Comment & analysis round-up
Quote of the Day: “The matter is closed now. He’s a Manchester United player. It’s finished. He’s here. He’s going to play here next season. Believe me, it’s all over.” – Sir Alex Ferguson.
Runner-up: “I know about English teams and penalties. I was there in Euro 2004 and at the 2006 World Cup, remember. Like England, Chelsea have lost shoot-outs recently, so mentally there is a problem. How do you overcome things like that? You work every day to try to build the players’ self-belief. I need to change the mentality in the club where some players are afraid of penalties because they don’t want to make a mistake. They must cope with pressure.” – Felipe Scolari.
Today’s overview: Today’s football stories kick-off with worrying news for Manchester City fans, with Ian Ladyman splashing with news that Thaksin Shinawatra is looking to offload the club he bought last year. Another club on the verge of internal chaos is QPR, as Gary Jacob investigates how Iain Dowie is on the brink of exiting Loftus Road after an argument with Flavio Briatore “about the proposed transfer of an unknown striker from the Middle East.”
West Ham find themselves at the centre of a couple of transfer stories this Wednesday. According to David Hytner, the Hammers have fended off a Â£15m offer for Dean Ashton from Spurs. But on the downside, Neil Ashton reports that the Hammers have agreed to pay-off Freddy Ljungberg a whopping Â£6million to get the Swede off the club’s books.
The post-mortem of Rangers’ Champions League exit is picked over by Roddy Forsyth (“Rangers began to stare into the abyss. In the end it swallowed them whole”) and Stephen Halliday (“Rangers slumped to the worst defeat of their 52-year European history”).
Manchester United’s injuries are piling up, with the news that Wayne Rooney has fallen victim to a virus. James Ducker says “[Rooney’s illness] will call into question Unitedâ€™s decision to fly to Nigeria for a money-spinning exhibition game.” Tony Cascarino goes one step further, claiming “Barclays Premier League clubs are putting playersâ€™ health at risk for the sake of making money from foreign tours to increasingly far-flung destinations.”
Other Premier League features include reaction to Felipe Scoalri’s call that Chelsea should be “loved”, with Rob Bagchi and Tom Dart offering mocking suggestions about how the Blues can raise their appeal, Rob Hughes investigates why Anil Ambani would consider buying Newcastle United, while Barney Ronay and Scott Murray preview Blackburn and Bolton respectively before the new season.
Away from the English game, Ben Lyttleton asks “is Lyon’s dominance about to end?” James Lawton focuses attention on Lionel Messi while investigating the status of the Olympics, Bild.de have an exclusive interview with new Real Madrid signing Rafael van der Vaart and Jonathan Wilson salutes the best ever goalkeeper, Yugoslavia’s ballerina Vladimir Beara.
For the second day running Ian Ladyman (Daily Mail) splashes with a big rumour, today claiming “the long-term future of Manchester City is in doubt again today after it emerged that owner Thaksin Shinawatra has tentatively explored the possibility of selling the club. Sportsmail can reveal that the former Thai Prime Minister has spoken to an intermediary in the financial world over the past month about finding prospective buyers. And sources close to the situation revealed last night that two anonymous parties have been approached as Thaksin has investigated ways of selling the club he bought for Â£80million last summer or bringing in fresh investors.”
Spurs have had a Â£15m offer for Dean Ashton rejected, reports David Hytner in the Guardian. “It would be unthinkable for West Ham supporters to see Ashton, the England international, depart for Tottenham, not only because of his talent but because it would sorely stretch Alan Curbishley. He is looking forward to pairing Ashton with Craig Bellamy, although the latter is struggling with a hamstring injury which he picked up at Ipswich Town on Monday night. His other options extend little further than Carlton Cole and the 18-year-old Freddie Sears. West Ham’s chief executive Scott Duxbury caught the mood when he claimed: ‘Hell would have to freeze over for us to sell Dean to a major rival.'”
Staying with West Ham, Neil Ashton reports that the Hammers have agreed to pay-off Freddy Ljungberg to remove the player from the club’s books. “Freddie Ljungberg’s disastrous spell at Upton Park is over after only 12 months as West Ham agreed to pay a staggering Â£6million to get him off their spiralling wage bill. As the full extent of Ljungberg’s incredible salary details emerged – he is paid Â£85,000 a week and had an option for another year if he made just 15 appearances this season – West Ham are still suffering from the aftershock of one of the most expensive mistakes in British football history.”
Gary Jacob (The Times) reports on how Iain Dowie is on the verge of leaving QPR, just three months into the job, after an argument with Flavio Briatore “about the proposed transfer of an unknown striker from the Middle East.” “Briatore is understood to have told Dowie that he would be dismissed, but stopped short of formalising the decision and it was unclear whether the manager would report for work this morning… The clubâ€™s list of targets is likely to include Sam Allardyce and Mike Newell. There are no obvious internal candidates.”
Roddy Forsyth reflects on Rangers’ exit from the Champions League in his post-match report for the Telegraph. “It is only 84 days since Rangers suffered the gut-wrenching experience of defeat in the Uefa Cup final to Zenit St Petersburg in Manchester, followed by the failure of their Scottish title challenge on the last evening of an impossibly congested sequence of fixtures â€“ but the trauma of being beaten by FBK Kaunas in Lithuania, to tumble out of Europe at the first time of asking, will exceed even that miserable passage… Rangers began to stare into the abyss. In the end it swallowed them whole.”
In The Scotsman, Stephen Halliday is equally downbeat about Rangers’ European exit. “Rangers slumped to the worst defeat of their 52-year European history last night… Without even the consolation of dropping into the Uefa Cup, Smith and his players will now be under intense pressure to provide some compensation to their disgruntled supporters in the form of domestic success. On current evidence, however, they are clearly ill-equipped to challenge Celtic’s dominance of the SPL.”
James Ducker reports on Manchester United’s injury problems, including Wayne Rooney’s “tropical virus” in The Times. “[Rooney’s illness] will call into question Unitedâ€™s decision to fly to Nigeria for a money-spinning exhibition game against Portsmouth at the end of their ten-day tour to South Africa, although of more pressing concern to Sir Alex Ferguson will be the forwardâ€™s wellbeing and the fact that the manager is likely to start the season without at least seven senior first-team players. In addition to Rooney, United will be missing Louis Saha, Park Ji Sung and Owen Hargreaves, all of whom have knee problems, and Cristiano Ronaldo, who has been ruled out until October with an ankle injury. Nani is suspended for the first two matches of the campaign after his red card against West Ham United last season, while Anderson is away with Brazil at the Olympic Games in Beijing.”
In the Independent, Ian Herbert recalls how United stuttered at the beginning of last season without Rooney in their line-up. “The lack of firepower was telling in Rooney’s absence at the start of last season as United’s title defence spluttered into action. The goalless draw at home to Reading was followed by a run of games in which United managed more than one goal in a League game on a solitary occasion until the 4-0 thumping of Wigan on 6 October.”
Tony Cascarino (The Times) offers little sympathy over Wayne Rooney’s illness. “If Paula Radcliffe can get bitten by a spider in France, it canâ€™t be a surprise when Wayne Rooney contracts a mysterious virus in Nigeria. Barclays Premier League clubs are putting playersâ€™ health at risk for the sake of making money from foreign tours to increasingly far-flung destinations. Iâ€™m not scaremongering and saying thereâ€™s going to be an epidemic, but itâ€™s hard to imagine that more and more players – and Kolo Toure recently contracted malaria – wonâ€™t fall sick if they continue to travel such distances.”
Responding to Scolari’s call that â€œI want to make Chelsea loved around the world, like Barcelona and Manchester United,â€ Rob Bagchi (Guardian) offers some mocking suggestions as to how this may be achieved. “Try to persuade the chief executive, Peter Kenyon, to eat some lemon peel before appearing in public to make his mug look less smug. Then tell him to desist from throwing stones at other people’s greenhouses… Disown and then send Tim Lovejoy back to Watford, David Mellor to Fulham and Jeremy Vine to Newsnight.”
The Times’ Tom Dart also rises to the bait of suggesting how Chelsea could be more loved. “Get Roman Abramovich to subsidise the nationâ€™s energy bills. With his interests in oil and gas, who better to cut prices for the hard-hit UK consumer?… Send Andriy Shevchenko on loan to Luton Town. What a noble gesture as Luton start the season on minus 30 points.”
Rob Hughes (IHT) investigates why Anil Ambani would consider buying Newcastle United. “Possibly because as recession bites, soccer – English soccer specifically – wallows in a global television rights deal that guarantees each of the 20 Premier League clubs Â£50 million a season from now until 2010. This represents a 60 percent increase in television income at a time when even the banks are not safe. And it is the beginning, not the end, of what the clubs can reap through ticket sales, merchandising, sponsorship and the holy grail of Champions League income currently dominated by English teams. So for every denial that Newcastle’s board might make about newspaper speculation, and even the denials coming thick and fast from supposed potential purchasers, the prospect of another English club going to foreign markets makes sense.”
The Guardian continue their team-by-team preview ahead of the new Premier League season. Barney Ronay today looks at Blackburn (“Blackburn have taken a huge gamble with an innovative managerial appointment”) and Scott Murray focuses on Bolton (“Unless Elmander and Riga both turn out to be utter disasters, Bolton should do just about enough to ensure another successful campaign”).
The Independent’s Glenn Moore speaks to new MK Dons manager, Roberto Di Matteo, about preparations for the new season. “‘I have done my homework,’ he said with the smile of a swot. ‘What I did not know I found out very quickly. I think I am up to date. I’ve been watching the videos from last year, getting to know my players and our opponents.’ A pre-season trip to Portugal has helped him to assess ability and, as importantly, character. ‘It is good to see them outside their normal environment.'”
Previewing the new Ligue 1 season, Ben Lyttleton asks “is Lyon’s dominance about to end?” in the Guardian. “If Bordeaux fall short again, that could open the way for Marseille, who showed fantastic form after Eric Gerets’s October arrival as coach. OM’s only major departure has been Samir Nasri to Arsenal and their signings, which include Hatem Ben Arfa and Bakary KonÃ©, have left them with Ligue 1’s strongest forward-line. Djibril CissÃ© still wants to leave the club (a Roma link was denied while Manchester City are the latest to show interest) and despite Gerets’s protestations that he wants to keep him, a 4-2-3-1 with Ben Arfa, Mathieu Valbuena and Mamadou Niang behind KonÃ© still looks pretty impressive. The defence has been strengthened with the arrival of centre-backs Hilton, from Le Mans, and Moroccan international El Amin Erbati. How well OM’s back-line holds up – and it is not as strong as Lyon’s – could determine the title.”
With the Olympic football tournament starting tomorrow, James Lawton (Independent), focuses attention on Lionel Messi and investigates the status of the competition. “No doubt there will be few complaints in Shanghai tomorrow night if Messi produces the kind of compelling, intricate skill that so overshadowed Cristiano Ronaldo at Old Trafford last season. Or if Federer serves up the exquisite tennis of which he is still capable to win Olympic gold at his third attempt. Messi and Federer bring their own rewards in any circumstances, yet the latter is as candid as the Tiger when it comes to assessing Olympic gold against the silver of Wimbledon or the US Open. ‘Winning Olympic gold would be great for both me and my country,’ he said recently. ‘It would be something always to have with pride, but no, not as important as winning a Slam event. For a tennis player that always has to be the supreme achievement.'”
Bild.de have an exclusive interview with new Real Madrid signing, Rafael van der Vaart. “I called my grandfather Rafael late in the night. He lives in Spain. I hadn’t told him anything beforehand. I didn’t want to excite him too much because he’s old. He was one of the people in the last year who said ‘don’t go to Valencia, something better will come’. My grandfather will travel to Madrid on Tuesday for my presentation.”
The Guardian’s Jonathan Wilson salutes the best ever goalkeeper, Yugoslavia’s ballerina Vladimir Beara. “Beara’s reputation was never as great as that of Yashin, but even in England he gathered something of a cult status following an international at Highbury in 1950 in which he pulled off a string of improbable saves as Yugoslavia held England to a 2-2 draw. But it wasn’t just his athleticism and reflexes that impressed; there was also a grace and a majesty to his goalkeeping. As Bob Wilson said, ‘there was an entertaining, aesthetic air about him’, which was perhaps appropriate for a player who once studied ballet. That, Wilson went on, was ‘why his jumps and dives with feet curled and body perfectly poised appealed. He kept goal on his toes, like a coiled spring, always ready to pounce.'”