Comment & analysis round-up
Quote of the day: “If you bring people from Qatar and there is no-one from Liverpool or Manchester at the club, where is Liverpool or Manchester? I think it is not good. I think the Qataris should invest in Qatar. They should develop the football in each country. Can we do something against it? I will try to. Do you want in Liverpool an Arab sheikh as president with one Brazilian coach and nine or 11 African players? Where is Liverpool in that? We have to make some rules. What is football? Football is a game and this game has become popular because of the identity. You have to have identity, that is where football’s popularity lies.” – Michel Platini.
Runner-up: “â€œI found a small lump in my left testicle and went to see the doctor at West Brom, whoâ€™s a good friend of mine. I was diagnosed [with testicular cancer[ last Friday and Iâ€™m going in for surgery next Thursday. The surgeon has told me that this is the end of my professional career, which is disappointing. But Iâ€™ve had 10 good years with Fulham, Birmingham, Wigan, West Brom and all the other clubs Iâ€™ve played for and enjoyed it. Thatâ€™s at the back of my mind now. Itâ€™s just one of those things and Iâ€™ve come to terms with my career being over. All Iâ€™m thinking about now is beating this. Iâ€™ve always been a fighter right through my football career and Iâ€™m going to fight this and win. The specialist told me I did well to find the lump because it is so small. He says I stand a good chance of making a full recovery because weâ€™ve got in early.” – Geoff Horsfield.
Today’s overview: David Conn splashes with news that GAMÂ£ 39 is back on the agenda after Mohamed bin Hammam, the president of the Asian Football Confederation, agreed to the idea in principle, but Paul Kelso tempers any fears from the purists by saying it will be at least five years until the initiative takes hold.
Other revelations this Friday include David Maddock’s claim that Manchester City are hunting down Fernando Torres, while the other big talking point is reaction to Michel Platini’s calls for tighter financial regulation of football’s finances. Matt Scott reports that Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool could all be excluded from future Champions Leagues under the new UEFA proposals to rein in football’s finances, an idea principly supported by Gabriele Marcotti (“the only way UEFA can have an effective licensing system is if the game adopts a degree of financial transparency”).
In news no Newcastle fan will want to hear, Simon Williams repots that Mike Ashley is struggling to find a buyer for the Toon, while staying on Tyneside player recruitment is obviously no longer a priority for Ashley.”
Onto England, Martin Samuel celebrates Fabio Capello’s choice of Emile Heskey over Michael Owen, Heskey’s importance to the England team is also picked up by Henry Winter, while Paul Parker is distressed that Gerrard and Lampard will likely be lining up as England’s central-midfield partnership against Kazakhstan.
With John Terry still a major doubt, Matt Hughes looks at the lack of cover at centre-back for England – “The disappearance of Campbell and Carragher from the international scene is easily explained by age and apathy, although the failure of others to make the step up is more disappointing.” Steven Howard also seems less than satisfied with the England set-up, asking “Are David Beckham and Stewart Downing really worthy of a place in the squad for Kazakhstan and Belarus while Michael Owen is considered surplus to requirements?”
Kazakhstan’s recently fired manager explains why new money has fuelled unrealistic expectations to Jason Burt, and taking a broader look of international football, James Lawton notes the similar management styles of Capello, Trapattoni and Lippi.
In other news, Paul Doyle has a chin-wag with Gary Pallister, Tim Walker investigates “Kicking beats: Football’s unlikely popstars,” and Bild report that Crisiano Ronaldo’s former girlfriend, Nereida Gallardo, has claimed she was cheated on during their relationship.
The Guardian’s David Conn splashes with news that the GAMÂ£ 39 is back on the agenda. “The president of the Asian Football Confederation, one of the most vocal opponents of the Premier League’s proposed “Game 39” international round of matches, has softened his attitude so significantly that he would “welcome” Premier League games in Asia… The international-round proposals are due to go before the Premier League clubs again in February, although Scudamore said it is “unlikely” they will be in the form of Game 39. However he is adamant it will be a “meaningful” fixture and not a friendly. The proposal is still likely to face fierce opposition from fans’ groups as well as Uefa and Fifa, which both see it as an aggressive and financially driven attempt to expand English football’s reach.”
But the Telegraph’s Paul Kelso tempers any fears from the purists by saying it will be at least five years until the initiative takes hold. “Richard Scudamore, the Premier League chief executive, this week said he was continuing to examine options for overseas competitive league fixtures and said the League would present final proposals in February. Privately, however, it appears Scudamore and his advisers are resigned to the scheme having to wait until the start of the 2013-14 season at the earliest. The league are in the first season of a three-year deal and are likely to tender for the 2010-11 to 2013-14 live rights in the first quarter of next year. Given that timetable, there is little prospect of the League overcoming the opposition of members of the football family and winning the approval of their member clubs.”
Delivering sensational transfer speculation, David Maddock (Mirror) claims that Manchester City are hunting down Fernando Torres. “The Mirror can reveal that representatives of the Premiership clubâ€™s Abu Dhabi owners have made discreet contact with the Liverpool strikerâ€™s advisors within the last fortnight. And while there has been no official approach or a formal offer, it is understood the Spaniardâ€™s agents have had the prospect of an incredible deal spelt out to them in no uncertain terms. Sources in Spain, where the playerâ€™s advisors – the management group Bay International – are based, suggest that the oil rich owners of City would happily more than DOUBLE the strikerâ€™s salary to get their man. And while Torres has made it clear that he would not be interested in any offer at any price, it is still a sobering reflection of just how powerful City could become in the market.”
In the Guardian, Matt Scott reports that Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool could all be excluded from future Champions Leagues under UEFA proposals to rein in on football’s finances. “The European game’s governing body has set up a working group which will meet in Geneva on Monday to discuss how to extend its licensing system and restrict the levels of debt that clubs are permitted to operate with. Currently the financial stipulations in Uefa’s system are limited to bans on clubs who have outstanding debts on transfer payments. It also states that staff should be paid on time… [Platini] explained that debts fixed against assets, for stadium building, are considered more acceptable than those run up in the acquisition of players or for takeovers. He confirmed that this would affect clubs such as last season’s Champions League finalists, United and Chelsea, and one of the semi-finalists, Liverpool, unless they significantly reduced their debts.”
Gabriele Marcotti (SI) supports Platini’s plan in principle. “I hope UEFA are serious about a licensing system that forces those clubs who want to play in the game’s most lucrative competitions to abide by certain basic common sense financial principles. This doesn’t mean throwing Manchester United out of the competition overnight. It does mean making sure that the debt is reduced year on year and that, in future, nobody else be allowed to do what the Glazers did. Not because what the Glazers did was illegal (it wasn’t, though we can debate whether it was ethical or not), but because what they did was dangerous to the future well-being of the club and the game as a whole. But the only way UEFA can have an effective licensing system is if the game adopts a degree of financial transparency, so that we know exactly how much money is coming in and going out. And this would also mean creating a common accounting standard across the continent: it’s ludicrous and idiotic that clubs in Italy and Spain can still list individual players as individual assets — the much-abused “plusvalenze” system – allowing them to inflate their balance sheet with some accounting sleight-of-hand. Forget gimmicks like salary caps, and focus instead on having open books and a responsible financial vision. We don’t really want to leave the game in the hands of the highly remunerated banking types who did such a fine job on the financial markets, do we?”
In news no Newcastle fan will want to hear, Simon Williams (Guardian) pens news that Mike Ashley is struggling to find a buyer for the Toon. “Finding a buyer for Newcastle United could prove impossible in the current financial crisis, the man charged with selling the club admitted yesterday. Keith Harris, vice-chairman of the investment bank Seymour Pierce, said that the club’s owner, Mike Ashley, could remain in control for much longer than anticipated, as a serious bidder has yet to emerge and the global meltdown of financial markets made it “easy for people to find an excuse” not to buy. Harris said that although several parties had shown an interest since Ashley asked him to help sell Newcastle last month, none had come up with a viable bid.”
Jimenezâ€™s departure will be broadly welcomed by the fans. As vicepresident (player recruitment), the Londoner was partly responsible for the signings of JonÃ¡s GutiÃ©rrez and Fabricio Coloccini, but he will be remembered for his close association with Ashley and Dennis Wise, the executive director (football), during the fallout from Kevin Keeganâ€™s resignation. Newcastle emphasised that Jimenezâ€™s decision was personal; he has been underemployed since Ashley said that he would listen to offers but intends to stay in football. Player recruitment is obviously no longer a priority for Ashley, who would resist pressure to strengthen the squad were he in situ during the January transfer window.”
Onto England, Martin Samuel celebrates Fabio Capello’s choice of Emile Heskey over Michael Owen in The Times. “Capello altered perspective by identifying Owen as the issue, by looking at his overall contribution, not only his goals, and concluding that a robust target man such as Heskey, the Wigan Athletic striker, would get more out of Rooney and also out of England’s attacking midfield and wide players. In Croatia the manager revealed the potential of this plan against a strong team. Now he must be hoping Heskey remains fit, so the point can be driven home against weaker opposition… It is perhaps Capello’s status as an outsider that has allowed him to recognise these strengths. Would an English-born manager have dispensed with Owen and hitched his wagon to a striking partnership that every statistical analyst would argue was a study in ineffectuality? A fresh eye on old problems is what English football needed. If Capello can do in other areas what he has done to England’s front line, there may be hope for Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard yet.”
Heskey’s importance to the England team is also picked up by Henry Winter in the Telegraph. “The Wigan Athletic centre forward is a man of few goals, only five in 48 internationals, and few real goal threats, yet he has become a figure of respect, rather than fun, because of the way he enhances the abilities of attacking colleagues. With Heskey occupying Croatiaâ€™s centre-halves in Zagreb last month, Wayne Rooney was able to drop off and cause havoc in the 4-1 win.”
Paul Parker (Eurosport) is distressed that Gerrard and Lampard will likely be lining up as England’s central-midfield partnership against Kazakhstan. “As far as I’m concerned, it has to be one or the other. They have played together so many times and it just hasn’t happened. Playing well for your club doesn’t mean you will play well for your country, and they just can’t seem to get the best out of each other. It seems that successive England managers simply haven’t been able to resist the lure of picking the big-name midfielders; Gerrard, Lampard and David Beckham. Capello’s side played so well in Croatia without the injured Gerrard – why would you drop Gareth Barry, who gives the England midfield so much more balance?… What kind of a message does it send to Barry if he plays brilliantly and then immediately gets axed? It will dishearten him and make him think he can never establish himself.”
With John Terry still a major doubt, Matt Hughes (The Times) looks at the lack of cover at centre-back for England. “The disappearance of Campbell and Carragher from the international scene is easily explained by age and apathy, although the failure of others to make the step up is more disappointing. It is clear that Kingâ€™s knee problems will prevent him fulfilling his potential, a doubly cruel blow because Capello is a big admirer, which cannot be said about Jonathan Woodgate. Woodgate has stayed fit this season, but Capello is unconvinced, while also considering Micah Richards too raw to be exposed at centre back. The Italian is more favourably disposed towards Wes Brown, but is reluctant to move him from right back. All of which left Upson and Lescott attempting to play their way into the team in London Colney yesterday, to the surprise of even themselves.”
The Sun’s Steven Howard has several questions on Don Fabio’s England squad. “Are David Beckham and Stewart Downing really worthy of a place in the squad for Kazakhstan and Belarus while Michael Owen is considered surplus to requirements? Can Capello really come up with an answer to the eternal Frank Lampard-Steven Gerrard conundrum? Owen was originally left out on grounds of fitness. Now it is his form that is concerning the England boss. Yet, on that basis, Beckham would be nowhere near the squad at the moment.”
Kazakhstan’s recently fired manager explains why new money has fuelled unrealistic expectations, reports the Independent’s Jason Burt. “Coaching Kazakhstan is ‘like being put in charge of Derby County one year and then, without being able to buy any players, told that you have to win the Premier League the following season or lose your job.’ So says Arno Pijpers… Kazakhstan, ranked 131st in the world, one place above Singapore, but below Hong Kong, genuinely believe they should be qualifying for the next World Cup ahead of England and Croatia. Quite where that belief has come from is easily explained: money. Because of its oil and gas fields, Kazakhstan has been growing rapidly in recent years with investment pouring in from China â€“ a new pipeline has been built â€“ and the United States.”
Taking a broader look on international football, James Lawton (Irish Independent) notes the similar management styles of Capello, Trapattoni and Lippi. “They are not exactly the Three Tenors – not one of them has yet displayed the extrovert panache of the late Pavarotti when he invaded the football stages of Rome and Los Angeles – but rarely can a trio of World Cup performers have sung so coherently and consistently from the same sheet of music. Giovanni Trapattoni for Ireland, Fabio Capello for England and Italy’s returning conqueror Marcello Lippi, have all, and in almost identical fashion, hammered home the same imperative. It is the making a team, a unifying of purpose that already has shifted the balance between the requirement of special talent and the importance of accepting that one rule applies to all who care to wear the shirt of their country.”
Paul Doyle has a chin-wag with Gary Pallister in the Guardian. “Does it irritate you that you didn’t get more England caps? [Long pause] I don’t really look back at my career with regrets. I didn’t come into the game until late â€“ I was 19 when I turned pro and I hadn’t done an apprenticeship or anything like that so I think I was privileged to end up having such a good career. You kind of take it for granted at the time but looking back now I realise how lucky I was. But you must still wonder why you â€“ and indeed Bruce â€“ never got more of a look-in with England. Did any of the managers at the time offer any explanation? No. I guess that with the likes of Tony Adams, Des Walker and Mark Wright around they thought they had better options.”
In an offbeat article, the Independent’s Tim Walker investigates “Kicking beats: Football’s unlikely popstars.” “[Rio] Ferdinand is far from the first footballer to take a punt with his vocal cords, and his contemporaries Carlos Tevez (Manchester United), Ryan Babel (Liverpool) and Djibril CissÃ© (Sunderland) are all in the early stages of their own recording careers. Many stars have distinguished themselves behind the microphone as well as in front of goal, but â€“ Rio, take note â€“ very few of them have been English. We all recall what happened when Chris Waddle and Glenn Hoddle were given their three minutes on Top of the Pops, and it wasn’t nearly as pretty as their on-field performances… Ferdinand deserves praise for his efforts to uncover musical talents such as Nia Jai, but after hearing his own heavily distorted contribution to his new protÃ©gÃ©’s record, I doubt that anyone would advise him to give up the day job.”
… and finally, Bild report that former girlfriend of Cristaino Ronaldo, Nereida Gallardo, has claimed she was cheated on during their relationship. “The beautiful glamour model made the revelation when she talked openly on Spanish TV about her relationship with the Portuguese football sensation which ended in the summer. Nereida said: ‘When we were together, I checked in his mobile phone.’ There she found various text messages from ‘either a Spanish woman or a woman from Miami’ with whom Ronaldo was maintaining close contact!”