Comment & analysis round-up
Quote of the day: â€œDuring the Respect campaign Mr Ferguson was charged by the FA with improper conduct after comments made against Martin Atkinson [the referee] and Keith Hackett [the general manager of Professional Game Match Officials Limited]. He was not punished. He is the only manager in the league that cannot be punished for these things.” – Rafa Benitez.
Runner-up: “We do live in a bubble. There is a danger I can turn straight to the sports pages, go straight to Sky Sports News, and think we are more important than we are. For young players, Sky Sports News is on and they must think the whole world revolves around football. But what is going on in Israel is the reality of life.” – Gareth Southgate, in an interview with Henry Winter.
Today’s overview: The lead story in all the papers this Saturday is reaction to Rafa Benitez’s glorious outburst against Sir Alex Ferguson.
For Andy Hunter, “in an extraordinary, uncharacteristic outburst which echoed Kevin Keegan’s infamous rant against Ferguson in 1996… the Liverpool manager said his United counterpart had been allowed to operate with impunity by the Premier League and Football Association.” And Steven Howard applauds Benitez for his attack on “Ayatollah Hogmanay,” saying “irrespective of whether it works, Rafa is to be congratulated for taking the fight to he who must be obeyed.”
But the consensus opinion, as explained by Daniel Taylor, is that Rafa’s rant evidenced Sir Alex’s victorious mind game tactics. “ÂFerguson works in mysterious ways, but one certainty is that Benitez’s rant has Âinvited more questions about his state of mind than that of the oldest, wiliest manager in the business.” Neil Johnston added that “the fact that Benitez has got chapter and verse written down shows that he is so wound up that he is determined to get everything off his chest. Sir Alexâ€™s remarks have been festering and he is determined not to forget to say anything in the heat of the moment.”
Ian Herbert sits on the fence regarding his interpretation of Rafa’s rant, saying that if the Reds’ win the league then Benitez will be heralded a genius, but “if Manchester United reel them in, then he will be another Kevin Keegan.”
Sam Wallace looks at how Rafa’s rant can work to his benefit. “If one referee has a moment of doubt because of what Benitez has said and denies United accordingly then, for Liverpool, it will have been worth it.” And Oliver Kay follows the same line of thought adding “by suggesting that United and their manager enjoy preferential treatment from referees and from the gameâ€™s authorities, he is acting as the perfect counterweight to Fergusonâ€™s persistent and very deliberate claims to the contrary. It is just that, coming from Benitez (rather than, say, Mourinho at his most Machiavellian in his Chelsea days), it sounded strange. Not completely out of character, but still strange.”
Staying with United, Paul Doyle wonders how Wayne Rooney’s disciplinary record belies a persistent aggressive streak arguing the number 10 “seems to receive more compassion from referees than any other Premier League player.” And ahead of their meeting with Chelsea, Andy Hooper gives some statistical advice to United noting “United will also do well to focus on defence in the opening period, as the bulk of Chelsea’s goals this season (23 of their 40) come before half-time. It makes them one of a minority five clubs who score more goals before the break than after.”
Kevin McCarra looks at how Roman Abramovich’s love-affair with Chelsea has today turned into something far more pragmatic. “Abramovich is putting Chelsea on to a rational footing, but it cannot inspire him or revive the passion that was once so obvious in him. He has a club that is inching towards stability and, conceivably, sellability, but it cannot bring him the joy he once felt.” And the same sentiment is echoed by Paul Kelso remarking “that Abramovich is more remote in recent seasons is beyond doubt… but it does not follow that the club are about to be offloaded.”
Terry Venables uses his column in The Sun to criticise Chelsea for failing to land Robinho. “Robinho wouldnâ€™t have been just another signing â€” he would have been THE man to complete the jigsaw… Heâ€™s never been properly replaced at Stamford Bridge and Scolari was spot on with his initial instinct to sign a world-class left-winger.”
Jamie Jackson kicks off the transfer tittle-tattle by claiming that Craig Bellamy is holding out for a move to Tottenham, not Man City, even though “Spurs have not made an offer to West Ham.” In contradiction, Alan Nixon penned “Craig Bellamy is on his way to Manchester City â€“ after boss Mark Hughes made a new Â£10million-plus bid to see off Tottenham.”
ne player who is likely to arrive at the club this month is Andrei Arshavin… [while] Shay Given, the Newcastle United goalkeeper, is not a target and Matthew Upson will not be returning.”
One deal that may not happen is Roque Santa Cruz’s move to Eastlands, with Mark Ogden writing “Rovers manager Allardyce is battling to keep hold of the Paraguayan after rejecting a Â£16 million bid from Manchester City.” But according to Niall Hickman, Mark Hughes has already moved in the transfer market for a striker, with “Michael Owen [having] a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ with Manchester City to sign for the richest club in the world this summer.”
The fallout from the latest revival of the Carlos Tevez affair is analysed by Gary Jacob, reporting “Fulham, and possibly Wigan Athletic, are looking into whether they are entitled to additional prize-money that they would have received had West Ham not finished directly above them at the end of the 2006-07 season.” And more bad news is served on the Hammers by Matt Law and Gideon Brooks reporting “Zola has been told he will have to rebuild his West Ham squad from scratch in the summer â€“ regardless of the result of the Premier Leagueâ€™s new Carlos Tevez inquiry.”
Returning to his abacus,The top transfer involved Mark Schwarzer going from Middlesbrough to Fulham, where he has been a spectacular success… It is a mistake to confuse the dramatic nature of the goals that [Heurelho] Gomes lets in with the totality of his performance… “[while] data does seem to suggest that Bentley, the Tottenham winger, would be poorer value than a new swimming pool.”
In the Saturday interviews Scott Carson explains his fear of failure to Alan Smith, Richard Williams sits down with new Derby manager Nigel Clough, while Daniel Taylor has a chin-wag with the new Nottingham Forest boss Billy Davies. And staying in the lower leagues, Anna Kessel investigates Luton’s efforts to recover from minus 30 points, whereby “if Luton can escape relegation it will probably go down as the biggest achievement in the league this season.”
Lastly, TV presenter David Ginola once left me and a camera crew waiting for four hours in a restaurant before we gave up and went home. Clearly I’ve never forgotten and he’s never apologised.”