The Transfer Lies: Arsenal track Blaise Matuidi, Man United ready to splash £35m on Villa & Man City plot a mega-bid for Ribery

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “It’s easy to point fingers and try to blame people, but the circumstances were difficult. We lost six of the first-team players from last year, and there are no resources to replace such key players. The budgets have been slashed. We still started well, but then in a space of a week we had to play Leeds and Charlton and I think the confidence drained out of the side when we lost those two matches. I still believe we were capable of meeting the challenges, and you could see the response we had against Colchester and Wycombe [a 1-1 home draw and 1-0 away win respectively last month] so it’s very disappointing. I’m not the first person to go through this, and won’t be the last. I still believe we could have turned things around.”- John Barnes.

Runner-up: “The existing infrastructure in the UK has never been tested in this way. In the period prior to the start of the game, there is going to be a huge peak of users trying to set up a connection, which is more complex and resource-hungry than, for example, an iPlayer feed. It is possible that 50% of the predicted 1 million subscribers could fail to get any service at the beginning of the match. If the technology fails, it will have a huge effect on whether customers use the internet to watch live games again.” – Nick Bond, infrastructure specialist at Zeus Technology.


Today’s overview: Across the backpages, the World Cup internationals receive the largest dose of coverage this Saturday. However there is room for several other stories including reaction to John Barnes’ dismissal from Tranmere and a pool of sensationalist transfer rumours.

Could the Ukraine-England match actually be shown on British TV after all? Kevin Eason puts the cat amongst the pigeons leaking “England fans must wait until at least 7.15pm today to discover whether highlights of the World Cup qualifier against Ukraine will be shown on television after ITV walked out of last-minute talks to buy the rights last night.”

Tongue in cheek, Rick Broadbent explains why the internet only experiment is objectionable. “How else will we learn whether Emile Heskey is still as rubbish as Stéphane Guivarc’h was in 1998 and, hence, whether England are on course to replicate France’s World Cup glory? And so what if it’s a dead rubber? We need to know whether Fabio Capello’s men are still the lions who drew with Holland and lost to Spain with such panache.”

Taking a more serious approach though is Kevin Gardside, who extrapolates the broader implications of today’s experiment. “If football’s flirtation with the internet were to mirror the experience elsewhere, then an economic tsunami is coming that might yet lay waste to wage inflation in the game. If broadcast rights across the worldwide web is the new reality then football’s money mountain is under threat.” Des Kelly is quick though the dose cold water on any bloated thoughts about the internet age. “Though everyone keeps banging on about today’s webcast being some kind of historic landmark, I wouldn’t get too excited. The internet obviously is the future but, for the time being at least, when it comes to watching sport it is little more than a last, desperate resort.”

Forward planning Kevin McCarra discusses the objectives for Fabio Capello from now until the 2010 World Cup finals. “England’s most obvious weakness of late has been a difficulty in subduing opponents for an entire match. Capello’s clean sheets in his eight qualifiers have come against Andorra (twice) and Kazakhstan. The side will have to be far more resilient next summer against opponents of a high calibre… Durability is the key since many ultimately respected sides at finals have been scorned before finding better form. England need a back four that can be counted on.”

Once again Emile Heskey’s head is placed on the chopping block as Oliver Kay discusses the forward’s status in the England setup. “Can Capello afford to go into the World Cup finals with an attack built around a player who is playing poorly or infrequently for his club team? The answer is complex, but it boils down to a yes.” Ian Hebert is next to support Heskey’s England inclusion writing “it is the positions the 31-year-old takes up off the ball which means he gives England something other strikers do not, and that means there is a discernible difference in perspective when it comes to the substitutes roles at club level of Michael Owen and Heskey.”

In a classic the grass is always greener oped, David Lacey complains that England lack a Cesc Fabregas. “After watching Cesc Fabregas dismember Blackburn at the Emirates on Sunday with the studied detachment of a pathologist, it is tempting to wonder if the English game has ever seen such a clever footballer… The odds on England ever producing their own Fabregas must be roughly equivalent to the likelihood of Spain giving us another Len Hutton.”

David Hytner assesses the work done by Giovanni Trapattoni with the Republic of Ireland. “Trapattoni has got results – Ireland are unbeaten in World Cup qualifying Group Eight – and this has been enough to endear him and override any grumbles about his methods.”

Shifting focus onto poor Portugal, Andy Hunter assesses the potential loss of Cristiano Ronaldo’s World Cup absence. “Reports in the Portuguese and Spanish press this week claimed Real Madrid officials fear losing €100m (£93m) in potential shirt sales, future tour fees and sponsorship deals should Ronaldo pursue celebrities in Los Angeles and not credibility in South Africa next summer.”

Taking a step backwards, Patrick Barclay explains why he supports FIFA’s decision to introduce a seeding system into the World Cup playoffs. “An open draw could pit Germany against France and that would not help any World Cup, let alone Africa’s first.”

In domestic news Stephen McMillan reacts to Tranmere’s dismissal of John Barnes with qualified joy. “His managerial tenure was a car crash. He took a club which missed out on last season’s play-offs by two minutes and turned them into a laughing stock, relegation certainties employing a ludicrous 4‑2‑2‑2 formation and looking utterly clueless in defence… Where can the club look next, though? Who do they take a risk on? Where is the proven lower-league manager who can get Tranmere out of this sorry mess?”

On the transfers, Stuart James gives to low-down on how West Brom are trying to snap up free-agent Sol Campbell, while the Daily Mail print “David Dunn is being offered a lucrative move to Dubai’s Al-Nasr when his Blackburn contract expires in the summer.” The Daily Mail then splash with a second interesting rumour, claiming “Non-league Woking are lining up an ambitious move for former Chelsea and Leeds United striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.”

In slightly more believable news, The Independent report “St Etienne sporting director Damien Comolli has warned Arsenal they will not get Blaise Matuidi cheaply, after admitting the midfielder is likely to eventually leave the French club.”

Elsewhere, Old Trafford is apparently preparing itself for new recruits. Mark Odgen reveals that “Manchester United have been encouraged to step up their interest in Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev following CSKA Moscow’s decision to listen to offers for the 23-year-old in January.” While Simon Cass splashes with the headline grabbing news that ” United have revived their bid to sign Valencia’s £35million-rated striker David Villa. The 27-year-old is back at the top of the club’s wish list, with Sir Alex Ferguson determined to get his man.”

Not to be outdone, Neil Custis chimes in The Sun that “Manchester City will go all out for Franck Ribery in January even if they must double the British transfer record.” And straight out of left-field, John Cross barks that “big spending Manchester City are tracking £7million Brazilian striker Diego Tardelli… Big spending Manchester City are tracking £7million Brazilian striker Diego Tardelli.”

Finally, Alan Nixon announces that “West Ham boss Gianfranco Zola faces a battle with Italians Napoli for the signature of Bayern Munich misfit striker Luca Toni.”