Friday, 31 December 2010

Spurs New Boy Bongani Khumalo Ear-Marked For FA Cup Debut Against Charlton on January 9


Bongani Khumalo has been ear-marked to make his debut for Spurs on January 9 – against Charlton Athletic in the all-London FA Cup third round clash at White Hart Lane.

With centre-back Younes Kaboul sent off against Newcastle on Tuesday night and fellow defensive buttresses Jonathan Woodgate, William Gallas and Ledley King all still injured, boss Harry Redknapp is “down to the bare bones” in central defence as the New Year dawns.

Redknapp appears to have only Michael Dawson and Sebastien Bassong to juggle with as Spurs face Fulham at home on Saturday followed by Everton at Goodison Park on Wednesday night.

Though Khumalo, 23, has had his problems with injury and form as champions Supersports United hover just above the relegation zone in South Africa this season, he may have had a chance of playing in those two upcoming Premier League matches. But the big freeze in England has delayed Khumalo’s arrival in North London.

Spurs are likely to shuffle the pack for the FA Cup clash and if Khumalo - whose first name, Bongani, means happiness - has settled and trained well, a debut against the Addicks is “quite likely”. Others believe he needs a spell on loan in the lower division to adapt to English conditions after his grounding in the mediocre South African Premier League.

Khumalo’s planned flight to Heathrow has been delayed with agent Glyn Binkin admitting: "There's been a slight delay because of all the snow – as you know, the work permit was granted a few weeks ago. We’re just waiting for the final visa to be validated - all the documents we had to send over were caught up in the post as a result of the freeze and things have taken slightly longer than we had anticipated.

"I'm certain he'll travel before the end of the week. Spurs have had a lot of injuries and suspensions so it's going to be a great opportunity when he finally gets to London. I hope he will rise to the occasion."

Spurs remain in contention for both the Premier League – their last two wins over Newcastle and Aston Villa came despite being reduced to 10 men twice – and the Champions League, where they finished top of their Group of Death, ahead of European Champions Inter Milan. They face city rival Milan in the first knock-out game on February 15.

But on the domestic knock-out front, Charlton are a potential stumbling block. The former Premier League club have slumped to League One in recent seasons. But the Addicks remain third in their third-flight division despite picking up only one point in their last three games over the Christmas period.

Khumalo, described by a Redknapp as “an African kid from a poor background” after his trial at White Hart Lane in August, has been at pains to state he is not the archetypal foreign signing. An only child whose father was a language professor, he famously responded: “I’m not one of 14 children. I’m probably quite middle class.”

Handed the captain’s armband by Gavin Hunt at Supersports, Khumalo is expected to achieve great things at Spurs after scoring against France during a World Cup when he was one of Bafana Bafana’s few true successes. But he may take time to settle in, especially with temperatures dipping close to freezing in England, conditions he has rarely had to deal with, growing up in Pretoria with Arcadia and University of Pretoria.

But he may be warmed on his landing in London by the simultaneous arrival of Bafana Bafana team-mate Steven Pienaar. Out of contract at Everton in the summer, Pienaar is being consistently linked to a cut-price £2m move to join the Redknapp revolution when the January transfer window opens.

Who the hell is Neal Collins (nealcol on Twitter)? Read today's Natal Mercury or Star in Johannesburg or see www.nealcollins.co.uk.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

January Transfer Window Special: West Ham reject Benni McCarthy Set For Celtic Escape


South Africa’s top scorer Benni McCarthy has been offered a way out of his West Ham nightmare – by Celtic boss Neil Lennon.


Yesterday’s Glasgow Evening Times splashed with the story that McCarthy, 33, is being targeted for a move in the January transfer window by the legendary Bhoys, not to be confused with South Africa’s Bloemfontein Celtic, though both sides wear the traditional green-and-white hoops.


Celtic boss Lennon is “well aware of McCarthy’s availability” after his efforts to sign Spurs midfielder Niko Kranjcar broke down.


McCarthy would jump at the chance of playing at a packed Parkhead after a season of misery, diets and cushions with the rock-bottom Hammers in the Premier League.


McCarthy, signed from Blackburn for £2.5m by Gianfranco Zola in the last January transfer window, suffered a knee injury in his opening game for West Ham in February. Then his weight ballooned and the Cape Town-born striker missed out on selection for Bafana Bafana’s World Cup squad on home soil.


He returned to a series of lurid stories about his weight in the British press and was fined two weeks' wages by new club owner David Sullivan, who said: “I have a better Body Mass Index. And I’m 60.”


McCarthy worked hard to reduce his weight and has returned to the squad under new boss Avram Grant, but rarely makes an appearance ahead of Carlton Cole and a host of under-performing strikers. When he did turn out for West Ham last month, one British journalist described him as being “rusty” and looking like “something out of Acorn Antiques”.


Lennon is weighing up whether to take McCarthy on a loan deal until the end of the season or sign him permanently.


With Gary Hooper still missing for at least another month through injury, Lennon desperately needs a proven goalscorer - and McCarthy’s goals-per-game record would suggest he would thrive in the SPL, which is traditionally dominated by Celtic and arch-rivals Rangers. He has scored a record 31 goals in 79 games for Bafana Bafana and hit 37 in 109 at Blackburn. But his 34 in 74 games for Jose Mourinho's European Champions Porto really put him on the map. Mind you, that was back in 2003-2006.


Given the club’s Roman Catholic roots, even McCarthy’s surname fits the bill! His deal at West Ham runs until 2012 but with just six substitute appearances in the Premier League this season, his departure will not be a surprise.


Lennon is losing interest in 26-year-old Croatian Kranjcar, who is out of favour at Spurs over the £6m price tag. McCarthy would be available for about a third of that.


McCarthy’s age will not be a problem. Canadian Dwayne De Rosario, 32, and former Arsenal star Freddie Ljungberg, 33, are both training with the squad pending deals.


Lennon, who himself signed a 12-month contract in the summer, said: "I think it's fair to say we are dealing in the short term but that's not to protect me.


"I'm doing what I can to get players who can win the championship for the club. It's a big year for us.


"I've brought in the likes of Beram Kayal, Joe Ledley and Efrain Juarez to look after the club's development in the next few years.


"But I also want a couple of kings in the team who can talk others through the games at times."


Celtic are currently top of the Scottish Premier, a point clear of Rangers – but their Protestant arch-rivals have two games in hand before the traditional Old Firm derby between the two sides at Ibrox on Sunday. Third placed side Hearts are five points adrift of the Glaswegian duo.


Who the hell is Neal Collins (nealcol on Twitter)? See www.nealcollins.co.uk.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Transfer Window Special: Spurs Grab Pienaar From Everton With £2m New Year Bid


Tottenham will snap up unsettled South African star Steven Pienaar for a mere £2m next week – finally giving the 28-year-old a regular crack at Champions League football.

After months of contract negotiations, Pienaar is allowing his deal to run out at the end of the season – and will be available on the cheap when the January transfer window opens.

Despite interest from Manchester United, neighbours Liverpool, European champions Inter Milan and Bayern Munich, Spurs chairman Daniel Levy believes he has the deal all wrapped up, though he could have waited until the end of the season when Pienaar would be available for free.

The Daily Mirror in London quotes a Spurs source as saying: “Levy is certain he will sign Pienaar and it's just a matter of putting the squeeze on Everton to sell him in January rather than wait until the summer.

“Harry Redknapp thinks it will be a great bit of business – he says Pienaar is an intelligent midfielder who will slot straight into his squad, can play in a number of positions and provide competition for places.”

Everton may then sign Tottenham’s out-of-favour Croatian midfielder Niko Kranjcar. Everton boss David Moyes, clearly exhausted by the constant questions over Pienaar’s future, says only: “I would love Steven Pienaar to stay, but I am already resigned to losing him at the end of the season.”

Pienaar’s arrival at White Hart Lane would coincide with that of compatriot Bongani Khumalo, the Supersports United captain who signed a pre-contract agreement two months ago. Like Lucas Radebe and Philemon Masinga at Leeds in the 1990s, the idea of having two South Africans on board is seen as a significant factor in helping both players settle.

Spurs are well aware of the problems they had with their last South African, Mbulelo “OJ” Mabizela. He scored a beauty on his debut but played only seven games in two seasons in North London before returning home with “addiction problems”. Spurs officials believe Pienaar’s experience would be beneficial to Khumalo if he battles with homesickness.

Asked if he would be at Goodison Park for the rest of the season, Pienaar himself issued a terse: “No comment” but added: “The season is not over yet, so anything can happen. In football anything can happen, it can change tomorrow, today, no-one knows.”

Former Ajax midfielder Pienaar joined Everton from Borussia Dortmund for £2million in the summer of 2007. He was born in Westbury near Johannesburg and has won 55 caps for South Africa. Though many reports have highlighted the financial aspect of any move – he was apparently offered £65,000-a-week to become one of Everton’s highest-paid players – sources close to Pienaar insist the player himself simply wants to make a move to a club with regular Champions League ambitions.

Everton last qualified for the Champions League when they finished fourth, above arch-rivals Liverpool, in 2005. Pienaar recently called for Everton to spend on fresh talent, saying: “The only problem, like everyone seems to know, is the money issue - we need more players.”

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Big Match Preview: Chelsea Under New Pressure As Arsenal Vow Vengeance.


CHELSEA’S desperate bid to get out of the red is putting further pressure on coach Carlo Ancelotti as the champions prepare to face Arsenal today hoping for their first win in five Premier League matches.

The big freeze has taken hold in England this December but Ancelotti faces a spending freeze implemented by hatchetman Ron Gourlay, the man who foolishly axed assistant manager Ray Wilkins six weeks ago.

Roman Abramovich’s billions have bankrolled the Stamford Bridge club for seven years. They won the double last year but will still announce a loss of around £44m. In 2005 they announced a record deficit of £140.5 and losses since Abramovich took over amount to more than £500m.

But under new UEFA rules cooked up by president Michel Platini, a club is only allowed to make a maximum loss of around £38m over the two years before the 2013-2014 season, or they will be banned from playing the Champions League.

Abramovich’s cost-cutter Gourlay believes his carefully negotiated eight-year kit deal with adidas - worth £30m a year – could see the club survive within those parameters – if they curb spending. Manchester City, backed by Abu Dhabi Sheik Mansour’s oil money, are in a similar position.

But Ancelotti, who has seen his side slump from runaway leaders to mere contenders since the Wilkins sacking, is under pressure to bring in reinforcements during the January transfer window, with captain John Terry insisting the squad is not as strong as it was last year when they won the double.

Gourlay can take the credit for that – he refused to renew the contracts of Joe Cole and Michael Ballack and cut win bonuses. And he let centre-back Ricardo Carvalho join his old boss Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid for a cut-price £6m.

Manchester United, Manchester City, Spurs and Arsenal are all reported to be ready to spend in the New Year. United want Atletico Madrid’s £12m David de Gea and/or Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina for £18m, City are after Wolfsburg’s £33m striker Edin Dzeko and Arsene Wenger may make a £10m move for Bolton centre-back Gary Cahill. Spurs boss Harry Redknapp is ready to bid for Everton’s Steve Pienaar, who will be available for a cut-price £3m as he is out of contract in the summer.

Rumours that Chelsea would end Carlos Tevez’s unhappiness at City or Fernando Torres’s depressing season at Liverpool now look highly unlikely. Both would cost around £40m while another Ancelotti target, David Luiz, would ruin Gourlay’s economic plan, costing £20m. A potential £15m move for Anderlecht’s Romelu Lukaka is unlikely to happen either, unless Joe Cole is sold to Mourinho’s Real.

All this will be worrying Ancelotti as he prepares for the Emirates today with Gunners boss Arsene Wenger insisting his side MUST gain revenge of the woeful 2-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge in October.

Beaten 1-0 by Manchester United last time out, a result which knocked them off the top of the Premier League, Wenger said: "Of course this is a must-win game. We are confident over taking Chelsea on at home. But it’s a big challenge. We need an intelligent game full of dynamism. That is the only way we can win these big games.

“We have mixed feelings because we came out of both games against Chelsea and Man United this season thinking we could have won and that there wasn't a difference between the teams.

"We are a very young side. It's about how well we respond to what happened to us at Chelsea and Man United that will be the decider for our season.”

Wenger added: "Chelsea have gone through a period where results are a bit less good but that can happen to anyone in this league. We have seen recently that any team, when you think they are on the brink of breaking through, can have a hiccup. Maybe it's just the quality of the league.

"You never know whether it's the best time to play Chelsea. But have a little bit less confidence than they had in October. We want to put a top-level performance in at the Emirates and show we are masters at home."

Who the hell is Neal Collins (nealcol on Twitter)? See www.nealcollins.co.uk. Happy Holidays.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Happy XMas To All From Manchester City's Roberto Mancini. Unless You're Mario Balotelli. Ho, Ho, Oh!


Ah, Christmas. A time for good cheer, peace to all men (and women, I guess), and the birth of the tiny baby Commercialism. And then along comes Scrooge, in the form of Manchester City’s Roberto Mancini.

Here’s his festive gift for City’s expensive Italian striker Mario Balotelli after a distinctly average display in Monday’s shock 2-1 defeat at the hands of Everton.

"If Mario deserves to play he will play. If he doesn't deserve to play he doesn't play. If Mario doesn't work, he doesn't play.

"It's not important Mario has a good technique and is a good player. If we want to improve we need everybody giving 200 per cent.

"Mario is a special player but you have to put strength and heart into your performances."

Poor old super Mario. He left Inter Milan under a bit of a cloud. His Ghanaian parents claim he was snatched away from them, given a new surname and now their beloved 20-year-old never contacts them. The San Siro fans gave him a right pelting. Italian fans resent their first black international. The £24m move to Eastlands was supposed to be his salvation.

Now, with Carlos Tevez apparently forgiving and forgetting his much-hyped transfer request, Balotelli finds himself armed on with a cushion as he heads for Newcastle’s St James’s Park on Boxing Day. A place on the bench is the best he can hope for.

But hold on. When Tevez was sulking and arguing with Mancini, it was Balotelli who took the strain. He’s got five goals in nine games so far. While Brazilian misfit Jo and former Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor look anything but devoted to the cause, Balotelli has taken a red card and a lot of flak trying to keep Sheikh Mansour’s overpaid mercenaries up among the contenders.

Mancini, a scarf-wearing paragon of fashion who probably suggested the snood neck-warmer to his players when winter set in, adds: "Mario must improve his situation and smile. I do not know why he does not look happy. Manchester is not like Milan but he has to accept it."

Hold on, hold on. Does Milan have a Piccadilly Christmas Fair? A Spinningsfields Ice Rink? A fireworks display on New Year’s night? Hah!

What’s Mancini saying? He first came across Balotelli at Inter. Did he bring him to a barren British northern metropolis without deep thought? Snow joke you know. Mancini insists: "I do have a good relationship with Mario but he must play well, must work hard every day, like the other players."

So Patrick Vieira’s working hard is he? And Gareth Barry, James Milner, Wayne Bridge, Shaun Wright-Phillips? They’re all happy? Craig Bellamy decamped to Cardiff because he was ecstatic? Yaya Toure drove off at half-time during the defeat against Arsenal because he was loving every moment?

The expensively assembled glut of galacticos don’t click like clockwork, let’s face it. How about Tevez? Any sign of a word with the fans after his transfer request saga, Roberto?

Mancini mumbles: "I don't know. Maybe he should apologise. It is now important Carlos plays well and scores goals. But the fans still love him."

Ho, ho, ho Mr Mancini. The second half of Manchester City’s season will be a fascinating rollercoaster ride. And somehow, I can’t see the dapper little Italian surviving until the summer.

Who the hell is Neal Collins (nealcol on Twitter)? See www.nealcollins.co.uk. And a Merry Christmas to you all. Good night.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Forget Benitez and The Transfer Window: Manchester United are about to be rescued from the Glazers by Qatar


As Rafa Benitez left Inter Milan yesterday and a thousand stars prepare to leap through the chilly January transfer window, only one dramatic football story really matters. Manchester United are about to be sold.

Hobbled by the Glazer family for six years, the most popular club in the world will finally have the cash injection necessary to keep them ahead of Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea and Sheikh Mansour’s Manchester City – thanks to the Qatari Royal Family.

Though Benitez will grab the headlines after his six-month reign at the San Siro came to an end, these words from Old Trafford non-executive director Mike Edelson really set the heart pounding: "It's no secret that, at some time, the Glazer family will sell."

That opens the door for Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and the Qatari Royal Family. Mindful of FIFA’s unbelievable decision to grant them the 2022 World Cup, they now want to buy United to give themselves some credibility. But it comes with a price tag of £1.5billion.

The Glazers, watchmakers turned sporting leeches, have saddled United with a £752m debt since buying the club for £790million in 2005. Now, unbelievably, they stand to double their money.

Rumours of a sale began last week when the gloomy Glazers, hampered by huge interest payments when they mortgaged Old Trafford to buy the club, somehow managed to pay off £252m of their debt. Under pressure from the Red Knights group and supporters who now wear the traditional green and gold of the original club Newton Heath, the Glazers appear to have got the message. City sources, quoted in today’s Sun newspaper, said: "The belief is that they have already brought in extra finance from a third party in a bid to set the club up for a sale."

Edelson’s quote, which stunned the audience in a question and answer session at the Maccabi Sports Club in Prestwich on Tuesday, appears to seal the deal. Edelson has been Glazer’s mouthpiece since their controversial take-over nearly six years ago.

Qatar Holdings, which is just a sporting front for the oil-rich royal family, are now on the verge of owning the world’s biggest club. The price tag should be no problem. They are worth £40BILLION and earlier this month became Barcelona’s first ever shirt sponsors for a cool £125m. A source in Qatar said: "Qatar Holdings have made tentative moves for United before with little success but this time it looks like they could be going for it.

"Now they have landed the 2022 World Cup, the country wants to expand its influence in the game across the globe."

Sir Alex Ferguson, having sold Cristiano Ronaldo for a record £80m to Real Madrid a season and a half ago, may now, finally, have the money to make his table-topping troops happy. Even Wayne Rooney.

And the “Green and Gold until the club’s been sold” brigade can now finally return to Red Devil’s colours – though the club will soon be firmly out of the red.

Who the hell is Neal Collins (nealcol on twitter)? Listen online to 702.com tomorrow morning and see www.nealcollins.co.uk.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Carlos Tevez Is In Love With Manchester City All Over Again, But Everton Cash in


Well who’d have guessed it? Just like Wayne Rooney before him, Carlos Tevez last night withdrew his highly-publicised transfer request just before Manchester City’s shock 2-1 defeat at Everton.

City’s feisty top scorer – who so nearly scored a dramatic equaliser only to be denied by the superb American Tim Howard at Goodison Park (right) - made his u-turn after frantic behind-the-scenes consultations following the 26-year-old Argentine’s dramatic decision to leave Eastlands just two weeks ago.

Consultations? Sorry, I meant cheques. But today’s statement produced by City’s board said: "Carlos and the club are keen to focus on the opportunities ahead and his contract remains unchanged.”

Sir Alex Ferguson and Wayne Rooney were saying similar things at Old Trafford a couple of months ago. Water under the bridge, sweep it under the carpet. Only at City, with Sheik Mansour’s Abu Dhabi billions to fall back on, this one was inevitable.

City boss Roberto Mancini, considered far more expendable than Tevez among the football-speaking cognoscenti, added: "Carlos is a world-class player whose contribution since he joined the club has been invaluable.

"I am pleased that we are now able to focus on pure football matters and to be able to look forward to Carlos continuing to play a significant role in the club's progress."

Phew! Panic over then. Was it just 18 months ago when Tevez became the Premier League’s best-paid player, leaving United amid posters proclaiming “Welcome to Manchester”?

The goals were instant. The man who saved West Ham and bolstered United has no problem on the field. He scored 29 goals in his first season at City but failed to save boss Mark Hughes. He’s scored 10 times in 18 appearances so far this term but still got stuck in to boss Mancini when he was pulled off after scoring the only goal against stubborn Bolton.

Initially, when that transfer request went in on 12 December, he said he was missing his daughters back in Argentina. He said his relationship with "certain executives" at City had "broken down beyond repair".

But when he was given time off to visit his estranged wife Vanessa, curiously he travelled to Tenerife with the girlfriend. Yes, the lass he was seeing when the missus was pregnant with his second child.

Incredibly, the rift with city (if not his wife and children) is miraculously healed. And he’s got the captain’s armband back as City, level on points with second-placed Arsenal despite last night’s defeat, bid to end years of United dominance, armed only with oil-soaked billions from Abu Dhabi.

Could it be that Tevez is now being paid more than their newly crowned top-earner Yaya Toure, lured by a wage packed of £220,000-a-week to leave Barcelona? Surely not, the contract remains unchanged, say City. Is it really only about money? Surely not. Tevez is a badge-kissing, hard-running Argentina from the Fuerte Apache. Tough as nails those guys are. They sneer at bank managers and city slickers. But his agent Kia Joorabchian, the Iranian-born schemer who stepped in to buy his registration when Tevez was at Corinthians in Brazil, enjoys the odd cheque, or so I believe.

Money? The root of all evil. And the root of all excuses. Missing his daughters? Angry with Mancini? Broken-down relationships? If the price is right, all will be well. Just ask Wayne Rooney. Kiss that badge Carlos, we know you mean it!

Who the hell is Neal Collins (nealcol on twitter?). See www.nealcollins.co.uk.

Friday, 17 December 2010

FIFA Club World Cup final: African history in the making.... thanks to a madman!


The self-confessed madness of one man has put TP Mazembe on the verge of making African football history tomorrow when they take on European Champions Inter Milan in the final of the FIFA Club World Cup.

Moise Katumbi is that 46-year-old madman, and he’ll be the proudest man at Abu Dhabi’s superb Zayed Sports City Stadium. The governor of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Katanga province says himself: "People can call me mad but if they do, they are going to have to call plenty of people mad. Those who love cars spend millions on them, those who love women spend millions on them and holidays, while others are dazzled by gold, diamonds and the like.

"Football is my hobby so I try to budget all the money I make so I can put it into Mazembe - you have to love the game because you can't do this if you don't.

"Beating Brazil’s Internacional 2-0 in Tuesday's semi-final made me forget all the effort I've ever invested into the team. I've even got my little boy, who is 17 months old, singing Mazembe songs.”

The chairman isn’t the only madman in the ranks. In May this year, two of their key players, TrĂ©sor Mputu and Guy Lusadisu, were banned for months after a tournament in Rwanda saw the referee felled by a karate kick. Undaunted, they’ve gone further than any other African club this season.

Ironically, Inter Milan’s 3-0 win over Korea’s Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma on Thursday night means Mazembe – the first club outside of Europe or South America to reach the final - will have to eclipse one of Africa’s greatest footballing sons, former Barcelona striker Samuel Eto’o, in tomorrow’s showdown.

Katumbi, whose squad boasts 12 players from the city of Lubumbashi in the mineral-rich Haut-Katanga province, says: "My vision when I joined this club was to make Mazembe one of Africa's strongest teams and that's why I've worked so hard to make it happen. I grew up in a big business family in the province, so learned the challenge of making something work early on."

A mining magnate who has diversified in to fishing, transport and television, Katumbi took over the club in 1995, when the Lubumbashi club could only cling on to dimly remembered Congo championships in 1967 and 1968. Since then, five League titles and the last two African Champions League finals have gone their way.

Even when they were 5-0 up after the first leg of this year’s ACL final agains Tunisia’s Esperance, Katumbi insisted on taking his team to Europe to prepare for the second leg. And he insisted they would do better in Abu Dhabi this year than they did in last year’s Club World Cup, when they were beaten by South Korea’s Pohang Steelers and Auckland City from New Zealand. He was right.

But that kind of money-is-no-object support doesn’t come cheap. This year, the Roman Abramovich of African football announced he would spent $10m on keeping his beloved team together – and on top of that he has paid for flights and hotels for the trumpet-blowing band of 150 fans who have followed their Crows to Abu Dhabi.

And under his control, Mazembe have flourished, winning five league titles in the last decade as well as the last two editions of the African Champions League.

While we know all about Italian giants Internazionale and their multinational galaxy of European conquering stars, the Crows look to now-unbanned captain Tresor Mputu Mabi, lethal strikers Mulota Kabangu and Dioko Kaluyituka plus inspirational goalkeeper Muteba Kidiaba in their historic quest. And they’ve got this far despite their title-winning boss, Argentine Diego Garzitto, leaving abruptly in September. Former Senegal national coach Lamine Ndiaye has taken over and the side continues to produce a cunning blend of skill and dogged determination.

Former Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez, who took over the Inter hotseat from Jose Mourinho at the start of the season, is a worried man. He said: “It is the first time an African team is reaching a Club World Cup final, and so for Mazembe, it is very important and I think it will be a very tough opponent, if you weigh the level of their determination.”

And as Inter’s Argentine captain Javier Zanetti points out: “The standard of football is levelling out around the world and if a Brazilian club can crash out to an African side, why not a European one?"

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Why the Ashes is for also-rans compared to South Africa steamrolling India


Forget the WACA, Centurion was the centre of the cricket-speaking world yesterday with South Africa destroying India’s world-class batting line-up in a mere 38 overs. The best Test playing nation in the world were reduced to 136-9 before bad light stopped play amid the backdrop of broken reputations and dropping jaws.

Sure, England’s performance on day one of the third Ashes Test in Perth was pretty good. Getting Australia out for 268 and ending the day on 29-0 puts Andrew Strauss’s men in with a very good chance of retaining the world’s tiniest trophy, given they’re already 1-0 up in the series.

But until you actually seen Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel tear in to the world’s best – Gautam Ghambir (5), Virender Sehwag (a duck), Sachin Tendulkar (36), Rahul Dravid (14) and VVS Laxman (7) – you ain’t seen nothing. They’re all in the top 25 in the latest Test rankings. They simply couldn’t live with the Proteas yesterday. The WACA was Perthetic in comparison.

England spinner Graeme Swann and seamer James Anderson, currently second and third in the ICC World Rankings, just can’t hold a candle to World No1 Steyn, who took 3-34 in ten overs yesterday, and Morkel, the world No6, who ended with figures of 12.1-5-20-4. Barely a bad ball bowled. Suresh Raina (1) and the Indian tail look thoroughly intimidated. Ricky Ponting’s current Australians would have struggled to get into three figures.

The Indians, after comfortable series wins over Australia and New Zealand on home soil, simply didn’t have an answer. The legend that is Tendulkar threatened briefly to halt the flow and Harbhajan Singh (27) looked ominous for a couple of overs. Captain MS Dhoni was still there at the close on 33 not out... but he knows the struggle is pointless. This Test is gone. Let the rain dance behind. It’s India’s only hope.

England’s 1-1 series draw here last year is now beginning to look like a very, very good result indeed. They survived at Centurion and Newlands with nine wickets down to grab the tightest of draws with only Graeme Onions to spare.

Make no mistake, not many sides will escape South Africa with anything to show for it. The press box at Centurion is busier than I’ve ever seen it, packed with journalists from the sub-continent. Most of them are in shock. The long-awaited clash between the best two Test sides in the world wasn’t supposed to be like this.

It was like Barcelona against Real Madrid a fortnight ago. The top two sides in La Liga meet... and Barca win 5-0. It felt like that here on day one of this three-match series between the world’s top Test sides. Incredible. All it lacked was a Barmy Army. My attempts, as a lone Englishman in a three lions shirt, to sing Jerusalem were sadly lost in the general hub-bub.

Okay, the toss helped. Dhoni doesn’t have much luck with the coin, and when Graeme Smith guessed right and inserted the Indians, it was always going to be tough. Behind the far sight-screen, the usually placid Hennops Rivers is flowing like the Amazon. It’s threatening to sweep away the road bridge and has wiped out six holes at the local golf club.

The overnight deluge delayed play this morning for four-and-a-half hours. But in the short time remaining on day one, India succeeded only in looking very dodgy indeed. Watch the Ashes all you like, admire England’s sensational fielding, enjoy Anderson, Chris Tremlett and Steve Finn at full flow.

But until you’ve faced Steyn and Morkel on a pitch with a bit of bounce, never imagine the current Ashes series is anything more than a competition for also-rans.

Singh said: "We were quite prepared to play on a good track, but unfortunately with the rain and stuff it was quite a damp wicket. The toss was very crucial to this match. We lost the toss. They bowled well in the given conditions, and they got the rewards. If we had won the toss, I think we would have done the same thing. We would have bowled first, then who knows what would have happened."

“ If we get the sun tomorrow, obviously it will play a lot better than it did today. That's what I think. I could be wrong.

“We are playing on a wet wicket where the ball is seaming or nipping. A warm-up game would have been on a perfect cricketing wicket. You can't complain about wickets, but we need to make sure we come back into the game."

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Pienaar Will Go To Spurs For Krancjar Plus a Million. Reasons to be happy for Spurs and Everton: read the blog at nealcollins.co.uk


Unsettled Bafana Bafana star Steven Pienaar's move from Everton to Tottenham moved a step forward this week amid reports that the 28-year-old from Westbury near Johannesburg could move in a January swap deal involving Croatian international Niko Kranjcar.

Pienaar has turned down a new contract at Goodison Park, where he was not offered parity with Spanish midfielder Mikel Arteta despite being injury-free and voted the Toffees' fans Player of the Season earlier this year.

The South African's contract runs out at the end of the season and he will be able to move for free in June 2011. But Everton boss David Moyes accepts it would be wiser to sell in the January transfer window, and the News of the World - England's biggest-selling newspaper - claims the club are considering a deal which would see Spurs offer the out-of-favour Kranjcar and £1m in exchange for the 55-cap international Pienaar.

Moyes said: "It may well come to it in the January transfer window that we have to consider selling Pienaar to raise money, because he is out of contract in the summer.

"We know we need a striker but realistically, the sort of money we will raise through that route, what type of player is it going to buy for us in the January market?

"The sort of money I'd raise, I don't think it will attract the type of player we need, the type of player we are looking for to provide the goals.

"The sort of money it will cost, I don't think selling a player will solve that particular problem, and it is probably a reality that it will be the loan market we will need to look at to provide some sort of solution."

Kranjcar, 26, who has played just three Premier League games for Spurs this season, would be an automatic pick for Moyes, who tried to get the 61-cap Croatian on a loan deal at the start of the season.

Pienaar, careful not to antagonise the adoring Everton faithful, said yesterday: “I am still focused on staying at Everton. The season is not over yet, anything can happen. I can't comment on the Tottenham speculation, I don't know what is going on.

“The media in England is big and they say a lot - I am just happy at Everton and focusing on them.”

But at 27, Pienaar is clearly keen on a career-finishing move to a club with Champions League potential and Spurs have just qualified ahead of champions Inter Milan at the top of their “Group of Death” which also featured Werder Bremen and Dutch champions FC Twente.

With his side still in title contention, Redknapp has already expressed his interest in Pienaar and said before the impressive 1-1 with champions Chelsea on Saturday: "We are short in midfield. We have Jermaine Jenas, Tom Huddlestone and Wilson Palacios. That is not enough. We have left ourselves short.”

Pointedly ignoring the claims of Kranjcar, Redknapp added: "Jamie O'Hara went on loan to Portsmouth, and we sold Didier Zokora and Kevin-Prince Boateng. It is the only area that scares me a bit. Luka Modric can play there as well but, if we get injuries, we only have three and that's not enough."

Redknapp will also be influenced by the imminent arrival of SuperSports United captain Bongani Khumalo. As revealed exclusively here on Monday, centre-back Khumalo, 23, received his work permit last Saturday and will complete a £1m move to White Hart Lane on New Year’s Day.

After a disastrous episode with South African Mbulelo “OJ” Mabizela, despite scoring on his debut, Khumalo will be able to lean on the experienced Pienaar on his arrival in North London. OJ returned home needing treatment for addictions after suffering chronic homesickness in 2007. Pienaar could be the key to Khumalo settling in, much like Lucas Radebe and Philemon Masinga when they moved in tandem from South Africa to Leeds in 1995.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Feathers fly as Blackburn's new owners sack Sam Allardyce... and are left with egg on their faces


Devious thing, football. Just when you thought it was safe to stop discussing Carlos Tevez’s insistence on leaving Manchester City and start discussing Manchester United’s showdown against Arsenal, along come Blackburn with an axe... and it’s off with the head of manager Sam Allardyce, who was being punted as a future England boss just months ago.

Yes, big Sam. The man who made Bolton Wanderers a Premier League force to reckon with for a decade, who was forced out of Newcastle United before his time. Who played 450 games around the world, from Millwall to Limerick, Coventry to Tampa Bay Rowdies.

It’s not as if he was doing that badly. Blackburn are currently 13th in a topsy-turvy Premier League winter. Allardyce and his vast backroom staff are respected for their attention to detail, their ability to produce cut-price resilience in the face of billionaire batterers.

Who sacked him? Well, Blackburn. But under the guise of their new owners “Venky’s Group” (also known as Venkateshwara Hatcheries Private Limited). Yes, they are experts in chicken products in India. They certainly know how to make feathers fly. Who hatched this one up? They were the ones who said they were happy to finish mid-table and didn’t really worry too much about top honours.

So why sack Allardyce and his assistant Neil McDonald just before the Festive season fun? Why send first-team coach Steve Kean out to get them through the hectic Christmas period?

Okay, they’ve lost three out of their last five, and nobody could have been too happy to see them edged out 2-1 by a late goal against his old club Bolton. Big Sam, now 56, took it like a man. He grinned as he discussed injury time with his opposite number Owen Coyle.

Moustachioed for much of his career, the “Walrus” is not to be trifled with. They finished 10th last season and have become a side renowned for being difficult to beat.

Big Sam certainly didn’t deserve to end up with egg on his face like this. Venky’s squawked, via a statement from Ewood Park: "We have taken this decision as part of our wider plans and ambitions for the club.”

Rubbish. They don’t know what they’re doing. Expect a Sven Goran Eriksson type appointment any day soon. Or could we see the return of Martin O'Neill, the estranged former Aston Villa boss? Watch this space?

Who the hell is Neal Collins (nealcol on Twitter)? See www.nealcollins.co.uk... and watch South Africa's SuperSportHD and 3 tonight at 8.30pm before the Manchester United v Arsenal clash.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Spurs make their point and get their man. Chelsea? They're all at sea


Bongani Khumalo’s Premier League debut moved a huge step closer as his new club Tottenham fought out a fascinating 1-1 draw with Chelsea at White Hart Lane last night.

SuperSports United captain and Bafana Bafana lynchpin Khumalo, 23, was granted a work permit to complete his £1m move to White Hart Lane yesterday with Spurs boss Harry Redknapp confirming: “It’s good news. We’ve got the paperwork through for Khumalo.”

And how Harry needs a fit young centreback as his side head into the second half of a dramatic title race – and the knock-out phase of the Champions League.

Yesterday’s clash with faltering Chelsea was a riveting affair. Spurs went ahead through Russian Roman Pavlyuchenko’s well taken goal but Chelsea brought on Ivory Coast talisman Didier Drogba at half-time – and the big man promptly blasted the equaliser through the hands of Brazilian goalkeeper Heurelho Gomez.

But there was late drama when Gomez gave away a late penalty – but saved Drogba’s spot kick with a glorious leap to his left. Frank Lampard, Chelsea’s regular penalty taker, had come on as a substitute after three months of injury, but was not offered the chance to take the spot kick.

That point gives Redknapp hope of grabbing a Champions League place by finishing in the top four but he is rapidly running out of centrebacks.

Former Chelsea and Arsenal defender William Gallas pulled a hamstring in training on Friday and England international Michael Dawson was forced to take his place – and the captain’s armband – after his own three-month battle with an ankle injury picked upon England duty.

Dawson lined up next to Frenchman Sebastien Bassong as Tottenham are also missing Younes Kaboul and long-term injury problems Ledley King and Jonathan Woodgate.

All of which gives Khumalo a great chance to break into the Spurs squad when he becomes eligible on January 1. Lucas Radebe, like Aaron Mokoena a South African who made a career for himself at centreback in England, says: “Khumalo will be a great ambassador for South Africa. I wish him well at Spurs.”

Chelsea captain John Terry said: “I thought we fully deserved to win the game, we dominated them second half. They made it difficult at times but that was more like the Chelsea we know.

“Didier was brave enough to stand up and take the penalty. The passion has been lacking in recent weeks but we’re back now. Now we’ve got two huge games, Manchester United at the Bridge and Arsenal at the Emirates.

“We just have to hope tomorrow’s game is a draw.”

And by that of course, Terry is referring to tonight’s showdown between leaders Arsenal and Manchester United at Old Trafford. Terry said: “United and Arsenal are both playing well at the moment but we can be right up there with them.”

But Drogba’s missed penalty denied the current double-winners victory yet again, and means they have taken just six points from their last 21. Their seven-point lead has rapidly turned into a deficit since the surprise sacking of Carlo Ancelotti’s No2 Ray Wilkins six weeks ago.

Who the hell is Neal Collins (nealcol on Twitter)? See www.nealcollins.co.uk. And for African readers, I'll be on SuperSport HD at 8.30pm tonight discussing Arsenal at Manchester United with Terry Paine and Shaun Bartlett. Promise to be controversial. You want any points raised, just say below.

Carlos Tevez transfer request rocks high-flying Manchester City


WHAT a time for Carlos Tevez to declare he’s homesick and wants out of Manchester City. Just as Roberto Mancini’s overpaid mercenaries are making real impact on the Premier League at last, their top scorer slaps in a written transfer request.

City, who moved into second place above neighbours United with a 3-1 win over West Ham on Saturday, have rejected the notion of a move for their 10-goal Argentinian. The fans will be reeling. But then City supporters generally are these days.

For months they’ve had to put up with all the problems associated with going from struggling also-rans to Sheikh Mansoor’s well-oiled play-thing.

Getting rid of the popular Mark Hughes last season was just the beginning. Craig Bellamy and Steven Ireland felt they could stay no longer when Mansoor’s billions began to attract players from around the globe. Shaun Wright-Phillips and his dad Ian Wright constantly peck away at the club while talented winger Adam Johnson rarely gets a start. But the big name buys chosen by the Abu Dhabi sugardaddy continued to misbehave.

Former Barcelona midfielder Yaya Toure, the best-paid player in the Premier on £220,000-a-week, stormed off at half time during a torrid home defeat to Arsenal. Then there was Emmanuel Adebayore having an ugly spat with Vincent Kompany. Two weeks ago, we had pictures of a training ground bust-up between two not-quite Ghanaians, German international Jerome Boateng and Italy’s Mario Balotelli.

No explanations, nothing to settle the fans. All they got was Mancini, struggling to do better than Hughes, claiming all was well. Things would be fine he said. In the middle of it all, Sky’s Soccer AM programme were asked to travel up to the club’s training ground and film an episode of “cross bar challenge” where the entire squad attempts to hit the bar from the halfway line. Generally such challenges are jocular, with everyone having a good laugh and showing their so-called team spirit. That’s why City invited Soccer AM’s crew to their Platt Lane base.

When they got there, David Platt attempted to assemble the players. But the highly-paid foreign stars just wandered away, ignoring the assistant managers pleas to stay. Apparently they just ignored the former England star and drove off. In the end just seven of the 25-man squad did the Challenge. It was a shambles. Soccer AM never aired the footage.

But then came the long-overdue current run of success culminating in a crushing win over the doomed Hammers on Saturday. Suddenly, things were turning up roses for City. And so much of it revolves around Tevez, the man who opted to leave big brothers United with “welcome to Manchester” posters controversially greeting his move.

Tevez has always been a fascinating study in modern football. Brought up in Fuerte Apache, the toughest slum in Buenos Aires, he first came to European attention when he arrived at West Ham “on loan” with Javier Mascherano in 2006. The pair of them were apparently “owned” by Kia Joorabchian, and English-based Iranian and part of the Media Sports Investments portfolio of sporting stars. Apparently neither player owned their own names when they left Corinthians in Brazil.

Though he was never properly registered, Tevez scored the goals which kept the Hammers up, including the vital last-day winner against Manchester United in May 2007 – and promptly decamped to Old Trafford that summer. I’ve always wondered... who pocketed that £25m transfer fee? West Ham or MSI? Nobody seems to know.

Tevez scored 19 goals in 63 games and earned SirAlex Ferguson’s grudging admiration. Then it was off to City, where the money was even better. There he has scored a phenomenal 39 in 60 games, despite having to compete with a galaxy of expensive strikers who have come and gone. Robinho, Jo, Bellamy, Balotelli, Adebayor and the rest all failed to match the sharpness of the hard-working little Argentinian, who bears the scars of a childhood accident but refuses to have them surgically removed.

He’s no ordinary football mercenary. When the Terry Bridge handshake with John Terry never happened last season, it was Tevez of all people who squared up to the towering Terry, snarling and offering to take things outside. At 5ft 8in, he was going head-to-chest rather than head-to-head but the passion of the man is unquestioned.

Now, despite all the badge kissing and those vital goals for the Eastland’s light blues, the man slaps in a transfer request just as things were looking good for Mancini’s expensively assembled Blues.

But is it a shock? Hardly. Tevez and the cocksure Mancini were never a match made in heaven. They had a go at eachother when he was pulled off after scoring the only goal in City’s vital win over Bolton.

As a result, Tevez snubbed the club Christmas party. Suspended for the Hammers win on Saturday, he wants to go home for Christmas to see his two daughters, back home in Argentina after trouble with their mother, Vanessa. She left Britain after lurid reports involving Tevez and a woman called Marina Paesani (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-1256132/Carlos-Tevez-shares-hotel-room-model-wife-nurses-premature-baby--days-accused-John-Terry-having-moral-code.html).

Tevez, currently on an estimated £100,000-a-week at City, will be hard-pressed to find another club willing to match his earnings. Certainly, if he’s homesick, he’ll have to take a major pay cut if he returns to Argentine domestic football. But the question is, does Tevez make his own decisions or is he still a slave to his agency? Time will tell.

Who the hell is Neal Collins (nealcol on twitter)? See www.nealcollins.co.uk. And watch SuperSport in South Africa on Monday night, where he'll be doing the build up to the Manchester United v Arsenal showdown.


Official statement from City: It is with disappointment that we confirm to our supporters that Carlos Tevez has submitted a written transfer request. The Club can also confirm that the request has been rejected.

The Club remains disappointed by this situation and particularly with the actions of Carlos' representative.

Roberto Mancini and all at the Club have shown, and will continue to show, sensitivity to Carlos' personal circumstances including the issue of his family being based overseas. Indeed following his suspension as a result of the game against Bolton, Carlos requested, and was given, special dispensation by the Manager to take leave overseas.

The written transfer request is in stark contrast to Carlos' stated position in both public and club contexts. Significantly, over recent months, the Club has also received numerous requests from Carlos’ representative to renegotiate and improve his playing contract as well as more recently a request to extend that contract by another year.

However, in line with the Club's policy of not negotiating playing contracts mid-season this has not been granted. Carlos' current five-year contract has three-and-a-half years to run and he is the highest paid player at the Manchester City Football Club.

This is both an unfortunate and unwelcome distraction and the Club will remain focused on the games ahead in what is turning out to be a very promising season. The door remains open for Carlos to be selected to play.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Nicolas Anelka blasts "racist" France and insists: I never sang the national anthem


Chelsea striker Nicolas Anelka this week launched an extraordinary blast at his “racist” countrymen insisting: “I never wanted to sing the French national anthem”.
Anelka, born in Versaille but of Guadaloupe origins, is currently serving an 18-month international suspension after his infamous “son of a whore” fall-out with Raymond Domenech during their disastrous World Cup safari to South Africa.
Before Saturday’s clash with Tottenham and tomorrow's Champions League showdown at Marseille, the 31-year-old, formerly of Paris St Germain, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Manchester City, Fenerbahce, Liverpool and Bolton, said: "When France doesn’t win, people start talking straight away about skin colour and religion. When times get tough we find out what people really think.
"They said there was a gang of black players in the French squad at the World Cup, and we then saw the true face of France. They said Franck Ribery had hit Yoann Gourcuff. Ribery was the Muslim, and Gourcuff was the good French boy.”
Anelka won 69 French caps and scored 14 goals for his nation. But with his international career over, he raged: "I have never wanted to sing the national anthem with France. Had they insisted I'd have refused, and quit playing for them.
"The fact I grew up on a high-rise estate counted against me. I was the first player from this background to own a Ferrari, and it did people's heads in.
"People in France have a false picture of me. Everything I have achieved has been abroad. I am not 'made in France' – at home, I have had nothing but trouble."
Anelka’s comments are sure to raise a storm in France – and are unlikely to help his Chelsea team-mates, currently suffering a serious slump in form which has seen them take just five points from their last six games and drop off the top of the Premier League.

Monday, 6 December 2010

It's Make Or Break For Arsenal As Partizan Belgrade and Man United Loom


Suddenly, it all comes down to this. One fateful week which could well decide Arsenal’s fate after six barren trophy-free years.

On Wednesday night, with their English rivals Chelsea, Manchester United and Spurs already qualified, Arsene Wenger’s men must end a run of two successive Champions League defeats by beating Partizan Belgrade at the Emirates to assure their progress to the knock-out stages.

Then it’s off to Manchester United as the Premier League’s top two battle it out for supremacy on Monday night.a

Two defeats, and Wenger will be tearing what’s left of his hair out with impatient fans calling for the German-speaking Frenchman to go. Two wins and all will be rosy for the scarlet-clad Gunners, Wenger will be safe and the bottle-throwing tantrums will subside.

Amid the gloom of Thomas Vermaelen announcing he was out until the end of the year, Arsenal full-back Bacary Sagna, he of the beaded hair, volunteered as the Gooner spokesman in this, the week of all weeks for his team.

One of the safest full-backs in the Premier League, Sagna – capped 29 times by France but of Senegalese descent – argues quite rightly: "We do not want the season to be over at the end of December. Win these two games and we will give even more power to the team.

"It’s about time we won these big games. Against Chelsea, we dropped points, at home we have dropped so many points. At United, we want to play our game and win.

"Going top of the League was great on Saturday. But we need to be more focussed. We have to win at home. We have to keep looking forward."

Fellow Frenchman Samir Nasri has emerged as Arsenal’s unlikely hero with the pivotal Spaniard Cesc Fabregas injured. His two goals put paid to Fulham’s challenge on Saturday and Sagna, 27, recognises his importance: “Sami is now showing his best and has more to show,. We only beat Fulham because of him, He is a really good guy and fits in well with everyone on the pitch. He gives us a good balance.”

Balance is all very well. Sagna arrived in North London in 2007 and hasn’t had a sniff of a trophy since he arrived. Memories of Arsene Wenger’s three early title triumphs have faded. It’s time the Gunners stopped firing blanks.

Nasri, 23, says: “Before I felt too much pressure to score, I wanted it too much maybe. Now I don't worry as much. I'm more at ease in the game and I'm not just looking for goals, I'm looking to work for the team. I think I'm more mature in my football game. I think more with my head.”

“When I'm in front of a goalkeeper I am more relaxed now.”

He’ll need to be relaxed in front of goal at Old Trafford on Monday. A lot depends on it.

Who the hell is Neal Collins? See nealcollins.co.uk or nealcol on twitter. Currently in Ngwenya, overlooking the Crocodile River and Kruger National Park. You should see this place.

Breaking news: Mike Ashley, the Newcastle chairman, sacks manager Chris Hughton. I guess everyone knows Ashley, from Maidenhead in Berkshire, is a Spurs fan? What a fool that man is!

Sunday, 5 December 2010

World Cup: Forget Russia and Qatar, It's Brazil 2014 We Should Be Worrying About


AS the dust settles on the bizarre choice of Russia and Qatar as hosts for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, problems are mounting for Brazil, who will host the 2014 tournament... and the 2016 Olympics.

Over the last week, 37 people have been killed, 123 arrested and another 130 detained after police invaded Rio’s Alemao favela – that’s Brazilian for a shanty town - as authorities begin their preparations for the great sporting events to come. Today, Brazil announced they will station troops in the Alemao and Penha districts to ensure hundreds of drug traffickers who had made the areas their stronghold would not return.

Defence Minister Nelson Jobim said the army would be able to draw on its years of experience heading the United Nation's peacekeeping mission in Haiti.

Police spokesman Mario Sergio Duarte, fighting the drug gangs with armoured cars and hundreds of armed police said: "We will not retreat in our decision to bring peace to Rio. We are in our final stages of reaching the traffickers in the Alemao complex."

But the police effort is being hampered by a major crime wave, with armed gangs setting fire to cars and setting up road blocks to rob passing traffic. And South Africa thought they had problems before 2010!

The disturbing news doesn’t stop there. Though the Brazilian economy is technically booming, the gap between haves and have nots is growing. Public fury over the spiralling costs of hosting FIFA’s great showdown is burning – and delays in construction are causing serious headaches.

On top of that, Giovanni Bisignani, the CEO of Brazil’s International Air Transport Association says his airports are “a growing disaster” and admits they will be unable to cope during the World Cup. With few long-distance trains and a decrepid motorway system, the huge distances between cities will be a major problem for Brazil.

The International Olympic Committee has also expressed concerns about Brazil’s ability to cope before their 2016 Summer Games.

Brazilian Football Federation President Ricardo Teixeira’s main problem centres on the vast city of Sao Paulo, where the local Morumbi stadium was condemned as inadequate to host games in 2014.

That means a new stadium has to be built in the area of Pirituba, but city officials have informed Teixeira the stadium, which is due to host the opening game of the next World Cup, cannot be started yet. The CBF are now considering the Corinthians stadium in Itaquera as a possibility.

In Rio, the legendary Maracana Stadium is being renovated to host the final and the opening ceremony, at a cost of around £1bn.

South Africa’s Danny Jordaan, who spent 16 years producing a successful 2010 World Cup despite a similar range of problems, said: “The Brazilian economy is doing very well, this county is in the take off face and this World Cup can help them.”

But he adds: “You cannot have a celebratory event without it being safe. All the components of organisation must be under-pinned and wrapped in a security plan.

“The thing I would tell Brazil is to have the legal framework in place - the national laws, city regulations, also sort out roles and responsibilities, who does what. Security is very important, but it is also a complex issue.

"There must be a single security plan and one national command and control. Fans follow their teams from cities to cities, so there must be one single security plan that covers all stadiums.”

Speaking at the Soccerex conference in Rio, Jordaan added: “Brazil will face questions about its stadiums, its hotels, 'will it all be ready on time?', and questions about crime. I faced these questions for 16 years.

“In the end the media accepted, and we insisted, that we would host the best World Cup ever".

"The World Cup must link to an increase in tourism. Before the World Cup, we got 300 Mexican visitors a year - this year there were 50,000.

"We have two or three problems around stadia, but we are not going to demolish them though. All are owned by the cities, but cities are not entities that that I think can run the stadiums properly. So we have to move them on to a sports marketing company or to a [football] club."

"The Maracana [in Rio] must be one of the best football stadiums in the world, but it is a place where you would want to see a museum and restaurants, to spend a day there - maybe have conference facilities too.

"Brazil at the moment must be the envy of the world, hosting both the World Cup and the Olympics.”

Hardly. FIFA president Sepp Blatter knows Russia and Qatar have a lot of work ahead of them if they are to successfully hold their World Cups. They claim to have the time and the money. But for Brazil, time is running out.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

FIFA World Cup Storm: FA Chairman Resigns and Thailand Friendly Is Off


Roger Burden, the acting FA chairman, has quit and England have called off their friendly against Thailand as the fall-out from the FIFA World Cup voting scandal continues.

Burden, appointed in May when he replaced Lord Triesman (who, ironically, resigned over comments regarding World Cup collusion between Spain and Russia), said: “I’m not prepared to deal with people I can’t trust. I recognise that an important part of my role would be liaising with FIFA so I’ve withdrawn my candidacy.”

The Thai clash, scheduled for June, has been cancelled as the game was only planned in return for support for England’s World Cup bid. In the end, England only gained two votes – their own and Japan’s – when Russia won the right to host the 2018 World Cup in Zurich on Thursday.

Burden is as mystified as the rest of the country by England’s first round failure in the ballot. He said: "We were equal top of Fifa's own technical assessment of the four bids. We were top of an independent assessment of the best commercial bids and our final presentation was widely acclaimed as the best of the 2018 and 2022 bids.

" I am struggling to understand how we only achieved two votes. It is difficult to believe that the voting was an objective process. Prince William, the Prime Minister and other members of our delegation were promised votes that did not materialise."

The English tabloids have concentrated on the “betrayal” behind last Thursday’s vote. Prince William was promised “at least six votes” but the 22 members of the FIFA Executive Committee – including the much courted CONCACAF member Jack Warner - went back on their word, leading to allegations of corruption and bribery.

Two members of the Exec Committee had already been suspended after a Sunday Times investigation two months ago and BBC’s Panorama team put three more members under pressure last Monday. That may have skewed the vote but Burden said: "We have a free press in our country. There is no doubt that English football benefits from the media coverage that it receives and would have been given great coverage if we had brought the World Cup to England.”

Both Russia and Qatar, who won the right to host the 2022 World Cup, have an appalling record when it comes to press freedom. The Press Freedom Index, which lists England at 19 in their carefully compiled rankings, has Russia at 140 and Qatar at 120.

But while the media waxed lyrical over those and other issues – Russia and Qatar have yet to build the vast majority of their stadia - Burden added: "I have no issue with Russia's winning bid. I am sure they will put on a great World Cup and I have congratulated them."

Burden will stay on while the FA search for a successor, which may prove a tough task after the week’s shenanigans.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Russia and Qatar get World Cups, England gets two votes


This is all that matters:

Round 1: England 2 votes, Netherlands/Belgium 4 votes,Spain/Portugal 7 votes and Russia 9 votes.

Round 2: Netherlands/Belgium 2 votes, Spain/Portugal 7 votes and Russia 13votes (Russia obtain absolute majority)

In the end, after all the hype, all the spin, it was Russia by a mile. Their prime minister Vladimir Putin didn’t bother to go to Zurich yesterday, but by then he probably knew his vast nation would be hosting the 2018 World Cup.

England’s slick bid, backed by the Three Lions of David Cameron, David Beckham, Prince William and a 30-strong galaxy of stars, managed just two votes. Out first round. Ouch. Portugal and Spain will feel the same disappointment. They were convinced they had a least eight supporters. Belgium and Holland will be happy to have finished third.

But it was all so predictable. I said so here, a week ago. Russia for 2018 and Qatar for 2022. They have the money, the right profile for FIFA and Sepp Blatter. England and Australia would have been better choices for football, but hey, it’s all about profitability and breaking new ground.

Russia are promising to spend £6bn including ten new stadia. Quite how fans are going to travel around the biggest country in the world, I’m not sure. Crime? Corruption? Plenty of that too in Russia. But hey, if Putin and the Roman Abramovich gang are behind it with the cash, no problem.

Qatar are just the opposite in terms of size. A tiny nation promising to build a series of near-neighbouring stadia to host the 2022 World Cup. But they’ll have to provide air-conditioning too. I worked out there in the summer. It’s like a furnace. And hardly a footballing hot-bed. But hey, all that oil, all that cash... never a chance for the rival bidders, Australia, the USA, South Korea and Japan.

So England and former Arsenal chief executive David Dein are gutted. Just two votes from the 22—strong FIFA executive committee, despite providing the best presentation, the strongest technical bid.

Dein, so important to this bid, was on the verge of tears: “Football politics are difficult. Two votes? That’s where we are. I’m very sad. I hoped for better. We worked extremely hard. I tell you one thing, winning is one thing, losing is another.”

Prince William’s Royal approval was of no consequence. He said: “I’m immensely proud to have been part of it. Congratulations to Russia. It’s very sad, we gave everything we could. I’m sorry for the fans back home.”

Richard Scudamore, the Premier League chief executive, said: “You saw that presentation today. I thought it transcended all our expectations. Everybody was on message. It was fantastic. A great technical bid. Here were are empty handed.

“It doesn’t matter about rounds, it’s all about who won it. But clearly, as Mr Blatter said: “We are taking these World Cups to two new countries.” That is a difficult thing to come up against. We have the stadiums and the infrastructure. I sense the British media’s criticism may have had an effect but if it has had a bearing it would be disappointing.”

Like the Eurovision Song Contest, England just aren’t popular on the global stage. That much we know now. All those great Premier League stadia did little to warm our footballing cousins to the home of the game.

And the truth is, Russia and Qatar represent new markets for FIFA. Huge profits. Unlimited spending. How can anybody compete with that?

See also www.neal-collins.blogspot.com for earlier analysis of World Cup bids.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The Great World Cup Vote: England Surge Ahead As Russian Premier Stays Home


Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's decision NOT to travel to Zurich tomorrow for the 2018 World Cup ballot has seen England rise to favourites in the bookmakers' rankings as the battle to host the greatest football show on earth hots up.

Shock waves travelled around the football-speaking globe yesterday when Putin accused the English of a 'dirty tricks campaign'. And with the ever-popular former Manchester United and Real Madrid starDavid Beckham delivering a composed argument on behalf of his nation, some experts detected a sea-change in the bidding process.

Putin, often highlighted as a former KGB spy in the British tabloids, told his parliament he wouldn’t be travelling to Switzerland to support the £6bn bid – which involves the construction of a record ten stadia across the biggest nation on earth - because of “unfair competition”.

Both the Sunday Times and the BBC Panorama investigative team have left FIFA reeling with allegations against five of their 24 executive committee members who will vote on the bids for 2018 and 2022 today. Two have been suspended since the allegations were published.

Suggestions of FIFA corruption are rife and England hope, with Prince William, Prime Minister David Cameron and former captain Beckham, their squeaky clean approach, already voted the “best technical bid”, will turn the vote around.

While few consider Russia a bastion of incorruptibility, Putin said: “I would like to note that recently we have watched with disappointment as an obvious campaign was being unleashed against members of the FIFA executive committee. They are being compromised and smeared in dirt.

“I consider it as part of unscrupulous bit of competition in preparations for the selection of the host-country for the World Cup.

“I would love to represent our entry in person. However, under these circumstances, I think it would be best not to go out of respect for the members of the FIFA executive committee, so that they could make their decision in peace and without any outside pressure.”

Putin’s surprise decision to stay away may well backfire on Russia’s extravagant bid. With questions over his nation’s organised crime levels, climate and transport infrastructure, England’s bid rocketed to the top of the betting leaderboard with Labrokes and other bookmakers despite the current big freeze in Britain.

Beckham, proving just as valuable here as he was in London’s successful bid for the 2012 Olympics, produced a polished, convincing performance in front of the microphones, saying: “'I think that we can trust every one of these FIFA executive committee members. They are football people and they are going to want a World Cup in the best country that they think could host the biggest sporting event in the world.

“Everything has been positive so far. We have obviously listened to the feedback and the ideas we feel we need to be pushing in the next few days and we are working on it.”

England now claim they have six of the 23 votes, Spain and Portugal’s excellent bid has seven or eight, with Russia claiming the same number. The question is, who will get the two or three votes cast for rock-bottom Holland and Belgium, the outsiders, when they are eliminated in the first round of voting?

England’s cause may not be helped by today’s tabloid revelations in freezing England. The Daily Mail has revealed how the FIFA executive committee are housed in the £2,400 (R26,000)-a-night Baur Au Lac hotel in Zurich, where a bottle of wine can cost £8,000 (R90,000).

The 2022 bid, which will also be voted on tomorrow, is veering Australia’s way. Though Qatar has the money and influence, the Socceroos wheeled out actress Cate Blanchett, supermodel Elle McPherson, comedian Paul Hogan, cricketer Steve Waugh and a host of kangaroos yesterday in a bid to outshine the efforts of the USA, with Bill Clinton in attendance, troubled South Korea and rank outsiders Japan.

MacPherson, known as ‘The Body’, is being lined up as the Claudia Schiffer of the ballot. The German beauty certainly attracted votes when her nation won the bid for 2006.

Though MacPherson has never knowingly kicked a football, Aussie FA boss Ben Buckley said: “She’s a fantastic, iconic Australian who’s been very successful on the world stage. Football is the world game, so there’s no better way to express Australia’s personality than through a person like her.”

Though Russia and Qatar offer the cash and kudos FIFA president Sepp Blatter hankers after, England and Australia may be the sensible choices for fans and football. Time will tell.