As Keegan quit, Ashley got smashed in New York, while John Terry admits England are scared

Comment & analysis round up

Quote of the day: “There’s a fear of failure, speaking honestly. At club level, the lads feel free and can express themselves. When you come away with your country and look around the dressing room and see the players you’re going to be playing with, it should be the best thing. The confidence should be there but, at the minute, things just aren’t right. We have to take responsibility for that and put that right to get the fans back on our side. It really hurts me personally when the fans boo us off the pitch. I take a lot of pride in playing for my country.” – John Terry.

Runner up: “I’d like to be a manager at some point but I want to control who comes in and out of the club. If you’ve got three, four or five players waiting for you and you don’t know who they are, then you’ve got the right to ask yourself, ‘can I manage this club?’ A manager lives and dies by his decisions. If he can’t do that is there any point in him being there? It’s dangerous when you go into a club and the director of football is not appointed by you.” – Alan Shearer.

Today’s overview: With just hours before England’s 2010 World Cup campaign kicks off against Andorra, the national team finally take centre-stage after a week of craziness in the Premier League.

Martin Samuel lays out the difficulties for Fabio Capello ahead of Andorra, knowing that “a win is not enough.” RIchard Williams charges Fabio Capello for failing to do his homework in picking Heskey but not Owen, while Terry Venables feels confident should Rooney partner Heskey up-top. Henry Winter looks over England’s tactics, singling out Beckham’s free-kick as a likely weapon tonight.

But some pundits are already upset on th eve of the match. Steven Howard is still left questioning “how the hell could he leave Michael Owen out of his squad,” Sam Wallace wonders whether Capello’s strategy of announcing his team close to kick-off is merited, while Matt Dickinson reflects on the lack of outrage following Jamie Carragher’s outburst on England, concluding “England is not the be-all and end-all, even for the most committed professionals.”

Moving onto club football, Dominic Fifield reports on West Ham’s Italian-centred search for a new manager, with Neil Ashton piping up with the claim that “West Ham are confident of appointing Croatia coach Slaven Bilic as their new manager.”

Both Jim White and Glenn Moore take stock after a week of madness in the Premier League, White claiming “here once football was in the hands of moderately wealthy men such as Louis Edwards at Manchester United or Doug Ellis at Aston Villa, now it is becoming the preserve of the super rich,” with Moore noting these”few weeks have underlined English football’s global appeal.”

There are fresh news reports surrounding Newcastle. On the positive front,

Martin Hardy pens that “while angry Newcastle supporters were demanding that Ashley step down over his handling of Keegan’s resignation, the controversial billionaire had been partying with friends quaffing $7,500 bottles of Cristal champagne.” Emily Smith and Mike Sullivan add that “Ashley was ‘slaughtered’ and soaked from head to foot in Champagne as he sprayed £450 bottles of Cristal over his pals and handed out drinks and bottles to scantily-clad girls.”

Finally, David Lacey argues that Man City will need a strong manager to get them to the lofty places which the Abu Dhabi United Group have earmarked, Will Greenwood sums up the past five days as a Manchester City fan, while Tim Vickery previews Chile-Brazil as the net is closing in on Dunga.

In The Times, Martin Samuel lays out the difficulties for Fabio Capello ahead of Andorra, knowing that a win is not enough. “Andorra away is one of those strange matches that managers hate to acknowledge exist, because a win is not enough. The honeymoon was officially over last month when Capello’s team were booed off the pitch at Wembley against the Czech Republic, but there could be a further parting of the ways this evening. Capello wants his team to play well, but in his heart, like all managers, he is a pragmatist. In qualifying, a win is a win. He will not understand the mentality of those who insist on seeing that, and more.”

RIchard Williams (Guardian) charges Fabio Capello for failing to do his homework in picking Heskey but not Owen. “Emile Heskey’s presence redoubles the suspicion that Capello, surrounded by his little cadre of fellow Italians, has not really succeeded in getting a grip on the job. For one of the lessons from the last decade is that Owen works better in partnership with Heskey, and that Heskey doesn’t really work at all without Owen. Capello can justify the exclusion of Owen by saying that he has not proved his fitness, or by pointing out that age has blunted his reflexes and his speed across the ground. The coach can argue, too, that Heskey deserves his inclusion because of his impressive form this season with Wigan Athletic. But to pick one without the other when both are available suggests that he has not done his homework.”

For Terry Venables (The Sun), Wayne Rooney and Emile Heskey will likely be the striking partnership tonight. “I think David Beckham will play on the right to provide the crosses for Heskey. And Wayne Rooney needs someone alongside him with real presence. We saw against the Czech Republic that he and Jermain Defoe don’t necessarily work because of their similar size. So I think Heskey and Rooney will get the nod. Heskey has done it for England in big games before and I think he still has ambitions to fulfil with the national team. Neither player feels the pressure, they both seem to enjoy playing for England where others buckle under the strain.”

The Telegraph’s Henry Winter looks over England’s tactics. “If Matthew Upson looks capable of stepping in for Ferdinand, Capello must also decide whether to gamble on Joe Cole’s slight calf problem. If he does omit the Chelsea ball-player, the in-form Stewart Downing could be asked to stretch Andorra and provide the service from the left for Wayne Rooney and Jermain Defoe. Rumours in some quarters that Capello may leave out David Beckham are intriguing, although the aggressive Andorrans are likely to concede many free-kicks around their box. Beckham, really only of dead-ball use to England, is made for such situations.”

Steven Howard is still left questioning Owen’s absence in The Sun. “How the hell could he leave Michael Owen out of his squad for a double-header which ends in the less convivial surroundings of Zagreb next Wednesday. Owen, the great talismanic England striker of the last decade, has scored 40 times in 89 internationals. Yet he is omitted in favour of Jermain Defoe, Wayne Rooney, Emile Heskey and the greenhorn Theo Walcott who have managed just 24 England goals between them. Rooney, in fact, has had such a disastrous run he has contributed just FOUR in the last 20 games. Surely, Andorra would be the ideal game for Owen to get more minutes under his belt before the real business against Croatia?”

Sam Wallace (Independent) questions the merits of Capello only announcing his team on the day if the match. “Given how well he thought the 4-3-2-1 formation worked against the Czech Republic, Capello is more likely to pick a midfield of three with Wayne Rooney and either Joe Cole or Downing behind Jermain Defoe. If Walcott is to play in the midfield three, then why does Capello keep insisting that he plays as a striker for Arsenal? The goalkeeper and back four can be virtually taken for granted but the rest of the team will remain a mystery until Capello announces it on the team bus tonight.”

Following on from Jamie Carragher’s admission that losing with England is not as bad as losing with Liverpool, Matt Dickinson (The Times) explains why such statements generally went unchallenged. “The lack of outrage presumably tells us that Carragher was not slapping a shocking revelation on the table, but telling us what we already know: England is not the be-all and end-all, even for the most committed professionals. ‘Carra’ was passing on the truth, however uncomfortable… The worry is that more may follow [early retirement] unless England’s fortunes pick up, given the contrast between the adulation (and victories) that many of these players enjoy for their clubs and the expectation that weighs them down in an international shirt.”

According to Kevin McCarra (Guardian), “the distinction between Capello and Eriksson is slight. It was simply the Swede’s luck to have David Beckham in his prime, Michael Owen often available and, latterly, an emerging Wayne Rooney who was a force of nature rather than the diligent pro we now see. Capello is about as well-equipped to manoeuvre England into the 2010 World Cup finals as a manager could be, but he is no magus. Neither was Eriksson. The fantasy of the mysterious stranger who comes to redeem England is puerile. The country’s football will only flourish when it embraces the responsibility of producing players and coaches of high aptitude in far greater numbers.”

James Lawton (Independent), as if talking directly to Capello, puts the case forward for what would be the result of a good performance from Wayne Rooney. “We know that you have been dismayed by the gap between Wayne Rooney’s talent and his ability to deliver at the international level; that the lion of the training field can become such a fractious little lamb when it matters most; and we can only hope that sooner rather than later you can draw from him the kind of performance that came when you first saw him perform in domestic football, an all-consuming, winning effort when he appeared as a late substitute for Manchester United in an FA Cup tie at Aston Villa last season. Such a Rooney could carry a much less distinguished coach than you to glory, and this no doubt is what persuaded your predecessor Eriksson to take him to the last World Cup when he was plainly a mile away from true fitness – and confidence.”

On the club front, the Guardian’s Dominic Fifield reports on West Ham’s search for a new managers, with the Italians leading the charge. “The club’s technical director, Gianluca Nani, and the chief executive, Scott Duxbury, spoke to Donadoni in London yesterday and intend to have sounded out all seven candidates on their shortlist by Monday ahead of a board meeting. By then, they hope to have whittled their list to three out of Bilic, Donadoni, Roberto Mancini, Morten Olsen, Gianfranco Zola, Gérard Houllier and John Collins.”

Not so, according to the Daily Mail’s Neil Ashton, who says Slaven Bilic is the front-runner. “West Ham are confident of appointing Croatia coach Slaven Bilic as their new manager after Wednesday’s World Cup qualifier against England. After a dramatic day of developments at Upton Park, Sportsmail can reveal that the former Hammers defender has intimated that he is ready for the challenge of English football – a move that could, ironically, help England’s World Cup campaign… Despite a steady stream of public denials from the former Hammers defender, he has always been the club’s first choice and it is now understood that the club have been given sufficient encouragement to plan a formal approach to the Croatia FA next week.”

The Telegraph’s Jim White looks back over the weeks that were at St James’ Park and Upton Park. “Older managers must have watched all this with a wry smile. In many ways, they will tell you, it was ever thus. Talk to the likes of Tommy Docherty and he will deliver a stream of tales about being confounded by busy-body chairmen and know-nothing directors. In his day, the butcher or scrap metal dealer who bought into their local club would almost invariably do so in the belief that they could pick a better team than the man in the dugout… Where once football was in the hands of moderately wealthy men such as Louis Edwards at Manchester United or Doug Ellis at Aston Villa, now it is becoming the preserve of the super rich. Edwards did not have the confidence of extreme wealth effectively to gainsay a football man’s ideas and was largely controlled by his manager, Matt Busby. Now, with the likes of those behind the ‘sheikh-over’ at Manchester City, a different order of chairmen has come into the game.”

Glenn Moore (Independent) takes stock after five crazy days in the Premier League. “Few weeks have underlined English football’s global appeal, and the impact this has on the game’s traditional working practices, as much as this one. During the course of five crazy days it became apparent that the key decisions at Manchester City will be taken in the Middle East, West Ham are run from Iceland, and player recruitment at Newcastle is decided in London, which might as well be a foreign country as far as most Geordies are concerned… At least Hughes’ problem is an owner who wants to buy everyone. Both Alan Curbishley and Kevin Keegan claim to have been faced with owners intent on slashing the wage bill and replacing players they trusted with foreign ones they knew little of.”

In a factually excellent article, Kaveh Solhekol (The Times) goes through every club in the Premier League to assess how they conduct their transfer business. “Chelsea Luiz Felipe Scolari, the manager, identifies the players he wants and Peter Kenyon, the chief executive, does his best to sign them. The club are run by the executive board, headed by Kenyon, with input from Roman Abramovich, the owner, Bruce Buck, the chairman, and Eugene Tenenbaum, the director. Frank Arnesen is the chief scout and head of youth development.”

Events at Newcastle are also far from standing still, with It is becoming increasingly likely that Reliance Communications, the Indian-based telecoms giant, will seek formal talks with the Barclays Premier League club’s board with a view to a £220 million takeover… Less than 24 hours after Keegan announced his departure from St James’ Park as manager for the second time, the odds on him being reappointed had fallen to 14-1. Ambani is a great believer in continuity and his representatives are aware of the standing of the so-called ‘Geordie Messiah’ among the club’s supporters… The world’s sixth-richest man boasts a fortune of £21 billion and it is understood that Keegan, should he be persuaded to return for a third term as manager at St James’ Park, would be handed at least £100 million to strengthen the squad in the new year.”

The Daily Mail’s Martin Hardy attempts to whip up at storm at Newcastle, revealing that “Mike Ashley celebrated with friends at a $220,000 party in a New York dancing bar as manager Kevin Keegan desperately fought for his job. Sportsmail can reveal that while angry Newcastle supporters were demanding that Ashley step down over his handling of Keegan’s resignation, the controversial billionaire had been partying with friends quaffing $7,500 bottles of Cristal champagne at the Pink Elephant club in swanky Manhattan.”

The Sun’s Emily Smith and Mike Sullivan also tracked Mike Ashley’s boozy night in New York. “The owner and three other men, including one man named only as PK, downed an amazing 175 bottles of Cristal Champagne — the club’s entire stock. They also necked 16 bottles of Dom Perignon, 29 of PJ Fleur Rose and three of Grey Goose Vodka. Onlookers in the club on Wednesday night said Ashley was ‘slaughtered’ and soaked from head to foot in Champagne as he sprayed £450 bottles of Cristal over his pals and handed out drinks and bottles to scantily-clad girls — getting some to pour booze into his mouth. The mammoth bar bill included a £30,000 tip to waitresses and a four-figure tip to security. Ashley started off by ordering ten bottles of Cristal. But as the booze flowed he ordered 100 MORE — at a cost of nearly £43,000.”

David Lacey (Guardian) argues that Man City will need a strong manager to get them to the lofty places which the Abu Dhabi United Group have earmarked, but questions whether Mark Hughes will be afforded that opportunity. “Al Fahim needs to learn that success in football amounts to rather more than throwing camel-loads of cash around, that Chelsea had a firm team base even before Roman Abramovich arrived, and that the greater array of big names a club buys the greater is the need for a strong manager able to handle the moods and egos of a dressing room of squillionaires. Sir Alex Ferguson has managed this for more than 20 years at Manchester United, Luiz Felipe Scolari will expect to do so at Stamford Bridge and if Al Fahim, who has also talked of hiring such fading stars as Thierry Henry and the other Ronaldo, wants to be taken seriously he will allow Hughes the last say in who comes and goes at Eastlands.”

Will Greenwood (Telegraph) sums up what life has been like as a Manchester City fan this week, and how expectations have radically changed. “I am not sure how ‘Middle Eastlands’ will react to the sudden shift in fortunes, because we are used to mediocrity, and in one fell swoop expectations have been cataclysmically altered. A week ago, Mark Hughes probably had two years to turn City into a side who would automatically qualify for Europe and may have a go at the top four. Now, he has a year to win us a grand slam of trophies.”

Looking ahead to Chile-Brazil on Sunday night, Tim Vickery (Independent) lays out why the task in front of Dunga is daunting. “Santiago is not an easy place to visit – and Brazil’s form is poor. In June’s last two rounds they were somewhat fortunate to draw 0-0 at home to Argentina, a few days after a tame 2-0 defeat in Paraguay. In the match before that they suffered their first-ever defeat at the hands of Venezuela, 2-0, in a friendly played in Boston. At senior level, they have gone three games without a goal. Dunga also failed in his quest to lead Brazil’s footballers to their first Olympic gold. Bronze was little compensation.”