Comment & analysis round-up
Quote of the day: “It was a surprise to see him at the far post. With his age and the fact he has just come back, we were looking for him to control central midfield, which he did. But he has the instinct. He always has had. ‘He probably said “it was nearly half-time, I will gamble’. He is one of our greatest players. When you see his performance today, you don’t lose that.” – Sir Alex Ferguson.
Runner-up: “The perception of how we are or have been over the past few weeks is not how we want it. It has been a difficult time for everyone at the club. The key for us is that this club want to fight racism and discrimination. It has been a difficult period but we will get through it. It will be tough, we shouldn’t kid ourselves that opposing fans are going to give him the best of times. We made a decision, Luis made a decision, not to appeal and the reason we did that was to move on. The best way he can come back is to get on the pitch and score some goals, and that’s what everyone will expect of him.” – Ian Ayre, Liverpool’s managing director.
Harry Redknapp: “I’ve never said to anybody that we are going to win the league. I know where we are at and if we can get a Champions League position again this season it will be great for us. I only answered their question of if it is possible and of course it is possible. Man City and Man United will be red hot favourites to win the league. But if we had a fantastic run in the second half like we have had in the first half of the season it could happen.”
Today’s overview: Paul Scholes dominates the back pages following his goal for Manchester United against Bolton. Also, on yesterday’s Premier League action, Gary Neville still thinks Spurs could win the title.
Ahead of Mark Hughes’ first game in charge there are two differing articles from Daniel Taylor and Alan Smith on Sparky.
As ever, despite almost no movement in the January transfer window, with our favourite today being the link between Real Madrid and Steven Fletcher in The People.
Elsewhere, there are a ton of other articles on Thierry Henry, the African Nations, Piers Morgan on his “Twitter battles” and a sad story of Dean Windass’ two recent suicide attempts.
Paul Scholes, he scores goals: Paul Wilson reports from Old Trafford. “He still scores goals, Paul Scholes, and from Manchester United’s point of view it is a good thing someone does. United went joint top of the Premier League with this win, though until the Wayne Rooney-Danny Welbeck partnership spluttered into life 15 minutes from the end they sorely lacked a cutting edge. The Cup heroics against Manchester City now over, it was easy to forget that the home side were playing to avoid a third successive league defeat, though all too easy to recall how Blackburn managed to overcome them on New Year’s Eve. Had Bolton showed the same amount of fight and finishing prowess they might have taken something from the game, for despite the gloss that Michael Carrick’s third goal gave the final scoreline, this was another laboured United performance, not one to cause much lost sleep at City.”
Tim Rich adds “First Thierry Henry and now Paul Scholes, it has been such a week for dramatic comebacks that Manchester City might ask Colin Bell if he is doing anything tomorrow night. Naturally enough, Scholes’ homecoming carried less fanfare than the return of va-va-voom to north London. He would rather have learned ancient Etruscan than dedicate a statue of himself as Henry had done. The results were, however, the same; a goal and the realisation that no matter how pollutedby money sport might become, it will always have the capacity to sprinkle stardust. In a way it was a return even more remarkable than Henry’s. Scholes had actually retired whereas Henry had been taking a winter break from playing in New York, although some on the Stretford End would argue that it amounts to the same thing but with more money.”
Jonathan Liew also concentrates on the ginger midfielder. “In the blink of an eye, Paul Scholes was wheeling away from the goalmouth in celebration, charging towards an East Stand that was roaring his name. The overwhelming emotion, on his part and ours, was disbelief. During the long months of his retirement, while curling up in front of the television at his home in Grasscroft, or watching from the stands at Boundary Park, he would scarcely have imagined that a moment like this could ever come to pass again. It is a rare privilege to be able to view the past with the clarity of the present. Old Trafford at a quarter to four on Saturday afternoon truly was one of those moments.”
Henry Winter questions the youngsters coming through at United. “Scholes is wonderfully low-maintenance compared to some of the youngsters, who talk a lot but have yet to walk the walk. So here is the challenge set by the old boys’ network to pretenders like Morrison: dedicate, deliver and the rewards will come your way like a good night in Klondike. Whether Morrison heeds such advice remains to be seen. He does not have a great track record for listening. United need a playmaker not a troublemaker.”
Ian Holloway hails Scholes (and Thierry Henry) in his column in The Independent. “If money was no object and I was offered a choice between Carlos Tevez, Thierry Henry or Paul Scholes, the last person I would take is Tevez. I am surprised any English club or manager would even consider signing him. QPR are possibly the one exception because they are desperate to stay up, they have the cash and Mark Hughes worked with Tevez at Manchester City so he must think he can manage him. But for me, it is a matter of principle. I genuinely wouldn’t go near the bloke. I don’t agree with what he has done or the way he handled himself over the last few months. No one is bigger than football but he is walking about as if he is.”
The Tottenham title challenge: Gary Neville urges Spurs to believe they can still win the Premier LEague despite the 1-1 draw with Wolves yesterday. “The 1-1 draw with Wolves will add weight to the sceptics as to whether they can handle the pressure. I would put it down to one of those freak occurrences, the result of playing three times in a week, and similar to the defeats Manchester United suffered against Blackburn or Manchester City did at Sunderland. For those people who had started to see them as serious title contenders, one result stops shouldn’t stop them believing that they can do it. In the next six weeks they take on Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal away before finishing a nasty run by facing Manchester United at home on March 3. That’s a crucial point of the season and, by then, we’ll have a clear idea of the likely title winners and that’s when we can re-assess their credentials. But you have to give them credit for their season so far.”
Mark Lawrenson is not overly positive. “Spurs have been on a great run. But now comes the hard part. Being chasers is one thing, leading from the front is another. It’s all about pressure and that’s what has set Manchester United apart in recent years. They can handle it. Furthermore, Tottenham also have some hard games coming up. Emmanuel Adebayor looks to be off the boil. He’s great when in form but is having a dip. There are questions and tests ahead. Tottenham look great now but ultimately will fall short.”
Mark Hughes at QPR: Daniel Taylor profiles Sparky ahead of his new job. “The first thing Mark Hughes did when he became manager of Fulham was to ask for a bigger desk. Hughes wasn’t happy with his new surroundings. The office, he said, was too small. A new computer was ordered and a big leather chair. Then builders were brought in to knock down the adjoining wall and extend an office that had done just fine for Roy Hodgson, Lawrie Sanchez, Chris Coleman and everyone before. This is what can happen when a man spends time among the conifers and greenery of Manchester City’s training ground then downgrades to a club where the paint might be peeling in a few corners and they drink their tea from a flask rather than fine china. Hughes never really felt Fulham were distinguished enough for him and it always seemed a temporary measure given that he has an adviser, Kia Joorabchian, with an A to Z of chief executives on speed-dial. Except they stopped returning his calls.”
Alan Smith is far more positive about Hughes at QPR. “After only a couple of days, the Queens Park Rangers players will already have realised that life is going to be very different under Mark Hughes. Habits will need to change. So will attitudes in training. Neil Warnock, after all, was old school in terms of his demands from a physical and tactical standpoint. The emphasis lay in exhorting his team to overcome their opponents through hard graft and aggression, by winning their individual battles all over the pitch. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Those kinds of principles must form the basis of any successful side. Yet Hughes takes things further. He pays much greater attention to the data offered by his sports science department. And, from Monday to Friday, the sessions put on by his loyal assistants, Eddie Niedzwiecki and Mark Bowen, will be extremely intense on Queens Park Rangers. There is no letting up under the demanding Hughes.”
Transfer gossip: WOLVES’ Steven Fletcher is a shock target for … REAL MADRID! Mourinho wants fresh blood for their B team (People, surely bollox!)
Arsenal are considering a bid to take Spain Under-19/Real Madrid striker Alvaro Morata on loan (People)
QPR boss Mark Hughes wants to bring in goalkeeper Ben Foster and plans to make a £5million raid on Birmingham (People)
Liverpool are continuing their hunt for firepower – with Spain striker Fernando Llorente a possible target. (People)
Tottenham have targeted Loic Remy and Tim Krul as key signings before the start of next season. (Mail on Sunday)
Roberto Mancini fears Manchester City’s title bid is being undermined by the club’s refusal to hand him more transfer cash for Daniele De Rossi. (Mirror)
Joey Barton is set to be one of the first casualties in Mark Hughes’ QPR revolution. (Mirror)
Arsene Wenger could enter the race for Ravel Morrison after it became clear his future lies away from Manchester United. (Mirror)
Thierry Henry: Jimmy Greaves laments his own early retirement in The People. “From Tottenham’s all-time record goalscorer to Arsenal’s all-time record goalscorer: Congratulations and well done, you lucky, lucky b*****d! And that is a message of genuine goodwill from me. Even with Thierry Henry and Paul Scholes both making sensational comebacks during the past week, I think it’d be a bit far-fetched for me to get my old shooting boots out of the attic, at the age of 71. But I was full of envy when I watched Henry score the only goal of the match on his fairytale comeback against Leeds on Monday. I quit professional football at the age of 31, a year after Spurs let me go to West Ham. Yet, in truth, all I really needed was a sabbatical – a year out of the game or perhaps even just six months.”
James Corrigan says Henry should never have left Arsenal. “The statistics show Henry was a success at the Nou Camp. But, as we all know, statistics distort, particularly with a player such as Henry. He was a mere part of the beauty at Barça, while at Arsenal he was its source and its lifeblood. Yes, it was all about the Va-Va-Voom for this sporting romantic, and sometimes the Va-Va-Voom does not lay thick at the bottom of the most coveted trophies. Adulation means most when it is reciprocated: the superstar and his devotees. Who says those moments in an FA Cup third-rounder in 2012 were any less enjoyable than the Champions’ League conversion with Messi and Co in 2009? Fulfilment can be as fickleas the next emotion. Henry may well arrive at this conclusion when he looks back on his career which to many of our minds is the finest so far in the history of the Premier League.”
Terrible Tackles: Patrick Collins gets stuck into the latest big debate England. “I believe the public would support instant dismissals for dissent or diving or waving phantom cards in an effort to get opponents expelled. (I would also send off anybody who ostentatiously kissed the club badge, but I doubt we could carry the FA with us on this one). But the most urgent outrage is the two-footed tackle and there are encouraging signs that certain managers are becoming concerned by the danger it poses. Roberto Martinez, of Wigan, says: ‘I do believe that we need to protect the players that we all love and are excited to watch … we want to see all those challenges being red-carded.’ Such a view will win no friends among the admirers of Smith or Norman or dear old Chopper but the game is moving on. And for that, we should all be grateful.”
Said & Done: The soon-to-be-departing David Hills turns his attention to Joao Havelange. “Nominated for the Nobel peace prize for pushing a ‘social justice’ agenda at Fifa in the 90s. João Ricardo Moderno, head of the Brazilian nominating group, says Havelange was ‘very pleased’, ‘deserves it more than most’, and denies taking up to $50m in bribes while in charge: ‘He told the group he never took money from anyone. He only ever did good for mankind.'”
African Nations: Paul Doyle profiles the upcoming tournament. “Demba Ba is needed in Africa even more than in Newcastle. The late-blooming striker could embellish an Africa Cup of Nations that otherwise risks being defined by the amount of potential frustrated or power faded. Only one of the last nine victors have qualified and although that could be taken as evidence that the standard of football is rising across the continent – and the qualifications of Libya and Botswana were especially commendable – the absence of Nigeria, Cameroon, South Africa and the winners of the last three editions, Egypt, has generated a certain pessimism. There is a sense that the countries who have reached the tournament that is being cohosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea are not good enough to compensate for the non-appearance of those who have failed to make the most of their resources.”
Piers Morgan on his Twitter battles with Premier League footballers: The CNN presenter pens a whole column on his Twitter “banter” with Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand. “Winding up sportsmen or celebrities on Twitter has become my favourite hobby, one that is fabulously illuminating about the people involved. Who’d have thought Joey Barton would turn out to be a sharp, funny, Orwell-quoting tweeting machine? Or that Michael Owen would be so overly sensitive when he reaches his bedtime? Or that Robin van Persie – my current footballing god – could make me do an impromptu conga just by sending me a surprise tweet saying he found me ‘funny’? Or that I’d become direct message (the secret way that Twitterers can talk to each other) pals with Mike Tyson?”
Dean Windass: The People reveal that “Premier League hero Dean Windass has shockingly confessed he tried to take his life TWICE just days ago. The former Hull City striker admitted to The People this week he is battling booze and depression after retiring from the game he adored. Dean, 42, is the same age as Wales manager Gary Speed who killed himself in November. He said: ‘I have cried every day for the last two years since retiring. People outside football think we have it all. But I was in a hole that I honestly didn’t know how to get out of. Just over a week ago I hit rock-bottom and decided to end it all. I first took an overdose and when that didn’t work tried to hang myself. I felt so alone and believed I had nothing to live for. I need to sort myself out which is why I’m speaking out now. ‘It is part of me getting better – part of the healing process.’ Dean’s revelation will shock family, friends and fans.”