Comment & analysis round-up
Quote of the day: “A group of fans, they are not doing any favours for the team when they are signing and wasting time preparing banners. It’s because someone made a mistake. The put my title ‘interim manager’, and I will leave at the end of the season, so they don’t need to waste time with me. They have to concentrate on supporting the team, that’s what they have to do. In the end, they are not doing any favours to the club, to the rest of the fans and to the players. Every game they continue singing and they continue preparing banners, they are wasting time. What they have to do is support the team. If we cannot achieve what we expect to achieve, that is to be in the top four and be in the Champions League for next year, I will leave; they will stay in the Europa League. They have to take responsibility too. If they put players under pressure, they don’t create a good atmosphere at Stamford Bridge, they have to realise they are making a big mistake because the rest of the fans would like to see the team in the Champions League next year… I have a title. Someone decided the title would be ‘interim’. Why? Just in case? If they want to blame me for everything that is wrong and then they say, ‘We will put interim just in case’, fine, that is your decision. I don’t agree, but it’s your decision and now everybody has to take responsibility. If we are in the Champions League, I will be the happiest man in the world. But next year, I will leave anyway because I have finished my contract, so they don’t need to be worried about me. What they have to do is concentrate on supporting the team. I have a contract until the end of the season, that’s it, so they don’t need to be worried about me.I can’t change the title and the perception, so it doesn’t matter now. At the moment, what I have to do is be sure that I give 100 per cent every single day, that’s it.” – Rafa Benitez.
Runner-up: “The players sense it could be a big year for them. Anything can happen on the run-in. Players can find themselves in a final or an important league game. They all wanted to play against Real and there were a lot of disappointed players. That was good. It is a measure of their own confidence in themselves.” – Sir Alex Ferguson.
Will Rafa Benitez be sacked as interim Chelsea boss today?
Benitez faces sack after attack on Chelsea fans and Abramovich (Simon Bird, Daily Mirror) Rafa Benitez faces the sack today after accusing Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich of undermining him in a sensational rant last night. The Chelsea interim boss vowed to leave his post at the end of the season and also launched a scathing attack on the Chelsea supporters who have plagued his reign with chants and banners against him. And in an amazing outburst Benitez turned his fury on the Chelsea owner saying he did not know he was being given the title “interim manager” when he accepted the job, and admitted it had undermined his tenure saying: “It was a massive mistake.” Senior Chelsea officials last night described Benitez as having “gone mad.” One added: “They call it Loco in Spain don’t they?”
Rafael Benitez is finished at Chelsea (Martin Hardy, Independent) Rafael Benitez’s reign as Chelsea manager was on the brink of ending last night after an astonishing rant at the club’s owners and fans. Benitez launched an incredible attack on the interim title he was given when he was unveiled as Roberto Di Matteo’s successor in November after his side beat Middlesbrough to reach the FA Cup quarter-final last night. The former Liverpool manager was again on the end of abusive songs from the 2,000 travelling Chelsea supporters at the Riverside Stadium and finally reacted in a stunning attack. “A group of fans, they are not doing any favours for the team when they are singing and wasting time preparing banners,” he said. “It’s because someone made a mistake. They put my title ‘interim manager’, and I will leave at the end of the season, so they don’t need to waste time with me. I have been in charge in football for 26 years. I have won the Champions League, won the Fifa Club World Cup, the FA Cup, the Italian Super Cup, the Spanish league twice, nine trophies, all the trophies you can win at club level.”
Rafael Benitez did well to stay on message at Chelsea for as long as he did (Jeremy Wilson, Daily Telegraph) From the outset, it was a marriage made in hell. Benítez, one of the more political and egotistic of managers, taking charge of Chelsea, surely the most political of all clubs. Even so, despite the obstacles, there was genuine shock among club staff at the way Chelsea’s supporters greeted Benítez with boos and jeers when he was first unveiled as the manager. The rights and wrongs of that gesture can be debated all day but the subsequent negativity has lingered over Stamford Bridge ever since. It has been seized upon by opponents and, as Benítez suggested last night, quite clearly contributed to a cycle of poor home results. He is caught in a vicious circle, however, and ultimately in football results decide everything. Benítez might just have got the supporters on his side by winning more matches. Behind the scenes, it also became increasingly possible to sense a worsening in Benítez’s mood as the January window unfolded. For a manager of his standing to evidently have such little influence on transfer policy, notably Frank Lampard’s contract stand-off, was striking. By now going so public with his frustrations, Benítez seems to have deliberately taken himself to the point of no return with Chelsea and their supporters.
United sense they can secure Cristiano Ronaldo return to Old Trafford
Will Ronaldo be reunited with Fergie? United sense £80m star could make shock return (Chris Wheeler, Daily Mail) Many might think it implausible. Ferguson says he doubts it can happen, although he made similar noises about Robin van Persie. But there is growing belief around the club that a deal for Ronaldo is not as fanciful as it sounds. United, Sportsmail understands, have already launched what amounts to a feasibility study to see if they could finance the biggest player purchase in their history — one Ferguson estimates would run into ‘hundreds of millions’. After watching Ronaldo score twice against Barca on Tuesday to take his total for Madrid to 185 goals in 183 games, the United boss knows he is one of the few players who would be worth it. Ferguson left the door open to a return when asked about Ronaldo in December, saying: ‘You never know. He may want to go to another club at some point and I’d hope he would want to come here.
Wayne Rooney to face Norwich
No rest for Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney ahead of Real Madrid Champions League last-16 clash (Mark Ogden, Daily Telegraph) Ferguson is expected to make wholesale changes to his team for the visit of Chris Hughton’s side in order to safeguard the fitness of his planned starting line-up against Real three days later. But with Rooney, who missed four days of training with a sinus problem last week, having played just 29 minutes of first-team football since the 1-1 first-leg draw in the Bernabéu on Feb 13, the 28-year-old has been lined up to start against Norwich in a game which could see United again stretch their lead at the top of the Premier League to 15 points prior to Manchester City’s trip to Aston Villa on Monday evening.
David Beckham 2 -Marseille 0
PSG 2 Marseille 0 (Charlie Wyett, Sun) David Beckham was at the centre of a fiery Le Classique clash last night. But he again had the last laugh over Joey Barton and his Marseille team-mates at the Parc des Princes. Beckham, on his full debut for Paris Saint-Germain, was booted into the air by Barton before suffering another tackle which sparked a 15-man bust-up. Then, towards the end, Beckham went face to face with Andre Ayew to cause a second shoving match — with Becks shown a yellow card. Hardly surprisingly, former Manchester City star Barton ended up getting involved with other PSG players and had to be restrained by his team-mates.
Paris Saint-Germain’s David Beckham plays lead role as Marseille’s Joey Barton is beaten again (Daily Telegraph) Positioned just in front of the back four, Beckham kept PSG’s midfield ticking over with some neat passing. Ibrahimovic, meanwhile, appeared in little mood to share the spotlight, as he took his season’s tally to 26 goals in all competitions. The Swede opened the scoring in the 30th minute and made it two from the penalty spot in the 63rd. Ibrahimovic has now scored five goals in three matches against Marseille this season. Wednesday night’s game, in which Joey Barton struggled to make any impact in midfield for Marseille, was nothing like Sunday’s Ligue 1 battle in which Marseille dominated possession and had the best chances.
Arsenal’s summer spending spree
Arsenal to up wage bill to aid Wenger’s £70m summer spending spree (Sami Mokbel, Daily Mail) Arsenal are planning to raise their wage ceiling in the summer to facilitate Arsene Wenger’s £70million spending splurge. Wenger wants ‘three to four’ top-level signings in the summer, with a striker his priority. Fiorentina striker Stevan Jovetic is a target and Wenger also wants a proven goalkeeper and holding midfielder.
Arsenal ready to break wage barrier this summer to attract talents of Stevan Jovetic and Mario Götze (Jeremy Wilson, Daily Telegraph) It is understood that Arsenal were prepared to offer Robin van Persie a new contract worth £140,000 a week last summer and are prepared to reach similar figures this year for the right player. Stevan Jovetic, the Fiorentina striker, is being regularly watched and Wenger retains a strong interest in Borussia Dortmund playmaker Mario Götze. Both would command transfer fees and wages well in excess of Arsenal’s previous budget. Arsenal have around £70 million in their transfer fund, with this week’s half-yearly accounts showing that the cash balance at the bank stands at £123 million. This is not exclusively available for squad strengthening, as it must also deal with the club’s running costs, but it is clear that Wenger has more money at his disposal than ever before.
The AVB love-in
If there’s any justice: Why I’m rooting for AVB to lead Spurs to the top four at Chelsea’s expense (Darren Lewis, Daily Mirror) If there is any justice in the world then Andre Villas-Boas will do it. If there is any justice in the world the Spurs boss will finish third, with Arsenal fourth leaving Chelsea to spend another season of the outer darkness of the Europa League. Not because the Blues fans deserve it. They don’t. Not because Chelsea as a club are not good enough. They are. More because of the way that Chelsea threw Villas-Boas overboard at the first sign of trouble. Because of the way that Villas-Boas was derided from within as he tried to impose his methods at Stamford Bridge. And because of the way that he has had to reinvent himself to prove himself to the many people who refuse to accept that he does indeed have a clue. Football tends to throw up romantic stories like the one unfolding around the former Porto coach right now.
The Jose Mourinho love-in
Some men crumble when pushed to the edge but Jose Mourinho revels in the drama (James Lawton, Independent) Most specifically, of course, this was surely true of Old Trafford next Tuesday night, and though you do have to get up very early in the morning, and formidably armed, to bring any of that oppressive commodity into the life of Sir Alex Ferguson, his blood was surely chilled by so much of what he saw. It was, after all, definitive Mourinho. It was the most compelling of reminders that this man operates almost entirely on his own terms. Some men crumble when they get pushed to the edge of the precipice. Mourinho simply revels in the drama of it – and the new opportunity it provides for him to prove that you do not hoard trophies as he does if you are not capable of reinventing yourself – and your team – when the pressure reaches the highest levels. Mourinho’s Real didn’t merely beat an increasingly uncertain, even distraught Barça in the second leg of the semi-final of the Copa del Rey. They persecuted every one of their new uncertainties. The young and driving Milan harassed and hustled Barça in the 2-0 San Siro defeat that so imperilled their Champions League favourites’ status. Real, by contrast, picked them off in the most withering style.
Kevin Nolan out for 8 weeks
Hammer blow as Nolan is crocked (Paul Dillon, Sun) West Ham have suffered a huge blow with confirmation that skipper Kevin Nolan has a broken foot. Nolan’s injury, following a tackle by Spurs’ Mousa Dembele on Monday, could rule the midfielder out for up to eight weeks.