The Premier League & the foreign officials, Agbonlahor needs to prove he is England class, Sven flirts with North Korea & Barca close in on Robinho

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “We will come out to beat Argentina. We know that by claiming the three points we won’t need anything else. We can win and that is our main objective, to qualify directly for the World Cup. We depend on ourselves, and even if they want to change their image, we think we are capable of winning. Both of us will be looking for the triumph, we expect a nice match with lots of emotion… We will win and qualify directly for the World Cup. For two years we have been fighting to book our ticket to South Africa 2010.” – Uruguay striker Luis Suarez.

Runner-up: “When we’re watching the video, you know the minute you’ve made your mistake, or a misplaced pass, and you’re thinking: ‘Please don’t stop it now.’ Then he stops it and gets his red beam and flashes it at you. It’s definitely in your mind during the game. If a defender goes forward, it’s a sprint not a jog back into position. When the manager stops the video and there you are jogging back at three-quarter pace… He wants players to work harder. That’s very Italian-minded. He’ll pull you up in front of the lads in team meetings, rewind things and say: ‘Look at that’. He’s on top of every small detail. He’ll make sure it’ll be sorted before the World Cup.” – John Terry.


Today’s overview: For many, the Premier League already has too many foreigners playing in the league, too many foreigners owning the clubs, and too many foreign managers picking the teams. And now the latest foreign invasion – the refs are coming!

Ian McGarry lifts the lid on the story. “It is understood [that four] foreign refs have received the invitation to work in England… It is a win-win scenario for the authorities. If the experiment is a success, they are geniuses. If it fails, then they were right all along that our match officials are as good as any in the world.”

Turning to tonight’s World Cup qualifiers, there is limited commentary ahead of the Three Lions final match of the group with Sam Wallace summing up the pre-match build-up writing “Belarus tonight does have the feel of the last day before the summer holidays begin.”

Duncan White though acknowledges that for some, tonight’s match will be crucial. “For Gabriel Agbonlahor that means the dead rubber against Belarus at Wembley is his best, and pretty much last, chance to force his way into serious contention for that final 23.” Stuart James wonders whether the Aston Villa striker has the wherewithal for international football. “There is a feeling that Agbonlahor, with his searing pace, provides a welcome alternative. Others, however, harbour doubts about whether he has the technical ability and awareness needed to be a success at international level.”

Following a similar train of thought, Oliver Kay notes that “it is feasible that a strong performance from Agbonlahor, Crouch or, indeed, Cole could mean that Owen’s prospects for South Africa have effectively been killed off by the time he heads home from Wembley.”

Of far greater interest though is the analysis ahead of the Battle of Montevideo.

Setting the scene is the Independent’s Neil Clack. “To put tonight’s match in Uruguay [against Argentina] into context, this is the equivalent of England playing away to Scotland in the last World Cup qualifier, with the home side needing to win, and the visitors requiring at least a draw – oh, and with Gazza as England’s manager… The nightmare equation for Argentina is if they lose in Uruguay, and Ecuador win in Chile.”

Martin Samuel (for the second day running) unleashes a tongue-lashing towards Diego Maradona. “Maradona selects players on a whim, often over promotes, and when a hapless individual falls short he is then ruthlessly cast aside… This is what happens when an egomaniac takes over the team. Argentina, always volatile, have lost any pretence to equilibrium under Maradona.

Changing tracks, Matthew Syed delivers the uncomfortable message that racism is rife in British football. “With Barnes gone there are now only two black men among the 72 managers in the Football League (and none in the Premier League), and only one black chief executive (Jason Rockett, of Sheffield United). Given that blacks constitute about 25 per cent of the players, this is as close to a proof of a culture of racism as it is possible to get. Sure, it is not the kind of proof required by a court of law — which would need something like a hidden tape with a chairman saying, ‘I am never going to hire a n****r’ — but it is proof all the same.”

Who, apart from Svennis, could defect to North Korea. Or is he boarding a plane to Italy? The Swede is proving a hard man to pin down.

According to The Sun, “Sven Goran Eriksson could make a sensational return to the World Cup finals – as North Korea manager.” Sandy Macaskill trumpets the same story in the Telegraph, scribbling “The Notts County director of football and his executive chairman Peter Trembling are due to fly to the Far East this week to conclude negotiations that would see Eriksson manage North Korea’s first World Cup appearance in 44 years.” Yet Peter Landley claims “Eriksson has rejected an invitation to lead North Korea.”

The Mirror detail other travel plans for Sven, announcing “Eriksson wants Roberto Mancini to be installed as the new Notts County manager before the end of the month. County’s director of football is expected to fly to Italy later this week to re-open negotiations with Mancini.”

With January 1st still far too far away, the Mirror fart “Milan are ready to swap Klaas-Jan Huntelaar for Tottenham’s Roman Pavlyuchenko as part of a January overhaul of their under-performing squad.” In other transfer gossip, the Mirror chime “Sunderland and Blackburn are leading the chase for £2million Norway striker Marcus Pedersen.”

The tabloids have been ratcheting up speculation that Barcelona are set to swoop in for Robinho for several days now, but, in a see-through effort to get new mileage out of the story, Neil Custis tries to convince readers that “Robinho will ask for a January move away from Manchester City if he fails to get a regular place back in Mark Hughes’ first team… Robinho returns from injury in a week but faces a huge battle to regain his position.”

Delivering a more reasoned assessment of the Robinho situation is James Ducker. “Reports in Spain yesterday that City have agreed to sell Robinho to Barcelona for £33 million on a 4½-year deal are thought to be wide of the mark, but while Hughes is in no rush to offload the Brazil forward, he would countenance the player’s sale in January if it paved the way for him to move for Carlos Puyol or Eric Abidal, the Barcelona defenders… Franck Ribery, the Bayern Munich and France winger, is Hughes’s dream target.” At the same time, The Sun splash with news that “Real Madrid will fight Manchester City for £65m-rated Franck Ribery.”

In other transfer news, the Daily Mail bark “Arsenal are chasing Bayer Leverkusen striker Stefan Kiessling, according to the player’s agent,” while Sol Campbell is painted as a mercenary by The Sun writing “West Brom boss Roberto Di Matteo has failed in his initial bid to sign Sol Campbell. The Championship high-fliers offered Campbell wages of £40,000 a week – the same as he was on at Notts County – but the former England star is holding out for a better offer.”