Comment & analysis round up
Quote of the day: “Kaka would prefer a club like Chelsea, Real Madrid or Milan, but we never know. This season Manchester City do not have a team to win the Champions League. Maybe next season they can get into that competition – they have the prospects to be good enough. What they need to have is a big project to win the Premier League and the Champions League. It’s not just about Kaka, they will only get the very best players if they attain this level. It was the same with Chelsea a few years ago – they had to prove themselves too. I think Manchester City are headed in the right direction, but they have big work to do. It’s no easy thing to reach the same level as the biggest clubs in the world, and it’s not just about money – you have to spend it properly and build a great team. In two or three years they can be there if they do the right things.” – Kaka’s representative Diogo Kotscho.
Runner up: “You can tell Mr Capello that he can try it with Andorra and I will take over England â€” I bet I will win by more than 2-0.” – Andorra manager David Rodrigo.
Today’s overview: 2-nil over Andorra is simply not good enough, and England come in for their expected criticism in the Sundays.
Starting with the most positive endorsement, Paul Wilson is willing to offer England the benefit of the doubt and withhold any judgment until after the Croatia game. Amy Lawrence is less forgiving, comparing England to a “rubbish tribute band,” and Dominic Fifield gets upset that last night’s “delivery from the flanks had been as miserable as it was inexcusable.”
Looking ahead, Jonathan Wilson investigates Slaven Bilic’s claim that Croatia’s success has been helped by his players playing overseas, and Martin Jol writes about the potency of Slaven Bilic’s forward line.
Perhaps England should take solace in the fact that they aren’t Scotland, for whom Patrick Glenn believes their qualification is almost over after losing to Macedonia. Nick Harris details the cold hard facts about Scotland’s recent performances – “Burley’s record now reads: played four, won none, drawn two (both at home) and lost two (both away).”
Away from England per se, Joe Lovejoy has a brilliant interview with Steven Gerrard, in which the Liverpool captain cites his versatility as being a problem in failing to hold down his favoured role.
Reviews of the last week in the Premier League continue to be rolled out. John Carlin wonders for how long can La Liga and Serie A compete with England. On the flip-side though, Hugh McIlvanney claims City’s ability to turn Robinho’s head will not always be so successful, and he is supported by Nick Townsend, who questions whether City will be able sign the other players they have on their fanciful radar.
Patrick Barclay offers a standout article, laying out his conclusions after the last few days in the Premier League. “One is that the transfer window must close before the start of the Premier League season… and the other is that the debt which enables our leading clubs to keep raising the crossbar, inviting the likes of City, Newcastle and even West Ham to overstretch or get involved with wealthy carpetbaggers, is an even greater evil than I envisaged in raising the subject all those months ago.”
The Sunday Herald also deliver two excellent articles, looking at whether the City takeover will mean that “all that glitters is gold.” For Gabriele Marcotti, oil billions on their own will not be enough to tempt the worldâ€™s top players to Eastlands, while Andy Mitten believes City fans are giving up their moral supremacy, but its worth it.
The final main topic of the day surrounds Newcastle. Bobby Robson questions “What is on Dennis Wise’s CV to inspire confidence that he can shop round Europe and bring the best players to St James’ Park? He worked for Swindon, Millwall and Leeds.” But the Toon have hit back, with Rob Beasley voicing the case for the Newcastle management by firstly claiming “mad” Keegan had “Beckham, Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry, Frank Lampard, Jonathan Woodgate and Anton Ferdinand were all on his Â£200million Newcastle United wish-list,” before Beasley quoted a statement released by the Toon yesterday contradicting many of the statements made over how King Kev was apparently hamstrung as the manager.
Paul Wilson (Observer) is willing to offer England the benefit of the doubt and withhold any judgment until after the Croatia game. “England will be in trouble if they perform as cluelessly in Croatia, though the two games will be nothing like each other and it might be unwise to draw firm conclusions from this sort of unreal exercise. Football games are always better when two teams are involved. You can never really win a fixture like this, just lose it, and only Macedonia and Steve McClaren have ever done that… One of the reasons England generally play better against leading sides has to be that they can play without fear. It is no disgrace to lose to Brazil or Italy if they have given a good account of themselves, because a win is not necessarily expected. The opposite is true of games such as this where the expectation is of a comfortable win, yet though England have had their San Marino moments over the years, the fixtures they have consistently found trickiest are those against capable mid-ranked opponents.”
Amy Lawrence was far less forgiving in her post match report for the Observer. “Andorra had Ayala, Pujol and Xavi on the teamsheet, but they were not the real ones. England had Terry, Lampard and Rooney, but they were not the real ones either. Not for the first time, here in Barcelona England’s players managed to look like imposters. There is something about wearing this shirt that makes high calibre Champions League performers for their clubs look like a rubbish tribute band for England… A match-winning cameo from substitute Joe Cole in the second half was not enough to mask the general torpor against predominantly part-time opponents.”
The criticisms don’t stop there, Dominic Fifield (Observer) failed to hold back any punches when talking about the quality of England’s delivery from wide areas. “Frustration had set in by the interval and everyone present had the right to have expected so much more. The delivery from the flanks had been as miserable as it was inexcusable. Andorra’s journeymen would not have coped had the standard of crossing been that of the Championship, let alone the Premier League. Theo Walcott was eager on the turf, and reached the by-line twice in the opening three minutes, but his accuracy deserted him too often. Even so, he offered far more of a threat than poor Stewart Downing.”
The Sunday Telegraph’s Patrick Barclay remains unconvinced by England. “Thus far, no work of discernible substance has been done by the expensive Italian and his troop of compatriot aides, who promised that something resembling a serious national team would be presented to Wembley last month but failed to deliver, the Czech Republic having much the better of a 2-2 draw. This, inevitably, was a one-off. At least we trust the first-half formation was, for to send out two wingers in Croatia would delight the hosts, who are no doubt expecting just a teeny bit of a battle for the central-midfield ground Luka Modric found so fertile in London last year.”
Rob Shepherd (NOTW) wonders if Theo Walcott did enough to secured a starting place against Croatia. “Theo Walcott started like a bullet train last night but hit the buffers far too soon to convince Fabio Capello he is the man to fill David Beckhamâ€™s faded golden boots. Walcott could have made a significant statement about his international credentials against the leaden-footed plodders of Andorra. Instead he raised more questions than he answered. Can Capello really rely on him to cope with the frenzied atmosphere England will face in Croatia on Wednesday? On the one hand Walcott showed he has the pace to take opponents apart. But after a good start he lacked poise and, worryingly, when his mettle was tested he did not seem to relish the physical side.”
In the Sunday Telegraph Jonathan Wilson looks at Slaven Bilic’s claim that Croatia’s success has been helped by his players playing overseas. “The Croatian squad feature just two players based in the Croatian league â€“ Dinamo Zagrebâ€™s 22-year-old forward Mario Mandzukic and Nikola Kalinic, 20, of Hajduk Split. Englandâ€™s squad, by contrast, feature just one player based abroad, and given that is David Beckham, who is not exactly testing himself against the worldâ€™s best at LA Galaxy, even that is not a positive. The implication of Bilicâ€™s words is clear: too many England players exist in a comfort zone.”
Looking forward to the Croatia match, Martin Jol writes for the Sunday Time about the potency of Slaven Bilic’s forward line. “Counter-attacks will be the main threat to England in Zagreb. Although Croatia are at home they will play their normal style, which is to invite their opponents to play in their half before looking to win the ball and send a quick pass forward to Olic. England must not give Olic space and have to keep their shape better than they did against the Czech Republic, after which Capello said his players had not coped well with counter-attacks. He is considering using 4-5-1 which, if Croatia reverted to 4-4-2, would give England a spare man in midfield, but Wayne Rooney up front alone is not the answer. Englandâ€™s best performance in recent times was beating Russia 3-0 last September when Emile Heskey came in to partner Michael Owen. Using Rooney and Heskey together in a 4-4-2, or Rooney and Jermain Defoe, is Capello’s other option.”
Perhaps England should take solace in the fact that they aren’t Scotland, for whom Patrick Glenn (Observer) believes their qualification is almost over after losing to Macedonia. “In truth, the margin of defeat flattered Burley’s side, the concession of the winning goal from Ilco Naumoski as early as the fifth minute presaging another 85 in which Srecko Katanec’s players were mostly in the ascendancy, denied a more comprehensive victory by some exceptional goalkeeping from Craig Gordon. Iceland await in Reykjavik on Wednesday, and anything less than victory in the second leg of the double-header will surely put an end to the Scots’ interest in a tournament for which they have not qualified for 10 years.”
Nick Harris (Sunday Independent) details the cold hard facts about Scotland’s recent performances. “Burley’s record now reads: played four, won none, drawn two (both at home) and lost two (both away). Only yesterday’s match was of any real consequence, of course, but that makes the outcome all the worse. Qualifying for the World Cup already looks like an uphill slog, and the next game, in Iceland on Wednesday, now looms as a fixture to fear rather than an opportunity to embrace.”
Eamonn Sweeney (Irish Independent) has a muted celebration of Ireland’s win over Georgia. “The boys in green have provided so much material for the connoisseur of trauma of late between Israel, San Marino, Slovakia and Cyprus that any kind of win is not to be sneezed at. It perhaps says something about the amount of scar tissue which has built up on our native footballing psyche that there was a distinct sense of foreboding when Georgia began to enjoy the lion’s share of possession immediately prior to Whelan’s goal. We have learned by bitter experience to take nothing for granted… on an evening when Scotland and Northern Ireland proved the kind of danger which can be posed by anything less than a solid performance in the qualifiers, it was heartening to see an Irish campaign get under way without going directly into crisis mode. Those Trap Must Go headlines will have to remain on ice for a little longer.”
The Sunday Times’ Joe Lovejoy has a brilliant interview with Steven Gerrard, in which the Liverpool captain cites his versatility as being a problem in failing to hold down his favoured role. Gerrard: “Iâ€™ve paid the price for being able to do a decent job in other positions. Other players donâ€™t get shunted around because they canâ€™t do it. I canâ€™t go and play on the right or the left and become Kaka or Robinho, I just go out there, give 100% and do a steady job. Iâ€™ll work hard, do my bit defensively and help the team. Thatâ€™s why managers do it to me, but it is affecting me. My game suffers when my position is changed. Iâ€™m a central midfielder and in the big games I want to play in the middle and show that Iâ€™m one of the very best in that position… I used to hate playing on the right or the left with a passion, so much so that I couldnâ€™t prepare properly for the game. It really used to destroy me but as the years have gone by, because it has happened to me so many times under different managers, Iâ€™ve got to the stage where I block it out and do the best I can.”
Taking a European perspective on the events which engulfed the Premier League last week, John Carlin (Observer) wonders for how long can La Liga and Serie A compete with England. “It seems like only yesterday that clubs such as Valencia and Deportivo La CoruÃ±a, as well as Real Madrid and Barcelona, were the powerhouses of the continent. But now there is a risk that, next to the Premier League, La Liga will dwindle to the level of, say, the Dutch League. Nice enough football, pretty to watch – and filled with clubs who have next to no chance of winning big European trophies, instead becoming feeder clubs for the English teams; providers of talent for those clubs’ perfidiously lavish foreign owners.”
Hugh McIlvanney returns this week in the Sunday Times to deliver an excellent article on Manchester City, claiming City’s ability to turn Robinho’s head will not always be so successful. “Even by the unedifying standards of modern football business, Robinhoâ€™s behaviour (plainly influenced, many would say controlled, by his agent) has been such a ludicrous caricature of blind greed that it is liable to cause as much amusement as dismay… Obviously faith in the mercenary inclinations of leading footballers is seldom misplaced but their reactions to the lure of lucre arenâ€™t always as crudely simplistic as the premature celebrations on the blue side of Manchester imply. Some of them, unlike Robinho, still have a tendency to balance the hunger for monetary gain with a desire to further their careers in the best of the teams keen to recruit them… The need to accept such realities was illustrated by the failure of the attempt to use the tactics that snatched Robinho away from Chelsea to convince Dimitar Berbatov he should jilt Manchester United just when he and they were on the brink of committing themselves to a contract.”
Nick Townsend (Sunday Independent) also wonders whether City will be able sign the other players they have on their fanciful radar. “Buying and selling world-class players is not like shifting barrels of oil. Players who are already on mind-blowing salaries are not that easily seduced. Players are impressed by a club’s stature, history, manager and likelihood of winning medals. Ah, but City secured Robinho, most of Blue Manchester will scream. They have acquired a player for the kind of salary and transfer fee that even Chelsea baulked at. That is true, up to a point, although on closer inspection they have signed a player desperate to depart Real Madrid, an individual who entranced the world, let alone Real, when he danced on to the stage at Cadiz in August 2005, but who, three years on, has palpably failed to fulfil expectations. They have won a player whose move to City meant that he “needs counselling”, suggested his compatriot Pele. They bought him, most significantly, when the club’s manager, Mark Hughes was playing golf.”
The Sunday Independent’s Ian Herbert claims that Manchester City’s Jewish fans are unhappy with their new owners. “For all their billions, not all of the Al Nahyan clan would be welcome among the strong Manchester Jewish contingent of the club’s fan base. One of Mansour’s half-brothers was responsible for setting up the Zayed Centre for Co-ordination and Follow-Up which sanctioned publication of anti-Semitic material and hosted anti-Semitic speakers a few years ago.”
As usual, Patrick Barclay offers a standout article in the Sunday Telegraph, laying out his fears for the Premier League after a crazy week. “So the law of the jungle extends far and wide and, in my view, there are two lessons to be learned from the plethora of instability. One is that the transfer window must close before the start of the Premier League season out of respect for the game and its customers â€” substantially before the season, not just on its eve â€” and the other is that the debt which enables our leading clubs to keep raising the crossbar, inviting the likes of City, Newcastle and even West Ham to overstretch or get involved with wealthy carpetbaggers, is an even greater evil than I envisaged in raising the subject all those months ago. Surely now there will be pressure for Uefa, who, under Michel Platini, are finally pledged to do something about it, to move quickly.”
The Sunday Herald also deliver two standout articles, looking at whether the City takeover will mean that “all that glitters is gold.”
According to Gabriele Marcotti, oil billions on their own will not be enough to tempt the worldâ€™s top players to Eastlands, to begin with. “A superstar player at one of the top 10 clubs in Europe is likely to earn between Â£5m and Â£10m a year, while regularly winning trophies and playing in front of huge crowds. What more could City offer them? Money? Â£15m a year? Â£20m? Â£30m? At some point, the figures become meaningless. Not least because at the level we’re talking about – the Ronaldos, Kakas and Messis – visibility is paramount. The sponsors demand it and commercial interests are a huge factor. But there’s also – and the cynics will no doubt scoff – the desire to play for big, historic clubs. Dimitar Berbatov could have chosen Eastlands over Old Trafford on deadline day. He would have secured a better contract (one and a half times as much, according to one source) and he would have been guaranteed a starting spot, rather than having to fend off the competition from Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez. And yet, as we all know, he chose the red half of Manchester.”
Self-confessed Manchester United fan Andy Mitten believes City fans have given up their moral supremacy, but its worth it. “It amused United fans that while they objected to the Glazer takeover – partly because the club is now buried in Â£600m of debt, City fans welcomed the disgraced former Thai president Thaksin Shinawatra a year ago, just as they’re celebrating their new owners from the Abu Dhabi United Group. ‘I am not fussed who bankrolls our club if it means we can attract some decent players and get to watch some good football,’ says fan Wayne Barker. And that’s the crux. For some City fans it’s success at all costs, even if it means abandoning the moral high ground and their identity. Perhaps they are more like their red neighbours than they would like to admit?”
Jonathan Northcroft (Sunday Times) wonders if the Premier League is becoming the United Football Emirates. “Until recently the Premier League looked like becoming a United States of Football, with Americans buying into United, Liverpool, Everton, Aston Villa and Arsenal. Now it could become a United Football Emirates. ‘The American bubble has burst because US investors looked at Premier League clubs in business terms, but apart from United and to some extent Arsenal, none has a profitable model,’ says Harry Philp, of Hermes Sports Partners, a London sports finance and advisory firm that has assisted several English football takeover bids. ‘The Russian oligarchs are now putting money into clubs in their own country. In the Middle East and Far East the Premier League is king. Thatâ€™s where to look for the next breed of owners. The Premier Leagueâ€™s profile means more than half of its clubs would be considered trophy assets.'”
Slaven Bilic is looking likely to become the new West Ham manager according to Wayne Veysey (Sunday Times). “Sources close to the former West Ham defender say he would â€œjump at the chanceâ€ to return. He is sympathetic to the clubâ€™s timetable and has agreed in principle to meet West Ham before Wednesdayâ€™s game. In fact Bilic, inset, did approach the West Ham board last month through an intermediary to tell them he was interested in becoming their next manager. He is held in high regard by West Ham fans and would be popular given his success in moulding a new generation of Croatia players into a resilient, attractive unit.”
The Special One, Jose Mourinho, writes for the Sunday Telegraph about how the media differs in Italy and England. “In Italy a manager will give a press conference and the next day he can read every word. Every detail. It may be tiring to do it but we know that this way nothing is taken out of context. As a result the relationship is very open. You know if you close the door to the papers they have to write something anyway, so it is better to speak properly. In England though, with the spotlight always on you, you can sometimes give a quote that can be taken out of context when a story is edited and then it is interpreted the wrong way. Then you are in trouble.”
Writing for the Mail on Sunday, Bobby Robson questions the role of Dennis Wise at the Toon. “What is on Dennis Wise’s CV to inspire confidence that he can shop round Europe and bring the best players to St James’ Park? He worked for Swindon, Millwall and Leeds. Freddy Shepherd got a few things wrong but maybe the club should reintroduce one tradition. If you want to work for Newcastle United, you have to live within 20 miles of St James’ Park.”
But Newcastle fans will be shocked to read Rob Beasley today in the News of the World, who claims that Kevin Keegan’s unrealistic transfer demands brought about his downfall. “David Beckham, Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry, Frank Lampard, Jonathan Woodgate and Anton Ferdinand were all on his Â£200million Newcastle United wish-list… So while the Toon Army may be revolting over his demise, the key figures inside St Jamesâ€™ Park are truly amazed at how Keegan â€œlost the plotâ€ during his ill-fated return to the North-East club.
The Newcastle offensive on Kevin Keegan continues in the NOTW, Rob Beasley quoting a statement released by the Toon yesterday contradicting many of the statements made over how King Kev was apparently hamstrung as the manager. The statement: “NUFC wished, at all times, to keep any dispute that it had with Kevin Keegan private. It is, therefore, disappointing information has reached the media through unnamed sources and a briefing has been given by the League Managersâ€™ Association that could give rise to a misleading impression amongst the clubâ€™s fans. It is a fact that Kevin Keegan, on appointment on January 16, 2008, agreed to report to a Director of Football and to the Board. It is a fact that Kevin Keegan worked within that structure from January 16 until his resignation. It is a fact that Kevin Keegan, as manager, had specific duties in that he was responsible for the training, coaching, selection and motivation of the team. It is a fact that Kevin Keegan was allowed to manage his specific duties without any interference from any board member. It is a fact that Kevin Keegan agreed only to deal with the media in relation to club matters relating to the team and not to communicate with the media in relation to the acquisition or disposal of players. It is a fact that NUFC is a business and operates, like all businesses, with financial constraints.”