Henry to United; Kaka to Chelsea; Silva to Liverpool & The “New football season lacks old spice”

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “I can’t tell you anything at the moment, he [Fabricio Coloccini] was here, that’s for sure. I like his hair, it’s like mine in the seventies, but I can’t tell you any more than that.” – Kevin Keegan.

Runner-up: “Theo [Walcott] is ready to take on more responsibility. He has the support from the fans, the club and his team-mates. He is one of the best players in the squad. The only thing he has to improve is an aspect of character. He’s a very lovely guy — maybe too lovely on the pitch. I keep saying to him he has to become more nasty. After this he will be one of the best players in the Premier League.” – Manuel Almunia.

Today’s overview: It being a Sunday, there are no shortage of fanciful transfer rumours.

David Harrison (News of the World) claims that “Real Madrid are ready to hit Cristiano Ronaldo with a £17million compensation claim for refusing to join them.” The main story in the Mail on Sunday, by Bob Cass, claims that “Manchester United will launch an astonishing £20million bid to land Thierry Henry.”

Duncan Castles in The Observer suggests that Kaka’s move to Chelsea is “still a possibility.” And The News of the World reveal that “Liverpool’s American owners will attempt to win back Rafa Benitez’s trust with an £18million bid for Valencia winger David Silva.”

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Attention turns to the Community Shield the official curtain raiser of the new season. Steve Tongue looks forward to the Crouch-Defoe partnership and Sol Campbell reveals his ambition to play in the next World Cup in The Sunday Times.

And with just days till the new season, there are an abundance of articles on Premier League 2008/9 and the general feeling is summed up by Rod Liddle who writes that “we scrabble for interest wherever we can.”

Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore sticks up for the Premier League in the Observer, but Paul Wilson takes him to task in the same paper.

A number of commentators analyse the new “Respect” for referees campaign and there are an abundance of articles on different themes of the new Premier League season.

At the top of the table, Gabriele Marcotti (Sunday Herald) pinpoints Carlos Tevez, who could be the main man for Manchester United this coming season, Patrick Barclay (Sunday Telegraph) is excited for the new-look Chelsea under Luiz Felipe Scolari. And Jonathan Northcroft in the Sunday Times analyses whether Rafa Benitez can take the Premier League title to Anfield.

Finally, at the basement end of the top division in England, Nick Townsend (Independent on Sunday) previews the race to avoid the drop and Ian Bell (Sunday Herald) features Hull City’s battle to avoid a return to the Championship.

In what is hopefully the final thread of the Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid story, David Harrison (News of the World) claims that “Real Madrid are ready to hit Cristiano Ronaldo with a £17million compensation claim for refusing to join them. The Spanish club are claiming that Ronaldo’s agent Jorge Mendes struck the astonishing deal with them at the start of the summer transfer saga. Real are adamant they agreed personal terms with the Manchester United star and insisted on the compensation clause if the transfer was not completed. Spanish media sources, who have become Madrid’s unofficial mouthpiece during the Ronaldo negotiations, are reporting that Real president Ramon Calderon is determined to press ahead with the claim.”

The main story in the Mail on Sunday, by Bob Cass, claims that “Manchester United will launch an astonishing £20million bid to land Thierry Henry before next weekend’s Premier League curtain-raiser against Newcastle United. Sir Alex Ferguson, whose team warm up against FA Cup winners Portsmouth in the FA Community Shield today, has made the ex-Arsenal hitman his top priority following the breakdown of United’s attempt to sign Dimitar Berbatov from Tottenham. Appropriately, if a deal goes through this week, Henry could make his United debut against Newcastle on his 31st birthday next Sunday.”

The lead article in the Observer today, sees Duncan Castles suggest that Kaka’s move to Chelsea is “still a possibility.” “Kaka believes that a world record transfer to Chelsea remains a strong possibility and that he could be a Premier League player before the end of this month. Chelsea have made a €100m (£78m) offer for the Brazilian forward, who would be prepared to move to London if his club, Milan, accept it. Even though the world footballer of the year has not requested a transfer from Milan and is contracted to the club until 2012, he has been unsettled by their handling of him in recent months. The 26-year-old was prevented from representing Brazil at the Olympics in Beijing despite his club allowing summer signing Ronaldinho to play and last week the club’s doctor questioned Kaká’s decision to undergo close-season knee surgery.”

And not to be outdone, The News of the World reveal that “Liverpool’s American owners will attempt to win back Rafa Benitez’s trust with an £18million bid for Valencia winger David Silva. Kop boss Benitez is furious after the collapse of the Gareth Barry deal left him looking foolish. Now owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett know they have to do something quickly to appease the Spaniard. They blocked a move for Barry because they considered Aston Villa’s £18m valuation excessive. They want to resurrect a bid for Silva, a hero of Spain’s Euro 2008 win and an Anfield target earlier this summer.”

Steve Tongue (Independent on Sunday) previews the Community Shield. “Although Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp is bemoaning the lack of funds available to him, one of the more intriguing aspects of the afternoon will be seeing Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch in tandem for the Cup holders in a classic little-and-large combination. It is one that has briefly been seen for England, to mixed effect, but can only benefit from longer stints together on the training ground. ‘A natural combination and way of playing,’ Ferguson said. ‘Defoe will run through, Crouch will lead off. When they get to the last third [of the pitch] it’s a threat to defenders because of the height of the guy and the quickness of Defoe round about his feet.'”

Duncan White (Sunday Telegraph) sees the game this afternoon as important for those looking to impress Fabio Capello. “With World Cup qualifiers against Andorra and Croatia coming on Sept 6 and 10, having the undivided attention of Capello for 90 minutes today is a real opportunity for players who desperately want to be involved in the Italian’s regeneration of the national side.”

Joe Lovejoy (Sunday Times) speaks with Pompey captain Sol Campbell before the Wembley showpiece. “Campbell has always been a reluctant talker, but when he can be prised out of his shell it is usually worth the effort, and so it proved after training on Friday, when he held forth on all manner of subjects, from knife crime to the Football Association’s ‘Respect’ initiative, designed to improve players’ behaviour towards match officials, and his ambition to go to a fourth World Cup with England, and to win it this time.”

The Sunday Times provide a preview of every Premier League team.

But Rod Liddle in the Sunday Times is fairly down on the new football season, in an article titled “New football season lacks old spice.” “The administrators of the game have become besotted with their brand, deluded into thinking that foreigners believe our Premier League teams are as attractive and compelling as they think themselves to be. And so another season is poised to start and we scrabble for interest wherever we can, knowing that the top four will be the same top four as last year and that the bottom three will most likely be the three that came up or, at best, two of the three that came up.”

Richard Scudamore pens a piece in the Observer, and the Premier League’s Chief Executive is gushing in his praise for the top division in England. “The Premier League enters its 17th season off the back of, arguably, our most compelling competition yet. The clubs put on a great show – fantastic football in the finest set of club stadia in the world and the highest average top-flight attendances in England for more than 50 years. On top of that we had an all-English Champions League final for the first time – testament to the strength of the Premier League and the standards being set week in, week out. It is no accident that Premier League clubs find themselves in this position, financially strong and performing well on the pitch. The collective selling of our media rights and the equitable distribution of broadcast revenue provides the stability to invest, while rewarding success.”

But Paul Wilson in the same paper takes a different view of the Premier League. “For a start, it is somewhat disingenuous to talk of virtuous circles when the Premier League is by some distance the most linear competition in Europe. You cannot get a bet of 2-1 on either Manchester United or Chelsea to win the title, yet Hull City are available at 10,000-1. You might think that is normal and fair, and you would be right. Hull have no chance of winning the title. But neither have the weakest teams in Serie A and La Liga, yet they are only priced at 1,000-1. The best price available on a Bundesliga team is just 500-1. The ludicrous odds offered on the three newcomers to the Premier League this season fully reflect the bookmakers’ conviction that no one outside the top four can possibly win the title and that even within the top four, Arsenal (around 5-1) and Liverpool (around 7-1) can almost be regarded as rank outsiders. Everton, for instance, the team that finished fifth last season, can be backed at 200-1 to win the title. Many people, including the bookies, fancy Spurs to overtake them this season, yet for all the comings and goings at White Hart Lane and the palpable sense of excitement that Juande Ramos has generated, odds of 66-1 suggest no one expects a 47-year wait for a title to be over any time soon.”

In a seperate piece Paul Wilson analyses the new Respect campaign for referees. “Under the Respect scheme, referees will speak to both captains before the game, then ask them to help control their own players if disciplinary problems arise during it. This can be viewed as a sort of safety valve or cooling-off mechanism. It emphasises the captain’s responsibility for putting his own house in order, and stops the referee having to produce cards as a first recourse, which can often inflame situations by making the contest unequal or leaving one side feeling persecuted. That is basically all there is to it. Respect is simply an opportunity to remind players and officials that they need each other, need to work together, and have a greater responsibility to the overall good of the game.”

Patrick Barclay (Sunday Telegraph) also weighs into the debate about Respect for referees. “The so-called ‘‘respect agenda’’ (only football could appear unaware that the word “respect’’ has been stolen by thugs) should be about the sort of courtesy towards officials you see in rugby. It is as simple as that. For a fraction of the fee the FA paid consultants, I’d have come up with a courtesy agenda for them. It would have applied to everybody from Premier to school level, and contained two items: 1. Behave yourself. 2. Or trot off.”

Andy Dunn lays into Cristiano Ronaldo in the News of the World. “Ferguson’s rabid determination to hold on to his team’s main inspiration — at a time when the Glazers might have welcomed a £70m windfall — was not just born out of a refusal to be bullied by Real Madrid. It was because the Scot knows Ronaldo will be the key to achieving the unparalleled feat of an English team retaining both the league title and Champions League. And if United pull it off, Ferguson can wave a happy goodbye to Cristiano and a tearful one to football. And no one who respects his magnificent achievements — and abhors Ronaldo’s loathesome antics — will blame him.”

Gabriele Marcotti (Sunday Herald) pinpoints Carlos Tevez who could be the main man for Manchester United this coming season. “In many ways, you can see United becoming Tevez’s team. Ronaldo likely won’t be there beyond next summer. None of the midfielders – except for, perhaps one day, Anderson – seem to have the charisma, age profile and durability to grow into a long-term leadership role. Rooney’s position on the pitch is evolving and changing and is sure to be the subject of further discussion. Sir Alex indicated that ‘maybe’ he was ‘playing too far away from goal’ (his scoring totals have declined every season after arriving at Old Trafford) and yet his own future seems distinctly linked to Tevez. In fact, you get the sense that, going forward, Rooney may be shifted around to accommodate Tevez. As a partnership, the two will most likely be integral to United’s future, more so than Ronaldo. And that’s why the club’s foremost priority must be turning Tevez’ contract (which, at present, is a loan with two years remaining) into a permanent deal. Figures of £30m have been mentioned. If United can pull it off, it could be their transfer coup of the summer. More so than Berbatov – or even hanging on to Ronaldo for another season.”

Steve Tongue (Independent on Sunday) believes Luiz Felipe Scolari and Chelsea can overhaul Manchester United this coming season. “Were Luiz Felipe Scolari to be subject to the same financial constraints as Jose Mourinho during his last year the picture would be different, but Roman Abramovich has apparently changed tack again, and instead of Steve Sidwell from Reading, this summer’s addition to an already formidable midfield is the rather more impressive Deco from Barcelona. The hiring of a proven world-class coach as successor to Avram Grant appears to have persuaded Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba to stick around for another year and conse-quently Chelsea, who during the Champions’ League final in Moscow looked as good a team as their rivals, are capable of taking the title back from them, with or without Robinho.”

Patrick Barclay (Sunday Telegraph) is excited for the new-look Chelsea under Luiz Felipe Scolari. “At Chelsea, because of Abramovich and the building work still in progress, Scolari will have the opportunity to get everything as right as it can be. And, we assume, an appreciation of the owner’s philosophy. Hence Deco – and a suspicion that artistry will be back in fashion at the Bridge this season.”

Joe Lovejoy (Sunday Times) also questions whether Chelsea can go “one better.” “Chelsea are stronger for the arrival of Scolari, Bosingwa and Deco, with Robinho to come, but United are reliant on the same personnel. It could all change if they eventually manage to sign Dimitar Berbatov, but as things stand the Lovejoy beer money is on the boys in blue. Mind you, it was last time.”

Chris Bascombe in the News of the World analyses the current predicament of Rafa Benitez. “Not for the first time in his Liverpool career, Rafa Benitez feels undermined, embarrassed and isolated by his board. His summer pursuit of Gareth Barry over, Benitez has two options. He can accept the decision and use the £18million earmarked for the Villa man to make an alternative target — David Silva — the third most expensive player in Liverpool’s history. Or, as his latest cryptic Press conference hinted, he can end the uneasy truce since ‘Klinsmanngate’ made Liverpool the grubbiest story in town and ensure the new campaign starts amid similar chaos. So hurt is Benitez by what he perceives as a challenge to his leadership, even his hierarchy have no idea what he’ll do or say next.”

Jonathan Northcroft in the Sunday Times analyses whether Rafa Benitez can take the Premier League title to Anfield. “Kick-off was delayed in Liverpool’s friendly versus Lazio on Friday because of pressure on Anfield’s turnstiles. Supporters were drawn by the first home outing of a partnership that makes them think this time it will be different, that between Fernando Torres and Robbie Keane. There are other reasons for imagining Liverpool are about to improve. Daniel Agger is back from injury, Ryan Babel, who grew sharply in potency during his first season, is a youngster ready to advance and Andrea Dossena, Benitez’s new £7m left-back, looks capable of proving penetration on the flanks which was previously lacking.”

Also in the Independent on Sunday, Nick Townsend previews the race to avoid the drop. “The likeliest survivor among the promoted clubs is Tony Mowbray’s Albion, who possess a touch of class, have bought astutely and place the accent on a passing game. But which of the Premier League householders may find themselves subject to repossession? Though Newcastle and West Ham look probable underachievers, they boast sufficient quality. Blackburn, probably do, too, though, deprived of their Merlin, Mark Hughes, they could well flirt with danger. We all witnessed the kind of vacuum that canbe created when ‘Big Sam’ Allardyce vacated the Reebok, leaving ‘Little Sammy’ Lee.”

Ian Bell (Sunday Herald) features Hull City’s battle to avoid a return to the Championship. “Staying in the Premiership is far more difficult than winning promotion. Realistically, it requires several attempts, during which – so the theory runs – a smart club fattens its bank balance in preparation for the next assault. Insane money makes such thoughts possible. Even if they do finish last, Hull can count on £32 million. During the following two years ‘parachute payments’ will add a further £30 million. A sensible club could do a lot with such sums. A sensible club – and Hull have no real choice – can take relegation on the chin for that sort of money.”

Jamie Jackson speaks with Manchester City manager Mark Hughes in The Observer. Money quote: “Last year the club had a fantastic start, but unfortunately weren’t able to sustain it for whatever reason – things that happened before I was on the radar, we’re trying to make sure we have the range and depth of squad, and levels of physical capacity, to sustain a run at the competitions we’re in from start to finish. If we can do that I fully expect us to be in the top 10 again at least.”

Michael Walker features Roy Keane in the Independent on Sunday. Keane: “We made a very good offer for a top striker, who we didn’t get, but it would certainly have smashed the transfer record at this football club. So we are prepared to spend. We are trying. The figures don’t scare me or worry me. It’s when you’re paying over the odds for average players… you have to try to balance your books. But trust me, if Liverpool win the League this year, they won’t be saying they paid over the odds for Robbie Keane.”

Rob Shepherd (News of the World) urges Fabio Capello to give the England captaincy to David Beckham. “Rio Ferdinand seems to have nudged ahead of John Terry in the running. But the more I think about it the more I think Capello was right in the first place — just give it to the guy with the most caps.”

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