Comment & analysis round-up
Quote of the day: “Man United had a golden generation with Giggs, Scholes, Beckham, the Nevilles and Butt and they won together because they stayed together. I believe that this [Arsenal] team can have a similar success. If you can beat Man United, as we have done this season, at the ages of 20 and 21, then why can you not beat them at 23 and 24?… We play with Walcott at the start of the season, Diaby, FÃ¡bregas, Nasri and Denilson. When they will all be 23 or 24 they will beat comfortably all the other teams, believe me. But we have to keep them together, no matter what happens, and that is where the danger is in the modern game. Normally big clubs do not educate young players any more.” – Arsene Wenger.
Runner-up: “I’ve never felt as much pain in my life. I thought I’d broken my leg. I couldn’t even look down. It was a terrible tackle but I don’t think he really meant it. He came and said sorry. Luckily I’ve got strong legs. If that was anyone else their leg would have snapped in two.” – Victor Anichebe.
Today’s overview: The Champions League is back and the papers are beside themselves offering a forensic analysis of every aspect of Inter’s match with Manchester United. While on Arsenal, the hacks wrestle with Arsene Wenger’s ‘quote of the day’ (see above).
Oliver Kay traces the unlikely friendship between the Special One and SAF in which “Mourinho seems to stand for just about everything Ferguson holds abhorrent.” Poetically, John Dillon described the pair’s relationship “as if the old lion king and the handsome crown prince of the European game are preparing to play chess in front of the royal court.”
Looking for holes in the Inter set-up, Kevin McCarra points out “that this meeting was only possible because Inter were runners-up in their group. They lost at home to Panathinaikos and were then beaten at Werder Bremen, so letting the Greek club come top. Wobbling form in Europe was precisely what caused the downfall of Mourinho’s predecessor.” Matt Dickinson echoes the same sentiment, putting his neck on the line calling Inter the “underdogs, despite a nine-point advantage at the top of Serie A.” Ending the trio of dissenting Inter voices, James Lawton looks to lower Mourinho’s reputation by penning “despite his resources at Chelsea he couldnâ€™t develop that success in the most important club competition of the world; indeed, some would say his tactical limitations, when the pressure was on, were twice exposed by Rafa Benitez.”
Keeping focus on Mourinho’s achievements at Inter, Frank Dunne celebrates the Portuguese’s man-management skills. “The way that he has handled players such as Adriano, Stankovic, Ibrahimovic and the 18-year-old striker Mario Balotelli has been critical to Interâ€™s development this season… Reinventing Stankovic as a trequartista and transforming Ibrahimovic from a freakishly talented but moody and inconsistent player into a week-in, week-out match-winner, are significant achievements.”
On Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paolo Baldini spouts the usual concerns people have of the Swede. “Despite scoring 46 goals in 77 league games since joining Inter, the Sweden striker has managed six in 20 Champions League ties for the club and none of those have come in the knockout stages. The perception remains that Ibrahimovic goes missing on the biggest stage.” While the Special One himself offers his thoughts on Zlatan in the Telegraph – “United have the World Player of the Year in Cristiano Ronaldo. But when people asked me before those awards who I thought deserved it I said Ibrahimovic.”
Sam Wallace predicts United’s tactics tonight at the San Siro. “There is a strong possibility that he will leave out Berbatov, play Rooney as the lone striker and pick five in midfield including Darren Fletcher, Giggs and Park. He has moved to a 4-5-1/4-3-3 system before in the Champions League when under pressure.”
Serie A as a whole is said to be of a lessor standard than the Premier League according to Kevin McCarra. “The Italian game has been receding for a while, slipping off terrestrial channels in this country and drifting to the back of our minds.” Matt Lawton concurs, arguing “[Serie A] is not the league it used to be. It lacks the quality of England and Spain and cannot claim to have the world’s finest player, whatever Mourinho thinks.”
Not so according to Matt Dickinson who points out that “many [in Italy] would say that appearances were deceptive, that the Italian game may have been on its knees but is on the way back.”
David Hytner responds to Arsene Wenger’s latest outburst “against what he perceives to be the vulgar spending of the other top clubs in England… Wenger overlooked the fact that [Fabregas, Nasri, Walcott, Diaby and Denilson] have been bought from other clubs at a combined cost of some Â£23m, whereas United’s fabled youngsters of the previous decade were homegrown and, as such, cost nothing.” Jason Burt offers a similar but gentler criticism of Arsene’s outburst saying “given that Nasri and Theo Walcott were both big money buys and few others are exactly ‘home-grown’ and Wengerâ€™s logic is a little shaky, even if his reasoning that a young team should grow together is admirable.”
Matt Hughes adds his voice to those mocking Wenger this Tuesday. “Wengerâ€™s faith in his players is genuine, but unfortunately the strength of his conviction will be subjected to some ridicule. At best, his comparison is premature and, at worst, it is plain fantasy: the United players he singled out boast a combined 43 Premier League winnerâ€™s medals and eight in the Champions League, whereas FÃ bregas is the only one of the Arsenal youngsters he mentioned to have won a trophy with the club â€” the FA Cup in 2005.”
Doom-monger Neil Ashton is preparing himself for an exodus of stars from the Emirates this summer. ” Lose over two legs in the Champions League to Roma and this could well be remembered as the â€˜Lost Generationâ€™, a group of players who sacrificed the good name of Arsenal for the sake of their ambition elsewhere… That rascal Emmanuel Adebayor is likely to be up to his old tricks again in agitating for a move, Barcelona could continue their pursuit of Cesc Fabregas and European rivals will be eyeing Van Persie.”
Another day and another negative critique of Rafa Benitez’s ongoing contract negotiations. For get-out clause “to protect his position in the event that Liverpool are sold in the months ahead, but the continuing delays in signing a new four-year, Â£16 million deal are looking increasingly like a smokescreen.”
More vacuous transfer rumours appear in today’s backpages. The Times’ Matt Hughes reports that Chelsea are set to woo CSKA forward Vagner Love if Didier Drogba leaves the Bridge. Neil Moxley suggests that wantaway Pompey playmaker Niko Kranjcar could make the move to Arsenal this summer.
In other football news, The Sun have a depressing interview with Paul Gascoigne in which the fallen star admits staying awake for six weeks in which time his best friends were toy parrots, while Steve Bird tells the story of how “more than Â£1 million was paid out after punters placed huge bets on Weymouth losing against Rushden & Diamonds” as Weymouth were forced to field their youth team with their senior squad on strike.
Paolo Baldini discusses how Fiorentina’s prolific strikers are masking deficiencies elsewhere in the side. Raphael Honigstein revels in Bayern’s third loss of 2009 noting “with the playground bully still missing, the other kids get to have a go: the title race is the most open in all of Europe.” Leander Schaerlaeckens looks at how Cedric van der Gun’s form at Utrecht is reminding admirers why he was once the great hope of Dutch football. While Sid Lowe relives Espanyol’s miraculous win in the Nou Camp – “Even the Bible couldn’t match it â€“ at least David had a catapult and a stone. For Espanyol, taking on Barcelona was, according to one preview, like ‘fighting King Kong with a teaspoon.'”