Comment & analysis round-up
Quote of the day: “We are used to Jose. I’m not a little lad from the Govan alleys who finds himself on Fifth Avenue in New York. I’m not shocked by anything any more. Mourinho has a magnetic power over the media; everyone wants him because he goes from the amusing to the spirited to the offensive. He’s a great media tactician. But he also know that when the game begins it will only be Inter against the Reds, he can’t do anything more. Personally I trust in those I send out on the pitch.” – Sir Alex Ferguson.
Runner-up: “From the moment we drew Liverpool and beat them [in a replay], the fans were saying that itâ€™s going to be our year. We have one step to go. We want to bring silverware to this club because it has been too long, and now is the time to step up and be men.” – Phil Neville.
Today’s overview: After an FA Cup weekend with very few surprises and with the Champions league returning with a mouth-watering line-up of second leg ties, the Big Four steal the focus this morning across the papers.
The hacks are crowing after seeing Arsenal return to form against Burnley in the FA Cup. Paul Doyle fired up the band writing “Arsenal are limbering up nicely for a late-season surge,” and Kevin McCarra added that “the whole mood surrounding the club was elevated as fans who had grumbled their way to the exits following goalless draws in the Premier League could make their way home chattering with excitement about the style shown here.”
On the man of the hour, Eduardo da Silva, Henry Winter poetically wrote that Dudu “struck one of the sweetest goals imaginable, a volley that echoed Dennis Bergkamp, Marco van Basten and Johan Cruyff in their pomp. And he definitely meant it. The left leg mangled at Birmingham City has clearly lost none of its adroitness.”
David Pleat showered praise on “Arsenal’s often unheralded midfield [who] squeezed the life out of Burnley’s attempts to impose themselves on the game.” While Kaveh looks at the bigger picture on the horizon – “If Arsenal get the better of Roma on Wednesday and beat Blackburn Rovers at home on Saturday, they will be in the quarter-finals of the Champions League and the FA Cup, and back in fourth place in the Premier League. Arsene knows.”
Turning focus to the Champions League, Patrick Barclay writes a brilliant critique of the standard of European football. “There is nothing to fear from the Italians… By and large, a team from Englandâ€™s top four will usually be able to run any Italian equivalent off their feet… [But] it is not good for anyone, even the English, who, sooner or later, are going to start wondering what is the point of striving, sweating and spending to get into the Premier Leagueâ€™s top four if all the Champions League brings you, ultimately, is more matches against the other three â€” Super Sundays on Tuesdays and Wednesdays â€” with a final in Moscow or somewhere that looks suspiciously like the 39th match abroad.”
On the Manchester United-Inter Milan match, James Ducker calls Rio Ferdinand a “serious doubt” for Wednesday night after “the England defender had to have his right foot placed in a plastic boot to protect his ankle after being taken off at half-time and was being closely assessed by Unitedâ€™s medical staff yesterday.”
Jamie Jackson writes a feature on Inter’s teenage left-back Davide Santon. “Santon is already described as ‘the new Paolo Maldini’ by Mourinho, a manager not known for putting his trust in teenage players, and is also being compared to the supreme Inter legend, Giacinto Facchetti.” And staying with Inter, Gabriele Marcotti picks up on the Special One’s latest outburst in the Italian press “in which he took pops at rival coaches and the press” to conclude “the manâ€™s genius is such that mere mortals cannot comprehend it.”
Ahead of the Liverpool-Real Madrid tie, Raul shares his thoughts with We are capable of beating Liverpool at Anfield. Since the arrival of Juande Ramos [the head coach], we are more disciplined… We will be 100 per cent focused on the Champions League and winning this tie.”A fit Robben – and his fitness is seldom guaranteed – provides an asset modern Madrid have missed since the heydays of Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane and even Robinho, a man to run at defences.” And staying with the Spaniards, Real Madrid captain
For Liverpool the injuries are dangerously piling up. According to James Ducker “Fernando Torres faces a race against time to be fit… [while] Alvaro Arbeloa, the full back, and Daniel Agger, the centre back, are also doubts for the return leg.” And in a supplementary article, Ducker is forced to add that “Yossi Benayoun was ruled out for about a fortnight with a hamstring tear.”
Changing topics, Sam Wallace writes a superb response to Sepp Blatter’s claims that the Premier League is financially and morally corrupt. “This really was a lecture on financial propriety by a man whose organisation lost Â£45m worth of television rights money when its marketing partner, ISL, collapsed with debts of three times that (a friend of Blatter’s, ISL director Jean-Marie Weber, was convicted of embezzlement last year). A lecture from an organisation that built a new Â£120m headquarters in comparison to the Â£5m it has spent on 20 football centres in Africa… There are things wrong with English football â€“ it has its share of greedy, unscrupulous individuals â€“ but that does not mean English football needs to bow to the greedy, unscrupulous individuals at Fifa to deal with it.”
Heading back to the Premier League,I need to prove that Chelsea made a good decision to bring me here.” And the interviews keep coming as For our Christmas do, we went out for a bonding session and a couple of the young lads, Fraser Forster and Jonny Godsmark, decided to go home early. When I looked around and saw theyâ€™d gone, I thought, ‘Weâ€™re in this together, you canâ€™t do that.’ The consequences were me getting a master key card, going into their room and using a Bic to shave their hair off. They had Mohicans. And that was just my little warning. The next night, they were out with the rest of us until the very end. Thatâ€™s how it should be. Thatâ€™s how this football club needs to stay together. It might sound daft, but itâ€™s important.”
Any takeover of Liverpool seems far away this Monday, Ian Herbert reporting that “a Kuwaiti takeover of Liverpool looks less than imminent, with differences now emerging between members of the original consortium believed to be involved.”
And keeping with the Big Four, Andy Townsend incredibly is found moaning that “United donâ€™t get the praise they deserve for the relentless hunger of their players,” while Chelsea’s recent upturn is contextualised by Alan Hansen. “The team are not out of the woods yet, and the only way they can genuinely reclaim their season is by winning the Champions League. Hiddink will know this better than anybody.”
Lastly, Sandy Macaskill writes a review of the computer game Football Manager. “One of the reasons for FM’s success (it only got knocked off the No 1 spot in the PC Charts last week) is that it transcends traditional views on computer games. It makes a mockery of the conviction that computer games are for wonks, schoolboys and the socially challenged… At the heart of it’s popularity, though, is the realism. SI employ 1,500 researchers around the world, with a scout at every club in Britain in the top four leagues, to compile data on the 380,000 players and staff listed in their database, so that rather than playing with randoms, players manage something close to reality.”