Back pages | Anorak - Part 83

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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

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

Buy Buy, Chelsea

‘HAVING wept himself dry when his Chelsea side beat Arsenal at the umpteenth time of asking, Claudio Ranieri was only able to swallow hard as his Chelsea side were knocked out of the Champions League’ last night by Monaco.

Who said that Ranieri had no Eidur?

“ARRIVEDERCI, CLAUDIO,” the Independent says, although a more friendly ciao is better suited to announcing the imminent departure of the Italian coach.

The Sun was there to hear the crowd chant Ranieri’s name right up to final whistle as the Blues lost a two-goal lead (which would have been enough to put them in the final), drawing the match 2-2.

The Sun also hears from Scott Parker, who voices his upset. “It was our chance to do something great and we are bitterly disappointed,” says he. “But there’s always next year and we have got to look forward.”

The problem is that next year, Ranieri will be gone and the Telegraph reports that Jose Mourinho, the Porto boss earmarked to be his replacement, will be in change.

That means that next year the likes of Parker could be even lower down the Chelsea pecking order as the new man brings in his own players.

Indeed, the Porto boss was at Stamford Bridge last night but not to cast an eye over his future charges, rather to check out Porto’s opponents in the Champions’ League final.

“I will go to Stamford Bridge as the enemy,” said Mourinho on the eve of his trip. “I don’t think enemies are welcome but I’ve already got a ticket – and a bodyguard.”

However, that’s not a patch on what one Arsenal fan can call upon. The Times says that the President of Poland, Aleksander Kwasniewski is a fan of the Gunners. And he’s got an army at his disposal.

Famous fans have always been welcome at football clubs, but while Bernie Winters goes to Spurs and Angus Deayton to Manchester United, Arsenal can all upon Osama bin Laden, Prince Harry and the Polish premier.

And this morning, during a three-day official visit to the UK, Kwasniewski will tour the Highbury stadium and meet the club’s directors.

He’ll also walk past the Gunners and Bank of Friendship pubs where he worked as a barman 30 years ago.

And perhaps shed a tear for good times past.’

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

Petit Minded

‘WIN, lose or draw, Claudio Ranieri will be shown the door.

Every Claudio has a silver lining

That’s a kind of poetry – although it’s not nearly as poetic as the gregarious Italian leaving Chelsea with his head held high and the Champions’ League pot held aloft.

The Times leads with news of the second leg of Chelsea’s semi-final tie against Monaco (they trail 1-3 from the first leg), and says that it’s not too late for Ranieri to change his reputation.

The ”incurable tinkerman”, who has not won any silver during his four seasons at the Bridge, may yet come good.

However, Emmanuel Petit, seen in the Sun sporting a jaw-droppingly horrible goatee beard, thinks the blame for any lack of success lies with Roman Abramovich and not the team’s coach.

“Abramovich needs to realise money doesn’t buy success,” says the Chelsea midfielder. “He could spend £1bn on another 40 new players but that would not guarantee success.”

He could, just as he could spend a few tens of thousands of pounds each week on a player who sits on the bench.

“Ranieri is a really good manger,” Petit continues, “but without the support of everyone at the club, it’s impossible for any manager to achieve success.”

That’s a valid point, but one countered by Ranieri’s surrendering of the league title when it was still within Chelsea’s reach and his contriving to lose a crucial game against ten men.

Ranieri’s Chelsea might yet win the day and, if they do, the Guardian says that they will face Porto in the Champions’ League final.

Last night, Jose Mourinho, the man many expect to be Ranieri’s replacement, masterminded his side’s 1-0 win over Deportivo La Coruna, which came about courtesy of a penalty.

Meanwhile, the Guardian watched Arsenal continue their unbeaten run in the Premier League with a 1-1 draw at Portsmouth, stretching their record to 36 matches unbeaten since the season’s start.

And congratulations to Norwich, who despite losing to Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, still managed to win the First Division title.

Perhaps next season Delia Smith’s outfit will be the team to beat Arsenal? Or an egg…’

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

A Tiny Dott

‘GRAEME Dott seems forever doomed to be a question in a pub quiz: “Who lost to Ronnie O’Sullivan in the final of snooker’s 2004 Embassy World Championship?”

Graeme Dott was determined to get noticed

The silence in the Happy Potter will be truly horrible. Even if someone does answer correctly, such is Dott’s low profile that the name will still mean nothing to the many.

It might even be that more can recall the name of the streaker (Mark Roberts) who the Independent saw dash around the table before the start of the final session.

But let’s not do down the Scot, who was something of the “Scottish terrier” (Telegraph) about him – he did well to reach the final.

It’s just that ‘The Rocket’ is so good, of a quality high enough to be labelled a “tormented genius” by the Times.

More notable names than Dott’s fell by the wayside in their bids to stop O’Sullivan winning a second world title.

But even in victory, O’Sullivan can only share the back page of the Sun with the ubiquitous David Beckham.

Today, Day-vid says that he will return to Manchester United but only if Alex Ferguson leaves.

Since this is about as likely as loving, devoted husband David having an affair, the England captain looks set to spend another season in Madrid.

But strange things do happen in football, and a sensational Beckham return cannot be ruled out entirely.

It’s equally possible – or unlikely – that Chelsea will reach the final of this year’s Champions’ League.

And the Blues’ Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink is telling the Independent, and one imagines anyone who will give him the time of day, that he’s the man to overturn Monaco’s two-goal advantage.

“If I do not play, it will be very hard on me,” says the sulky Dutchman, who has not scored for a month.

“The most important thing is that we need to score goals and I have shown this season that is what I do best. I’m not criticising my team-mates, I am just talking facts. My goals are like a business card.”

Which is a neat analogy, especially when we consider that when this season ends, Hasselbaink and his agent will most likely be handing those goals out around Europe as the player looks for a new club…’

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

The Spanish Blues

‘DAVID Beckham is on his way back to the Premiership after his year-long adventure in Madrid.

Day-vid hears about the Chelsea offer

That is according to the Telegraph, which claims to have spoken with members of the Beckham inner circle.

Reliable sources, apparently, have stated with no small degree of certainty that the England captain will quit the galacticos and come back to live in London.

Chelsea remain red-hot favourites to win Beckham’s signature, although the paper says Arsenal (who also have a gap on the right-hand side of midfield) are a more attractive proposition.

The Daily Mail offers its own take on the story, claiming that Chelsea will buy Beckham, but will loan him back to Real for a year.

It is hard to understand the logic behind that deal – Beckham’s main motivation for wanting to leave is to be closer to his family.

And Madrid would surely prefer to take the money and look around for a replacement.

That replacement could be Manchester United’s Ruud Van Nistelrooy, who (says the Mirror) has got a get-out clause in his contract that would allow him to leave for £30m.

If he does leave, Des Kelly reckons “they might as well run a white flag up the pole at Old Trafford and have done with it”.

“There would be no greater indication United’s power base in the game is shrinking,” he says, “than the sight of their record-breaking striker heading for the exit, whether it’s because they cannot fight off the financial clout of the Spanish club or because the player himself believes his prospects would be improved elsewhere.”

The idea of a white flag flying above Old Trafford is a delicious one to contemplate, but to other sport now and to Simon Barnes in the Times who offers a list of hated champions.

We’re glad to report that Manchester United figure, as do the Arsenal of George Graham. David Campese, Martina Navratilova, Michael Schumacher (and the German football team) and Steve Davis all make it as well.

But not Stephen Hendry for some reason.

The Scot, in case anyone is still awake in Sheffield, is through to the semi-final of the world championship, where he is playing Ronnie O’Sullivan.

The good news is that O’Sullivan has a 6-2 lead after the first session of play and is well on his way to an appearance in the final against Matthew Stevens or Graham Dott.

We bet you can’t wait…’

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

Quinten Hannbags

‘“NOBODY TELLS ME WHERE TO GO,” screams Leeds United’s pugnacious striker Alan Smith from the Sun’s back page.

Hann strokes his glass jaw

The paper says that those were the words Smith blurted out when he heard his club planned to sell him whether they escape the drop or not.

Of course, Smith is wrong. Many people tell him where to go, usually in no uncertain terms, and that includes referees who have been known to direct Smith towards an early bath.

Smith should realise that footballers are just commodities to be bought and sold. And as one van arrives at Arsenal, another prepares to leave Manchester United.

The Mail says that the Gunners have bought Dutch striker Robin van Persie for £2.5m. And he speaks good English.

“When I was 16,” says van Persie, “I told my friends that, if I had to chose between Manchester United and Arsenal, I would always sign for the Gunners”.

Whatever he plays like, he cannot be accused of lacking confidence.

But while one Dutchman looks to a rosy future at Highbury, the more established striking talent of Ruud van Nistelrooy prepares to relocate to Real Madrid.

The Mirror puts the story in bald terms, leading with the headline “VAN GOING”, and saying how Alex Ferguson is in a fight to hang onto his most prized asset.

But United fans should not pull on their Torquay and Ipswich shirts just yet. Football fans must realise that behind every former hero is a new idol.

For instance, the Mail’s Ian McGarry claims that Christian Vieri is unhappy at Inter Milan and that he can go for nothing.

Famed for his lack of intelligence, the big Italian would feel right at home at Old Trafford.

But Fergie could opt for any footballer from a list of players the paper claims to be up for grabs.

The list is too long and speculative to repeat in full, but it does include the likes of David Trezeguet, Francesco Totti, Pavel Nedved and Luis Figo.

But the biggest draw in town is not any number of foreign footballers, but the world snooker championships semi-final between Ronnie O’Sullivan and Stephen Hendry.

It is, as the Rocket tells the Express, “the one everyone wanted to see”.

The last time the pair met in the top tournament was two years ago. Back then, the game was something of a grudge tie following comments made about the Scot by the Chigwell flyer.

But two other snooker players are preparing to take things further, and the Sun reports that Mark King will step into the boxing ring with the mouthy Australian Quinten Hann.

King plans to knock seven shades of brown, black, yellow, green and even blue out of the Australian who had a go at King’s mate Andy Hicks in an earlier round at the Crucible.

King offered to fight for Hicks’ honour and Hann agreed. The bout of four two-minute rounds will now take place on June 11.

Loath as we are to take sides, we can only say that we hope King thrashes the little sod until he cries like an abandoned puppy…’

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

Win, Lose Or Bore

‘IF Sepp Blatter has his way, there will be only two possible results in football.

Rotherham celebrate three points against Stoke

The Mail hears the FIFA president propose to kick the draw out of football.

“Every game should have a winner,” says he. “When you play cards or any other game, there’s always a winner and a loser.

“We should have the courage to introduce a final decision in every game of football.”

The remedy for what Blatter sees as a footballing anomaly (although chess, hockey, rugby, athletics, horse-racing and many more sports suggest otherwise) is to end all drawn matches with a penalty shoot-out.

It’s the kind of idea we’re used to hearing from a man that once called for the goals to be made bigger and allowed the United States to host the World Cup.

But at least if the emphasis is placed on just scoring goal from 12 yards out, they’ll be no need for defending.

And that will suit team England just fine, since Sven Goran Eriksson’s squad is down to its last two central defenders.

The Express say that Sol Campbell and John Terry are now the only two fit first-choice defenders still standing as the Euro 2004 championships loom.

Jonathan Woodgate and Gareth Southgate are both injured, and Rio Ferdinand’s phone is switched off, which means only Terry and Campbell are available to play.

But what seems like bad news is nothing of the sort, and we call upon Sven to forget about defending. If not defending is good enough for Manchester United, it’s good enough for England.

Not that United are resting on the their laurels. After Arsenal yesterday, it’s now United’s turn to be linked with a swoop for Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard.

The Sun says that the Old Trafford club are prepared to lash out £20m on the Liverpool skipper to replace Roy Keane, who is unsure where his future lies.

“As a player, you can’t be looking too far ahead,” says Keane to the Sun, “and in football, always expect the unexpected.”

So let’s expect United to lose to Millwall in the FA Cup final, Keane’s last match in United colours, and for the Lions to win the hearts and minds of football fans throughout Europe.

And for England to win Euro 2004 on penalties…’

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

Everyone’s Going Up The Arse

‘EVERYONE not already playing for Chelsea, will, according to the papers, be playing for Arsenal come next season.

A right Charlie

The list of players being linked with the champions makes for a long and interesting read.

The Mirror is adamant that Arsene Wenger (hailed as “priceless” and “irreplaceable” by the club’s vice chairman David Dein) is hoping to secure the services of Michael Owen for around £12m.

While that sum is not a fortune in today’s Chelsea-inflated market, such a figure is still larger than Wenger is usually able or willing to pay.

As Oliver Holt writes in the Mirror: “Arsene Wenger had saved Arsenal with his habit of unearthing gold nuggets in football’s bargain basement.”

The Express believes Wenger has struck gold once more with Robin Van Persie, a Dutchman who it says will sign for the Gunners this Friday.

And so it goes on, with the Sun leading with the speculative news that Steven Gerrard and John Terry could be on the way to Highbury, if Wenger gets his way.

But nothing in football is certain. And for all the rumour, Arsenal may yet purchase a few players no-one has ever heard of.

Take the rumour that Roy Keane was all set to return to the Irish national team.

What had been stated as fact now looks less certain as the Mail says how the player has pulled out of his much-vaunted international comeback.

Keane was due to play for his country against Poland later this week, but has withdrawn from the Irish squad with a, er, strained hamstring.

We wish Keane well with his recovery, and trust that his leg will be fit enough to enable him to play for his club, Manchester United, in the FA Cup final.

And we also wish Nicolas Anelka the very best of British as he makes ready to flee Manchester City.

As too, according to the Express, is City’s Robbie Fowler, who is said to be upset at being left on the bench for the second time in three weeks.

The man, said to be Britain’s second richest footballer after David Beckham, will move on in the summer to a club prepared to pay him a fortune to sit on the bench.

Chelsea have been alerted…’

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

Les Champions

‘ARSENAL duly won the Premiership title at the home of their north London rivals yesterday with four games to go and with a zero in their losses column.

‘Are you watching, Tottenham?’

But somehow the inevitability of the Gunners’ triumph, combined with a lacklustre display in the second-half, took a bit of the gloss of the occasion.

The game itself ended 2-2, although Spurs had a complacent opposition and Arsenal keeper Jens Lehmann to thank for their point.

The Sun celebrates Arsenal’s achievement on its back page, but inside brands the German a “loony” for conceding a late penalty that allowed Spurs to equalise.

The other papers all echo Spurs’ manager David Pleat assessment that Arsenal are “the worthiest champions for some time”.

However, the Mail’s Jeff Powell wonders aloud whether the French influence at Highbury is good for the English game or, more specifically, the England team.

Most people would concede that the standard of football in the Premiership has risen markedly with the recent influx of foreigners over the past few years.

And there has been a consequent upsurge in the quality of the England team as a result.

But Powell will never be truly happy until England win the World Cup again under an English manager with a team drawn from a wholly English league (with maybe a couple of Carlos Kickaballs to represent such foreign concepts as diving and feigning injury).

The good news for Powell and for England is that the Express believes that Steven Gerrard is now the Premiership’s top midfield enforcer after outplaying Roy Keane in Liverpool’s 1-0 win at Old Trafford.

Quite where that leaves Patrick Vieira we don’t know, although the Sun’s Steven Howard believes Arsenal wouldn’t have won the title without their captain.

“For commitment, leadership and pure athleticism week-in, week-out,” he says, “there has been nothing to beat Vieira this year.”

However, the Guardian asks four former Gunners to select their best ever Arsenal side and the only player to make all four starting XIs is Thierry Henry, voted PFA Player Of The Year for the second year in a row last night.

Vieira makes it into three XIs, as does George Armstrong and Liam Brady, while Sol Campbell, Ian Wright, Denis Bergkamp, Robert Pires, Tony Adams and Pat Rice make two.

Perry Groves is overlooked, once more…’

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

Talking Frank

‘CLAUDIO Ranieri may have rightly got the blame for Chelsea’s 3-1 defeat in Monaco during the week, but what of the roles played by Roman Abramovich and Peter Kenyon?

If he does sod all, Lampard can be the next Veron, Crespo, Geremi…

The Russian billionaire may have more money than Croesus, but wasting it on expensive flops like Juan Sebastian Veron is not just bad business. It unsettles a team.

If you look at it, most of Chelsea’s best performing players were at Stamford Bridge before Abramovich arrived with his ill-gotten riches.

And, says the Mail, Chelsea could lose the best of the lot, Frank Lampard, if they don’t concede to his not unreasonable demands that he get paid the same as some of the expensive overseas flops around him.

Lampard’s agent Steve Kutner confirmed that talks with the club had broken down over the midfielder’s demand for parity with Veron and Claude “Knock me down with a feather” Makelele.

“Kenyon,” the Mail says, “has indicated that will not happen and, unbelievably, Chelsea have now put themselves in a position where they risk alienating a player who is an overwhelming favourite of the fans and seen by them as the heart of the team.”

The Star says Lampard is Inter Milan’s £20m top summer target – a story no doubt put around by the player’s agent, but by no means implausible.

Ranieri was right when he said Abramovich knows nothing about football, but it seems that Kenyon is as much of a knucklehead as his boss.

As the Express lines up Spanish winger Joaquin as Chelsea’s next target, the Mirror has news of a true transfer coup – Rivaldo is joining Bolton.

We’ll say that again – Rivaldo is joining Bolton.

The Brazilian, a World Cup winner and former World Footballer Of The Year – has agreed a two-year contract and will turn out at the Reebok next season.

Meanwhile, David Beckham’s future is up in the air after Enrique Sobrino, the millionaire bidding for control of Real Madrid, accused him of causing problems at the club.

“The scandal has been very damaging to the club,” he said. “We want our players to be stars for footballing reasons only. All this about Beckham has caused a bad atmosphere.”

But not nearly as bad as having a potential future president slagging off the club’s top players from the sideline.’

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

Tinkering While Roman Fumes

‘“ANY old tinkerer can undermine a team’s performance…to detonate it as comprehensively as Ranieri did takes tinkering genius.”

‘Now, one at a time. Marcel, say sorry to Fernando…’

So say Giles Smith in the Times, a Chelsea fan who is none too happy with events in Monaco.

But in the spirit of fair play (and that does not include Claude Makelele and, perhaps, his fellow Chelsea player Marcel Desailly), the paper does list a few moments when the Tinkerman got it right.

So many players and changes are made in the list that to repeat them all here, let alone attempt to make any sense of them, would take an age.

And we, like Ranieri, do not have long. Better to turn to the Telegraph and see what his players now think of him.

You may remember how Chelsea’s stars stood behind their manager after their defeat of Arsenal. They would fight for him. Hey, they might even die for him.

Now, as the paper reports, one confided: “Claudio made a complete cock-up.” “What a dickhead!” came a text message from within the post-match dressing room.

“What the fuck was all that about?” asked another player after the game. “I bet Abramovich feels as shit as we feel,” says Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.

But let’s turn away from such matters and look to the Telegraph and the snooker World Championships.

News from Sheffield is that ‘Rocket’ Ronnie O’Sullivan is back to something approaching the form that once made him the world’s best player.

But his 10-6 victory over Stephen Maguire did not pass without incident.

Besides his decision to play while wearing an Alice band on his head, O’Sullivan could find himself in hot water for making what the paper terms a “gesture with his finger” after missing a difficult pot.

Not that Ronnie is too upset.

“So what?” says he. “Frustration’s good. It shows how passionate I am about the game. I’m here to win the tournament. If they want to fine me, they can – I’ve got plenty of money, so I’ll pay.”

But O’Sullivan knows that his route to redemption in the eyes of the British public and its media is to do as Ranieri did and cry.

Then everyone will love him – for a few days at least…’

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

Cheats Don’t Prosper

‘HAVING already dictated his own suicide note in telling a Spanish newspaper that Roman Abramovich “knows nothing about football” (a claim he dismisses in the Telegraph as a joke), Claudio Ranieri’s dream of leaving the Blues with the Champions’ League title is all but dead and buried.

The Tinkerman signs his own death warrant

And the papers are united in the opinion that Ranieri, the so-called Tinkerman, is to blame for his side’s 3-1 defeat to Monaco.

“”TINKER BLUE IT,” says the Sun of the Italian’s tactics that saw Hernan Crespo end up on the right wing.

“Chelsea falter as tinkering fails Ranieri,” says the Independent’s headline. “Tinkerman gets his comeuppance,” adds the Telegraph.

It should not have been so. With scores tied at one goal apiece, and Chelsea holding their own, the Londoners benefited from two bits of rough justice from Swiss referee Urs Meier.

The first incident, noticed by the Sun (“IT’S CON WRONG”) saw Marcel Desailly stay on the field despite knocking his elbow against the skull of Monaco’s outstanding Fernando Morientes.

The second was outright cheating. In “WHAT A CHEAT”, the Sun watches as Chelsea’s Claude Makelele receives a retaliatory tap on the back of the head from Vassilis Zikos and goes down like he’s been shot.

Result: Zikos off and the Frenchman and Chelsea’s reputations damaged.

What’s worse for the Blues – as if things could get worse – is that Manchester United are now just a single point behind Chelsea in the Premiership.

Last night, the Indy reports, United beat Charlton 2-0 and edged toward second place in the table and automatic qualification into next year’s Champions’ League.

Meanwhile, in the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, Jimmy White was beaten in snooker’s World Championships by one Barry Pinches.

The Sun hears the people’s champion call his 10-8 defeat a “complete disaster” and say how disappointed he is after another failure at the sport’s top table.

Seemingly doomed to be the greatest player never to be world champion, White must wait until next year for success.

And, barring a shock, so too must Chelsea…’

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

Hand Of God

‘THERE is the scent of irony detectable in the Guardian’s picture of the dangerously ill Diego Maradona.

‘Have you seen these men? If so, please contact Mr C Ranieri…’

In the shot that sits on the cover of the paper’s G2 supplement, one of the best footballers ever to have raised his right hand (as he did against Peter Shilton all those moons ago) gives the world a kind of sideways thumbs-up.

The difference is that whereas last time the Argentine waved an arm in our face he wanted only to cheat England, this time he wants to cheat death.

And we should have some sympathy for the man, whose physique has succumbed to the ravages of excess.

But from what was to what will be, and the Sun’s lead story on Chelsea’s Champions’ League semi-final tie against Monaco, the first leg of which is to be played tonight.

“I want to say thank you to all England. I’ve been so delighted fans have shown me all this support,” says Chelsea coach Claudio Ranieri, whose future will become clearer after tonight’s match.

“I’m in love with English football and I don’t think that will ever change and I want to stay in England whatever happens at Chelsea. England is the best place to work.”

It certainly is when you’re winning. But if Ranieri does leave the Blues, as seems increasingly likely, we wonder what a few months toil at a new club, say, Tottenham, will do to his sunny disposition.

But our attention is momentarily diverted off the Italian by what appears to be another Argentine footballer. Do our eyes deceive us or is that really Juan Sebastian Veron?

It is! Call off the search party. Veron is alive!

Some of you will remember that Chelsea bought the player from Manchester United, billing him as the greatest midfielder there was.

He then disappeared. And now, just as Chelsea reach for the very pinnacle of European football, wouldn’t you just know it, but there he is, smiling and speaking to the Telegraph.

“Losing the semi-final is not an option,” says the man. Only it is; it is one of two.

But Veron can lead the Blues to glory. The Guardian is of the opinion that the Argentinean will start tonight’s game, replacing the industrious but largely ineffectual Scott Parker on Chelsea’s problematic right.

If Veron does play, then we hope Chelsea win. If they were to lose, Veron might pick up another injury and melt into the ether once more…’

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