“I’d rather lose World Cup than pick Almunia” – Harry Redknapp

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “I see myself leaving United more than staying. I don’t see why I should lie. I know the fans chant my name and sing the song about the boss signing me. They have always been very good to me. It’s emotional for me. It’s very difficult to say whether I will be here next year. I don’t know.” – Carlos Tevez.

Runner-up: “I was disappointed with the performance, after the first 25 minutes we switched off and didn’t keep the ball as well as we should and know how to do. We were disappointed in the dressing-room. It was a lost game, nobody likes to lose, but after a few minutes you realise that Old Trafford is a very difficult place to win and keep a clean sheet. We were surprised at how they played, but some of our players were maybe lost at the beginning. That’s normal, it’s a big competition, it’s a big semi-final and you expect a lot of pressure on the players. I don’t know how every player felt inside, but it’s a big pressure on everybody. I still think we should have the experience to face these sort of games. Everybody was looking forward to this game for such a long time and you put everything into the game on the pitch and sometimes your head doesn’t respond enough to your desire. I hope on Tuesday [in the second leg] that everybody is focused on what we have to do, otherwise we will be lost.” – Manuel Almunia.

Today’s overview: The majority of the comment pieces this Friday morning analyse the Champions League semis, Manuel Almunia’s eligibility for England is questioned and Paul Gascoigne continues his whirwind tour of every media outlet in the country.

Oliver Kay looks back on the two Champions League semi-finals. “Even if last season’s final in Moscow was more vibrant than some care to remember, a repeat showing in Rome is not the most appealing prospect, least of all for Platini or anyone else who believes that England’s domination of the Champions League must be brought to an end, artificially or otherwise. They still cling to a reasonable hope that Barcelona can do the job for them, perhaps quietening some of the demands for drastic reforms, but only if Pep Guardiola’s side can show that they are prepared to battle for the right to prove that their beautiful football can conquer all.”

Richard Williams also analyses why the two games saw a lack of goals and excitement. “Connecting the two matches was the specific method used by the three Premier League clubs to combat those individual opponents reckoned to pose the greatest threat. In answer to the most urgent tactical question, the managers of all three teams came up with the same answer. Given that the danger came from the wings, they instructed their own wide players to withdraw whenever necessary in support of their full-backs. Limiting an opponent’s time and space in this way is hardly a novel tactic, but it was instructive to see it being applied so universally. And although the efficiency of the planning and execution was impressive, its success left little room for the sort of spontaneous self-expression that tended to decorate great European Cup matches of the past.”

Kevin McCarra is full of praise for the size and quality of Manchester United’s squad. “Since the 1990s the dream of a varied squad that teems with talent has superseded the notion of ­assembling an outstanding line‑up. United are getting closer than most to fulfilling the ambition. It helps, of course, to be exceedingly rich. Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes may still be on the scene as veterans, but the time when stars were as likely to be raised as bought ended long ago. The pressures on most managers are too great for them to count on prospects emerging from the labyrinth of youth with their potential ­fulfilled. Where Ferguson has succeeded is in identifying a batch of footballers who are not hero-worshipped yet fit ­beautifully into the overall scheme.”

Arsene Wenger is on the receiving end from a Steven Howard diatribe in The Sun. “There is a stubbornness in Wenger these days, never more apparent than in his continued failure — refusal? — to purchase the central defender and buccaneering midfield player Arsenal have so long required. It’s as if he’s saying: It’s my way or no way. I will build this beautiful team and not corrupt the process by bowing to outside pressure.”

Sam Wallace claims in The Independent that Fabio Capello will “consider picking Almunia if the Arsenal goalkeeper gets a British passport. No ifs, no buts, the mood among Capello and his staff is that once Almunia has British nationality it would be discriminatory not to pick him. The ball is in the court of the man from Pamplona. He was excellent against Manchester United on Wednesday and he is potentially the only English goalkeeper who is a first-choice for a big four club.”

Spurs manager Harry Redknapp is jingoistic in The Sun at the thought that Manuel Almunia could play for England in an article titled: “I’d rather lose World Cup than pick Almunia.” “But someone like Almunia, who comes here from Spain and spends a few years playing for Arsenal, does not suddenly become English. I have nothing against Almunia. He is a good keeper and he had a good game for Arsenal on Wednesday night against Manchester United. But he is no better, in fact I don’t think he is as good as, David James, the current England No 1. David is English, Manuel isn’t. Almunia should play for Spain, that is his country.”

Following Chelsea’s defensive masterclass in the Nou Camp, Matt Hughes argues that this is the way for England to go. “There are still several obvious weaknesses within Capello’s preferred starting XI, in goal, at right-back and up front, and beyond his first choice team there is very little cover, with the crucial attacking players such as Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney completely irreplaceable. Given such a disparity, aping Hiddink’s spoiling tactics could be England’s best hope against the big guns, so Capello should be grateful that we are all defenders now.”

After much speculation, the future of Frank Arnesen appears to be secure. Matt Hughes reports that he “has secured his future at Chelsea by agreeing a new 12-month rolling contract and being made a director of the club.”

Also on Chelsea, Jason Burt in the Telegraph asks: “Will Carlo Ancelotti actually take the Chelsea job?” “I’m convinced discussions have taken place, that he is first choice and that he has agreed to take over. But agreeing to take over and actually taking over are two different things. Agreements have been reneged on in the past and the games of bluff and politics will continue right up until the new manager arrives. Maybe Abramovich himself may change his mind. He’s done it in the past.”

There is no shortage of transfer gossip today as we move into the final calendar month of the season. Antony Kastrinakis goes with the Karim Benzema to Manchester United story to replace Carlos Tevez. Kastrinakis also claims that David Moyes is after Rennes full back Rod Fanni. Chris Wheeler in the Daily Mail suggests “Liverpool are ready to exploit the deadlock in negotiations with Carlos Tevez and Manchester United by making a move to snatch the unhappy striker.”

Ian Herbert in The Independent writes that “Manchester City are back in the hunt for the £35m-rated Valencia striker David Villa.”If John Cross is to be believed, Arjen Robben will be supplying Villa at Eastlands next season. And the big name striker gossip is added to by the Daily Mirror who claim Roque Santa Cruz will replace Emmanuel Adebayor at Arsenal.

The Daily Mail have an exclusive interview with Paul Gascoigne, who continues his whirlwind tour of all and every media outlet in Britain. Gazza: “It’s scary where I’ve been, man. I’m telling you. I was sectioned because I was either a threat to the public, or to myself. Or maybe both! I’d had enough of life, the world had ended for me. I wasn’t in control. The more I tried, the worse it got. I was paranoid and I’d drink to see if I became less paranoid. I’ve learned I can’t change what I can’t control. I can’t turn back the clock and make it better. I can’t make the day perfect, but if I can improve it by two per cent, it’s better than minus two per cent. If I’m having a bad day, I write notes about football strategy, or my poetry. I want to show I still have something to offer to football. I will finish my coaching badges, look to people like Alan Shearer as an inspiration and wait and see. Who knows? Football might not have seen the last of Paul Gascoigne.”

Finally, two articles from left field in The Guardian are well worth a read. Paul Doyle looks at “how football can help bring new hope to a neglected region of Uganda.” And James Montague brings the incredible events of the final day in the Lebanese league dominated by “violence and political intrigue.”