain in the No.4 spot, but that will of course depend on when wife Nichola goes into labour.

However, Vaughan is confident that he can adjust to the new position which will allow Lord’s hero Andrew Strauss to continue at the top of the order.

“It’s not a step down and it gives me a little more time after being in the field,” he says. “The only thing I’m going to have to get used to is the delays and the waiting.”

And the sleepless nights, the crying, the nappies…’

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

England Expects

‘WE are still waiting confirmation, but early reports suggest a flotilla of small craft is on its way to France.

Hands up who thinks he can win

The onboard crew, each sporting a T-shirt with a letter from the words “TIM HENMAN” on the front and back and carrying large plastic containers of lemon curd sandwiches and scones are ready to invade Paris.

We can only hope they do not arrive in time for Tim Henman’s semi-final against Guillermo Coria, the favourite to win the French Open.

Without the distraction of ten thousand fusty, middle–aged women high on HIT, Henman’s been doing rather well.

Indeed, as the Independent says, our Tim (while he’s winning, he’s always our Tim) yesterday thrashed Juan Ignacio Chela in straight sets to make it through to the last four of the French Open.

“It’s a good sense of achievement,” says Henman, “But why stop here? I feel good about my game and I am feeling in good shape. I’m ready to come her on Friday and do it all again.”

Sadly, unless there are high winds and a perilous sea, Tim will have the added pressure of his legion of fans chanting his name like a gang of overgrown girl guides.

We suggest he equip his game with earplugs and blinkers.

And its good Henman is going well since England’s football team have had it. What earlier in the week was a terrific England team destined to win Euro 2004 is now a ragtag bag of losers-in-waiting.

The Sun (“EU’RE IN TROUBLE”) has seen England’s 1-1 draw with the mighty Japan and noted that just 12 days before the big match against France, England are in the mire.

“Hands up who thinks we are going to win it now?” asks the Sun’s Shaun Curtis.

David James puts his hand up – and takes his eye of the ball. Japan’s Shinji Ono’s duly nutmegs the England ‘keeper to equalise Michael Owen’s 22nd-mite strike.

Having seen the game and read the reports, it’s hard to argue with the assertion that England must do better if they are to win the summer’s tournament.

And if, as the Telegraph’s Henry Winter says, England yield as much space to Franca as they did to Japan, Zinedine Zidane will “have a ball”. Indeed, he’ll probably be allowed to keep it – for 90 minutes.’

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

The Roman Empire

‘HANG the fact that had he walked away he’d have, most likely, forgone a large chunk of his pay off, and just know that Claudio Ranieri has left Chelsea with his head held high.

And he can keep the scarf

And that’s no easy thing, especially, as the Sun says, he’s got many millions of heavy pounds stuffed into his breast pocket.

Not that he’s got the money yet, since the now ex-Chelsea boss is in dispute with the Roman Abramovich administration.

The paper says that while the club is prepared to give the Italian £6m for the three years he had left on his contract, he wants another £2m for bonuses he could have had.

At another time, many would argue that £6m represents a sizeable hail to carry away for a club with whom the manager won precisely nothing.

But since the club in question is Chelsea, and they have treated the Italian abysmally, we hope he takes them to the cleaners.

Meanwhile, moving into the hot seat is Jose Mourinho. The Guardian is right when it says that the confident Portuguese manager has yet to sign on the dotted line, but it’s surely only a matter of time before he does.

And the paper is just as right when it opines that given the treatment dished out to Ranieri – who led Chelsea to their highest league position for almost 50 years and the semi-finals of the Champions League – Mourinho may only get one season to do better.

Time is a precious commodity when winning is everything. And so it is for Tim Henman, who now aged 29, has few chances left of winning a Grand Slam title.

But, as the Telegraph reports, the man, who is Britain’s best tennis player by some margin, has made a stride towards achieving greatness by making it into the last eight of the French Open.

This is the furthest Henman has ever been at Roland Garros, and having come back from the dead to beat local hero Michael Llodra in a thriller, now faces Juan Ignacio Chela of Argentina.

“My game has improved dramatically I think,” says Henman, “certainly on this surface. Against Chela, I’m going to have to play very well for a long period of time. But I think I’m capable of doing that.”

Although, for some reason, the paper says that pessimists claim that Henman’s clay-court tennis can only damage his chances at Wimbledon.

This is, of course, bunkum. Pete Sampras is right when he says ”winning breeds winning”.

Indeed, rid of the ludicrous Henmaniacs and the cloying Henman Hill, the player may yet become a winner.

And to do so in France, would surely be a very sweet victory…’

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

Money Talks

‘JOSE Mourinho will not be heard saying how it has always been his dream to manage Chelsea.

Show me the money

He will not claim that to manage the Blues represents the fulfilment of life-long ambition.

If he does become the new manager at Stamford Bridge, he will do so because, as he tells the Times, ”I have some offers in my wallet but one that I very much want to accept is that from Chelsea”.

And it’s a decent enough offer, with the Sun saying that the Portuguese manager’s salary will be a wallet-busting £5m a year.

Which is roughly the same sum that Claudio Ranieri will pick up if his Chelsea contract is terminated. Although, the Telegraph does say that is might not be.

The Chelsea soap opera rolls on, and the paper reports that just yesterday Ranieri was in Milan for a meeting with Roman Abramovich and Chelsea’s chief executive Peter Kenyon.

The owner and his right-hand man were, as the paper says, expected to tell the likeably Italian that his services were no longer wanted. Only they didn’t. Instead they just said they’d talk again next week.

And so it rumbles on, and on, and on…

At least when Alan Smith went, he went quickly. Not that the speed of his removal from Yorkshire is of paramount concern to those Leeds United fans who hooked up a replica of the striker’s old team shirt to the Elland Road gates.

The message scrawled across it is clear, if a bit messy: “JUDAS. JUDAS KISS THE BADGE NOW”.

The Sun just loves this kind of fan action, and has another picture inside the paper of an accompanying sign. “YOU SAID RED WASN’T YOUR COLOUR CHEERS ALAN!!!!! AWLAYS SCUM.”

The Times’ Simon Barnes picks up on this tale of love and hate and asks: ”Why is it necessary to prove your love for one thing by hating another?”

It’s a poser that requires a complex answer, but when it comes to Leeds, we can suggest that its because fans of the club need to vent their passion somewhere, and it will not be sated at next season’s Leeds v Rotherham United league fixture.

Of course, there are more dignified and honest exits even than the one likely to be made by Claudio Ranieri.

There’s that of Nasser Hussain, the former England cricket captain who has announced his retirement from the international arena.

He tells the Telegraph: ”It is a bit selfish and I don’t like going in the middle of a series with unfinished business.”

But he should not worry about that – he’s done enough. And having scored the winning runs in a typically spirited innings in the first Test against New Zealand, the time to go is ripe.

We wish him well…’

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

Jose’s On His Way

‘LAST night Jose Mourinho left Porto with the greatest prize in European club football in their hands and made his way to Chelsea.

Mourinho is excited about coaching Chelsea

“I have nothing else to achieve in Portugal,” says the Portuguese manager, who has now won the Uefa Cup and Champions League in just two seasons at Porto.

“The challenge is not big enough for me,” he tells the Telegraph. “I want a new life and that new life is in England…I have given my word to one club and I will not change my mind.”

That sounds very much like Mourinho – whose Porto side thrashed Monaco 3-0 last night in what the Indy calls a “tactical masterclass” – will be at Stamford Bridge next season.

But he’s a cagey one, and says that his agent still has “a few things in his pocket”.

“I cannot speak about Chelsea because I don’t really know,” says Mourinho – even if he has given his word to some club or another.

So we stick with our impression, and the Sun’s assertion, that Mourinho is on his way to the Blues, where he will replace the gregarious Claudio Ranieri.

What happens to the ousted Italian is anyone’s guess (Spurs is ours) but one man’s fortune is now certain – Alan Smith is Manchester United’s newest acquisition.

And the pugnacious former Leeds player says that he is prepared to take the stick for signing for Leeds’ dreaded foe.

“Not a lot of people would have been brave enough to take that step,” says Smith, who follows a path well trod by the likes of Joe Jordan, Gordon McQueen, Eric Cantona and Rio Ferdinand.

“A lot has been made about me leaving Leeds to come to United but that can only improve me as a player,” he continues.

Smith makes a valid point, and any player would be a fool for passing up the chance to better himself, his medal collection and his bank account.

He leaves behind a depleted Leeds team and their news boss, Kevin Blackwell, looking to the future.

“If I can bring players in here who have the same attitude as Smithy,” says the former Sheffield United first-team coach, “then it won’t be long before we are successful again.”

And have a few more players to sell to your rivals…’

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

In The Wallet, My Son

‘ANYONE who can recall Darren Ferguson, the podgy, slow United midfield player of the early 1990s, will have suspected that Alex Ferguson likes to do right by his children.

Mrs Ferguson gives little Charlie a ride home

Suspicions that Fergie’s grandson Charlie was the jockey aboard Rock of Gibraltar as the champion horse won its seventh successive Group One race have yet to be proven.

But before we can get to that, Jason Ferguson has attracted the attention of the Guardian. And news there is that Manchester United have banned Fergie Junior from acting for them in transfer dealings.

And this is not going to be easy, since Jason and his Elite Sports Group represent no less than 13 members of the current United squad.

United’s transfer policy is to become more transparent and, as the Sun reports, there will no longer be a situation where £700,000 is paid in agent’s fees to person or persons unknown on a £2.5m fee, as occurred with the transfer of goalkeeper Tim Howard.

The record shows that over a period from January 2001 to January 2004, United transferred players to the tune of £125m (the figure is £158m in the Telegraph) and paid out a whopping £13.43m in fees to agents (a sum all papers agree on).

Those Manchester United fans wondering why their season tickets are going up in price this summer might like to tune into Fergie And Son, a television programme to be shown on BBC Three tomorrow night.

Not for nothing does the Times call the documentary “trial by television”.

But Fergie should not overly worry, especially since rumours suggest that the show will be fronted by his cousin, produced by his nephew, and researched by his dog.

Meanwhile, one transfer no Ferguson is believed to be involved in is that taking Jose Mourinho from Porto to Chelsea.

The Sun says that the deal is done and the Blues are ready to unveil their new manager tomorrow.

But the Portuguese coach has a few words to the wise for his future employees at Stamford Bridge.

On the eve of Porto’s Champions League final against Monaco, Mourinho describes his ideal club.

“I do not imagine a successful club without a very good relationship between the manager and the board,” he says.

“This interference happened once in my life when I was Benfica coach and I walked out. Porto is built on us all having the same motivation, the same objective.

“I would say Porto is the ideal of a successful football club, in that way.”

Which makes us wonder if Mourinho will still be at Chelsea after the ink’s dried on his contract…’

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

General Nasser

‘ENGLAND expects – and when it comes to cricket, England usually expects her team to be either thrashed out of sight or play out a boring draw under a moody sky.

A last hurrah?

But things are changing. The weather might be beyond most people’s control, but the English cricket team is very much on the up.

Yesterday, the Times reports, the team beat New Zealand in a Test match of gripping drama.

And the hero of the hour was Nasser Hussain, the former captain who scored the 14th Test century of his career to guide England to what had looked for long periods like an unlikely victory.

He might just have easily been the villain of the piece, as the paper notes how it was his Geoff Boycott-style running between wickets that led to the run out of Andrew Strauss – who, well set on 83, was on course to become the first Englishman to score two centuries on his Test debut.

But Hussain kept his cool, and now the Mail hears that the elder statesman of the England XI may quit while he’s ahead.

Indeed, Hussain is mindful of the emergence of younger talent, saying how “the last thing I want to do is hold up a young lad like Strauss” – especially as he raced to sacrifice his wicket to keep Hussain in.

Hussain knows that there is always a time to go – and yesterday it was Gerard Houllier’s turn to say au revoir.

And he did so in unusual fashion, choosing not to bleat and whine but recall the good times at Anfield.

The fondest memory he has is of Michael Owen scoring the winning goal for the Reds against Arsenal in the FA Cup final.

”The second memory,” says Houllier in the Sun, ”is of watching the television at home whilst I was recovering from my illness and seeing the Kop display the ‘GH’ message before the game against Manchester United.”

That the “GH” should mean “GO HOME” is best left for another time, and for now we wish the gracious Houllier the best of luck.

As we do Alan Smith who, the Mirror reports, is all set to sign for Manchester United in a £6.5m deal, and Carlos Queiroz, who has been sacked from the top job at Real Madrid and may now be on his way back to Old Trafford.

“In England I have friends and it is clear I miss Manchester United,” says the Portuguese coach in the Sun. “There they valued my work.”

Of course, Queiroz could become head coach at Liverpool, although the Express says that another of his countrymen, Jose Mourinho, is ahead of him in the queue for that job.

Liverpool apparently want the Porto manager to be their new boss, but, the Sun says, Chelsea have warned them off.

“Jose has promised he will be here next season,” a Chelsea insider tells the paper.

So that’s that then. Only it might not be, since Mourinho’s contract at Porto suggests that he promised them he’d also be there.

When push comes to shove, Mourinho will have to be somewhere. And, as Andrew Strauss found out yesterday, even the most promising talent cannot be in two places at once…’

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

Au Revoir

‘SO here it is. The long wait is over and the Mail can say that Gerard Houllier is no longer the manager at Liverpool FC.

The sting in the tale

With 12 months remaining on his contract, the former coach of the French national team will be paid off to the tune of £1m and wished all the best for this future.

While we can only speculate on Houllier’s destination, the Mail likes to imagine who will be in charge of footballing matters at Anfield next term. And top of the list are Alan Curbishley and Gordon Strachan.

The paper says that Liverpool are “pressing ahead with their plans to appoint a British manager” – and there can be no more British name than that of Valencia coach Rafael Benitez, the man the Mirror says Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry wants as the new boss.

Here’s the thing with football writers – so long as they all say lots of different things, one day something one of them says will be proven right.

However, the universal story is that Houllier is gone.

But while one Frenchman is toast, another Frenchman is the toast of Wasps rugby union football club.

The Times (“Agony of the man who threw away the cup”) was on hand to see the final of the Heineken Cup, and a closing act that shall go down in sporting folklore.

With just three minutes left on the clock, and the scores tied at 20-20, Wasps’ veteran Welshman Rob Howley booted the ball down the line straight at Toulouse full-back Clement Poitrenaud.

For David Ginola playing for France against Bulgaria in a crucial World Cup qualifier in 1994 (a game Houllier was in charge for), now read Poitrenaud, who did not even look up as he waited for the ball to roll out of play.

It stayed in. Howley got to it first. Howley scored. Game over. Wasps win and the Frenchman is left to collect Le Grand Lemon.

Meanwhile, there is time to remind any of you that nodded off or went shopping at the weekend that Manchester United won the FA Cup.

The Sun manages to recall the event in Cardiff and salute United’s Cristiano Ronaldo, without whom the final would have been deprived of even a chink of light.

The paper also hears from the game’s man in the middle, Jeff Winter – this was his last match as a professional referee.

“There was no major controversy,” says the man in black, “only one yellow card and, if I’d written the script at 2:55, I don’t think I could have dreamed up anything better.”

As it was, he could have written the script at 2:59, and still had time for a cup of tea…’

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

Posh’s Euro Vision

‘WHAT price Victoria Beckham using her relocation to Spain as the springboard for a re-launched pop career and singing her adoptive country’s entry in next year’s Eurovision Song Contest?

Martin Jol will wear the No.10 shirt

And don’t doubt that she’ll be there for a while for, as the Sun says, footballer/lover/husband David Beckham, is staying in Madrid for at least another season.

That, apparently, is a blow to Chelsea, who had earmarked the club’s famed 239 shirt number for Beckham’s back.

But, in any case, David’s dad, Ted, says that his boy was never going to go to Chelsea and he always preferred Arsenal.

So, with no Arsenal bid for his services forthcoming, Beckham is staying put. Which means Eurovision doom for the Spanish and Chelsea flashing its wallet at Steven Gerrard.

And that’s after the Blues have signed Fernando Morientes, the chief architect of their Champions’ League demise.

Although the Spaniard might be going to Arsenal. Or he might be staying in Monaco. Or he might be returning to Madrid, where he will fall madly in love with Posh and dedicate all his goals to her. And cut off his ear.

But while the football rumour mill churns things out, the Telegraph notices that England have started playing a cricket Test match against New Zealand.

And things are not going all that well for the home side. At the close of play on the first day, the Kiwis were on 284 for five, a score as attributable to England’s poor bowling display as it is to Mark Richardson’s 93, an inning he describes as “dour, miserable, pokey and proddy”.

“When you have to face 300 balls to get a ton,” Richardson says, ”one of them is likely to get you out.”

Richardson’s accurate assessment of his performance – which is still worthy of considerable praise – suggests that the batting is hard going and England will have to dig in, providing they can first bowl the Kiwis out.

Meanwhile, it’s back to football we go, and the Independent’s latest news on who will be the next manager at Spurs.

And his name is…Martin Jol. Tottenham’s new director of football, Frank Arnesen, has recommended his fellow Dutchman for the role.

As all Spurs fans know, Jol is the current boss at RKC Waalwijk and a former player at West Bromwich Albion and Coventry.

But will he come? The Indy is unsure, and reminds its readers that Jol is now the tenth man rumoured to be on the verge of taking over at White Hart Lane since September last year.

The full list (Graeme Souness, Alan Curbishley, Roberto Mancini, Giovanni Trappatoni, Raddy Antic, Gordon Strachan, Peter Taylor, Claudio Ranieri, Martin O’Neill and Martin Jol), is just one short of being a creditable team.

So in the interests of making up the full playing compliment, let’s add Dennis Wise in midfield with Terry Venables and the holder of programme number 1961 on the bench…’

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

A Dignified Exit?

‘THE Independent says that Kenny Dalglish could be on his way back to Liverpool.

‘The ball’s in our half of the pitch…’

The Liverpool chairman David Moores has forwarded the idea of the former Anfield hero returning as the club’s director of football.

Such a move will surely be welcomed by Liverpool fans, who would love to see the return of the icon, although the paper is right when it says the appointment would not go down well with Gerard Houllier, the current coach.

But by the time of any Dalglish return, Houllier could be long gone. According to the Guardian, the Frenchman has just seven days to save his job.

The paper says that a number of Liverpool board members favour change, and will make their plans known at a meeting scheduled for next Thursday.

Not that Houllier is looking for a new job, at least not today. “I have been holding meetings with my staff preparing for next season,” he tells the paper.

“So I am carrying on as normal and with the same dignity as normal.”

Hold on a minute there, Gerard. We like the red scarf and the long overcoat, but dignified is a word the press will only bestow on Claudio Ranieri. You, we’d suggest, are more spiky and pragmatic.

And, it might be said, the next manager at Spurs. Well, why not? Just about every other name from Mr Blobby to Delia Smith has been put forward as the one who will coach the Lily Whites back to glory.

But the Sun says the job of finding the new Spurs manager will no longer be done by pure guesswork and default since the Tottenham board will allow their new director of football Frank Arnesen to hand-pick his man.

So, eeenie, meenie, minie, mo, how many people at the station…?

The answer is, as the Sun says, “lots”. But it narrows the list down to four, with the top job going to one of Martin O’Neill, Claudio Ranieri, Carlos Queiroz or Peter Taylor.

And that would make O’Neill a busy man, since one page previously he’s been tipped to be the new Liverpool manager, alongside Alan Curbishley, Rafael Benitez and Sam Allardyce.

But we’re sure the affable Irishman can handle the challenge with his usual mix of euphoria and boyish excitement.

Just as we are certain that Seb Coe will bring the Olympics to London in 2012.

The Telegraph says that the former Olympic champion and current Tory MP has swapped jobs with Barbara Cassani, making him the face of the British Olympic bid and she his deputy.

And Coe does not rule out the baton changing hands once more. “If at any stage I felt it was time to hand on to somebody else throughout this process, I would do so on the same terms.”

Meanwhile, Cassani forgets the baton and says that it’s more like a football match, where the new “captain” has to “get the team back on the pitch and go for goal”.

Coe agrees, but he thinks it‘s also like an athletics race, and that he knows the front-runners (Paris and Madrid) do not always win.

But Coe has a good engine and has every intention of making sure “we are in pole position when it matters”.

The ball is well and truly in our court…’

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

London Calling

‘WE win!!! Well, not quite, but we are in the leading group of five in the marathon to host the 2012 Olympics.

Dennis Wise hears that he can get a leg wax as well

But before New York, Madrid, Paris and Moscow eat our dust, the International Olympic Committee has a few points it would like addressed.

While the Telegraph’s lead headline sees ‘London march on with confidence’, the Times is more circumspect and gives mileage to the IOC’s complaints about the UK bid.

These include the IOC’s impression that rail transport is ‘often obsolete’; the ‘urban expressways and main arterial roads lack the capacity to provide reasonable travel times and speeds’; four venues are over 30 miles from the Olympic Village, ‘making athlete travel in general quite challenging’; London’s polluting heavy traffic; and London’s ‘rather limited’ international sports experience.

The other problem, the Times notes, is that the Olympic ideal is one shaped and bent out of shape by politics and, when it comes to the final vote, many Third World members and Arab countries may baulk at giving the games to London.

So we might not get the Olympics – but who needs that when you’ve got the glories of the FA Cup?

In the build-up to the biggish match in Cardiff, the Independent learns that Dennis Wise, the Millwall coach, has flown to Italy for a massage.

In some sports this would be seen as an extravagance, but nothing is too good for our footballers, and if Dennis wants to have his legs rubbed in Italy, then so be it.

Staying behind him is Matt Lawrence, the Millwall captain, who is profiled in the Indy.

Lawrence is worth a look because he’s not the typical footballer. He loves reading the works of Charles Bukowski and has just finished reading a biography of Bill Hicks, the deceased American comedian.

What’s more, Lawrence has a degree in American literature from Hartford College in New York state.

This is impressive stuff. It’s refreshing to read about a footballer who can, well, read.

If Gerard Houllier can read (and, being French, we suspect he probably can), he’ll learn this morning that his days as manager of Liverpool are numbered.

The Sun and Mirror agree that his six-year reign at Anfield looks set to end this week after crisis talks with the chief executive and chairman yesterday.

The Mirror follows it up with the somewhat less likely news that Stephen Gerrard is on his way to Chelsea as part of a £30m deal.

The money would certainly boost Liverpool’s chances (reported in the Star) of sabotaging Alan Smith’s move from Leeds to Manchester United and persuading him to come to Anfield instead.

Smith hasn’t even made it into Sven Goran Eriksson’s squad for Euro 2004, despite the coach admitting in the Express that he has only two world-class strikers to choose from.

Emile Heskey and whoever’s alongside him…’

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

Becks’ Hat-Trick

‘IT’S a good job David Beckham is fit and ready to lead by example in England’s bid for glory in Portugal.

Beckham and a computer-generated image of what he’ll look like in 10 years’ time

Beckham has shown a rare grasp on languages (perhaps learnt on the pillow of some willowy Spanish babe) and has recently strung three Spanish words together to form the phrase, “hijo de puta”.

The words, as delivered to a Spanish linesman, translate as “son of a bitch” – and earned Beckham a red card in real Madrid’s defeat at Murcia yesterday.

But England coach Sven Goran Eriksson, speaking in the Independent, is not worried about his captain.

“I am not worried about David,” says the Swede. “I am 100 per cent sure he will have a very good tournament, that he will behave on the pitch and off.“

But what of the rest of England squad, the boys who will win the first meaningful pot since 1966 and all that?

The Telegraph lists the players who will wear the Three Lions, a list that finds room for such less-than-sensational names as Jamie Carragher, Phil Neville and Emile Heskey.

But there is Nicky Butt, a player the England coach is likely to deploy as Zinedine Zidane’s marker in England’s opening match against France.

“It is beautiful to see Zidane play football,” says Eriksson. “It is not easy to take the ball from him.”

He’s not kidding, and Butt will be forgiven by most England fans if in trying to tackle the world’s best player he accidentally brings him down.

Up front, there is no room in the travelling party for Alan Smith, the die-hard Leeds Untied player who has only made the reserve list.

Better news for Smith – although not for Leeds fans who believed things could not get any worse – is that he looks set to make the starting XI at Old Trafford.

The Times says that Smith is on the brink of joining Manchester United for £6m in a move the paper calls “controversial”.

Away from football, the Guardian reminds us all that today is the day when London can inch a step closer to securing the rights to host the 2012 Olympic Games.

The International Olympic Committee will decide which of the nine cities bidding to stage the event should make it onto the shortlist.

How big that shortlist will be is a mater of guesswork with the paper suggesting anything between two and four cities, and Craig Reedie, Britain’s IOC member, saying that “six might be a practical alternative”.

This is on top of the comments made by Jacques Rogge, the IOC president, who has said that all nine cities could go through to the final round.

The winner will then be decided by making a representative from each bidding city jump through a hoop…’

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

Pool Of Talent

‘WHO do you think the “most influential player in the Premiership” is?

Henry waits for Fergie to notice him

To even the newest Chelsea fan, the answer would most likely be Thierry Henry or his Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira, the former of whom can be seen on the cover of the Telegraph’s sports section carrying the Premiership trophy like a sack of coal.

But if you’re Alex Ferguson, you do not consider two parts of what the papers universally call “The Invincibles”. You look at the Liverpool team sheet.

Granted, Steven Gerrard is a very fine player, and Ferguson has not lost his mind utterly and decided to heap praise on Jamie Carragher and call him the “most influential player in England, bar none”.

But Fergie’s assertion that Gerrard is the best of the crop smacks of sour grapes at his Manchester United being beaten out of sight in the race for the championship.

“To me Gerrard is Keane,” says Fergie in the Sun. “He is now where Keane was in 1993.”

This is the tin lid on the arrogance. Gerrard is not where Keane was in 1993 – a young buck playing for a fading team at Nottingham Forest – but a top England player and captain of Liverpool, a side that came just one place lower than United in the final reckoning.

Gerrard is also, as the Telegraph leads, a product of the Liverpool academy and has been shaped by Gerard Houllier’s “guiding hand”.

If Ferguson hopes to lure the Liverpool dynamo to Old Trafford, he’d better come up with better plan.

But in among Fergie’s bluff and splutter, and after pages of Arsenal victory celebrations through north London, the Times finds a story of another heavyweight slugger.

Roy Jones has long been viewed as the best pound-for-pound boxer on the planet, if not the best fighter per se. Perhaps even the greatest of all time.

But a part of his glorious reputation has been left in a pile of drool in a Las Vegas boxing ring, as Jones was decked by what his conqueror called an “overhand, left, right on the kisser”.

So all hail the new light-heavyweight champion, one Antonio Traver, the most influential boxer of his generation. Or not…’

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

Liar Liar

‘IT’S good to see that even while a real war with bullets and torture is going on, footballer writers have retained a sense of perspective.

‘The bald eagle must die’

And nowhere more so than on the cover of the Sun, where readers hear that “IT’S WAR” between Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp and his club’s chairman Milan Mandaric.

Hostilities broke out after the Serbian tycoon claimed that the call to oust Jim Smith from the Pompey coaching staff was instigated not by himself but by Redknapp.

“He wants Jim out not me,” says Mandaric. “Whether or not he stays is now up to Harry.”

This, it seems, was news to Redknapp, who recalls making no such request.

“It’s bullshit,” says he. “The chairman is telling filthy lies. I told him I would not get rid of Jim in a million years. He’s a pal and respected by everyone in football… I love Jim”

Well, not everyone it seems, and Mandaric says he plans to bring in another coach whether Jim goes, stays or lives to be a million years old.

The upshot is that Redknapp’s days at the helm of the club he has guided to Premiership survival are nearing their end.

Indeed, the Mirror – which has been known to like a scoop – says “IT’S OVER” and claims that Harry has already “quit” live on TV.

The Mirror was watching the magic box as Harry sad: “It’s going to be hard for me not to go – I feel that strongly about Jim. I love being with Jim, we bounce ideas off each other – and if he goes it’ll be very difficult for me to stay.”

Erm, did anyone apart from the Mirror actually hear Redknapp resign? Perhaps the paper has some photographs of Harry packing his bags to support its story.

But while we wait for those snaps, we hear via the Express that Liverpool have turned down an offer to do a deal with local millionaire Steve Morgan and prefer the bid from the Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

And one page on, we hear how Alan Shearer has obtained his Uefa ‘B’ coaching licence. That means he can take over managerial duties at Newcastle from the beleaguered Bobby Robson.

The idea of the monosyllabic Shearer running the team’s affairs should chill the spine of even the most fanatical Geordie.

Top players rarely make good mangers, and it’s hard to believe the Express’s claim that Shearer would be welcomed by fans to take over from Robson.

He’d be better advised to learn his trade at a less high-profile club, like Spurs. But would he go even if the offer came?

The Mail says the Tottenham board have already failed to lure James Milner away from relegated Leeds, and that’s despite offering the Yorkshire club a generous £4.5m fee and, one imagines, the player a good few thousand a week.

Perhaps Milner is turned off by the fact that Spurs have yet to appoint a manager for next season. But not to worry, we do hear that Jim Smith might be available some time soon…’

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

A Sad Toon

‘FANS are no respecters of age or reputation and Newcastle’s failure to qualify for next season’s Champions’ League could spell the end of the managerial road for Sir Bobby Robson.

Newcastle fans do it with replica shirts on

“Tyne’s Up, Bobby,” says the Sun headline following the 3-3 draw at Southampton that finally sunk the Magpies’ hopes of finishing fourth in the Premiership.

Now it looks unlikely that the club will even finish fifth and so will miss out on a place in the Uefa Cup – a scenario that Robson himself admits would be “a disaster”.

Not that things are much better for Gerard Houllier, despite the result at St Mary’s confirming his Liverpool side’s participation in at least one round of the Champions’ League.

The Star picks up on a less than glowing assessment of the Frenchman from wannabe Liverpool investor Steve Morgan, who is reportedly planning to pay £73m for a 30% stake in the club.

And it starts looking around for possible candidates to take over at Anfield.

Nor is there better news for third-placed Manchester United, who will lose Ruud Van Nistelrooy over the summer in a £40m transfer to Real Madrid, says the Mail.

Only Arsenal have reason to celebrate, with news in the Sun that Dennis Bergkamp has signed a one-year extension to his contract which will surely see him finish his glittering career in north London.

There’s a case of déjà vu about the draw for the 2007 Rugby World Cup, in which England will of course be defending champions.

They have once again drawn South Africa in what could again be their first game of the tournament.

The Times observes that England have an excellent recent record against the Springboks, but plenty can change in the next three years.

John Smit, the Boks’ captain, went a long way to revealing the cause of the problem.

“To see South Africa at No.6 in the world rankings is unacceptable,” he said. “The ball is on our court.”

Pitch, dear Smitty. Pitch.’

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

Not All Black And White

‘“STOP the Anfield sell-out,” yells the Mirror. “Battle for Anfield,” screams the Sun.

Alan Shearer hears that Viana’s off

And so we read that the arrival of Thai money on Merseyside has been held up.

The man who is threatening to scupper that deal to make Michael Owen the name on the lips of every Thai Lady Boy is Steve Morgan, a multi-millionaire Liverpool fanatic.

The Mirror says that the former head of a building firm has tabled a £73m offer for a stake in the Reds that trumps the £63m deal proposed by Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The paper then loses most of its readers’ interest as it talks about shares, underwriting and profits.

Far simpler just to say that Liverpool are embroiled in something of bidding war and should soon have lots of that lovely money to spend on the next Emile Heskey.

That’s because the old Emile Heskey is on his way to Birmingham City for a fee of £3.5m, according to the Mail. And he’ll he joined at St Andrew’s by Jesper Gronkjaer and Muzzy Izzet.

Birmingham fans will like the sound of that, but they should note that the first two names on the list have flopped at bigger clubs and Izzet has been rescued from relegated Leicester.

And if Birmingham’s manager Steve Bruce is looking for some more cut-priced stars, he might like to take a gander at the Mirror and its news that Laurent Robert and Hugo Viana are looking for a route out of Newcastle.

Following yesterday’s news that Jonathan Woodgate has had enough of the Magpies, the paper says that two of Newcastle’s foreign legion are ready to pack their bags.

Not that Newcastle’s Gary Speed, speaking in the Sun, can blame them.

He says that he was appalled at how the club’s fans – those same fans who claim to be loyal to the core and ready to freeze to death for the cause – booed the two players.

“Everybody has their agenda on Laurent,” says Speed, ”but he’s a part of the team and, if you’re booing him, you’re booing us.”

The Welshman is also “embarrassed” by how the Newcastle faithful behaved towards Viana.

It’s the kind of reaction that serves to remind us all that no team’s fans are unique, however much the Newcastle crowd pretend to be a cut above the rest.

Although booing the team on their lap of honour is pretty special…’

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

Reds In The Black

‘FOOTBALL is no longer a game of two halves; it’s now a game of two haves, those who have and those who have not. And joining the ranks of those that have are Liverpool FC.

Staying put

The Mail leads with the news that 30% of the Anfield club is now owned by Thai Prime Minster Thaksin Shinawatra.

For those of you not up on Thai politics, Shinawatra, or ‘Shino’ as he’s known on Merseyside, is a billionaire. Beyond that, what else do you need?

The fact is that with him on board, Liverpool have a few tens of millions to spend on players and so will be huge and massive and all those big things that money buys.

Or they might just get more of the ilk of Emile Heskey, Harry Kewell and El-hadji Diouf.

But at least the Reds won’t be looking for a new striker as the Sun reports Michael Owen is staying put for at least another season.

Things, however, must improve if he is to stay longer term (not least of which is his own form).

“We have taken a bit of a step back from a few years ago and now we need to take two steps forward,” says Owen.

And then turn to their neighbour, slap their thigh and say how the team has been unlucky with injuries and how with the right money, the right attitude and some good fortune, Liverpool can rise again.

They might, but anyone who saw Liverpool’s treble win a few seasons back will be of the mind that they used up about ten years’ worth of luck along the way.

At least now they have another kind of fortune.

Meanwhile, other players are on the move, or at least thinking about shifting.

The Sun says that Jonathan Woodgate is ready to leave Newcastle in pursuit of Champions’ League football.

And that Juan Sebastian Veron, heralded as the best midfielder in the world when he went to Chelsea (source: C Ranieri), is now being shown the door.

But don’t worry about poor old Seba because to break his £90,000-a-week contract, the Blues will have to pay him £2m severance.

But the biggest rumour surrounds Harry Redknapp, who has worked wonders is keeping Portsmouth aloft in the Premier League.

The hangdog one is said to be “disappointed” at what looks like the club chairman’s decision to sack Redknapp’s assistant Jim Smith after two years service,

“We have had two fantastic seasons here and anyone who doesn’t appreciate it is a fool,” he says.

“The only way we could have done better would be to have spent £60-70 million. No-one could do the same otherwise.”

The likes of Charlton’s Alan Curbishley and Martin O’Neill, while he was in charge at Leicester, might take exception to Redknapp’s rhetoric, but he’s angry.

And if he does walk out, then, perhaps, it’d be time to say goodbye to Sven and get Harry at England’s helm.

The football might not be as pragmatically successful as the Swede’s, but the interviews would not induce such a feeling of catatonia.’

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

The Invincibles

‘ALAN Shearer missed an 80th minute penalty yesterday to leave Newcastle’s hopes of nicking the last Champions’ League place in tatters.

Shearer must be delighted he never went to Manchester United

But it at least gave the Express the chance to dust off a startlingly unoriginal headline for the occasion – “Shear Agony”.

The Magpies must now win their last two games, the last one at Anfield, to overtake Liverpool in fourth place – a probably 30 points behind champions Arsenal.

And Sir Bobby Robson is feeling the pressure. The team was booed off after the 1-1 draw with relegated Wolves and the Mirror says the crowd didn’t even stay for the lap of honour.

But for Arsenal yesterday’s unconvincing 1-0 win at Fulham means the Gunners are now only 90 minutes from immortality.

A home win against relegated Leicester would mean that Arsene Wenger’s team had completed the 38-match season unbeaten – a truly incredible feat.

But, writing in the Telegraph, Paul Hayward says that so far Arsenal are a great Premiership side as opposed to a great European side, invincibles, not immortals.

“This is not the time to be shouting the virtues of the English game, which is a thrill-packed but error-ridden sub-culture, detached from the continental model,” he says.

“After the culling of Chelsea and Newcastle in Europe last week, the Premiership’s standing beyond these islands is in inverse proportion to its relentless hype.”

True enough, although where are the Spanish teams in the final of the European Cup? And where were the Italian teams or German teams in the semi-final of either European competition?

On this year’s performance, we would have to rate the French league as the best in Europe – which it clearly isn’t.

If Arsenal have dominated the Premiership this year, it is nothing compared with what Ferrari are doing to Formula 1.

Michael Schumacher won his fifth race of a season that is only five races old and raised the spectre of going through a whole season unbeaten.

Already, the drivers’ championship and constructors’ championship is effectively over – and it remains to be seen what this dominance will do to Formula 1’s popularity as a sport.

The Guardian, however, reminds us that Schumacher has a way to go still to beat the record of most Grand Prix wins in a row – Alberto Ascari won nine races in a row in the 1950s.

But, if his car holds up, it’d take a brave man to bet against the German going close…’

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

Mour Or Less

‘THE one thing that the papers can agree about this morning is that Porto boss Jose Mourinho is the man to take over from Claudio Ranieri at Stamford Bridge next season.

Who needs silver when you’ve already struck gold?

What they’re not in agreement about is how much he will get paid or who his first signings will be.

The Express, for instance, says he has signed a four-year deal worth £10m to manage Chelsea, while its sister paper comes up with a figure of £20m.

Which just goes to show two things – that the papers haven’t got a clue what they’re taking about and that, whoever’s right, Mourinho will get paid an absurd amount of money.

The Mail says Mourinho’s first signing as manager with be French striker David Trezeguet from Juventus for £14.3m, while the Sun reckons it will be Brazilian-born winger Deco Souza from Porto.

Another thing that the papers do agree about, however, is that many of Ranieri’s big-name signings were not exactly value for money.

For instance, the Sun calculates that Juan Sebastian Veron has cost £1.4m for every match he has played; and the Mail (which takes into account wags as well) says that works out at £19,133 per minute on the pitch – more than Bill Gates earns.

Best value signing so far has been Glen Johnson, the former West Ham right back, who has cost a mere £3,068 per minute on the pitch so far.

One man Mourinho should look at bringing to London is Didier Drogba, the Marseille forward whose to goals last night dumped Newcastle out of the Uefa Cup.

If he wants confirmation of Drogba’s class, he should phone up his old mate, Sir Bobby Robson – the Star reveals that Mourinho once acted as the Newcastle boss’s translator.

To cricket and the Express reports that Surrey were knocked out of the C&G Trophy yesterday by lowly Ireland, while Devon also dumped Leicestershire out of the competition.

But there is a decidedly mixed reaction to England’s one-day performances in the West Indies.

The Express says that, of the 17 players taken on tour this winter, there have been two definite pluses – Andrew Strauss, who will soon be in the Test squad, and Steve Harmison.

Vikram Solanki and Anthony McGrath appear to have been jettisoned, while serious doubts remain over Ian Blackwell and Rikki Clarke.

With 14 one-dayers to be played this summer, we should know a lot more by the end of September.’

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