Arsene takes the Mik

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the Day: “This is a special game [Wales v Georgia] for the country. No one from Russia believed it was possible to bring 18 players out with us from a war-torn country. The president asked me to come out with these players. He told me that the result wasn’t important. This game is simply to show Russia that you can bomb us and you can send tanks into our country, but you will never stop our people. This is a symbol that they will not defeat us… The 11th of August was the worst night because everyone thought the Russians were going to arrive in Tbilisi and kill everyone. I think under this situation, you can understand that football was not important.” – Petar Segrt, Georgia’s technical director.

Runner-up: “Some people might not like relegation, promotion, relegation, promotion, but would you want to be a Middlesbrough – stuck in mid-table every season? Some people would settle for that because it is better for your heart but the highs and lows are what football is all about for me.” – Birmingham chairman David Gold.

In response: “I was amused to read David’s comments. He is a good friend but I can only assume relegation has affected his thinking a little. I seriously doubt Boro fans would swap our recent histories. Since moving to the Riverside in 1995 we have achieved five major cup finals, are the only English club outside of the so-called big four to have played in a European final, have enjoyed successive seasons of UEFA Cup football, won our first major trophy and enjoyed 11 consecutive years in the Premier League. In the meantime Birmingham have managed a couple of relegations and a lengthy spell in the Championship. Somehow I don’t believe even their own supporters would agree their highs and lows have been preferable to ours.” – Middlesbrough’s chief executive Keith Lamb.

Today’s overview: Straight out of left-field comes the shock news that Arsene Wenger, who has long coveted one more signing before the transfer window shuts, has set his sights on Old Trafford outsider, Mikael Silvestre.

Daniel Taylor gives some insight into the deal, claiming Silvestre is available for “£750,000” with Wenger intending to use the Frenchman as a “first-choice centre-half alongside William Gallas, primarily as a replacement for Philippe Senderos.” Ian Ladyman notes that this will be the first business between Arsenal and Manchester United in the 12 years that Wenger and Ferguson have been in opposition in the Premier League.

Yet without doubt, today’s main focus is John Terry’s appointment as Fabio Capello’s England captain. And the consensus is far from joyous.

Dominic Fifield labels Terry “a risk” noting the irony “that Ferdinand has always appeared the likelier starter than Terry under Capello.” Henry Winter claims “the FA hierarchy worry more about Terry as a role model and had hoped Ferdinand would have been appointed to unite the dressing room.” Feeling that nothing is changing under Capello, Jason Burt argues that “Capello has drawn the conclusion that there is a dearth of emerging talent.”

Other unhappy campers include Sam Wallace, who struggles with the claim that Terry has a “big personality” wondering how “Scolari appears to have taken all of about eight seconds to make up his mind that he would be keeping Terry as Chelsea captain, Capello has taken eight months to come to the same conclusion for England.” Sarah Winterburn simply states “Terry’s appointment is bothersome… because it means he will play every game.”

Slightly less negative is Paul Joyce, who is willing to withhold judgment over Capello’s England till after tonight’s game in which he expects to see “evidence of the convincing game plan.”

The biggest cheerleader for Capello is surprisingly Martin Samuel. Samuel portrays the Italian in a positive light by saying that although Capello “has kept the same captain that Steve McClaren installed two years ago, [he] somehow contrived to make the appointment seem like his own.” And in a second article, Samuel goes on to compare Terry to Franco Baresi.

Moving away from England, Raphael Honigstein finds himself romancing over the story of tiny Hoffenhiem, Antonio Labbate explains how AC Milan have messed up their recent activity in the transfer market as they look to bolster their defence, while in a standout article Tim Vickery asks “is a fullback primarily an attacker or a defender? It’s not an easy question, and there’s no right or wrong answer.”

The Guardian’s Daniel Taylor splashes with the strangest transfer scoop of the summer, linking Mikael Silvestre with a move to Arsenal. “The move is expected to cost Arsenal in the region of £750,000 and will represent one of the biggest transfer shocks of the summer given United’s usual reluctance to do business with any of their major rivals and the fact Ferguson has never allowed a player of his to defect to Wenger’s side. Brian Kidd was the last United player to go in the same direction, in 1974, and Silvestre would have been entitled to a testimonial had he stayed at Old Trafford one more season. Another surprise for Arsenal’s fans is that Wenger does not regard the former Internazionale defender merely as a squad player, or as a back-up for Gaël Clichy at left-back, but as a first-choice centre-half alongside William Gallas, primarily as a replacement for Philippe Senderos.”

The Daily Mail’s Ian Ladyman also leads with the Silvestre story, adding his own spin to the transfer rumour. “What makes the deal so remarkable is that Wenger and his bitter rival, United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, have never before traded players in the 12 years they have been in opposition in the Premier League. The two men have often been in competition for the same player from overseas and have at times coveted members of each other’s squads. Wenger, for example, considered a move for David Beckham when he left United in 2003 and Ferguson always wanted former Gunners captain Patrick Vieira. But no deal between the two men has ever been close to coming off.”

Oliver Kay (The Times) picks up on Fabio Capello’s assertion that “no-one is untouchable” in the England squad. “Capello seems determined to shake the biggest names in English football out of the unhealthy assumption that there will always be a place for them in the starting line-up — in the case of Michael Owen, he seems determined to go further — and, with Beckham, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard seemingly competing for two places in the XI against the Czech Republic tonight, it is a message that is becoming unequivocal.”

Dominic Fifield (Guardian) labels Fabio Capello’s appointment of John Terry as England captain “a risk.” “The irony is that Ferdinand has always appeared the likelier starter than Terry under Capello, an admirer of the talents of Jonathan Woodgate and Ledley King, though the new manager now appears to have settled upon his first-choice centre-half pairing… It is unclear whether the Italian actually places as much significance on the identity of his captain as either the Football Association or the majority of the England fan base. Yet what is perceived to be the first major decision of his stewardship has seen Capello emulate his predecessor and could also be considered a risk. McClaren handed Terry 13 games as captain before his reign disintegrated with the failure to reach Euro 2008.”

In the Telegraph, Henry Winter, far from showing enthusiasm over John Terry’s appointment, lays out some of the potential black marks against the new England captain. “Although Ferdinand is hardly a choirboy, members of the FA hierarchy worry more about Terry as a role model and had hoped Ferdinand would have been appointed to unite the dressing room… If the Czech Republic’s Milan Baros leads Terry a merry dance at Wembley this evening then Capello will come under even greater scrutiny, strengthening the belief that he is building his defence around the wrong centre-half. Terry also knows that his off-field behaviour, let alone his on-field attitude towards officials, will be closely watched.”

Another scribe who seemed less than enthralled by yesterday’s press conference is the Independent’s Jason Burt. “Fabio Capello will go into England’s World Cup qualification campaign with the same captain as his predecessor Steve McClaren and, virtually, the same team as favoured by Sven-Goran Eriksson. Supporters will hope that the situation is simply a reflection that England under-performed under previous head coaches, which is undeniably true, but it perhaps also shows that, after four friendly matches and eight months in charge, Capello has drawn the conclusion that there is a dearth of emerging talent.”

In another less than impressed reaction to the new England captain, Sam Wallace (Independent) picks up on Fabio Capello’s explanation that he chose John Terry as captain because of his “big personality.” “If all we have to go on is that Capello is an admirer of Terry’s ‘big personality’ then surely he could have discovered that by a much less roundabout route. Indeed if he needed to know that Terry shouts and directs his team-mates during a game more than any other England player then he could have wandered out into Soho Square and asked the first Englishman he bumped into. Luiz Felipe Scolari appears to have taken all of about eight seconds to make up his mind that he would be keeping Terry as Chelsea captain, Capello has taken eight months to come to the same conclusion for England. It did not help matters yesterday that Capello insisted on persevering in a language of which he is not yet the master: on reflection he should have taken the Steve McClaren approach to foreign languages and spoken Italian with an English accent – and let the excellent interpreter provided by the FA take care of the rest. It made for an uncomfortable occasion for Terry who on one occasion had to step in to clear up the mess of incomprehension left by his manager. Everyone looked fairly ill at ease.”

Sarah Winterburn (Football365) also adds her two cents as why Terry’s appointment is worrying. “Terry’s appointment is bothersome… because it means he will play every game. Terry is a fine Premier League defender – among the best in terms of making clearing headers and last-ditch tackles – but his lack of pace dictates that England defend far too deep. When you face Croatia or Russia or Brazil, they don’t generally play a 4-4-2 and lump it up front for Terry to spend all day heading it away as he would against many Premier League opponents. Playing the best in the world demands versatility and that’s not something with which Terry is blessed. Rio Ferdinand is the much better all-round defender and if you are going to build a defence around one man, that man should be the best at that job. Terry should not automatically be the first name on an England team sheet, so he should not have been given the armband that earns him that right.”

Paul Joyce (Daily Express) is willing to withhold judgment over Capello’s England – until after tonight’s game. “Capello’s bold new England may be beginning to appear suspiciously like the bad old one, yet he remains adamant that his tactical outlook is where the difference with past regimes will be most keenly felt. Those arriving at Wembley tonight for the friendly against the Czech Republic will be hoping to see evidence of the convincing game plan that will carry England through a World Cup qualifying campaign which begins in just over a fortnight.”

Martin Samuel finds himself pleasantly shocked by Terry’s appointment, believing it to be a reflection on Capello’s confidence as England manager. “This is the moment at which having a much-decorated Italian in charge of the England team comes into its own. As John Terry stepped up to the interview podium, on the occasion of his second coronation as England captain, it began to dawn on many in the room what a shrewd cookie Fabio Capello has been. He has kept the same captain that Steve McClaren installed two years ago, yet somehow contrived to make the appointment seem like his own. He did not change for the sake of it, nor bow to a budding army of moralists, and the fact that another England manager, a failed one at that, had the thought first did not matter a jot. That is what confidence does for you.”

In a second article in The Times, Martin Samuel goes on to ask “so what swung it? Capello has talked of a captain in the mould of Franco Baresi, his leader at AC Milan, and right down to his central defensive position in the team and his penalty miss at a final of a leading tournament, there are similarities. Capello admired Baresi’s ability to command the players under pressure, to stay calm and give instructions, to execute the game plan. This is Terry’s forte, too. It is no coincidence that he was missing from the two matches in which England fell apart at the back at crucial moments, in Russia and at home against Croatia.”

Ahead of tonight’s England-Czech Republic clash, Kevin McCarra (Guardian) cites the midfield as the biggest headache for Capello. “It is the creation of balance elsewhere in the line-up that must take up most of Capello’s time. There is a glut of midfielders and the present trend is to accommodate as many of them as possible. With the smart movement shown against Portsmouth on Sunday, Chelsea illustrated that it need not be stodgy to have five of them in a team.”

Raphael Honigstein (Guardian) reviews the first weekend of the Bundesliga season, romancing over the story of tiny Hoffenhiem. “Hoffenheim, who were playing in the seventh division 18 years ago and became the smallest ever club to grace the Bundesliga, finished their first game in the top flight on top of the table (jointly with Schalke). Energie Cottbus, their hosts on Saturday, had sent them 1,500 away tickets. Hoffenheim sent 1,451 of them back, unsold. Yes, 49 fans made the trip to the east to witness a historic 3-0 away win. Their distinguished counter-attacking football had the purists purring and the traditionalists scared: the Hoffenheim benefactor Dietmar Hopp, a software tycoon, has given the other clubs 200 million reasons to fear the rise of a new superpower.”

Antonio Labbate (Football Italia) mocks AC Milan’s recent activity in the transfer market as they look to bolster their defense. “What a mess. That’s a quick assessment of Milan’s attempts to strengthen their backline over the last week. While one should applaud and understand their interest in Branislav Ivanovic, their decision to sell Dario Simic and Digão before securing the Chelsea stopper was a mistake of calamitous proportions… Milan need to buy a new stopper, rather than invent one, and they’ve got 12 days in which to do so. Maybe they need to give Chelsea another call.”

In an excellent article for Sports Illustrated, Tim Vickery asks “is a fullback primarily an attacker or a defender? It’s not an easy question, and there’s no right or wrong answer. The word ‘back’ might point strongly to the latter option, but soccer is a dynamic sport, and one of the reasons for its global popularity is that it’s open to so many different interpretations… When the Brazil squad is announced, the players aren’t divided into defenders, midfielders and strikers. Instead, the categories are center backs, fullbacks, midfielders and strikers. The fullbacks are in a category of their own because their function is unique; the midfielders play narrow, leaving a huge corridor on the flank which they are supposed to charge up and down.”