The Liverpool post-mortem; The problems with the UEFA Cup & is Cristiano Ronaldo set to become a £200,000-a-week footballer?

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “In France they have an expression “l’appetit vient mangeant” [the appetite comes with eating]. It means when you are at a good table you like to eat more and more and more. And this is the success story of the Premier League. All in all, including [playing] substitutions, the four English teams had nine English players – two in Liverpool, four in Chelsea, three in Manchester and zero in Arsenal. But there were 20 or 21 Brazilians, 21 Italians, 16 Argentinians and I don’t know how many Africans. Do you think that is right? How many players have you [English clubs?] on contract? Thirty players. They could all play in other leagues or even in the same leagues at other clubs, but they keep the best because they have the money. Two weeks ago I was in Brazil and spoke to President Lula, who said please do something to stop the exodus of Brazilian players. The African market is practically drained. We are trying to install professional leagues there but there must be solidarity, especially in this economic crisis. That means those who have everything have to abandon something. People will be happy with six-plus-five because the fans will have automatic identification of their own football.” – Sepp Blatter.

Runner-up: “It’s a bonus really, we didn’t plan to be in the final. [The attitude was] hopefully we’ll have a run, get to the quarter-finals, semi-finals maybe, and we’ll see what [the younger players] are made of. They got home draws, which always helps – it’s vital in the cup. So, as I say, it’s a bonus… First of all I don’t think it [the quadruple] will be done. I mean, you can lose a cup game quite easily, any which way – we have Fulham away in the FA Cup, and that’s a difficult task, they’re playing very well at home. So I have to look at the more sensible options, and that is the Premier League, where we have a seven-point lead and are 10 goals better off than our next opponent, and a home tie with Inter Milan in the Champions’ League, when all we need to do is win to get through to the last eight.” – Sir Alex Ferguson.

Today’s overview: The Sundays are queuing up to call time on Liverpool’s title challenge whilst the hand-in-hand post-mortem to pinpoint where the Reds fell off the rails has already swung into operation.

For Liverpool’s flickering hopes of a first English championship in 19 years were extinguished yesterday when they slumped to defeat at their bogey ground.” A downbeat Rob Stewart followed suit saying “the behind-the-scenes chaos that has become synonymous with Anfield this season was mirrored by disarray throughout Rafael Benitez’s side at the Riverside.”

Paul Wilson voices the opinion of so-called cynics who “might suggest Liverpool’s title challenge most likely ended with Wednesday’s result in Madrid anyway and, while Rafa Benitez did not quite wave a white flag, he did not put up much of an argument.” An open letter in the Observer calls Liverpool’s “capitulation since the turn of the year has been nothing short of pathetic” while speculating what if they “had they managed to convert home draws against Stoke, Fulham and West Ham.”

Keeping with Liverpool, James Corrigan traces the break down of relations between Benitez and Rick Parry. “It was appropriate that what is turning into a mini-Greek tragedy should have begun in Athens. The final whistle… set the wheels in motion for a tale of pride, ambition and greed, played out in front of a mournful Kop chorus, in which Rick Parry, flawed hero turned villain, is unlikely to be the last victim. Do not expect a happy ending.”

As is he usual cut-throat style, Piers Morgan leaves nothing in the locker as he voices his criticisms of Rafa Benitez. “Benitez has to be the most arrogant manager ever to grace the Premier League. Which, when you consider the competition, is a pretty amazing achievement… You just know that he wakes up every morning, struts to the bathroom in his purple Noel Coward smoking jacket, takes a long, hard look at himself in the mirror, and smirks: ‘Rafa, you is looking the bizzo today!'”

Like a dog preening itself, the Sundays react to this week’s Champions League acting by lauding the power of the Premier League. here is now an incontrovertible case for viewing the Premier League as the most powerful concentration of talent in football and even a revived Barcelona may not be able to hold its strength-in-depth at bay.” Playing the supporting role, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United have lost, collectively, just three of their past 45 Champions League matches against foreign opponents and the odds are on England having four teams in the competition’s quarter-finals for the second season running… The English have not had it so good since their Golden Age, when the European Cup was won by an English side in seven out of eight seasons from 1977-1984.”

Ahead of the first showpiece final of the season, the League Cup, Paul Wilson laments today’s prize. “The Uefa Cup has been obliterated by the Champions League. A mouse crushed by an elephant would expire with more of a squeak. It doesn’t make you any money, it disrupts your whole playing week and it seems to go on forever.” And remaining on the UEFA Cup, Ian Bell wonders why clubs are allowed to get away with fielding lessor sides in the competition – “Call me old-fashioned, but all of that is beside the point. Whatever happened to the offence of knowingly fielding an under-strength side? It has always gone on, but once upon a time clubs would at least manufacture a few mysterious injuries, or a strictly localised ‘bug.'”

Stewart Robson tells Tottenham how to beat Manchester United. “Redknapp must do three things to win today: match United in central midfield; make United’s attacks more predictable by forcing them wide; counter attack with pace and width.”

The big tabloid rumours surrounding Manchester United revolves around Cristiano Ronaldo’s future. For David Harrison, “United are to offer Cristiano Ronaldo an incredible new recession-busting deal which will make him the Premier League’s first £200,000-A-WEEK player.” While the figures are slightly different for the People’s Tom Hopkinson writing “Manchester United have opened talks with Cristiano Ronaldo over a new deal worth a staggering £140,000 a week.”

Turning focus onto some of today’s likely protagonists, Ryan Giggs is featured by Patrick Barclay in the Sunday Telegraph, Jonathon Woodgate (“The better the opposition, the more likely we are to play well.”) tells about his final predictions, while on the other side of the fence Jonny Evans sits down with the Sunday Times’

Sir Bobby Robson, touching on the likelihood of Manchester United fielding a team of youngsters against Spurs, wonders whether footballers work hard enough. “It was not that long ago I was a manager in the Premier League and I did not see any reason why fit young men cannot play two games a week. There is a danger of spoiling them if we say: ‘We will pay you a fantastic salary but only expect you to play the 38 league games. We will find someone else to play in the cup, it is not important enough for you.'”

In other football news, Rob Draper reports on how “West Ham face a vital day in the Icelandic courts this week, when a judge could force owner Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson to sell the club within weeks for a knockdown price, potentially plunging them into chaos.” However, good news for the Hammers is offered by Bill Mills who writes “West Ham are set to be taken over by a group of Asian investors in a £90million deal.”

The Observer report that the Championship is being primed for a host trial of an extra assistant referees, while the Mail on Sunday claim that “the controversial proposal to extend the half-time break from 15 to 20 minutes is expected to be dropped by FIFA.”

In the Sunday interviews, “I’m a nightmare to live with when I’m not playing. My wife will tell you that. I’m not going to sit every day and say, ‘I wish I could play football’. And I’ve positioned myself with a few things that excite me.”)

As always, the red-tops roll in with more transfer nonsense. Steve Stammers claims “Tottenham will make a new £15million bid for England winger Stewart Downing this summer,” while the News of the World report that “Luka Modric will be the shock name on the Spurs exit list this summer.” Andy Dunn sensationally pens that Florentino Perez is basing his upcoming Real Madrid presidential campaign on a platform of bringing Arsene “Wenger as both head coach and general manager while installing [Zinedine] Zidane as the director of the youth academy.”

And the stories keep coming. Martin Hardy claims that Newcastle have made a fresh bid for Henrik Larsson. While it is the Toon’s management which concerns Brian McNally, claiming “Newcastle hate figure Dennis Wise is poised to call time on the Toon this summer.” Lastly on the Magpies, Alan Nixon reports “Joe Kinnear is poised to sign a new two-year contract at Newcastle.”

Finally, David Harrison claims that “Frank Rijkaard has been lined up to take over as Chelsea boss next season.”