Comment & analysis round-up
Quote of the day: “I’m obviously gutted. I had a big chance and I should put them away so I’m disappointed. I just have to bounce back and keep positive. I was confident and I put my foot out and it hit the heel. I’m gutted. But I’m a big character and I’ll take that one on the chin and move on. I’m my own worst critic and it’s definitely something I’ll be thinking about. It’s all down to what I’m doing with my club now, so hopefully I can carry on with that form and keep knocking on the door.” – Chris Iwelumo.
Runner-up: “Players make mistakes. Some people showed a little bit of ignorance and immaturity. I think the majority of the fans were trying to gee him up and get behind him. It was probably the only sour point of the night from my point of view. Hopefully people will go home and think, on reflection, it was the wrong thing to do. You rally round, you get round players. Ashley’s been around a long time and played many times for England. We’re always there to offer advice and there were a lot of lads back there geeing him up and patting him on the back.” – Rio Ferdinand.
Today’s overview: England’s five-one win over Kazakhstan is far from celebrated in today’s papers, but the Sunday’s also deliver a host of breaking news stories which take attention away from the national team.
Duncan White reports that the FA are to investigate a match-fixing claim after The Sunday Telegraph handed over evidence detailing extraordinary betting patterns in the Asian market during a recent Championship game.
Also breaking this Sunday, Joe Bernstein claims that Kaka and Sergio Aguero are both on Manchester City’s radar. This is slightly contradicted by David Harrison however, saying City’s war-chest will be opened in January when “Mark Hughes will embark on an epic Â£100million spending spree in January with Kaka and Gigi Buffon in his sights.”
The cash-flow is much tighter though in East London. Rob Draper and Daniel King come together to report that West Ham is up for sale on the cheap, for “as little as Â£50million.” And the mood around Upton Park becomes even bleaker according to Rob Shepherd, who reports that the Hammers not only “have just a month to find a buyer willing to bail them out or face the threat of administration,” but that the central trouble-maker for the club’s current woes was in fact Lionel Scaloni. Shepherd’s solution is for the Hammers’ fans buy the club.
Onto England, and Steven Gerrard is placed under the microscope. Rob Smyth calls for an end to theÂ Lampard-Gerrard partnership, with Patrick Barclay adding “not that Gerrard was the only under-achiever. Matthew Upson, deputising for John Terry at the back, buckled under pressure exerted by the team rated 131st in the world.” And so it continues, withÂ Jason Burt next to stick the knife into Gerrard saying, “Neither one thing nor the other, Gerrard dropped left, right, and deep and, at times, just dropped out of the game.”
Other voices on England included Glenn Moore’s criticism of Wayne Rooney (“The goals aside (a big caveat, admittedly) Rooney did not play well”) and “Emile Heskey [will] ever score enough to justify his position as the attacking spearhead?”
On a slightly lighter note, Jasper Gerard (Sunday Telegraph) recalls some of the numbing commentary broadcast during yesterday’s match at Wembley, while Graeme Le Saux was left angry with the England crowd who booed Ashley Cole (“Their behaviour was nothing short of a disgrace”).
In other news, Steve Bates claims to have the EXCLUSIVE on the 39th game proposal, Juande Ramos has six games to prove himself at Spurs before he faces the axe according to Rob Beasley, Hugh McIlvanney is full of praise for Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas, Paul Wilson advocates the classic British management structure as in place at Hull, and Kevin Mitchell, using the John Obi Mikel case as the point of reference, bemoans the growth of the money-grabbers involved in football.
Finally, a group of articles deal with the current credit crunch and it’s impact on football. Patrick Barclay criticises the Premier League’s response to the levels of debt involved in the top flight, David James pens his concerns surrounding the current credit crunch arguing for a US-inspired education system to be put in place for the development of youth, and Rod Liddle charges the Premier League as copying the failures of the City responsible for the current economic meltdown.
Duncan White reports on breaking news that the FA are to investigate the possibility of match-fixing after The Sunday Telegraph handed over a document detailing extraordinary betting patterns in the Asian market during a recent Championship game. “Traders for British firm Spreadex noticed “a massive movement at around half-time”. An expert, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he had “not seen anything like this in 10 years of working in the industry” and expressed concern for “the integrity of the English game”… The two Philippines-based bookmakers on which the swing was detected are SBOBET and IBCBET. There is no suggestion of impropriety on their part. Both bookmakers declined to comment.”
Also breaking this Sunday, the Mail on Sunday’s Joe Bernstein claiming that Kaka and Sergio Aguero are both on Manchester City’s radar. “Hughes held talks with the club’s new owners and told them it would be better to wait until the end of the season to make their key signings, despite money being available in January. The City boss has made a left-back his priority in the next transfer window and could go back to Blackburn for Stephen Warnock, whom he signed for Rovers from Liverpool. But the real business will be done in the summer, with Hughes wanting a world-class striker alongside Kaka. He is aware that Atletico Madrid and Argentina striker Sergio Aguero – due to be the next big thing in world football – has a 40million euro getout clause should he wish to leave in the summer.”
According to David Harrison (NOTW) however, Manchester City’s war-chest will be opened in January when “Mark Hughes will embark on an epic Â£100million spending spree in January with Kaka and Gigi Buffon in his sights.” “Hughes has also been tempted by the news Torres has yet to renegotiate his deal at Liverpool. The Spanish striker took a pay CUT when he moved to Anfield on the proviso that talks began on a new deal once he had proved his worth. His advisors are looking for a Â£40,000-a-week leap to Â£120,000 but there is no sit-down in sight.”
Rob Draper and Daniel King come together in the Mail on Sunday to report that West Ham is up for sale on the cheap. “West Ham are up for sale again – and Icelandic owner Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson may have to accept as little as Â£50million within the next few weeks as he battles to save his business empire from the financial crisis gripping his homeland. Only days ago, Gudmundsson and the club were insisting that the collapse and nationalisation of Landsbanki, in which the West Ham chairman is the largest sharedholder, would have no effect on his involvement with the club. But in the last 24 hours, it is understood that the situation has changed to such an extent that he has privately indicated he is willing to sell. Although the value of West Ham’s shares is thought to have soared as high as Â£150m since he bought them less than two years ago for Â£85m, the club’s debts and the possibility of having to pay Sheffield United up to Â£50m will reduce the price.”
However the mood around Upton Park is much bleaker according to Rob Shepherd (NOTW), who reports that the Hammers not only “have just a month to find a buyer willing to bail them out or face the threat of administration,” but that the central trouble-maker for the club’s current woes was in fact Lionel Scaloni. “The root of West Hamâ€™s problems can be traced back to the last few seconds of normal time in the 2006 FA Cup Final when West Hamâ€™s right-back, an obscure Argentinian by the name of Lionel Scaloni, kicked the ball into touch and changed the course of the clubâ€™s history… The Hammers were on the brink of beating Liverpool 3-2, breaking the Big Fourâ€™s stranglehold on major trophies and perhaps discovering a springboard to greater things. But with Djibril Cisse curled up with cramp in the West Ham half, Scaloni decided to side-foot the ball out of play rather than humping it as far from his own goal as possible. Sensing his sideâ€™s last chance, Jamie Carragher ordered his team to throw the ball back to Scaloni and then hunt him down. Panicking, Scaloni skewed his clearance straight to Steven Gerrard. The rest is Cup Final legend.”
In response to West Ham’s financial turmoil, Rob Shepherd follows up his article by suggesting that the fans buy the club. “The demise of West Hamâ€™s Icelandic owners may well merely open the door for another bunch of foreign money men. Iâ€™m not sure itâ€™s the way forward. Much better if the club were to turn into a mini-Barcelona and be bought by the fans who then elect a president every four years and the club is run under strict stewardship. Given the banking crisis there is an argument to say West Ham could end up being worth as little as Â£50million if a Dutch auction ensues. If 50,000 fans could stump up Â£5,000 in bonds to become stakeholders, that would raise Â£25m. Newham Council could match that (surely a better investment than in some Icelandic bank) and West Ham could reclaim its identity. I reckon Monsieur Platini would approve.”
Rob Smyth (Observer) begins to chorus of voices calling for an end to Lampard and Gerrard partnership for England. “It’s clear that, if Gerrard and Lampard are to work, it will be in a 4-3-3 formation, as envisaged by Jose Mourinho when he tried to buy Gerrard. But this is unlikely given their limited technical ability and incessant mediocrity at international level and, when it means compromising England’s one world-class attacking talent â€“ the still criminally underrated Wayne Rooney â€“ it is impossible to justify. And when England changed to 4-4-2 in the second half they scored five. Like, duh!”
Steven Gerrard’s performance for England is criticised by Patrick Barclay (Sunday Telegraph), although not as much as Matthew Upson’s. “Over the 90 minutes their worthiest contributor was Frank Lampard, who outshone Steven Gerrard on another occasion which testified to their incompatibility. Not that Gerrard was the only under-achiever. Matthew Upson, deputising for John Terry at the back, buckled under pressure exerted by the team rated 131st in the world and David James carried almost as marked an air of vulnerability, while Ashley Cole, who once described an Arsenal offer of Â£55,000 a week as an insult, gave the visitors a goal with a blunder that would have shamed a pub-team player.”
The Independent of Sunday’s Jason Burt is the next to stick the knife into Gerrard. “Neither one thing nor the other, Gerrard dropped left, right, and deep and, at times, just dropped out of the game. Not disinterested but certainly disengaged. Oh what to do with Stevie G? Capello had changed his formation, more than his personnel, to accommodate thefit-again midfielder.It was an awkward match for Gerrard. He must have felt like the gatecrasher at a party after the events in Croatia last month when the team had performed so brilliantly without him.”
Glenn Moore was equally as critical of England, picking out Wayne Rooney as a chief culprit, in his match report for the Independent of Sunday. “It looks good in print. Rooney 2 (77, 86), but this is as misleading as the overall scoreline. The Manchester United striker took his goals well, but they were unusual goals for him, poacher’s goals â€“ a free header and a tap-in against tiring opposition â€“ rather than something a bit special. The goals aside (a big caveat, admittedly) Rooney did not play well… For reasons of team balance he is frequently deployed on the left, for club and country. So it was yesterday in the first half, sort of. Neither a winger nor an inside-forward, Rooney was too deep to link with Emile Heskey, whose own mobility left much to be desired, but not wide enough to stretch the Kazakhs. With Rooney’s passing radar on the blink England’s attack simply failed to function.”
The Sunday Times’Can Emile Heskey ever score enough to justify his position as the attacking spearhead? Can England succeed with anything other than a standard four-four-two? After 50 minutes, the score was 0-0 and the best chance of the match had fallen to Kazakhstanâ€™s Tanat Nuserbayev. But the central question remains the dilemma that faces Fabio Capello as he decides what to do with his midfield and whether to continue to marry Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard in the centre.”
On a slightly lighter note, Jasper Gerard (Sunday Telegraph) recalls some of the numbing commentary broadcast during yesterday’s match at Wembley. “Coverage was hosted by Steve Ryder, who ITV hope develops into a fruity old charmer like Des Lynam. He is greying nicely, but seems a bit too golf. You half expected him to tell us a long clearance was â€œstraight down the fairwayâ€. He was supported by Graeme Le Saux, Andy Townsend and Sam Allardyce. Sam can make Sarah Palin, American vice-presidential candidate, seem articulate, but Le Saux and Townsend are as sure-footed in the studio as they were on the pitch. Tyldesley has the man in the street appeal of John Motson, just without the man in the street intelligence. Alas he had to make do with David Pleat in the commentary box, who has that rare gift to render Alistair Darling interesting. Pleat, who sounds like one of those old fishwives Les Dawson used to play in drag, clearly thinks itâ€™s his job to excuse the players: â€œIt just sat up a bit for Rooney,â€ he said when our Wayne blasted it over under no pressure. His approach was catching: â€œCapello is solid gold,â€ Tyldesley gushed, sounding ominously like a Darling trying to talk up the markets. Then he said: â€œRooney is taking up the classic continental No 10 positionâ€. Er, if he was any deeper Rooney would have drowned.”
Following on from Rio Ferdinand’s quotes above, Graeme Le Saux (Sunday Telegraph) added his voice to those angry with the England crowd booing Ashley Cole. “Their behaviour was nothing short of a disgrace. Treating one of your own like that doesn’t benefit anyone. Not only will it affect Ashley, but that feeling will spread to the rest of the team. The mistake he made with his lobbed back-pass was a bad one and nobody will have been more painfully aware of that than Ashley. But such a negative reaction from the stands is more of a hindrance than a help. Hearing those boos makes everyone feel uncomfortable, which is the last thing you want when a game is so delicately poised… it’s embarrassing that a small section of England supporters behave in that manner, especially when his overall performance on the day was quite good.”
Juande Ramos has six games to prove himself at Spurs before he faces the axe, according to Rob Beasley (NOTW). “The Spaniard, still less than a year into the job, will be axed if he hasnâ€™t lifted the bottom-of-the-table side clear of trouble by November 15. Thatâ€™s the secret deadline the Tottenham board have put on Ramosâ€™s reign at White Hart Lane… a senior Spurs source said: ‘Itâ€™s make or break time now for Ramos. If things havenâ€™t improved dramatically by mid- November then itâ€™s â€˜adiosâ€™ for sure.'”
The Sunday Times’ Hugh McIlvanney is full of praise for Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas. “He is much more than overwhelmingly the most gifted player on Arsenalâ€™s books, an established master to Theo Walcottâ€™s thrillingly precocious novice. For his club and for victorious Spain in Euro 2008 (where the limiting of opportunities didnâ€™t obscure the vital worth of his contribution), he has repeatedly demonstrated an ability to unravel the staunchest defences with the kind of repertoire of penetrative skills given, at maximum, to only a handful of midfielders in any generation. And the effortless delicacy of his touch and close control, his alert and deadly eye for openings and the crisp, precisely weighted delivery of his passes are informed by a physical neatness and grace that make the sight of him at work one of the most satisfying in the modern game.”
Paul Wilson (Observer) advocates the classic British management structure, as in place at Hull, as the recipe for success in the Premier League. “Why, you may ask, are people persevering with football directors and continental systems when it seems much easier to do what Hull did and go out and find a decent manager? Why, for that matter, have West Ham just appointed Gianfranco Zola when they have never previously had an overseas manager? It’s not as if there are no decent English candidates about. West Ham were thumped 3-1 at home last Saturday by the Ginger Mourinho, as Bolton’s resolutely unglamorous and archetypally English Gary Megson is affectionately known.”
Staying with the Tigers, Arindam Rej analyses Hull’s early season form in the Observer. “Only rarely does this happen in football. An underdog team pull off a barely believable win against illustrious rivals, and, for a while, other fans adopt them as their temporary second team. It happened more than 30 years ago when Carlisle led the old First Division for a few games, but, in most cases, it is a cup run that puts the focus on an ‘unfashionable’ smaller team: Hereford in the 1970s, Grimsby and their inflatable fish in the 1980s, and, for those with a wider interest, Calais in the 1990s, when the non-League team reached the French Cup final. This is much more than a cup run, though. And Hull are not just an underdog team, they are an underdog city, irked by years of negative publicity about being king of the ‘crap towns’, worst place to live in Britain, cheapest houses, lowest wages, most chip shops and so on… Robinson Crusoe set sail from Hull in 1651. Even today, people joke that the best thing about going to Hull is leaving again.”
The Observer’s Kevin Mitchell, using the John Obi Mikel case as he point of reference, bemoans the growth of the money-grabbers involved in football. “Mikel is a small if highly paid pawn in the big game that is international football finance and his case underlines what a murky world that is. Once this would have shocked us. Not anymore. We almost expect it. If not Mikel and Chelsea, it is Carlos Tevez and West Ham. Next week, who knows? The game, the business, is peopled by so many scallywags, agents and deal-makers, moving with accustomed ease across all sorts of national and moral boundaries, that we are permanently waiting for the next scandal. How did the game get to this point? Negligence, greed, lack of accountability, a poverty of moral rigour or a collective will to set aside personal gain for the general good. The usual.”
The Sunday Herald’s Alan Campbell reports on Karen Espelund, who has been Norwayâ€™s football general secretary for almost a decade. “A former midfielder, she was introduced to administration through the women’s game and did her work so efficiently that there was no male opposition when, after a spell as vice-president, she assumed her country’s top post. That suggests a more enlightened attitude in Oslo than might be experienced in Glasgow. In Scotland there remains a deep-seated resentment in some backward male quarters to women being involved in football in any capacity. Contrast, for example, the no-expense-spared treatment of our men’s international team to the pitiful scraps thrown at our women players. Espelund presides over an organisation which is much more egalitatian. Both genders, at adult and youth levels, receive equal resources and attention. The result is a far more streamlined operation than the SFA’s, which operates in a time warp and is compromised by the conflicting interests of the many different organisations which comprise the association.”
The reaction of the Premier League to the levels of debt involved in the top flight is lamentable, according to the Sunday Telegraph’s Patrick Barclay. “Like when your house is ablaze; the last thing you do is dial 999 and have the fire brigade hosing water all over it. No, when the FA are beastly enough to point out that an aggregate debt of Â£3â€‰billion might be deemed slightly hazardous (the clubsâ€™ annual television revenue is a lot less than that and no one has yet mentioned ITV Digital), you [the Premier League] go on the attack, accusing Triesman of being â€œeither naÃ¯ve or badly advisedâ€™â€™ and adding: â€œItâ€™s what I would have expected from Michel Platini.”
In the Observer, England goalie David James pens his concerns surrounding the current credit crunch, arguing for a US-inspired education system to be put in place for the development of youth. “Why not adopt a US-style draft system whereby on graduation, aged 16, each youngster is put up for selection to Premier League teams. If the investment by the Premier League clubs is focused on developing academies to produce world-class footballers rather than helping already dominant clubs to extend their control over the best young players, then every club will have a more even chance of success… In a climate of money-grabbing and ‘me, me, me’ attitudes, this structure would adopt a more holistic approach. There would be tangible benefits to a wider community than just the Premier League elite, and yet the incentives for investment by the clubs are clear: they would be able to choose from a crop of talented, matured youngsters, rather than having to take the gamble of trying to select the next top goalkeeper when the kid is aged 11. It is time for a change in attitude from football’s top tier and this could be the start of it.”
In the Sunday Times, Rod Liddle charges the Premier League as copying the failures of the City responsible for the current economic meltdown. “The money that has flowed into the Premier League from television rights in the past 10 years has been real enough, I suppose â€“ although it always felt a precarious conceit. This was the decade in which football effectively demutualised; its historic relationship with the supporters â€“ those who pay to watch live, in the flesh â€“ diminished to almost nothing… And after demutualisation, the clubs became uncommonly attractive to all manner of chancers â€“ foreign fraudsters, gangsters and despots, desert-bred royalty and even a few genuine hard-nosed businessmen who thought that thismustbe a way to make money, given the enormous revenues being raked in by the clubs and their often prime city-centre locations, ripe for redevelopment. And the Premier League behaved like the City of London and the building societies and the government behaved: it could not believe its luck, all this cash pouring down. And so it was â€“ still is â€“ laissez faire about everything.”