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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

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


Beckham’s Blues

‘DAVID Beckham could be on his way out of Real Madrid, and not only because he has exhausted the Spanish capital’s supply of beautiful women.

‘We are just good friends,’ says Day-vid

The Sun reports that the club could decide to cash in on the England captain if millionaire Enrique Sobrino replaces Florentino Perez as president this summer.

“Beckham has to change,” said Sobrino, who lead an anti-Perez group of 18 influential businessmen. “I would listen to offers for him.”

And that, according to the Sun, would have Chelsea’s billionaire owner Roman Abramovich reaching once again for his cheque book.

And the good women of Chelsea locking up their daughters…

Meanwhile, Abramovich’s Chelsea are in danger of seeing their season collapse, according to influential midfielder Frank Lampard.

He tells the Express that the team needs to rediscover its form and energy for tomorrow night’s European Cup semi-final against Monaco.

“We looked stronger as a team in the build-up to the Arsenal game,” he admitted.

Meanwhile, England’s cricketers get stronger as a team, winning the first one-day international against West Indies yesterday by three wickets.

And the man responsible, says the Mail, was wicketkeeper Chris Read, who responded to being dropped from the Test team with a vital 27 off just 15 balls.

Captain Michael Vaughan described the knock as “a gem”, adding: “If he had a point to prove, he did it in a terrific manner.”

Someone else with a point to prove was snooker player Andy Hicks, whose match against Australian Quinten Hann almost ended in a fight.

The Aussie taunted Hicks during the match about the fact that he had beaten him on the past three occasions they had met.

The left-hander responded by winning the match 10-4 and then, while shaking Hann’s hand, said: “Well, you won’t be in the top 16 next year.”

Hardly explosive stuff, but it clearly riled Hann, who had to be kept away by the referee as he replied: “You’re short and bald and you can have me outside whenever you want.”

What price Alan McManus breaking his cue over John Higgins’ head later in the week?’

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


No Laughing Matter

‘THE pressure of being a football manager or a football player can do funny things to people.

‘And the Premier League title goes to…’

While the Mail hears the mother of Manchester United goalkeeper Tom Howard relate how her son’s Tourette’s Syndrome has got worse because of the stress at Old Trafford, we are much more concerned for the health Gerard Houllier.

It is not the physical state of the Liverpool boss that has us worried, despite his history of heart problems, but his mental well-being.

The Mirror publishes a back-page picture of Houllier in conversation with fellow Frenchman Arsene Wenger, in which he is quoted as suggesting that not only will he still be in charge at Anfield next season but his Liverpool team will win the Premiership title.

This will come as something of a surprise to most observers who have seen few signs of progress at Anfield in the past few years, not least the Liverpool fans themselves who had to sit through their team’s 1-0 home defeat to Charlton at the weekend.

Even the Mirror can’t keep a straight face at the suggestion.

The facts are that Liverpool have lost 10 league games already this season – 10 more than Arsenal – and are 29 points behind the champions-elect.

By contrast, they are only 17 points above the relegation zone, which would surely suggest that they have more chance of going down next season than they do of winning the title.

Houllier can at least dream, which is a lot more than the poor cricketers of Zimbabwe can do as the game in the strife-torn country descends into anarchy.

The Times reports that the Zimbabwe Cricket Union is to terminate the contracts of 13 white players who aired their grievances in a statement on Wednesday…and to sue them for breach of contract.

The group of 13 said they were unable to tolerate any more the “racial and ethnic discrimination in the selection of the national team” and called for the replacement of selectors who did not have the requisite cricket experience.

The ZCU responded by replacing not the two selectors to whom the group were referring – Max Ebrahim and Stephen Mangongo, but the three who were properly qualified.

To add to the air of farce, one of the replacements, Mpumelelo Mbangwa, only became aware of his new job when he read about it on the Internet and promptly declined it.

One of the rebels tells the Times that the issue goes across racial lines and some of the black players picked to play against Sri Lanka in the first of two one-day internationals next week do not want to play.

Meanwhile, the ICC sits by and does nothing, despite the prospect of farce next week as Zimbabwe puts out a team comprising in the words of one rebel’s father “a bunch of schoolboys”.

Let’s hope England can now take the brave course of action and refuse to go on tour – and dare the craven body that governs the world game to sue them.’

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


Hurricane Warning

‘IT’S not that often a sportsmen makes it to the Sun’s Page 3; but don’t fret, today brings no picture of a G-string-clad Paul Gascoigne holding a pair of hilarious comedy breasts.

Alex had pioneered the huge invisible spliff

No nudity is involved, which is a blessed relief when you learn that the man in the frame is none other than snooker player Alex “Hurricane” Higgins.

The story goes that in attending a stage play about his life, the former world champion openly smoked a joint in the stalls.

When asked to desist, the 55-year-old sauntered over to the bar at London’s Arts Theatre and carried on smoking.

Another request to stop, and the Hurricane was in the street, finishing his smoke before returning to reoccupy his seat.

A theatre employee said: “If you put on a play about his wild antics and he turns up in person, it’s all you can expect. I think some of the audience thought it was part of the show.”

Nothing more is said about the event but, given the nature of most small-scale theatre productions, Higgins may have hit on the ideal way to allow audiences to sit through fringe shows without growing restless.

Of course, the biggest show in this town or any other remains David Beckham. And the latest sporting news is that England’s captain is being wooed by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.

The Express says that the Russian oligarch has offered Beckham a personal invitation to join his impressive array of midfield talent.

Meanwhile, someone eyeing a move in the other direction, from England to Spain, is Ruud Van Nistelrooy, who, the Sun says, is ready to leave Old Trafford for either Barcelona or Real Madrid.

And joining Van Nistelrooy in the rush to leave Manchester will be Diego Forlan and Brazilian flop Kleberson.

United fans will not lament the passing of the two average South Americans, but the departure of the Dutch ace will surely hit morale.

But at least the United leavers will all be moving on. Francis Jeffers, the player whose head is a flesh and bone tribute to the FA Cup, is not sure what happens next.

The Mail says that, at age 23, the Scouser is not wanted by his current employers Arsenal and not liked by Everton, the club he was loaned out to.

The paper picks over what it sees as the bones of the striker’s career to date and concludes that “the reality of his situation must be quite sobering”.

Although, his £30,000 grand a week wages can buy him a few bottles of something cheerful…’

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


One Lion On Her Chest

‘WELL done to the Times’ Martin Samuel for coming up with the perfect sporting solution to the Beckhams’ trouble and strife: let her sing England’s song for Euro 2004.

The Beckhams say they are closer than ever

We wholeheartedly agree, and cannot help give a wry smile at the idea of each of Day-vid’s incoming text messages being heralded by a downloaded ringtone version of One Lion On My Chest.

But while we wait for that, and for Blazin’ Squad to fall on their swords, the Mail’s spotlight falls upon Real Madrid’s training ground.

When the so-called galacticos (mostly so-called by papers like the Mail when things were going well in Madrid) arrived for training yesterday, they were in for shock.

The fans, who usually scream the players’ names and cheer on their every touch, unfurled a large banner.

It read: PARA VOSOTROS PUTAS Y DINERO. PARA VOSOTROS INDIGNATION Y REPRESION.”

Given David Beckham’s grasp of the Spanish idiom, the message would, most likely, not have affected him that much. He probably took it with a smile and blew a kiss to the adoring crowd, as he believed the message asked him to do.

But to help him more fully understand, the Mail gets out its dictionary and translates. It now reads: FOR YOU WHORES AND MONEY. FOR US, INDIGNATION AND REPRESSION.”

Chances are quite high that David is still not that sure as to the meaning of those words, especially the second part, so we will put it in simple terms: WE ARE UNHAPPY.

The Madrid fans are under the moon and as sick as English parrots after a night out on the tiles in Benidorm.

But sport has so much more to offer us than just David Beckham. No, really it does. It has Manchester United.

And the news is that not only is the Old Trafford outfit closing in on second spot in the Premiership thanks to a win over Leicester last night and Chelsea’s failures, but that Roy Keane, the team’s captain, is making a return to the international fold.

The Express says that the man who said he never would play for Ireland again is making himself available for the Republic’s World Cup qualifying campaign.

And the Irish had best win all those games or else Roy will not be pleased. Hey, he may even walk off and vow never to play for the team…again.’

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


Life Of Brian

‘THANKS to Brian Lara, we now fully realise how well England’s cricketers have performed to win the series in the Caribbean.

Brian Lara hears the score from Villa Park

Three up in the four-match series, England travelled to Antigua in search of a whitewash. And then the West Indies’ beleaguered captain came into bat and scored an unbeaten 400 runs.

The Mail was there to see the mammoth innings, the largest total ever hit by a player in a single knock, which came ten years after the same man put England to the sword on the same ground with a then record 375.

This time, Lara took 12 hours and 52 minutes to complete his quadruple hundred, facing 582 balls and hitting 43 fours and four sixes.

It’s a wonder he had the energy left after that lot to jump for joy and talk of how it gave him a “great feeling” in a post-marathon interview.

When the chips were down, Lara came good. As they say, form is temporary; class is permanent.

And so it is that Chelsea lost 3-2 to Aston Villa at the weekend, all but surrendering the Premiership tile to Arsenal.

The number of games left and points available still allow room for the Blues to come good, but the Mirror is more interested in another number – the eight players Claudio Ranieri changed from Chelsea’s previous match.

The paper says that such tinkering will go against the Italian when he discusses his future at the club with Chelsea’s chief executive Peter Kenyon later this week.

But Ranieri wants us and Kenyon to know that the defeat that saw Chelsea fall seven points behind Arsenal with one fewer game to play was not his fault.

“I thought we had eight fresh players who would be able to run around better than Villa but it didn’t happen,” he said.

“I’m used to being criticised for my rotation and I accepted that criticism at the start of the season. But I kept doing it and now all the players should be used to it.”

But all footballers ever really want to get used to is winning football matches. And when that stops happening, things can turn quickly sour.

Just look at David Beckham. Not so long ago, he could do no wrong.

But today the Sun reports that in light of Real Madrid’s 3-0 home defeat to humble Osasuna, Becks has been dubbed Forrest Gump by the Spanish press.

“Beckham under siege and alone,” shouts one paper’s headline. “Suicide in the Bernabeu,” says another.

Life may well be a box of chocolates, as Forrest’s mama once told him, and if so, right now Beckham’s being faced with a tray of orange creams…’

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


Blowing Doubles

‘ON paper at least, Chelsea’s chances of winning the Champions’ League were enhanced still further last night when holders AC Milan were knocked out in sensational style.

The Great Escape

Claudio Ranieri still captures the main headlines, with the Telegraph saying how he and his side plan to win this season’s Premiership as well, but the story of the day comes from La Coruna.

In northern Spain, Deportivo thrashed European Cup holders AC Milan 4-0, overturning a 1-4 deficit.

The final four vying for the biggest prize in club football is now known. And with the lesser names of Porto, Deportivo and Monaco in the silken bag, Chelsea have every chance of winning the cup.

Just as Arsenal have every chance of fishing what until a week ago was a spectacular season empty handed.

The Independent’s news that the Gunners will have to make do without Thierry Henry rubs a large does of salt into an already festering wound.

For Chelsea, losing a player would be no big thing – they have so very many of them he could get lost in the crowd. But for Arsenal, a team the paper says are playing the season with just 12 men, it’s a big blow.

“Chelsea are on the way up,” says Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, “just when we are on the way down a bit.

“We have crossed each other…We’ve now lost a bit of freshness and belief.”

A lack of belief in a team that is yet undefeated in the Premier League says something for the standards set at Highbury.

But, as the Sun reports, Liverpool are hopeful of doing what no other side have managed and plan to beat the Gunners in the league this Friday.

And Paul Scholes says that, if Arsenal are to win, they’ll have to toughen up a bit.

This is a rather odd comment on a team that managed to cause a fight at the end of the match at Old Trafford and boast an unenviable disciplinary record.

But it’s Paul Scholes talking and, since he plays for Manchester United, the Sun must hear him out.

Not that there is not too much to hear. Scholes is one of the game’s quieter players and merely says of his FA Cup semi-final foul on Arsenal’s Jose Antonio Reyes that “there are always going to be tackles in big games like that” and that he’s not bothered about being seen as the bad guy by the London outfit.

The only surprise is that this non-story should take precedence over the Deportivo result, which the Sun reduces to an afterthought.

Perhaps if the Spaniards had texted the result to David Beckham, we’d be hearing more about it?’

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


Dead Man Dancing

‘IF Claudio Ranieri is a dead man, he’s not walking – he’s dancing a victory jig and crying real tears of joy.

Last night, his Chelsea did what they had not done in their previous 17 attempts and beat Arsenal, shooting down the Gunners 2-1 and so progressing into the semi-finals of the Champions’ League.

“It’s difficult to kill me,” says Ranieri in the Telegraph. “I may be ‘dead’ but I will still continue to work. I don’t stand still.”

Indeed he does not, and the Italian now leads his team to Monte Carlo for a date with Monaco, who also defied the odds to see off Real Madrid.

There is much to say about the Chelsea game, with the Independent watching Arsenal change from champions into “chumps” after surrendering a one-goal lead.

But these days football is less and less about two halves and more about the haves and have nots. And Wimbledon has not.

The Dons now have even less, having lost to Sunderland and with that defeat lost their Division 1 status.

The Guardian looked on as 4,800 fans (2,300 of which were in Milton Keynes to support Sunderland) stood and stared as the team that gave football a shot of true romance when it won the FA Cup in 1988 slid back into obscurity.

This fall, and the club’s previous rise from the amateur ranks, the paper charts with the aid of a graph, a rising – and now falling – line that begins with Wimbledon’s election to the football league in season 1977-78.

How times have changed from the late Seventies! Now a footballer is less likely to mingle with fans in the local pub than he is to sign an autograph hunter’s book, at least if he plays for Manchester United.

The Times hears that Manchester United’s ban on its players signing shirts and memorabilia outside the team’s training ground has been adopted by Liverpool and Everton.

The reason is not that Everton’s Duncan Ferguson should be approached with extreme caution (and never from behind), but that the teams are upset that the autographs are not for true fans but for dealers who then flog them over the Internet.

For the record, the paper lets us know that a signature from Roy Keane will fetch round £160, while Paul Scholes’ will earn around £140.

Not bad for a squiggle and a quick “Best wishes”.

And good news for United’s shareholders who know that if the club ever falters financially, it can always ask its players to dip their pens in ink – after all, imagine what riches could be earned if Keane were to write an entire sentence.’

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


Sniping At The Gunners

‘ONE defeat (and that in a game that they should probably have won) hardly constitutes a crisis – but a sense of perspective has never had much of a place in football.

Starting Gunners?

And Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is forced to defend his side ahead of tonight’s European Cup showdown with Chelsea.

“We will not wobble,” he declares on the back page of the Sun, while the Mirror suggests he has given his team orders to “destroy” Chelsea.

For a more sober assessment of a game that will have a profound impact on both clubs’ seasons, we turn to the broadsheets.

“It’s going to be a battle,” Arsenal skipper Patrick Vieira tells the Telegraph with a smile – and the paper is clearly relishing the prospect.

“The Arsenal of Vieira and Henry versus a Chelsea side marching to the English drumbeat of Lampard, Parker and Terry stands proud,” it says, “as a monumental match-up, a confrontation worthy of television’s relentless hype.

“It is an intoxicating mix, a fascinating cocktail of the Molotov variety.”

To matters more mundane and the Guardian reports that both Jose Antonio Reyes and Freddie Ljungberg could both be fit for tonight’s game – and the Telegraph believes both will start.

The rest of Europe would be forgiven for looking for ways to prevent Millwall taking the place in next season’s Uefa Cup that their FA Cup final appearance will earn.

But the Indy says that the authorities at Uefa are virtually certain to make an exception for the Lions after it emerged that they could be banned because Dennis Wise has no coaching qualifications.

The governing body is bringing in new rules governing all aspects of clubs wishing to participate in its competitions – but the rules won’t take effect until next season.

What right Uefa have to dictate the qualifications or otherwise of coaches we do not know.

It is one thing to lay down minimum specifications for stadia and insist on certain standards of financial stability, but quite another to get involved in personnel issues.

According to the Indy, even Sir Alex Ferguson doesn’t have an A badge – and no-one would suggest that Manchester United have suffered unduly because of that.’

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


Winning Streak

‘HOW all of Europe must have cheered when Tim Cahill’s goal yesterday propelled Millwall into the FA Cup final and, more significantly, into next season’s Uefa Cup!

Manchester shivered, Cardiff shivered, Theo Paphitis shivered

The London club’s fans are known the length and breadth of the land for their hospitality, good humour and willingness to welcome players and fans of all colours and creeds.

So, when the Guardian suggests that “Manchester shivered, Cardiff shivered and all across the continent, from Brussels to Istanbul, European cities shivered”, we can only assume it was with delicious anticipation.

Dennis Wise achievement in leading the First Division side to its first FA Cup final in the club’s 119-year history is saluted by all the papers this morning.

And the man himself tells the Sun that he is looking forward to chairman Theo Paphitis honouring his pledge to streak round South London if his side made it to Cardiff.

“Get yer kit off, Theo!” demands the Sun. “Get lost, Fergie,” demands the Mirror (on behalf of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger).

The Frenchman insists that he will not be wound up by Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson’s dig that he thinks Chelsea will beat the Gunners in their Champions’ League clash this week.

There are few more nauseating sights in sport than a happy Ferguson and happy he certainly was after his side beat the Gunners 1-0 in the other FA Cup semi-final.

And Wenger was quick to brush off the chippy Scot’s attempts to wind him up. “For a long time, we have not listed to what Alex Ferguson says,” he told the Mirror.

Meanwhile, England’s cricketers were enjoying a day on the beach after winning their first series in the Caribbean in 36 years at the weekend.

The Indy catches up with Michael Vaughan and his men taking on a group of British holidaymakers in Barbados.

And one suspects, getting a bit more of a workout than they got against a West Indies side which again capitulated in the face of some probing England bowling.

Star of the show was Matthew Hoggard, who became the 10th English bowler to get a Test hat-trick when he removed Ramnaesh Sarwan, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Ryan Hinds in successive deliveries.

It was, says the Indy, the Yorkshireman’s second hat-trick. His first came for Pudsey Congregational thirds in the Dales Council League.

History does not record his three victims on that occasion.’

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


The Fight Club

‘NO-ONE could accuse Leeds striker Alan Smith of being short of fight, although whether it is always employed in the best interests of his club is another matter.

West Indies get a dose of Basian flu

But this morning he lambastes his teammates for being, in the words of the Express, “gutless” and lacking the stomach for the relegation fight.

Meanwhile, another gobby shite, Gary Neville, turns his fire on Arsenal, accusing them of running scared ahead of tomorrow’s FA Cup semi-final showdown.

He refuses to accept that the Gunners have overtaken his Manchester United side as the best team in England.

“I have admired Arsenal for the last six seasons,” he tells the Sun. “There is nothing between us and there has been nothing between us for the last six seasons.”

Well, actually there’s 12 points separating the two sides at the moment, but we know what Gary means.

“Every time we have won the league it has been by a few points and they’ve always been second,” he continues. “Or when they’ve won it, we’ve been second by a few points.”

Except two years ago when you finished fourth…but again we know what he means.

Away from such petty squabbles and the Sun has good news for embattled Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri, who will today be awarded the manager of the month award, and bad news for Spurs’ striker Jermain Defoe, who has been told he won’t make it to the European Championships this summer.

Sven Goran Eriksson, it says, will take only four strikers – Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney, Emile Heskey and Darius Vassell – to Portugal this summer.

And that means no place for Defoe, who excelled on his debut against Sweden on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, good news for England in the West Indies with Andrew Flintoff dominating the headlines after his first five-wicket haul reduced the hosts to 224 all out.

The Times says the captain Michael Vaughan’s decision to put the West Indies in on a decent Bridgetown wicket was a “bold, unnecessary gamble” that was not a complete success.

But the Telegraph says Vaughan knew that “the West Indies were down and close to out and that the job could be finished in a day if his confident bowlers hit their straps”.

Thanks to Flintoff in particular, a first series victory in the Caribbean for 26 years is now a probability rather than a possibility.’

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


1968 And All That

‘FOR all England’s talk of success in Euro 2004 or, more probably, the 2006 World Cup, the fact remains this morning that we haven’t beaten Sweden for nigh on four decades.

Portugal-bound?

Sweden are a decent side, but they cannot claim to be one of the giants of European football, let alone the world game.

And if apologists say that England are a different side in competitive matches than they are in friendly games, well, so are Sweden, whose 1-0 win last night was their first in 16 such matches.

The Telegraph suggests that England are too reliant on their first-choice players – such as David Beckham, Ashley Cole, Gary Neville, Sol Campbell and Michael Owen, all of whom were absent.

“If England are close to full strength in Portugal, they have a chance of reaching the semi-finals,” it says.

“Any debilitating injuries to key tempo-setting or defensive personnel on the eve of the tournament and England’s odds plummet.”

True enough, but reaching the semi-final can hardly be regarded as a great achievement.

England are the four best team on the continent, according to the official Fifa rankings and, of the teams above them, both Spain and the Netherlands are renowned as being flaky.

France are undoubtedly the best team in Europe, a position built on 14 straight wins until last night’s 0-0 draw in Rotterdam.

The papers do find solace in certain performances, with Jermain Defoe the one who really stands out.

And, says, the Indy Sven Goran Eriksson can take comfort from the fact that his team were comfortably the better side until Sweden scored in the 54th minute.

“Defoe came on and did very well,” the Swede told the Times after the game. “I could see that he’s a big talent. He’ll be even better in the future because he’ll be physically stronger, but I like what I saw.”

Coincidentally, the year in which England last recorded a win over Sweden was the year in which England last recorded a series win in the West Indies.

But such is the optimism within the country after Michael Vaughan’s men took a 2-0 lead in the four-match series that it is spilling over into overconfidence.

The Guardian’s Matthew Engel hears one punter set off to Barbados with the words, “I hope we don’t beat them too badly”.

“Not beat them too badly!” Engel chunters. “When England suffered two successive blackwashes in the mid-1980s, did any West Indian say: ‘Don’t beat them too badly, Viv mon’?”

Who knows? A first series win in the Caribbean since 1968 and the England football team might even beat Sweden…’

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


Bonus Balls

‘ENGLAND may have found the money to keep Sven Goran Eriksson in charge of the national team until a better offer comes along, but the players are feeling the pinch.They are apparently unhappy that the FA has cut their Euro 2004 bonuses, with incentives on the table only for reaching the semi-final or beyond.

The manager says a semi-final exit in Portugal “would not be a disaster”, suggesting (says the Times) that the last four should be considered par for this squad.

In which case, one wonders why the players should be upset at not being rewarded for a below-par display.

However, the Times does suggest that with the recent upheavals surrounding Rio Ferdinand and Alan Smith, it is in everyone’s interests to conclude negotiations well before the tournament starts.

Not that tonight’s friendly against Sweden is likely to give much indication of England’s prospects in the summer.

Steven Gerrard has been chosen as captain of a side that is far from England’s first choice XI, including (or so the Indy believes) Alan Thompson and Owen Hargreaves in midfield and Phil Neville and Jamie Carragher at full-back.

The Telegraph reports that it is an opportunity for fringe players to play their way into the squad for Portugal.

“I have until June 3 to change my mind,” said Eriksson.

Oh no! He’s not off to Chelsea again, is he?’

Posted: 31st, March 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


Two True

‘THERE’S some connection between Sven Goran Eriksson and second-hand Saabs that quite escapes us.

David James hadn’t noticed the Pot Noodle spilt on his head

Ken Bates tells the Sun that he wouldn’t buy one off the England manager; the Express says the Swede will get a £14m payout if he’s sacked by the FA, ”which should lower the price of second-hand Saabs”.

Are we missing something? Is Eriksson actually a second-hand car salesman during the hours when he is not involved with England, Chelsea or a blonde TV presenter?

Or is just that the only thing the papers know that comes from Sweden is the Saab.

(We, of course, know that Volvos are also from Sweden, as are, er, naked women.)

But even the more serious papers seem determined to cause trouble for the England boss, despite the fact that he has done what almost everyone wanted and signed a new contract.

David James reported that Eriksson’s first words to the squad when they met up at their Hertfordshire retreat yesterday were: “You’ve got me for another couple of years!”

And Henry Winter, of the Telegraph, is not alone in reading into that confirmation of the suspicion that he won’t hand around after the 2006 World Cup.

The Independent makes the same observation. “No player,” it says, “pointed out the contract was supposed to be for another four years.”

And yet the extension to the contract, which Eriksson signed at the weekend, was for another two years – a reasonable explanation perhaps of the “couple more years” remark.

Eriksson’s desire to stay in international management will certainly not be helped by the number of withdrawals from the squad through injury.

The Telegraph reports that Wales have lost 10 players (including, of course, Ryan Giggs), Scotland and Northern Ireland seven and the Republic of Ireland six through injury.

Arsene Wenger yesterday pulled Patrick Viera and Robert Pires out of the French squad.

And England yesterday lost David Beckham for their friendly against Sweden, victim of a knock described even by Real Madrid as “not serious”.’

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