Comment & analysis round-up
Quote of the day: “Last time, they [Manchester United] were scared. They closed the game with three Âdefensive midfielders and didnâ€™t play in the normal way. We can beat Manchester United at Old ÂTrafford when we play against them.Â I think they know that we can beat them. And I am still convinced we can beat Barcelona next week in the Champions League. I think we now have a better chance to win the league than Manchester United because I am convinced of our quality.” – Samir Nasri.
Runner-up:Â “Kolo’s a strict Muslim and we’re a strict Muslim family. He would never get involved in anything like that.Â He does everything for his family and would never have anything to do with drugs.Â He just wants to do things the good way as a Muslim.Â Kolo just took a slimming substance for his weight. It was a mistake as he didn’t know what was in it.Â But it’s wrong to say he has taken drugs.Â Kolo believes destiny will be on his side.” – Mory Toure, Kolo’s dad.
Pepe Reina: “I’m not prepared to swear eternal love to anyone. That’s impossible. Any player who says that is lying. I can’t say much because I have a contract with Liverpool. But eternal love doesn’t exist. No one is master of his own destiny. When a player is at club he has to give everything â€“ that is all you can ask of him.”
Today’s overview: The Saturday papers are busting at the seams.
From left-field we kick off with two chilling tales of two high-profile managers who have been subjected to attempted assaults in the past week. Sadly some morons think football is an arena fro such disgraceful acts.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to fight his conduct charge is next up, as a host of red-tops appear to take pleasure in painting the fiery Scot in a negative light as no-one comes out with the belief that Fergie will beat the wrap.
Kolo Toure’s drug test problems also remains a hot topic. Whether a dumbass (David McDonnell) or just naive (Daniel Taylor), the consensus opinion appears to be that the Man City defender is now facing a lengthy ban.
Other issues include thoughts ahead of Liverpool versus Manchester United, focus on the relegation dogfight, doubts over arsenal’s ability to beat Barca, a bashing of Gerard Houllier and lastly a handful of transfer rumours.
Mourinho Escapes A Knife Attack: The Mirror have the scoop. “Jose Mourinho has been attacked by a knife-wielding man, according to reports. A man armed with a dagger is reported to have tried to stabbed Mourinho while he signed autographs at the airport in the northern Spanish city of La Coruna, where his Real Madrid side played last weekend. Ex-Chelsea boss Mourinho was unharmed, but a bodyguard was reportedly left with a 4cm (1.5in) stab wound under his arm.”
Sid Lowe adds a few more details to the story. “Real, who will travel to Santander on Sunday, have decided to review the security arrangements around their often controversial coach in a climate of growing tension and hostility towards him… Real Madrid have not commented officially and have sought to downplay the incident.”
Neil Lennon Is Also A Target: The Special One isn’t the only manager this Saturday who has faced serious danger in recent days. Ewan Murray reports “the fallout from Wednesday night’s controversial Old Firm derby has taken a sinister turn, with police intercepting a second suspicious package within three months addressed to the Celtic manager Neil Lennon. The parcel, which police believe originated in Lanarkshire, was stopped at a sorting office in Saltcoats, Ayrshire, as security surrounding Lennon was stepped up. In January, a package containing bullets and destined for Lennon was intercepted at a postal depot in Northern Ireland.”
The Daily Mail add “Neil Lennon could be forced out of Celtic Park as a result of a terror campaign reignited by the interception of a suspect package yesterday.”
Des Kelly also harks back to the Old Firm derby to (arguablyÂ make a mountain out of a molehill) contend that “what happens on the pitch is reproduced on the streets, in pubs and in homes.” “That is the uncomfortable truth football continually chooses to ignore. The trouble is the lunatics appear to be in charge of the asylum right now. The game almost has an air of lawlessness about it. Professional sportsmen, people who are supposed to be at the pinnacle of their trade, behave in the most startlingly immature and unprofessional manner possible.”
Fergie Feud: Neil Custis reveals the negative implications of Sir Alex Ferguson fighting his conduct charge with the FA. “Ferguson risks an even longer touchline ban after deciding to appeal against a charge of improper conduct. The Manchester United boss could be banished for up to FIVE games after a rant at ref Martin Atkinson.”
Continuing to paint Fergie asÂ belligerent,Â stubborn and unforgiving was David McDonnell. “Sir Alex Ferguson is risking a five-match Âtouchline ban by ignoring advice to accept an FA charge of improper conduct. The Manchester United boss was so incensed by the allegation he rejected Âguidance from the clubâ€™s disciplinary Âadvisors to hold up his hand and take a two-game suspension.”
Filling out the picture to it’s max was DanielÂ Taylor. “Ferguson met the club’s representatives on Friday morning, when it was recommended to him that he admit the offence, but the United manager made it clear that he felt he had a legitimate case to fight the charge.”
Keeping with Manchester United and refereeing problems, the Wayne Rooney elbow incident rears it’s ugly head again today.
Henry Winter announces that “in the wake of Wayne Rooneyâ€™s great elbow escape, English referees want Fifa to permit retrospective action… Speaking on condition of anonymity, referees have revealed the huge desire for change and the support for Clattenburg. ‘Markâ€™s been castrated by the FA,’ said one official. ‘I know heâ€™s felt about giving it all up,’ said another.”
Toure’s Drugs Wrap: The challenge to prove that Kolo Toure is no druggy despite failing a drugs test continues this Saturday.
Going for the innocent by association angle,Â Charlie Wyett claims in The Sun that “Toure’s old boss, Arsene Wenger, is prepared to help clear his name if it goes to a tribunal.Â Asked if he would be a character witness, Arsenal manager Wenger said: ‘Yes.'”
David McDonnell attempts to defend Toure by raising a he’s a dumbass defence. “Kolo Toure will plead ignorance in his attempt to avoid a lengthy ban after testing positive for a banned substance… The Manchester City defender failed a drugs test after having taken a dietary supplement belonging to his wife.Â Toure, who according to his former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has struggled to keep his weight down, was unaware the supplement contained a prohibited substance.”
DanielÂ Taylor accuses Toure of being naive. “Toure has been guilty of gross naivety, at the very least â€“ so hung up about his weight he decided to experiment from a box of multicoloured capsules that, taking a leap of logic, we can only presume he did not know enough about.”
Continuing through the red-tops, it’s left to The Star to make the salient point that regardless of the reason it appears that Toure now faces a long ban. “Even if Toureâ€™s explanation is accepted, he seems certain to be hit with a lengthy ban under the World Anti-Doping Agencyâ€™s strict liability rules.Â In a case which has similarities with Toureâ€™s, Aussie cricket star Shane Warne was banned for a year following a positive test for the drugs Hydrochlorothiazide and Amiloride. They are diuretics normally used to aid temporary weight loss.Â The Australian Cricket Board took prompt action and banned him for a year.”
Bad news for Toure is also served by Owen Gibson. “If Toure is not considered to have taken reasonable steps [to check whether the substance had bannedÂ ingredients], he could face a far longer suspension. If the tablets contained diuretics, ignorance would be no defence.”
According to Paul Kelso, “all PFA members receive a package of literature from the organisation that includes a list of banned substances and details of a website where players can check whether supplements carry any risk of prohibited drugs. The website, globalDRO.co.uk, allows users to search for supplements by brand name, or for individual ingredients to check if they are on the World Anti-Doping Agency banned list.”
David Hytner reminds readers of the process Toure now faces before any ban is handed out. “Toure must now await the result of tests on a B sample before he discovers his fate, with the authorities empowered to ban him for up to two years. Typical penalties for the 29-year-old’s offence range between four and nine months.”
Reds vs Red Devils: Mark Odgen looks at the likely battle of the banners at Anfield on Sunday. “Flags dedicated to European Cup heroics, songs about claiming a fifth European crown in Istanbul and the fading banner proclaiming â€œForm is Temporary, Class is Permanentâ€ are all are primed to put the Mancunian upstarts back in their place. But the cocksure attitude of United supporters, having gorged on silverware delivered by Ferguson, is such that they now have a banner of their own which has been designed purely with Liverpool in mind â€“ â€œMUFC â€“ Making History, Not Living In It.â€ Ferguson and United are hungry to make more history and, at the same time, diminish the value of Liverpoolâ€™s.”
Terry Venables, everyone’s favourite goateed, perma-tanned walking cliche, tells King Kenny to play Andy Carroll. “If Carroll is anything near fit, and if the docs say there is no danger of him aggravating his old injury, I would play him.Â And I don’t mean as a sub. I would chuck him in from the start… Carroll, with his height and power, can surely capitalise on the lack of inches in the United defence resulting from Vidic’s ban.”
Mark Lawrenson does his best to follow El Tel’s chilched lead as the pundit backs a draw at Anfield. “I donâ€™t think theyâ€™ll win this one, it will be a draw. In the past United have gone to Anfield, not played well and won. I donâ€™t see it this time… United will soon discover it is a different atmosphere now that Kenny Dalglish has taken over at ÂLiverpool. It has made Anfield a tough place to go again.”
Injecting some common sense into the mix was Alan Smith. “It would be asking an awful lot of Andy Carroll to play him from the start against Manchester United on Sunday. Having returned to full training only on Tuesday following two months on the sidelines, Liverpoolâ€™s record signing cannot be match fit.”
James Lawton rounds things off by pointing out that the stars are United and Liverpool are no longer what they once were. “Both need players of world-class talent and powerful influence. With Paul Scholes draining the last of his good red wine, and Ryan Giggs also contemplating rather less than a half-filled glass, Ferguson needs a major midfielder, a man the team can look to when something extra is required. Such a player was required at Stamford Bridge when Chelsea came back to United and he simply was not there.Â Dalglish’s requirement is also self-evident. Steven Gerrard remains capable of erupting brilliantly from time to time, but if he can be the inspiration of a team he is not the shaper of one. His football brain does not work in that way. Liverpool’s most urgent need is someone in the image of Xabi Alonso, a driver, a tough obsessive, and no doubt Dalglish is more aware of this than anyone.”
The Relegation Scrap: An excellent article by Stuart James looks at the battle for survival in the Premier League. “A cursory glance at a Premier League table that resembles a concertina suggests this year will be the most exciting relegation battle ever witnessed. With six points separating 11th-placed Everton from bottom-of-the-table Wigan Athletic â€“ the same gap exists between Arsenal in second and Manchester City in third â€“ half of the clubs in the top flight are under threat of relegation with 10 games of the season remaining… What is clear is that the balance of power has shifted significantly in the top flight this season. The fact that only 20 points separate Chelsea in fourth from Wolves in 18th â€“ the smallest difference on record at this stage and half as many points as the chasm that existed between the respective positions at the end of last season â€“ points to a playing field that has levelled and, in turn, produced a much more competitive and interesting league.”
Jeremy Wilson also wades into the relegation scrap. “How do we explain this exceptional congestion? The simple answer is that the league is more evenly matched than ever before… Other factors are at work. The new squad limits have discouraged the richer clubs from stockpiling players… This is also the first season of the new overseas broadcast deal which has increased revenues and, proportionately, made that income more equitable.”
Attacking Arsenal: Going for the approaching of repeat something enough despite a complete lack of reason and somehow you’ll convince people that you’re right, Â Mark Lawrenson argues that Arsenal cannot beat Barca in the Champions League. “Their best chance now of silverware is the league. Forget beating Barcelona next week, it wonâ€™t happen… I donâ€™t think they will beat Barca.” (TopÂ punditry!)
Villa Bashing: Mark Lawrenson attacks Houllier for his team selection at Eastlands in the FA Cup. “You see Villa making eight changes and resting key men against Manchester City and just think: thatâ€™s bizarre…Â If Villa had fielded a proper team the result would have been very different. Gerard Houllier has taken the Ârotation principle to a completely different level.”
The daggers continue to be pointed at Houllier as Dave Armitage claims the Frenchman had no faith in his team at Man City. “Gerard Houllier has made an astonishing U-turn after admitting he did not believe his Aston Villa side could beat Manchester City. Aston Villa boss Gerard Houllier initially defended his decision to field a weakened team by insisting Villa were not in the same class as Manchester City.”
Sandy Macaskill completes the HoullierÂ haranguing with a history lesson. “Martin Oâ€™Neill faced a similar dilemma after he took a weakened team to play CSKA Moscow in the Uefa Cup in 2009.Â Rather than relegation, the former Villa manager was preoccupied with a challenge for the Champions League. Unfortunately for Oâ€™Neill, Villa drew their next league match, against Stoke, and the supporters never forgave him.”
The Transfers: Likely to be as bankable as a sub-prime mortgage, the Mirror bleat that Chelsea will conduct a fire-sale this summer. “Juventus are poised with a Â£6million bid for Portugal full-back Jose Bosingwa, while Galatasaray have made striker Salomon Kalou a Â£9m target… Chelsea are keen on Ajax right-back Gregory Van Der Wiel.” The Mirror also fart that Gervinho is a Â£15m target for Aston Villa.