Kolo Toure set for a 9 month or 2 year drug ban, now Fergie refuses to speak to MUTV & Grant linked with a return to Chelsea

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “We’ve both been a long time out of short trousers. It will have to be a good one to catch us out. He has used psychology before in the pre-amble to matches. But he will only get sparring practice if he tries it on us… I am sure Fergie would love to know whether Andy will be involved on Sunday. But we don’t know yet, so if he does he’s a better guy than us. Andy’s progress has been exactly as we had hoped it would be. There have been no setbacks whatsoever from him but whether he is ready for a game or not is debatable.” – Kenny Dalglish on facing Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United.

Runner-up: “It’s not my world, Twitter and all that stuff. Cyberbullying isn’t for me. We’ll draw a line under it.” – Alex McLeish on Jack Wilshere’s criticism of Barry Ferguson on Twitter.

Today’s overview: Plenty to chew on this Friday and there are a fair few interesting angles provided by the back pages.

We start with the main news of the day that Kolo Toure has been suspended by Manchester City after failing a drugs test. Reports suggest the Ivorian defender could miss between nine months and two years of football. Mark Ogden points out that the former Arsenal defender is just about the last player one would have imagined to be caught in a drugs row.

Sir Alex Ferguson is also the focus of many reports with a touchline ban hanging over his head following comments after the Chelsea defeat. Daniel Taylor reveals that now Fergie won’t speak to MUTV as the Manchester United boss receives support from Steven Howard and Harry Redknapp in The Sun.

There are also a fair few articles on Keny Dalglish on the occasion of his 60th birthday and looking ahead to Liverpool-Manchester United on Sunday.

One of the most intriguing stories sees Avram Grant linked with a return to Chelsea in the Telegraph. Meanwhile a report in the Mail says Carlo Ancelotti has held talks with Roma.

Other articles worth a read include Ewan Murray’s piece on Aston Villa’s weakened FA Cup team and Ewan Murray, Roddy Forsyth and James Lawton try to get to the bottom of the Old Firm madness.

Kolo Toure facing drug ban: Daniel Taylor and Owen Gibson join forces to inform us that “Manchester City have suspended Kolo Touré after he became the first footballer at a Premier League club to fail a drugs test since Adrian Mutu in 2004. Touré tested positive for a ‘specified substance’ in a routine examination and City acted quickly after being informed by the Football Association that the former Arsenal defender is facing a range of punishments up to a two-year ban. The club have not released further details but the World Anti-Doping Agency defines the substance for which he tested positive in a category as ‘more susceptible to a credible, non-doping explanation’.”

Martin Blackburn says in The Sun “Kolo Toure could face a ban of up to two years after failing a routine drugs test. The former Manchester City skipper has been suspended by the club with immediate effect as an A sample he provided contained a ‘specified substance’. Toure and City were made aware of the dramatic news on Wednesday as they prepared for their FA Cup fifth-round tie with Aston Villa. Under FA rules the club were left with no option but to immediately drop him from the squad – and he will not feature again at least until all the results are known. Last night sources indicated the Ivorian’s positive test could have been due to a dietary supplement.”

David McDonnell predicts a nine month ban. “Kolo Toure is facing a lengthy ban after the Manchester City defender failed a drugs test. Toure tested positive for a “specified substance” during a random doping test and has been suspended with immediate effect by City. The FA informed Toure an A-sample provided by him had returned positive and the failed test automatically triggered the ban, with City forced to suspend him until the matter is concluded. City refused to comment on the specific details of Toure’s test but unconfirmed reports claimed the 29-year-old had tested positive for methylhexaneamine, a substance found in a dietary supplement.”

Mark Ogden points out that Kolo Toure that “So devout is Touré that he spent the build-up to his first Manchester derby against United in September 2009 observing Ramadan. If the 29 year-old, who captained City in his first season at the club before relinquishing the armband to Carlos Tévez last summer, were to tick any of the boxes set aside to characterise footballers, it would be the one marked ‘model pro’. The defender is a regular participant in City’s community programme and is regarded as one of the pillars of Roberto Mancini’s squad. So the revelation that Touré has been suspended by City after testing positive for a specified substance is nothing less than a bombshell, not only for the player, but for his club and the wider football community.”

Sir Alex Ferguson in the dock: Martin Blackburn provides an update. “Alex Ferguson will decide today whether to plead guilty to his FA charge of improper conduct. The Manchester United boss faces a touchline ban of up to four games over his rant at referee Martin Atkinson following Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat at Chelsea. Fergie will meet his legal advisors at Carrington this morning when it will be suggested that he should accept the charge and hope an FA commission hearing goes easy on him next week. But if he chooses to fight the rap and is then found guilty, he could face an even stiffer punishment.”

Daniel Taylor reports that now Fergie isn’t speaking to MUTV. “Sir Alex Ferguson is refusing to speak to Manchester United’s own television station after being charged with improper conduct for his outspoken criticisms of the referee Martin Atkinson. Ferguson has cancelled his weekly media briefing ahead of Sunday’s game at Liverpool and the club have confirmed that MUTV will not be allowed any time with the manager after airing the interview that could lead to him having to watch up to five games from the stands.”

David McDonnell reports that “Sir Alex Ferguson is facing a FOUR-match touchline ban after being charged with improper conduct by the FA. The Manchester United boss was cited for comments he made about referee Martin Atkinson in the immediate aftermath of United’s 2-1 defeat at Chelsea on Tuesday night. The comments – made to MUTV, United’s in-house TV station – landed Fergie in trouble and could now see the Old Trafford boss endure a lengthy absence from the touchline. Fergie will this morning meet with United’s disciplinary consultant, who will advise him to admit the charge and in so doing try to keep any ban to a minimum.”

Ian Herbert says that Ferguson may accept the FA charge after the match with Liverpool. “Sir Alex Ferguson will be urged by his legal advisers this morning to plead guilty to a Football Association charge of improper conduct and told that he may face a three-match dugout ban after his latest outburst against a match official. The Manchester United manager is unlikely to respond with an immediate guilty plea to the FA charge, though, as it would see him forced into the stands for Sunday’s match at Liverpool. In a sign of how indignant and wronged Ferguson appears to feel, he has cancelled his daily press briefing today – giving Kenny Dalglish the platform ahead of a fixture that could see United take another substantial step towards overhauling Liverpool’s record 18 titles. Neither is he scheduled to speak to United’s in-house TV station, whose footage of Ferguson’s post-Chelsea comments the FA was seeking before ruling on the latest improper conduct charge.”

Steven Howard backs Sir Alex and argues Martin Atkinson should be facing a suspension. “The most effective referees are those who get on with the job quietly and without having to show they’re in charge. Atkinson, on the other hand, has awarded more penalties and red cards this season than any other referee. And what exact crime has Ferguson actually committed for which he must repent? Oh, yes, he told the truth. That Atkinson failed to spot crude challenges on two of his players by David Luiz that should have earned the Chelsea defender two bookings and, with them, dismissal. Even Graham Poll, our former top match official, agreed Atkinson cocked up. And that Ferguson should not be charged for things said in the heat of the moment.”

Harry Redknapp also defends his friend. “Alex Ferguson looks as if he is going to get a bucket-load from the FA. And it’s all because he has the strength to tell a situation exactly like he sees it. The Manchester United manager thought referee Martin Atkinson had a poor game in charge of his team at Chelsea this week and came out and said so. What’s wrong with that? Alex was asked for his opinion and gave it honestly. What is Alex supposed to say? ‘Oh, the referee was jolly good’ – when he wasn’t. That the official got everything right – when TV shows he didn’t. If a manager comes out with rubbish, then what is the point of an interview?”

Liverpool: The Daily Mail speak to a host of people on the occasion of Kenny Dalglish’s 60th birthday. Steven Gerrard: “I might have only just started working with him as a player but, as I have known him a long time, he has played a massive role in my career. Kenny has always been there to offer advice and he is someone I have so much respect for. I don’t need to talk about his stature in the game. He is Kenny Dalglish. His name says everything.”

Louise Taylor looks forward to the clash with Manchester United on Sunday. “If their rivalry is characterised largely by mutual respect and intertwined heritage it has certainly prompted moments of incandescence on both sides. While Dalglish, when managing Blackburn, did not find the idea of Keane enjoying a game of snooker with Ferguson remotely amusing, a newspaper cartoon portraying the former as a cool, cunning strategist and the latter a spouting volcano went down appallingly at Old Trafford. Aided by Dalglish’s amalgam of tactical acumen and sheer stubbornness Blackburn had just ignored Ferguson’s suggestion that they might “do a Devon Loch” and won the 1995 title.”

Ian Herbert also looks at the Dalglish-Ferguson rivalry. “Of course, Dalglish’s periods of pre-eminence in this particular personal battle have not just belonged to the distant days of Liverpool hegemony. His title with Blackburn, clinched in that nail-biting finish of 1995 with Rovers beginning the final Sunday two points ahead but with inferior goal difference, is still remembered by Dalglish for Ferguson’s attempts to crank up what looked like signs of strain in the younger man, who had resigned in the middle of a season four years earlier when stress of a post-traumatic kind took its toll, two years on from Hillsborough. ‘Blackburn can only throw the league away now,’ Ferguson said at the time. ‘We must hope they do a Devon Loch.’ Dalglish could laugh that one off yesterday.”

The main article in The Sun today is what seems to be pretty much a non-story about Andy Carroll. Shaun Custis: “Liverpool’s £35million striker Andy Carroll was officially valued at £1m by Newcastle at the start of last season. And relegated Toon were not even convinced they should keep Carroll for their promotion push back to the Premier League – marking him down as one of their squad to ‘monitor’. SunSport can today reveal the incredible change in fortunes for both Carroll, 22, and owner Mike Ashley after we learned of the club business plan for 2009-10. The document was put together for prospective bidders after Ashley publicly declared he wanted to sell the club. It is a detailed breakdown of the entire 21-man senior playing staff, including their individual transfer values along with a key code next to each name indicating whether they should be retained, sold or monitored.”

Henry Winter adds “Sunday resonates with meaning. For the Kop, the romance of the King’s return is lent urgency by the desire to prevent United advancing past Liverpool’s record of 18 titles (half of which Dalglish helped bring to Anfield). Dalglish is up for the challenge, placing on record his ‘respect’ for United while quietly mentioning that Liverpool have ‘five European Cups’. He has already faced Ferguson since returning, losing at Old Trafford in the FA Cup in January. ‘We had a drink after the game, we were in a room with company. It was just a normal conversation. It is fantastic for me to be back and Manchester United is one of the fixtures you look forward to playing against. We know the importance of the game for everyone connected with the football club and we will do our best to put a smile on the faces of everyone at the club.'”

Avram Grant back at Chelsea?: Jason Burt claims sensational news in the Telegraph. “Chelsea are considering approaching Avram Grant to become their new director of football as part of a significant shake-up of the club’s staff this summer. Grant’s future at West Ham United will be reviewed at the end of this season and even if he avoids relegation it is understood that it is far from certain he will stay despite signing a four-year deal last June. West Ham, who came close to sacking Grant and replacing him with Martin O’Neill in January, may decide that a parting of the ways is best for everyone given the difficulties of this campaign. Returning to Chelsea – who offered Grant a job after he left Portsmouth last year – would allow the 56 year-old to remain in English football.”

Sami Mokbel reports in the Daily Mail “Carlo Ancelotti’s former Italy team-mate Ruggiero Rizzitelli has claimed the Chelsea
manager has held talks over becoming Roma’s new boss. Sportsmail exclusively revealed last month that the Serie A club wanted Ancelotti to replace sacked Claudio Ranieri. And ex-Roma striker Rizzitelli fuelled speculation, saying: ‘I believe there are negotiations with Ancelotti and Roma already.”

Aston Villa’s weakened FA Cup team: Scott Murray can’t believe Gerard Houllier rested his biggest stars at Eastlands. “If it all goes wrong in the league, it all goes wrong. Birmingham fans won’t want to be relegated, needless to say, yet few would trade events of last Sunday – forever stored in the memory, the sun already shining brighter every day – for guaranteed 3-0 defeats at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge next season. Norwich City supporters remember their 1985 Milk Cup win without that season’s subsequent relegation causing them too much undue stress. And Brighton fans may wish Gordon Smith had put away that last-minute chance in the 1983 FA Cup final, but it’s doubtful they’ll be going to the grave wishing Jimmy Melia had eschewed their run to Wembley in favour of one more season scrabbling around the nether regions of the old First Division. By contrast, Villa fans of 2011 have to live forever with Houllier’s mean-spirited approach, one that needs eradicating from football and quick.”

Arsenal: The Daily Mail have an exclusive interview with Samir Nasri. “Samir Nasri has nothing to hide — not even the ‘dark side’ he says exists in all the people of Marseille. ‘Zidane, Cantona, me as well,’ he says with a hint of pride. ‘It is because of where we are from; because when you grow up on the street you have to defend yourself. You have to fight; show your character.’ This guy is a character, a footballer with a mind as fast as those cultured feet. His mother, not the slightest bit interested in football, wanted him to be a doctor; his father the new Maradona. He worked hard at school as well as on the training pitch, ditching his academic ambitions only when he broke into the Marseille first team at 17.”

Old Firm madness: Ewan Murray looks back on a crazy match. “The importance of pantomime surrounding the Old Firm has increased with the gradual regression of football standards. The farcical scenes at Celtic Park on Wednesday night contained incidents which might be commonplace at lower levels of the game, but the reality of three red cards, tunnel shoving matches and touchline rows carries extra weight when Celtic and Rangers are involved. It is that acerbic concoction which maintains wider interest in two teams who lack the resources and appeal to attract the calibre of players who once took part in Old Firm fixtures. Talk of a move to England or a European league has subsided for now; Wednesday’s events proved these two teams retain a capacity for fever-pitch fare in their own backyard.”

Roddy Forsyth points the blame at Rangers. “The mix of Rangers’ desperation at their slumping status and Celtic’s ever more evident triumphalism – they have now won three of this season’s five confrontations – is turbocharged by the intensity of the atmosphere in which these occasions are played out. Nothing in Britain – not even a rabid Merseyside derby or the spiteful competition between Liverpool and Manchester United – generates euphoria as astounding as that witnessed at Celtic Park a week past on Sunday when Lennon’s players swept majestically over their bedraggled rivals.”

James Lawton questions the behaviour of Ally McCoist and Neil Lennon. “It’s true enough that if the Celtic-Rangers match was permanently banned as unfit for decent human consumption it would scarcely skim the surface of so much of the hate that so regularly masquerades as football passion. But then it would be a hell of a start. What is particularly shocking after this week’s eruption of the most scabrous tribal enmity – which led to 34 arrests and the claim by Scottish police that, at a time when they can scarcely afford to peek out into the street, the fixture has become a worthless, tawdry drain on the public purse – is that professionals like Ally McCoist and Neil Lennon were at the heart of the latest fomentation. There is a particular sadness here in the case of McCoist because if he has never presented himself as an angel his natural conviviality has lit up many football travels.”

Transfer gossip: The Daily Mail reveal that Chelsea will face a fight with Barcelona and Inter for Udinese winger Alexis Sanchez and Arsenal are after Celtic left back Emilio Izaguirre. The Daily Mirror say Arsenal are after Sergio Canales.