Comment & analysis round-up
Quote of the Day: “It’s the manager and his management team who are responsible for paying out the playerâ€™s salary. It is their judgment about how to use the money they paid to Ljungberg in a wiser way. We all have our personal opinion about Freddie and his efforts for this club.” – West Ham’s co-owner Asgeir Fridgeirsson.
Runner-up: [On Liverpool’s ‘Miracle in Istanbul’] “In some ways made things more difficult because the expectations became so high. Then we won the European Super Cup and FA Cup the following season and so suddenly everyone was saying, ‘OK, the next step will be the Premier League title.’ But then, when you don’t win it, people say, ‘Oh, you can’t go to that next step,’ when, maybe, we were operating at the next level up, but because the other teams around us were progressing as well, it didn’t seem that way. In some respects, we were maybe our own worst enemies, but, of course, I’d prefer to have that problem, to be talking as a Champions League winner. People are talking now about us not having won the league for 18 years, but it was 21 years since this club had last won the European Cup.” – Rafa Benitez.
Today’s overview: The lead transfer story of the day sees the table turned on Real Madrid, as David Hytner and Sachin Nakrani combine to report that “Chelsea have started to make a bad week even worse for Real Madrid by going public with an offer for the Brazil winger Robinho, which is believed to be valued at Â£19.75m.”
Liverpool’s title credentials are combed over by James Ducker, while Rafa Benitez talks to David Maddock about the season ahead – “We have been spending big, but selling big, and the net is less than the other big clubs.”
Now that the dust has settled on the Ronaldo-Real Madrid saga the analysis has begun, with most finding it hard to welcome back Cristiano with open arms. Henry Winter argues that “If Ronaldoâ€™s brain worked as quickly and productively as those clever feet he would tie himself to United for as long as Ferguson was there.” Mark Ogden points out that “Ronaldo could invoke Article 17 at the end of the 2009-10 season and buy out the remaining two years of his Â£120,000-per-week contract at a cost of Â£12.48 million.” Neil Custis adopts the name-calling tactic, saying “Like the fans, the Press who cover this club are brought up watching legends. And, Ronaldo, you will never be one of them.”
On the flip-side, Sid Lowe says that “Ramon Calderon’s credibility lies in tatters.”
Other features on the Premier League include Paul Parker’s words of advise to Paul Ince (“Paul has to be careful, not least because he is so stubborn and single-minded”), and Paul Doyle’s review of Fulham (“It’s never easy to pre-judge a team who’ve been revamped so quickly”) and his review of Hull (“some sort of beautiful madness must sweep through the Premier League next season in order for Hull to remain there”).
With the Football League poised for the new season, Michael Savage focuses on QPR, pointing out that not all the changes at Loftus Road are pleasing the natives. Sarah Winterburn makes her predictions for the new Championship season (“the only Championship prediction you can be absolutely certain will come true is that there will be many, many managers losing their jobs”). While John Ashdown previews the forthcoming season in League One, which has been billed as the battle between Leeds and Leicester.
The Guardian’s tag-team of David Hytner and Sachin Nakrani combine to report that “Chelsea have started to make a bad week even worse for Real Madrid by going public with an offer for the Brazil winger Robinho, which is believed to be valued at Â£19.75m. Real are down due to their failure to sign Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United and their president RamÃ³n CalderÃ³n, who has already valued Robinho at â‚¬60m (Â£48m), now faces a dilemma. Although he has signed the creative midfielder Rafael van der Vaart from Hamburg, his credibility would be damaged if he lost Robinho, a fans’ favourite, for what could be viewed as a cut-price figure.”
The Times’ James Ducker looks at the critical areas of the pitch which will determine whether Liverpool can mount a serious title challenge. “Fernando Torres and Gerrard will again be crucial, but while BenÃtez expects the arrival of Robbie Keane from Tottenham Hotspur and, he hopes, Gareth Barry, whose prospective transfer from Aston Villa remains in limbo, to help to ease the burden, the manager believes that Liverpool’s title ambitions will rest just as heavily on players such as Daniel Agger – much missed through injury last season – Martin Skrtel, Lucas Leiva and Ryan Babel stepping up a level.”
The Mirror’s David Maddock has an EXCLUSIVE interview with Rafa Benitez. Money quote: “The squad we had at the start did not have a very high value, and this squad is the equal in value of the other top teams. We have been spending big, but selling big, and the net is less than the other big clubs. They were spending to add to very strong squads already, where we have created a totally new squad. There are only three or four players now from when we arrived, but they are very, very good players, and we have a very, very good squad. Maybe our European success hasn’t helped us, because it made people believe we were ready to challenge for the league when we were not.”
Now that the Ronaldo-Real Madrid story has been temporarily halted, Henry Winter (Telegraph) takes stock of the whole saga. “If Ronaldoâ€™s brain worked as quickly and productively as those clever feet he would tie himself to United for as long as Ferguson was there, harvest medals for two, maximum three more seasons and then jet off to Madrid. Ronaldo would then be 26, primed for five glorious years in Castille. Sadly, he seems likely to quit the United party early, probably next summer… So a cloud will follow United this season, darkening and lengthening as the campaign progresses. Ronaldo will score goals, destroy defences and collect a medal or two but the accompanying noises off will be an unwelcome distraction.”
Fellow Telegraph scribe Mark Ogden picks up the baton on the Ronaldo story, predicting that in a year’s time the Portuguese winger will be off to Spain. “United have by no means delivered a knockout blow, however, and although Ronaldo will again wear the No 7 shirt when he returns from ankle surgery in the autumn, retaining the 23-year-oldâ€™s services beyond the end of this season is likely to prove an altogether more difficult task, with the unheralded ‘Webster rulingâ€™ threatening to back United into a corner… Ronaldo could invoke Article 17 at the end of the 2009-10 season and buy out the remaining two years of his Â£120,000-per-week contract at a cost of Â£12.48 million, which would not seem quite so prohibitive should a signing-on fee of a similar amount be agreed with Madrid.”
The Independent’s Ian Herbert finds it difficult to welcome back Ronaldo with open arms. “Cristiano Ronaldo’s summer romance with Real Madrid will be best remembered for the way he batted his eyelids only at the Spanish press corps during the European Championships; for his eagerness to sanction suggestions that keeping him at Old Trafford was tantamount to slavery as he limped out of an Algarve clinic in plaster. But for those with longer memories â€“ the Manchester United fans whose gallows humour about the loss of the world’s finest player has been characterised by the Ronometer in the redcafe chatroom â€“ the night of 21 May will take some getting over. That was when he buried his face in the mud of the Luzhniki stadium, walked around the pitch with a European Cup winners’ medal around his neck and, when asked if he was staying, promptly told the world: ‘I never promise nothing.'”
Yet no-one is more scathing of Ronaldo than The Sun’s Neil Custis, who lays in to CR7 without mercy. “Letâ€™s get something straight right from the off, Cristiano. It was never your decision in the first place. Alex Ferguson decided last year â€” when he handed you a new contract to send your wages soaring â€” that you were most definitely staying at Manchester United… So who on earth do you think you are? To imagine that after two good seasons in five years at Old Trafford you can stand there believing you have your and the clubâ€™s destiny in your hands… I wonder if we will see the real Ronaldo again in a red shirt. Let us not forget all this is likely to start again in a yearâ€™s time. For, while saying you are staying, you also made it very clear you wanted to go to Real Madrid and still do… Like the fans, the Press who cover this club are brought up watching legends. And, Ronaldo, you will never be one of them.”
Fellow tabloid journalist, the Mirror’s Martin Lipton, believes Ronaldo will have to work hard to win over the boo-boys next season. “But like Frank Lampard and Emmanuel Adebayor, the Portuguese superstar now faces the toughest task of all – getting back onside with the supporters his summer conduct has alienated. Ronaldo’s dramatic U-turn over his future came after he had angered and disgusted many of the Old Trafford fans – not least with a sneering dismissal of their feelings in the aftermath of Portugal’s Euro 2008 exit. No wonder, then, that Sir Alex Ferguson’s nitial response to the confirmation of the player’s volte-face was a plea to the supporters to understand his position. It is plea that may fall on deaf ears.”
Reporting on the Ronaldo saga from the Spanish perspective, Sid Lowe (Telegraph) says that “Ramon Calderon’s credibility lies in tatters.” “Ronaldo’s decision to stay at Manchester United is a massive blow that even the implicit opportunity to sign him in the future cannot soften. Not so much for coach Bernd Schuster nor for the players, but for Calderon himself, who will now desperately scramble for a big name. After all, the one thing that matters more to him than anything else is at stake: his own survival… Madrid may have won two successive league titles but Calderon has not won the fans.”
Eurosport’s Paul Parker has some words of advise to Paul Ince of how to succeed in the Premier League. “Paul has to be careful, not least because he is so stubborn and single-minded. That was what made him such an unbelievable player, but as a manager he may have to adapt. But such is his nature, he’ll only change when he’s good and ready – and not before. I only hope he does not go the way of other managers who employed their rugged approach to management to great success in the lower divisions, only to find it tough when dealing with international players and bigger egos in the leagues above… But Paul is a big man, so I expect him to do just that.”
The Guardian’s Premier League preview continues in earnest, Paul Doyle looking at Fulham (“It’s never easy to pre-judge a team who’ve been revamped so quickly”) before turning his attention to Hull (“some sort of beautiful madness must sweep through the Premier League next season in order for Hull to remain there”).
Sarah Winterburn (Football365) makes her predictions for the new Championship season. “I do think that this season will see a reaction to last – that there will be no Hull or Bristol City in the mix come May, that the traditionally bigger clubs will re-group and be ready to do what nobody seemed willing to do last season – just dominate, week in and week out over a massive 46-game season. The quality might be low but concentration must be paramount… Let’s face it, the only Championship prediction you can be absolutely certain will come true is that there will be many, many managers losing their jobs. Worryingly, that’s the only thing guaranteed to happen in this division.”
Cash-wealthy QPR may be many people’s favourites to get promoted our of the Championship this season, but as the Independent’s Michael Savage points out, not all the changes at Loftus Road are pleasing the natives. “For a start there are the season ticket prices. Paul Payne, 41, agonised over whether to renew his family’s season ticket when he learned the cost had shot up from Â£860 to Â£1,600… And while summer has seen a total refurbishment of the corporate end of the ground, little has been done to improve seating for regular fans. ‘I think they painted the stairs,’ jokes Stephen Dedridge, chairman of supporters’ group QPR 1st. ‘The ticket prices were a big shock to us, especially as it’s the same old stadium.’ Flavio Briatore’s move to redesign the club badge has also proved controversial with the core support… Then there is the strange story of Jude, the club’s black cat mascot who was a favourite with fans. The new owner was not so keen â€“ black cats are bad luck in Briatore’s native Italy. After a brief colour change to grey, Jude disappeared.”
John Ashdown (Guardian) previews the forthcoming season in League One, which has been billed as the battle between Leeds and Leicester. “Leicester, in particular, are going to find things tough. Ask any Forest, Manchester City, Sheffield Wednesday or, for that matter, Leeds fan how easy it is to bounce straight back. The mood is down, but expectancy is up. It’ll only take one MK Dons goal at the Walkers Stadium on Saturday to bring reality crashing home… If anything [Leeds] should be stronger this year – their strength in depth would be the envy of several Championship clubs, while Jermaine Beckford has come of age as a goalscorer. He’ll be aided and abetted by mystery man Luciano Becchio up front, a former Barcelona and Boca Juniors striker who was a prolific scorer in Spain’s third division last season. Anything less than the title would be a failure.”
Turning to the Olympics, Rob Hughes (IHT) has a huge amount of sympathy for Lionel Messi. “What a mess little Leo Messi is in. He’s 21, he does not have the bombastic ego of countless lesser stars, but, having been told it was his right and his duty to play at the Olympics, he set his heart on trying to help Argentina keep the title it won in Athens four years ago. Messi, and to an extent the two Bundesliga-based Brazilians, owe as much to the lands which bred them as to the clubs that, in Messi’s case, went to extraordinary lengths to mature him through an adolescence that required millions of dollars to pay the medical bills of a child born with a growth hormone deficiency.”