Comment & analysis round-up
Quote of the day: “It’s absolute rubbish [that Fergie supports the Red Knights]. Not an ounce of truth in it.” – Sir Alex Ferguson.
Runner-up: â€œItâ€™s up to the club, isnâ€™t it? I play my football and Iâ€™ve got 12 months left in the summer. The club will give me a new contract if they want to. If not it doesnâ€™t matter, Iâ€™ll still play my best and if I have to move then Iâ€™ll move, no problem. It wouldnâ€™t bother me. I made the England decision [to retire from international football] quickly and didnâ€™t dwell on it, and Iâ€™m not scared of making big decisions.” – Jamie Carragher.
Today’s overview: The battle for Manchester United continues to rage over the weekend, and all of a sudden Sir Alex Ferguson has been thrust into the centre after the Observer claim the Red Devils boss is supportive of the Red Knights.
Tracy McVeigh and Mark Townsend break the big news that could force the Glazers one step closer to the exit door. “Several key sources have told the Observer that they believe that the Old Trafford manager would be prepared to invest his own money in the club if the bid by the group known as the ‘Red Knights’ were to succeed… The Observer’s revelation of these claims will raise the stakes at a sensitive stage in the bid but may encourage some of the wealthy waverers who have shown tentative interest in signing up to the consortium.”
The big news from Saturday’s action in the Premier League, away from the results themselves, is injuries to two of the best players in the division. Nick Duxbury delivers the sobering news that “Manchester United and Arsenal may have to play their Champions League second-leg matches this week without key players Wayne Rooney and Cesc Fabregas.”
On Manchester United’s win at Wolves,is far too pie-and-mash a fellow to be called something so pretentious as a renaissance man but the recovery of this little maestroâ€™s powers should cheer the purist in every football fan… This was a throwback finish and he now has three in seven games and six for the season, which is one more than his combined tally for the previous two campaigns.”
The feeling is growing though that this could be Arsenal’s season. After the Gunners sneaked past Burnley on Saturday, David Walsh spluttered “the interesting question now is whether the injury that ended Aaron Ramseyâ€™s season can be the making of Arsenalâ€™s. Following the midfielderâ€™s broken leg, his teammates bristled with resolve. Adversity has taken from them a talented player but it has brought the team a spirit that wins titles. Had Nicklas Bendtner brought his scoring boots, this would have been a slaughter.”
Staying with Arsenal’s victory, Amy Lawrence picked out Theo Walcott for special applause. “Burnley had snaffled an equaliser through David Nugent’s opportunism and nerves were on edge around the Emirates Stadium. Cesc Fabregas was off the pitch, having been withdrawn to nurse his hamstring. Nicklas Bendtner was auditioning for his own miss-of-the-season compilation. The leadership of Sol Campbell was absent. The drive of Alex Song was missing through suspension. Arsenal needed a hero to emerge from somewhere. Cometh the hour, cometh Theo.”
Yet Paul Hayward remains unconvinced about Arsenal’s title ambitions. “The odd truth about this Arsenal side is that they are stuck in an eternal education loop, but somehow still challenging for the Premier League title at the same time.”
Shifting over the the FA Cup, and Henry Winter makes the case that Avram Grant has finally proved his worth by taking Pompey to Wembley. “Derided at Chelsea in the wake of Jose Mourinho’s departure, Grant has struggled to be taken seriously on these shores. Until now. Grant has been increasingly cast in a heroic light at Fratton Park, evoking memories among fans of the way Alan Ball stood firm here amid the financial woes of 1998-99. Some praise. Whether saluting the travelling support at St Mary’s or Turf Moor, Grant’s emotional engagement with the Pompey fans is inescapable.”
Yet, while Winter tries to convince readers to take Grant seriously, Glenn Moore continues to portray the Israeli manager as “lucky” rather than deserving. “They have a saying in Israeli football and media circles, ‘Avram’s arse.’ It means to be lucky and is a reference to Avram Grant’s apparently gilded career, notably his knack of getting plum jobs… Yesterday his good fortune returned… Portsmouth deserved victory, with Grant also lucky to come up against a Birmingham team which delivered one of their poorer performances of a fine season.”
Dipping into the Championship, Rod Liddle salutes the success of Chris Hughton at Newcastle. “His achievement at St Jamesâ€™ Park has been little short of incredible, and against all odds. He has moulded a team of highly-strung, fractious little Premier League monkeys into extraordinarily committed battlers who are prepared to scrap it out, when necessary, against the likes of Watford and Peterborough.”
Against all good common sense, Gregg Roughley reports how “football’s rule-makers have rejected proposals to introduce goalline video technology to help referees decide whether disputed goals should be given.”
With under 100 days until the World Cup kicks off, the international game is paid lip-service this Sunday, and Paul Hayward makes the plain point that England are not as good as Spain or Brazil. “For England Spain and Brazil are the Scylla and Charybdis of this World Cup. To believe the sick man of Europe can finally put 1966 in a time capsule you have to believe the improvements wrought by Fabio Capello are sufficient to overcome the game’s top two superpowers.”
Staying with the Three Lions, Paul Wilson believes Goldenballs is now out of the picture. “Much as Capello might like Beckham’s experience in South Africa, the fact is there are at least half a dozen younger, quicker, better alternatives ahead of him, all capable of playing not just a whole game but a series of them. Taking a 34-year-old bit-part player to South Africa no longer seems to make much sense. Beckham is well past the audition stage, but it is hard not to view his return to Old Trafford on Wednesday in that light.”
Taking the polar opposite view, Duncan White believes Bechkam is a likely participant in South Africa. “The whole reason Beckham is even playing in this game [in the Champions League against Manchester United] is because he wanted to prolong his England career to this coming World Cup. The project has been a success from that perspective as Capello has pretty much decided to take him for the effect his professionalism has on the rest of the squad alone. What he will be able to judge on Wednesday is Beckham’s continued capacity to compete against the very best. One last heroic Old Trafford performance and Beckham could well find himself with a bigger role to play for his country this summer.”
Gary Lineker makes the case for Joe Cole to make England’s World Cup squad. “The one name I would like to see go to South Africa whose place appears in serious doubt is Joe Cole. Just as David Beckham can offer something different with his experience and setplays, so Cole gives England a different dimension with his ability to run with the ball and create opportunities. He also has the big-game mentality, as he proved at the last World Cup.”
Thierry Henry sits down with Ian Hawkey to review a difficult six months for the Frenchman, and away from the quotes, Hawkey wonders if Henry will be on the pitch at the World Cup. “Henryâ€™s place may be vulnerable. The left wing, where he was positioned against Spain by the unpopular head coach, Raymond Domenech, is where Franck Ribery would like to play and where Florent Malouda regularly does for Chelsea. Even at centre-forward, Henryâ€™s three goals in club football this season argue weakly against the cases being made by Nicolas Anelka, Karim Benzema, Andre-Pierre Gignac, Louis Saha or even Djibril Cisse, recalled by France on the back of his stack of goals for Panathinaikos.”
Onto the transfers, where the Sunday Times’ the epitome of a one-club servant in football, has revealed he would not hesitate to walk away from his beloved Liverpool should his employers express any doubts about keeping him when contract negotiations begin this summer… Simon Kjaer, 20, the Palermo centre-back tracked by Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham this season, suggested he could be moving to Liverpool in the next transfer window.”
Contrasting the expendable nature with with the Meserysiders are treating Carragher, a rather woolly article by Chris Bascombe says that Liverpool “are in talks with [Fernando Torres’] advisors to massively enhance Torres’ commercial earnings as they try to kill off speculation about his future… Liverpool want to provide substantially greater rewards on Torres’ image rights as he’s marketed as a Kop icon around the world.”
Finally, we end off with some Sunday smut as Carlos Tevez is named and shamed as having a secret lover by the Mirror on Sunday.
Simon Wright dishes the dirt, announcing “Carlos Tevez flew his secret lover halfway round the world for a 2am hotel tryst â€“ on the day his premature baby was allowed home from hospital. Man City star Tevez, 26, sneaked into glamour model Mariana Paesaniâ€™s hotel room as his on-off partner Vanesa nursed their baby Katie, born six weeks Âearly, 7,000 miles away… Yesterday, in a development which will come as a surprise to many, Tevezâ€™s aides insisted he had split from Vanesa six months ago, when she was two monthsâ€™ pregnant. This would mean, as a single man he is free to date whoever he wants without risk of being branded a hypocrite for this week hitting out at love cheat ex-England captain John Terry for having ‘no moral code.'”