Are Pavlyuchenko, Robinho & Ronaldo heading to the Premier League, while Vidic looks set to jump ship?

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the Day: “Where do I want us to improve? Everywhere. I want a massive improvement. I’ve been really disappointed with our performances this season and I have told the players that. I think we need to improve in every area in the second leg. We were lucky to leave Belgium with a 0-0. When you see the goal that wasn’t given and the penalty it could have been worse, and we were not a threat at all. But the positive is that it can be a wake-up call. The players must understand what a massive game this is.” – Rafa Benitez.

Runner-up: “I can confirm I’m joining [Tottenham]. Right now I’m getting my visa and as soon as it is ready I will fly to England to sign a contract. I won’t play in Kiev. Everything has happened very quickly so I couldn’t even say goodbye to my team-mates. I could not decide if I wanted to go to England at first – first yes, then no. The only thing that stopped me from leaving was my family. But now all doubts are behind me and I decided to sign a contract with Tottenham and the formalities are practically settled.” – Roman Pavlyuchenko.

Today’s overview: Manchester United fans will wake this morning to read the surprise quotes from Nemanja Vidic, as reported by Jeremy Wilson – “I will never stay to live in England, that’s for sure… I would like to test myself in another top league. I’m thinking of Spain.”

Its also yet another difficult day for the blue half of Manchester. David Conn investigates the financial problems at the club, with confirmation that John Wardle has made several multi-million pound loans to the club. David Conn goes on to criticise this state of affairs arguing “this was all known and quite predictable, when the club’s then owners recommended [Thaksin Shinawatra] and accepted his money, with their eyes wide open.” The icing on the cake comes from Neil Custis who claims that City’s latest target is the original Ronaldo.

Chelsea look set to conclude their business in the transfer market. According to Dominic Fifield and Sid Lowe Robinho is on his way to Stamford Bridge, prompting “Shaun Wright-Phillips’ departure to either Manchester City or Everton.” Matt Lawton believes Chelsea will have one final stab at signing Kaka, claiming “Kaka is a devout Christian who does not approve of Ronaldinho’s notoriously hedonistic lifestyle and is concerned with the direction Milan are taking.” Proof of Ronaldinho’s behaviour is served up by Ashley Gray who reports that “Ronaldinho became so besotted with a Swedish footballer that he proposed within hours of meeting her at the Beijing Olympics, she claims.”

In other transfer news, Albert Riera who is on the brink of signing forLiverpool, Jason Burt looks at how Anton Ferdinand’s wage demands forced through his move to the Black Cats, Tom Dart questions Arsene Wenger’s dogmatic transfer policy, and with Dimitar Berbatov’s move to Old Trafford at an impasse, Jeremy Wilson looks at how the Bulgarian could invoke the Webster clause in a year’s time.

Serie A finds itself under the microscope. On Andriy Shevchenko, Rob Bagchi wonders whether “Chelsea’s trash may be Milan’s treasure again.” Oliver Kay has no such concerns, calling Serie A “the retirement home for Europe’s ageing footballers.” Rob Hughes also agrees the Serie A finds itself in difficult times at present, but James Horncastle comes to the defence of the league, excitedly looking forward to “watching Serie A re-emerge.”

The two standout articles today are Martin Samuel reacting to news that the FA are looking to bring in a spin-doctor to help with their media relations and John Nicholson calling for the introduction of performance-related pay to offset today’s ludicrously high wages.

In the best of the rest, Roy Keane gives his thoughts on Brian Clough (Daily Mail), The Guardian open up the debate on whether Great Britain should enter a football team at London 2012, Raphael Honigstein highlights the achievements of Hoffenheim and Rob Stewart previews the main contenders for La Liga.

The Telegraph’s Jeremy Wilson splashes with quotes from Nemanja Vidic, who has ruled out any long term future in England. Vidic: “I will never stay to live in England, that’s for sure. You get only a brief glimpse of sunlight before it’s all cloudy again. The winters are mild, but in summer the temperatures seldom go higher than 20C. And it rains, rains, rains. In future, I would like to test myself in another top league. I’m thinking of Spain. At least there will be no reason to complain about the weather. In England, they say that Manchester is the city of rain. Its main attraction is considered to be the timetable at the railway station, where trains leave for other, less rainy cities. It’s not only the weather that I’m not happy about here. In Russia and Serbia the people’s way of life is similar. In England it’s totally different. Here they just don’t have time to feel the joy of life. Throughout the week they all work so hard. They only talk to people at lunch break. Then in the evening they come home and watch the telly, so they can get up early for work the next day.”

After a few days of quiet around Eastlands, once again serious questions are being raised over the management of the club, as David Conn (Guardian) reports. “Cook has acknowledged that currently Thaksin is not providing funds for the club. Last month City took out a £25m loan facility with Standard Bank, secured on the club’s Premier League TV money this season and in 2009-10, to cover cash shortfalls. However, Cook has denied reports that the latest Wardle loan was made to pay City’s wages. The wages are paid automatically every month, a spokesman explained, and the club borrowed £2m from Wardle to pay Blackburn Rovers part of the compensation package after Mark Hughes joined City as manager.”

In a supplementary article, David Conn criticises Manchester City for not having legislated for the “very practical difficulties” of selling out to Thaksin Shinawatra. “Nobody at City then wanted to talk about Thaksin’s difficulties. Wardle offered no public explanation of his reasoning. The official line was that the corruption charges were being brought under a military government and so had no validity. Within days Sven-Goran Eriksson was the manager, Elano, Martin Petrov and Vedran Corluka were signed, City won their first three games including a 1-0 victory over Manchester United, and the sun shone at Eastlands… If it seems bizarre that Manchester City, the club of Bert Trautmann, Colin Bell and Blue Moon, is owned by a fugitive former Thai prime minister facing corruption charges and seizure of assets, it is more bizarre still that this was all known and quite predictable, when the club’s then owners recommended him and accepted his money, with their eyes wide open.”

With such shenanigans at Manchester CIty, The Sun’s Neil Custis puts the icing on the cake by claiming “City are trying to land Brazilian World Cup-winner Ronaldo. City executive chairman Garry Cook revealed last week he was looking to sign a superstar. And contact has been made with the former Barcelona and Real Madrid hitman, who is now a free agent after being released by AC Milan in the summer.

Dominic Fifield and Sid Lowe (Guardian) claim that Chelsea will finally land Robinho, causing the transfer merry-go-round to spin once more. “Real had a €47m bid for Villa turned down on Sunday but will up that to €50m. The Valencia president, Vicente Soriano, had promised he would not sell but his club is crippled by debts of over €250m and the board is encouraging him to cave in. Cazorla should be a simpler matter, as the midfielder has a buy-out clause of around €12m. Robinho’s arrival at Stamford Bridge is likely to prompt Shaun Wright-Phillips’ departure to either Manchester City or Everton.”

Over in the Daily Mail, Matt Lawton offers the most ridiculous proofs to defend his claim that “Chelsea will make one last attempt to sign Kaka from AC Milan in a recordbreaking £80million deal before the transfer window closes on Monday night.” “The world player of the year has been left stunned by a transfer policy that has seen Carlo Ancelotti recruit players like the Ukrainian striker and Arsenal’s Philippe Senderos, but is even more unhappy with the arrival of Ronaldinho. Kaka is a devout Christian who does not approve of Ronaldinho’s notoriously hedonistic lifestyle and is concerned with the direction Milan are taking.”

Yet the Daily Mail back up their characterisation of Ronaldinho, as Ashley Gray reports on how “Ronaldinho became so besotted with a Swedish footballer that he proposed within hours of meeting her at the Beijing Olympics, she claims. The star-studded Brazil team shared the same Beijing hotel as the Swedish women’s representatives and Johanna Almgren says she immediately caught the eye of the AC Milan star. ‘We rushed to the hotel foyer to collect autographs,’ Almgren told Swedish newspaper Bordas. ‘Ronaldinho ignored all the Chinese and walked straight towards me. He looked me deep in the eyes, took my hand and kissed it. I almost fainted.'”

In The Times, Albert Riera to the brink of signing forLiverpool. “Given that the £8 million fee is £1.5 million lower than a deal that Espanyol agreed with Everton, the signing may be claimed as a personal triumph for Parry, whose negotiating skills have been questioned by BenÍtez. The manager, on the other hand, will be happy to get the player he wanted after the embarrassing Barry saga, having been urged by the club’s hierarchy to consider Stewart Downing, the Middlesbrough and England winger, as an alternative.”

Anton Ferdinand is on the verge of joining Sunderland, with Jason Burt explaining in the Independent how the defender’s wage demands forced through the move. “Contract talks at Upton Park with the 23-year-old defender broke down irretrievably earlier this month, with sources at West Ham citing his excessive wage demands – more than double his present deal – as the primary reason for the collapse. It was pointed out to Ferdinand that he was not a first-team regular, given his injury record and the competition at the club, and was not in a position to make such demands. Nevertheless, West Ham had offered Ferdinand around £35,000 a week which, in itself, represented a significant hike in his present wages.”

Tom Dart (The Times) questions Arsene Wenger’s dogmatic transfer policy. “It is an attitude that looks increasingly naive as Arsenal’s rivals pay big money for star players. Insularity in the face of stiff competition is hardly a recommended business practice, but Wenger maintains that he can fight the power of Chelsea and Manchester United by adhering to his principles and playing his own game.”

With Dimitar Berbatov’s move to Old Trafford at an impasse, Jeremy Wilson (Telegraph) looked at how the Bulgarian could invoke the Webster clause in a year’s time. “This option is theoretically also open to Berbatov next year, with the expectation that he would have to fund the balance of his contract as compensation. If that happened, Tottenham would only receive around £2.5 million. Spurs, though, would inevitably fight such a move and believe that a player can only invoke the ruling if he could also show that he had not contributed to his situation. Tottenham also believe that Berbatov would be restricted to moving to a club abroad, although he could potentially then be loaned back to an English club.”

Rob Bagchi reflects on Andriy Shevchenko’s transfer back to Italy and wonders whether “Chelsea’s trash may be Milan’s treasure again.” “Comebacks from such setbacks are never easy but freed from the burden of the gargantuan fee and embraced by colleagues more sympathetic to his style, I hope and suspect that his talent has not eroded so definitively to preclude a thrilling second coming.”

But Oliver Kay has no such concerns on The Times’ blog, calling Serie A “the retirement home for Europe’s ageing footballers.” “Serie A now looks a long way short of the Premier League. Individual clubs will remain a force at European level, particularly now that Jose Mourinho has pitched up in the dug-out at Inter Milan, but the league is no longer anything like as exotic or as appealing as the Premier League or La Liga. World Cup winners though they may be, Italian football badly needs a pick-me-up – and it remains to be seen whether Shevchenko and Ronaldinho, or for that matter Senderos, Bianchi or John Arne Riise, can provide it.”

Rob Hughes also evaluates the status of Serie A in the IHT. “Where does Italy rank in Europe today? Its national team is world champion, though after a summer of failure it has gone back to rehire the 2006 coach, Marcello Lippi. Its league is behind England in popularity, behind Spain in quality, and some way behind Germany in terms of financial regulation. Serie A, indeed is still trying to deal with its past. The days of the Italian business barons ruling European soccer are gone, and the memories of match-fixing linger on. Juventus and AC Milan deserved to suffer for their parts in that corruption, and Inter consolidated with the title in both the last two seasons.”

Coming to the defence of Serie A, James Horncastle argues that Italian football is earmarked for a return to the big-time. “Italy’s top-flight clubs have opened their wallets and invested £310m in new players [the most since 2001], that’s £100m more than La Liga’s teams and £15m less than the Premiership’s sides… while flashing the cash doesn’t necessarily guarantee success, it indicates aspiration and a desire for improvement that will ultimately strengthen the championship for the benefit of us all… Even Serie A’s harshest of critics have to admit it’s on the up. Four of the last five Ballon d’Or winners play or have played in Italy. New stadia have been commissioned in Turin and Cagliari, and TV rights are to be collectively bargained for in 2010. So let’s revel in watching Serie A re-emerge.”

Martin Samuel (The Times) reacts to news that the FA are looking to bring in a spin-doctor to help with their media relations. “Triesman, not having a football background despite his allegiance to Tottenham Hotspur, misses one very important factor. That this fine talk of strategy, of cunning plans and political long games, goes straight out of the window if England lose in Croatia next month; or in any match of significance between now and the World Cup final on July 11, 2010. At which point, batten down the hatches. The only strategy that matters to the country is the one Fabio Capello, the present manager, will deploy to avoid embarrassment at the qualifying stage. Everything else is chatter. If the football is not right, no other facet of the organisation is considered important.”

Football365’s John Nicholson once again provides a brilliant article criticising the state of the beautiful game, angling for performance-related pay to offset today’s ludicrously high wages. “We need a large element of their wages to be performance-related and on top of that if you’re injured, your money must be cut radically. Players can easily insure their income to cover themselves for periods of lay-off – it should not be a burden the club has to bear. Players expect win bonuses but not loss reductions. Why not? That’s just having your cake and cramming it in your gob, son. Performance-related pay could work like this; an independent panel of ex-footballers and managers assess every player’s performance each game and puts it into one of three bands. Great, average and bad with bad reducing income by two-thirds. If you’re not picked you earn 50% less than a contractual median. If you’re injured you get nothing and take out personal insurance.”

Many of the papers collect quotes given by Roy Keane on his Nottingham Forest mentor, Brian Clough. (From the Daily Mail) Keane: “I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t like what’s going on in the game now with fitness coaches taking over and ProZones, weights, dieticians, pasta and bananas, but he would survive today, definitely… Brian Clough would have adapted and made his mark at whatever club he was at because he knew his football and I think the modern-day player would be able to put up with him. Players would love to play for him because he was different.”

The Guardian open up the debate on whether Great Britain enter a football team at London 2012. “The Minister for sport, Gerry Sutcliffe MP, comes out in favour saying ‘Being a passionate Brit and passionately English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish are not mutually exclusive. If Chris Hoy can get on a bike wearing a union flag one tournament and a Scottish flag the next, why can’t a footballer do the same?’ Gordon Smith, chief executive of the Scottish FA counters with a host of excuses ranging from ‘Football in the Olympics has little impact at all,’ to ‘The timing of the tournament is also hugely problematic,’ and finally ‘simply I don’t get the feeling among football supporters that there is an appetite for a united British team.'”

In his weekly review on the Bundesliga, Raphael Honigstein (Guardian) highlights the achievements of Hoffenheim. “They will face tougher opponents than Cottbus and Gladbach soon but their two wins have put them firmly on the map. They’ve played highly organised, direct attacking football with a young team whose oldest player, defender Per Nilsson, is 25. ‘Hoffenheim are part of the establishment now,’ wrote Süddeutsche Zeitung. ‘The days of making fun of dreary village life and camera teams swooping on customers in the local butchers and bakers are over.’ The problem is, not everybody sees it that way. The vitriol from the travelling Borussia supporters — (they called Hopp a ‘son of a whore’ and worse) took even the battle-hardened 68-year-old by surprise. ‘I will only travel to away matches where my safety will be guaranteed,’ he said on Monday, after accepting an apology from Gladbach’s president.”

Looking forward to the start of La Liga this weekend, Rob Stewart (Telegraph) previews the main contenders for the title. “While Barca have concentrated on rebuilding their squad and team morale, Real appear to have been distracted by their fruitless summer romance with Cristiano Ronaldo. The champions have reinforced their squad with just one recruit, Dutch midfielder Rafael van der Vaart from Hamburg. However, unless they make a late swoop for a new striker, they look short-staffed up front and dangerously over-reliant on Ruud van Nistelrooy and Raul for goals.”

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