Back pages | Anorak - Part 92

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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

Lancing The Boil

‘GIVEN the amount of drugs that swill around cycling it’s a shock the winner of the Tour de France is not some 17-year-old youth called Wayne who keeps fit by freaking out in a barn on an Essex farm at the weekends.

‘Bottoms up’

This year’s winner of the gruelling race through the French countryside is Lance Armstrong. Lance is a drugs free zone, and has been for all the years he has been champion.

Indeed, all the riders bar one on the Tour were drug free this time round. This is a fantastic result, right up there with Armstrong’s five wins on the trot, given last year’s scandals.

In 2002, former Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich was suspended for six months following testing positive for amphetamine.

Plucky Jan served his time and restored his pride and natural ability to come second in this year’s race. Hurrah!

Other 2002 drugs cheats, like French cyclist Laurent Paumier, Spain’s Igor Gonzalez Galdeano and the entire Italian team Saeco, who were thrown out of the 2002 Tour de France after their top rider Gilberto Simoni (84th) failed a second drugs test for cocaine metabolites, fared less well.

But how can so much cheating in 2002 become so little cheating in 2003? Are we to believe that a sport where competitors, allegedly, had EPO (short for erythropoieten, which raises the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood) injected into their stomachs is utterly clean?

Have our minds turned to mush after weeks of Big Brother? Of course they have.

To suppose that cycling is totally free from drugs is to suppose that that Big Brother will ever return to our screens for a fifth series. (We’ve just heard that it will).

The Tour makes for compelling viewing. But there is a whiff of something unpleasant in the air.

Our support for Armstrong’s epic achievement is somewhat tainted by our doubts that the sport is played on a level playing field – or even on a level mountain.

Posted: 28th, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Vaughan Again

‘IT is quite clear that England cannot continue for long to have two different cricket captains, if only because the hacks are having a field day trying to sow discord in the ranks.

Vaughan picks Hussain out in the changing room

The fact that incumbent Nasser Hussain scored only a single run, while heir apparent Michael Vaughan notched up a sublime 156 is just grist to the mill.

This leaves England on the brink, needing 22 runs this morning from their last three wickets to avoid the follow-on and effectively to save the match.

But it is the sub-text – the supposed rivalry between Hussain and Vaughan – that is uppermost in most of the scribes’ minds.

‘Neither of them would be human if part of their minds were not involved in trying to settle this issue now,’ writes Henry Blofeld in the Independent.

The Telegraph’s Derek Pringle says that Vaughan’s knock, which he described as the best of his career, is bound to be hailed as a captain’s innings.

‘Yet Vaughan batted as servant rather than master, a man whose deed was done with duty rather than promotion in mind,’ he says.

‘If there had been a Machiavellian bone in Vaughan’s body, he would surely have got out immediately after scoring his ton, a move that would have brought personal glory while consigning the team to a more parlous position from which to save this match.’

As marathons go, the seven hours Vaughan spent at the crease was as nothing compared with the 83 hours and 41 minutes which Lance Armstrong has spent in the saddle in the last couple of weeks.

But the fact that it was less more than a minute less than his main rival Jan Ullrich meant the American was yesterday crowned Tour de France champion for the fifth year in a row.

He now joins an elite group containing Bernard Hinault, Jacques Anquetil, Eddie Merckx and Miguel Indurain as riders who have won the gruelling race a handful of times.

But the Telegraph says the 31-year-old wants to go one better and make it six, despite this being the hardest fought of all his wins.

‘Of course, it’s possible,’ says Indurain (the only other man to have won five in a row), ‘but every year it gets more difficult and he’ll face some tough rivals.’

Armstrong admits in the Guardian that he dodged a lot of bullets in this year’s Tour.

‘Physically I have not been super, tactically I have made some bad mistakes,’ he said. ‘My level this year was not acceptable.’

Which is as welcome to the ears of the other riders as Vaughan complaining that he mistimed one of his cover drives is to the ears of Nasser Hussain.

Posted: 28th, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Reality Bites

‘FOR all the sense of optimism surrounding England’s chances against South Africa in the five-match series, yesterday could not have gone much worse for the home side.

England look stumped

On a good batting track, South Africa managed to make this England attack look pretty ordinary – helped, it must be said, by the bowlers themselves.

Against good opposition and on good batting tracks, Test cricket is often a game of patience.

And, having failed to get an early break-through, England showed a lack both of patience and experience.

That is not to take anything away from the South African batsmen who seem to have discovered their form at the right time.

But the speed at which Graeme Smith and Hershelle Gibbs scored after seeing off the new ball will have worried Nasser Hussain.

Batsmen at this level need to be made to work for their runs and these two were given too many easy runs by some wayward bowling.

It is a good lesson for the likes of James Anderson, whose only experience of Test cricket has been in the two easy victories against Zimbabwe earlier this year.

And it shows that there is a big difference between bowling with a white ball in one-day internationals and bowling with a red ball in Tests.

But international cricket is also about learning quickly and England will have to put the lessons of the first day into practice very quickly today.

The chances are that the weather will save them in this Test match, as long as they do not let South Africa run away with things today.

But conceding 398 runs in a day for only one wicket on the first day of a series is about as harsh a reality check as you get.

And it means that England must show their mettle if the series isn’t to get away from them before it has even really started.

Posted: 25th, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Humble Pie Chuckers

‘NASSER Hussain’s claim that South Africa ‘were ripe for the taking’ may not have been as colourful as Tony Greig’s famous 1976 boast that England were going to make the West Indies grovel.

‘Let’s declare before they really start on us’

But the effect has been pretty similar as yesterday Hershelle Gibbs and Graeme Smith force-fed the England captain with helping after helping of humble pie.

The tourists reached 398-1 at the end of the first day’s play, with Smith unbeaten on 178 at the close.

‘You put a little bit of pressure on yourself when you make comments like Nasser,’ the South African captain told the Express after coming off the pitch.

And the Mail is also quick to blame Hussain, whose first day back in charge was ‘an unmitigated disaster’.

‘Skipper Hussain’s tactics after Michael Vaughan’s triumphant run with the one-day side were laid bare to scrutiny as records tumbled on a perfect batting wicket,’ it says.

In truth, however, there was not much Hussain could do as England’s bowlers sprayed the ball around – still stuck, as Duncan Fletcher observed, in one-day mode.

Another day, another Chelsea transfer story, with Brazilian skipper Emerson the latest name to be linked with the Roman legion at Stamford Bridge.

The Mirror says the Blues are poised to take their summer spending spree past the £50m mark after agreeing a fee of £14.5m with Roma.

And it claims that Claudio Ranieri is still confident of bringing Juan Sebastian Veron to what promises to be a very busy home dressing room in south-west London.

The Sun claims Chelsea are also in the market for Real Madrid midfielder Claude Makelele, although only if the Emerson deal falls through.

And finally a player not going to Stamford Bridge (or indeed to Old Trafford) as Kieron Dyer tells the Express that speculation about his future at Newcastle was all fantasy.

As if the price tag of £25m wasn’t a clue…

Posted: 25th, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

All That Glisters

‘JAMES Gibson is Britain’s newest champion and the toast of the Independent. Gibson has just won gold in the 50m breaststroke at the world swimming championships.

‘And I did it without armbands’

It gets better when you learn that the 23-year-old is the first British individual champion in 28 years. It’s been a long journey from 1975, when David Wilkie won gold.

But Gibson’s training regime at the University of Loughborough is not as tricky as that endured by Mohammad Abbas.

The Indy says that Abbas, an Iraqi swimmer, was denied access to his country’s only indoor pool after the delightful United States army ‘requisitioned’ it. So he began training in the Tigris River.

Only problem was that the Tigris was full of mines and explosives. ‘For safety reasons, we stopped,’ says Abbas.

Meanwhile, other non-swimming Americans were watching Manchester United take on Celtic in Seattle.

When a friendly match gets this much coverage something is very odd in the world of sport. The game itself was won 4-0 by United.

The Telegraph actually deems this runabout worthy of a full match report. The Times cuts to the chase and focuses on the marketing aspects.

The intention was to win over the Americans to football and, most vitally, to make them fans of Manchester untied.

‘You guys are awesome!’ screams one new American fan. ‘Is soccer always like this? It ROCKS!’

Soccer? Rocks? He then claims this to be the ‘best day in his life’ – something we can all too easily believe.

A crowd of 67,000 showed up to watch the game, made up of what the paper calls ‘soccer virgins’.

The problem is that United are OK in the land of the big apple pies so long as they win. ‘Celtic, you SUCK!’ screamed a new fan as the Glasgow side missed a penalty.

And if United have their way, Americans will soon all suck – on United Cola.

Posted: 24th, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

A Duff Deal

‘DAMIEN Duff is not worth £17m. That ridiculous sum only throws a harsher light on the £25m Manchester United reaped for the sale of David Beckham to Real Madrid.

Damien Duff learns of Chelsea’s bid

Even a child in the playground could tell you that if Duff, the workmanlike winger, is worth that much then Beckham is worth at least double.

Now we learn that Kieron Dyer is priced at £25m. How was this amount reached? Dyer is short of height and lacks the physical strength needed to make him a top player.

If Chelsea match Newcastle’s asking price, the Magpies should take it. That much money for a player with limited ability, one foot and a fondness for injury is absurd.

It’s clear that the clubs are learning how to manage their most prized assets. Duff was only worth £17m because that’s the price Blackburn inserted into his contract.

Did Blackburn really believe that anyone would offer that amount for the player? And if they did, surely only Manchester United entered their thinking.

The decision by Newcastle to slap a price on Dyer’s head just shows how serious they believe the Chelsea threat to be.

Bobby Robson talks of building a great squad and hanging on to his players. So why then has his board put a price on Dyer?

If you do not want to sell a player you do as Arsenal have done and say no money will get our man to sign for you. (Clearly, a bid of around £50m for Thierry Henry or Patrick Vieira would test the Gunners’ resolve.)

At a time when transfer fees were looking depressed, and even Manchester United baulked at the price of Ronaldinho, Chelsea’s bidding is a reminder of what used to be.

If teams are not lucky to receive a Chelsea cheque, they should take a reality check – the purse strings are getting tighter.

Posted: 24th, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Chelsea Fan Retires

‘YESTERDAY, Alec Stewart announced that he was to retire from Test cricket.

‘Did I ever tell you about facing WG Grace?’

However, the Times says his departure will not be immediate and he will still be in the starting XI for tomorrow’s Test against South Africa.

Stewart, a strapping 97, told a press conference that he will retire when the time is right – ‘and this feels right!’

The departure of England’s batsman, wicketkeeper, cheerleader, bag carrier, bottle washer and hairdresser leaves the way open for a new man to take up the gloves.

And the Times lists the hopefuls: Chris Read, James Foster, Geraint Jones, Matthew Prior and Philip Mustard.

But Stewart’s retirement still leaves England’s coach Duncan Fletcher ‘surprised’. The Independent hears Fletcher say that he was ‘pretty surprised’ by Stewart’s decision to quit.

‘I believe that Alec is the best all-round keeper we have by some distance,’ says Fletcher. ‘He has got better and better over the last couple of years.’

He would be surely less surprised to read in the Indy that Claudio Ranieri, the Chelsea manager, has urged his boss, Roman Abramovich, to keep spending his money.

‘It is important that we continue to pick up the best players,’ says the Italian.

And the player next on the shopping list is Kieron Dyer. The Guardian says that the player, who was recently priced at £25m by his current club Newcastle, is being liked with a move to Stamford Bridge.

Manchester United say they are not interested in signing the injury prone and hyped England player, which leaves the way clear for a Chelsea bid.

Given the style of player Chelsea have been buying of late, Dyer – overrated and overpriced – would suit them well.

Lastly, let’s say well done to Katy Sexton, who, the Times reports, has just won a silver medal at the swimming world Championships in Barcelona.

But since we do not know which football club Katy supports and since she prefers to swim in a swimsuit not in a bikini, she fails to make a big splash in newssheets.

Posted: 23rd, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Your Country Needs You

‘ENGLAND will go into tomorrow’s first Test against South Africa as slight favourites after their victory in the one-day series, but the series promises to be a close-run thing.

The best batsman in England

And it is my guess that we will not have a long wait before we welcome back the man who is arguably still the best batsman in England, Graham Thorpe.

Thorpe has been left out of the squad for the first Test, but England do not have a strong enough batting line-up to omit him for long.

Anthony McGrath has done everything England have asked of him up to now, but there is a big difference between scoring two fifties at No.7 against Zimbabwe and batting at No.5 against South Africa.

In many ways, McGrath’s elevation to No.4 in the one-day batting order has muddied the waters of Test selection.

Selection should never have come down to a battle between Thorpe and McGrath for the last batting place because McGrath was not originally picked as a batsman.

Selection should have been between McGrath and Andrew Flintoff for the all-rounder spot, with Thorpe and Robert Key battling it out for the batting slot.

Looked at in that way, Thorpe would surely have been playing at Edgbaston tomorrow – and it would have been Flintoff struggling to justify his inclusion.

The news that Alec Stewart is to retire from Test cricket at the end of the series with South Africa should also strengthen the case for bringing back Thorpe.

Stewart’s replacement (Chris Read or Jamie Foster) will bat at No.7, which means that Flintoff will have to move up to No.6 – thereby putting more pressure on the England top five.

A middle-order of McGrath, Flintoff and, say, Read is not only dangerously inexperienced, but it looks to be short of batting class. Thorpe, Flintoff, Read sounds much more reassuring.

Almost the worst thing that can happen in this Test for the England selectors is for McGrath to score some runs and so make it impossible for them to drop him.

But they must put sentiment aside and make the decision that is best for England in the longer term – and that is undoubtedly to bring back Thorpe.

Posted: 23rd, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Roman Revolution

‘SO far Roman Abramovich has splashed out £36.9m on four new players for Chelsea.

Lance knew he should never have taken the stabilisers off

The Times shows them to be Geremi (£6.9m), Wayne Bridge (£7m), Glen Johnson (£6m) and now £17m for Damien Duff.

The Independent is right to use the world ‘revolution’ when taking about Chelsea. The money the club is spending is keeping the transfer market buoyant and making the off-season one of rare interest.

So much of the football conversation is usually about Manchester United, and with a nod to tradition the Indy makes mention of that team from the grim north.

It seems that United chairman Peter Kenyon might have had his tongue in his cheek when he said that United were not interested in signing Duff.

The paper says that, while Kenyon made contact with Blackburn, Duff’s former club, Roy Keane rang his fellow Irishman to discuss a move to Old Trafford.

But it wasn’t enough and Duff has made the move to London. Which is one in the eye for United and a shot in the arm for the Chelski Blues.

Meanwhile, the Telegraph shows Tour De France reigning champion Lance Armstrong taking a tumble off his bike at the foot of Luz-Ardiden.

The paper takes up this story, saying how with six miles to go on the 100-mile stage from Bagneres to Bigorre, Armstrong fell.

Or was he pushed? The full story is that a small bag being held by a spectator became entangled on the American’s handlebars. Armstrong was handbagged.

Such things are commonplace on the Tour, where spectators recklessly dive in front of bikes and cars nip between the cyclists.

But the incredible thing is Armstrong’s reaction. He climbed back on his bike and won the leg. Truly epic stuff.

Posted: 22nd, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

A New Formula

‘ATTEMPTS to make Formula One more exciting, or less boring at any rate, have reached new heights.

God-botherer: 100 points

Sunday’s Grand Prix replaced a pace car with a 56-year-old man clad in a kilt and carrying a sign on which was written: ‘Read The Bible: The Bible Is Always Right.’

Few casual observers of the most boring sport on earth understand what the flags mean.

Sure, the chequered one means that Michael Schumacher has finished the race, but what the rest signify is a mystery.

But we can all of us understand that a man with a placard on the middle of the track means slow down. Or could it mean speed up?

Come on, it’s not that cruel, we’ve all played the game in our cars when the old dear steps out into the road with her week’s shopping of one potato and a can of spam.

‘Fifty points!’ your co-driver shouts. You laugh. You could excuse the drivers at Silverstone for thinking the same as the God-botherer ran out in front of them.

That’s 30 points for a middle-aged man; 50 points for his kilt; and 1,000 points for the blatant display of religion.

This game could even be extended. From holes beneath the tarmac, pictures would periodically pop up, in the manner of targets in a shooting gallery.

A mother and child appear inches ahead of David Coulthard’s thrusting nose-cone. Hit them and lose 10 points. Miss them and gain 20.

Colliding with the Marlboro man would mean instant dismissal for Ferrari and 100 points for Jenson Button’s BAR. A Lucky Strike in the sponsorship stakes.

What the team orders would be for a pint-sized effigy of the pint-sized Bernie Ecclestone is debatable.

His supposed plan to replace the British Grand Prix with an Indian version would mean a loss of prestige for British racing. But the worldwide appeal would grow.

After all, how much more tricky would it be to avoid an entire sacred cow?

Posted: 22nd, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Rules Are For Changing

‘IT is hard to know who to feel most sorry for at the end of a magnificent Open golf championship – Thomas Bjorn or Mark Roe.

‘What about swapping wives?’

Standing on the 15th tee, Bjorn had the famous claret jug in his grasp only to let it slip by dropping four shots in three holes.

How he must wish this morning that he could be back on the 16th tee and could play those closing holes again!

But at least Bjorn lost his chance of winning on the golf course – Roe lost what chance he had after a freak infringement of the rules.

The 40-year-old would have started the final round only two shots off the lead.

It is highly unlikely that he would have won (although no more unlikely than eventual winner Ben Curtis), but he was certainly deprived of an experience he will probably never have again.

That said, the reaction in many parts has been absurd and completely out of proportion with talk of players’ boycotts and the like.

The fact remains that both Roe and Jesper Parnevik broke the rules in failing to swap cards – and both players accepted that that was the case.

Golf depends on players observing the rules – they both knew the rules and they both knew the penalties for transgression.

You cannot change the rules midway through a tournament – but you can change them afterwards.

And it is surely now time to move away from the antiquated system whereby professional golfers are responsible for their own and their partner’s score.

Too many incidents like the one on Saturday have happened and in the longer term they undermine the credibility of the game.

Padraig Harrington was disqualified from the 2001 Benson & Hedges while leading the tournament by five shots simply because he had failed to sign his first-round card.

There was no question of any advantage being sought or any advantage being gained; it was quite simply a clerical error. As it was with Roe and Parnevik.

It is akin to a footballer having a goal disallowed because the name on the back of his shirt was spelt wrong.

And you can imagine how that would go down in the semi-finals of the World Cup.

Posted: 21st, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Man Of Kent

‘TO describe Ben Curtis’ victory in yesterday’s British Open golf championship as a shock is something of an understatement.

A claret Sandwich

The 26-year-old American only qualified to play at Sandwich by finishing 13th in the Western Open a fortnight ago – his highest tournament finish before yesterday.

But in beating Thomas Bjorn and Vijay Singh by a single stroke in a dramatic climax, he became the first player for 90 years to win a major title at his first attempt.

The papers hardly know what to say about a man who the Express claims was a 1,000-1 outsider before the tournament started.

‘Curtis Stranger,’ is the Mirror’s back-page pun on the name of last year’s American Ryder Cup captain, Curtis Strange. And ‘Great Unknown’ is the Express’ verdict.

The Mail and the Sun prefer ‘Big Ben’, as Curtis obligingly claims to have been inspired by the sightseeing tour of London he took just days before the championship.

The Express describes yesterday as ‘one of the most incredible days in Open history’ as the unknown from Kent, Ohio was catapulted to the top of the leaderboard ahead of names like Tiger Woods, Davis Love, Vijay Singh and Sergio Garcia.

‘Perhaps predictably, Curtis snapped,’ it says – as he dropped four shots in his closing six holes and fell behind Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn.

But then came Bjorn’s own implosion as three shots from a greenside bunker at the short 16th cost the Dane the title – and earned one Internet punter a cool £87,000.

The Mirror is also celebrating what it describes as ‘the most dramatic [Formula 1] race in recent memory’, with Rubens Barichello’s victory coming only hours after Bernie Ecclestone had cast doubt on the future of the British Grand Prix.

But a fresh shadow was cast over the future of the event after a spectator managed to evade track marshals and get onto the Silverstone tarmac, putting the lives of the drivers in jeopardy.

In the Sun, Jenson Button has no doubt that the man who ran onto Hangar Straight could have caused a fatal accident as cars were forced to take evasive action at 185mph.

‘He obviously didn’t care what happened to himself, but we care what happens to us,’ he said.

But neither nutters at the Grand Prix or unknowns at the Open can knock football off the Star’s back page, which today gives its readers yet another reason to hate Manchester United.

Apparently, United chairman Peter Kenyon said the reason why Ronaldinho chose to go to Barcelona rather than Manchester was because he couldn’t handle the big game pressure.

As his World Cup-winning medal proves…

Posted: 21st, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Monty’s Thumbs-Down

‘COLIN Montgomerie dramatically pulled out of golf’s British Open championship yesterday after injuring his thumb over breakfast.

Ian Woosnam was finally found alive and well in the rough by the 1st hole

However, reports that the burly Scot mistook it for a sausage and tried to eat it are – like Tiger Woods’ first drive – very wide of the mark.

Monty did at least find his thumb, which is more than Tiger could do with his golf ball as he started his quest for a second Open title in disastrous fashion yesterday.

The World No.1 blasted his opening tee-shot 20 yards right of the fairway at Royal St George’s and that was the last he saw of it – until now.

The Sun proudly shows off the ball, which was eventually recovered by course marshal Terry Bennet who trod on it as he walked through the knee-high grass half an hour later.

It does allow the paper to reproduce one of its most famous headlines – ‘Gotcha’ – although readers might be wondering why that is considered the leading sports story of the day.

What with Monty’s sore thumb and Tiger’s errant ball, we have to delve inside the papers before we learn what actually went on in the tournament itself.

And the answer is that the wind blew, making life very difficult for the late starters, although not as difficult as some made it look.

The Express, for instance, takes great delight in recounting (and re-counting) every shot American Jerry Kelly took at the first hole – all 11 of them.

‘It was as cruel as it was compelling,’ the paper says, ‘providing proof to all amateurs that nowhere is there a greater leveller of talent than the golf course.’

In fact, so many shots did Kelly take that it seems to have had an effect on the Express’ maths as the paper claims the score was the highest on the first hole of an Open Championship since 1983 when Bobby Clampett opened up with an, er, eight.

All of which leaves but a little space in which to mourn, along we’re sure with the rest of the country, the news that Alex Ferguson’s pre-season plans are in chaos.

The Star says the Manchester United boss is ready to pull the plug on the Ronaldinho deal unless the Brazilian puts pen to paper tonight.

And Chelsea have pulled out of a move to bring Juan Sebastian Veron to Stamford Bridge. Oh dear!

Posted: 18th, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Black And Blue

‘YOU’VE got to laugh at Chelsea fans. Well, the Chelsea fans who sit in the whites-only areas of Stamford Bridge.

When in Chelsea, do as the Roman does

The fans who made monkey noises last year at a black Chelsea fan who dared to wear the kit on match day and sit among them.

You can laugh at them. They, after all, are there to be laughed at.

The trouble for these true Blues began a few seasons back when the Chelsea gangsters had a black dreadlocked Dutchman installed as their manager.

Ruud Gullit was a shock at first but was soon put in the bracket of ‘all right black bastard’ by the Chelsea traditionalists.

After all, Ruud played football for Holland, and that means he’s all right. The Dutch love a tear-up on match day. So Ruud was all right, really.

Still, though, the Blues made the monkey noises at other black players. Like albino gibbons they jumped around behind the goal.

And when Spurs came to play at the Bridge, they had a right old time.

‘Spurs are on their way to Auschwitz, Adolf’s going to gas them again,’ sing the good old boys.

The sound of what they imagine to be gas is then emitted from their thin lips. Up go the raised arms.

At least these boys don’t deny the Holocaust, even if they do celebrate it.

And now – guess what – Chelsea’ new boss, the man who leads them into a bright new dawn is a Jew. He’s a yiddo. How funny is that!

The fans that love all things white and pure right down to their yellowy teeth and fingernails now have an Italian manager and a Jewish owner.

The only thing that stops us all having the last laugh at Chelsea is that they also have more money than God and are in the process of constructing an enviable team.

And that’s the thing. As soon as the team wins things – if they win things – will we still hear the sound of the gas ovens from the Chelsea boys?

Or will Roman Abramovich now be put in the box for Yids who are all right – the ones who aren’t like the others?

The only thing missing from the Chelsea melting pot is an Asian footballer, and – Ho! Ho! – one who can take a great corner kick would be an added bonus.

Sadly, the sight of an Asian footballer at the Bridge – or at any professional ground – is a long way from becoming a reality.

Posted: 18th, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Class Must Out

‘ENGLAND’S cricket selectors will announce the squad to face the South Africans in the first Test of the five-match series next week.

Goughie stakes his claim

And the big question will be whether there is room for two of the old guard, Graham Thorpe and Darren Gough.

Opinions vary on the validity of both claims, one because of attitude, the other because of fitness – and both because of age.

No-one doubts that Thorpe is one of the best batsmen, if not the best batsman, in England, but recent personal problems have done great damage to his standing in the Test arena.

His late withdrawal from last winter’s tour, for instance, is not something the selectors can ignore.

However, he has come back this season seemingly rejuvenated, is in good form with the bat and seems to have his personal life back on an even keel.

Additionally, at 33 he has still potentially got a few years left in him.

With a batting order that contains 35-year-old Nasser Hussain and 40-year-old Alec Stewart, England may be glad of Thorpe as the older statesman in a year or so’s time.

As for the young pretenders, Robert Key has had ample opportunity to stake a claim. The fact that Thorpe’s return is being mooted shows that he hasn’t taken it.

As for the others, it is up to them to show that they are better than Thorpe, which none of them have done.

With Hussain and Stewart nearing retirement age, places will open up in the side anyway for them to fill.

As for Gough, the situation is a lot trickier as no-one really knows how his knee will hold up in a five-day match.

However, no-one really will know until he tries, so I would select him with James Anderson and probably Steve Harmison ahead of Richard Johnson.

It looks a pretty decent line-up to me: Vaughan, Trescothick, Butcher, Hussain, Thorpe, Stewart, Flintoff, Giles, Gough, Harmison, Anderson.

Unfair it may be on Anthony McGrath, who has passed 50 on both his Test innings so far, but as an all-rounder Andrew Flintoff is in a higher class. ‘

Posted: 17th, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Rose Blooms

‘ARSENE Wenger is ‘positive’ that Patrick Vieira will sign a new deal to stay at Arsenal, says the Sun.

‘They call me Leopard…because I’ve still got spots’

Meanwhile, the player is being linked with moves to Real Madrid, Chelsea, Manchester United and Spurs.

Okay, not Spurs – that would be too ridiculous even in this summer of Beckham hype and Chelski madness.

But the most bizarre story so far produced in this non-footballing summer is found in the Sun.

There, lurking on page 74, with no forewarning or advice to avert innocent eyes, is a shot of Michael Owen with a beard.

What happened to the fresh-faced boy from Wales? His cheeks are now covered in a fine down of brown fluff.

At least one thing never alters – football remains the main stock in trade of sports talk.

Even The Open, the apogee of golf, becomes just another excuse to talk about football in the Express’ hands.

The story is that David Beckham (remember him?) ‘could’ be getting golfing lessons from Spanish golfer Sergio Garcia. Why? Because Garcia is a fan of Real Madrid. It’s obvious really.

Meanwhile the Mail is the only tabloid to lead with a story about the 132nd Open Championship from Royal St George’s. News is that Justin Rose, 22, thinks he can win the tournament.

But the real big guns are profiled inside the paper, where South African Ernie Els and American Tiger Woods are threatening to turn the event into a ‘showdown’.

‘Tiger is the best player in the world,’ says Els, the reigning Open champ. ‘But as I begin my defence, I think it’s time for me to look Tiger in the eye a bit more. Maybe it is time for me to look at him…and say: ‘OK, Tiger, let’s get it on.”

The Mirror says that whatever the debate, Woods remains the bookies’ favourite to win, having been cut from odds of 7-2 to 9-4.

Woods have been the favourite to win every Major event he’s played in since the 1997 US Masters, which he won.

That is some record. Of course if he played football, he’d be odds-on to attract a bid from Chelsea.

Perhaps Ian Dowie could teach him how to play?

Posted: 17th, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

20-20 Vision

‘CHELSEA have agreed a £7m deal to take Wayne Bridge from Southampton to Stamford Bridge. That’s in the Sun, and in the Mirror, the Blues have just bid £20m to make Patrick Vieira another Chelsea player.

Tiger keeps crowds at bay with his 9-iron

Chelsea clearly fancy their chances in making the great Frenchman one of their own, and have apparently given Arsenal a 22-day deadline to make up the minds or lose the deal.

And the answer would be pretty conclusive ‘Non!’, especially since the Sun says that United have bid the same £20m and thrown in Fabien Barthez.

Not that you can see Arsenal taking the option of losing their captain to their main rivals and then taking on a goalkeeper of questionable confidence.

As footballers jostle for position, British sports fans get too close to Tiger Woods.

The Express watches as Woods leaves the 18th green after finishing his practice round at Royal St George’s and is mobbed by fans.

Indeed the enthusiastic ones probably pose more of a threat to Woods that the man the Mail says he’ll play with in the first two rounds of The Open.

A 25-year-old from Hemel Hempstead by the name of Luke Donald will share tee times with the world’s No.1.

And he is full of confidence. ‘To become the best player in the world and have no limelight would be my ideal scenario,’ he tells the Mail.

That’s about as likely to happen as, well, Donald becoming the world’s No.1. But we wish him the best of luck this Thursday.

The other big event of the weekend, says the Star, is the British Grand Prix.

Two things can be guaranteed by its presence – first, a Schumacher will win the race; secondly, it will rain heavily.

It’s hard to know which is more depressing…

Posted: 16th, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Kiss Of Death

‘PATRICK Vieira has been a good player for Arsenal. He’s been given the captain’s armband of late and has relished the experience.

Vieira winces at the propect of leaving his beloved Arsenal

And now he says that unless his employers pay him what he and his agent think he’s worth, he’ll see out his contract and walk away on a Bosman free at the end of next season.

All Arsenal fans should be saying to this is: ‘Bye-bye, Pat. Best of luck. Hand your shirt in on the way out.’

The arrogance of saying that you are effectively bigger than the club who helped make you leaves a sour taste.

The vote of confidence that used to come from the chairman’s office immediately before his manager was sacked has been replaced by the player kissing the club’s badge.

They have all done it. It’s a nice gesture, showing that you are honoured to wear the club’s crest. It is also, save for a few individuals, a complete con.

Vieira would love to stay at Arsenal, he says. He would like to finish his career there.

And if the board could just break their pay structure and tell him how marvellous he is, then he might just stay.

Cheers. Thank you. Perhaps, rather than cheering the next time the players come out, we should tug our forelocks and thank the kind sirs for turning up.

Rio loves West Ham. Teddy loves Spurs. Day-vid loves Manchester. Rio loves Leeds. And they all love money.

And if you’ve got the money, they will love you.

The truth is that no single player is bigger than any club.

The most telling comment of last year came from Arsenal chairman Peter Hill-Wood.

When Vieira moaned that the team were not performing in Europe, Hill-Wood offered the advice that, since the Frenchman was on the pitch, he was pretty well placed to do something about it.

Football fans who go to matches know what’s what. What you see is what you get.

It’s just that the marketing drones who seek to run today’s game only want us to see the veneer, the shiny film that disguises the whole picture.

Sky TV invented it, and it’s being exported to all corners of the ground…

Posted: 16th, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Buy Buy Football

‘THE Express says that Real Madrid’s golden boy, Raul, has fallen out with the club’s president, Florentino Perez. So bad is the row that Raul is now on the transfer list.

Off to the Bridge

The Spanish club are desperate to rid themselves of the man who is said to be upset by the arrival of David Beckham.

For this reason they are offering to sell the striker for the giveaway fee of £70m.

It’s the kind of story that is only of interest because it allows the Express to mention Roman Abramovich, the new Chelsea owner.

That job done, the Mail says that Arsenal are ready to fall apart and crumble to so much dust.

Patrick Vieira, the club’s captain, has set a deadline of one month for the club to agree to his wage demands.

The French midfielder wants £100,000 a week or he’ll walk away.

And if he does leave, the Mirror says Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager will also go, the fans will revolt, the earth will be stained a rich shade of red and there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the land of Highbury.

To avoid meltdown, poor Arsenal could be forced, as the Mail supposes, to sell their prized asset for a derisory £50m to Chelsea.

But the Gunners had best be quick, because the paper says that the Blues are on course to buy Inter Milan’s Christian Vieri for £25m.

The Blues will then swoop for a host of other players whose names are too big to fit on the screen and become the best team in the world – ever!

And the only person who can stop them taking over the sports pages is you know whom. We never thought we’d say it, but bring back David Beckham – all is forgiven.

Posted: 15th, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Tiger & Scorcher

‘THE British Open golf championship gets under way on Thursday with Tiger Woods as usual the focus of all attention.

Tiger misses yet again from 190 yards out

For the first time in a number of years, the World No.1 does not have any of the game’s four major trophies in his cabinet – and the more ignorant of the pundits are talking about a loss of form.

This despite the fact that Woods’ win-loss record for the year is actually better entering this tournament than it was in 2000, his annus mirabilis.

For instance, yesterday in the Times, Mark Chapman (apparently a presenter on BBC radio’s 6-0-6) tipped Ernie Els to win ‘because Tiger is out of form’.

Had he had a clue what he was talking about, he would have known that Tiger won his last tournament, the Western Open, by a country mile.

He would also have known that Woods has won in four of his 10 starts on the PGA Tour this year, finished in the Top 5 on a further two occasions and never finished out of the Top 20.

Make no mistake, the other players don’t believe any of this rubbish about a slump – they know that Woods is the player to beat this week.

That said, there are a lot of players (besides Els) who will fancy their chances this week on a links course.

It is probably no coincidence that the British Open is the only major championship that Woods has won only once, his solitary success coming at St Andrew’s three years ago.

Links golf is very different from what most of the players, especially the American players, are used to – and it takes a while to adapt.

Luck, in terms of the weather and in good or bad bounces, plays a bigger part at the seaside than it does on inland courses.

But so does imagination – and that is really what makes links golf and this championship in particular so special.

So for Woods to win, he not only needs to be in control of his game over the four days, but he also needs Lady Luck to smile on him.

If he doesn’t win, however, can we not hear any more absurd talk about the game’s greatest player being in a slump…

Posted: 15th, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

The Holy Roman Empire

‘WE must begin by thanking Roman Abramovich for arriving on these shores, buying Chelsea and, in threatening to buy just about every footballer in the world, drive David Beckham from the backpages.

‘Hmmm – it’ll make a great site for luxury flats’

Abramovich, a confirmed Zionist, is every inch the Messiah. Thank God for him.

And so to today’s Chelsea news, and the Sun’s story of how the Blues are ready to buy Manchester United’s Mekon man, Juan Sebastian Veron, for £14m.

The paper says that the deal is done and the Argentine is on his way to London.

This is good news for Chelsea who have been labouring under the false impression that Frank Lampard will deliver the midfield skill to win championship medals.

Meanwhile, the Mail reminds its suspicious readership that Veron once played under Sven Goran Eriksson at Lazio. Put two and two together and you have an England manager who could leave his post to take over at the Bridge.

The only trouble with this story is that Eriksson has issued a statement saying he is committed to England.

But, with this being the Mail and Sven being foreign, the FA are advised by the paper to summon their manager home from Sweden immediately.

Another man who could be on the move is West Ham’s Joe Cole. The Sun says that Cole could be off to Barcelona for £20m. Or he could just stay at home with his mum in Romford.

If sports fans want to see athletes who really travel they should look to the Express and the Tour de France.

The Tour is a great spectacle, taking in dramatic scenery, edge-of-the-seat racing and French people determined to get run over.

But the man to watch is Lance Armstrong, competing to win his fifth straight title. The Express reports that the Texan now leads the Tour, having taken over the yellow jersey from Frenchman Richard Virenque.

Armstrong is keen to do well and says that he is flattered by the Chelsea offer, but must wait until the race is over before considering his options…

Posted: 14th, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

The Weight Of Expectation

‘POOR, deluded Michael Vaughan, what has he done? The English paying public can always be called upon to give the new boy a few games to settle in, excusing him some crushing defeats at the outset.

Michael Vaughan now really has his hands full

But now the England captain has shown us how good he and his team can be, we’ll be expecting more of the same.

Happily for Vaughan, the next one-day series is in Bangladesh, where the greatest threat to English dominance is climate and something unpleasant in the local water.

England should win that series and then move onto the more difficult trial when they take on Sri Lanka in Dambulla and Colombo.

But England should not worry since they are now the third best one-day team in the world, having moved up from No.7. You have to go back to the mid-1980s to find the last time the boys in blue held so lofty a position.

Back then, Australia were a pretty tired-looking bunch. The Green and Golds are now, without doubt, the world’s best side by some margin.

The Australians’ rise to the top has been a masterclass to all in just what careful planning, patient training and good captaincy can achieve.

That South Africa are currently ranked No.2 in the ICC order can only give England an added shot of confidence.

And England are getting things right. South Africa did not play well in the NatWest series final at Lords.

The tourists’ dismissal in just 32.1 overs for a measly 107 runs cannot all be attributed to fine England bowling, of which there was plenty.

South Africa clearly have problems in their team. But more should be made of England.

‘It’s wonderful to have performed like that in front of 30,000 people when the pressure is on,’ said Vaughan after Saturday’s win. ‘We fully expect to best South Africa in the Test series.’

The new skipper’s learning curve is surely heading for a steep rise. Hasn’t he studied the captains that have gone before him?

The rule is a simple one: always talk up the other team. Saying how you’re going to beat them makes you sound uncouth, brash, confident – Australian.

Vaughan is delivering a sense of expectation to the England faithful.

If he carries on leading winning teams – although the Test side remains Hussain’s domain – we will soon expect victory.

And if England can sort out their middle order, the thing is, we just might get what we wish for…

Posted: 14th, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Blues Bottle

‘SVEN Goran Eriksson is surely not the only one embarrassed at being caught having secret talks with new Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.

What turnip will follow the Swede?

The London club would no doubt prefer Claudio Ranieri not to have found out in such dramatic fashion that he is not their first choice to take charge of the club next season.

And the FA, which has pinned so much faith on Eriksson, must be disturbed by the Swede’s lack of loyalty.

However, calls to sack Eriksson for this lack of judgement, are premature and should be resisted.

So far, Eriksson has done nothing more than have discussions with a club – discussions which may have had more to do with his future after his England contract runs out.

Even if the Swede was contemplating jumping ship sooner than that, for instance after the European Championships in 2004, what would be gained by getting rid of him now?

Apart from the enormous expense that removing Eriksson would entail, there is no obvious replacement.

And the timing is such that England would be forced to enter the vital period of their qualification either with a new manager or a caretaker manager.

The jury are still out on Eriksson as an international coach, although his record in competitive fixtures is highly impressive.

It would be in everyone’s interests to wait until next summer before making a decision on the future.

By that time and if England do not perform as we believe they should, then it may be possible to effect an amicable separation.

One can understand why Eriksson is tempted by a return to club management and, after four years in charge, it may be the time for him to go.

The FA will also have had another year in which to groom a successor.

And judging by events this week, it is a task they should be focussing on as a matter of some urgency.

Posted: 11th, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Roman Legion

‘WHAT would the papers have done had Roman Abramovich not decided to kill a boring afternoon by buying a football club?

Roman was surprised by how much shorter and less talented Thierry ‘Glenn’ Henry looked in the flesh

David Beckham was safely ensconced in Madrid and, try as they might, no-one was much interested in where Ronaldinho will be breaking mirrors next season.

But along came the Russian billionaire and suddenly the hacks could pick a Fantasy XI for Chelsea and pretend that it was real news.

The Sun looks forward to ‘the biggest cash splash in football history’ after ‘Red Rom’ made offers worth £48m in 48 hours.

All very impressive, but the only thing the Blues have to show for it so far is Glenn Johnson, West Ham’s England Under-21 right-back who arrived for £6m.

If they want Christian Vieri to leave Inter Milan and come to Stamford Bridge, the Mail says they will have to raise their £20m offer.

A bid is also in for Real Madrid midfielder Geremi, with the Sun claiming the Blues are favourites to land the player.

The Mirror suggests that Abramovich has also made an official approach for £17m-rated Blackburn winger Damien Duff.

And the Express thinks that Andrei Shevchenko and Edgar Davids are also on the club’s shopping list.

To cricket and England are gearing up to take on South Africa in tomorrow’s final of the NatWest Series, with Jonty Rhodes tipping a victory for the visitors.

England’s batting, he warns, is too reliant on one of two players, notably Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick and the bowling often depends on James Anderson.

‘The possible fly in the ointment for South Africa is Andy Flintoff,’ he concedes.

‘In one-day cricket, one man can turn a game and Flintoff has it in his armoury to alter the course of any match.’

Let’s hope he does just that tomorrow…

Posted: 11th, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Bad Delivery

‘EVER since he first cocked his arm on the international cricket stage, Pakistani fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar has been a controversial figure.

Akhtar is on the front foot

It’s not allegations for throwing the ball that have landed the bowler in trouble this time but comments he made in interview with the Guardian newspaper.

In this world shrunken by the media, a man in Pakistan read the interview and took offence. He claims that criticisms made by Akhtar against other Pakistani players were defamatory to the reputation of the entire Pakistan nation.

It’s as good a time as any now to review the offending comments.

‘Wasim [Akram] and Waqar [Younis] are in decline,’ said Akhtar. ‘I have to make it all happen. There is so much pressure on me.’ Akhtar went on to say that his job might be made easier had he been born in Australia.

As a collection of comments these stand right up there with other statements of the bleeding obvious, like how England selectors favour players from Surrey and that Ian Botham should go and live in Australia.

For his part, Akhtar is far from contrite. ‘It’s some kind of cheeky fella trying to get famous – I’m not too bothered about it,’ he says.

But he is bothered, or he should be. Criticising players who have performed for longer than you and at a consistently high level is a brave move for any player, especially one whose bowling action is often called into question.

Indeed Younis, a revered figure in his homeland, is unimpressed, and has instructed his critic to ‘shut up and bowl’.

The Guardian has reminded its readers that earlier this year Younis was accused of inflicting ‘mental torture’ on a Pakistani litigant by appearing in a drink advert in India.

That issue was made more comical by the fact that the target of the campaign denies having ever been in such a commercial.

The one thing for certain is that cricket in this region of Asia is big news. Perhaps it’s the only place on earth where its stars get more press and cause a greater stir than David Beckham’s knickers.

Posted: 10th, July 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment