Comment & analysis round-up
Quote of the day: “There’s been a lot of rumours flying around but I am not going anywhere. There is a job to do here and I am looking forward to it. There is speculation around the club and that has been prevalent since I joined the club. From my own point of view I am very focused on what I am about and what I aim to achieve here and that means success on the pitch. Nothing whatsoever has changed in that respect and the football operation hasn’t changed since I signed for the club. Nor has my relationship with Garry Cook and his team. We get on really well and continue to speak on a daily basis. I am the guy that makes the decisions in relation to the football, and they make the decisions in relation to the running of the club.” – Mark Hughes.
Runner-up: “I think Sir Alex realises we weren’t too far away from United when they were at the very top of their game, I don’t think United have another level to go to. They had a lot of players in their team who have been at the peak of their form for the last two years. Rio Ferdinand has been awesome for the last two years and Cristiano Ronaldo was unbelievable – I don’t think you’ll see that again. Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez, Ryan Giggs – they have all been fantastic. With the injuries we’ve had, as players we can all raise the bar a little bit. With it being that close in the Premier League and Champions League, they know we’ll give them a big run for their money. I think we can close the gap because Man Utd were at the very top of their game last season. I’m taking nothing away from them because they’ve been unbelievable over the past two years. But we’ve been very close to them and we had injuries and a change of manager.” â€“ John Terry.
Today’s overview: The main story this morning is that Manchester United are closing in on the transfer of Dimitar Berbatov from Spurs. The only doubt is whether United will pay 25 or 28 million pounds.
As ever, whilst United are buying yet another world class player, things on the other side of Manchester look decidedly bleak. Despite Mark Hughesâ€™ commitment to the club Richard Tanner in the Daily Express reports that “Thaksin Shinawatra has pulled the plug on Manchester Cityâ€™s big-spending days and they will now have to cut their cloth accordingly.â€
Louise Taylor in the Guardian reports on the financial troubles at Newcastle. “Mike Ashley has revealed that Newcastle United still owe Â£27m in outstanding payments on transfer deals completed before the billionaire owner of Sports Direct bought the club last summer.” The financial problems at City and Newcastle are mentioned in Martin Samuelâ€™s excellent piece in The Times today on the “Potless Billionaires Club” which has special emphasis on Liverpool’s owners.
There are a number of previews of tonightâ€™s Champions League first leg qualifier between FC Twente and Arsenal. The Gunners will be without nine first team players, including Cesc Fabregas, which means Aaron Ramsey could start and there are also features on Steve McClaren.
The Guardian continue their countdown to the Premier League season with articles on Portsmouth: “If Redknapp can find someone other than Niko Kranjcar to provide them with adequate service – and you wouldn’t bet against him – Portsmouth are muscular, obstinate and experienced enough to compete for the Premier League’s ‘best of the rest’ tag.” And Newcastle, “Even if all the chips fall where Newcastle want them to, the best they will finish is fifth. Ultimately that’s not really what they want, or what they need.” On the BBC website, Mark Lawrenson provides a Premier League guide to all 20 teams.
Other articles of interest include a feature in The Independent on Stoke boss Tony Pulis: â€œ’The Sunday we went up I turned the phone off. I turned it on late Monday afternoon and I had 87 messages. Quite a big percentage were from agents I had never spoken to before in my life. I had all these new friends.â€
Jonathan Wilson (Guardian) looks ahead to the Champions League qualifier tonight between Dynamo Kiev and Spartak Moscow â€“ â€œthe greatest rivalry in Soviet football will be reawakened.â€ And Grahame L. Jones in the LA Times sheds some more light on the departures of Alexi Lalas and Ruud Gullit from La Galaxy.
Ian Ladyman (Daily Mail) claims Dimitar Berbatov is all but a Manchester United player. “Dimitar Berbatov is expected to agree personal terms and seal his Â£25million move to Manchester United. Sportsmail understands that the Bulgaria striker is due at United’s Carrington training centre after finally being given permission by Tottenham Hotspur to talk to the Barclays Premier League and European champions. The 27-year-old will be offered a four-year deal worth in the region of Â£80,000-a-week. United hope he will appear on their official pre-season team photo, scheduled to be taken on Friday.” (The Guardian claim the move is worth Â£28m, as do The Daily Telegraph, The Sun also go with this as their lead story.)
Many of the papers feature quotes from Ryan Giggs, as this could be his last season as a Manchester United player. Giggs: ” â€œFor the last couple of seasons Iâ€™ve gone into it as if itâ€™s my last, Iâ€™m not getting any younger so it could be.â€
Richard Tanner in the Daily Express reports that “Thaksin Shinawatra has pulled the plug on Manchester Cityâ€™s big-spending days and they will now have to cut their cloth accordingly. The clubâ€™s executive chairman, Garry Cook, admitted legal problems in his native country will mean the Thai billionaire will no longer be able to bankroll Cityâ€™s bid to break into the top four of the Premier League… Shinawatra sanctioned over Â£60m worth of signings in his first year after buying the club, but new boss Mark Hughes cannot rely on the open cheque-book he thought he would be given after arriving from Blackburn.”
The double team of Andy Hunter and Dominic Fifield in the Guardian suggest Hughes will test how much money City have by asking for a new striker. “Mark Hughes has presented Manchester City with a test of their financial clout by demanding the acquisition of a new striker before the close of the transfer window. City attempted to ease growing fears over their financial future yesterday when their executive chairman, Garry Cook, insisted the club’s finances had not been jeopardised by Thaksin Shinawatra’s decision to flee a corruption hearing in Thailand and seek exile in Britain, leaving behind Â£800m in frozen assets. But the insistence it is ‘business as usual’, and that Hughes does not have to sell before he can add to his squad, will be tested by the manager’s transfer requirements.”
Ian Winrow in The Daily Telegraph argues that Thaksin Shinawatra’s personal crisis has ended City’s dream of joining the European elite. “Executive director Garry Cook, brought in by Thaksin this summer as part of an overhaul of senior management and a leading figure in Cityâ€™s very public pursuit of Ronaldinho, has insisted that the clubâ€™s future was not threatened by the former Thai prime ministerâ€™s decision not to return to his homeland, where he faces fraud and corruption charges and where some Â£800 million of the businessmanâ€™s assets are frozen. Cook did admit, however, that City could no longer expect a significant injection of fresh funds from Thaksin, bringing an abrupt end to 12 months of expectations within the club that, having found a wealthy foreign investor, the playing staff would soon be transformed by a succession of high-profile signings. Instead, Cook has confirmed that City will not be punching above their weight for the foreseeable future and transfer policy will be dictated by the harsh realities of the balance sheet. ‘Cityâ€™s future is not in jeopardy,’ Cook said. ‘In the short term, it is business as usual. We donâ€™t rely on Dr Thaksinâ€™s money.'”
Louise Taylor in the Guardian reports on the financial troubles at Newcastle. “Mike Ashley has revealed that Newcastle United still owe Â£27m in outstanding payments on transfer deals completed before the billionaire owner of Sports Direct bought the club last summer. In a rare interview â€” with a new, official club magazine â€” Ashley admits that he did not perform due diligence before buying Newcastle from the Hall family but suggests that, without his input, the club could now be in a serious financial plight. “Financially, Newcastle United was in a difficult positon because I really do think that it had over-extended itself,” he said. “We first heard about the potential sale on a Saturday and had the deal done by the Wednesday, so if you are asking if we did due diligence before buying, then the answer has to be no.”
According to Colin Young in the Daily Mail, Aston Villa are to renew their interest in James Milner. “Aston Villa are preparing a fresh Â£6million bid for Newcastle winger James Milner. The England Under-21 international remains a part of Kevin Keegan’s plans for the season but the Newcastle manager may be prepared to cash in as Martin O’Neill continues his pursuit of a player who spent a year on loan at Villa Park.”
Mark Irwin in The Sun reports on the injury crisis afflicting Arsene Wenger. “Crisis-hit Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is without NINE Gunners stars for crunch Champions League qualifying showdown against FC Twente. And Cesc Fabregas will miss the first two weeks of the season with a hamstring injury. Wenger must now take one of the biggest gambles of his career as he relies on his kids to take care of Steve McClarenâ€™s side. Summer signing Aaron Ramsay, 17, will make his debut in Fabâ€™s absence after Arsenal jetted over to Holland last night with six teenagers in their 18-man squad.”
Neil Ashton (Daily Mail) looks ahead to the clash between FC Twente and Arsenal tonight. With Cesc Fabregas ruled out until September much will rest on the shoulders of “the remaining senior players, Robin van Persie, Emmanuel Adebayor and William Gallas, to soak up in a match that Arsenal cannot afford to lose. Not when failure to qualify for the lucrative stages of the Champions League would ensure that another big name would follow Alexander Hleb out of the door before August 31 and certainly not when the opposition manager is McClaren. Lousy when he was the England head coach, he begins a new life with FC Twente this evening. He was forced to sell two of his best players, Orlando Engelaar and Karim El Ahmadi, in the summer to finance rebuilding work at the club’s modest stadium and he runs headlong into one of European football’s heavyweights. Good luck.”
With Fabregas out, David Hytner (Guardian) features new-boy Aaron Ramsey. “When Aaron Ramsey signed for Arsenal in a Â£5m deal from Cardiff City this summer, he envisaged that one day he would play a part for the club in vital Champions League ties. ‘Arsenal are a club that always gives young players the opportunity at the highest level,’ he said, when asked what had made him favour the Emirates over other potential destinations. In his most outlandish fantasies, however, the 17-year-old could not have pictured himself making his competitive debut for the club in a European fixture that ArsÃ¨ne Wenger described yesterday as the ‘biggest game of the season’.”
Martin Samuel writes of forgotten man Steve McClaren in The Times. “Even with a makeshift midfield, few are expecting Arsenal to have it too hard this evening and McClaren is certainly not relying on this 90 minutes to restore his reputation. He has not shed his old skin completely, though. ‘The key word,’ he said, ‘is belief. A lot of times underdogs underperform because they do not believe they can do it. Iâ€™d like a good performance, to be in the second leg and still have a chance. The best team doesnâ€™t always win. I know that more than anyone.’ And he flashes that smile. You know the one.”
Ian Herbert (Independent) looks forward to Liverpool’s clash with Standard Liege. “In a Belgian city famous for its gunsmiths, Rafael Benitez will learn a little more tonight about whether the two strikers he has brought together can fire Liverpool to the place where every elite European side wants to be: Rome’s Stadio Olimpico, eight and half months from now.”
Martin Samuel (The Times) in his weekly column writes of the “Potless Billionaires Club” with special emphasis on Liverpool’s owners. “Today’s column was intended to be a little more uplifting, more on the theme of a season of surprises. Liverpool for the title was the tag and it went west the moment the owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr, decided that they knew more about a footballer’s worth to his club than their manager, Rafael BenÃtez. It is hard to fancy Liverpool to overturn Manchester United and Chelsea now, yet when the summer began, Gareth Barry was set to be BenÃtez’s missing link and, had the club bought him, this could have been their season to evolve from a team capable of impressing in set-piece matches in Europe to one capable of emerging triumphant from the slog of the domestic season.”
Jim White (Daily Telegraph) writes of Peter Kenyon’s upcoming trip to Beijing to “further his aim to make the London club the biggest sporting brand in the country.” “We are told constantly that the Premier League is huge in China, that this is the most important market for their weekly menu of strop and hissy-fit. Yet, one of the most striking things about dipping into Chinese sporting culture is how little interest there is in our football. Here, even as the Premier League readies itself for a new season, basketball rules.”
Tim Vickery (BBC) profiles Chelsea manager Luiz Felipe Scolari. “Scolari made it clear when he was coach of Portugal during Euro 2008 that he has a special feeling for knockout games. He loves building the players up to an emotional peak. Clearly, this will come in handy in the Champions League. But what about the Premier League? A league competition with games every week, where three points in August are worth the same as three points in May. These are uncharted waters for Scolari.”
Chris Bevan (BBC) interviews Alan Curbishley about being favourite for the sack. Curbishley: “It is something I don’t need but nothing surprises me in football anymore though. The bookies have made their predictions and we will have to see what happens. It doesn’t concern me, only if it comes true. But I am confident I have got the backing of the club and the board.”
Glenn Moore in the Independent speaks with “Tony Pulis: The man who moulded the Potters.” “As we sit in his office, overlooking the Britannia Stadium pitch at Stoke City, there is evidence all around of the jump he and the club are about to make. The builders are at work, preparing for Stoke’s first season in the top flight since 1985, when City were still playing at the Victoria Ground and this site was a working colliery. Downstairs fans are arguing with office staff about tickets for the season’s opener, at Bolton Wanderers on Saturday. The Potters are back and the city is abuzz. For Pulis the madness started within hours of winning promotion in May. ‘The Sunday we went up I turned the phone off. I turned it on late Monday afternoon and I had 87 messages. Quite a big percentage were from agents I had never spoken to before in my life. I had all these new friends. I have been so deluged by ‘greatest hits’ DVDs I have had to bring in a new member of staff to deal with them.'”
The Guardian continue their count down to the Premier League season with articles on Portsmouth: “If Redknapp can find someone other than Niko Kranjcar to provide them with adequate service – and you wouldn’t bet against him – Portsmouth are muscular, obstinate and experienced enough to compete for the Premier League’s ‘best of the rest’ tag.” And Newcastle, “Even if all the chips fall where Newcastle want them to, the best they will finish is fifth. Ultimately that’s not really what they want, or what they need.”
On the BBC website, Mark Lawrenson provides a Premier League guide to all 20 teams. On Arsenal: “The Gunners look a little short of quality to me and I think they might slip from third to fourth this season. There have been a couple of high profile departures from the club in Alexander Hleb and Mathieu Flamini. New signing Samir Nasri looks like a scaled down version of Hleb and I’m a bit worried about Emmanuel Adebayor, who I think did want to leave over the summer. We don’t know for sure when Eduardo will be back and although I like the look of youngster Jack Wilshire I think this year might be a little too early for him. It must be a big season for Theo Walcott.”
Ben Lyttleton in the Guardian reviews the first week of the Ligue 1 season. “An eight-goal thriller, two refereeing cock-ups, late goals and a shock result that no-one saw coming: Ligue 1 got off to a cracking start at the weekend, even if the name of the team at the top of the table has a familiar ring to it.”
Jonathan Wilson (Guardian) looks ahead to the Champions League qualifier tonight between Dynamo Kiev and Spartak Moscow. “It has been 14 years since the last competitive instalment, but tomorrow night, the greatest rivalry in Soviet football will be reawakened as Spartak Moscow host Dynamo Kyiv in the first leg of the Champions League third qualifying round match. Both claim to have been outsiders heroically battling the Soviet regime – the plucky Ukrainians on one side, and the catering union on the other, unaffiliated to any of the great organs of state – and both drew on such mythologies to foster the drive that made them the most successful sides in Soviet history: Spartak won 12 league titles; Dynamo 13. Their meetings were habitually bitter and eventful, none more so than the first of their two encounters in the Champions League in 1994.”
Grahame L. Jones in the LA Times sheds some more light on the departures of Alexi Lalas and Ruud Gullit from La Galaxy. “‘Believe it or not, it was actually better toward the end,’ [Landon] Donovan said of his relationship with Gullit. ‘Initially, he was a little hard on me. I was always fine with that as long as it was respectful. At times it was a little disrespectful and that bothered me. But I think he figured out that as long as he treated me respectfully he could say things to me and I would get on with it. So I would characterize it as good at the end. From Ruud’s standpoint, I think it’s been difficult for him . . . because it’s not what he was used to growing up. If you’ve been in a certain way of soccer for 40 years and you come somewhere where you can’t get the players you want, you can’t do the things you want, you don’t have an unlimited budget, you have other issues around you that affect things, then it makes it very difficult. So I understand his frustration with all that. It’s not easy and not a lot of foreign coaches have done well here for that reason.'”