Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Arsenal 1, Barcelona 2. A lesson in Theology for the mighty Catalans.


Zlatan Ibrahimovic ended his ten-game goal-drought against English clubs at the Emirates Stadium last night.
But sub Theo Walcott led a dramatic fightback to put Arsenal right back in the tie after an hour of Barcelona magic.
Ibrahimovic, the Swede with a Bosnian mum and a Croatian dad, needed just 23 seconds after the break to give the Catalans the lead they deserved.
And 13 minutes later he added a second to all but end the need for a return leg at the Nou Camp next week.
But Walcott emerged with a goal to keep hope alive - and tormented Barca with his pace. With time running out, Arsenal produced yet another late goal - a Cesc Fabregas penalty - to equalise with five minutes left.
Walcott said: "It's been very frustrating for me not to start. I just wanted the chance to show what I could do. We've had a lot of disappointments this season, but the fans help us lift ourselves. If you look back on the game, they had a lot of the ball, I think 2-2 was a good result in the end."
Too right Theo. Arsene Wenger will be praying for a miracle of epic Red Sea-parting proportions over there.
He lost William Gallas 40 minutes into his long-awaited return to action, Andrei Arshavin was also injured and Fabregas misses out on his longed-for return to Barcelona after one of three first half yellow cards suffered at the hands of the over-fussy referee.
Arsenal's Premier League hopes will be hit too - Fabregas injured himself hitting the penalty too hard and limped through the last five minutes with no replacements left - he was only cleared to play minutes before the kick-off last night.
With both Barcelona centre-backs ruled out for the Nou Camp too, Wenger said afterwards: "My only regret is that we gave two soft goals away. I had to leave Cesc on, he wanted to stay on."
Quite how Arsenal survived a torrid first half without conceding nobody knows, except perhaps the magnificent Manuel Almunia. With a fussy referee blowing every touch, Arsenal simply never got into their stride. That they escaped with a draw is testament to their new-found ability to dig in.
Instead of seeing the Gunners pushing the ball around in neat triangles against hapless Hulls and Sunderlands, it was the home side who were left chasing shadows by the Spanish and European champions.
In the first 20 minutes, with Messi and Ibrahimovic running riot, the much-derided Manuel Almunia made five superb saves. After 17 minutes, Arsenal were finally allowed their first attack.
Never have I seen Arsenal outplayed like that at home, not in 35 sometimes very mediocre years. By the time Samir Nasri had Arsenal's first shot in the 22nd minute, the Catalans had enjoyed 12 attempts, six on target.
Almunia, blamed for Kevin Phillips' late equaliser for Birmingham on Saturday, received support from watching former Arsenal No1 Jens Lehmann. He said: "Almunia made saves like I haven't seen any goalkeeper make this season."
But having scrambled to half-time with the problems mounting, Ibrahimovic needed less than half a minute to put Barca ahead after the interval, beating the off-side trap to find the far corner of Almunia's net.
It was inevitable. By then, Arshavin had been booked and limped off injured for Emmanuel Eboue. Alex Song, Arsenal's best midfielder, was also booked - and then moved to centre-back when Gallas was carried off with a recurrence of his calf problem.
And on came Denilson, the inneffectual Brazilian, to replace Song, the rock in midfield.
The writing was on the wall. It just needed Ibrahimovich to read it.
And he did. Brilliantly.
The first was a break and finish from a narrow angle. The second, in the 58th minute, saw him narrowly escaping the off-side trap again to lash the ball into the roof of the net and emphatically end this tie as a contest long before the return to Spain.
Between those two hammer blows, Nicklas Bendtner, way out of his depth in this company, managed a solid header which briefly troubled Valdez. But for Arsenal that was as good as it got until the arrival of sub Walcott, Arsenal's only English player on the night, down the right.
I sent an ironic message to a fellow Gooner James Goldman on Facebook deriding the greyhound's hopeless arrival. But after a brief, searing run, he popped up again... and squeezed one in. Hope at last.
Even with Henry, Arsenal's top scorer, warming up for Barca, the atmosphere changed. The Emirates was abuzz. A Fabregas free-kick flew high. An equaliser was in the air. Walcott's pace was seriously upsetting the Spanish cool. The magnicently disappointing Messi was absent.
It had to come. Arsenal, habitual scorers of last-gasp goals of late, surged forward. Walcott troubling them. In it comes... and Fabregas goes down under the challenge of Careless Carles Puyol. Penalty from Mr Fussy! Fab steps up and makes it 2-2 with five minutes to play.
He ended up limping to the finish with no subs left... but nearly got on the end of yet another Walcott cross. What a night - what a draw.
Barcelona will return to Spain full of confidence - but at least they'll know they've been in a battle. And for a long time, even that looked unlikely.


Rooney: It's only a sprained ankle. Out for two-four weeks. He'll be okay. Phew. And Diego's had his face bitten.


THE good news is this: Wayne Rooney flies back to England this afternoon with a sprained ankle. No broken bones, not even his oft-fractured metatarsals cracked when he went over on his left ankle during Manchester United's 2-1 defeat at Bayern Munich last night.
Sky nabbed England coach Fabio Capello outside the airport this morning. He didn't break stride but said in Italio-English: "I'm not happy when I see the injury. When I see a player of England limping. But it's too soon. I will see this evening or tomorrow morning."
But according to sources at United, it is only a sprain and Rooney will be out for "two to four weeks". Not good news for Sir Alex Ferguson, given they've got Chelsea at Old Trafford on Sunday and the return against Bayern next Wednesday.
But for England, that might just be a blessing in disguise. Rooney, pictured wearing a protective cast around the wounded joint, will get an enforced break from the game. He should be fit for Rustenburg on June 12, for the first Group C clash with the United States.
And let's be honest, United fans, that's all that matters.
With the World Cup now 71 days away according to the FIFA.com counter, this was the best news England fans could have hoped for after the way Rooney limped off last night.
He looked seriously crocked (see picture above) and how those three-times broken metatarsals held up when the ankle went, God alone knows. Bless him.
Meanwhile England have crept up to seventh in the FIFA rankings - and Diego Maradona has had his face chewed by his dog.
Not a bad 24 hours really. As long as Arsenal take Barcelona apart at the Emirates Stadium tonight. And Thierry Henry keeps his hands to himself.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Bayern Munich 2 Manchester United 1, but limping Rooney is what matters


THE worst possible scenario. Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney has suffered a World Cup threatening injury. No, not a metatarsal. It looks like his right ankle.

He went over on it after an innocuous episode right at the end of the Premier League’s champions embarrassing 2-1 defeat at Bayern Munich tonight. Innocuous? Bayern were actually scoring the winner went he went off in agony.

Ironic really. Sir Alex Ferguson pulled him out of Sunday’s 4-0 win at Bolton Wanderers over a “bruised foot”. That came after an “inflamed knee tendon” kept him out of the starting line-up for the Carling Cup final.

Jamie Redknapp, analysing for Sky Sports, made the point: “It’s been a nightmare for Manchester United”. I’m not sure that’s true. Sure, they were outplayed. But Rooney scored after 70 seconds, crashing home his 34th goal of the season.

But after that, Bayern dominated. Franck Ribery took England candidate Gary Neville, 35, apart down the right of United’s creaking system.

They levelled, then went ahead as the second half looked increasingly Germanic. Sir Alex Ferguson said: “We kept giving the ball away to be honest. We caused our own defeat to be honest.

“That was our downfall. The last goal? How can you describe it?

“Wayne Rooney? I’m not sure. He’s being treated at the moment. We’ll see what happens.

“At Old Trafford it will be a different game obviously. We won’t be giving the ball away like we did tonight. We’ve got the away goal, that will matter.”

In case you're interested, the first-ever all-French Champions League quarter-final between Lyon and Bordeaux ended 3-1. Next to Rooney's as-yet-unconfirmed injury, who gives a damn?


Sven on £22,000-a-day in the Ivory Coast. Average salary: £3 a day. But Drogba says it's a dream


SVEN GORAN ERIKSSON’S appointment to lead the Ivory Coast into the World Cup this summer is “a dream come true” according to Chelsea striker Didier Drogba. But it's a costly dream.

Though former England and Mexico boss Eriksson, 62, could earn £22,000 a day plus unlimited expenses for his three months in charge, Drogba believes: “Sven has come at the right time. There is no doubt he will succeed. I have every belief in his ability. He knows the game. “

Yet it was Drogba, banned for two matches today over his antics when Chelsea were knocked out of the Champions League a fortnight ago, who called for ex-boss Guus Hiddink to be appointed when Vahid Halihodzic left after Ivorians qualified for the finals in South Africa.

There is widespread outrage over Eriksson’s typically vast remuneration. In a nation where the average salary amounts to a mere £3 a day, the Swede – last in charge at lowly Notts County in England's League Two – has been given a flat in London, a team credit card, unlimited expenses and a salary of £270,000 plus a win bonus of £1.7m.

But to earn that bonus, Eriksson will have to negotiate a route past Brazil and Portugal, the teams that knocked his England side out in 2002 and 2006 at the quarter-final stage. North Korea also feature in a tough Group G. They will be based on the banks of the Vaal River, with qualifying matches in Port Elizabeth, Johannesburg and Nelspruit.

Drogba added: "For weeks we have been pondering going to the World Cup without a coach. Now I don't have to wake up every morning and think about the future of my team without a coach. We are going to South Africa to win big.

“This is not something I am saying alone. We can improve on our last World Cup in Germany. It has to be better this time around and I hope Sven provides us with that spirit and direction."

Ultimate success may not be a pipe-dream. The Ivorians are rated 22 in the world by FIFA. Drogba, Chelsea’s top scorer this season with 24 goals, will be backed by brothers Kolo Toure (Manchester City) and Yaya Toure (Barcelona), Arsenal’s Emmanuel Eboue and Chelsea team-mate Salomon Kalou in South Africa, where Sven will stay in luxury accommodation costing over £22,000.

Eriksson is no stranger to big pay packets. He racked up pay totalling £16million after stints with Man City, Mexico and Notts County since his stint with England.

The details of his bonus? On top of his basic £270,000 for three months, he will earn £180,000 bonus for qualification from Group G. He will get another £270,000 for reaching the quarter-finals and £360,000 for the semis. He will get £450,000 for reaching the final at Soccer City on July 11 and another £450,000 if they actually achieve global conquest.

And all this for a man who admits he does not speak a word of French, the official language of the Cote d'Ivoire.


See also: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eqck5JuZtuc

Brave Zola vows to carry on - but was there anybody else ready to lead the Hammers in this state?


THE Gianfranco Zola saga is not quite as it appears. Few managerial departures ever are. When he left Upton Park on Saturday night after a sixth successive defeat at the hands of Stoke, the little Italian believed he would never be back.

As a panic-stricken West Ham made approaches to (amongst others, apparently) Glenn Hoddle, Steve McClaren, Graeme Sounness, Slaven Bilic and Mark Hughes, Zola flew home to Sardinia admitting: “If the problem is me, why not leave? I will have to think about it a lot overnight. The players are trying very hard and the bottom line is to see whether I can help them or not.”

Then, after a couple of days at home in Sardinia, he emerged yesterday to insist: “I am determined to carry on. Losing on Saturday was emotional for everyone but I know we can turn it around and we have the ability to achieve our objectives My only thought for now is to keep this club in the Premier League and that remains my goal."

Zola, of course, is barely a year into a three-year contract worth almost £6m. After seeing millions squandered on semi-fit players like Dean Ashton, Keiron Dyer, Freddie Ljungberg and, more recently, Mido and Benni McCarthy, the club can hardly afford another huge pay-out.

Looks to me like Zola was going to walk away with David Gold mouthing platitudes likie “we are 100 percent behind him”. They were happy to see Zola, a man of means, resign and leave the field clear for a grittier replacement like McClaren or Hughes.

And in the Daily Mail, we had the award-winning columnist Martin Samuel telling us new owner David Sullivan is angry with himself for not following his instincts and sacking Zola when he first took over with David Gold in January.

As always in these situations there are those you believe and those you don’t in the tabloids. Samuel, habitual winner of the various Sports Writer of the Year awards, is one who knows. He says: “In every utterance it is plain Sullivan thinks not only that he has the wrong man for the job but that he knew as much from the start.

“He resents sticking by Zola primarily to keep the fans happy. He is an angry man because he did not do what he wanted to do. And now it may be too late.”

Too late to sack Zola? It didn’t look that way on Saturday night, when the Hammers showed the improvement Sullivan had demanded but still slithered to a defeat which left them ahead of Hull and the relegation zone on goal difference alone.

But Samuel is right. It was too late. Nobody wants the poisoned chalice of overseeing the Hammers while the sink into the Championship, overtaken by a side as poor as Hull, revived by Iain Dowie.

On Sunday, after Hull have endured their own relegation shoot-out at Stoke, the Hammers must attempt to improve on that record of just three wins in 18 games against in-form Everton.

Zola is expected back at their Chadwell Heath training ground today, after giving everybody three days off following that sixth successive defeat, the Hammers’ worst-ever run in the Premier League.

And we’ve got Zola saying: “I have had time to think and reflect and we will have to work harder than we have before. I know we can get the results we need and it is just a question of making it happen."

Time to think and reflect? I think not. He fled to Sardinia expecting the sack. But when Hoddle said he wanted more money and McClaren said he was not leaving FC Twente until they had clinched the Dutch Ere Divisie title at the end of the season, Zola was forced to return and lead his poorly assembled bunch of misfits into the Valley of Doom.

Zola’s final words before he returns to training today: "The performance was better on Saturday but it is still not the level we should be at. We can, and will, do better as a team. We have a responsibility to turn things around and that is what we will do. I am here and ready to do what I need to do to get the results.

"We said before Stoke that one game would not define the season but we also know that each of the games we have left are cup finals."

Is that a knock-out cup or a poisoned chalice, Gianfranco?

See also: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eqck5JuZtuc

Monday, 29 March 2010

So Rio and Wayne can play for United. Fan-bloody-tastic. It's England we care about. And here's their final schedule.

SO Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand both checked in at Manchester Airport this morning for United's Champions League quarter-final clash against Bayern Munich tomorrow night. Fan-bloody-tastic.

To be frank, I don't really care about their fitness for the Red Devils. Sure, I hope they beat the Germans. But I'd be a lot happier to see England beat their national team in just over two months' time.

Top of the Premier League and granted a far easier route through the Champions League than English rivals Arsenal - who face Barcelona in the last eight - United have plenty of depth. At the back they've got Vidic, Evans, the currently crocked Brown and O'Shea while up front they can turn to Berbatov, Macheda, Diouf and injured pair Wellbeck or Owen.

They regularly survive without Rio, the England captain, and Rooney, the England spearhead. Just last Saturday, they crushed Bolton 4-0 without either of their star turns.

But what about England, with the World Cup looming? Ferdinand, installed as England captain after the denouement of John Terry, told us just last week in the News of the World about his bad back. He said it had been career threatening, that he was "walking like an old man".

But then he said, after words with Sir Alex Ferguson and revolutionary treatment, he was fine again. But he still missed the Bolton game - with a "minor groin problem".

And Rooney? First he injured "inflamed" knee tendons and we were told he was in "increasing discomfort". So he came on late in the Carling Cup final... but was back for the Champions League clashes with AC Milan before missing the Bolton game - this time with "bruising of the foot".

So here we have England's two key players struggling for fitness. They're not up to playing against Bolton, but they both turn out against Bayern.

And Sir Alex, that tough Glaswegian from the Clyde, will not have England's best interests at heart as he attempts to secure dominance in the Premier League and in Europe.

With a maximum of 11 games to go we can safely assume Sir Alex will coax England's key duo through to the end of the season - but will they fall at the finish line? Will they get to the Champions League final on May 22... and be up for those awful friendlies against Mexico and Japan before the flight to South Africa on June 2?

Somehow, I think these two will be even more jaded, more likely to buckle, than the rest of them. Let's look how the end of the season will pan out for the England players:

Sunday, May 9: Premier League final fixtures.
Tuesday, May 11: Fabio Capello names provisional 30-man World Cup squad.
Saturday May 15: FA Cup final.
Monday, May 17: Squad travels to Austria training camp.
Saturday, May 22: Champions League Final at the Bernebeu.
Monday, May 24: Friendly v Mexico at Wembley.
Sunday, May 30: Friendly v Japan in Graz. Squad flies home.
Tuesday, June 1: Fabio names final 23 for World Cup.
Wednesday, June 2: England depart Heathrow for South Africa.
Thursday, June 3: Arrive at Royal Marang Hotel, Phokeng.
Saturday, June 12: Opening Group C game v USA, Rustenburg.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

A small slideshow


mysun.co.uk/nealcol

Lewis can't go much farther without his dad as Jenson hits all the right buttons in Melbourne


LEWIS HAMILTON'S week Down Under ended with a disappointing sixth place, a confiscated car and a live verbal barrage which proves what I keep telling my boys. Dad knows best.
Hamilton, with his father and axed manager Anthony left at home, could do nothing as new McLaren team-mate and world champion Jenson Button surged to an impressive victory at the Australia Grand Prix in the early hours of this morning.
Button, who showed plenty of personality with James Corden for Sports Relief last week, came away from Melbourne with his reputation significantly enhanced.
Just six laps in, he demanded a change of tyres and nursed his slicks through the 50 laps to the finish, leaving the field in his wake to repeat his Aussie triumph of last year.
Hamilton came in for tyres a lap later than Button, who had surprised McLaren with his decision. And then Lewis was called in by McClaren for a second stop on lap 35 when he was competing for second place with Robert Kubica 23 laps from the finish.
That second stop forced him down the field into a battle for fifth with local hero Mark Webber in his Red Bull. The pair came to grief with two laps left - I'd blame Webber, who lives down the road from me in Denham, Buckinghamshire. Desperate to impress his home fans, Webber crashed into the back of 2008 world champion Hamilton as they both attempted to pass Fernando Alonso in fourth. Like the rest of the top four, Alonso had made just one stop.
In the laps before that, Hamilton could be clearly heard complaining about the "frigging decision" to bring him in for a second tyre stop.
Afterwards Hamilton's chat to the BBC cameras was excruciating. He talked about how well he had driven. He insisted: "I probably had one of the drives of my life. But unfortunately due to the strategy I was put further back and then I got taken out by Mark Webber. I am happy with the job that I did.
"Everyone else in front of me did one stop and for some reason I did two.
"I'd already stopped once and my tyres were fine. I went for the second stop and worked my backside off to catch the 20-second gap. I didn't question it because I always trust the team.
"I had the pace to overtake Kubica and we could have had our first one-two, which would have been great for the team. But unfortunately that wasn't the case."
Hamilton added ominously: "We will find out who made the decision later."
Martin Whitmarsh, who took over from Hamilton's mentor Ron Dennis two years ago at the head of McLaren, then waxed lyrical about Button - with a veiled dig at Hamilton, who has been with the team since he was a pre-teen go-karter.
Whitworth said: "We could have had a one-two and inevitably there's a tinge of disappointment when you don't get it.
"I've already spoken to Lewis, he's someone who wants to win. The time at which we took the decision I personally believed it was the right call, but in hindsight you can now see how the race played out - the Ferraris didn't stop.
"If he'd stayed out and his tyres had been intact he could have been second. At the time, he was losing time behind Kubica and you could see graining on his rear left tyre.
"Those drivers who had pitted were going over a second a lap quicker so we believed it was the right call. To all intents and purposes I made the call as I could stop it or over-rule."
Classic stuff at the end of a fascinating race in Melbourne. After the procession in Bahrain to open the season two weeks ago, this was just what Formula One needed. No refuelling, but a fascinating 56 laps of cat and mouse.
Amongst the other highlights: Button crashing at the start and ending up facing the wrong way - but recovering to win. Michael Schumacher, forced into the pits to repair a nose cone after that crash, struggling to get past the tailenders in his Ross Brawn Mercedes. He eventually grabbed 10th for a single point.
But Hamilton's demise will dominate the headlines. Before the season began, he made the decision to drop his talkative father Anthony as his manager.
In truth, for 17 years, Anthony has been Hamilton's protector, bodyguard, accountant, spokesman and agent.
But this weekend he stayed home in Stevenage while Lewis made life difficult for himself.
On Friday night he was arrested for "hooning" - that's what Australians call wheel spinning - and he had his personal car confiscated by the local cops. He has also been slammed for stopping off in Los Angeles on the way to Australia to see his Pussycat Dolls girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger.
Then came a disappointing 11th in qualifying, and the misery of yesterday's race. It's true, he did produce some serious pace late in the race on his new tyres.
There's no question he's quicker than Button.But when he realised he couldn't make up the ground after his second stop he complained: "My tyres have gone off" and then produced his "frigging decision" outburst before the final, bitter judgement against the team that made him, the team that has been his family for so many years.
Just like Tiger Woods after the death of his father Earl, Lewis needs Anthony at his side. To keep him out of trouble, to keep his feet on the ground.
Otherwise the great Battle of Britain between Jenson and Lewis will be Buttoned up far too soon.
The other Battle of Britain - for the Premier League crown - veered Chelsea's way when they crushed Aston Villa, unbeaten for 10 games, 7-1. Frank Lampard scored four - two from the spot - and the in-form Florent Malouda added two more to the brace he produced against Portsmouth during the week.
Arsenal fell away in the title race, denied victory at Birmingham by a Kevin Phillips injury-time winner, while Manchester United went back to the top in the late kick-off on Satuday with a flattering 4-0 win over Bolton.
Chelsea won 7-1 with Didier Drogba on the bench, United won 4-0 with Wayne Rooney rested over a brujavascript:void(0)ised foot and sore knee.
The Blues meet the Red Devils at Old Trafford next Sunday. Lewis meets Jenson most Sunday from now until the end of summer.
I'm going with United and Button.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Hammer Blow after Hammer Blow: It's fool's Gold at Upton Park


JUST what you need isn't it? Poor old Gianfranco Zola, one of football's genuine nice guys, on a run of five defeats, fighting relegation, with sticky Stoke at home tomorrow.

Then the owners David Sullivan and David Gold say they want to sit in on your team meetings. And that's after Sullivan has posted an open letter on the website saying he was "angry and upset" at "the disorganised way we played" in the 3-1 defeat against Wolves on Tuesday.

Some other choice lines from the letter, which also went to the season-ticket holders? "I had no sleep last night having watch that shambolic performance" and "I apologise to every supporter and fully expect a dramatic improvement."

Great. Bet Zola never thought of encouraging a "dramatic improvement" himself. Am I the only one who has noticed the correlation between West Ham's slump and the arrival of Gold and Sullivan, the supposed saviours of the Hammers after the collapse of their Icelandic backersw?

England centre-back Matthew Upson, who should never have left Arsenal, has discounted Sullivan's comments on the club's website as "pretty irrelevant". He added: "I wouldn't say from a player's point of view it helps. We only concentrate on the coaches and the manager. They're the people we want to listen to."

And Zola has, according to the Daily Mail, refused to allow Sullivan into the team meeting as he prepares his side for the Stoke clash. He will be under enough pressure as it is. Two of his new signings, Egyptian Mido and South African Benni McCarthy, haven't helped.

McCarthy, 32, who has been out with a knee injury sustained soon after his £2.5m move from Blackburn, looked far from fit against Wolves but saw fit to tell every nearby journalist how he was going to lead the fight against the drop.

Mido meanwhile has told everyone who will listen how he is willing to play for a mere £1,000 a week - but was spotted by the great Charlie Sale eating fish and chips at the Golden Hind in Marylebone this week.

If it wasn't so tragic, it would be laughable. West Ham were cruising until Gold and Sullivan arrived and told the world how the car park attendants were earning £70,000 a year and the club was over-spending in all areas.

They've called for a 25 percent reduction in wages all round, leaving Zola struggling to motivate his troops, with or without Sullivan and Gold helping out in the dressing room.

Clearly the two former Birmingham owners, who made their money selling women's knickers and publishing dodgy magazines, have their own agenda.

Mark Hughes is being lined up to replace Zola (that's if the former Wales, Blackburn and Manchester City boss doesn't heed the call from Celtic) and nobody expects the little Italian, still adored by Chelsea fans, to survive the summer.

Of course, what should have happened, as any true West Ham fan will tell you, is that Gold and Sullivan should have arrived quietly, let the club see out the season in mid-table safety - and then made their changes and public proclamations.

Instead, from where I sit, their intervention has sent morale and performances plummeting. And if Burnley or Hull get their acts together, the Hammers could be in for a few serious blows as the bubble bursts over the final seven games of the season.

See also: www.nealcollins.co.uk or www.youtube.com/watch?v=ICqvSAzA0AY

Thursday, 25 March 2010

The book, the prediction, the bollocks (with annoying captions and bad musak)!

Portsmouth: The Road To Ruin (and I don't mean the roadwork infested A3 from London)

For whom the chimes toll: Witnessing the demise of proud Pompey


THE noise from the Pompey fans was incessant. The antique shop owner with the drum, the bloke with the bell, the endless chants. Didn't stop for 90 minutes. But it still ended Portsmouth 0, Chelsea 5.

When your club is bottom of the Premier League, you've been docked nine points and the ball bobbles over your goalkeeper's foot, even faithful support counts for nothing.

My son Kriss and I made the journey down the A3 more in hope than in expectation - though the boy did put a fiver on Portsmouth at 33-1 to beat the title-chasing Blues 2-1.

Instead it was a midly depressing high five for Chelsea. Their former boss Avram Grant, who took the club to within a John Terry penalty of success in Europe a couple of years ago, could not rouse his financially-troubled club to the same level as the billionaires from Stamford Bridge.

Afterwards Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti talked about "a good performance" and suggested his side's slump was over.

But of course, last night was no indication of footballing superiority or form. Manchester United remain favourites for the Premier League title, Arsenal and Chelsea are likely to scrap it out for second and third, though it will be tight.

No, last night was about money. About the reckless spending which went on at dear old Fratton Park under a succession of fly-by-night owners and a chief executive who couldn't say no.

Some might suggest it all started to go wrong when David James, England's 39-year-old World Cup hopeful, swung a foot and missed the ball as it bobbled outside his area, allowing Drogba to stroll through and score the first.

Goals two, three, four and five followed in the second half as Drogba doubled his tally, the in-form Florent Malouda added a brace of his own and Frank Lampard headed past a quagmired James.

The fans blamed the referee, Malouda's flying elbow, perhaps even the unfortunate lump of turf just outside the box.

But in truth, their season - apart from the FA Cup semi-final against Spurs (they beat Fulham 3-1 in their quarter-final replay last night) - is over. And performances like last night won't help their cup hopes.

In truth, the Portsmouth fans turned out to just about fill their quaint 20,000-capacity stadium to mark the end of an era. Glittering Premier League stars and exotic international footballers won't be travelling down the A3 for much longer. They may not be down on the south coast for some time judging by the current positions of Portsmouth and arch-rivals Southampton.

And the great injustice is this: a proud heritage dating back to the 1890s has been ruined not by a lack of footballing nouse but by a chronic breakdown in financial accounting.

Ironically, on the day Labour produced the final budget of their topsy-turvy reign, Portsmouth were on hand to show just how a financially mismanaged organisation can collapse into chaos.

And make no mistake, chaos awaits. The fire-sale allowed by the Premier League yesterday will see their best players leave outside the transfer window.

At the end of the season, the foreign journeymen will leave in their droves, Grant won't be taken for Granted and the club will be left bereft.

And Pompey, proud Pompey with their chimes, will struggle to put together a squad capable of surviving in the Championship, let alone surge straight back into the Premier League.

Something has to be wrong somewhere.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Time for a bit of Pomp and ceremony... lets back Portsmouth to beat Chelsea tonight. My boy and I will be there!


TONIGHT, while the rest of you Philistines are cosily nestled on your sofas or murdering people on your X-boxes, my son Kriss and I will be in Portsmouth, home of the worm-eaten HMS Victory and the saddest football club in Britain.

Destroyed by a succession of owners and profligate spending, Portsmouth FC are doomed to relegation following their nine-point deduction for going into administration.

The luckless Israeli coach Avram Grant must lead his hopeless side out against the biggest-spending club in Britain, Chelsea, backed by his old mate Roman Abramovich.

Yes, the billionaire Russian who dropped him despite the fact unloved Grant took Chelsea to within a John Terry penalty of winning the Champions League against Manchester United in Moscow. And he only fell two points short of the Premier League title.

Grant stood strong after Jose Mourinho's sacking and Big Phil Scolari's embarrassing departure. He left to be replaced by more fashionable men like Guus Hiddink and Carlo Ancelotti, who have not managed to get close to his heights.

Grant arrived at Portsmouth full of hope, replacing the popular Paul Hart... only to find the rug pulled from under his feet by banks and massage parlours.

Despite all this, Grant's men produced a stunning come-from-behind 3-2 win against Burnley on Saturday to keep hope alive, to keep the Pompey chimes clanging.

Without the nine-point deduction and despite a fine FA Cup run, they would only be five points off safety were it not for the cruel points deduction.

And tonight he must do it again, when he comes up against his former stars Didier Drobga, John Terry, Frank Lampard et al.

Kriss, 22, and I won't be the only ones shuffling up Frogmore Road to the dilapidated Fratton Park, capacity a measly 20,224, hoping for a miracle.

My father Bob, 77 this week, will be praying for them too. He watched them win the First Division title in 1949 and 1950 when they got crowds of over 50,000. He watches them every week on Supersport in South Africa hoping for a miracle, sending pleading texts hoping they will survive the current crisis.

As Arsenal fans, Kriss and I hope for a miracle too, as do the billions of Manchester United fans from Surrey to Salford.

And of course, for West Ham fans - still reeling after last night's emphatic defeat at the hands of fellow relegation candidates Wolves - there will be support for the hopelessly marooned club. Hope that they will carry on until the death, taking points off the others down the bottom.

It's so wrong what's happened at Portsmouth. FIFA's Sepp Blatter and UEFA's Michael Platini, not the most popular men in world football, have both warned against the massive borrowing behind England's Premier League clubs.

Manchester United and Chelsea themselves rely on a series of nifty accountants to keep afloat despite the spending. West Ham are suffering because Davids Gold and Sullivan have curtailed spending since they assumed ownership.

But for Portsmouth it's too late. The club can barely function. They've sacked half their staff... kit men, tea makers, bottle washers.

Too much money has been spent in hope rather than in expectation. Chief exec Peter Storrie (and a certain coach called Harry Redknapp) splashed the cash under a series of fly-by-night owners, leaving the historic dockyard club on the verge of sinking forever.

Victory - or even a point - for Portsmouth tonight won't just be a miracle. It would be a triumph for the ordinary football fan. The ones who care more about their clubs than the £40,000-a-week arrival of yet another foreign journeyman.

We travel in hope. A crusade from Buckinghamshire to Hampshire made without any real expectation of success.

But that's football. Real football. Forget the Glazers, Hicks & Gillett, Abramovich and the rest. If this nation has a footballing soul, everybody should back Portsmouth against Chelsea tonight in the battle of the Blues. For a billion reasons.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Wayne rue knee. That's the only story that matters 80 days before the World Cup.


The horrible headline nobody wanted to read: Wayne rue knee. Inflamed tendons before the World Cup kicks off on June 11. Eighty days, 34 goals, 32 nations, two knees, one 24-year-old. That’s the only story anybody really cares about today isn’t it? Sure, some ex-politician called Ian Watmore has walked out on the FA after less than a year and they’re having an emergency meeting of old farts, lots of hot air.
Newcastle fans may be shocked at the news that Stephen Taylor broke his jaw in a bust up with Andy Carroll as the push for Premier promotion became too much for the Geordies. Aston Villa supporters will be concerned to hear the club us up for sale at around £40m.
Arsenal are appealing about Tomas Vermaelen’s red card in Saturday’s 2-0 win over West Ham, which left Hammers fans very concerned. Chelsea Blues are being told Carlo Ancelotti has just 21 days to save his job. Liverpudlians are just generally worried. Penniless Pompey have given up worrying 24 hours before they play Chelsea at Fratton Park.
Oh, and Manchester United’s surprise package Ji Sung Park apparently drank boiled frog juice as a child in Korea, which is enough to worry anybody.
Out in Bangladesh, England coach Andy Flower will be very, very worried about his side’s ability to catch a cricket ball. I counted five drops this morning.
But in England, there is only once concern. It’s the Roo knee.
The first time it impinged upon our national consciousness came when he played 83 minutes for England against Egypt at Wembley and then missed the start of the Carling Cup final a month ago. Sir Alex Ferguson rested him and fumed about the surface at the national stadium – but brought him on to score the winner and said it should be gone in a month.
Since then, Rooney has continued to score goals – but he limps away with that inflamed knee tendon swollen after each effort. According to sources inside the club he is suffering “increasing discomfort”.
The lad’s only 24 but already he’s being excused training, like some 38-year-old veteran. He won’t go in to the Carrington training ground before Saturday’s game against Bolton apparently. United have seven games left in the Premier, none in the FA Cup and possibly five in the Champions League.
Then it’s the big one. The World Cup. All that matters to anybody who remembers 1966 in black and white. And those who don't. A friendly against Mexico, the final 23 named on June 1, out to Rustenburg and the Royal Marang Hotel. Then the USA at the Bafokeng Sports Palace on June 12.
Rooney must be ready. Forget the rest of the debate over Gary Neville going, David Beckham playing as an amputee, David James in goal with a zimmer frame. It’s all about our spearhead, the Geoff Hurst of the new generation.
It’s enough to make you plead with Sir Alex to give his favourite Englishman a rest. But there’s no point in that. Hope and pray. Because without Rooney we’ve got no chance. Darren Bent might be scoring for fun, but that’s at Sunderland. Jermain Defoe has a hamstring problem, Peter Crouch has his head in the clouds, Emile Heskey has never been quite up to it.
Rooney, rue knee. Chant it, quietly, as we head into the final 80 days before the World Cup. We need all the help we can get.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Terry's stark attack on German ref heaps further pressure on the man who must hold England together at the World Cup


THERE are those who say John Terry is cracking up under the strain. That the man ear-marked to lead England into the 2010 World Cup in South Africa is falling apart as the on and off field pressures rise inexorably at the climax of a long, tough season with Chelsea.
This morning we are told his scathing assessment of German referee Wolfgang Stark as Chelsea plunged out of the Champions League on Tuesday against his old foe Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan will land him in hot water. Scalding in fact. It may even boil over into a full-scale UEFA ban.
After Inter's niggly but necessary 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge completed a 3-1 aggregate defeat, Terry said: "It was a bad performance from us but a really bad performance from the referee.I'm not going to use the word conspiracy. But I'm so frustrated by what happened. The penalty on Didier Drogba was blatant and how the ref and his linesman missed it frustrates me.'
Terry defended his half-time and full-time rants at ref Stark, saying: 'When a decision didn't go our way Iwent to speak to the ref as captain - and he just turned his back on me.
'We spend two years talking about the Respect campaign and he refuses to talk to me. I pulled and pushed other players away and he turned his back.
'I wasn't shouting. I went to try to talk to him and when he wouldn't talk that is when I got frustrated. That is just pure disrespect.
'It is not good enough at this stage of the competition. We didn't get one decision. For two years running we've been let down by bad refereeing. We need to talk to UEFA.'
Last season, Didier Drogba and Jose Bosingwa received length European bans when they hit out at Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovrebo as Chelsea crashed out against Barcelona at Stamford Bridge.
And of course, UEFA are unlikely to forget the death threats levelled at Sweden's Anders Frisk by angry Chelsea fans after their exit in 2005 - Frisk never really recovered from the Jose Mourinho-led attack and retired from the game.
Today, with Arsenal on top of the Premier League following their 2-0 win over West Ham yesterday, Terry and Chelsea must bounce back against Blackburn while Manchester United face a cracker against Liverpool.
Terry, whose father was in hot water of his own according to the newspapers on Friday, has already lost the England captaincy over his affair with Wayne Bridge's partner Vanessa Perroncel this season. The whole nation talked about the non-handshake with Bridge (pictured above) when Chelsea lost 4-2 to Manchester City. Every female columnist in Fleet Street attacked his wife Toni for taking him back.
Terry is under constant scrutiny - and accidentally injured a Chelsea steward as he raced away from Stamford Bridge is his Range Rover last Tuesday in another incident splashed all over the front pages.
But he won't back off. He won't ease the pressure on himself, showing off his captain's armband, insisting he is in control and having his say. He adds: '
'It must be looked at. We are disappointed but I can't look any further than the referee's performance. If I get myself in trouble, then so be it.'
Today against Blackburn we shall see if Terry can still perform under these conditions. As Chelsea push for the final two trophies available to them - the Premier League and FA Cup - the real John Terry will be on show.
Under the kind of pressures which would destroy most of us in everyday jobs, he has to deal with the £140,000-a-week scrutiny of bosses like Carlo Ancelotti and Roman Abramovich. It can't be easy. Watch the big man today. Decide for yourself whether he can play a pivotal role in South Africa this summer without cracking.
Personally, I think it might all get too much for the man. But Fabio Capello will be the judge of that.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Tonight my son Charlie, 13 tomorrow, with his views on Arsenal... and you can see a video of his Bucks Cup basketball final win this week


Arsenal had an excellent performance today with a 2-0 win over West Ham. There was an awful decision by referee Martin Atkinson when the challenge by the Arsenal centre half, Tomas Vermaelen on Hammers’ striker Guillermo Franco.
This happened when West Ham smacked a hit-and-hope punt down the pitch, the ball was still in the air and the two players where hustling for the ball and Franco just inside the box got out muscled off it and went down. Referee Atkinson immediately awarded a harsh penalty. Then Vermaelen got irrationally sent off.
After the sending off of Thomas Vermaelen, at half time, Arsene Wenger demanded to talk too the ref. The ref then insisted on talking too Arsene Wenger in private.
But Arsenal, on a run of five successive wins since those defeats against Manchester United and Chelsea, didn’t falter. After Denilson’s early goal, Manuel Almunia saved Diamante’s penalty and Cesc Fabregas made the game safe from the spot after Matthew Upson handled.
Arsenal have gained themselves first place with a one point lead over Manchester United – who face Liverpool tomorrow – and Chelsea – who play Blackburn - with seven games left in the season.
There were a couple off great performances today, one was Emmanuel Eboue was played instead of Bacary Sagna. Eboue, who has 12 brothers and sisters back home in the Ivory Coast, had a great game by attacking down the right wing and always giving an option for Samir Nasri. He may not be the best player in the world but in the last couple of games, the 26-year-old has been extraordinary.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Messi or Arshavin: It's the battle of the diddymen as Barcelona and Arsenal are drawn to meet in the Champions League quarter-final


Andrei Arshavin or Lionel Messi? It’s the battle of the diddymen after Arsenal were drawn to play favourites and holders Barcelona in the Champions League quarter-finals today.
And of course, it’s Messi every time for the aficionados. The 5ft 7in Argentine, who required growth hormone treatment when he first arrived in Spain as a tiny teenager, is simply unstoppable. His second-half hat-trick in the 3-0 win over Valencia on Sunday was something to savour.
Russian Arshavin stands just half-an-inch taller, has no history of growth hormone, and can occasionally produce the magic. But like most of the other match-ups between the Gunners and the Catlanan giants, it’s Barca who have the edge.
And of course, the whole thing will be played to the backdrop of Thierry Henry returning to North London, where he established himself as a world class star and record goal-scorer. We must assume that Henry will play with is feet, rather than his hands, as he did so controversially for France in that disgusting World Cup play-off incident against the Republic of Ireland. Interesting to see what kind of reception Henry receives at the Emirates on March 31 – if he plays, and that’s no longer a certainty.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, whose side face West Ham in the late Premier League match tomorrow, admits: “If you go to the bookmakers and try to place a few pounds, you will see that we are not favourites against Barcelona. But we must focus on us, not on the opposition.
"Of course they are a good side, but so are we. For me, we have a 50-50 game - if we turn up with our best performance we have a good chance to beat them.
"It will be an interesting, exciting game. We have to make sure we have the belief and focus right."
No Gooner needs remind of the last time the sides met – in the final at Paris four years ago, when Barca triumphed 2-1.
Similar memories will dominate Manchester United’s clash against Bayern Munich. They met in the 1999 final when the late great George Best (and many others) left the Nou Camp with a minute to go and his old side 1-0 down. History tells us Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar-Solskjaer scored in the dying moments to secure a 2-1 victory and a first European Cup for 33 years. And this time they have Wayne Rooney in the form of his life.
Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge accepts: “United are a team ranked right at the top, they are the favourites, but that is where the attraction lies, to try to beat a favourite."
And of course we already know what happens if United win – the draw this morning included the semi-final route, where they will meet former Red Devil Laurent Blanc’s Bordeaux or fellow Frenchmen Lyon, who put Real Madrid out last week.
Barca – and who could argue against it being them? – will go on to face CSKA Moscow or – more likely - Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan, who conquered Chelsea this week.
In the Europa League, Fulham have been drawn against German champions Wolfsburg in the quarter-finals, and who would bet against them after that fabulous 5-4 victory over Italian giants Juventus last night?
Liverpool face Portuguese side Benfica, who beat Merseyside neighbours Everton 5-0 in the group stages. Valencia and Atletico Madrid meet in an all-Spanish quarter-final Hamburg face Standard Liege.

1st leg:
Tuesday 30 March:
Lyon v Bordeaux
Bayern Munich v Manchester United
Wednesday 31 March:
Arsenal v Barcelona
Inter Milan v CSKA Moscow
2nd leg:
Tuesday 6 April:
Barcelona v Arsenal
CSKA Moscow v Inter Milan
Wednesday 7 April:
Bordeaux v Lyon
Manchester United v Bayern Munich
SEMI-FINAL DRAW:
1st leg:
Tuesday 20 April: Inter Milan/CSKA Moscow v Arsenal/Barcelona
Wednesday 21 April: Bayern Munich/Manchester United v Lyon/Bordeaux
2nd leg:
Tuesday 27 April: Lyon/Bordeaux v Bayern Munich/Manchester United
Wednesday 28 April: Arsenal/Barcelona v Inter Milan/CSKA Moscow

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Fulham 5, Juventus 4. Woy Hodgson, you are a miracle man!


What scenes at Craven Cottage tonight. Fulham were 70-1 when Juventus scored first to go 4-1 up on aggregate. The Old Lady from Turin looked unstoppable. The second-best side in Europe with six trophies, how could Woy Hodgson possibly deal with this one?

But back they came with Bobby Zamora - take him to the World Cup! - and Zoltan Gera (two goals, pictured above) evening things up, creating the real possibility of a sensational Europa Cup win. And it got better. Clinton Dempsey plays for the USA against England at the World Cup on June 12 in Rustenburg. His chipped winner into the top corner was quite exquisite, and his tattoos aren't bad either!

Hodgson, who was wise enough to drop me as a 13-year-old when he was coaching in South Africa, said: "You've got to remember I worked for Inter for two years. There was a lot of rivalry. I tried hard to love them but beating Juve for me is one of those special occasions.

"Their goalkeeper actually made four outstanding saves. It was a great night of football. The crowd were incredible, they will remember this night for a long time. We certainly will. But we've got important games to come.

"They'll be celebrating in the dressing room but I'll be nailing their feet to the floor again tomorrow."

Amazing. Liverpool capped off a fine night for English football - and eased the pressure on manager Rafa Benitez - by crushing Lille 3-0 at Anfield to go through to the Europa Cup quarter-final draw tomorrow 3-1 on aggregate.

After goals from the usual suspects, captain Steve Gerrard, who scored from the penalty spot before Fernando Torres struck twice, said: "We got off to a perfect start and the fans were superb for us tonight.
"But the aim was to get three goals because we knew they were dangerous and capable of scoring a goal.
"Rafa Benitez is the manager and he is allowed to criticise the team like. We have responded in our last two games and the challenge now is to take this form into our game with Manchester United on Sunday."

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Terrible times for Terry: Never tell England's driving force to "break a leg"

IT'S not been a great year for John Terry, the Chelsea captain who saw his side crash out of the Champions League against his old boss Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan last night.

Not only did he have a distinctly average game last night, leaving the pitch with a verbal volley at referee Wolfgang Stark, he also erm... ran over a Stamford Bridge security guard on the way home. I've just seen the video, lots of screaming and "oh my God's."

According to his spokesman Phil Hall on Sky Sports News: "John was surrounded by photographers and a bit of a media scrum. Some of the stewards were trying to keep people away and John drove off."

According to Hall, Terry had no idea he'd hit anyone until he got home in his Range Rover with wife Toni (she's had a bad year too, but we'll get to that later). Hall insisted: "John only found out when a pal of his called and told him. I can assure you, John Terry had absolutely no idea he had hit anyone."

So this morning, as those videos emerged of a screaming 35-year-old Chelsea employee left in the Terrys' wake, Surrey police questioned big John and breathalysed him. He was found to be under the legal limit.

You'd have thought things were bad enough for the former England captain. The 29-year-old, whose mother was charged for shop-lifting with his mother-in-law (both called Sue) and whose father was filmed peddling drugs by the News of the World last year, was in trouble earlier this year when he tried to hush-up an affair with Vanessa Perroncel.

She was the mother of his old team-mate Wayne Bridge's son. She and Toni, mother of father-of-the-year John's twins, used to be quite close. They were near-neighbours in plush Oxshott in Surrey.

Sadly for John, a judge overturned his attempted "super injunction", Bridge was furious, Terry was forced to miss a game to placate his wife in Dubai and England boss Fabio Capello stripped him of the captaincy.

The latest incident hardly helps calm the big fella as Chelsea push for the Premier League and FA Cup double - their Champions League bid was ruined by last night's 1-0 defeat against Inter - and the World Cup campaign in June.

England's driving force may have to be a little bit more careful in future. Question is: can he keep on performing at the top level under all this pressure?

John Terry's latest problem

John Terry breathalysed after collision involving Chelsea security man last night. And he was in a bad mood anyway.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Beckham must go... and so say all of us

THE football-speaking world will forever remember March 15 as Becksout Day. And this morning, the Achilles tendon expert Dr Sakari Orava, explains from the now-famous Mehilainen clinic in the Finnish town of Turku: "David Beckham will be able to walk with the help of crutches this afternoon. The operation was done, it went well but it will take many months for him to recover."

According to the counter on FIFA.com, the World Cup is now 86 days and a few hours away. Just not enough time for Becks, who has walked on water occasionally over the last 25 years, to recover in time for that record-breaking fourth World Cup tournament.

Instead, he must languish on three with the great Peter Shilton and the late Bobby Moore. And, barring miracles, he will also remain stuck on 115 England caps, ten short of Shilts.

Ironic that a Finnish bloke should announce Beckham's career is finished. There were screaming fans and paparazzi to go with the pre-op preparations in Helsinki yesterday, but then everything Beckham has done is accompanied by such scenes.

By now we've all seen the last on-field scenes from the San Siro on Sunday night. Milan are 1-0 up against Chieva, Becks goes to kick the ball, his left leg won't move. He hesitates, looking confused. Then tries again. Collapses. Shouts: "It's broken, it's broken."

Awful moments. But, and this is my point, far better it should end like that, four days after a standing ovation at Old Trafford, than he should struggle on at 34 trying to impress England boss Fabio Capello.

The Generalissimo is not a sentimental chap. He would have been hard-pressed to include Beckham in his 30-man squad on May 11. And with Theo Walcott, Shaun Wright-Phillips, James Milner, Aaron Lennon and Joe Cole all clamouring for the wide-right berth, it would have been impossible to keep him in when the squad is reduced to 23 on June 1.

Everyone knew that after the friendly against Egypt a fortnight ago. Walcott went off for SWP and the game turned around while Becks sat gloomily on the bench. International career over. The very best he could have expected from his record-breaking fourth World Cup would have been the occasional shot of him sitting on the bench in that huge Kalabash of a stadium at Soccer City on July 11 while his young team-mates celebrate ending 44 years of stiff-upper lipped hurt.

But everyone was in denial yesterday, ignoring the evidence of the 3-1 friendly win over African champions Egypt. Sky News, Sky Sports News, the newspapers... even Adrian and Darren Gough at talkSPORT when I spoke to them. All insisted Becks would have been a glorious impact sub for England. An impact sub? At 34? Beckham doesn’t waltz past players like SWP. He doesn’t have the raw pace of Walcott, the engine of Milner. He’s a crosser, a deadball expert, a leader, a talisman.

For Beckham, it was always a starting place or not at all. And, secretly, Capello must be breathing a sigh of relief that he won’t have to make that awful decision on May 11 or June 1. Had he dropped Becks, the world would have savaged the Italian for his heartless axe.

Now we can remember Becks for what he was. The boy who scored from the halfway line against Wimbledon in 1996, who became a man in the aftermath of the red card against Argentina in 1998, who joined Real Madrid and helped them to the title in 2004, who led a new American revolution with LA Galaxy and faded from the scene with dignity on loan at Milan.

Today a “source close to the family” tells The Sun: “This is probably the lowest point he has ever encountered in his professional career. Words cannot express how devastated David is.

"Mentally this is disastrous. He thinks he's being punished for something he must have done wrong in life, which of course is ridiculous."

As wife Victoria turns up to comfort her man, the source adds: “David has been crying and is in deep shock.

"Football is his life and he feels like it has been unfairly taken away from him. He's just so low.”

Yes, he must be low. But in time he will realise fate has dealt him a hand which he can cope with, even thrive on. And as I said to the Sky News crew here at home in Chalfont St Giles on Sunday night, the perfect conclusion is this: Capello invites Beckham to join the squad on June 1. To add his expertise, his statesmanship to the mix.

I received twitters and Facebook messages from all over the world yesterday saying: “Beckham must be at the World Cup.” In South Africa, I told 702 radio listeners: “Don’t worry, David Beckham will be there. He will still be our figurehead.”

No, he won’t be there as a player, but he should go as football’s celebrity talisman. It would ease the pressure on Capello and the players, particularly Wayne Rooney, our spearhead.

On the field, Beckham’s departure was sadly inevitable. Off the field, he can remain a vital ingredient.

And we haven’t even talked about the 2018 World Cup yet, when he will be Capello’s right hand man as they attempted to make it a global hat-trick. We can dream, can’t we?

Now let’s move on. Jose Mourinho and InterMilan are at Chelsea tonight in the Champions League. Should be a special occasion.

Why Becksout Day doesn't have to be the end of the world


THE football-speaking world will forever remember March 15 as Becksout Day. And this morning, the Achilles tendon expert Dr Sakari Orava, explains from the now-famous Mehilainen clinic in the Finnish town of Turku: "David Beckham will be able to walk with the help of crutches this afternoon. The operation was done, it went well but it will take many months for him to recover."

According to the counter on FIFA.com, the World Cup is now 86 days and a few hours away. Just not enough time for Becks, who has walked on water occasionally over the last 25 years, to recover in time for that record-breaking fourth World Cup tournament.

Instead, he must languish on three with the great Peter Shilton and the late Bobby Moore. And, barring miracles, he will also remain stuck on 115 England caps, ten short of Shilts.

Ironic that a Finnish bloke should announce Beckham's career is finished. There were screaming fans and paparazzi to go with the pre-op preparations in Helsinki yesterday, but then everything Beckham has done is accompanied by such scenes.

By now we've all seen the last on-field scenes from the San Siro on Sunday night. Milan are 1-0 up against Chieva, Becks goes to kick the ball, his left leg won't move. He hesitates, looking confused. Then tries again. Collapses. Shouts: "It's broken, it's broken."

Awful moments. But, and this is my point, far better it should end like that, four days after a standing ovation at Old Trafford, than he should struggle on at 34 trying to impress England boss Fabio Capello.

The Generalissimo is not a sentimental chap. He would have been hard-pressed to include Beckham in his 30-man squad on May 11. And with Theo Walcott, Shaun Wright-Phillips, James Milner, Aaron Lennon and Joe Cole all clamouring for the wide-right berth, it would have been impossible to keep him in when the squad is reduced to 23 on June 1.

Everyone knew that after the friendly against Egypt a fortnight ago. Walcott went off for SWP and the game turned around while Becks sat gloomily on the bench. International career over. The very best he could have expected from his record-breaking fourth World Cup would have been the occasional shot of him sitting on the bench in that huge Kalabash of a stadium at Soccer City on July 11 while his young team-mates celebrate ending 44 years of stiff-upper lipped hurt.

But everyone was in denial yesterday, ignoring the evidence of the 3-1 friendly win over African champions Egypt. Sky News, Sky Sports News, the newspapers... even Adrian and Darren Gough at talkSPORT when I spoke to them. All insisted Becks would have been a glorious impact sub for England. An impact sub? At 34? Beckham doesn’t waltz past players like SWP. He doesn’t have the raw pace of Walcott, the engine of Milner. He’s a crosser, a deadball expert, a leader, a talisman.

For Beckham, it was always a starting place or not at all. And, secretly, Capello must be breathing a sigh of relief that he won’t have to make that awful decision on May 11 or June 1. Had he dropped Becks, the world would have savaged the Italian for his heartless axe.

Now we can remember Becks for what he was. The boy who scored from the halfway line against Wimbledon in 1996, who became a man in the aftermath of the red card against Argentina in 1998, who joined Real Madrid and helped them to the title in 2004, who led a new American revolution with LA Galaxy and faded from the scene with dignity on loan at Milan.

Today a “source close to the family” tells The Sun: “This is probably the lowest point he has ever encountered in his professional career. Words cannot express how devastated David is.

"Mentally this is disastrous. He thinks he's being punished for something he must have done wrong in life, which of course is ridiculous."

As wife Victoria turns up to comfort her man, the source adds: “David has been crying and is in deep shock.

"Football is his life and he feels like it has been unfairly taken away from him. He's just so low.”

Yes, he must be low. But in time he will realise fate has dealt him a hand which he can cope with, even thrive on. And as I said to the Sky News crew here at home in Chalfont St Giles on Sunday night, the perfect conclusion is this: Capello invites Beckham to join the squad on June 1. To add his expertise, his statesmanship to the mix.

I received twitters and Facebook messages from all over the world yesterday saying: “Beckham must be at the World Cup.” In South Africa, I told 702 radio listeners: “Don’t worry, David Beckham will be there. He will still be our figurehead.”

No, he won’t be there as a player, but he should go as football’s celebrity talisman. It would ease the pressure on Capello and the players, particularly Wayne Rooney, our spearhead.

On the field, Beckham’s departure was sadly inevitable. Off the field, he can remain a vital ingredient.

And we haven’t even talked about the 2018 World Cup yet, when he will be Capello’s right hand man as they attempted to make it a global hat-trick. We can dream, can’t we?

Now let’s move on. Jose Mourinho and InterMilan are at Chelsea tonight in the Champions League. Should be a special occasion.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Test

Test

Why David Beckham must go to the World Cup, even if he's crocked


DAVID BECKHAM must go to the World Cup. Sure, he won't go as a player after rupturing his achilles tendon late in Milan's 1-0 win over Chievo last night.
But if Fabio Capello is the man I think he is, the England coach will ask Beckham to travel with the England squad - hopefully he'll make his request by mobile phone just before Becks is whisked off for his operation in Finland today.
Beckham, pictured arriving at the hospital this afternoon, says he "hopes to make a full recovery" but surely his international career is over. But only as a player. What about his knowledge, his experience? Invaluable to this England side seeking to end 44 years of hurt, spearheaded by Wayne Rooney, who scored two more goals in a fabulous season for Manchester United against Fulham yesterday.Beckham is our talisman, our statesman.
According to the doctors (and we've had plenty of them on various television stations today) rehabilitation will take "five to eight months"... but the action kicks off in South Africa in 86 days. It was heart-rending to watch what might be his last moments as a professional footballer. Nobody was near him at the San Siro when he pulled up and collapsed to his knees, apparently yelling "it's broken, it's broken".
It's a sad end to a great career. A record-breaking career. It ended in tears and on crutches, grown men crying and kissing his cheeks as he left the San Siro last night.
He goes with 115 caps, just 10 short of Peter Shilton's mark, the most capped outfield player in history. Nobody else has scored in three successive World Cups. Nobody else has quite dominated the game like he has since that first high profile moment, the 1996 goal from the halfway line against Wimbledon.The thing is of course, his time had come. This injury presents Capello with a way out of a serious conundrum. I said last week Gary Neville and Sol Campbell, both 35, were more necessary than Beckham, 34, in the current set-up.
But to leave Beckham - aiming to become the first Englishman to play in four Worldd Cups - out of his provisional 30-man squad named on May 11 would have put Capello under huge pressure.
And the chances of Beckham making the final 23 on June 1 were minimal. When Sky News sent a camera crew around last night (a little before midnight) they were a bit surprised when I said I didn't expect Beckham's absence to have any impact at all on Capello's World Cup plans.
In the 3-1 win against Egypt in their last pre-squad-announcement friendly a fortnight ago, Capello started with the pace of Theo Walcott and moved to the trickery of Shaun Wright-Phillips down the right. Becks stayed firmly on the bench.
Then there's Aaron Lennon, struggling to recover from groin problems, and the impressive James Milner, not to mention Joe Cole. Beckham was way down the pecking order. Better he finishes now, with the cheers of Old Trafford last week ringing in his ears, than as a sad, unused sub when England go to South Africa.
That is not to suggest Beckham wasn't a great player. One of England's top five of all time. But on the pitch, his time had come. As an ambassador, he still has plenty left to offer. Let's hope Fabio remembers that.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

This is a test of FTP migration

Vettel leads the way into the first Grand Prix, Chelsea on top of the Hammers and England uninspired at Murrayfield

WASN'T going to blog today. I'm in the beautiful Latimer Place Hotel. It's only about five miles from my home, but you forget how beautiful your surroundings are sometimes. It's an historic manor house, used to be owned by Lord Chesham.
In the middle of Latimer village there's a Boer War memorial to the locals killed at places like Paardeburg and Diamond Hill - one Lord Chesham died near Pretoria aged 21. The local church has tributes to him plastered all over the graveyard and the walls. Not much mention of the ordinary folk. Just his Lordship and a few of his nurses.
The place was run by the army during the war. They pretended it was a supply depot, but the beautiful old house was actually an interrogation centre... apparently they used to torture German and Italian officers here, 20 miles from London. This is where they found out about the V2 missile which threatened to turn things Hitler's way in 1944. No sign of any ghosts last night, but it's strange to think what used to happen within these ancient walls.
Now it's a beautiful hotel with rolling grasslands down to the River Chess, filled to the brim with trout. Beautiful. We're pictured above in front of "Neptune Falls", a weir with steps built-in to help the trout climb against the flow.
So why am I blogging? Because Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel sneaked in ahead of the two Ferraris to take the first pole position of the Grand Prix season in Bahrain, leaving the all-British McLaren's of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button in his wake? Michael Schumacher starts from seventh, by the way.
Because Didier Drogba scored two more to help Chelsea see off West Ham 4-1?
Nope. Sorry. It's because of England's peformance against Scotland at Murrayfield. Earlier we saw Ireland surge past Wales at Croke Park to keep the Six Nations championship alive with a superb display of running rugby.
But to deny France, who play lowly Italy tomorrow, Martin Johnson's England had to keep winning. And upset the French in their final encounter.
It ain't going to happen. England are dreadful. Their 15-15 draw against an uninspired Scotland was typical of life in the Johnson era. No imagination, no flair, no energy. Just a big bloody boot. Though the disgraceful Scots booed Johnny Wilkinson in mid-penalty and cheered when he went off injured in the second half after scoring all of England's 12 points, nothing can disguise the inept nature of Johnson's leadership.
A World Cup-winning captain he may have been, but he never coached at club level and was fast-tracked into the England job when Brian Ashton was deemed insufficient despite getting England to a World Cup final in 2007.
Poor old Toby Flood ended up having to kick once Wilko had been nobbled. He missed a 58th minute penalty which would have put England 15-12 up. In the end he had to wait for another awfully scrappy surge which fell apart once the backs had messed it up. A far closer penalty saw Flood make give England the three point advantage.
With 12 minutes to go Dan Parks, born in Hornsby (that's in Australia, not Scotland), hit a post with a penalty then got a second chance, closer in, to level the scores and take his tally to 15 out of 15.
Then, with four minutes to play, Flood again. From 48 metres. He fell a yard short. Agony. A late drop goal attempt... and again Flood failed. But a game like this, full of aimless kicking and poor handling, didn't deserve a winner.
There's no question England were the better side. They certainly tried to play a bit when Wilko went off. But as the whistle went for an appalling 15-15 draw without a try in sight, the pens were being sharpened. MARTIN JOHNSON MUST GO will be written in bloody bold tomorrow.