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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

Guess Who’s Beck

‘AFTER a mercifully brief interlude, during which England played and won a match without him, David Beckham returns to his rightful place on the back pages of the papers this morning.

”Cricket is the new rock ‘n’ roll”

Not that any of the papers are any the wiser as to where the England skipper will be playing next season – except that they all agree it won’t be in Manchester.

The Express insists that Beckham will go to Barcelona if neither of his first-choice clubs – AC Milan and Real Madrid – can reach an agreement with the Old Trafford board.

The Mirror says Beckham’s advisers asked Real 15 questions in a secret meeting, such as whether he would be a first-team regular and whether he could wear the No.7 shirt.

”Another meeting is planned for June 23,” the paper says, ”when Real are expected to table a formal offer for the player who has become an outcast at Old Trafford.”

The Sun claims that AC Milan are so keen to sign Beckham that they have offered Andrei Shevchenko £1m to give up his No.7 shirt.

All well and good, but if neither Milan or Madrid do come in for Beckham, he had better hope that Joan Laporta wins the race to become Barcelona president on Sunday.

His rival, Llius Bassat, certainly doesn’t seem too keen on splashing out £30m on the 28-year-old.

”Our club is in the crap financially,” he said, ”and starting to rebuild with Beckham would put us in the shit.”

With the Mail warning that England’s potentially decisive Euro 2004 qualifier against Turkey could be played behind closed doors after crowd violence at the Turks’ game against Macedonia, you have to delve inside the paper before you can find any genuine action.

And we find that Tom Watson rolled back the years to lead at the end of the first round of golf’s US Open, Greg Rusedski lost a tennis match and Atomic Kitten will play at one of cricket’s Twenty20 matches.

Jenny Frost apparently is a useful medium pace bowler and No.7 batsman.

Posted: 13th, June 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Rearguard Inaction

‘SVEN Goran Eriksson has an impressive record as manager of England in competitive fixtures, having lost just one match out of 18 – and that to the world champions.


By rights, he should be lauded by the football establishment, by the media and by the fans.

But anyone who saw the first half of England’s Euro 2004 qualifier against Slovakia on Wednesday will find it hard to express unreserved admiration for the Swede.

It is hard to recall a worst performance over 45 minutes than the shambolic effort that was England’s first half – and there have been a few dire games to choose from.

The absence of three-quarters of the first-choice defence is only a partial excuse.

The problem was not so much lack of ability (although, if Danny Mills is the second best right back in England, we really are in trouble).

The problem was that no-one – in defence, midfield or attack – seemed to have a clue what they were supposed to be doing. And the person at fault for that must be Eriksson.

The Swede cannot complain that he had not had enough time with the players – he has had two friendly matches and a training camp to get it right.

So, either he is not getting his message across to the players or they are not listening.

On the second-half performance, Slovakia are a very average side. It shows just how awful England’s first-half was that they made them look quite good.

To Eriksson’s credit, he realised that the famed diamond formation wasn’t working early on and made the change before half-time.

By that stage, Danny Mills had shown conclusively that he is not an international standard full-back – not even for the Faroe Islands.

In the second half, England were a lot better and thoroughly deserved their victory at the end.

Michael Owen’s first goal might have been the result of a soft penalty, but Slovakia should not complain about that.

England definitely had the worst of the decisions, with Gareth Southgate almost being mugged in the area only a couple of minutes later and then Frank Lampard having a goal disallowed by one of the most perverse offside decisions I’ve ever witnessed.

But they shouldn’t have needed rescuing – by Owen, the referee or whoever.

In this qualifying group, England have now been behind in three of the five games they have played – in both games against Slovakia and twice in the game against Macedonia.

They cannot expect to keep coming back, especially against better teams.

It is now a matter of some urgency that Eriksson sorts out the mess that is the England defence and allows the rest of the team to play a bit of football.

Posted: 13th, June 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

On His Owen

‘READING the Times this morning you can imagine Michael Owen jumping up and down on the spot screaming ”Look at me! I’m over here!” in a bid to gain attention.

”And I want to live in…Milan”

Last night the boy wonder – he’s still just 23 – celebrated winning his 50th England cap with a fine display of running and scoring, that brought him two goals and England a 2-1 over Slovakia.

And the Times leads its review with: ”England back on course after Owen mends it like Beckham.”

Yes, the poor lad who worked so hard last night is still forced to share the headlines with a player who never even took to the pitch.

Even when Beckham isn’t there he remains an integral part of English success.

Inside the paper, Simon Barnes says that the ”ghost” of England’s absent captain is ”omnipresent”, going as far as to award the man-of-the-match award to the Beckham one.

”He was, after all, the most conspicuous player on display at the Riverside Stadium last night, and effortlessly the most talked about,” he gushes.

Only he wasn’t – not if you really watch England play and are a football fan rather than a Beckham worshipper.

Thankfully, such trite nonsense is missing from the Telegraph, where Owen is rightly seen as England’s lone saviour. ”Owen rescues England,” says the bold headline.

The Guardian even manages to look beyond just England and tell its readers that Ireland beat Georgia last night by two goals to nil and that a plucky Northern Irish side that have lost about 2,000 games on the trot have drawn 0-0 with Spain.

”Unbelievable” is the world the paper uses to begin its review of the Northern Irish game.

Incredible might be just as apt, especially when we learn that Ireland are ranked 111th in the Fifa ranking, while Spain are joint second with France.

But now to the most important story in sport, and the most important question: where does Victoria Beckham want to live?

The Independent lines up the brochures – Manchester, Barcelona, Madrid and Milan – and take us through the plusses and minuses for each.

And the winner is…Milan. Well, the winner for us, because the verdict is that she’d be too busy shopping to relaunch her signing career.

Posted: 12th, June 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Narrow Escape

‘PELE. To Cruyff. To Zico. To Tardelli. To Zidane. To Best. To Maradona. To Mills… What happens next?

Danny Mills is called in to see Sven

I’ll tell you. The ball is ballooned at five hundred miles per hour straight into the stands. Mills turns and like the gimp looking for his security box runs back to his berth on the right side of defence.

Of course, Mills is not lucky enough to play with the world’s greatest ever players. He has to make do with Phil Neville, Matthew Upson and Frank Lampard.

There are the likes of Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard, who Mills can take the ball off and then put an end to the any move. But they are in the minority.

The fact is that England have no width. Relying on a plodding fullback to get forward is a joke. Mills moves with all the grace of James Bond’s old adversary Rosa Klebb trying on some new shoes.

Mills is everything that is wrong with the England side. Clearly not all of this is his fault, and he should be rightly proud that he is playing for this national side.

But he is no winger. So why is he playing on the wing? This is a question Sven Goran Eriksson can answer. But we won’t need to put it to him because we know the answer: there are no decent English wingers.

Darren Anderton is an option. And much as I would like to criticise the limping tampon, I can’t argue with the notion that he at least provides width.

Steve McManaman is another option to occupy the wide left or right. But he pretty much disappeared the day he went to Spain.

This paucity of wing options is set to be more evident should Trevor Brooking, who commentated on last’s match, take charge of England’s affairs.

He’d consider playing Wayne Bridge and Ashley Cole on the left, one behind the other.

I can feel the tears beginning to well up at the very thought of it.

The only option for England – until Ryan Giggs sees the light or the likes of Jermaine Pennant or some other young prospect makes the grade – is to play all England games on a very narrow pitch.

Something as wide as the players tunnel should do it, with a neat security-conscious 5-4-1 formation.

It won’t be pretty, but at least we shan’t have to look at acres of space behind the opposition’s fullbacks that no England player has the guile or speed to get into.

Posted: 12th, June 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

David And Goliaths

‘IN today’s Beckham fanzine, the Telegraph says that our hero is off to Barcelona. The Guardian says that he was off to Barcelona, but Real Madrid are set to ”hijack” the deal.


The Times says that, although a deal has been agreed for the player to go to Barcelona, the player’s agents and lackeys are not happy.

The Catalan club are not even guaranteed a place in the impoverished Uefa Cup next season, having to win their berth with a series of good performances in the InterToto Cup.

This is surely not a great venue for Beckham, the world’s most bankable footballer.

So Becks is said to be unhappy at how United are treating him. And United, as the Times reports, are about to be miserable as Alex Ferguson should Real Madrid sign Ronaldinho from under their noses.

The football wheel turns and wherever it stops no-one yet knows. The only thing for sure is that the richest clubs are all in pursuit of the biggest names.

Which makes us wonder what Tim Henman would be worth if he were a footballer. Less Manchester United glamour and more a willing and trusted Blackburn Rovers stayer.

But Henman has no plans to change career, and the Telegraph spots the Chiswick Champ hitting ball on racket at the Stella Artois tournament.

And it was a close thing, as Timmy defeated ”seasoned” Italian Davide Sanguinetti 7-3 in a last-set tie-breaker.

And Henman was quick to blame the grass and the balls for the narrow margin of his victory.

”The court’s pretty slow,” he notes. ”With my style of game I’d prefer them to be quicker, with a bit lower bounces, but I don’t make those decisions.”

But the men and women who run British tennis do. And we look forward to a lightning quick Wimbledon surface and deflated balls.

Oh, and lots and lots of rain.

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

Back To The Future

‘ONLY one thing matters in tonight’s clash between England and Slovakia at the Riverside tonight and that is the result.

England will expect goals from the Owen-Rooney combination

After making up for the disappointment of the home draw against Macedonia with a deserved 2-0 win over Turkey, England must not surrender the momentum.

They know that if they win the three games against the minnows of the group – Slovakia, Macedonia and Liechtenstein – they will not need more than a draw in their final match in Turkey to qualify for Euro 2004 as group leaders.

That in itself will not be easy, but having to win over there is much, much harder.

Of course, England should win – but Slovakia are not push-overs. They took the lead against England in Bratislava and were only narrowly beaten by Turkey at the weekend.

With wins in Macedonia and at home against Liechtenstein, they can still just about qualify for second place – so they have plenty to play for apart from pride.

The crucial part of the game for England is likely to be the defence.

Traditionally, England’s problem has been scoring goals, but recently it has been at the back where they have shown greatest weakness.

With an inexperienced back five, comprising David James, Ashley Cole, Matthew Upson, Gareth Southgate and probably Danny Mills, it is vital that Sven Goran Eriksson tightens things up.

England have leaked goals to Macedonia and Slovakia already in this qualifying group – and have looked shaky at the back in their recent friendlies.

They conceded a goal a piece against South Africa and Serbia-Montenegro, and three in that woeful match against Australia.

With the likes of Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney up front and Steven Gerrard and Paul Scholes in midfield, you have to fancy that England will score against most opposition.

However, whether one goal will be enough depends on the performance at the back. ‘

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

Kiwis Take Flight

‘ENGLAND are turning into a rugby superpower. The Independent says that yesterday England played and beat New Zealand Maori in their own back yard.

The NZ Maoris get it in the neck

For those who fail to realise the significance of this, the paper publishes a fact that should be registered: before yesterday, England had not won a single match on Kiwi soil since June 4 1985.

The mood in the England camp following their 9-23 win, which included two tries for and none against, is buoyant to say the least. Going into Saturday’s international in Wellington, the team are in good shape.

The Telegraph notices that England fielded a second string outfit, made up of benchwarmers and future prospects. But even they displayed a ”ruthless side”.

And being ruthless is often what marks the winner out from the losers. Take Michael Schumacher, the pragmatic German motor racer.

The Telegraph says that the reigning Formula One world champion has just agreed to drive for Ferrari until the end of 2006.

However, it looks unlikely he’ll be partnered by Rubens Barrichello, who is, the paper says, not seen as a part of the Ferrari future.

So the reds are looking for a new face. If you are a driver skilled in pulling over to let your ruthless teammate take the lead, apply to the Ferrari team.

There will surely be much competition for that job, far more than the interest generated in the battle to become leader of London’s Olympic bid.

The Guardian says that Sir Christopher Meyer, Britain’s former ambassador to Washington, Lord Simon, the former chairman of BP, and Charles Allen, the head of Granada, have all ruled themselves out of the contest.

Which means no Briton is left on the shortlist. The Independent says that the three still in the hunt for the job are Barbara Cassani (American), Kevin Roberts (New Zealander) and Gerry Robinson (Irish).

And we wish the eventual victor every success. After all, winning on foreign soil will be a recurring theme of the 2012 London Olympics.’

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

The Two David Beckhams

‘THERE is no denying that David Beckham is a high talented footballer. It’s the fact that surely lies at the root of his appeal.

Two Beckhams is bad enough

But Beckham comes with baggage, Gucci caseloads of the stuff. Beckham has so much additional clobber that he is like a walking emporium, of the type built by his pal Giorgio Armani and patronised by his wife, Victoria.

I do believe that beneath it all, Beckham is the consummate footballing professional. His pinpoint passing ability is a skill self-taught as much as it is innate. He is the worker making the best of his gifts.

In the changing room, it’s hard to believe that Beckham is the cynosure he off the pitch, wanting to take the centre stage and take on the role of leader. Can Beckham upstage the likes of Roy Keane or Alex Ferguson? Not unless they let him.

Whichever team secures Beckham’s services for next season would be wise to realise that he is a man who plays for the team. If they want an individualist, they should go for Paolo Di Canio.

The differences between Beckham the player and Beckham the TV awards presenter, popstar husband and walking advertising board are deep.

When he speaks, we cringe. The voice is not one of a star of the big or small screen. It’s something the firms that pay to advertise with him seem to realise, showing him in magazine stills rather than moving images.

The one time we’ve seen him in motion on camera, his paymasters at Vodafone gave him a non-speaking role. Beckham is seen head down at a humble supermarket checkout playing a game on his phone.

The message is that Beckham is approachable and down to earth. And it’s hard to believe he isn’t.

It’s just that he’s been overblown and paraded around – often by his publicity hungry wife – to such an extent that he’s become a man viewed from the wrong side of a red rope.

Beckham the footballer will go to Madrid or Milan and play well. What happens to Beckham the star remains to be seen. ‘

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

The Beck Pages

‘ONCE upon a time, the back pages of the newspapers were just that – the back pages.

Next stop Mars

But in the past few years they have become the Beck pages as the sports hacks run a rule over every aspect of the England captain’s life.

The 28-year-old spent the weekend aboard a horse on a carousel in Disneyland, but that ride gets more attention than Kieron Fallon’s Derby win aboard Kris Kin on Saturday.

Of course, most of the speculation surrounds Beckham’s possible transfer, with Barcelona still the destination favoured by most of the papers.

The Express claims Beckham will make up his mind whether he is interested in going to the Nou Camp in the next 48 hours.

AC Milan have also thrown their hat into the ring, according to the Mirror, and have immediately jumped to the head of the queue.

But the Star says Manchester United will not sell to one of their European rivals for fear of a Beckham backlash in the Champions’ League.

”They know it would be a PR disaster for the club,” says the paper, ”and Sir Alex Ferguson would come under immediate pressure for forcing the fans’ favourite out of the door.”

Beckham is currently spending his summer break on a promotional tour of America and the Far East – and that, according to the Mail, has spelt the end of his Old Trafford career.

Ferguson, it says, had wanted to keep the midfielder at the club ”despite his disapproval of the player’s showbusiness lifestyle and a suspicion that he saves his energy for internationals”.

But his paternal instincts ”were stretched beyond breaking point” by Beckham’s summer plans – and he is now prepared to countenance his sale.

As for Beckham himself, the Sun claims that he feels betrayed by the club he has played for since he was a boy, saying he is being traded round ”like a piece of meat”.

”All he has ever done is give his best to the club,” a close pal says.

All of which sadly leaves us (and the papers) no space for the other sports news – how David Beckham inspired England cricketers to an innings victory, how David Beckham backed Kris Kin to win the Derby, how a swing tip from David Beckham put Gary Orr on track to win golf’s British Masters…

Posted: 9th, June 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

On The Right Track

‘HAVING beaten Zimbabwe twice in just six days of cricket, won back-to-back Tests by an innings for the first time in 18 years and recorded their third Test win in a row, England should by rights be looking forward to the rest of the summer.

Nasser can still bodypop with the best of them

No-one is under any illusions but that South Africa will provide a much harder test than their neighbours.

However, assuming that there are no major injury concerns between now and mid-July (which is, admittedly a big ‘if’, given recent history), England can pick from a position of strength.

In certain positions at least, England at last seem to have genuine competition for places – especially, in the fast bowling department.

If everyone is fit, they will have to pick three from seven – James Anderson, Andrew Caddick, Darren Gough, Steve Harmison, Matthew Hoggard, Richard Johnson and Simon Jones.

It is a rare luxury for selectors who in recent matches have been more likely to perform a headcount a couple of days before the Test to check whether they had three fit players to send out.

Assuming Andrew Flintoff’s shoulder has recovered sufficiently to allow him to bowl, there will be another dilemma at No.7.

Anthony McGrath has scored a fifty in both his Test innings so far and has bowling figures of 3-16 from the only six overs he has bowled.

The selectors could not have asked more of him, but whether he has done enough to retain his place is a very different matter.

Flintoff is in brilliant form with the bat for Lancashire this season, with a first-class average of over 100 and he is, when fit, a more penetrative bowler than McGrath.

Much, one imagines, will depend on their relative performances in the one-day games coming up.

Similarly, England will be hoping that at least one of the young batsmen chosen for the limited-overs games stakes a claim to a Test place.

Nasser Hussain looks in very poor touch at the moment, not helped by the lack of cricket he has played. And Robert Key may have exhausted his chances.

Key, at least, gets a chance with the one-dayers to show that he can score big runs at this level.

The one area where England do lag behind almost every other country in the world, however, is with spin-bowling.

English wickets may not be particularly conducive to spin (especially at this time of year), but that hasn’t stopped visiting spinners having a fair bit of success.

Ashley Giles, by contrast, took just a single wicket in the two matches – but is under no threat for his place because there simply isn’t anyone to replace him.

This is the area that really needs to be addressed if England are to field a team capable of unsettling Australia when they next visit in 2005.

Posted: 9th, June 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

I Want To Be Beckham 2

”’HOLA,” as they will soon be saying on the back pages of the nation’s press. ”Bienvenido a La Liga.”

”I’ll be the new Beckham. Me!”

Such is the clamour to talk about all things David Beckham that his imminent move to Spain will surely be swiftly followed by a geographical realignment of the British media.

The massed ranks of the press will decamp to Spain for every game. The papers will talk of Barcelona and Madrid as they now talk of Manchester United and Arsenal.

How else can the Beckham story keep rolling?

But with budget constraints being what they are, the removal of Beckham from the country will surely mean his demotion from his usual lead place on the sports pages.

Will we really be interested in every Beckham act if he’s no longer in his homeland? Chances are not, so the hunt is on for the next Becks.

It could be the time from Arsenal’s Freddie Ljungberg to step fully into the limelight.

Freddie has threatened to be a media darling for a while now. He loves playing with his hair – just like Beckham – and the girls seem to like him.

The main difference is that Freddie is Swedish, which makes him better at speaking English than the England captain. But it’s nothing a shot of helium and a bossy girlfriend can’t fix.

And then there’s Michael Owen. He’s got a child; he’s nice looking; he’s young and lives a clean life.

The fashion, though, lets him down, and nice as Gucci kids clothes are, they fail to wrap the wearer in raw sex appeal.

So we are looking for the man to be the new Becks, to dominate the sport pages and the front pages. And we need your help.

To get the ball rolling, we’ll list a few of the other early contenders and their Beckham traits: Wayne Rooney (good at football); Joe Cole (Londoner); Thierry Henry (photogenic); Paul Scholes (owns Manchester United kit); Basil Fawlty (overbearing wife); Chief Buthelezi. (first name terms with Nelson Mandela); Joe Pasquale (squeaky voice) and so on…

Send entries on an e-mail marked ”I want to be Beckham 2” to the usual address.

Posted: 6th, June 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Monty’s Revenge

‘NO sooner has Victoria located Madrid in Brooklyn’s Junior Shopper atlas, than the Express announces that her husband Day-vid is off to Barcelona instead.

Monty – armed and dangerous

While the Beckhams hunker down in search of the Catalan city, readers of the Express get to hear from Joan Laporta, Barcelona’s presidential candidate.

”He’s mine,” says Joan, a man with girl’s name. ”David Beckham is our man. We will buy him, we have an agreement with Manchester United”.

He goes on: ”I have looked at the prospect of signing him, I have tasted it and it tastes good to me.”

It’s a nice turn of phrase, but the Beckham transfer saga needs more than few words to keep the world interested. Players come and players go – that is footballing life.

Just as playing a slow game is part and parcel of cricket. The Sun claims that ”Zzzzzzimbabwe” gave a performance in the Second Test at Durham that was ”go-slow”.

England did rattle off a decent 298 runs for the loss of five wickets, with Alec Stewart scoring a fine 67 not out and Anthony McGrath an even finer 68 not out.

But the Sun thinks there is a story in how the Zimbabwe team bowled so slowly that that play ran 35 minutes past the scheduled close time.

Come, come. We know the Sun is a football-mad paper, and cricket is rarely is ever on the back page, but to take a team to task for playing slowly, for being boring, when the preceding pages are filled with half-cocked, turgid and dull football rumour displays a lack of understanding about what sport is.

We can only hope that when Beckham goes, other sports stories emerge from the shadows.

But the Express does have some exciting news, and it spots the normally genial Colin Montgomerie apparently threatening a photographer with his pitching wedge.

The golfing Scot lost his cool when he failed to get out of a ditch on the seventh hole at the British Masters. He had, the story says, asked the photographers to stop snapping.

They did not, and Monty lost it. ”I have got to be honest,” says the photographer caught in Monty’s line of vision, ”it was a bit scary.”

Hmmm, wonder what David Beckham would have done in the same situation? Perhaps the Sun can tell us…

Posted: 6th, June 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Breaking Cover

‘ENGLAND’S 2-1 friendly win against Serbia & Montenegro will have achieved little except add three unlikely names to the list of people who have captained England.

Rooney must start against Slovakia

Still, a win is always better than a defeat – even in these pointless matches – and England should be looking forward to next week’s Slovakia game with some confidence.

With David Beckham missing, it seems likely that Sven Goran Eriksson will start with Steven Gerrard on the right and Phil Neville doing a holding job in midfield.

In fact, the team at the Riverside is likely to bear a close resemblance to the one that started the game at the Walkers Stadium on Tuesday night.

Wayne Rooney must surely start ahead of Emile Heskey; Joe Cole will fight it out with his former team-mate Frank Lampard for the left midfield spot; and John Terry could be preferred to Matthew Upson in defence.

But whatever line-up Eriksson chooses, it should be enough to secure the necessary three points against a side who have a difficult home match against Turkey to contend with this weekend.

Not that Slovakia are mugs – they won 2-0 in Macedonia against a side that held England to a 2-2 draw in Southampton.

But England, as they showed against Turkey, are a good side when they get into their stride.

The worry, however, is that with so many injuries and suspensions, the side that does turn out next week will not have time to get into its stride.

For all that’s said about England having a great crop of young players coming through, the truth seems to be that they are all competing for the same positions.

England are already blessed with three quarters of a world-class midfield with Paul Scholes, Steven Gerrard and David Beckham.

In Owen Hargreaves, Joe Cole, Jermain Jenas, Frank Lampard, Phil Neville and Nicky Butt etc., they have no shortage of understudies.

But is the cover so good in other positions? Is Danny Mills really the second best right-back in England – and is Jamie Carragher the third?

Was Emile Heskey, until the emergence of Wayne Rooney, the best person to partner Michael Owen up front?

Is there no better keeper in England than David James?

And in the absence of Rio Ferdinand and Sol Campbell, should we really not have anyone with a bit more experience than Matthew Upson and John Terry?

England’s first team may be a decent outfit, but where is the strength in depth?

Posted: 5th, June 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Changing Faces

‘YOU can imagine the conversation at the Beckham breakfast table this morning.

Now showing on The Disney Channel

”Oh, Day-vid, it’s brilliaant. I always wanted to go to live in It-taly,” says she who must be obeyed. ”Yeah,” says Dave. ”Real Madrid’s got some great shops.”

Whichever country the Beckhams do end up in, the Sun says that David will be plying his trade for the Catalan masters next season.

If this is not shocking enough for Manchester Untied fans, the news that their new hero is to be the Brazilian Ronaldinho must be.

From the most photogenic face in football, the Red Devils have adopted Goofy as their poster boy. Look out for a new sponsorship deal with Disney.

The rest of the sports news is dominated by football transfer speculation.

”Kewell set for Leeds showdown,” says the Mirror; Spurs have tried and failed to buy Freddie Kanoute from West Ham (Mirror); and in the Express, we hear how Arsenal are set to replace David Seaman with Valencia’s goalkeeper, Santiago Canizares.

The Sun even spots Roy Keane planning a move of his own – from the pitch to the coaching staff. The Irishman has enrolled on a ten-day intensive training course at Warwick University in a bid to earn his Uefa B badge.

Could Keane be the next manager of Manchester United? It’s less likely than Cherie Blair taking charge of London’s bid to host the 2012 Olympics.

And that’s a move the Mail says would mean kissing the Games goodbye. Cherie’s lack of judgement and vanity would do any bid no favours.

But already she seems to have taken notice of her husband’s eager-to-please style and the Mail duly shows sportswoman Cherie hitting a tennis ball outside Number 10.

That’s enough to make her mad keen on sport – and a certainty for the job.

Posted: 5th, June 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Cole The Goal

‘JOE Cole, the sloppy-jawed Went Ham captain, was hailed as the boy wonder of English football a season or so back.

Joe Cole was still learning how to take his shirt off

Since then his club have been relegated from the Premier League and he’s been at best on the fringes of the England team.

Last night, though, he came off the England bench to strike a terrific shot into the back of the net. His 25-yard freekick even triggers the Mirror to asks: ”Who needs Becks?”

The answer is simple: England. The national team need Beckham because without him the lack of cohesion and purpose has no-one to hide behind.

Too often Becks and not England is the story, a situation that makes displays without him especially awful to watch.

England did win the game against Serbia-Montenegro by two goals to one, a result that the Sun says is ”overshadowed” by the appearance of 43 different players – Serbia-Montenegro 22; England 21 – and no less that FOUR England captains.

There could have been five skippers on the night had David Seaman been playing, but the Arsenal and England goalkeeper has decided to call it day on competitive football and head for the Manchester City retirement village.

The Sun claims that the big guffawing Yorkshireman has agreed to sign for Kevin Keegan’s blues, seduced, no doubt, by their award-winning spirit of fair play and Premier League credentials.

And the small matter of a year-long contract that guarantees him what ageist Arsenal could not – first-team football.

Talking of not knowing when to quit, we now turn to the farce that is professional boxing.

In light of Audley Harrison’s challenge to Frank Bruno, the Sun hears reigning heavyweight world champion Lennox Lewis offer the panto prince £50,000 to stay out of the ring.

”If Frank needs the money that badly I’ll give him £50,000 just to stay out of the ring so that he doesn’t get hurt too badly,” says Lewis.

And before you say anything, no, not hurt by Harrison – by Lewis, who might be called upon to fight a resurgent Bruno.

”If Bruno comes back into boxing and fights me I would not want to be charged with murder,” says Lewis.

Although, the promoters would make something of a killing…

Posted: 4th, June 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Captain Chaos

‘THE claim that there are no easy matches in international football clearly does not go for the players who turn out for England. How hard can it be to trot abound for 40-odd minutes?

”One breath, two breath…”

Last night’s game against Serbia-Montenegro was painful stuff – fitting really since Sven’s men were faced with a side hereon known as S&M.

Sven’s apparent desire to give everyone a game is a noble idea, very egalitarian and all, but it cheapens the whole experience of playing for your country, being considered one of the nation’s best.

Would Andy Gray, the former Crystal Palace player who turned out once for England, get a good price on his England tracksuit in today’s cluttered market?

No chance – it’d be on the rack with those belonging to Michael Ricketts, James Beattie, Matthew Upson, Ledley King and more.

And then there are the captains. Questions must be posed as to what exactly Eriksson thinks a captain does. Last night England had four men don the skipper’s armband.

In order of appearance they were: Michael Owen, Emile Heskey, Phil Neville and Jamie Carragher.

Can Carragher, the most blunt-footed defender on a dull, pragmatic Liverpool’s books, be mentioned in the same breath as Bobby Moore, Billy Wright and David Beckham?

And what of Emile Heskey? Sven said he thought it would be nice for Emile to be made captain in front of his hometown Leicester crowd.

If next time Emile brings his own ball, maybe Sven will give him free licence to score a goal.

And if you think that’s fanciful, ask yourself this: what odds could you have got on Phil Neville being made skipper of the national side before last night?

We’re unsure, but you’d be rich today.

Neville can barely manage to breathe with his mouth closed. Heap on this the expectation to lead the team and interpret the manager’s instructions – vital tools in any decent captain’s armoury – and a confused Neville might even forget which way he’s kicking.

It is all a sorry state. At least when Beckham recovers from injury, the also-rans and never-will-bes will have someone to take the attention off of them.

Posted: 4th, June 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

England Expects The Worst

‘HERES a headline to instil fear and dread in the hearts of England’s footballing foe: ”Neville is England linchpin.” And that’s Phil not Gary.

Phil won’t be taking over Becks’ modelling engagements

The Mail says that Phil Neville is the ”anchor” in England’s midfield. Tonight against Serbia-Montenegro, Phil will give the England team the cohesion and solid foundation they need to succeed.

Come on, take your head out of your hands. Phil’s not a bad lad – he’s a darn sight better that the yobs who follow the national side.

And they’ve been occupying the mind of England striker Michael Owen.

Speaking to the Star, Owen is concerned that the behaviour of England fans will see the side banished from Euro 2004.

”Just think what a summer it will be like if we missed out because we were banned,” says Owen.

People living in Portugal, where the Euro championships are to be played, will be excused of imagining a great summer – a season of joy, street carnivals of colour, culture and fun.

But for the English, who like their summers spent smashing up Lisbon, it would be a tragedy.

Of course, you don’t have to go abroad to be a public nuisance – not when you’re a boxer like Herbie Hide.

The Sun catches up with the man who caused mayhem at Audley Harrison’s last fight and asks him what’s what.

”I’m not denying that I’m nuts,” says Herbie, ”but, unfortunately for him it’s his job to box people like me.”

The ”him” is the aforesaid Harrison, who seems to have chosen to box Frank Bruno over Hide.

In any case, if boxing promoter Frank Warren has his way, Hide will be banned from boxing anyone.

”He is a bully,” says Warren, failing to say whether that is a good or bad thing in boxing. ”He should be banned from boxing,” he adds for good measure.

And so he should – hitting people and staring fights is just not on.

Posted: 3rd, June 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Fair’s Unfair

‘TO be fair to him, Kevin Keegan has already voiced his dislike of Uefa’s ridiculous Fair Play scheme that has seen Manchester City qualify for Europe next season.

Kevin Keegan tries to get the bonus point for a smile

But it would have been too much to ask for the club to have refused the spot offered in next year’s Uefa Cup.

Club chairman John Wardle was understandably delighted because the will no doubt bring much-needed revenue to the club.

”I can assure you we will be doing our utmost to do very well in Europe,” he said, after the news broke.

”It’s probably not the best way to get there but we’ll take it anyway. We’re all looking forward to it at the club”.

The Fair Play scheme, in which points are awarded on criteria such as positive play, respect for the referee and opponents and behaviour of the crowd, is a farce.

It is only the first step towards football matches being decided by something other than the respective number of goals scored by each side.

This weekend, we have already seen the farce of Wasps being crowned rugby union Premiership champions despite finishing 15 points behind Gloucester.

Only last week, Cardiff City chairman Sam Hamman rightly suggested that the end-of-season play-offs in the Nationwide Football League were the wrong way of deciding promotion.

Sport is all about competition. The 100m champion is the person who runs the 100m fastest, not the person with the best running style.

The person who shoots the lowest score over four rounds is the winner of a golf tournament, not the person who hit the most greens or who has the best swing.

Of course, Uefa are right to try to encourage fair play, but they shouldn’t do so at the expense of the basic rules of competition within the game.

Last year, we had the farce of Ipswich Town playing in Europe in the same year they were relegated on the back of the same fair play ruling.

Manchester City at least finished in the top half of the Premiership, but they finished below Everton who are not in the Uefa Cup.

Everton fans will be upset at that – and so should all football fans (even those who support Manchester City). It is time Uefa ended this absurdity.

Posted: 3rd, June 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Every Loser Wins

‘RUGBY union has achieved the seemingly impossible and crowned the team that finished 15 points behind the leaders of the Zurich Premiership as champions.

”Runners-up at last!”

This nonsense came about because the people who run rugby want it to become more popular and that means more big games.

So the play-offs were founded, giving Wasps the right to play Gloucester, who came top of the league, in a Twickenham final.

The result, as the Express says (39-3 to Wasps), ”leaves a bitter taste in the mouth”. But Wasps’ captain, Lawrence Dallaglio, seems to be coping. ”As players,” he says, ”we have to play to the rules.”

It is just a shame that the rules have changed so horribly.

But for real nonsense, the Sun has the pictures from Audley Harrison’s fight with Matthew Ellis, and better pictures of Herbie Hide’s fight with anyone who wanted one.

And the verdict is revealed in a Sun headline: ”Blame Beeb for The Riot”.

That’s right, folks, the Sun says that the BBC and neither Hide nor Harrison are at to blame for the ugly brawl that broke out after the Olympic champion’s latest bout.

The national broadcaster’s decision to invite Hide to watch the event is, apparently, the cause of the riot.

But before you form the belief that sport is all nonsense, the Mail salutes Juan Pablo Montoya, who yesterday won the Monaco Grand Prix.

This is great news for the Colombian, and great news for a sport which now seems to have rediscovered its competitive streak.

As it was, the once perennial winner, Michael Schumacher, had to make do with third place. Which in rugby terms makes him the runner-up – or is it the winner?

Posted: 2nd, June 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

He’s Behind You

‘IT has been a boxing truism for an age that the crowds have all the best fights.

”You can run, but you can’t Hide”

Audley Harrison versus Matthew Ellis was never going to be a thriller – or even much of a fight. Those who had packed York Hall, Bethnal Green, were surely not all there to watch boxing history in the making.

Audley Harrison duly cruised to an easy win, and then looked into the crowd for his next opponent.

Having done away with a collection of cab divers, newspaper boys and brickies, Harrison wanted another member of Joe Public to make him look good.

With no-one forthcoming – at this point Hulk Hogan, Clint Eastwood or his pet orang-utan would have done – the Hendon Howitzer held a question and answer session.

Who would you like me to fight next? he asked. With the word’s ”my mum” ready to ooze out, Harrison qualified his question, stripping a world of big-money showdowns to just two – he’d fight Herbie Hide or Frank Bruno.

As if by magic, both boxers suddenly appeared near the ring. The crowd around Bruno cried ”Brun-o” and the rest of us screamed: ”He’s behind you!” Hide just screamed.

And at last we had a fight on our hands. Yes, it shames the sport does all this scrapping in the crowd. But who did Hide hit?

”Hide pushed a female fan to the floor,” says the BBC report. And that was that. Herbie hide beat up a woman.

But before you criticise, note that Hide has just stepped up a class.

In 1994, he scuffled with Michael Bentt and in 1999 he attempted to rile British champion Danny Williams into another besuited punch-up. This one actually looked like an impromptu event.

But the night was all about Harrison, the man who plans to be champion of the world by the time he’s 35 – he’s 31 now.

”This is the Audley Harrison Show,” said Harrison after the fight. ”I don’t know why Herbie Hide was sitting ringside.”

If you like that comment, get a load of this one from British Boxing Board of Control general secretary Simon Block: ”I said before the show it was not a good idea to have two boxers in such close proximity.”

Perhaps he was referring to Bruno and Hide? But this was an Audley Harrison bout – so he could have been talking about Matthew Ellis.

Remember him..?

Posted: 2nd, June 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

New Beginnings

‘THE selectors have rather had their hand forced with the number of retirements and injuries, but there is an exciting look to the new England one-day squad.

Troughton gets the taste for success

Of the 15 players, six are untried at this level and two – Vikram Solanki and Chris Read – have had only a handful of outings between them.

We should not expect to see them all in action, certainly not at the same time.

The inclusion of Darren Gough shows that the selectors are keen to pick a balanced side, which will blend youth and experience.

However, now is the time to start blooding the youngsters to see which ones have what it takes to represent England in the 2007 World Cup.

Some will no doubt fall by the wayside between now and then, but others are likely to become household names.

Jim Troughton, hitherto as well known for being the grandson of a Doctor Who actor, is perhaps the one from whom most is expected.

However, international cricket is a very different game from county cricket, and often it is not the one who catches the eye at the lower level who makes the transition.

A lot has been said of the unremarkable averages of Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick for their counties, but they have obviously had not only the ability but the temperament to make the step up.

On the other hand, players like Graeme Hick and Mark Ramprakash have never managed to establish themselves in the international scene, despite being two of the very best county players.

England will, of course, go into every match with a team that it thinks can win.

It would be irresponsible to throw a lot of youngsters in together to see which ones swim and which ones sink.

But they need to give as many players as possible a chance over the coming couple of years to make sure they have the best chance of doing well in the World Cup.

It is up to the players to take the chances offered to them…

Posted: 30th, May 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Under The Hammer

‘THE West Ham fire sale has started, with the goalkeeper David James, midfielder Joe Cole and striker Freddie Kanoute all attracting offers this morning.

Spot the ball and win a West Ham player

The Mirror say that James is off to Barcelona for £2m, provided that coach Raddy Antic keeps his job at the end of the season.

Which is a big ‘if’, considering the Catalan giants are ninth in La Primera Liga at the moment – behind a group of British holidaymakers.

Joe Cole has attracted the interest of Chelsea, but the Hammers are not interested as yet, laughing off the £5m bid from West London.

The Mail says the relegated club described the offer as ”derisory”, but face a dilemma because their captain’s contract expires in a year.

”West Ham will continue to claim publicly that they will not sell to try to pacify supporters already enraged by relegation,” it says.

”But they must privately hope that demand for Cole will develop into an auction situation to thrust his price nearer an acceptable £8m.”

Meanwhile, the papers are still picking over Wednesday’s 0-0 draw in the European Cup final after Ronaldo – and the Spanish papers – branded it the world’s biggest bore.

Not so, says Mark Lawrenson in the Mirror, who claims it was ”the most fascinating, exciting and intriguing game that I have seen this season”.

And the Mail was also intrigued, calling it boring only in the same way that Bjorn Borg was a boring tennis player and Steve Davis a boring snooker player.

But the Spanish papers are not so happy, with Marca saying: ”They should prohibit two Italian teams from playing in a European final because, as Johann Cruyff has said, the presence of just one Italian football team is a tragedy for football.”

Not of course a case of sour grapes because Real Madrid had surrendered their grip on the trophy.

Both the Sun and the Express believe that Real could have a new manager next season – Arsene Wenger.

The Sun quotes controversial agent Marc Roger as saying that Wenger wants to coach Madrid, while claiming that the Frenchman is frustrated by cash problems at Arsenal.

The Express also talks to Roger, who say that Wenger will know his future in two to three weeks.

And just before anyone gets too worked up about what is – despite Bill Shankly – just a game, the Star reports on the sad death of Dave Jefferies, the top rider in this year’s TT race.

Posted: 30th, May 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Kofi Time

‘IF the top headline on the page is the day’s biggest sporting story, then David Beckham is now bigger than even the European Cup final, at least in the Telegraph’s eyes.

Cheating Kaiser

The Beckham news that will have us gripped is that he has granted Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary-general, an audience this summer.

Having recently yielded to Nelson Mandela’s pleas for a meeting, Dave will now spend one day of his summer hols putting the world to rights.

He’s a good boy is Dave. But not as good as Andriy Shevchenko, as the Telegraph calls the Ukrainian striker whose penalty won the Champions’ League for AC Milan.

The rest of the papers prefer to call him Andrei, although the acclaim heaped upon him is universal.

With the scores tied at 0-0, and the game’s periods of extra time at an end, it came to the dreaded penalties.

To help us understand the route to victory, the Guardian lists the 10 penalty takers, detailing with a cross they who missed and a tick they who scored. And of ten kicks, only five found their way to the back of the net.

While this tells all Englishmen that they are not the world’s worst penalty takers, it must be stated that not one of the strikes sailed over the crossbar or hit the corner flag.

All were on target, meaning that the goalkeepers made the saves that mattered, with AC’s Dida making one more than Buffon of Juventus.

But there is story in the Independent that shows how easy it is to throw a game of football.

German legend Franz Beckenbauer has hinted on German television that his Bayern Munich team deliberately threw a game to prevent city rivals TSV Munich winning the Bundesliga.

”I’m not saying that we lost on purpose but our resistance was limited to the minimum,” he said.

He was, however, unable to say whether in 1966 the ball crossed the line or not.

Posted: 29th, May 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Zeds And Two Noughts

‘IF it hadn’t been for Clive Tyldesley’s constant reminders about how wonderful the match was I’d have been lulled into the mistaken belief that the Champions’ League final was plain boring.

David Trezeguet tries to get some shut-eye

The first ten minutes were great stuff, as the teams showed skill and application.

Hell, Juventus even tried to score a goal. But, then, the first ten minutes of the Royal Crown versus the Lamb And Kebab are normally a pretty spicy affair.

Surely it was too early for Clive to tell us in that all-knowing mocking way that we thought it would be dull. None of it!

With the ref’s whistle still moist from blowing for kick-off, Clive thought it was the right time to tell us how great the game was.

In the boorish tone of the true pedant – a tone usually reserved for talking about ”the wife” and ”the kids” to office sad sacks after work in the pub – Clive scoffed.

Thus told what was what, we were invited to sit back and drool. I for one drooled, as I often do before I nod right off. Indeed, it was only Clive’s droll delivery that kept me going.

Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, as some really, really clever person once said, but Clive was taking it to new levels.

Milan’s Rui Costa, we were told, is a supremely gifted player. He had earlier missed the entire goal when it was clear in his sights. Clive can be so cruel.

Clive should not be condemned because the game was worthy of hardly any comment. So I took to researching a few facts – the few facts that Clive had not wanted to share with us.

The grass, which Clive told us had been cut no less and no more than four times on the morning of the game, had been sheared into ten neat bands in each half.

How the intricate Champions’ League logo was etched into the centre circle is a fact shamefully overlooked, but I’d wager my money on a stencil and some clippers.

Meanwhile a game of sorts was taking place. Juventus, who play football like basketball but without the excitement (I’m learning, Clive) were waiting to break.

After over 120 minutes they were still waiting. So we had penalties. And Milan won. So there.

Posted: 29th, May 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Sheep In Wolves’ Clothing

‘BIG city teams will always rise to the top in the long run. Newcastle, Manchester City and Chelsea have had dips, been in close proximity to the old second, third and fourth divisions, and returned to be in the Premier League.

Pack of Wolves

The bigger teams draw the crowds, giving gravy to the belief that they will rise again.

And so to Wolverhampton Wanderers, who have just been promoted to the Premiership, having beaten Sheffield United in the Division One play-off final.

Wolvers were one of the big clubs in the 1950s – a point that must be made to anyone under the age of 156. To anyone under the age of 19, the sight of Wolves even in the top flight is a new one.

It’s been a long road back to the top since the 1983-1984 season, when Wolves finished bottom of the then Division One table with a lowly 29 points.

To place this in some context, Wolves had finished 6th in 1980-81, only to be relegated from the Canon First Division in 1981-1982, along with Leeds and Middlesbrough.

In between then and now, Wolves’ successes have been rare and humble. The team finished runner-up to Queens Park Rangers in the old second division in 1982-1983, gaining promotion for an entire season before the trap door opened up anew.

In season 1987-1988, the Old Golds finished first in the Barclays Fourth Division, followed a year later by victory in the Barclays Third Division.

In 1992-1993, they found themselves elevated from the Barclays Second Division to the much grander sounding Barclays League Division One as the Premier League was born.

The Endsleigh League Division One and Nationwide League Division One made a change, albeit in name only, but Wolves never made promotion to the top level.

In that time, they spent heavily on players, upgraded the ground in readiness for much-delayed promotion and have been referred to as a sleeping giant.

They have maintained a sense of hope. And that’s the thing. With a large body of fans, Wolves would always return to the top one day. Big city teams always enjoy another day in the sun.

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