“The game is being run for the benefit of agents rather than the customers”

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “When you want to play at the top you must start the game with the right attitude and personality. That’s what we didn’t do and that’s a good learning lesson. It was the kind of game where you couldn’t afford a mistake at the back or at a set piece. I believe they wanted it a bit more than us in the first half and the corner (when they scored) shows that.” – Arsene Wenger.

Runner-up: “I’m doing well, and I’m happy. I had been hoping to come back [to AC Milan] for a while and already yesterday I imagined this negotiation could end well. For me, it’s as if I’ve won a Champions League. There were some complications, but now that everything has been resolved I am truly happy.” – Andriy Shevchenko.

Today’s overview: As ever on a Sunday, Patrick Barclay has written the comment piece of the day in the Sunday Telegraph, questioning why the transfer window doesn’t end when the season starts. “Why are clubs messing about like this? Because they can. Yet only at the end of the month – three weekends into the season – will many of their customers be able properly to judge the prospects for the campaign and that is a disgrace. Something must be done, or it will begin to look as if the game is being run for the benefit of agents rather than the customers. Perish the thought.”

Which leads on nicely to the main transfer story of the day, that of Dimitar Berbatov to Manchester United from beleaguered Spurs. According to David Harrison in the News of the World, “Manchester United have made a £25million take-it-or-leave-it bid” for the moody Bulgarian. Whilst Duncan White in the Sunday Telegraph claims “Senior players at Tottenham have made clear their concerns to manager Juande Ramos that the protracted transfer of Dimitar Berbatov to Manchester United is proving disruptive to the club.” And Piers Morgan (Mail on Sunday) describes Dimitar Berbatov’s stance at Spurs as “treachery.”

As always on a Sunday, there are a whole bunch of transfer rumours, including the news that Stewart Downing has begged for a move to Liverpool if you believe Chris Bascombe in the News of the World. The lead article in the Daily Mail today reports that “Newcastle are ready to spend £12million on Chelsea winger Florent Malouda if Stamford Bridge boss Luiz Felipe Scolari signs Robinho from Real Madrid.” And Alan Nixon (Sunday Mirror) reports that Everton are finally going to make a summer signing.

Ahead of the Premier League fixtures this afternoon, Duncan Castles (The Observer) features Luiz Felipe Scolari, Duncan White in the Sunday Telegraph speaks with Petr Cech and Joe Lovejoy (The Sunday Times) interviews Dean Ashton. There are also articles on Cesc Fabregas in three of the papers this morning. Money quote: “I cannot remember any player who left Arsenal and has been a superstar.”

Many of the columnists today look back on the England friendly in midweek. Steve Tongue in the Independent on Sunday recalls a retort between Fabio Capello and a journalist at Wembley following the 2-2 draw with the Czech Republic: “Capello also needs to be told there is one battle he will not win: ‘I think one of the big problems is the newspapers, which don’t support us.’ As a Sunday paper man put it to him: ‘Yes, the newspapers keep giving the ball away.'”

Rob Shepherd (News of the World) urges David Beckham to quit England now and Patrick Barclay pinpoints Owen Hargreaves as the key man for England. Whilst Rod Liddle sums up the mood of a nation: “You would think that by now the message would be getting home: we are of no use whatsoever. We’re s*** but, incredibly, we still don’t know we are.”

Finally, Paul Smith’s exclusive in the Sunday Mirror suggests that “Harry Redknapp wants to manage the Great Britain football team at the 2012 Olympics.” Redknapp: “I’ve had some great managerial jobs during my career but there is no doubt this would be the icing on the cake. The fact it is being held on my old stamping ground in East London makes it even more appealing.”

Patrick Barclay writes in the Sunday Telegraph what many of us have been feeling since the season started. “The trouble with the window is that it stays open too long. As we noted here last week, it was interesting at first, while nothing else was happening, to observe, say, Manchester United’s tactics in retaining Cristiano Ronaldo while luring Dimitar Berbatov. But then the close season ended, the Premier League started and the speculation became an irritant, an insult even to the people who were paying good money to watch teams that appeared little more than works in progress… Why are clubs messing about like this? Because they can. Yet only at the end of the month – three weekends into the season – will many of their customers be able properly to judge the prospects for the campaign and that is a disgrace. Nine days ago, due to pressure of work, I missed a deadline to name a fantasy-football team imposed by the nice people at Barclays. There could be no complaint: they wanted everything in place for the big kick-off. Marvellous, isn’t it? The League’s sponsors have more stringent regulations than the League itself. Something must be done, or it will begin to look as if the game is being run for the benefit of agents rather than the customers. Perish the thought.”

According to David Harrison in the News of the World, “Manchester United have made a £25million take-it-or-leave-it bid for Dimitar Berbatov. Sir Alex Ferguson made his move yesterday and now expects to land the Bulgarian by the end of the week. Berbatov, who handed in a transfer request last week, was left out of the Spurs side which crashed 2-1 at home to Sunderland yesterday.”

Duncan White in the Sunday Telegraph claims “Senior players at Tottenham have made clear their concerns to manager Juande Ramos that the protracted transfer of Dimitar Berbatov to Manchester United is proving disruptive to the club. The Sunday Telegraph understands that a deputation of players met with Ramos last week to ask for the situation to be speedily resolved. While there has been no suggestion that Berbatov has been unprofessional, some senior players are worried that the situation is proving a distraction to a side that has been radically overhauled in the summer.”

Piers Morgan (Mail on Sunday) describes Dimitar Berbatov’s stance at Spurs as “treachery.” “First Robbie Keane leaves, saying: ‘Joining Liverpool is a lifetime dream of mine, I hope the fans can forgive me.’ And then Dimitar Berbatov offered up one of the most ridiculously blinkered statements in football history: ‘I’m now at Tottenham, but no one can disagree with me wanting to follow my dream.’ Well, they can actually, Dimi, old chap. There are 36,000 people at White Hart Lane who might just have a teeny weeny little quibble with your right to follow your ‘dream’ all the way to Old Trafford. Especially when a photograph then appears of you signing a Manchester United shirt. As Sir Alan Sugar told me this week: ‘I don’t remember Berbatov mentioning this dream when he signed for us and said he’d followed Spurs since he was a boy.'”

Ahead of Chelsea-Wigan today, Duncan Castles (The Observer) features Luiz Felipe Scolari. “In the latter stages of pre season, Scolari devoted two consecutive days to training solely on set pieces, doggedly schooling his players on marking and defensive positioning. By the second day, one senior international, accustomed to getting his way with coaches, decided enough was enough, brashly informing his new boss that the team ‘had got it now’. Reminding the midfielder that Chelsea had lost 19 goals from dead balls over the past 12 months, Scolari returned him to work. The sessions have continued this past week.”

Duncan White in the Sunday Telegraph speaks with Petr Cech ahead of Chelsea’s visit to the JJB Stadium. Cech: “We enjoyed the Portsmouth game and the crowd were brilliant… We knew as soon as the game started we would play well and win. When you open the game with a quick first goal everything becomes easier and with the quality we have it was a great situation for us. We tried to play a different way, we tried to use the quality of all our midfielders and use our technique, skill and passing game. Arsenal always play good football but sometimes it is not enough because in some games in the Premier League you have to fight hard. You can’t use only technique.”

Stewart Downing has begged for a move to Liverpool if you believe Chris Bascombe in the News of the World. “Stewart Downing will plead with Middlesbrough to listen to any £14million bid from Liverpool. The winger, a sub in England’s midweek draw with the Czechs, believes his ambitions will be aided by a move to a Champions League club. Rafa Benitez has been considering an offer all summer, but with his focus on the Gareth Barry saga, Downing’s hopes of a transfer appeared increasingly unlikely.”

Graham Chase reports in The Observer that Thaksin Shinawatra will be at the Manchester City game today. “The last time Thaksin Shinawatra was present at a game at Eastlands, it proved the catalyst for Sven-Goran Eriksson’s departure. But the Swede’s replacement, Mark Hughes, maintains that today’s visit to see his team play West Ham will mark the beginning of a more settled spell for Manchester City. Yesterday’s revelation that Thailand’s former Prime Minister, who fled his homeland earlier this month in the face of corruption charges, could stand down from the City board in order to satisfy the Premier League’s fit-and-proper-person test, only underlines that he intends to hold on to the ownership of the club. City maintain that his title may change to satisfy the Premier League, but Thaksin’s real position will not. Hughes met his boss for the first time in London last week and, as well as being given assurances about the future of the club, he was handed more than £6m to sign the Belgium international Vincent Kompany on a four-year deal from Hamburg.”

Stewart Robson (Sunday Telegraph) looks ahead to the tactical battles at Eastlands today. “Although the 4-2 scoreline suggests City were well beaten at Aston Villa last week, the game was evenly contested. City played some good free-flowing football, with Martin Petrov and Elano at their most creative, but the game was lost in the seconds immediately after they conceded possession. Good defensive teams respond quickly to the ball changing hands but against Villa, City were slow to react both mentally and physically. Three of Villa’s goals were a result of midfielders recovering at half-pace rather than breaking their necks to rectify mistakes, while defenders failed to see danger before it materialised.”

Joe Lovejoy (The Sunday Times) speaks with Dean Ashton. “Having just parked his Porsche Cayenne in the middle of the motor show that is Chadwell Heath, he admitted that the money footballers earn was ample compensation for criticism of almost any sort – even from Disgusted of Wembley last Wednesday. An articulate young man, capped by England at every level from under17s up, he is both polite, apologising for being a few minutes late (Sol Campbell once kept me waiting for 2½ hours and didn’t) and disarmingly honest (he accepts he needed to shed surplus avoirdupois and that he ‘didn’t set the world alight’ on his international baptism). It seemed an appropriate starting point to clear up his omission from Capello’s latest squad. The England coach was at Upton Park to check on Ashton and saw him score twice against Wigan, before hobbling off. Some four hours later, the man of the match suffered premature ejection, Emile Heskey getting the nod instead. Ashton said: ‘I went to take a free kick and my calf cramped up. The staff said they didn’t want to take any risks, so I came off. The club wanted me to have a scan the next day to make sure that it was just cramp, and because I was waiting for that, and the squad was being named on the Saturday night, England assumed I was unavailable. I knew it was only cramp, so obviously I was really disappointed to miss out.'”

The main interview in The Observer today, by Amy Lawrence, is with Cesc Fabregas. Money quote: “I cannot remember any player who left Arsenal and has been a superstar… Don’t get me wrong, Alex Hleb and Mathieu Flamini are two of my best friends in football and I wish them all the best. I speak to them every week and I know how they feel – I am not going to tell you – but Arsenal is Arsenal. This club has something special that no others have. We have to take care of it.'”

Steve Tongue in the Independent on Sunday also speaks with Cesc Fabregas: “I’m surprised reading things from ex-players who say things about Arsenal that are not positive… With Spain we were probably the second youngest side and we won the [Euro 2008] tournament. There will always be people who want to put us down but we have to be strong and keep fighting for our objective. We have to show the fans they can see good football but also win something.” (There is also a similar interview with Fabregas in The Sunday Telegraph.)

The lead article in the Mail on Sunday today by Daniel King reports that “Newcastle are ready to spend £12million on Chelsea winger Florent Malouda if Stamford Bridge boss Luiz Felipe Scolari signs Robinho from Real Madrid. And Newcastle owner Mike Ashley has sanctioned a late transfer window spree which could bring in Malouda and up to three more players.”

Rob Shepherd’s exclusive in the News of the World claims that “Michael Owen will be involved in crunch talks with Newcastle this week as his future hangs in the balance. Negotiations over the striker’s contract have been dragging on since May and the two sides are still struggling to reach a settlement. A source close to the talks said: “We are getting towards the business end of things now. ‘It has gone on for so long without any real progress being made and it can’t continue too much longer.’ Reports that Newcastle are offering the England international a £140,000-a-week deal are grossly inaccurate.”

Bob Cass (Mail on Sunday) in his match report on Newcastle’s win over Bolton asks “Where are [the] fans?” “Michael Owen and Shay Given gave Newcastle supporters a lot to tell their absent friends about – and there will be plenty of them to hear it. In spite of incentives like free booze for those who got in their bar-room orders up to 50 minutes before the kick-off; complimentary tickets to schoolchildren and cash entrance money for the first time in years, the match was played before 47,711 – the lowest first-game attendance at St James’ Park since the ground was extended in 2000. There were almost 5,000 empty seats at a club where there used to be a waiting list for season tickets. If Kevin Keegan is showing some signs of getting it right on the pitch, clearly the Toon Army are not convinced – an unthinkable scenario when their huge regard for the Newcastle manager and former playing superstar is taken into consideration.”

Alan Nixon (Sunday Mirror) reports that Everton are finally going to make a summer signing. “Everton boss David Moyes is finally set to make a splash in the transfer market by signing Spain winger Albert Riera. Moyes has agreed a club record fee of £12million with Espanyol and hopes to fly in Riera for talks this weekend – and beat bitter rivals Liverpool to his signature. Riera is keen to come to Merseyside and cash in on the form that earned him five caps. Moyes had been despairing of landing players but Goodison chairman Bill Kenwright is poised to write his biggest ever cheque.”

Paul Wilson casts his eye over England in The Observer. “Perhaps one should never read to much into a friendly at this time of the year, but Capello picked out Wednesday’s months ago as the deadline for England to be competitive and to show they could play as a team. You didn’t need to be Harry Redknapp to spot the flaws, though the Portsmouth manager’s caustic comments did add much needed spice to what would otherwise have been an unforgivably insipid Wembley occasion.”

Steve Tongue in the Independent on Sunday also writes of England. “We have been here before; for the last five years, in fact, which is one reason why Capello seems to be presiding over the end of a tired old era rather than the start of a bright new one. Similarly up front. A year ago, Emile Heskey and Michael Owen blitzed weak Israeli and Russian defences but is the former international quality? Is Owen fit? And which role will transform Rooney into the lion of 2004? Experienced as he is, Capello also needs to be told there is one battle he will not win: ‘I think one of the big problems is the newspapers, which don’t support us.’ As a Sunday paper man put it to him: ‘Yes, the newspapers keep giving the ball away.'”

Rob Shepherd (News of the World) urges David Beckham to quit England now. “David Beckham will emerge on an open-top double decker bus in Beijing’s Bird’s Nest today and hoof a football into a crowd. Not that much different from what he did at Wembley on Wednesday night. That has been Beckham’s stock-in-trade for England, lofting balls into a crowded penalty box. Today, as part of the London 2012 handover ceremony, Beckham will do his bit for the country by lobbing some sort of fancy ball into the athletes gathered below. It will sum up what Beckham has become — distinctly more showman than sportsman.”

Patrick Barclay goes against the current wisdom and praises Wayne Rooney for not being selfish. “Who would have believed it? An England attacker is accused of lacking selfishness. Not once but repeatedly. And legitimately. Yet how good it was to hear Wayne Rooney insist, even at the risk of vaguely conflicting with his boss, Sir Alex Ferguson, that he would continue to do what came naturally. Lots of very good players, especially strikers, have been selfish. Great ones tend to be team men, relishing their responsibility to others (and here Diego Maradona comes to mind) or believing that, since they have the privilege of being able to envisage the big picture, they might as well paint it (Johan Cruyff). A detour into selfishness might take Rooney off course.”

And in a seperate article, Barclay pinpoints Owen Hargreaves as the key man for England. “Once again the Croatians loom ominously on England’s horizon and once more the first name on the team-sheet should be that of Owen Hargreaves. But will Fabio Capello, who eventually conceded late last Wednesday night that the grit in his midfield had been badly missed against the Czechs, be permitted the opportunity to avoid the crucial selection error made by Steve McClaren before the European qualifying match against Slaven Bilic’s side nine months ago?”

Rod Liddle also laments the England team in The Sunday Times. “I am not sure what is the more depressing thing about England’s midweek friendly against the Czech Republic: the witlessness of the football or the surprise and disappointment that greeted the 2-2 draw. Hell, at least we got a point. In the past year or so England have been easily beaten by arguably the weakest team to have qualified for June’s European Championship, France, and beaten twice by the middle-ranking also-rans, Croatia. In case the point needs to be reinforced, we will be beaten by Croatia again within a matter of weeks. The Czech Republic are mid-ranking also-rans as well, so a draw – however fortuitous and clawed from the bottom of a barrel – represents an improvement of sorts. You would think that by now the message would be getting home: we are of no use whatsoever. We’re s*** but, incredibly, we still don’t know we are.”

Paul Smith’s exclusive in the Sunday Mirror suggests that “Harry Redknapp wants to manage the Great Britain football team at the 2012 Olympics. The Portsmouth boss believes the chance to lead a team into the London Olympics would be an unbelievable honour. Redknapp said: ‘I’m absolutely flattered that my name is being mentioned about managing the Great Britain team. Would I take it if they offered it to me? Absolutely, I would be a fool not to. I’ve had some great managerial jobs during my career but there is no doubt this would be the icing on the cake. The fact it is being held on my old stamping ground in East London makes it even more appealing.”